The New River Cruise Ships and Sailings We’re Most Excited About This Year

The world’s newest river cruise ships are delivering passengers to beautiful destinations in Europe, Asia, and South America in style. And they’re leaving less of a footprint, too.

A rendering of the sun deck with a hot tub and white lounge chairs on the forthcoming "Amadeus Nova" river cruise ship

The forthcoming Amadeus Nova is bringing sustainable luxury to the Danube.

Courtesy of Amadeus River Cruises

A new year is a good time to set new goals, and for river cruise lines that has meant putting a stronger focus on developing more eco-friendly ships and products for the year ahead.

River cruise companies are joining a growing industry-wide effort to reduce carbon emissions by implementing new sustainability practices. As demand for greener trips grows, companies are aiming to keep pace.

From ships equipped with cleaner, more energy-efficient engines to new vegan menus and sailings that explore destinations rich in biodiversity, here are five new river cruise ships, itineraries, and programs that are putting sustainability front and center in 2024.

“Amadeus Nova,” a model for more sustainable European river cruising

Aerial view of Germany's Wachau Valley, with calm, curving Danube River and green hills

Among the destinations the Amadeus Nova will explore will be Germany’s Wachau Valley.

Courtesy of Thomas Peham/Unsplash

In April, the Illinois-based river cruise line with Austrian roots, Amadeus River Cruises, will launch the new Amadeus Nova, which will introduce new energy-efficient technology aimed at lowering the line’s carbon footprint on Europe’s inland waterways. The 158-passenger vessel will feature hybrid diesel-electric drive, a powerful battery, and upgraded engines with filters and catalysts aimed at reducing emissions and eliminating pollutants. Solar panels will provide the electricity onboard, while heat recovery systems and insulated glass will enhance energy efficiency. All of these features will also translate into a quieter sailing experience for guests with less vibration felt overall due to an upgraded propeller system.

In addition to the green innovations, Amadaus Nova will also feature the line’s trademark amenities onboard, including a spa and fitness center, a heated pool on the sun deck, and the signature Café Vienna, a Viennese-inspired coffeehouse featuring a variety of hot beverages and pastries.

The Amadeus Nova will sail on the Danube River beginning in April, offering five itineraries ranging from 8- to 11-day cruises, with fares starting at $1,926 per person. Highlights will include stops in the Wachau Valley, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, and Bucharest.

Antara launches catamarans in India’s Bhitarkanika National Park

A broad, flat waterway between green banks of Bhitarkanika National Park

Explore the verdant wilderness of Bhitarkanika National Park from the vantage point of an intimate catamaran.

Photo by Shutterstock

What better way to launch a new river cruise destination in one of India’s most ecologically rich national parks than with a new fleet of intimate ships, thoughtfully designed to leave as little impact as possible on its natural surroundings?

Enter the new catamarans from Antara River Cruises, a pair of first-of-their-kind vessels for the luxury Indian river cruise company and a stark departure from its typical, larger 56-passenger river boats that sail on the Ganges River, often between Varanasi and Kolkata. Antara’s catamarans are sleek in design and small in size, with only two identical suites onboard, which can accommodate up to four people; they feature queen beds and private bathrooms, along with a lounge, dining area, and sun deck.

As with the rest of Antara’s fleet, the catamarans prioritize sustainability. They are custom built to run on a hybrid solar electric and fuel-powered system and are equipped with biochemical toilets and water purifiers onboard. The ships sail deep into the network of the Brahmani, Baitarani, and Mahanadi rivers in the Bhitarkanika National Park in eastern India, home to saltwater crocodiles, more than 320 species of birds, and India’s largest mangrove system.

There are two itineraries available on the two vessels: the three-night “Cruising in Bhitarkanika” voyage and the four-night “Amazon of the East” journey; both sail roundtrip from Gupti in Odisha. Departures kicked off this month with fares starting at $1,080 per person for both itineraries.

AmaWaterway’s “AmaMagdalena” explores the biodiversity of Colombia’s Magdalena River

Sunset over the colonial coastal city of Cartegena, Colombia, including historic church with cupola, with modern skyscrapers in distance

The Magdalena River cruises all either begin or end in the colonial coastal city of Cartegena.

