Amawaterways to Launch Largest River Vessel

5:45 a.m. EDT) — Following the Wednesday christening of its newest ship, AmaKristina, AmaWaterways has revealed it will launch a new Danube-based river vessel in 2019 that is set to be the largest in the world.

To be named AmaMagna, the behemoth will have the same length, height and draft as the line’s other vessels, but at 22 meters it will be twice as wide, allowing for larger cabins — most about 300 square feet — with a capacity for 194 passengers (40 more than Crystal Mozart).

Its width also means it will be the only ship docked in ports that allow two-deep berthing.

Rudi Schreiner, AmaWaterways’ co-owner and president, said the new ship will feature ocean-style cabins, multiple dining venues (including outdoor dining), an elevator that goes all the way to the top of the ship, a heated top-deck pool and hot tub with bar, expanded entertainment and spa offerings and a water sports platform with zodiacs, canoes and other recreational equipment.

The ship will also boast a fitness center large enough for small group classes, hosted as part of the line’s new wellness program, which will roll out next year to one ship per river.

AmaMagna shipbuilder Koert Kamphuisen of Vahali Shipyard said the vessel will be green, using propulsion that’s a hybrid of diesel and electric engines. In total, there will be 10 small engines, with just four used for propulsion. If more power is needed, electric ones will be used.

“In the end, we expect to save 20 to 25 percent more fuel,” Kamphuisen said, noting that smaller engines also mean less noise.

Construction began on March 6 at Vahali’s headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia. When the hull is completed, the vessel will be finished at the company’s facility in Holland. Because its size will prohibit it from being towed directly to Holland by tugboat, it will instead be taken by freighter via the Black Sea.

AmaMagna is the second of two new ships officially ordered for delivery in 2019. AmaMora, whose name Schreiner said was just chosen Thursday, will be similar to AmaKristina and sail Rhine itineraries.

The line is also considering three additional ships for 2019 to sail the Douro, Irrawaddy and Ganges rivers.

More People Want to Cruise

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has released more good news for the cruise industry as part of its first Cruise Industry Consumer Outlook of 2017, conducted in partnership with J.D. Power.

According to the report, cruise travel is continuing to become more popular and awareness is on the rise among all types of travelers. 64 percent of study respondents said that their awareness of cruise vacations has improved within the last two years, and, in the last four months alone, 30 percent of respondents said that their awareness of cruising and ship-based excursions “increased greatly” compared to a year or two ago. In terms of perception, only 6 percent of respondents expressed an unfavorable attitude towards cruising, down 11 percent from four months ago.

The findings dovetail with other recent positive signs for the cruise industry. In CLIA’s fourth Travel Agent Cruise Industry Outlook Report of 2016, over three-quarters of travel agents surveyed projected a continued increase in cruise sales volume, and 67 percent of travel agents reported seeing growth in river cruise popularity.

Similarly, in the American Society of Travel Agents’ (ASTA) recently-released 2017 ASTA How America Travels National Study, the organization found that Millennials were the generation most likely to take a cruise. 57 percent of Millennials reported having taken a cruise, with 90 percent of those Millennials who had taken a cruise saying that they liked the experience.

Other notable highlights from CLIA’s 2017 study:

The number of travelers who are interested in taking a cruise vacation is up to 63 percent, with interest in both ocean cruising (50 percent) and river cruising (30 percent). Over 50 percent say they will or probably will take an ocean cruise, while 80 percent say they will board a cruise ship within the next 12 months.

The study also found that travelers find cruising a good value for the money. 67 percent of respondents said that cruising offers a high value experience for the money, beating out land-based vacations at 47 percent. 66 percent were aware of close-to-home embarkation port options and more than 50 percent were willing to drive up to 500 miles to a port.

J.D. Power conducted the survey online in August and December 2016, targeting 500 consumers who earn more than $50,000 annually and had taken a vacation within the past three years. CLIA said that this report is the first of three to be released in 2017.

