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.
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.
Walt Disney Co. and its cruise line are on a roll.
The entertainment and media giant reported earnings rose 10% for the second quarter of this year with the fastest growth at its Parks and Resorts unit (which includes Disney Cruise Line), where operating income grew 24%.
What is Disney doing right?
First and most directly, it is raising prices. Disney said its earnings growth at parks and resorts was “primarily due to increases in average ticket prices at our theme parks and cruise line,” along with more spending on food and merchandise and higher average hotel rates.
Single-day tickets at Walt Disney World in Orlando cracked the $100 barrier last year. And Disney Cruise Line prices are generally much higher than competitors on similar routes.
A random comparison shows a balcony cabin on a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise departing Port Canaveral on Dec. 5 listed at $1,814 per person on Disney’s website and $912.50 on Carnival Cruise Line’s site.
Several things that underlie Disney’s pricing power are qualities that other cruise lines are also trying to achieve.
One is brand strength. On a 2014 ranking compiled by Interbrand, a unit of ad giant Omnicom, Disney held the 13th strongest global brand, just behind Intel and just ahead of Cisco Systems. Interbrand said Disney’s power as a brand stems from its “use of technology and data to understand what customers want and personalize their experiences.”
A second pillar of pricing power is capacity control. Disney has resisted the temptation to expand its fleet of four ships, the last of which was delivered three years ago. Unlike many lines, Disney has no ships on order. That helps keep supply scarce and drives demand.
But that doesn’t mean Disney gets stale. It frequently upgrades the experience, especially with new entertainment including shows from hit movies like Frozen and Tangled.
And Disney has a pipeline to first-time cruisers through its theme parks, where much of the programming on a Disney ship can be experienced. Disney cruise customers know what they’re getting even if they’ve never been on a cruise ship before.Of course, we don’t know exactly how Disney’s higher pricing translates into profits, as those vital numbers are buried in the results of the overall parks and resorts division.
My guess is that Disney Cruise Line makes a solid contribution.