AmaWaterways and the Future of River Cruising: Q&A With VP and Co-Owner Kristin Karst
PHOTO: AmaWaterways AmaStella. (photo courtesy of AmaWaterways)
What could be better than seeing historically rich destinations at a calm and relaxing pace?
Life can be so easy for the curious traveler sitting on the top deck and sipping a glass of wine during a cruise along the winding and gentle-flowing rivers of the world. But times are changing, and so are the ways you can enjoy a river cruise.
For years, venturing along historic waterways in Europe, like the Danube and Rhine, was a similar experience no matter what cruise line or vessel you chose. But these journeys aren't the exclusive domain of geriatric folks whiling away their golden years checking off destinations from their wish lists.
People are living longer and more often entering their retirement years in good health, seeking more active pursuits as they explore the world, according to the 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study.
To take advantage of this trend, AmaWaterways has come up with a number of innovations and partnerships that brilliantly modernize and boldly shape how the future of river cruising should look.
For the past year, AmaWaterways has partnered with Backroads, a top tour operator that focuses on active travel, to bring adventure biking, hiking and walking tours to river cruising as a way to explore onshore destinations. The collaboration delivered active options to more than 20 AmaWaterways sailings on the Danube in 2015 and is expanding this year to new spots in Europe and Asia.
The cruise line also has launched new ships at a pace of about two per year, with its newest vessels, AmaStella and the soon-to-launch AmaViola, designed with connecting cabins (a first in river cruising) to accommodate families, along with larger fitness centers and spas. AmaWaterways also has partnered with Adventures by Disney to offer family-friendly cruise experiences (good for kids, who traditionally are virtually ignored by river lines). The newest ships also have heated pools with swim-up bars.
This allows the cruise line to appeal to the baby boomers who want more adventures and fitness-based activities as well as younger travelers who might not have previously considered a journey on the rivers.
Kristin Karst is executive vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways, which has been operating since 2002. I caught up with her at the Seatrade Cruise Global convention in Fort Lauderdale, to discuss the trend toward fitness-based travel and AmaWaterways upcoming plans.
John Roberts: I'm really interested in this Backroads partnership you have. Is this going to expand?
Kristin Karst: We started on the Danube River. Now, we have expanded into the Rhine area, as well, and also in France. The number of departures has more than doubled. (The Backroads sailings usually are partial charters, with about 32 passengers onboard, participating in the program filled with biking and hiking excursions.)
AmaWaterways also supplies bikes (two dozen, plus helmets) on its ships so you can use them at your leisure or during the line's complimentary guided bike tours, which are more leisurely (lasting no more than three hours) than those in the Backroads program.
KK (cont.): This is what our clients want; they want choices. And they all have different interests. Nowadays, people don't all want to do the same thing. Also, we can make the groups smaller. We truly believe that this is the traveler of today and even more of tomorrow.
JR: Are you designing these programs to graduate people from an ocean cruise into a river cruise or to draw in a younger group of traveler?
KK: I think it's both. The traditional river cruise clientele, which we still have and is our main clientele, is more well-traveled and has seen the world … and is becoming more and more active. Our lifestyle is changing; so people at the same age are much more active today than they were 10 or 20 years ago.
We make sure they choose our line by offering more than anyone else. We were the first ones to start with our bikes … and hiking tours as well.
JR: I'm excited to see the new ships have expanded space for the gym and spa. What was the idea there?
KK: We want to make the ships more appealing to both the traditional cruiser and the younger ones. Even our older guests love the swimming pool on the sun deck with the swim-up bar. It's so much better than just a Jacuzzi, and they also love to get a massage. Also important for them is the food. Lifestyles are changing in a way that our guests become more health-conscious. They want to know what they eat and what the ingredients are. We deliver fresh fish onboard and work with a lot of the local fare from the different regions around the river.
JR: You have the connecting cabins and an Adventures by Disney partnership. Are you finding growth opportunities with bringing in families and younger travelers?
KK: We always had families in the past, maybe not so many. But we had them especially during the Christmas and summer breaks. They would just enjoy it; it was magical for them. So, we knew if we step it up, the family market will open up and can become a major market for the future. Of course, families have to decide how educated their children are and how much do they want, because we don't have kids clubs. Adventures by Disney has chartered seven of our Danube cruises, though, and they put their own program onboard … using our crew, and we add kids menus.
But, in general, with the connecting cabins, I think there is an additional level of comfort, and more families might come.
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JR: You are in Europe, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Africa. What's next? Any new destinations on the horizon?
KK: We certainly look at different rivers in the world, but we also have to keep our promise to deliver the quality that our clients expect from us. When we look at certain areas and rivers, if we don't see that we can deliver, we will wait for a little bit until we can do it. When we look at more exotic areas, we have to look at how you build the ships locally specifically for the rivers, hygiene, crew quality in how they can deal properly with the clients. There is a very fine line between the rivers that we feel we want to go to … but we say we'll just wait a little bit longer.
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