From USA Today –
In a move that could mark the beginning of a new era for river cruising, family vacation giant Disney is getting into the business.
Disney tonight will announce it’s partnering with river line AmaWaterways to offer family-focused river cruises on the Danube starting in 2016.
The seven-night trips between Budapest, Hungaryand Vilshofen, Germany will take place on a new AmaWaterways vessel that is being custom built for the family market with cabin configurations that can hold up to five people — a rarity in river cruising. Shore tours and on-board activities also are being custom-designed with families in mind.
If successful, the venture could open up a new market for river cruising, which until now has appealed mostly to adult travelers without children, particularly older couples and retirees.
“We think the Disney brand will bring families to the river cruising category, and we think that’s a very exciting development for the industry,” the Disney executive in charge of the project, Ken Potrock, tells USA TODAY in an exclusive interview.
The new Disney cruises will be sold through Disney’s fast-growing touring arm, Adventures by Disney, which has been offering family-friendly adventure tours around the globe for a decade. The sailings will be separate from those offered by the 17-year-old Disney Cruise Line, which operates four ocean-going vessels.
Initially, there will be just five departures, on July 7, 14, 21 and 28, and Dec. 22, 2016. Still, while starting small, the venture could grow significantly over the coming years, suggests Potrock, who runs Adventures by Disney as well as the Disney Vacation Club.
“We aspire to more, both in terms of the number of departures and the rivers that we consider, and (also) in terms of the geographic locales from a worldwide perspective,” he says. “We think the response is going to be great, and we’re already having conversations about what more could look like.”
In addition to the gateway ports of Budapest and Vilshofen, the initial cruises will feature stops along the Danube in Passau, Germany; Linz, Melk and Vienna, Austria; and Bratislava, Slovakia. Passengers also can add a two-night, Disney guide-led visit to Prague to the beginning or end of the sailing, creating a nine-night trip.
Potrock says the itinerary will offer an unusual array of active, family-focused options both on and off the ship.
Custom-designed, family-friendly shore excursions will range from family bike rides along the Danube to learning archery and other medieval activities at a historic castle to strudel making.
On-board, Disney will be adding everything from interactive Disney games to family competitions on the ship’s top deck, and the company also is lining up parks along the sailing route where families can take a break from touring to play a game of soccer or capture-the-flag.
Disney also is planning “junior adventure nights” where on-board adventure guides will have special entertainment activities for children such as a movie night with a makeshift theater on-board the ship.
In all, there will be five or six activities from which to choose each day, far more than on most river trips.
A passenger “might choose to do one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening,” Potrock says. Disney wants people to “come away and say, ‘wow, there was more (there) than I ever thought I would get to do.'”
n addition to the ship’s staff, Disney will have eight “adventure guides” on board each sailing who will lead family-focused activities — a key differentiator with other river lines, says Potrock.
Chosen from 1,000 applicants, the guides will be “truly the best of the best from the Disney system and beyond,” he says. “They all either have experience in international markets or skills … that will surprise and delight the children and the families. They might be a ventriloquist or a concert pianist or a comedian, or they might do voices.”
To be called AmaViola, the AmaWaterways ship will feature several family-friendly cabin configurations that are common on many ocean cruise ships but rare in river cruising.
The ship will have four suites with beds and pull-out sofas that can hold a family of four. An additional dozen cabins will be able to hold up to three family members, thanks to chairs that convert into an extra bed. There also will be six sets of adjoining cabins that can be connected via a three-foot-wide wall segment that slides open at the push of a button. The adjoining cabins will allow for four or five members of a family to share accommodations.
The connecting cabins, in particular, are a rarity in the river cruise world.
Potrock says he spent a lot of time talking with AmaWaterways founders Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst about the ship’s design.
“We really wanted to build this from the ground up (for families),” he says. “The traditional river cruising vessel is staterooms for two, and families don’t travel in that configuration. Sometimes they travel in three and four and five, and multigenerational, and families traveling with other families.”
Like some other Adventures by Disney trips, the cruises are recommended for children ages eight and up, and there will be a minimum age of four to sail.
While the first five sailings are being sold as family departures, “it doesn’t mean that we won’t in the future consider adult-only departures,” he adds, noting that Adventures by Disney offers adult-only departures to some of the 30 other destinations on its schedule.
In an exclusive interview with USA TODAY, AmaWaterways’ Schreiner and Karst say they’re excited about the partnership.
“I think there is hidden demand (for family river cruising) that is there but has never been developed,” says Karst, noting that the few families the line has gotten over the years invariably leave glowing feedback.
River cruising is “a fantastic product for children,” she says. “Not many have come on board yet, but when (they do) they always enjoy it.”
Karst says she suspects families have been uncomfortable booking river cruises because the typical river line doesn’t offer organized family activities on trips. Even when river lines have marketed departures as family friendly, they haven’t had the sort of infusion of family activity that Disney is planning, she says.
Calling what Disney is planning “tremendous,” Karst notes the line even has shifted its typical sailing schedule on the Danube for the Disney departures to leave more time in ports for family activities.
Fares for the new Disney cruises will start at $4,179 per person, based on double occupancy, and include all meals, gratuities, wine with dinner and transportation between the ship and airports.
Disney’s move into river cruising comes as the company’s ocean cruise business continues to expand its offerings. The Disney Cruise Line will operate its first cruises to Norway in June and last month announced plans for its first cruise to the British Isles.
Disney also recently completed a major makeover of its 1,754-passenger Disney Magic. For a deck-by-deck look at Disney’s newest ship, the Disney Fantasy, click through the carousel below.