Photo by Shutterstock

Luxury cruisers will have a new river to explore when AmaWaterways debuts the first of two ships on Colombia’s Magdalena River. Sailings on the 60-passenger AmaMagdalena, which launches in November 2024, will immerse travelers in the diverse populations, cultures, and music along the river that explorers sailed to pave the way for trade and communications between the Andes and the Caribbean. Today, the river basin is home to about 80 percent of Colombia’s population, which has a blend of people with Indigenous, European, and African ancestry.

Colombia is also rich with biodiversity—home to more than 1,900 species of birds and 150 types of mammals—and AmaWaterways aims to prioritize sustainability in its ship design in order to leave as little impact on its natural surroundings as possible. The AmaMagdalena will feature 30 staterooms, all with the balconies, a main restaurant, fitness center, three spa treatment rooms, and a sun deck with whirlpool. AmaWaterways will be the first major river cruise line to launch in Colombia. But it probably won’t be the last. Abercrombie & Kent, which purchased the luxury Crystal Cruises brand, said it is also looking to put a ship or two on the river.

A eight-day sailing between Baranquilla and Cartagena includes a stop in Palenque, the first free city in Colombia, bird-watching in Magangue, and a visit to Nueva Venecia, a village of stilt houses, with fares starting at $3,599 per person.

“Avalon Alegria” brings greener sailings to Portugal’s Douro River Valley

A rendering of a beige stateroom, with floor-to-ceiling glass door on the "Avalon Alegria"

The Avalon Alegria will offer priceless Douro River Valley views from staterooms with beds facing floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors.

Courtesy of Avalon Waterways

For the first time, river cruise line Avalon Waterways will begin sailing in Portugal’s Douro River Valley in April 2024, launching a new ship there along with two itineraries. The Avalon Alegria will be able to accommodate 102 guests across 14 deluxe staterooms and 37 Panorama Suites, all with beds that face the floor-to-ceiling windows/doors and provide scenic views of the rolling hills and vineyards passing by.

Expect to find the familiar elements of Avalon’s Suite Ships onboard Alegria, from its relaxed luxury design to its sustainable features. The Suite Ships are built with technology to reduce energy consumption and emissions; they are also paper-free, using digital communications through its AvalonGo app with guests onboard for shore excursions, cruise updates, and menu items. The line uses locally sourced produce and other ingredients to further reduce its carbon footprint while sailing and to support local farming communities.

Itineraries available on the Avalon Alegria include the 8-day “Vida Portugal: Vineyards & Villages Along the Douro,” which sails roundtrip from Porto, visiting everything from the birthplace of Mateus Rosé in Amarante to the artisanal markets of Pinhão. An 11-day version of this itinerary begins with a three-night extension in Lisbon, before boarding the 7-night cruise in Porto.

Fares for the 8-day “Vida Portugal” itinerary begin at $3,299, while fares for the 11-day version start at $4,248.

Vegan-friendly options with AmaWaterways

A white plate filled will colorful vegetables, figs, and pomegranate seeds, viewed from overhead, next to fork and knife

With more travelers looking for plant-based options, AmaWaterways is making vegan and vegetarian meals more widely available across its fleet.

Courtesy of Louis Hansel/Unsplash

River cruise line AmaWaterways, known for its upscale ships and excellent service, is expanding the vegan options onboard all of its ships in 2024 with a larger roster of plant-based menu items in response to increased demand.

Highlights of the new plant-based offerings begin with the appetizers, including an oven-roasted eggplant bruschetta with herbs or a garlic chickpeas bruschetta with balsamic vinegar; savory main courses like a slow-braised vegetable stew featuring portobello mushrooms, carrots, and cauliflower or grilled cauliflower and sweet potato paired with lemon salsa verde, cherry tomatoes, beans, and broccoli. For dessert, a nut-crusted pumpkin mousse infused with dates promises to provide a sweet finish to this sustainable culinary journey.

Jeri Clausing contributed to this story.

Nicole Edenedo is a travel journalist covering the tour operator and river cruise industries as senior editor for leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly. She also contributes to AFAR, Cruise Critic, ASTA Magazine, and Apartment Therapy.
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