Crystal Cruises redeploys new river vessels away from France

The new river cruise arm of Crystal Cruises is delaying plans to deploy two new vessels on rivers in France.

Instead Crystal River Cruises is to increase its presence on the Danube, Main and Rhine, deploying four of its planned new build ‘river yachts’ in the region in 2017 and 2018.

The shift in focus means redesigning and enlarging the company’s two Paris-class river vessels – Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel – as Rhine-class boats, and redeploying them east in 2018.

Previously, Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel were to travel along the Seine, Rhone and Dordogne rivers in France from June and August 2017 respectively.

No mention was made of recent terrorist incidents in France and the extension of the country’s state of emergency for six months following the deadly truck attack in Nice earlier in July.

The luxury line, which draws a large proportion of passengers from the US, said the change away from France was based on passenger feedback “lauding the itineraries planned in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Amsterdam and Holland”.

As a result, “the company has elected to delay its entrance into the French river cruise market, choosing instead to prioritise its offerings in the German/Austrian region in order to meet travellers’ demand for those experiences”.

Chief executive and president Edie Rodriguez said: “Unlike an ocean-going ship that can accommodate a change in itinerary with short notice, a river ship operates within more confined parameters and is unable to re-route easily.

“We are listening carefully to what travellers are telling us and have concluded that the best way to anticipate, meet and surpass their expectations is by making this move earlier rather than later.”

The line is offering a series of compensation packages to people who have booked 2017 voyages on Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel including on board credits and future cruise credits worth up to $1,000.

No details were given of how many bookings the line has received for the sailings in France.

The new design places the vessels as part of the line’s 106-passenger Rhine-class series currently comprising Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler, which are due to enter service June 18 and August 29, 2017 respectively.

Crystal Debussy and Crystal Ravel are now due for maiden voyages in April 2018 and May 2018 respectively with detailed itineraries to be announced shortly, the company said.

They will be increased in size from 110 metres to 135 metres, the maximum size permissible on the Rhine, Main and Danube. The increased length allows for the addition of a swimming pool with a sliding glass roof and more large suites.

The move follows the recent launch of the line’s first luxury river cruiser, Crystal Mozart.


AmaWaterways introduces enhanced hiking, biking excursions

AmaWaterways is beefing up its biking and hiking tour options for its 2016 Europe river cruises, in response to customer demand.

“Over the past two seasons, we have seen steadily increasing demand from our passengers for more active excursions,” Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-owner of AmaWaterways, said in a release. “While we have always maintained a commitment to healthy and active travel, we decided to start the New Year by kicking it up a notch.”

The company introduced an array of new tours that will debut in the upcoming season. AmaWaterways has been carrying a fleet of bicycles onboard its vessels for passengers to use for several years now, but for 2016 it is introducing several new escorted bike tours. They include:

  • A tour of the historic waterfront town of Willemstad, the Netherlands;
  • Cycling along the Sava River and through Kalemegdan Park in Belgrade, Serbia;
  • A ride through the Belgian town of Antwerp;
  • Tours of the Wachau Valley along the Danube;
  • A ride through the historic town of Bamberg, Germany;
  • A tour along the Inn River in Passau, Germany

Additionally, in 2016, there will be new hiking tours in 12 port cities. They include:

  • A hike to the castle ruins in Durnstein, Austria, which includes two wine tasting options;
  • A hike up Fourviere Hill in Lyon, France;
  • A Passau Castle hike in Passau, Germany;
  • A hike up Mount Pipet in Vienna, Austria;
  • A hike to Chateau Gaillard in Les Andelys, France;
  • A hike to the Dom Luis Bridge, Old Harbor Quarter and the cathedral in Porto, Portugal

The new guided biking and hiking tours are included in the cruise fare in addition to AmaWaterways’ standard excursions that are often offered at a variety of paces, including gentle, regular and active.

Last year, AmaWaterways developed a partnership with tour operator Backroads to create a series of river cruises that include Backroads-led biking, walking and hiking excursions, which will have their first departures this year. More information about the Backroads Danube river cruise departures can be found on the Backroads website.

On the Danube, a sneak peek at Disney river cruising options

Baron Peter von Wethelm, a Salzburg tour guide and relative of the Von Trapp family on which "The Sound of Music" was based, points out a fountain featured in the "Do-Re-Mi" scene.

Baron Peter von Wethelm, a Salzburg tour guide and relative of the Von Trapp family on which “The Sound of Music” was based, points out a fountain featured in the “Do-Re-Mi” scene.

SALZBURG, Austria — In one of its most ambitious product launches since Adventures by Disney was founded 10 years ago, the tour brand earlier this year announced that it would introduce river cruises in 2016 in partnership with AmaWaterways. And not more than a month after unveiling the river cruises, Disney was adding departures to meet what has clearly been a strong response to its new offering.

The travel industry won’t know until next year, when the first Adventures by Disney river cruises set sail, exactly how the operator’s family-friendly take on river cruising will look, feel and fare compared with existing river cruises.

But to get a sneak peek at some of the land experiences Disney will offer along its Danube itineraries, I joined an Adventures by Disney Central Europe tour last week, which includes several of the same stops in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic that will either be visited on upcoming river cruises or offered as pre- or post-cruise extensions.

One of the main Disney differentiators quickly became apparent in the first city on the tour, Prague, which will be offered as an extension on Disney cruises: youthful fun.

It’s not that river cruising isn’t infused with plenty of adult-style fun, often in the form of wine and cheese and dancing in the lounge after dinner. But as a global leader in family travel, Disney has a knack for finding experiences that truly engage children. In Prague, that meant not just attending one of the popular marionette shows (that would come later in Vienna), but actually making our own marionette dolls, bringing to life an old Czech tradition for kids on the tour.

Many of us adults also had a blast making marionette dolls. Likewise, I thoroughly enjoyed the trick fountains at the Hellbrunn Castle in Salzburg and making pretzels. In fact, I took delight in all the activities that were geared to the younger tour participants. There’s something really refreshing about having permission to be a kid again.

Adventures by Disney tour participants make marionette dolls in Prague.
Adventures by Disney tour participants make marionette dolls in Prague.

Take the “The Sound of Music” tour in the Austrian town of Salzburg. When else can you get a pass on singing your heart out to the movie’s iconic sound track while riding a motorcoach to visit sites from the film?

If Adventures by Disney runs its river cruises in a fashion similar to how it executed the Central Europe tour (and I was assured there will be a fair amount of overlap) participants can expect plenty of fun activities for kids and for any adult’s inner child, as well:

• Active experiences, such as our rigorous hike to and through the ice caves of Eisriesenwelt Werfen in the Austrian Alps.

• Relevant movies and music.

• Well-trained Adventures by Disney guides who ensure that the program caters to both adults and children.

• Accessible information about the culture and history of the destinations provided by local guides.

Clients on the river cruises also will have a high-class, floating hotel to return to at the end of each adventure-filled day.

Adventures by Disney will be chartering AmaWaterway’s 170-passenger AmaViola, a custom-built river cruise ship launching in 2016. There will be five Adventures by Disney sailings along the Danube in summer 2016 and two holiday-themed sailings in December 2016 through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.