Special shore excursions include trips to local vineyards and wineries. // © 2013 Thinkstock
Rudi Schreiner, President of AmaWaterways, has created many themed river cruises over the years. He knows that, due in part to the intimate size of the ships, river cruising is an ideal option for affinity groups, and that these special-interest cruises help fill ships during slower times of the year. Armed with this knowledge, Schreiner developed a series of themed cruises that combines two of his personal passions — river cruising and wine.
I recently had the opportunity to sail on one of the “In Celebration of Wine” itineraries, onboard the AmaCerto on the Danube River. This cruise worked in conjunction with Honig Vineyard and Winery, an upscale, family-owned operation based in Napa, Calif. Many of the passengers onboard had first heard of the cruise through Honig’s wine club and booked it as a way to experience a bucket-list river cruise, while also learning about one of their favorite labels.
Stephanie and Michael Honig, owners of the winery, were onboard the ship and hosted daily lectures and tastings. The lectures were a big hit with passengers. In one of the most popular seminars, Stephanie broke the audience into smaller groups and used instructional aids to teach passengers about how aromas help define wines.
The itinerary also included wine-themed shore excursions. In Vienna, guests could choose to go to a typical wine tavern after dinner to try some local wines — and partake in some rowdy folk music and dancing. On another excursion, guests visited Winzer Krems, one of the most successful exporters of wine in Austria, for a tasting and a tour of the winery. The visit provided a fascinating look into the company’s modern operation, as well as some surprises, such as a 4-D movie experience where visitors could actually smell the aromas of the vineyard. Another excursion included a wine tasting in a more traditional winery near Melk, in Austria’s famous Wachau Valley.
A terrific selection of wines was also available during meals on the AmaCerto. While excellent wines are a hallmark of all AmaWaterways’ cruises, this cruise in particular made a point of offering quality local wines throughout the trip — something the wine lovers onboard appreciated.
Schreiner, a river cruising pioneer who was instrumental in creating other themed cruises that are now industry standards, such as Christmas market itineraries and tulip tours, thinks that wine cruising is an excellent match for river cruises.
“Wine cruises attract good passengers,” he said. “They are fun, diverse and often upscale, and they love to experience the world. Our ships travel through some of the best wine country in the world. It’s a natural fit.”
AmaWaterways offers more than 20 wine itineraries each year, generally in March, April and November, on the Danube, Rhine, Rhone, Seine and Douro rivers. When AmaWaterways finds a winery that it would like to feature in its cruise, the winery works with travel agents to bring its wine club members onboard.
“It’s important to us that we have the participation of the winery owner, or someone else who is very high up, as the onboard Wine Host to conduct lectures,” Schreiner said. “We also want that person to be an entertaining speaker.”
Whether the passengers on my cruise had booked the trip because they were wine aficionados or not, none of the passengers I spoke with were disappointed to be on a wine-themed cruise — in fact, in nearly all cases, it was seen as a bonus.
A wine-lover himself, Schreiner often sails on these itineraries. Rather than just come in one day, give a speech and leave, he participates in every lecture, goes on every excursion and has meals with most of the guests. His participation creates a personal touch by giving passengers the opportunity to interact with the president of the company face to face.
“We’re doing a lot of different theme cruises these days, including chocolate cruises, knitting cruises, beer cruises and more,” Schreiner said. “But I think these wine cruises are the best. They are a big success and, more importantly, a lot of fun for everyone.”