Over the past few years, river cruising has become an increasingly popular vacation option. Today, thanks to affordable pricing and innovations by several top river cruise lines, the category’s sales continue to skyrocket. In fact, according to CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., river cruise sales among the network’s more than 1,100 Franchise Owners and Agents are up 67% in 2009 vs. 2008.

There are several reasons for the growing popularity of river cruising. First, many of the world’s finest destinations cannot be reached by traditional cruise ships. These much sought-after spots can, however, be reached by river cruising vessels. Then, there are the ships themselves. River cruise ships typically transport less than 200 passengers, offering an intimate “boutique hotel” feel. Cabins are, in some cases, more spacious than on larger ships. And, there is no shortage of evening entertainment including piano players, singers and local talent. Today’s river cruise ships even feature gyms, swimming pools and Wi-Fi.

According to CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., a variety of new innovations by three top river cruise lines have contributed to the category’s rising popularity. Examples include:

Avalon Waterways
“In preparing for 2010, Avalon announced a renewed focus on unique themed river cruise vacations, dubbing their approach ‘passion travel’,” said Steven Hattem, Vice President of Marketing for CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. “An emphasis on wine, music and other cultural traditions is being marketed by our agents and attracting the attention of avid cruisers seeking a new experience.”

One example cited by CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. is Avalon’s Magnificent Europe itinerary, departing October 17, 2010. During that sailing, local experts will offer overviews of European music and shore excursions will include a Strauss concert in Vienna and visit to the Opera House in Bayreuth.

Uniworld
“Uniworld has really committed to upgrading their ships and services this year,” said Hattem. “Our 2009 Uniworld bookings continue to increase, primarily because of the line’s two new ships and emphasis on technology and amenities.”

The new vessels mentioned by Hattem include the 160-passenger River Beatrice and the 82-passenger River Tosca. Both have new hi-tech features including iPOD docking stations and flat-screen TVs, as well as new pool areas with cabanas, hotel-style beds, pillow menus and L’Occitane bath products.

Viking
“Viking is one river cruising line that should not be left out of the mix when talking about innovation in 2009,” said Hattem. “Most significantly, Viking has redesigned their itineraries in response to consumer demand, which is satisfying customers looking for shorter, aggressively priced China and Europe voyages.”

One example of this is Viking’s new 10-day China Discovery, which includes three days in Beijing and a six-day Yangtze River cruise. A new 8-day Imperial Danube sailing begins and ends in Passau, letting travelers will enjoy an intimate journey through Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania.