Tag Archives: Budapest

Many Rivers To Cross With AmaWaterways.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.

River cruising is becoming a preferred choice for vacations as travelers seek out new experiences. Hard to believe that the industry only emerged in 1992 after the completion of the Main-Danube Canal, making it possible for pretty much all of Europe to leverage its maritime landscape. While the Continent’s rivers had long been used for merchant trading, the completion of the Canal opened up new routes and provided the European travel industry with unique opportunities for travelers to experience this destination from an entirely different point of view.

While American travel companies didn’t jump on board until around 10 years later, they quickly witnessed the rise of river cruising once they rolled out their ships. One of the lines making a name for itself on this side of the Atlantic is AmaWaterways, which operates voyages in Europe, Russia, Asia and Africa. For anyone who’s never been on a cruise or doesn’t like the idea of being on the open ocean, river cruising offers a unique opportunity to test the waters. I had a chat with Gary Murphy, Vice President of Sales from AmaWaterways to learn more about its growing appeal.

Q: For an industry that’s fairly young, you’re doing pretty well. What’s all the fuss?
A: Over 90% of the folks who book with us are people who enjoy cruising but want a more intimate experience than on a gigantic ship. They love the feeling of going on a smaller boutique type of experience. Depending on the itinerary and ship, we max out at 162 guests. River cruising can be a very leisurely vacation or it can be extremely active. The ship is not the destination like it is on an ocean cruise.

AMAWaterways' Zambezi Queen

AMAWaterways’ Zambezi Queen

Q: What do you want people to know about this bird’s eye view?
A: When you look at river cruising, you need to look at it like a floating hotel. Many cities in Europe evolved along the banks of major rivers and a river cruise can take you right to the historic center of those cities. Often, you’re asleep when the ship is en route to the next destination. If you’re going through central Europe on a motor coach or train, you’re traveling during the day. On the ship you wake up in a new town, go out and explore it, come back to the ship for lunch, then cruise to another town. There’s always something new to see.

Q: What about those bikes on your European itineraries.
A: We once had a group of six women who planted the seed for guided bike tours. They were on a cruise in the Netherlands and didn’t take the daily sightseeing tours with us – instead, they borrowed our bikes and planned out their own routes, cycling to the next port and meeting back up with the ship. They did all the research themselves, which was a bit of work for them. So we thought, let’s do this for our guests. Now on every European itinerary (except Portugal) we’re the only river cruise line that travels with over 25 bikes stored on the ship. They’re completely complimentary and guests love being able to explore on their own or take a guided bike tour.

Q: So you’re giving it up for us gals here, right?
A: It was a great idea and we’re happy to give those women full credit! Women like to bike and they don’t want to have to carry their luggage with them or have a van follow them. Many of our ships cruise along the Rhine or Danube, both of which have paved bike paths along the riverbanks, completely separate from the roads. On certain days you can ride ahead of the ship, going through small towns along the way, and meet the ship in the next port. If the ship is in port all day, you can borrow a bike and sightsee on your own, returning to the ship later that afternoon. On our guided bike tours we have two guides, one who rides in front with the fastest rider and one who rides in back with the slowest rider. They’re there to keep an eye on everything.

Vineyards along Portugal's Douro River.

Vineyards along Portugal’s Douro River.

Q: What’s the most popular itinerary these days?
A: The most popular cruise for the company is also the most popular cruise with women, Budapest to Nuremburg on the Danube. It’s a great itinerary with Vienna, Budapest, a pre/post stay in Prague, and pretty little towns like Durnstein and Melk. Another popular one is our Paris & Normandy cruise. France is commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day in 2014, and our Paris & Normandy itinerary includes some special excursions to the D-Day beaches. And we have a Knitting Cruise that sails over New Year’s in 2014, which is already 60% sold out.

The Danube.

The Danube.

Q: I don’t knit but it might be a good excuse to learn. Who’s the inspiration behind these ideas?
A: Kristin Karst, our Executive Vice President, is very creative, very active and she loves designing eclectic itineraries. For instance, she created a Chocolate Cruise where guests visit a castle, see how chocolates are made, and learn how to pair dark chocolate with red wine. Our culinary and wine tours are really popular. In Austria, guests on our wine cruises get to do a tasting of Sekt, the Austrian version of champagne, served inside a mountain cave outside the town of Schlumberger.

