The explosive growth in river cruising has prompted several lines to expand beyond Europe to other destinations—most notably Asia—in recent years, as travelers yearn for more exotic locales. And some lines offer river cruises exclusively in Asia, including China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma (Myanmar) and Indonesia. Following is a summary of what’s available, including offerings introduced in 2011.
AmaWaterways: The 124-passenger AmaLotus will joins La Marguerite on the 15-day “Vietnam, Cambodia and the Riches of the Mekong” cruise-tour between Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. The program includes a seven-night cruise; two nights in Hanoi, Vietnam’s capital, with its ancient temples and colonial architecture; an overnight cruise onboard a traditional junk in Ha Long Bay (Vietnam), a UNESCO World Heritage Site renowned for its limestone cliffs; three nights in Siem Reap, home to Angkor Wat; and an overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.
Cabins on the AmaLotus will average 226 square feet, and more than 90 percent of them will feature balconies and large, fixed windows. The cabin layout and décor will be similar to that of the 92-passenger La Marguerite, with tropical woods and Khmer artifacts. Visit www.amawaterways.com.
Avalon Waterways: Although it charters a number of staterooms on Victoria Cruises’ vessels for its Yangtze River sailings, Avalon sails the newest ships in the market. For example, Avalon uses the Victoria Anna and Victoria Jenna; passengers receive the same amenities they would on the line’s European fleet, including the services of a dedicated cruise director or tour director, and separate check-in. In addition, Avalon passengers stay in the ships’ Executive suites.
The line offers eight Yangtze River cruise-tours of various lengths, from the 10-night “Magical China and the Yangtze River” itinerary -- which features a three-night cruise on the Victoria Anna and visits to Beijing, Xian and Shanghai -- to the 22-night “Cultural China and Tibet with Yangtze River Cruise and Hong Kong and Mongolia” program, featuring four nights onboard the Victoria Jenna and visits to Hong Kong; Shanghai; Xian; Beijing; Lhasa, Tibet; and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. Visit www.avalonwaterways.com.
Orient-Express: This luxury tour company operates cruises along the Irrawaddy River in Burma (Myanmar) with the 86-passenger Road to Mandalay. Itineraries range from the three-night “Highlights of Burma” cruise between the royal city of Mandalay and Bagan, with its 2,500 pagodas spread across a plain, to the 11-night “Gorges of the Far North,” which also visits Bhamo, near the Chinese border. Optional land extensions include Lake Inle in Burma’s countryside, Ngapali along the coast and cosmopolitan Yangon.
The Road to Mandalay features a restaurant, a piano bar, an observation lounge, a small library and Road to Mandalay Wellbeing, with a small fitness center, and spa and salon services. Visit www.orient-express.com.
Pandaw River Cruises: Pandaw, which specializes in Southeast Asia river cruises, has introduced the nine-day “Into the Heart of Borneo,” which cruises the Rajang River onboard the Orient Pandaw. A two-night pre-cruise extension in Kuching is available. There’s also the five-night “Borneo: River and Mountain” cruise, which can be paired with a two-night Kuching pre-tour or a two-night land program at the Mulu Caves National Park, the largest cave system in the world. Through an agreement with Malaysian Airlines, Pandaw is offering fares from Los Angeles.
Pandaw’s five vessels are replicas of colonial river steamers. Each offers staterooms that measure 170 square feet and are finished in teak and brass. Together he itineraries cover the Rajang River in Borneo, which flows between Sarawak, eastern Malaysia, and Kalimantan, Indonesia; the Irrawaddy River in Burma (Myanmar), including the seven-night “Upper Irrawaddy: Mandalay-Katha-Mandalay” cruise; and the Mekong River in Southeast Asia, between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap. Itineraries range from five to 20 nights; pre- and post-cruise land tours are available.
A sixth vessel, the 32-passenger Katha Pandaw, is under construction for an early 2012 delivery. Design highlights include French doors, and teak and polished-brass finishes. The ship will sail the seven-night “Myanmar: The Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers” itinerary. Visit www.pandaw.com.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection: Uniworld will launch service in Southeast Asia in January 2012 when it launches the 60-passenger River Saigon, which will sail along the Mekong River. The ship, which is being built specifically for the Mekong and for Cambodia’s Tonle River, will feature staterooms measuring 168 square feet and offering river views, as well as French doors leading to outside sitting areas.
The River Saigon will offer the 14-night “Timeless Wonders of Vietnam, Cambodia & the Mekong” cruise-tour between Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap. Included will be a seven-night cruise between Kampong Cham, Cambodia, and My Tho, Vietnam, as well as seven nights in deluxe hotels with buffet breakfast, service charges, porterage, private check-in with welcome drinks, and in-room welcome flowers and fruit. At the Victoria Angkor Hotel & Spa, each guest will receive a personalized bathrobe to keep.
Uniworld will offer 21 departures in 2012 and expand to 31 departures in 2013. Optional pre- and post-cruise extensions will include Ha Long Bay and Bangkok.
Meanwhile, Uniworld uses Victoria Cruises’ Victoria Anna, Victoria Jenna and the newly renovated Victoria Prince to offer Yangtze River cruise-tours ranging from seven to 17 nights. Depending on the itinerary, highlights can include Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Hong Kong and Lhasa. Visit www.uniworld.com.
Victoria Cruises: On April 1, 2011, Victoria relaunched two of its vessels after major renovations and renaming: the Victoria Lianna (formerly the Victoria Queen) and the Victoria Selina (formerly the Victoria Star). The line completely overhauled the two ships, as well as the Victoria Prince, which retained its name. The Victoria Lianna and Victoria Selina each has an entirely new deck featuring an additional Executive Lounge and an à la carte restaurant for Executive Deck passengers, as well as an elevator for all passengers. Each Executive Deck offers 101 Superior staterooms, seven Executive suites and two Shangri-La suites, with a total capacity of 220 guests.
Additional cosmetic alterations for the Victoria Prince and Victoria Empress are under consideration. In addition, the line is planning to convert the Victoria Empress’ second-deck staterooms into two-room suites.
In 2012 the company will offer a 75-minute pre- or post-cruise ride on China’s new bullet train between Shanghai and Nanjing on its longer cruises onboard the Victoria Empress.
The line, which has been sailing the Yangtze River for 17 years, offers three-, four- and seven-night cruises featuring the Three Gorges region. All cruises sail through the locks adjacent to China’s recently built Three Gorges Dam; a sightseeing tour is included. Cruises also feature cultural entertainment and enrichment programs. Visit www.victoriacruises.com.
Viking River Cruises: As part of the first phase of its $250 million fleet development program, Viking launched the Viking Emerald in March 2011. The vessel sails on all of the line’s Yangtze River itineraries: the 11-night “Imperial Jewels of China” cruise-tour between Beijing and Shanghai; the 15-night “Roof of the World” cruise-tour, a Beijing-Shanghai itinerary that features Tibet; and the 16-night “China’s Cultural Delights” cruise-tour between Beijing and Shanghai.
The ship accommodates 256 passengers in balcony staterooms, including 20 suites. In addition to the usual public areas and amenities, the ship offers a boutique, tailoring services, a library, an Internet café, a coffee bar, a reading room, a gym and two elevators.
Meanwhile, Viking has introduced the 14-night “Magnificent Mekong” cruise-tour between Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City onboard the Tonle. This itinerary also includes three days in Siem Reap. Highlights include Angkor Wat, an arts and crafts school, a floating market and a traditional wedding ceremony. Visit www.vikingrivercruises.com.--Mimi Kmet