River Cruising is Hot

River cruising is probably the most relaxing way to travel, according to Mary Jean Thompson of TravelDesigns by Campbell, a Virtuoso agency in Dallas, TX,. “The pace of ‘rolling down the river’ is good for the soul and the heart,” she say. Perhaps that’s one reason why a new AAA survey indicates that four in 10 Americans say they would consider a river cruise for their upcoming vacation. Travel Agent asked Thompson and other travel advisors for their intel on top trends for the segment heading into 2017. Here are the highlights.

Slight Europe Uptick Driven by Value: “We have seen an uptick in river cruise bookings over the last few months, but still not the strength in bookings of two to three years ago,” observes Alan Rosen, president, Sand & C Travel, Boynton Beach, FL. But demand is heading in the right direction. His agency is seeing more interest in European rivers compared to a year ago when most of his retiree clients would not even consider it after the events in France and Belgium. So “if things stay relatively quiet in central Europe, I am cautiously optimistic that it will continue to improve, particularly if the lines continue with the strong promotions such as free or drastically reduced air pricing,” he believes.

For Mark Comfort, owner, Cruise Holidays of Kansas City, KS, “the value for river cruising in 2017 is driving in new customers who have not tried river cruising due to what they perceive as [it being] too expensive in years past.” Similarly, Michael Consoli, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Roswell, GA, says river lines are helping his business by offering more value-adds or incentives such as a choice of gratuities, onboard credits, beverage packages and significantly reduced air fare.

For bookings made by March 31, Emerald Waterways is offering free roundtrip airfare from major U.S. and Canadian gateways for those booking a Balcony Suite (including Panorama Balcony Suite, Riverview Suite, Grand Balcony Suite and Owner’s One-Bedroom Suite), on any 2017 Europe voyage. Those booking a stateroom cabin category on a Europe itinerary can receive a reduced airfare of $795 US / CAD per person. Guests booking their own air flights will receive air credits of $1,000 (for Balcony Suite guests) and $600 (for stateroom guests).

Looking for Rooms with a View: Clients are increasingly seeking out “the view.” Candie Steinman, franchise owner, Dream Vacations, Fort Myers, FL, says, “The trend I am seeing is requests for ‘rooms with a view’ on river cruises.” Her returning passengers want the large windows of Avalon Waterways, French balcony and veranda staterooms on Viking River Cruises’ Longships, or AmaWaterways’ balconies. “Customers are requesting the newer ships with these features,” she adds.

Broader Demographic, More Active Psychographic: Agents report that more families and active cruisers are now sailing global rivers. Tauck has family sailings, while AmaWaterways has expanded its European biking and hiking tours. “Health, wellness and active travel is a trend that we first embraced in 2006 when we decided to carry 25 bicycles onboard our European ships. We are seeing this trend continue in 2017 throughout the river cruise industry,” remarks Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways.

And yes, there is an indication that even Millennials are now more seriously considering river cruising, and lines are working to make them feel welcome. Earlier this year, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection announced its new “U By Uniworld” sailings, designed to appeal to youthful adventure seekers; sales begin next month with the first sailings sometime early next year.

The boutique American Duchess will be the first all-suite paddlewheeler on U.S. rivers. Seen here is the lobby of the vessel.

Ellen Bettridge, Uniworld’s president and CEO, says her line is “targeting active travelers between the ages of 18 and 40, with everything from the decor, dining and cocktail service to the land activities curated to appeal to, and meet the needs of, this audience.”

River Baroness and River Ambassador will undergo extensive renovations and design changes tailoring the ships to be completely dedicated to the U by Uniworld experiences starting in early 2018. Ships will feature a more contemporary look in public areas and open spaces.

Other highlights include communal tables, a new culinary program, creative mixologists and international DJs. In such cities as Amsterdam or Budapest, younger travelers will head out to meet locals, enjoy restaurants and bars ashore, and set out on independent or adventurous excursions. Check out the social media campaign, #AllAboutU on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Spending More Time in Port: Now seeing river cruise clients who want to spend more time in ports along the rivers — a trend similar to what has happened in the past several years for ocean voyages — Rodney George, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Naples, FL, observes: “Look for the river cruise industry to slow down the pace of port hopping and give their passengers more time to explore the historic cities and towns along the way.”

