River cruise lines are adding bikes and hikes to their shore tours to appeal to a new generation of travellers.
Just as ocean cruise lines are offering more high-octane activities for adventure-minded passengers, river cruise lines are ramping up the pace of their shore tours to appeal to a more independent, fitness-conscious generation of travellers. Cycling tours on European river cruises have never been more popular, while kayaking, canoeing, Segway, jogging and hiking expeditions are being added to the mix in next year's itineraries.
Why cycling? Tiffany Watters, Scenic's journey designer for Europe, says, "Our guests absolutely love the range of guided and self-guided cycling activities that we offer, which means they get to make the most of each destination and at their own pace.
"With so many famous cycling paths across Europe, and a few local paths that we'll showcase on our specialised itineraries in 2017, it's a great way to experience Europe as many Europeans do – on two wheels."
It's a similar story at the other major river cruise companies; they are seeing an increasing number of younger passengers who want to experience Europe's villages, vineyards and historic cities under their own steam. Debra Fox, APT's executive general manager global sales and marketing, says, "We always ask our guests what they would like to see from us in the future. Cycling has been a recurrent theme suggested, perhaps unsurprising given the huge interest we have in the sport here in Australia."
Avalon Waterways and Uniworld are both introducing new programs in 2017. Avalon's "Active Discovery" cruises offer passengers more choices and faster-paced activities including hiking, jogging, cycling and canoe expeditions, while Uniworld's Go Active itineraries have been designed for its increasing number of multi-generational cruisers.
Crystal River Cruises is the latest player to enter Europe's river cruising market, with the fully refurbished Crystal Mozart launching in July. In 2017, four new ships will join the fleet. As well as offering an extensive range of adventurous shore tours, the ships will feature larger than usual fitness centres where you can take classes with experts.
So while there are many temptations for piling on the kilos, on your next river cruise you can at least indulge in fabulous food and wine and hope to work it off. Here's a look at how river cruise lines are going to help us stay fit.
Cycling enthusiasts of all abilities can ride some exciting routes on two of APT's most popular European river cruises. Seven cycling trips are available on the new 15-day "Cycling Magnificent Europe" itinerary, between Amsterdam and Budapest. You can cycle around historic cities such as Cologne and Vienna, ride to the world-famous Erbach Monastery, take a trail to Fortress Marienburg in Wurzburg, stop for a beer on a bike tour to Bamberg, take a cycling excursion to Walhalla and ride to the ruins of Durnstein Castle.
APT will fit guests out with their own high-quality touring or road bike before setting sail. A team of expert cyclists will lead each ride and a support vehicle will travel with each group.
Cruise director's choice: Eight-day "Bordeaux by Bicycle", round trip from Bordeaux, for more experienced cyclists.
Four cycling tours are offered on the July 6 and September 28, 2017, departures; from $6695. Book before August 31, 2016, and fly to Europe for $1195. Phone 1300 196 420, see aptouring.com.au.
Avalon has introduced a new fleet of bicycles on all its European ships, so you can explore on your own as well as join guided cycling excursions. These are offered in Amsterdam and the Dutch countryside, Austria and Germany on a range of itineraries, as well as on its new Active Discovery cruises.
Chris Fundell, Avalon's national marketing manager Australia, says, "The active options mean guests can get more from their cruise. For example, they can get out among the vines on a bike or on foot and explore the landscape in which the grapes are grown, before they enjoy a wine tasting. It's another way of giving people a greater connection with the regions they visit."
Cruise Director's Choice: Nine-day "Active Discovery on the Danube", Budapest to Linz and vice versa. Includes a jogging tour around Vienna, canoeing in the Wachau Valley, Austria, plus cycling and hiking tours. Eight departures in 2017; from $5219. Phone 1300 230 234, see avalonwaterways.com.au.
CRYSTAL RIVER CRUISES
The uber-luxury ocean cruise line's new river ships will sail the Danube, Rhine, Main, Moselle, Garonne, Dordogne and Seine rivers. Highlights of Crystal River Cruises' shore excursions will be helicopter flightseeing (OK, not many kilos burnt off on those but a great drawcard for thrill-seekers), electronically assisted (e-bike) rides, energetic hikes through vineyards and city streets, guided nature walks (Nordic walking poles provided) and a challenging off-road driving course in a VW Touareg at the Volkswagen plant in Bratislava.
