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Rudi Schreiner, president and co-owner of AmaWaterways, has been a master of river cruising since the Rhine/Main-Danube Canal opened the door to make the sector the spectacular success it has become. In planning Ama’s strategy for the immediate future, Schreiner isn’t going to place ships on additional rivers; instead, his company is expanding its clientele through new partnerships that he says have made Ama host to the youngest demographic on European rivers.
“In Europe, there isn’t a whole lot more we can do in terms of deployment except put in more ships,” he said.
The company has introduced AmaSerena, a new 164-passenger vessel that features the line’s first-ever connecting staterooms, in Europe. It will be followed next year by AmaViola and AmaStella, the 158-passenger sister ships to AmaSerena. The two ships will continue the design innovations suited to groups and families, which were created with feedback from Ama’s recently announced partnership with Adventures by Disney. Room configurations include 12 staterooms that can each accommodate up to three family members; six sets of adjoining staterooms that can be connected through an internal doorway, accommodating families of up to five; and four suites with convertible sofa beds that can sleep families of up to four.
“We are starting up with family markets in Europe, which has varied possibilities on the Douro, Rhine and Danube rivers and in France,” Schreiner said. “The Mekong is also a very family-friendly destination and is great for children.”
Schreiner says he has finally abandoned plans to sail the Elbe River after the exceptionally low water this summer.
“I was 90 percent convinced to sail there, and we had developed a design with very shallow draft,” he said. “It’s a great area, and Kristin [Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways] is from there, but it was such a disaster this year that I gave up. Having to bus people between two ships is going to completely discourage the first-time cruisers — they won’t be back.”
However, Ama is sailing in Bordeaux for the first time next year, with 22 itineraries onboard AmaDolce on the Garonne and Dordogne rivers. Eight of the cruises are wine-themed, which has become a strong focus for the company.
Schreiner says Ama is not considering cruising in China until the pollution lessens and, although Russia was formerly a prime destination for the company, he doesn’t foresee going back until the country’s political issues with Ukraine are resolved.
“There is little interest from past passengers,” he said.
Because of the politics in the Middle East, he has little hope for Egypt as a river cruise destination in the immediate future.
However, in other regions, Ama’s Exotics division — cruises outside of Europe in destinations such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Africa — is receiving more tonnage, with the inaugural sailing of the 124-passenger AmaDara this year on the Mekong. The company started on the river with La Marguerite in 2009, adding AmaLotus in 2011. AmaDara will replace La Marguerite, which will move to the company’s Australian partner for use in secondary markets. And after two years in the works, AmaPura began sailing in Myanmar in 2014; Schreiner notes that there are a lot of ships in the region, and Ama has no major plans to go beyond its one vessel.
Ama’s cruises in Africa represent a small aspect of the company financially — about 500 out of 80,000 annual passengers. Schreiner says last year’s results were so-so because of Ebola, which impacted travel to all of Africa for North Americans.
“But people who go on the Zambezi Queen have a fantastic time,” Schreiner said. “We will maintain our presence there.”
Schreiner believes Europe will always be the core business for river cruising, however.
“Every few kilometers there is something to see, and it’s so rich in history and culture,” he said. “It’s the key destination. There are lots of rivers in the world, but many of them flow through long stretches of no real interest, and some of them are unavailable because of political issues.”
Currently, Schreiner’s creative energy is focused on ship design, onboard service and onshore guest activities, which serve an increasingly broad clientele. Tapping into biking, walking and hiking with adventure tour company Backroads, as well as designing ships with family-friendly features, has lowered the overall age of Ama passengers. And with the line’s expansion comes additional requirements, including greater capacity for Wi-Fi access.
“The younger people continue to work and want to be reliably connected,” Schreiner said, “So we spent a lot on Internet technology. Where we used to use maybe 1 gigabyte per week, we now use up to 100 gigs in a single day.”
Mostly weeklong itineraries also give the line flexibility for its varying demographics.
“We’re enriching our current itineraries and ship design and developing our passenger base,” Schreiner said. “And when the time comes that we can go into additional destinations and assure the quality of our guests’ experience, we will.”