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6 Ways River Cruises Are Targeting Millennials

Convenience, value and active excursions are luring younger cruisers.

U.S. News & World Report

6 Ways River Cruises Are Targeting Millennials

Passau at sunset, Germany

Culturally immersive experiences and the chance for leisurely exploration in off-the-beaten-track ports appeal to millennial travelers.(Getty Images)

Even though the target river cruising demographic skews to the 55-plus crowd and retirees, river cruises have long been trying to lure millennial travelers. While river cruises offer a more leisurely experience than say an ocean cruise or even a land-based tour, many of the world's top river cruise lines are upgrading their ships, updating their decor, adding more adventure-focused excursions and creating healthier menus to appeal to younger travelers. So, if you're a part of the millennial generation, before you write off a river cruise, consider these ways the river cruising market is well-suited for younger, active and price-sensitive travelers.

Healthier Dining Options

Though many cruise lines have started to offer healthy and organic meal options, cruises aren't exactly known for their nutritious cuisine, with deep-fried buffets, hearty French fare loaded with butter and milk, all-inclusive cocktails and heavy dessert bars. And river cruise lines are no exception, with plenty of upscale fine dining options. But to reach health-conscious travelers, lines like Avalon Waterways have partnered with the Wrenkh brothers, famed vegan chefs, to create a completely revamped menu. With fresh ingredients and locally sourced produce, along with vegetarian and vegan cuisine, Avalon Waterways allows travelers to opt for more nutritious meals, such as like a chia seed bowl with acai berries for breakfast or a quinoa vegan bowl made with coconut milk and sweet potatoes.

More Active Excursions

One of the major benefits of river cruising is that all shore excursions are included in the cost of your trip. The only caveat: Many excursions cater to senior cruisers, meaning most sights and tours are seen through the window of a coach. To add more activity, many lines, including Avalon and AmaWaterways, have teamed up with world-renown adventure outfitters like Backroads to create active excursions meant for adventure-seekers. From biking along the Wacchu Valley in Austria to taking jogging tours in Vienna, each itinerary offers at least one active tour a day to get your blood pumping. And for those who'd rather do their own thing, many lines, such as AmaWaterways, Avalon and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection offer bikes to rent, so you can pedal at your own pace.

Gyms and Running Tracks That Allow Guests to Keep Up Their Fitness Routines

For people who work out on a daily basis, taking a week or two off from the gym can be a deal breaker when it comes to choosing a vacation. Luckily, most river cruise companies have upped their fitness facilities and amenities, offering small yet functional fitness rooms for guests looking to burn off extra calories. In addition to gyms, nearly every river cruise line offers ships with running tracks that span the length of the ship on the top deck. Plus, many lines are adding saunas and even small pools to their ships. Uniworld, one of the luxury leading cruise lines, also provides walking sticks and yoga mats on most of their ships.

Unique, Off-the-Beaten-Path Ports of Call

One common attribute among millennial travelers is the desire to go deeper into a culture and see beyond the main sights to explore lesser-known areas. That's why river cruise companies are adding more unique, exotic and off-the-beaten-track port stops on many of their itineraries. Avalon Waterways, for example, is one of the few lines to offer an enriching voyage to the isolated northernmost regions of Myanmar, where the locals rarely see visitors. Meanwhile, Viking Cruises takes passengers along the ancient Nile River and through some of Cairo's most fascinating neighborhoods and local eateries. And Uniworld guides cruisers along India's weaving Ganges River, navigating to smaller villages such as Bandel, Kalna and Mayapur along with bigger cities like New Delhi and Jaipur. Each shore excursion on the Uniworld itinerary showcases top attractions, but also offers travelers a chance to interact with the locals, taste different traditional curries and navigate one of the world's most beautiful and chaotic countries.

An Onboard Experience for Non-Cruisers

Despite contrary belief, millennials aren't cruise-averse. In reality, younger cruisers crave tailored, unique and authentic experiences. That's why many river cruise companies, which have the luxury of being smaller and more intimate, are doing more to make the experience onboard more immersive. Viking Cruises, for example, brings local entertainers, winemakers, beer brewers and chefs aboard while at port to talk about their day-to-day lives and the products the region is known for. And UnCruise Adventures, which offers intimate ships open to fewer than 100 guests, hosts onboard wine tastings with a local expert or invites a world-renowned local photographer on board its ships to teach guests photography lessons.

Better Social Marketing

It's hard for any company to succeed in today's day in age if you don't have an adaptable social media marketing plan. Fortunately, river cruise lines are quickly picking up on this necessary strategy and are creating accounts that aren't just informative, but personal, shareable and designed with a younger cruiser in mind. Viking Cruises, for instance, features photos from real passengers on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Meanwhile, UnCruise Adventures uses almost all guest photos for its social marketing, and is one of the few lines that actively participates in Twitter chats with travel influencers and top publications. Plus, many river cruise companies diligently use hashtags, such as #vikingcruises, #lovetravel and #avalonpassion to inspire younger travelers to tag, post and share their journeys.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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