Sign Up for Our Monthly River Cruise Newsletter
River cruise line Amawaterways (Ama), founded in 2002, has experienced exceptional growth in recent years, expanding to a fleet of six ships in 2009, with another entering service this year and two more in 2011. To do so, the line has built heavily on the expertise of president and CEO Rudi Schreiner, who previously served as vice president of tour planning with Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection and was president of Viking River Cruises. In the years since Ama’s launch, Schreiner has focused the brand on launching new ships, adding new features and entering new markets.
New ShipsWhile the company’s first six ships were fairly identical in size and layout, the brand-new Amabella, which debuts this year, will be larger. She will offer twin balconies — half true balcony, half French balcony — and will serve as a precursor to sistership Amaverde, which will launch for the North American market in 2011. Schreiner said that the new balconies will be a very nice size for two people to sit outside, and the ship will have a number of new features including a swimming pool and three different restaurants. The Amabella is also 20 percent longer than the line’s previous newbuilds, but with less than 10 percent more passenger capacity, increasing from 75 to 81 cabins. Her staterooms will also be larger, at 225 square feet compared to 170 square feet.
Amawaterways’ Amacello in Passau, Germany // (C) 2010 AMAWATERWAYS
“They travel two or three times a year and often alternate land-based and cruise vacations,” Schreiner added. “They like to explore new things in comfort.”
The Amabella, in particular, will be dedicated to the Australian river cruising market, and will offer a 14-night cruise between Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Budapest, Hungary. The longer itinerary was designed for Australian guests who travel long distances, since most Ama itineraries are usually seven nights in length, often paired with land stays before and/or afterward.
New FeaturesIn terms of land experiences, Ama is making changes to enable guests to get the best use of their time. The company will be using the TGV (high-speed train) to travel between Paris and Lyon, France, rather than buses, for example, with the 200-mph ride leaving much more time to interact with the destination.
The line’s Russian program, too, is constantly being adjusted and enhanced. For example, because of heavy traffic in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Ama guests are not required to return to the ship for lunch; instead, they are taken out on a boat for a buffet so they don’t have to spend so much time in transit.
“Everywhere, we are offering more options on our inclusive tours and have new lecture ideas, using all the senses to approach a country,” Schreiner said. “You can’t stop developing.”
Entry Into AsiaOne new area of development for Ama is the Mekong River, where the line introduced a 15-day Vietnam, Cambodia and the Riches of the Mekong program last September. Explaining the genesis of Ama’s newest program, Schreiner said that he had been in Vietnam some 2½ years ago when he was interested in chartering a vessel. He ended up partnering with Vietnamese interests who were familiar with operating luxury junks and, after they came to experience his Ama ships, the result was the 46-stateroom La Marguerite.
“The Mekong is doing extremely well,” Schreiner said. “Vietnam and Cambodia make a beautiful mixture of cities and countryside. I think Old Town Hanoi and Saigon are like New Orleans and New York: a combination of the old French atmosphere and the new, modern city. Halong Bay is stunning, and spending three days at Angkor Wat are not to be missed.”
Schreiner also said that Phnom Penh, Thailand, was a surprising experience with its lovely waterside cafes, and he praised little towns in the Mekong Delta, most of which are only reachable by small boat, enabling guests to take walking tours through villages and markets.
“I, myself, fell in love with Vietnam, and I would like to do more there,” Schreiner said.
In fact, it appears that many river cruisers share his feelings. By the end of January, Ama had almost no space left in its prime season (September-March) for its Asia river cruises, although, as of press time, there were staterooms available for the shoulder season.
With the line’s initial entry into the region proving successful, Ama is building a second, as of yet unnamed ship for 2011, larger than La Marguerite at 62 cabins. When completed, she will depart on the same day of the week as La Marguerite, offering seven-day Mekong River cruises between Vietnam and Cambodia.
Looking AheadWhen asked about the future of the family river cruise market, Schreiner said that the line is not yet planning to design any family-specific cruises. This, he said, is because Schreiner believes that river cruising has not yet scratched the surface with the general market of those ages 50 and up.
“Families happen naturally,” Schreiner said. “On last year’s Christmas and New Year’s cruise, there were about 20 kids in multigenerational groups. We carry some families in summer, but Christmas and the New Year are natural times for them.”
Overall, Schreiner predicted a very rosy future for the river cruising market.
“There is always high customer satisfaction, and the client gets double the leisure time than by any other means,” he said. “There is such ease — they don’t have to pack or unpack or fight traffic.”
Summing up his river cruising philosophy, Schreiner said, “The key marketing element is to supply a high-quality experience for passengers, to give them a cruise well beyond the value that they paid for.”
Click here for a cruise-ship specialist’s exclusive insight into the Nile River cruise market.