Small Ship Cruising: Explore the Benefits of Chartering a River Cruise

Freya is one of Viking River Cruise's new “longboats.”
Freya is one of Viking River Cruise’s new “longboats.”

We spoke with Karyn Altman, VP of business development for Landry & Kling/, about the evolution of river cruising for groups.

PREVUE: Christine Duffy, CEO of CLIA, says river cruising is the fastest growing niche in cruise. Why is that?

Karyn Altman: More people than ever have now cruised. Most on traditional, resort-style ships with all the bells and whistles that come with those spectacular cruise ships. And now many are ready to do something totally new and different.

What are river cruise brands doing to attract groups?

The MICE reps are reaching out to corporate and incentive markets, but they aren’t in the trenches quite yet. But they are reaching out, especially for charters, absolutely.

Are full charters popular since ships are smaller?

Yes and between 120-185 guests is a very manageable number for an incentive program. Your floating hotel becomes your vehicle that transfers you to sometimes more than one place in a day. What’s special is that they can dock in these little tiny towns that some couldn’t travel to as easily with a larger ship.

Now, it opens up a whole new world of cruise destinations for all different types of group programs.

What is the group dynamic on a river cruise as opposed to that on a large cruise ship?

On a larger ship, unless you are chartering, your group is an entity within a larger entity of travelers. River cruises are perfect for charters because you have exclusive use of the vessel. You own it.

Do the ships sail over night?

The itineraries differ based on where you’re traveling to, what you’re doing and what the pattern is. Many of them pull into a small city port at night, serve dinner and then everyone walks off to enjoy a city. While there may not be anything going on onboard, you can step right into Amsterdam, or wherever.

Is river cruising popular in the U.S.?

For 30-120 passengers, both Lindblad Expeditions and Un-Cruise offer some amazing itineraries in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Un-Cruise has a few U.S.-flagged ships, which is a priority for some planners. These lines take guests out on zodiacs with photographers and guides allowing up-close visits to glaciers and wildlife. It’s super exciting to experience these remarkable destinations from your own private ship.

Can you tell us about brands that you recommend?

Among the newer, more elegant ships with gourmet dining, floor to ceiling windows and lovely guest rooms are: AMA Waterways, Avalon, Viking River Cruises and Uniworld. More unusual options would be American Queen, Lindblad and Un-Cruise. Having someone to navigate between the brands can really be a help to determine which product would be best for you. That’s where we come in. We function like a DMC for ships, representing all brands.

What’s your favorite European river?

I would love to do a wine cruise in Budapest and Prague. Wine cruises are growing with groups. You can customize them with different sommeliers, growers, brands, etc. It’s so peaceful floating by neighborhoods in Europe. When you’re on a tiny ship you can really hear the silence. It’s just extraordinary.