Cruising on u.S. rivers has become one of the big growth niches in the travel market, following the trajectory that European cruise companies have ridden successfully for the past twenty years.
All the current trends in U.S. river cruises follow that European pattern: small, luxurious ships, shore excursions by day and sailing by night, and an older client base that is slowly trending to younger travelers. Some agencies report double-digit growth in each of the past couple of years.
Actually, industry specialists say, the U.S. river market, which once seemed a quaint throwback with ships styled to resemble 19th-century paddle-wheelers, is appealing strongly to two different groups, with the average cruiser age settling around 55.
Older travelers who have experienced European cruising but would now rather avoid long international flights and crowded mega-ship ocean cruises are a core market. And, on the other hand, younger travelers with less vacation time are buying seven to nine day U.S. cruises that don't use up time in long flights.
The most-popular rivers are still in the center of the country, with the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee popular, but the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Northwest, and the Hudson and Saint Lawrence in the east are gaining popularity.