More Repeaters, More Referrals: “What I’m seeing are repeat river cruisers and river cruise referrals,” Jim Carey of Cruise Holidays in Kennewick, WA, notes. “I’m finding that first-time river cruisers are coming home after a great experience and telling all of their friends and family about river cruising.” Thus, most of his new river bookings are referrals from guests who have already done a river cruise.

“Additionally, I’m getting repeat river cruisers,” Carey continues. “A few years ago everyone was on their first river cruise, and now those people are coming back to try a different river.”

Layering within the Portfolio: Repeat cruisers are seeking something fresh on the continent. “We see our clients looking for more than the typical Danube river cruise,” Consoli says. River lines are enticing guests with new itineraries that are a bit different. Consoli points to Viking River Cruises’ “Paris to the Swiss Alps” itinerary, a Rhine river cruise experience with hotel stays and tours in Paris and Zurich or “Rhineland Discovery,” which lets the guest explore Bruges and Ghent on a Rhine river cruise.

The lines have also added sailings on other rivers, such as the Elbe. CroisiEurope just began construction on the MS Elbe Princesse II, its third paddle-wheel riverboat. Like the MS Elbe Princesse I, it will cruise roundtrip between Berlin, Germany and Prague, Czech Republic, with opportunities to explore Sanssouci Palace’s gardens in Pottsdam; Lutherstadt Wittenberg; Meissen and its famous porcelain; and Litomerice.

In North America too, lines are “layering” their portfolios to entice repeaters and new-to-cruise guests.“I am seeing rising interest in cruising American rivers for 2017 and beyond, as some of my clients want to stay closer to home,” Muffett Grubb, owner, Cruise Holidays in Knoxville, TN, notes. American Queen Steamboat Company will launch the boutique, all-suite American Duchess this summer; the 166-passenger vessel will sail the Mississippi River and its tributaries. Itineraries will include overnight Nashville stays, shorter roundtrip sailings from Memphis and New Orleans, and, for the first time in company history, departures from Chicago (Ottawa, IL).

Expanding Globally: Mary Jean Thompson emphasizes, “My clients who have experienced river cruises in Europe are now wanting to explore the exotic itineraries like the Amazon and the Mekong.” Concurring on repeat guests’ shift to the exotic is Michael Graham, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Myrtle Beach, SC: “We are seeing past guests from European river cruises moving to more adventurous itineraries such as Russia, Portugal and Asia.”

A recent booking trends survey also found that exotic options are gaining in popularity. It cited Pandaw’s new Borneo cruises this year; new African voyages by Croisi-Europe; and a focus on India with AmaWaterways building a new ship to sail in fall 2018 on the Ganges between Patna and Kolkata.

Several Viking River Cruises itineraries were cited by one agent as examples of fulfilling clients’ desires for something “more than the typical Danube River cruise.”

Inclusiveness Is Expanding: For 2017, American Cruise Lines is offering all guests traveling on its Mississippi River and Columbia River a complimentary pre-cruise package, which includes a premium hotel stay and transportation to the ship. Packages are offered, for example, in New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, St. Paul, Nashville and Pittsburgh. Other lines too are adding inclusions.

“We are seeing increased interest in the all-inclusive product, including open bars and gratuities,” notes Margarita Navarrete, franchise owner, Cruise Planners, Fort Lauderdale, FL, adding that she is seeing more triple and quad bookings.

For 2017 and beyond, “the biggest trend I see is that river cruises are actually getting to be a true luxury cruise possibility,” asserts Ruth Turpin, owner, Cruises Etc., a Virtuoso agency in Fort Worth, TX. Crystal River Cruises launched a luxury experience last year on the Danube, as Crystal Mozart began sailing as the largest vessel on European rivers. Two new vessels, Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler will also debut in Europe this summer, and steel was just cut for two additional Rhine Class luxury river yachts, Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel, launching in 2018.

