PHOTO: Cable gondola ride in Rudesheim, Germany over the Rhine River. (photo by Jason Leppert)
I sat down with Heather Killingbeck, Director, Trip & Program Development for Adventures by Disney aboard AmaWaterways’ AmaKristina, and she gave me a much greater sense for the overall Adventures by Disney (AbD) product lineup, not just river cruising.
In fact, she breaks down the portfolio into four segments across six categories.
The main products are its land-based trips, weekend getaways, Disney Cruise Line (DCL) embeds and river cruising; all of which can fit into the categories of cultural, active, nature, culinary, exotics and adult-exclusives.
She spoke of the weekend getaways originally being launched as a means of introducing newcomers to the longer shoreside vacations, but it became a “lucky mistake” that AbD loyalists find themselves more often choosing the weekend events as secondary trips during the year.
Meanwhile, the DCL embed product is one where 40 guests aboard the ocean ships in the Baltic or Mediterranean can book an AbD add-on. The packages include preselected shore excursions led by two Adventure Guides as well as exclusive onboard programming.
There are also pre-cruise experiences that can be tacked on in Barcelona and London, as well as New York.
Stepping back a little, Killingbeck also provided a little bit of AbD history, explaining when and how it got started:
“In my opinion, it’s 2005. We started off with Wyoming, which is our Quest for the West. It’s the Yellowstone trip. And we also had Hawaii, which actually we don't have with Adventures by Disney [any more]. When Aulani started, there was almost [the feeling of] like why Adventures by Disney, so we still have Quest. And then in 2006 is when we expanded really dramatically with our international departures as well as more in North America. Our Viva Italia, which is our number one classic Italy trip, started in 2006. And so we’ve been growing ever since.”
Speaking of Aulani, I wondered if there was ever any consideration for including the Disney characters as part of AbD, perhaps as if they were along for the vacation too, as is the model in Hawaii.
“Yes, there was early early early on, and I have to say it was kind of a happy failure in a way,” she admitted.
“We only tried it on a couple different [trips], and the guests didn't want it. We really did want to tell true authentic local stories, and so we realized quite early on that characters are fine but they should be local characters that make sense to our destination rather than the iconic Disney characters. And most of our guests love those iconic Disney characters, but they appreciate really having more local around them.”
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As to what that looks like for the river cruising product, it’s all about developing unique shore excursions according to Killingbeck:
“They have to really tell a fun story in an active way or an engaging way. And so, for example, one of our offerings in Amsterdam is the Van Gogh Museum, but we’ve added on the workshop. So, we usually take a look at what a museum or an active activity has to offer, and then we’ll customize it ... to make it more family friendly. So, a bike ride, for example, we usually try to build components that almost everyone that’s on the ship can do. Of course, there are some restrictions. Zip-lining had a few restrictions as well.
“Zip-lining’s another good example. We’re going to learn a lot about the Black Forest but in a really intimate fun active way, and really like right in the middle of the Black Forest. Most people see the Black Forest from inside of the motor coach, but we were right [there] – and it was very kind of surreal actually. … The Van Gogh, there’s going to be a little takeaway. The clog making, you’ll see a takeaway. The Delft pottery, there’ll be a takeaway. The pins every night. So, we call them magical moments.”
Personally, I had only experienced the river cruise product, and I was curious to know how that compared to the more traditional AbD shoreside product.
READ MORE: Ocean vs. River: Comparing Disney Cruise and Adventures by Disney
“When you take an excursion on the river cruise, it suddenly becomes very much like the land program," said Killingbeck. "The difference is our Adventure Guides who are on a land program, they’re with that same coach group if you will for the entire week or the entire 12 days or 14 days, whereas here you [have] probably each day been with different Adventure Guides, right? But the excursion types and the variety feels very much the same.
“The difference is we’re staying in hotels, and so sometimes we’ll dine in the hotels. But more typically, we dine in local restaurants on the land program, so that's a big difference. But the days tend to start around the same time: 8, 9 in the morning. Typically, in one week, we might be at three different hotels. We avoid one night stays whenever possible. It’s tiring. No one likes to do that. We love three-night stays, sometimes even four night stays.
Is there anything else to consider between the two products?
“The pins are the same that you get at night. We usually make it more ceremonially, the distribution on the land program. … And on the land program, there aren’t choices of excursions everyday.
"So, like the DCL embedded product, where we really choreograph and plan out what that’s going to look like, that’s what it is. And our guests know what they’re purchasing. We have the itinerary very detailed on our website. Once in a while on a given day, there might be a second choice or a backup, an alternative, but typically it is what it is.”