Up close and personal in Normandy.

Up close and personal in Normandy.

Q: You’ve added a new destination in 2014 that’s long been closed to tourists. Tell me about Myanmar.
A: It’s a niche market. We like going into destinations that are interesting to operate in. Our president, Rudi Schreiner, is a river cruising pioneer who loves going into new areas of business and designing ships that best serve that area. Our ships in Mekong are hands down the best ships there. Rudi is designing a ship for Myanmar, a beautiful small ship with only 28 suites. It’s the perfect size to operate on the Ayeyarwady River.

Q: For all its popularity, there’s not a lot of advertising for river cruising. Why is that?
A: We advertise in conjunction with retail travel agents and all of our business comes through them. We create a lot of educational tools for travel agents because it’s very important for them to understand our product and the exceptional value we offer. A good travel agent can point out the differences and benefits between competitors and help clients determine which river cruise is the best choice for them. The best travel agents are the ones who know how to match their clients to the right product.

Q: Younger people don’t typically cruise, are you seeing any changes there?
A: We’re seeing them in multi-generational family travel because river cruising lends itself to that type of vacation experience. For instance, teenagers or active folks can bike, their parents can go on a culinary tour, the grandparents can go on a leisurely walking tour, and then you all meet back on board to share a meal and spend some time together as a family.

You know, two years ago I went surfing in Indonesia and brought my family with me. We were standing in the airport and my daughters started complaining about the long flying time. My 16-year old turned to me and said, “Dad, we should have just taken another river cruise!”

Curious if a river cruise is the way to go? Learn more at AmaWaterways or speak with a travel agent.

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Seeing the Awe, Not the Ugh.

Take me to the river. Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest.

Take me to the river.   Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest.

Back in the fourth grade one of the assignments given to my class was to research the history of a country.  I wanted England.  I was nine years old and I was really into English novels and all things British.   England was mine.

The teacher passed a hat around and asked us to pick a folded slip of paper from it and pass the hat to the student behind us.  My turn came and I dipped my hand into the hat, closed my eyes and willed England.  Instead, I got Hungary and the only thought that went through my head was—you gotta be kidding me (actually it was something else).

I asked my teacher if I could swap Hungary for England.  She said, no.  She was the teacher, I was the student, and this was Catholic school.  Back then, no really did mean no.   So I had myself a little pity party on the way home, got over my bad self and sucked it up that I was stuck with a country that I had no interest in, much less to write about.

I thought of that experience recently when I met with a group of travel counselors to discuss the value of them writing about their travels.   Many of them don’t think that they can write or they’re uncomfortable with the idea of it.  For others, there’s no interest or they just don’t see the value in it.  I get it, it’s not what they signed up for, it’s not in “the box” that’s their profession.  Throwing foreign stuff into the game of what we do every day and what we think we know can be startling and icky.

Recently, I wrote an article about developing your skills and interviewed career coach Kathy Gonzales.  She told me, “The thing that repulses you has gold inside.”  What exactly does she mean by that?  Basically, that we put roadblocks in front of ourselves that might prevent us from seeing an opportunity.  We assign an “ugh” instead of awe to an opportunity.   She also offered this advice, “Do something that you don’t want to do. Do something that you’re afraid to do because in the process of doing that you’ll open yourself up to removing certain blocks, you’ll open up perspectives, and you’ll learn something new.  Mostly, you’ll learn something that you thought you knew but don’t know.”

I get that doing something you don’t want to do is uncomfortable.  I also know that travel agents who take the first step and put pen to pad will discover a world inside themselves they didn’t know existed.  They’ll see the gold.

I reluctantly researched Hungary and the more I learned, the more I burned with curiosity about the place.   I begged my mom to make goulash but that wasn’t happening in our house.   In the end, I turned in my paper and turned out an A+.  It felt good, I felt good, I was on fire.

Decades later, I found myself in Hungary gazing at the magnificent stone, Széchenyi Chain Bridge that reaches over the Danube River connecting Buda to Pest.  I felt a connection to this place.  I also remembered my stubborn, younger self.  Funny how things shake out.

Yea, sometimes we have to push ourselves kicking and screaming into doing something we don’t want to do it.  But try it.  Give yourself a chance.  You just may discover you’re on fire.