ABOARD THE AMAVIOLA — Adventures by Disney’s first river cruising season is nearly halfway over, and so far, it has proved a successful move into a market generally overlooked by family travelers.
On this seven-day Danube sailing on the 170-passenger AmaViola from Vilshofen to Budapest, Ken Potrock, senior vice president of Adventures by Disney (ABD), said the company was already looking forward to its expansion to a second river, the Rhine, next summer, and that Disney was broadening river cruising’s demographic.
“[We’re] bringing new people into the river cruise category,” Potrock said. “They’re kind of locked into a segment of the population, and we can expand that segment by bringing families into the equation.”
ABD made its foray into river cruising in partnership with AmaWaterways, which purpose-built the AmaViola with family-friendly design details, including connecting staterooms and suites suitable for three- and four-member families, a rare feature on river cruise ships.
As you would expect with Disney, cruisers will find a family-friendly experience onboard, with movie nights and dance parties for kids. Disney Cruise Line fans will recognize the pirate party with face painting.
Kid-friendly excursions include a walking tour of Bratislava, Slovakia, where kids can complete a puzzle of landmarks; a salt mine tour in Salzburg, Austria, with train rides and wooden slides going into the mine; an Austrian park where kids can walk above the treetops on wooden ledges; and a marionette show offering children a chance to go backstage and try manipulating the dolls themselves.
Parents will appreciate touches such as the tour of Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, where Adventure Guides take the kids through garden mazes and to an onsite children’s museum, enabling adults to explore on their own.
Launching the first of this kind of product has been a learning process, and Disney said it would continue to tweak the programming and dining to make it better for both adults and children.
The biggest change so far is the minimum age for its cruises: next year, Disney raised it from 4 to 6, but it still recommends 8, based on feedback and “seeing how the different aged kids were dealing with the river cruise experience,” said Terry Brinkoetter, public relations director for Disney Destinations.
The line also adjusted its dining options. Previously, everyone ate dinner together in the dining room. Now, kids can choose to eat in the lounge, supervised by Adventure Guides who hang out and play games, giving parents a chance to dine alone. Teens may eat together in the wine cellar, and many on my cruise chose to do so. The main dining room has a kids menu for when families wish to dine together.
Disney also learned on the go with its bicycling excursions, increasing the minimum age from 12 to 14 years after seeing how challenging the tour was, with rough roads (think cobblestone streets) and non-English street signs. An example of the high level of onboard service is that with no bikes suitable for younger kids such as my 9-year-old for the “ride on your own” option, the cruise director had local bikes delivered to use.
Potrock, who was also onboard with his family, said over dinner at the ship’s Chef’s Table Restaurant that next year’s expansion to the Rhine on the upcoming 170-passenger AmaKristina made a lot of sense.
“There’s a lot of culture and character in that region of the world,” he said. “And we think there’s a lot of connection to classic Disney lore and stories there. … We think it’s going to play really wonderfully.”
With ABD expanding to two rivers for summer 2017, the next area of growth might be cruise timing, Potrock said, possibly expanding into May or September. Disney currently only offers the cruises from June through August, which works well for ABD and AmaWaterways, he said, because summer is not the strongest market for older couples, the mainstay clients for river cruises, due to the heat and crowds in Europe, but is perfect for Disney’s family-oriented approach.
Beyond that, he said he sees an opportunity to focus on the adult-only market and get “creative in terms of thematics.” With the popularity of wine cruises, he said, Disney could possibly find a tie-in with the Epcot Food and Wine Festival to create a new river cruise product.
ABD’s Danube river cruise fares include daily shore excursions; WiFi; gratuities; all onboard and some off-ship meals; unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks with every lunch and dinner; and onboard entertainment, including classes for the kids.
Ports include Vilshofen and Passau in Germany and Linz, Melk, Krems and Vienna in Austria, as well as Bratislava and Budapest.
The basic cruise price starts at $4,719 for adults and $4,489 for children. A three-day Prague extension package bumps the total to $6,008 for adults and $5,708 for children.