“With Uniworld, Tauck and Crystal being all-inclusive, this is going to bring a lot of interest from our ‘true luxury traveler,’” Turpin explains, adding that some new luxury products are bigger boats with larger cabins and more amenities. “I think this market is going to be big, because the true luxury cruiser will love to explore a different part of the world when they can go in the style they are used to,” Turpin reports.

More Customization & Smaller Groups: According to Consoli, his clients are increasingly asking his agency to add private tours, personalized pre- or post-cruise packages, or customized experiences. With the growth of European river cruising and the burgeoning portfolio of guest choices, A&K USA is seeing demand for a much more personal, intimate experience, stresses Liam Dunch, that firm’s Europe product manager. Its river experience is a small-group cruising option with a maximum of 24 guests.

And the ships themselves are also becoming more intimate. For example, Scenic Cruises’ new Scenic Spirit, launched in 2016, sails the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. Offering a boutique experience, the vessel has just 34 balcony suites and nearly a 1:1 guest-to-staff ratio.

Themes, Themes, Themes: Dunch also says A&K’s small-group experiences are coupled with themes such as art, music, flowers, Christmas markets and New Year celebrations. Theming has blossomed over the past several years. AmaWaterways will offer more than 50 wine cruise itineraries in 2017, while Uniworld’s “The Monarch Collection” focuses on highlighting Europe’s royal heritage.

Avalon Waterways’ World War II-themed cruises include the 11-day “Paris to Normandy with London,” itinerary, which departs on July 11. For classical music buffs, a 12-day “Musical Magic along the Blue Danube” cruise by Tauck includes a seven-night cruise, exploration of such cities as Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, Bratislava and Budapest, plus a chance to visit the former homes of Mozart, Beethoven, Bartók or Liszt, and concert halls and palaces where these classical music legends performed.

Shift from Ocean Travel: “We are seeing a rather dramatic shift from ocean to river cruises with seasoned travelers,” Rodney George emphasizes. “Seems as though clients who have been traveling for [years] have seen the majority of the seaports around the world and are now in search of new destinations, especially the historic destinations lying along European rivers.”


First Time River Cruiser

I have a confession to make. I am 27 years old, and I love river cruising. Now admittedly, I was a cruise virgin — and I mean all cruises, not just river cruising — until recently. I can’t say for certain that I would never enjoy a larger oceanic cruise, but after my Viking experience, I don’t know how I’ll ever turn back. And here’s why.

Age Is Just a Number

First, let me debunk the myth that river cruising is only for old people, to put it bluntly. Yes, the average age of the passengers walks the line between 60s and 70s, but don’t let that fool you. They were the ones polkaing into the wee hours of the night and throwing back rounds of German beers as if they were locals. I shamefully was the first to waive the white flag one evening when I couldn’t keep up with the multiple rounds of schnapps. I also was not the youngest passenger on the ship. There were young newlyweds, couples in their 30s and 40s and a family with teenagers.

One of my favorite aspects of the Viking experience is that it is an intimate one, so you are forced to mingle with the other guests, especially during meals. In doing so, I learned a few valuable lessons: You don’t shrivel up and die once you reach the age qualifying for social security. In fact, that’s when you can really start living, according to a group of traveling girlfriends in their 70s whose wanderlust has led them to nearly every continent in the last few years. I also met several couples celebrating anniversaries of 50-plus years. They regaled me with tales of their romances and gave me hope that, even in the age of Tinder, true love still exists.

5-Star Steerage

Since I was traveling during winter, upgrading to a room with a balcony or veranda didn’t really appeal to me, so I happily saved a few pennies by booking a water-level room. That’s just a fancy way of saying that if I were traveling on the Titanic, I’d be with Jack in third class. Although the square footage shrank, the quality, to my surprise, did not. Living in Manhattan for five years prepped me for tight quarters, but there was plenty of storage space so that I didn’t feel too claustrophobic. Our bathroom, albeit tiny, was nicer than some at 4-star hotels, and the heated floors were just the ticket after a day spent in 30-degree weather.

