Sailing to the heart of the destination with TUI River Cruises

TUI’s Katy Berzins discusses how the business is approaching river cruising

Sailing to the heart of the destination with TUI River Cruises
TUI aims to priorities places that are desireable for guests

By Rebecca Gibson |

Traditionally regarded as the preserve of the older generation, river cruising is rapidly gaining popularity with a wider demographic of guests – and it’s easy to see why.

Although small and intimate, the ships are brimming with fine dining venues, high-quality interiors and amenities, comfortable accommodation, and more. They can also sail through the heart of multiple countries to dock in the centre of destinations, allowing guests to enjoy continually changing scenery and immediately immerse themselves in the local culture the moment they step onshore.

Recognising the growing appeal of the formerly niche cruising product, TUI debuted its first-ever river vessel, TUI Maya, on the Rhine in August 2021, and swiftly introduced TUI Skyla in November 2021 and TUI Isla in April 2022. All three sail adults-only voyages on Europe’s most popular rivers. Planning the itineraries has been an exercise in overcoming unique logistical challenges, according to Katy Berzins, head of TUI River Cruises.

“We must consider whether we’re travelling upstream or downstream as this can greatly impact sailing times between ports – and in some cases it can even affect whether a ship is allowed to dock,” says Berzins. “Some locks and rivers close at certain times of the year – for example, the Main-Danube canal is inaccessible in March and April. Meanwhile, some rivers, such as the Main and Moselle, have low bridges, so we must shut the top deck of our ships for what can be several days at a time if we want to pass underneath.”

In addition, TUI must carefully coordinate departures to ensure its ships pass through scenic areas at the optimal time. “We prefer to sail through places with outstanding scenery – such as the Rhine Gorge or Wachau Valley – during the day so that passengers can enjoy the views,” explains Berzins.

Careful consideration is given to choosing the right ports and destinations too. First and foremost, TUI prioritises places that are desirable for customers. “Big cities like Amsterdam are always popular as there is so much to see and do, but it’s also important to incorporate lesser-known destinations for variety,” says Berzins. “For example, on some of our cruises we visit Krems in Austria, which is a small town but is full of surprises such as castles and historic buildings. Beyond this, we want to showcase the best of the places we visit, so we try to call at destinations where customers can try local delicacies and enjoy nice walks as well.”

Finding berths in the right location is also crucial. “The favourites tend to be those with direct walking access to the main sites of a town or city,” says Berzins. “Proximity to points of interest is also very important; they need to be easily accessible from the berth to allow customers to make the most of their time in port.”

According to Berzins, there are several destinations that resonate particularly well with TUI’s customers. One of these is Budapest in Hungary. “There’s plenty to see and do, the berths are centrally located, and there are amazing views of both sides of the river, especially in the dark when the buildings are lit up in spectacular fashion,” says Berzins. “Customers also love Koblenz in Germany because the berths are close to all the main attractions and the city is easy to navigate. Many of them enjoy taking the cable car over the Rhine to the fortress because it affords great views over the city.”

Rudesheim is another popular destination in the Rhine Gorge. “You’re surrounded by beautiful scenery as you sail through the gorge and it’s also a lovely little town with historical buildings, cafes and attractions such as the instrument museum,” says Berzins. “Plus, it’s close to multiple vineyards and even boasts its own style of coffee made with brandy brewed in the town itself.”

TUI River Cruises has also curated a varied programme of shore excursions that include everything from active adventures to guided sightseeing visits. Wine and city tours are perennial favourites, says Berzins.

“Our customers love to learn where wine comes from and how it differs depending on where it’s been harvested, so we offer wine tours on every itinerary,” she says. “Meanwhile, city tours led by local guides allow them to learn about the history or culture of the destinations.

“Similarly, we offer excursions that are unique to destinations, such as classical concerts in Vienna, a chance to sample the Kolsch beer culture of Cologne, or visits to the archaeological site at Lepenski Vir in Serbia, which is one of our top-rated excursions.”

With so many destinations already in its portfolio, TUI River Cruises will primarily focus on consolidating its existing itineraries and updating shore excursion offerings in 2023.

“We were ambitious from the outset when creating our itineraries as we wanted to give customers as much choice as possible across the most popular rivers, the Danube, Rhine and tributaries,” explains Berzins. “Consequently, there isn’t much room to add more destinations in 2023 and 2024; instead, we’re making minor changes to give a little variation and reflect feedback from customers who travelled with us in 2022. We’re working hard to give guests a greater choice of things to do in each destination.”

This article was first published in the 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.

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