Saga is to build its first river cruise ship which will sail on European rivers from spring 2021.

The over-50s specialist says Spirit of the Rhine will be inspired by its ocean vessel Spirit of Discovery, which launched in July.

It will have 95 17-sq-ft cabins with a capacity for 190 passengers almost all of which will have a French balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows.

On board facilities will include a lounge, bar, library area, two restaurants, sun deck, jacuzzi, gym, barbecue and ‘extensive seating’. They will be operated on a full-board basis and fares will include gratuities and ‘VIP’ airport transfers.

Bookings for the ship, to be built by Dutch company Vahali, will be open when its first itineraries are published on December 2.

More: Video – first look at Saga’s Spirit of Discovery

Saga’s Spirit of Discovery will ‘tackle brand perception’

Spirit of the Rhine will sail on the Rhine, Moselle, Main and Danube and through the Dutch waterways. Saga promises a combination of popular destinations and ‘less familiar ports of call’.

Head of trade sales Iain Powell told Travel Weekly : “This announcement was led by the success of Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure. Even though the latter isn’t in service yet, sales have been incredible.

“The design has been led by the demand for boutique ocean cruising and we believe consumers will want the same on the rivers.

“River cruising is one of the fastest-growing sectors in travel and so it is our intention to upgrade our river fleet, as we are our ocean fleet.”

Asked if Spirit of the Rhine would be the first of many vessels built and introduced on other European rivers, Powell said: “Our  intention is absolutely to continue to upgrade our river cruise fleet.”

He said the USPs of Spirit of the Rhine were its outdoor space and its floor-to-ceiling windows on middle and upper decks, which should bring the river and surroundings closer to guests.

“Unlike other ships, regardless of where we are on the river, we will always have outdoor space available. And the floor-to-ceiling windows in many cabins will appeal to all river cruisers, but particularly our demographic who can literally sit in comfort and watch the world go by at a leisurely pace.”

Spirit of the Rhine 600x320

Saga carries 20,000 passengers a year on river cruises sailings, on charters or by taking allocations on other river ships.

Powell added: “It’s absolutely our intention to get agents on board our new river ship. Trade events are planned for 2021 to ensure as many agents as possible see her.”

Robin Shaw, chief executive of Saga Travel, said: “We are using our experience in ocean cruising to design a bespoke ship for those guests who want a luxurious, boutique river cruise experience.

“This launch of Spirit of the Rhine heralds a step change in the future of river cruising and when it comes to the onboard experience, our boutique approach to cruising will ensure that our guests have an experience that combines unrivalled, first class service with bespoke authentic experiences that are tailored just for them.”

Meanwhile, Shaw is hosting a site tour for analysts and investors today (Monday) on board Spirit of Discovery in Southampton.