Personal Service

Viking sets the bar for service not just in the cruise industry but in the entire travel industry. I may have booked the cheapest fare, but I was treated like first class from the moment I set foot on the ship, when I was greeted with steamed hand towels and the most decadent peppermint hot chocolate. By day two, Istvan, a member of the Viking crew, knew that I drank two apple juices in the morning; that my mom and I would split a single pancake; that we each took two sugars in our coffee; and that I always indulged in a cookie and hot chocolate before the daily briefing. If my mom and I ever ordered differently during dinner service, I would routinely eat off her plate, but Istvan caught on quickly and began bringing me tastings of each item. Perhaps that makes us creatures of habit (and me a glutton), but that kind of attention to detail made the trip that much more memorable.

Intimate Towns

The best part of cruising is that you go to bed in one city and wake up in a new one without feeling like any time has been wasted. While the capital cities like Vienna and Budapest are must-sees, it’s the small riverside towns that charm. You can walk around Passau, home of gingerbread, in a matter of two hours, and with so little street traffic, there’s a serenity that pours over this city. Winter also brings the sounds of Christmas carols when entering the main town center, location of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Passau Christkindlmarkt.

Regensburg, my favorite of the cities we visited, looks as if it were straight out of a storybook. Christmas lights flank the streets. The colorful building facades have been restored to their original state. And similar to Passau, there are so few cars that the cobblestone streets act more like pedestrian walking paths. It’s also home to the oldest sausage kitchen, but even that has been so beautifully restored that it looks as if it just opened its doors.

Christmas Markets

This was a Christmas Market cruise, so of course the markets were the highlight of the vacation. Each town hosted at least one market and they were all unique in their own right. However, some similarities emerged: We could always be sure to find a good cup of glühwein, and we had to put on our bratwurst judging hats since each city claims they make the best. Travelzoo Tip: If you choose to forego the three euro deposit, the glühwein cups are keepsake souvenirs and each feature drawings of the market.

There are several contenders for Germany’s most famous market, but Nuremberg usually takes the lead. Instead of mass-produced goods, you’ll find locally sourced food and crafts, including the famous prune men (small dolls created out of dried fruits). Be sure to sample the Nuremberg sausage, which is unlike any of the others.

Passau and Regensburg are smaller cities, so their markets are a fraction of the size of Nuremberg’s; however, they still have plenty to offer. Passau is known for glasswork, so hand-blown ornaments are abundant. Regensburg hosts a Christmas Market within the palace walls of Thurn and Taxis. Its name translates into “Romantic Christmas Market” and romantic it is indeed. Picture fire pits, caroling, lightshows and a palace that looks like it should be in a Disney movie.

To round out the list, Vienna offers several markets, but the two that stand out are the Christmas market at Schönbrunn Palace and the Wiener Rathausplatz market in front of City Hall. You’ll find the traditional craft and food stalls featured in every city; however, the luminous backdrops of the Viennese markets are by far the most captivating, so plan for equal parts shopping and picture taking (recommended after sunset for the full effect).

Amanda Mulligan is a deal expert at Travelzoo and based in New York. Travelzoo has 250 deal experts from around the world who rigorously research, evaluate and test thousands of deals to find those with true value.

Cruising on the Mississippi River



River cruises will carry nearly 14,000 well-heeled passengers through Baton Rouge and New Orleans this year, dropping them off for day trips to local museums and restaurants.

That’s an increase of about 8 percent, although the economic impact of those visitors is unclear. Neither Visit Baton Rouge nor the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau have spending data on the passengers.

“What we like about the cruises is that they bring a lot of international travelers to Baton Rouge, and although they don’t overnight, they do spend a great deal of time with organized tours, and they certainly see all that we have to offer,” said Visit Baton Rouge President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Arrigo. “The type of person that does the river cruises, they’ll go back home to wherever they originated, domestically or internationally, and talk about their great experience they had in Baton Rouge. We’re excited about that.”

New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau spokesman Kristian Sonnier said most river cruise passengers stay around two nights in the Crescent City, either before or after the cruise.

Officials with American Queen Steamboat Co., which will have two ships calling on New Orleans and Baton Rouge this year, estimated the vessels will combine for more than $650,000 in direct and indirect spending with each docking. American Queen said that figure is based on 2012 estimates that each passenger spends about $60 on a stop.

