In the eternal battle for space on river cruise ships strictly limited in size due to the rivers they navigate, brands operating in the area are turning to innovation to lure travellers. Ships cruising in Europe are generally only a few decks in height but can often be more than 130 metres in length, accommodating just a few hundred passengers per sailing.
As part of this innovation, river cruise brands have been grappling with how best to incorporate a balcony into their stateroom designs. Some have chosen to extend the size of the stateroom itself in place of a balcony, while others have opted for the traditional external verandah or a modest sitting room at the water’s edge. We’ve run through the major brands popular with Aussies to look at the different styles on offer.
Why have one balcony when you can have two?
In its design, APT has employed a ‘Twin Balcony’ concept into the design of its river cruise ships in Europe, which has been largely facilitated by the 135 metre length of its Concerto Class of ship – effectively the longest a river ship in Europe can be due to the size of the locks through which they frequently travel.
Catering to guests who prefer both a traditional balcony and a panoramic stand-up viewing area, the Twin Balconies come with a pair of outdoor chairs for guests to sit and enjoy the passing landscapes. Effectively, they allow guests to enjoy the views from both an indoor and outdoor perspective without losing the entire side of the room to a balcony. It also means that if the weather is poor, guests can still enjoy a viewing area right on the side of the ship and still keep the rain out by closing the sliding window.
If you’ve ever lived in a house with a sun room, this feature is largely similar to what you’ll find on Scenic’s river cruise ships. The lounge room is large enough for a table and chairs and is clearly separated from the rest of the room by a dividing track which contains glass panel doors to slide over as you need.
Inside the sun room itself is a button which guests can use to slide a glass window entirely up, down or anywhere in between to make their own balcony. Completely down and the room resembles a traditional balcony, and completely up sees the room in its sun lounge layout. This also allows the space to become a comfortable sitting area, shielded from the elements on cold, wet or windy days.
A central element to the Panorama Suite design on Avalon’s ‘Suite Ship’ – of which 12 of the line’s 16 river ships are now classed – is effectively the removal of a separate balcony altogether…sort of. While to some it may seem this is the case, what Avalon has actually done is design the entire suite as a balcony of sorts, with larger sliding doors which can be opened to allow guests to still be within the room itself but also standing at the ship’s edge.
In doing so, Avalon has been able to make its rooms larger than most and has positioned the bed looking directly outside, so guests can enjoy the passing landscapes without getting out of bed. A sitting area alongside the balustrade makes for a bedroom / sitting area / balcony combined into one space. Each Avalon ‘Suite Ship’ offers two decks of Panorama Suites.
To explain the concept better, check out this video.
Viking River Cruises
One of the pioneering river cruise brands in Europe, Viking River Cruises often tends to stick to conventional designs in its stateroom design.
There are currently 70 vessels in the ever-growing Viking river fleet, most of which fall under the Longship design which was first launched in 2012. The suite is a two-room design, with the balcony extending off the side of the living room, accessed via a sliding glass door. From the bedroom, a second French balcony exists (not really a balcony, but another sliding door with a railing on the other side). Most staterooms offer a French balcony, with some of the higher categories featuring both styles.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
Uniworld’s fleet of elegant river ships offer a variety of balcony designs, depending on the ship and the room category you have booked. The decor on the line’s fleet is no older than 2009, with the entire fleet being progressively refurbished since then and many brand new ships entering the fleet over the same period. Each ship’s interior has been personally overseen by the line’s matriarch Beatrice Tollman.
Some of the line’s older vessels feature traditional verandahs with railings and sitting areas with a table, while suites and higher room categories offer a sitting area with an open-air balcony possible by pressing a button to slide a glass window out of the way.
Amras Cruises is a relatively new brand to Australia, utilising cabins from the Luftner fleet of Amadeus river cruise vessels in Europe. Employing another new design, the seven ships at the disposal of Amras feature two cabin varieties – Classic Staterooms with a picture window which can be opened, and Amadeus Suites which offer a traditional external verandah.
The balcony in these staterooms is accessible via a diagonal sliding door adjacent to a main picture window alongside the bed. It is furnished with a table and chairs, behind a clear glass panel on the edge of the ship. Space is devoted more to the interior of the cabin itself, so the balcony itself is quaint if not really all that spacious.