River Cruise Product Expands Even More for 2012

Here’s a look at what’s going on in the international river cruise segment for 2012.

Certainly, no other travel industry product can compare with the explosive growth of international river cruising. In as little as 12 years, the river cruise segment in the North American marketplace has expanded itineraries in China, the Mekong, Russia, Egypt, the varied rivers of Europe and now, Africa, with major new ship builds every year.

amawaterways Celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2012, AMAWaterways continues to expand its fleet to 12 custom-designed vessels, with the debut of the new MS AmaCerto in the spring of 2012, the company’s largest and most dramatically designed ship. It features a “twin balcony” stateroom design; multiple dining venues; heated pool; stunning glass elevator and more.

The ship joins a fleet in Europe that includes the MS AmaVerdeMS AmaBellaMS AmaDolceMS AmaLyraMS AmaDanteMS AmaCello and MS AmaLegro. And for the first time, the MS AmaDagio will cruise the Rhone River in France in 2012. The company also continues to offer its Provence & Spain program featuring a 7-night cruise from Lyon to Arles on the elegant MS Swiss Pearl.

In Russia, AMA launched the completely refurbished MS Katarina last spring, sailing the Volga-Baltic Waterway from Moscow to St. Petersburg with a choice of 10 different stateroom categories, including four different suite categories and accommodations up to 432 sq. ft. There’s a total of 76 staterooms aboard all with balconies, plus an alternative restaurant, conference hall, sauna and solarium.

This year, the line launched its second new vessel on the Mekong River, the 124-passenger MS AmaLotus. The 7-night maiden voyage set sail in September after a traditional Vietnamese praying ceremony at the shipyard. The MS AmaLotus joins the MS La Marguerite in providing distinctive river cruises from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as part of the highly popular Vietnam, Cambodia and the Riches of the Mekong program.

“I just came back from the Mekong,” explains Rudi Schreiner, president/co-owner of AMAWaterways. “On Sept. 12, we had the inaugural cruise of our second ship, the AmaLotus, and La Marguerite, its sister ship, was started in 2009. The AmaLotus has 62 cabins and 124 passengers—it’s a beautiful, beautiful ship and it’s a wonderful program. The Mekong is booming. We started in 2009 and since then everybody else is coming in—VikingAvalon—they’re both coming in, most of them with partnerships.”

The partnerships Schreiner refers to is with Pandaw Cruises—Viking leases one of its ships and Avalon had its ship built by Pandaw in the classic colonial style Pandaw utilizes.

“I was on the Mekong in 2007 looking at a partnership, but we decided to build our own ship. I enjoyed the Pandaw cruise, it was a wonderful cruise. But our past passengers have an expectation of what we offer them in Europe and on our Mekong ships we can deliver that,” he explains. As a result, he adds, “Our ships are somewhat unique there, but I think that will change very soon. I think they’re already thinking about rebuilding something like ours.”

The trick, Schreiner says, “…is how you can mix and match to get the best thing out of it. With our Vietnamese partners, we went on their ships and they came to Europe on our ships. From the service side, it’s easy because you know the Asian hotels are fantastic and the service levels in Asia are really very, very high and the food quality is very, very good—they have wonderful cuisine, it’s cuisine everybody appreciates. From the food service side and from the excursion service, you can easily emulate or copy the European side. From the construction side, you have more challenges. They’re good ship builders, and the ships are beautiful,” but the company still elected to stay with the more European side Schreiner feels AMA passengers are more comfortable with. “The program is fantastic. I’ve cruised the Mekong five times and I could go there every month—there’s so much excitement every time you go.”

The AmaLotus features 226-sq.-ft. deluxe staterooms with all the amenities of a fine hotel. All suites and staterooms offer outside accommodations, with more than 82 percent featuring balconies. Junior suites provide an extra spacious 290 sq. ft. of space, and suites, at 452 sq. ft., the company says, provide the ultimate in onboard pampering.

AMAWaterways was the first North American cruise company to go on the Mekong and in 2012, they’re starting another first—a 4-day river cruise on the Chobe River tied to three different programs with stays in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Botswana and Victoria Falls. The Stars of Africa program offers three nights in Cape Town, three nights in the Kruger National Park area and one night in Johannesburg, in addition to the cruise. African Sunsets offers three nights in Cape Town and two nights each in the Okavango and the Savute Safari area in Botswana plus the cruise. The Golden Trails of Africa, meanwhile, features one night in Nairobi, Kenya, two nights in Amboseli, Kenya, one night on Lake Manyara in Tanzania, two nights in Ngorongoro, Tanzania, and three nights on the Serengeti in Tanzania and one night in Johannesburg,