Vasco da Gama

(11:15 a.m. GMT) -- Keeping fit through onboard exercise classes and shore-based activities are growing trends in river cruises, according the world's biggest cruise industry organisation.

Once seen as a leisurely way to travel -- with guided walking tours being the most strenuous exercise -- a raft of new options were announced at the CLIA (Cruise Line International Association) UK & Ireland River Cruise Conference held in Paris over the weekend.

In 2019 AmaWaterways is going to roll out a wellness programme across most of its fleet, offering up to six different stretching, yoga and exercise classes a day. Avalon Waterways is going to have an 'adventure host' on every ship available to curate bespoke shore tours for individual passengers who want to keep fit, as well as group activities for passengers. Avalon is also expanding its dedicated 'Active Discovery' sailings which were launched on the Danube in 2017, extended to the Rhine this year and, new for 2019, will also feature the Rhone.

Selina Wank, AmaWaterway's resident sports scientist and wellness expert, said: "River cruise guests are traditionally seen as more sedentary and less active that other types of holidaymakers, but in fact that is no longer the case.

"When I joined AmaWaterways two years ago I was the only wellness host, but strong demand meant there were six this year and for 2019 we will roll them out across most of our European fleet. I have had passengers aged from six to 92 join in my classes and have had more than 40 people on my active walks."

The conference heard research by the Global Wellness Institute had revealed that wellness tourism worldwide was worth $639.4 billion -- $210.8 billion in Europe alone -- and river ships were responding to this trend. AmaWaterway's new ship AmaMagna, debuting next year and double the width of other modern river vessels, will have its own fitness studio and a jogging track.

With 17 new ships launched this year, and 18 more launching in 2019, the conference also heard the latest news from river cruise lines about plans for the future. CroisiEurope announced it is building a second ship for Africa, Zimbabwean Dream, following the success of African Dream launched this year. The largest European-based line, with a fleet of 55 vessels, CroisiEurope is also adding a fourth ship on the Rhone by relocating the Princesse d'Aquitaine and renaming it Rhone Princesse.

Amadeus River Cruises, which is currently building the Amadeus Star for 2019, announced that it will continue to expand its fleet to reach a total of 16 ships in 2020 with Amadeus Imperial, which will join its premium Silver series ships tocruise the Danube, Rhine and Main rivers as well as the Dutch and Belgian waterways.

This winter the line will also carry out a total refurbishment of Amadeus Diamond, built in 2009, which will include a fully integrated improved Wi-Fi and technology system, available on all Silver ships, where guests have unlimited access to the internet for streaming and downloads tablets placed around the ship providing information on points of interest and tips for exploring different destinations on the itinerary.

Other news announced at the conference included Avalon introducing flexi-dining, where passengers can dine at any time between 7p.m. and 9.pm. Dining is another area of innovation on river cruises, where meals are often served at fixed times. Uniworld recently introduced novel 'progressive dining' on each of its Super Ships where passengers eat each course in a different location on the vessel, such as appetisers in the galley and ending up on the top deck for dessert.

Between 2016 and 2017 the number of UK river cruise passengers reached 210,000 -- a huge growth of 21 percent on the previous year.

Stuart Perl, chair of CLIA UK & Ireland's river cruise committee said it was a booming industry that would continue to expand with the number of new ships being built and the increasing number of experiences on offer, including family and multigenerational cruises.

"River cruises offer choice," he concluded. "Choice of destinations, choice of excursions, choice of onboard experiences, choice of different ships and choice of pricing. There is something for everyone and there is the potential for the UK river cruise market to reach 250,000 in 2019."

--by Jeannine Williamson, Cruise Critic contributor