What started as a basic curiosity with river cruising has grown to a passion. Through my voyages on rivers in Europe, Egypt and Myanmar in recent years, I have discovered this a truly great way to immerse yourself into a region's culture, history, food and beverages (many go for wine; I savor the beer).
The best part: I found out that you can enjoy a river cruise at any pace that suits you -- from simply relaxing and enjoying the scenes that pass by on the river to hard-charging into the hills on hikes and bikes. This dispels any myths about for whom these cruises are most appropriate. Because the reality is that nowadays cruise lines are designing more options to appeal to all types.
Toward that end, Scenic, a company that sells luxury tours and cruises, is expanding its offerings that will appeal to the adventure traveler. The company has 16 river ships sailing all over Europe, Asia and in Russia. A subsidiary, Emerald Waterways, a fast-growing fleet expands to seven ships in 2017. All river ships carry bikes for passengers to use, and Scenic has partnered with Trek Travel to offer bike-themed, seven-night luxury sailings on the Rhine and Danube rivers.
Plus, Scenic, in August 2018, will launch its first ocean-going vessel, the 228-passenger yacht Scenic Eclipse, which will sail expeditions worldwide, including the Arctic and Antarctica.
I got the chance to catch up with Joni Rein, Scenic's vice president of U.S. sales and marketing, to find out what she's most excited about as the line continues to develop.
Before coming to Scenic in October, Rein was vice president of worldwide sales at Carnival Cruise Line. I asked her how Scenic and Emerald Waterways account for the growing appetite of travelers who want to keep active as they grow older.
"Scenic is ultra-luxury, and Emerald Waterways is more of a premium," Rein said. "But in both of those brands, the demographic is 55 and older, and they are very much about adventure travel and very much about getting the most that they can out of the experience."
For Scenic trips, this can mean doing your own thing or joining organized excursions, or a little of both. The line also provides walking poles and Scenic Tailormade, a GPS headset that allows you to hear your tour guides or choose a recorded tour to enjoy as you take a self-guided exploration walking or biking in the port villages.
"My husband happens to walk five miles every morning. He would be great just getting off the ship, walking his five miles and then coming back for breakfast."
Rein says the "action-filled" days going along the river are "magical."
I'd have to agree. I have enjoyed morning runs, long bike rides along curling waterways and into the mountain villages on both the Danube and Rhine. Arriving by river to the front doorstep of some of the most historic and unique places of the world puts the destination -- instead of the ship -- as the focus of your trip.
"Our guests are adventure-seekers," she said. "On Scenic Eclipse (debuting in 2018), which is our discovery yacht, that is uber-adventurous.
"It's got a helicopter, submarine, Zodiacs. That's for the person who wants to be fully immersed in an activity every minute of every day."
Scenic's ships provide an all-inclusive level of luxury and comfort, with spacious cabins and amenities like butlers, 24-hour room service and sun decks (newer vessels have vitality pools up top, too), fitness areas, massage and salon services, Wi-Fi and excursions (ranked easy, moderate and active). The menu also caters to the wellness-inclined cruiser.
"There is a focus on I'll call it 'green food,' " Rein said. "With Scenic Culinaire (a series of onboard cooking classes), it's all about buying in the town, and you cook what you buy.
"Those experiences are all about much healthier eating. And I think the choices onboard overall, while plentiful, have a focus on more of what's healthier."
And what is Rein looking forward to most for the Scenic brands?
For Scenic Luxury Cruises: "The big wow of the year will be our two refurbished ships in France." The vessels are getting the Culinaire cooking school and opening up public space, reducing the number of passengers to give cruisers even larger cabins and an "overall better guest experience."
For Emerald Waterways: The line will go from four ships to seven in 2017. "That's pretty exciting for us."
For super yacht Scenic Eclipse: "She's just been extraordinary in the pace and the trend that she's selling." Rein says that Scenic will be sharing more details of Eclipse, which is being built in Croatia, in a couple months.
Scenic Eclipse is due to sail in virtually every part of the world, and no two itineraries will be the same, Rein says.
"People are booking back-to-backs because no two are the same."
So, river cruising overall and the trend toward fitness activities on these trips continues to rise.
"I think there is a stigma that it is not an active experience," Rein said. "It can be anything but a relaxing time . . . by choice. You can choose to just relax, of course."
We always love more options, as long as a series of fun, physical challenges that get us outside exploring are on the menu. So, have you taken a Scenic cruise? What did you think?
Thanks for reading, and always travel happy!