Saturday 5 July 2014

Three more European river boats for Tauck

The innovative Loft Staterooms on Tauck’s new Inspiration-class ships
feature a raised platform with views that start just above the water line. (image: Tauck)

by Theresa Norton Masek, Travelpulse

Tauck, which introduced two new river ships in Europe this year, will add three more vessels by 2016. The company in April will introduce the Esprit, the fifth vessel in the 118-guest Jewel Class, and two more 130-passenger Inspiration Class ships in 2016.

The new Esprit will operate on the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, offering 14-night cruises between Amsterdam and Budapest, and seven- and 12-night voyages between Basel and Amsterdam.

Tauck’s river cruise expansion plans were disclosed by CEO Dan Mahar during a meeting with the media held onboard the new Savor, which was christened June 21 in Bingen, Germany.

Tauck first chartered a riverboat in 1991 and built the first ship to its own specifications, the Swiss Emerald, in 2006. The Savor is the second in the new Inspiration Class of ships, introduced by the Inspire, which entered service in April.

The new vessels, built in partnership with Scylla AG, a Basel, Switzerland-based ship builder and operator, will help Tauck meet the fast-growing demand for river cruises.

“They sell out very fast,” Mahar said. “We’re typically 75 to 80 percent sold by December for the following year. We were definitely at that point last year. We’re about 40 percent sold for 2015 already now.”

And demand is highest for spacious suites. “The new ships have a whole top deck of suites, and they sell out first,” Mahar said. “It’s the number-one thing people buy.”

That presented a challenge, however — how to push sales of the staterooms on the lowest level, which usually are below the water line and have just a narrow strip of a window near the ceiling. “The lower deck cabins are the toughest to sell,” Mahar said. “Every riverboat company will tell you that.”

Tauck met the challenge on the Inspiration Class by designing the innovative Loft Staterooms, which add a high ceiling with a huge window that actually opens. The platform and window are raised above the water line, while the bulk of the cabin and bathroom are below water. Five steps lead up to the platform, which has a table and two chairs and a view from just a foot or two above the water line. The middle part of the huge window opens with a push of a button, as do the window’s drapes and sheer shade.

The result is an airy 225-square-foot stateroom flooded with natural light. The cabins above on the second level also measure 225 square feet but are configured in an L-shape to accommodate the raised ceilings in the Loft Staterooms below. The section of the upper-level rooms is like a foyer and doesn’t feel like space was taken away to make room for the loft one deck below.

The design, which premiered on the Inspire, was never done before and was “pushing the envelope,” Mahar said. “It was harder initially to understand, but now people love being so close to the water.”

Mahar said he expects the river cruise segment to continue growing. “Demand still exceeds our supply,” he said.

European rivers aren’t in danger of overcapacity yet, he said. “The market will continue to evolve to accept additional capacity, and towns are building more docking facilities,” Mahar said. “If you add another 10 riverboats, it’s still not as large as one ship being launched on the ocean side. Market demand will continue to increase.”

He pointed to the Nile River in Egypt, saying that more than 350 riverboats ply the 100-mile or so section between Aswan and Luxor. “In Europe there are thousands of miles [of rivers] so I think there’s still quite a bit of opportunity for capacity expansion. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges … but many towns, villages or cities see this as an economic development opportunity.”

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