The American Queen, a 414-passenger vessel that is said to be the largest riverboat ever built, has been paddling up and down the Mississippi River under its current ownership since 2012. In June, it will be joined by a sister ship, the American Duchess, which can accommodate 166 passengers.

Ted Sykes, who serves as president and chief operating officer for American Queen said the lower Mississippi River cruises that stop in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Nottoway, St. Francisville and Oak Alley are the company’s most popular routes. Sykes said many of the boats will be at capacity and the American Queen added four suites this year to meet guest demands. “U.S. river cruising is one of the fastest-growing sectors in travel, and we are proud to be leading the way,” he said.

Riverboats will make 72 stops in Baton Rouge during 2017, said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District. The first boat will arrive Tuesday, when the American Queen calls on the city.


Rhorer said the cruises have a great economic impact on the city, as passengers eat at downtown restaurants, visit attractions such as the Old State Capitol Museum and the Louisiana Art and Science Museum and shop for gifts at the Main Street Market. “It’s not uncommon on the weekend to have people from all over the world downtown,” he said.

The number of riverboat visits to south Louisiana cities is expected to increase in 2018, when Viking River Cruises makes New Orleans home port for its first North American voyages. That service was projected to launch this year, but there were delays with the construction because of a federal law that states ships that transport passengers directly between American ports needs to be built in the U.S., and owned and crewed by U.S. citizens.


Because of the growing importance of the riverboat cruises, Baton Rouge is set to spend about $720,000 this year on riverfront improvements, including adding shade structures to the city dock, improving the landscaping and removing concrete at Riverfront Plaza, Rhorer said. Plans to expand the city dock to accommodate more than one boat at a time are also in the works.

“We’re turning our attention to the riverfront as a tourist destination,” Rhorer said. “We have a great new industry to encourage this and we want to diversify the use and the interest of the attractions on the riverfront. We have something that’s unique with this body of water.”

The LSU Museum of Arts in the Shaw Center is a regular stop for the American Queen, and an average of 300 passengers visit every time one of the cruise line’s riverboats comes through, said spokeswoman Brandi Simmons. Sales in the museum’s store typically jump 40 percent during each visit.

The riverboats bring about 8,000 visitors a year to the Old State Capitol and about 840 to the LSU Rural Life Museum.

River cruisers are frequently older and more affluent than passengers on oceangoing vessels. The riverboats are also much smaller and ticket prices higher. A river cruise might carry 150 passengers, while an ocean cruise can easily accommodate 3,000. The price for an 8-day round trip on the Mississippi River leaving from New Orleans starts at $2,399. A 7-day ocean cruise starts at $409.

The river cruises are growing in popularity. There were 184 river cruise ships internationally in 2015, and 13 are on order for 2017, according to the Cruise Line International Association.

The French America Line’s Louisiane is one of the new entries into river cruising. The Avondale-based company will launch its inaugural cruise this year. Cruises are scheduled for each week from mid-March to early January, ranging in length from five days to 16. The longest cruises follow the river from New Orleans all the way to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.


Christopher Tidmore, one of French American’s owners, said the company’s economic impact in Louisiana is estimated at about $7 million. French American tries to buy Louisiana products as much as possible, although that becomes impractical past a certain point on the river.

Each cruise has daily stops, like Oak Alley or Nottoway plantations, and there are overnights in some cities, Tidmore said. At each stop, the cruise has buses with guides to help passengers explore.

The cruises are all-inclusive. Everything — alcohol, shore excursions and meals — are covered, Tidmore said. In each of the departure cities, French American includes a night at a luxury hotel. In New Orleans, it’s the Bourbon Orleans. In Memphis, it’s the Peabody.

“So when people arrive they don’t have to rush to the boat. They’re relaxed,” Tidmore said.

The cruise line takes care of everything, including taking the luggage from the hotel to the passenger’s stateroom, Tidwell said.

Response to the new river cruise has been “tremendous,” particularly for the lower Mississippi cruises, Tidwell said. Four cruises have already been completely booked, and French American is still spreading the word about its business.