April 21, 2016
Adventures by Disney is expanding its program of family-oriented river cruises with AmaWaterways for 2017, adding the Rhine River to its itineraries.
The company, which arranges family-oriented tours around the world, is now in its first season with AmaWaterways, sailing on the Danube. The river line developed its newest ship, AmaViola to accommodate the partnership and bring families to river cruising by adding staterooms to accommodate more people, adjoining cabins for family groups and adding suites with convertible sofa beds.
This year's weeklong Adventure by Disney cruises – five during the summer, and two in the winter to coincide with the Christmas Market season – sold very quickly, said Ken Potrock, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Adventures by Disney and Disney Vacation Club. Although some people canceled after terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, the spots were quickly filled by people on the waiting list.
The new Rhine sailings will be on AmaKristina, a newbuild for 2017. The 158-passenger ship will have the same cabin configurations as AmaViola and AmaStella, an AmaWaterways vessel that is currently not being used in the Disney program.
An Adventures by Disney sailing is very different from the typical AmaWaterways cruise, said Heather Killingbeck, Adventures by Disney's Director of Trip and Program Development. In addition to a cruise director and local guides, Disney employs eight "Adventure Guides," who not only provide concierge service to the passengers, they enable the company to offer multiple excursions in port.
"To make this into a family product, we needed to be able to offer a lot of choices and a lot more activities than on a typical river cruise," she said.
The Rhine trips will run five seven-night northbound voyages from Basel to Amsterdam during the summer, with the ships primarily sailing at night to allow maximum time for daytime and early evening activities in port, she said. There will be one Christmas Market cruise that will go the opposite way.
The ships are also going to stay in certain ports longer, so families can get the most of the day. For example, the ship will stay in Strasbourg two days, allowing passengers to go to a toboggan run and zip line in the Black Forest one day, and spend the next exploring the city on a tour or kayak trip, she said.
Other fun Rhine excursions highlighted by Adventures by Disney include visiting Germany's first indoor ski hall for snow biking, curling and tubing; exploring Alsace by canoe or horseback; touring Heidelberg Castle with costumed guides; and attending hands-on clog painting and cheese-making workshops in Amsterdam.
Adventures by Disney believes in offering flexibility, so parents will choose the excursions the night before; often on its trips, the company has found that as kids meet each other and make friends, they and their families want to spend the day together, Killingbeck said.
Other interesting tweaks that Adventures by Disney has made to its sailings include using the Chef's Table restaurant as a junior activity center during the day and after dinner. Other semi-private areas will be turned into teen hangs, where young adults can go eat together without their parents.
Unlike Disney Ocean Cruises or the theme parks, there are no costumed characters from Disney movies on the river cruises; that being said, some activities that the company provides on its excursions do encourage kids to dress up in costumes, Killingbeck said.
All excursions are included in the price of the cruises, which carry a higher cost than a typical AmaWaterways sailing. All tips and gratuities are also built in. While four is the minimum age to sail, the company recommends that children be at least eight to participate.
Family cruising is a relatively new phenomenon for river lines. Before AmaWaterways and Adventures by Disney entered the market, Uniworld and Tauck were the only lines offering periodic European river sailings geared to families. Tauck is doubling the number of family sailings it has in 2017, from 10 to 20, including a new itinerary on France's Seine River, while Uniworld now has a separate brochure geared just for families. Vantage is also offering a selection of family cruises in 2017.
Adventures by Disney is eyeing expansion on more rivers in both Europe and Asia, not only for families, but for the adults who also love the brand, Potrock said. Disney adult river cruises would be able to run at all times during the year, and not just the summer and holiday seasons when kids are out of school, he said. They could also include post tours in one of the Disney parks.
"We're very enamored with river cruising," Potrock said. "We have a bigger and more ambitious mindset."
--By Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor