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Here's an Attempted Explanation for the Surging Popularity of River Cruises

     The recemt and extraordinary popularity of river cruises--especially those of European rivers--is one of the great mysteries of travel.  River cruises have been around for decades.  Yet suddenly, and especially within the last year, river cruises have become the hottest new means of vacationing.  On a recent radio program which I conducted with an expert on cruising, we were literally inundated with phone calls from listeners inquiring about certain river cruises that they were contemplating.
     River cruises are not an exciting method of travel.  The views from cabin windows and decks are of river banks scarcely differing from one country or region to another.  The speed at which they travel is glacially slow.  The evening entertainment is often totally lacking, or consists of a singer or a small musical trio; there are no auditoriums capable of housing a show or even a large orchestra.  Passengers are abed by 10 p.m.  Because there's no room for children's facilities, families are almost totally absent from passenger lists.  The group sightseeing tours from port stops are standard ones hardly differing from what one can enjoy on any visit to the area, by river or not.
     So why are river cruises so suddenly popular?  They enable passengers, first, to see the more important cities in Europe and elsewhere.  That's because most of the world's major cities--not all, but most--are not ocean ports but found alongside rivers, inland.  Their itineraries seem of great significance.
     But more importantly, they enable a mature audience to experience these cities almost effortlessly, without greatly bestirring themselves.  All other methods of travel require moving from hotel to hotel, packing and unpacking daily, as on an escorted motorcoach tour.  Here, on a river cruise, you check onto a boat, unpack once, and never exert yourself again.  In the usual instance, you simply board a sightseeing motorcoach from the riverboat landing, and are later returned to the riverboat for your meals and at the end of the day. 
     On all other means of travel, you have a semblance of contact with the people of the destination.  Here, you have almost none.  Even on the average group motorcoach tour, you often have to find a restaurant on your own at some point of the day, enter into one and order a meal from a foreign waiter, walk into a shop, engage in a modicum of movement.  On a riverboat cruise, you seldom have contact with anyone other than your fellow American passengers.  Even if you undertake a walking tour, or wander on your own, you are so close to where the boat is docked in the center of a city that you generally return to it for your meals. 
     I may be wrong, but I ascribe the relative comfort and isolation of a river cruise as reasons for its current appeal to a mature audience.  They give you the illusion of a foreign trip without most of the reality.  And while those reasons may not appeal to me, they seem to have a powerful impact on the mature audience that make up the overwhelming percentage of river cruise passengers.  And conversely, they do not seem to appeal to a younger set.
     Am I missing something?