Cruise director's choice: 10-day "Treasures Of The Danube" round-trip from Vienna. Includes e-bike tours in the Wachau Valley and along the Danube, hiking the Postlingberg hill, and whitewater slalom rafting in Cunovo, Bratislava. Departures August to November 2016, April to November 2017; from US$3,795. Phone (Wiltrans) 02 9265 7100, see crystalcruises.com/river-cruises.
EVERGREEN TOURS/EMERALD WATERWAYS
The newest fleet on Europe's waterways already attracts a younger crowd, cruisers who prefer a less-inclusive fare that allows them to do their own thing ashore – and who make the most of the onboard indoor pool, jogging track and fitness centre. Judith Hainke, marketing manager Evergreen Tours & Emerald Waterways, says, "This year we've implemented Emerald Active, an included program that appeals to guests with a little more zip in the their stride and/or those who wish to make room for guilt-free dessert in the evenings."
Emerald's Star Ships carry bikes on board and the line also offers guided cycling tours using local operators, along the Danube and from Tournus to Macon on France's Saone river. Cruise director's choice: 15-day "Splendours of Europe" Amsterdam to Budapest and vice versa. Emerald Active highlights include hikes up to Wertheim and Durnstein Castles and a bike tour along the Danube. Departures from May to October; from $6995, including flights or $4656 with Winter Warmers discount. Phone 1300 383 747, see evergreentours.com.au.
Every Scenic ship in Europe carries about 30 e-bikes and having ridden them on three different Scenic cruises I am an unashamed convert. Extra bikes are hired for dedicated cycling tours; next year the line is introducing two new itineraries that focus on picturesque cycling routes in France and along the Danube.
Cycling guides will lead tours and a bike mechanic and a support vehicle will follow each group. Bordeaux cycling routes include the Arcachon Bay region – the 200-kilometre beach is the longest in Europe, backed by dunes and Les Landes forest – and there will be visits to local markets and oyster farms. Another highlight is a full day's cycling in the historic St Emilion wine district, with lunch and wine tastings along the way.
Cruise director's choice: Eight-day "Gems of the Danube Cycling Discovery" includes cycling the Danube Path through the beautiful Wachau Valley, and a full day tour from Regensburg cycling a trail of five rivers. Eight departures from May to September 2017; from $6495. Phone 138 128, see scenic.com.au.
UNIWORLD BOUTIQUE RIVER CRUISE COLLECTION
"River cruising is no longer considered purely for the 60-plus market," says Fiona Dalton, Uniworld's managing director. "We have also seen an emerging trend in multi-generational travel which has resulted in an increased number of younger guests on board."
To keep active travellers of all ages busy, Uniworld has cruises that include gondola-rowing and kayaking around the Venetian Lagoon, biking and hiking with a local guide on its Danube cruises, Segway rides in Vienna's Prater Park and white-water rafting on the "Black Pearl", the River Ilz in Germany's Bavarian Forest.
Uniworld's ships carry bicycles and Nordic walking poles so guests can take off on their own or on guided walking and cycling tours.
Cruise director's choice: 15-day "Grand France" Paris to Avignon includes kayaking the Gardon River, playing golf in Rouen's Mont-Saint-Aignan and Etretat, cycling along the Seine riverbank in Paris and around the Lyon peninsula. Departures from March to October 2017; from $9099. Phone 1300 780 231, see uniworld.com/au.
FIVE WAYS TO KEEP FIT ONBOARD
AT THE WELL
Avalon Waterways ambassador Deborah Hutton is hosting an 11-day cruise on France's rivers, departing Paris on August 18, 2016, with expert-led morning rituals of yoga, meditation and breathing exercises.
TO THE GYM
They might be small, but on newer ships, fitness centres are fitted with TechnoGym equipment such as stationary bikes and Kinesis walls. Uniworld has wellness coaches on select ships, leading exercise classes and private work-outs.
Most pools are too small for laps but perfect for aquarobics using the side of the pool, or a noodle. For a routine to suit, see shape.com.
DO THE LAPS
Lap the deck. Whatever the weather's like, a few brisk laps of the sun-deck will get your circulation going first thing in the morning, whether you walk or jog. You can also do stretches or your own work-out.
If the fitness centre is busy and you don't fancy working out on the sun-deck, you can usually find enough room on your cabin floor to do some basic exercises. Apps such as Daily Yoga feature classes and poses to suit all abilities.