01 August 2023, 09:00

Saga sees boom in first time river cruisers with more than half of bookings coming from new travellers

Saga sees boom in first time river cruisers with more than half of bookings coming from new travellers: SHP Spirit of the Rhine EXT 17597

1 August 2023: Travellers new to river cruising represented more than half of Saga’s bookings in the last six months (January 31 to July 31, 2023), indicating that the perfect way to take several city breaks in one trip – from a ship - is booming.

That’s an increase of 32% versus the same period in 2019 (previously 39.76%) and an increase of 21% since the same time frame in 2022 (43.22%).

The cruise operator puts it down to a combination of factors.


Nigel Blanks, CEO of Saga Cruises, said: “More than half of our guests this year are river cruising for the first time – an increase of 32% versus 2019 and 21% versus last year.

“Our research shows there are a few key factors. Savvy travellers are realising they can take five or six city breaks in just one trip, all from the comfort of one of our all-inclusive boutique ships. So there’s no hidden costs and our smaller ships can reach areas that bigger vessels just can’t access. Our modern ships, with less crowding and excellent facilities, are also a draw for those trying river cruising for the first time.

“We have also introduced more seven-day cruise options, reducing the number of 14-day trips  and this has proved hugely popular for people who want to test river cruising and we look forward to welcoming them back again!”

Saga’s customer research backs this up with some key findings:


Finding 1: new and small ships

The fact Saga has a very new and boutique fleet is a big pull for customers. Spirit of the Danube and Spirit of the Rhine were only Christened in 2022. Amadeus Elegant joined the fleet earlier this year and Spirit of the Douro will arrive in time for the 2024 season.

These are small ships with up to 172 guests on the existing ‘Spirit’ ships, 150 on Amadeus Elegant and just 126 in Spirit of the Douro. The research showed that guests felt less crowded and that the experience was more relaxed.

The fact the ships host fewer guests was also particularly important to solo travellers as they felt it was easier to approach other guests and mingle. Saga dedicates at least 12 cabins on every river cruise to solo travellers, such is the demand for them.

Due to the size of Saga’s ships, they are also able to visit smaller rivers, such as the Saar, and stops, such as Zell, that other larger ships are unable to access.


Finding 2: culture, exploration and ease

The research also showed that river cruising appeals to travellers who want to see a good number of destinations, experience a lot of culture, who like to thoroughly explore on holiday.

The simple fact river cruise guests can visit a range of places with the benefit of not having to re-pack, move hotels and unpack every day also goes a long way.

The mix of activity, with a balance of relaxation on board and plenty of choices for individual and escorted excursions on shore, is also critical.


Finding 3: value for money

Savvy travellers looking for good value are also homing in on river cruises if they’re all-inclusive.

Saga’s research showed that the fact they include food and drink, tips and excursions (and for Saga customers, chauffeur pick up and drop off from home to either the airport or St Pancras depending on how they’re travelling) is seen as excellent value for money. When comparing the costs to cruises that aren’t all-inclusive, guests quickly realised how the cost of elements such as drinks packages, gratuities and tours will add up, even if the initial brochure price looks very low.

Saga also offers travel insurance included in the price, which can be removed if the customer already holds their own.


Finding 4: length of trip

One of the most critical findings, which Saga believes is what’s driven so many first-time travellers to river cruise with the brand, is offering a good number of short itineraries.

In the past Saga has offered many 14-day river cruises, which still remain an option in its range, but they’ve taken the opportunity to split a number of these into seven-day cruises instead. These shorter itineraries give people the chance to experience a ‘taster’ river cruise.  

Shorter options include: the all-inclusive Canals and Capitals cruise, a seven-night tour of Holland and Belgium from £1,129 per person; Castles of the Rhine: Basel to Amsterdam, a 2023 week-long itinerary costing from £1,719 per person, and the 2024 Douro Explorer starting from £1,461, also all-inclusive for seven nights (full fact-boxes in the notes to editors).

Saga all-inclusive river cruises include free Wi-Fi, travel insurance and the option to travel on back-to-back cruises. Guests can also take advantage of the included chauffeur service to take them from home to either the airport or St Pancras, and back on their return. Alternatively, guests wishing to drive to the airport themselves will be offered free parking. Transfers are also included to/from the ships.

There are no hidden costs on-board either with all dining and house drinks (including a selection of cocktails, draft beers and lagers, wines, spirits, mixers, and soft drinks), Wi-Fi, gratuities, sightseeing tours in selected ports, entertainment, luggage porterage and travel insurance also included. Saga also offers a price promise, whereby if the price of the cruise ever drops, guests who have paid the higher price will get the value difference.


For journalist enquiries, please contact: sagatravel@headlandconsultancy.com




Amanda Allan

Notes to editors

Notes to editors:

  • The customer research was carried out by Saga’s owned research company, The Big Window through in-depth customer interviews.

Included cruise fact-boxes:

  • Join Saga’s Spirit of the Rhine for a new, all-inclusive seven-night Canals and Capitals cruise departing on 6 November 2023 from St Pancras on the Eurostar. Setting off from Brussels this itinerary visits the historic cities of Belgium and the Netherlands with included tours of Antwerp and Ghent, where the cobbled streets and squares are overlooked by the bell tower of the medieval Cloth Hall. In Holland the cruise uncovers the modern architecture of Rotterdam and historic buildings of Schoonhoven en route to Amsterdam, with its highlights, such as the Skinny Bridge and Montelbaanstoren tower. Prices start from £1,129 per person (based on two sharing). Book online at saga.co.uk/cruises or call 0808 258 2887.
  • Join Saga’s Spirit of the Douro for this all-inclusive seven-night 2024 Douro Explorer river cruise, which winds through the landscapes and quaint towns of the UNESCO-listed Douro Valley, one of the oldest wine-producing regions of the world. Away from the tourist drag, guests will explore attractions including Lamego's baroque Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, the miraculous city of Salamanca and the medieval town of Figueira Castelo de Rodrigo, as well as visiting the 18th-century Casa de Mateus Palace, where the famous Mateus Rosé wine is made. Selected dates in 2024 and prices from £1,461 per person (based on two sharing). Book online at saga.co.uk/cruises or call 0808 258 2887.
  • Join Saga’s Spirit of the Rhine in Basel for an all-inclusive seven-night 2023 Castles of the Rhine: Basel to Amsterdam river cruise from Switzerland, into Germany and first to Breisach, gateway to the Black Forest. The next stop is over the border into France to explore Strasbourg’s medieval cobbled streets and half-timbered houses on an included guided tour and canal cruise and from there it’s on to stately Heidelberg before cruising through the scenic Middle Rhine Gorge. There’s a stop in historic Koblenz and an included tour of Düsseldorf, before the cruise concludes in Amsterdam, with an included canal cruise and visit to a cheese farm. Prices start from £1,719 for departures from London Heathrow with British Airways on 9 October 2023. Book online at saga.co.uk/cruises or call 0808 258 2887.