TUI River Cruises: Where the river flows

Sam Ballard asks Chris Hackney about TUI Group’s first foray into the river cruise sector

TUI River Cruises: Where the river flows
The ships’ top decks will offer areas for relaxing in the sun, as well as spaces for exercising and playing games

Traditionally viewed as the outdated side of an industry that was innovating at breakneck speed, the river cruise sector has lived life in the slow lane – until recently. Now when it comes to cruising, there are few places more exciting than the river industry.

The rise of the rivers is a well-charted tale. As hardware improved, more travellers took notice and the advantages of river cruising became ever more apparent: the ability to dock in the centre of destinations, multiple cultural immersion opportunities and the chance to see incredible sights as the vessel sails through the heart of a country. The number of players has steadily increased, too. In 2020, TUI joined the list of a growing number of ocean ship operators that are launching their first river vessels.

“Cruise is hugely exciting and has a lot of growth potential,” says Chris Hackney, managing director of cruise for TUI UK & Ireland. “River cruise continues to go from strength to strength and we think it’s the perfect time to introduce river cruising to TUI customers – both new and existing. Our river ships will have a relaxing and intimate feel and, given they are much smaller than ocean ships, launching them as adults-only vessels felt like a natural move for us.”

TUI River Cruises will launch with three ships – Isla, Maya and Skyla – named after destinations with close associations to water and rivers. All three ships will be marketed primarily at British customers and cruise on Europe’s most popular rivers: the Danube, Rhine and Moselle. The line hopes to draw on the experience it has garnered from Marella Cruises, its UK ocean cruise company, according to Hackney.

“Despite being very different from ocean cruising there is so much we have learnt from Marella that can be transferred over to TUI River Cruises, the main part being around the atmosphere and service we offer onboard,” he explains. “Customers will benefit from the same friendly service that’s found on our ocean ships and those little touches – for example when our waiters remember your favourite drink.” The three vessels are currently undergoing multimillion-pound refurbishments to install various onboard amenities, including two restaurants. One will be a casual bistro with floor-to-ceiling windows and the other will be a fine dining restaurant called Verdastro.

Hackney adds: “We’re also building two brand new bars on each ship, the Observatory, which will have a bespoke feature bar with glass sliding doors onto the terrace, and the Club Lounge, where we’ve knocked two venues into one to create a sophisticated coffee and cocktail bar with a cosy digital fireplace. Plus, we’re adding a total of 36 state-of-the-art suites across the three ships.”

He expects the top deck to be popular with guests. “We’ll have dedicated areas for sunbathing, outdoor dining and barbecues, and space for games and wellbeing activities such as yoga and pilates. I predict our guests will also enjoy plenty of our excursions because we’ve included £120 (US$155) per person of excursion credit in the price of each seven-day itinerary so they can choose the excursions to suit them.”

TUI has a strong brand and the team has carefully considered how to maintain its corporate ethos in the new river cruise format. For Hackney, the itineraries are perhaps the most important factor of the entire operation.

“We wanted to ensure we had the perfect mix of well-known places and lesser known gems,” he says. “There are picturesque places on each itinerary such as the Unesco World Heritage-listed Rhine Gorge, Wachau Valley and Iron Gates Gorge. We’ve also made sure we sail through these areas during the daytime so customers can really enjoy them.

“Ensuring that we considered what excursion options are available in each port was also a key priority. It’s really important to us that we provide our customers with choice. So, in addition to walking tours, they can visit major attractions that may be slightly further away from the river, such as vineyards, cruise canals or even visiting locals’ homes.”

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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By Sam Ballard
10 August 2020

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