Watch a show while sailing with American Queen Steamboat Company. // © 2015 American Queen Steamboat Company
Feature image (above): The decor onboard Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection’s ships are inspired by sister company Red Carnation Hotels. // © 2015 Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection
While river cruise lines have not yet developed the range of food and entertainment partnerships onboard seagoing ships, the expanding river cruise industry has collaborated in many directions. Some alliances are designed to extend or improve the product but many add a recognizable name or association — which adds a reliable selling point for travel advisors.
The most publicized recent alliance was Disney and AmaWaterways’ series of family river cruises itineraries set for 2016. Also this year, Celebrity Cruises has successfully launched the Celebrity Explorations program that pairs its cruises with Amras Cruises (the North American face of Lueftner Cruises’ Amadeus ships). The program offers 11 combined river and seagoing itineraries that range from 16 to 24 nights in length.
This month, veteran European river cruise line CroisiEurope announced a partnership with Delta Air Lines to offer combined river cruise and international airfare packages to cities including Paris; Vienna, Austria; Venice; Porto, Portugal; and Amsterdam.
In some cases, partnerships are internal. River cruise lines that share a parent company with tour operators capitalize on their land-based resources. In the case of Scenic, this has gone beyond skilled guides and shore excursion routes to include recorded lectures for the company’s Tailormade GPS personal devices. The devices allow guests to enjoy their own independent guided tours, and they also are triggered when the ship sails past a feature of interest.
Avalon Waterways draws on the resources of the Globus Family of Brands, while Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection owes its very distinctive ship decor to sister company Red Carnation Hotels. Meanwhile, Tauck compares the merits of land-based and river touring when creating itineraries in a given region.
External charter partnerships, unheard of among seagoing ships, have been a part of river cruising for decades. In the case of river cruising, a company finds a good product match in a particular region and charters space and/or ships, then adds special features to brand the experience. These arrangements extend to Southeast Asia and North and South America. However, all cruise lines on Portugal’s Douro River, except CroisiEurope, must partner with Portuguese river cruise company Douro Azul when launching new vessels.
The partnership arrangement varies: Haimark Travel, which recently began selling its own cruises, has also introduced ships and sailings for Avalon Waterways, Uniworld, Emerald Waterways and others. Sometimes these alliances develop into multiple partnerships, as when Tauck worked with both American Queen Steamboat Company and award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns to develop an 11-day itinerary called Life on the Mississippi.
And there are, of course, trade partnerships, including the recent addition of Uniworld to the Virtuoso network (Uniworld is the first cruise company that the consortium has added in five years). Virtuoso chairman and CEO Matthew Upchurch cited the inclusive nature of Uniworld’s offerings as a distinct factor.
Individuals with very strong ties to a destination or its history are prime partners for river cruise lines, which compete heavily on authentic and exclusive land experiences. Avalon’s legacy-inspired cruises, for instance, include the new Habsburg History River Cruise, hosted by Carlos Felipe von Habsburg — a descendant of the famous royal house.
Tauck’s relationship with Winston Churchill’s granddaughter and travel companion, Celia Sandys, has attracted anglophiles and history buffs, while Mississippi River passengers buy out premium shore excursions to the Natchez, Miss., home of celebrity chef Regina Charboneau, who oversees American Queen’s cuisine. In the same vein, Viking River Cruises has partnered with the Earl and Countess of Carnarvon to co-create the Oxford & Highclere Castle (the estate home featured in the PBS series “Downton Abbey”) land extension for guests.
Still, travel advisors believe there is much more potential for partnerships, particularly with high-quality regional entertainment groups that could come onboard for a few hours or well-known local chefs who could lecture and supervise a traditional meal.
“There could be much more in the way of partnerships, both on and off the ships, that would enhance the product and encourage sales,” said Tom Baker, president and co-owner of Houston, Texas-based CruiseCenter. “They could use prominent names in Europe, for instance, to significantly enrich guests’ experience and distinguish their product from one another.”