PHOTO: Adventures by Disney Adventure Guide Betti (right) with Black Forest local girl Julia. (photo by Jason Leppert)
With Disney Cruise Line, the company has succeeded at ocean vacations, and with Adventures by Disney, the company has succeeded at shoreside explorations. Now, in partnership with AmaWaterways, Disney is also succeeding at river cruising under the Adventures by Disney division.
This week I am essentially experiencing three brands – AmaWaterways, Adventures by Disney and Disney Vacation Club – for the first time ever on a very special sailing.
The “Once Upon a Rhine” voyage is Adventures by Disney’s inaugural Rhine river cruise, thus a Disney Vacation Club member exclusive, and it also happens to be the second ever sailing on the brand new AmaKristina riverboat from AmaWaterways. What’s more, it is also a preview of “Beauty and the Beast”-themed experiences that will be available on the itinerary in 2018 (more of that in a future article).
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You might think as a fan of cruising and Disney I would have partaken in this trio already. However, sadly, I have not.
As I fill in this gap in my travel experience, my first impressions of all three are excellent, and we have not yet completed two full days. Even though I am now 33, my parents are joining me for an adult family perspective. We are forever kids-at-heart after all, blending in nicely with the actual children onboard.
All in all, the best way to perceive Adventures by Disney on the rivers is as a premium overlay on top of AmaWaterways’ existing high standards. As its name implies, port adventures are its primary focus, but where they may differ than on a regular river cruise is in their all-inclusiveness. Whereas river cruises often include at least one tour per stop, every last Disney adventure is complimentary.
Plus, Disney curates its very own excursions. There may be some overlap with what AmaWaterways may itself offer, but more often than not, these are exclusive experiences.
READ MORE: Adventures by Disney and AmaWaterways Present New Themed River Cruises in 2018
Signature Adventure Guides make all the difference too. These aren’t merely cruise directors and tour escorts. Many are longtime Disney employees with histories in the company’s theme parks and resorts. One of ours, Danny, formerly played Genie in the live “Aladdin” stage show at Disney California Adventure, for instance, and his fun charismatic personality is a joy to behold.
In some cases, the Adventure Guides actually conduct more of the tours than usual as wonderful Betti (pictured above, right) did yesterday as we journeyed to the Black Forest before a thrilling toboggan run roller coaster ride befitting Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsled attraction (standby for 4K Ultra HD video soon).
Also, tours are easily divided by color groupings. If three adventures are scheduled simultaneously, a guest simply indicates to the reception desk which they are signed up for, and once they are handed a corresponding colored card, they need only head to the colored tour paddle and bus to match.
There’s no need to remember a number and letter sequence. Even better, most groups are subdivided again into smaller sizes so that in-ear audio repeater devices are less frequently required to hear guided commentaries. The more intimate approach means you can feel more present in the destination without a speaker barking at the side of your head.
READ MORE: AmaWaterways Launches AmaViola and Expands Adventures by Disney Partnership
While there are some things geared specifically to kids, including dining alternatives at lunch while ashore, nothing about the tours are dumbed down. In fact, there is plenty to enjoy for adults too such as wine tasting. Overall, the feeling of the excursion variety is that of being more active and playful.
Options include zip-lining, biking, canoeing and more, but there are those that are more leisurely as well.
Additionally exceptional has been the personable team’s attention to detail. Besides an introductory group briefing, most updates have been given seamlessly in transit or one on one.
Other Disney Vacation Club perks we’ve been pleased with have encompassed Adventures by Disney exclusive trading pins, a cheese knives set, producer-signed copy of “Beauty and the Beast,” a “Beauty and the Beast” art piece, special onboard presentation by Becky Cline, Director of the Disney Archives, and other gifts.
Perhaps the only shortcoming on our particular series of excursions thus far have been a couple of instances of malfunctioning bus air conditioning in rather toasty conditions. When other cruise lines are touting new coaches with perfect systems, Adventures by Disney’s suppliers need be on par.
Also, surprising from a journalistic perspective is the brand’s large absence from social media. I’m posting away on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook this week, but Adventures by Disney is only present with an account on the latter.
Those quibbles aside—and, honestly, could be easily rectfied—Disney clearly has a good thing going with its river cruising, and their partnership with AmaWaterways is clearly a match made in Wonderland.