As many travellers have discovered this year, Europe's long, hot dry summer has caused disruptions to river cruises because water levels have been so low that sections of the Danube and Rhine were too shallow to navigate at times. Cruise lines have various ways of dealing with fluctuating water levels – in 2013 rivers were flooded, making them impassable at certain points – but the industry continues to adapt and grow. Fingers are firmly crossed for rain to fall before the winter season gets going.
Meanwhile, next year we will see a sizeable clutch of new river ships launching in Europe, Asia and Africa. APT, in partnership with Ama Waterways, has two new ships for the Danube and Rhine, AmaMagna and AmaMora, and one for Portugal's Douro, AmaDouro.
AmaMagna is the big story for APT – literally, as it's the company's biggest river ship. It's twice the width of regular river vessels so has space for four restaurants, an expanded Health and Wellness Studio and a water sports platform. AmaMagna will accommodate 196 passengers in extra-spacious staterooms and suites and will cruise the Danube. AmaMora is a sister ship to this year's 156-passenger AmaLea, while the 102-passenger AmaDouro will join AmaVida in Portugal in April. See aptouring.com.au.
Avalon Waterways will introduce the new 164-passenger Avalon Envision next spring, while phasing out three smaller, older ships. Avalon's European fleet will then be made up of 13 similar "suite ships" – the company has just launched the 36-passenger Avalon Saigon on the Mekong, a sister ship to Avalon Siem Reap. See avalonwaterways.com.au.
CroisiEurope, the French family-run line that is represented in Australia by Cruise Abroad, is adding four ships to its 50-plus international fleet in 2019 – three in Europe (on the Seine, Rhone, Saone and Elbe) and one on the Zambezi in Africa. CroisiEurope is the main operator on the Elbe and Loire rivers, using modern paddle-steamers that are specially designed for shallow waters. See cruiseabroad.com.au
In August, Australian company Evergreen is launching its first Star Ship in Asia, the 84-passenger Emerald Harmony (see evergreentours.com.au) and Riviera Travel's 12th ship in Europe, the 132-passenger MS George Eliot, is due to set sail for the European summer season. See rivieratravel.com.au.
Last but not least – in fact launching more new ships than any other line, even if not as many as in past years – Viking has seven ships set to launch in Europe in spring, six for the Rhine, Main and Danube and one for the Douro. See vikingrivercruises.com.au.
THE PORT Tauranga, NZ
WHO GOES THERE APT/Noble Caledonia, Azamara, Celebrity, CMV, Cunard, HAL, Hapag-Lloyd, NCL, Oceania, P&O, Ponant, Princess, RSSC, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea, Viking.
WHY WE LOVE IT Tauranga is the most populous spot in the Bay of Plenty, on New Zealand's North Island and the main jumping-off point for day trips to Rotorua and Hobbiton. However, there's also lots to see and do in the pretty, laid-back harbour town and in neighbouring Mt Maunganui, where ships dock, should you choose to stay and explore close by.
TAKE A TOUR OR GO IT ALONE? Highlights of Tauranga include Elms Historic House and its surrounding gardens, national arts and crafts at Creative Tauranga, the Tauranga Art Gallery and the Cargo Shed, and a variety of outdoor activities such as fishing, sailing, diving and dolphin-watching tours. At nearby Mt Maunganui you can walk to Mauao, the peak, relax on the long white-sand beach below or throw yourself into surfing, paddle-boarding, kayaking, parasailing or jet-skiing. Fans of The Lord of the Rings films can take half- or full-day tours to the Hobbiton Movie Set to check out colourful hobbit holes, or to Rotorua to see the famous geysers and take a therapeutic dip in the thermal pools. Tours to Rotorua usually include a traditional welcome to a marae (Maori meeting house) for cultural performances, a tour of the Te Puia wood-carving school and a visit to the Kiwi-house.
MUST SEE Classic Flyers Museum, near Tauranga Airport, to see vintage planes or take a scenic flight (see classicflyersnz.com); The Kaimai Mamaku Forest Park, about 35 kilometres from Tauranga.
MUST EAT Tauranga has a great selection of cafes and restaurants, where you can sample everything from good old fish and chips to Asian-fusion cuisine and modern fine dining. Try the Rising Tide pub for locally brewed craft beers and Mills Reef Winery, for wine-tasting or lunch (a local or ship-organised tour is recommended).
NEED TO KNOW You should never enter a marae without permission, always remove your shoes and do not consume food or drink inside.
Virgin Voyages' first ship, the adults-only Scarlet Lady – due in 2020 – will have an onboard tattoo parlour called Squid Ink.
Return to the Nile
Cruise lines are returning to sail on the Nile after several years' absence – Sanctuary Retreats says there has never been a better time to travel in Egypt, following an extended period of stability in the country. Now the company's sumptuously refurbished ship Sanctuary Sun Boat IV is back on the river, sailing three, four and seven-night itineraries between Luxor and Aswan. Cruises take in some of the best-known highlights including the Valley of the Kings and Queens, the Temple of Karnak, the Unfinished Obelisk, Philae and Luxor, as well the more remote, but equally spectacular Denderah, Kom Ombo and Edfu Temples, with expert Egyptologists on all shore excursions. The ship accommodates up to 40 passengers in lavishly appointed staterooms and suites. See sanctuaryretreats.com
If you're looking for a change from traditional Christmas festivities at home, Peregrine Adventures is offering savings of up to 30 per cent off its Adventure Cruising itineraries in Asia, for bookings made by November 22. The eight-day Thailand and Malaysia cruise aboard motor-sailer Panorama II departs from Phuket on December 22 and cruises to Penang, dropping anchor at unspoilt beaches and islands along the way for snorkelling, diving, hiking and cultural excursions such as cooking lessons and meals with local families. Panorama II is a 50-metre, two-masted vessel that accommodates 49 guests in 25 cabins, with a crew of up to 18. It carries kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and fishing and snorkelling equipment and has a swim platform at the back. Wi-Fi is not always available – bliss! See peregrineadventures.com