Emerald Waterways to enter the ocean cruise market

Emerald Azzurra2

Emerald Waterways is to enter the ocean cruise market next year with its first “superyacht”.

The 100-passenger Emerald Azzurra will operate its first sailing on July 31 from Limassol to Athens, calling at smaller ports and harbours in between.

This will be followed by a series of 26 itineraries around the Aegean, the Mediterranean and onto the Dalmation Coast and the French and Italian Rivieras.

In winter, the yacht will visit Red Sea destinations such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Jordan. It will only offer warm-water cruising and will not visit polar regions.

As well as featuring smaller ports of call that larger cruise ships cannot reach, the yacht will stop in coastal waters so guests can jump off the marina platform, to go snorkelling and paddle-boarding.

Emerald Azzurra2 Itineraries go on sale on Saturday with agents receiving brochures and ‘selling guides’ from Monday.

All agents making a booking on Emerald Azzurra in the first month will be entered into a draw to win a free cruise for two people on the first sailing. The more bookings agents make, the more entries into the ballot they will earn.

Emerald Azzurra will be the first vessel owned by the new Emerald Yacht Cruises brand, which will sit alongside Emerald Waterways under a new umbrella brand of Emerald Cruises.

Last year, sister brand Scenic launched ‘discovery yacht’ Scenic Eclipse, the line’s first ocean-going vessel dedicated to expedition cruising.

Asked if it would be the first of many, David Winterton, Emerald Cruises director of marketing and global brand curator, hinted there would be more to come, pointing to Emerald Waterways starting with just two vessels, but now boasting nine on the rivers.

Emerald Azzurra poolEmerald Azzurra pool

The 110-metre long yacht will have 50 cabins, all but six of which will have balconies (88%). They will all be ‘staterooms or suites’, with two owners’ suites, two yacht suites and two terrace suites available.

Winterton said it would rival SeaDream Yacht Club, Windstar Cruises and Crystal Cruises’ yacht product, and offer an “intimate boutique yacht cruising experience” that the company expects to appeal to existing Emerald Waterways river cruise customers, as well as new-to-cruise clients since it is “not the bog-standard cruise offering”.

“We introduced a new ship on the Mekong – Emerald Harmony – which is attracting a younger guest, and we think Emerald Azzurra will attract even younger customers still,” he added.

Winterton also predicted many new guests will transfer from the company’s river product, looking for something new, explaining that the company had chartered a number of yachts in Croatia last year to “test the water”, and found they had sold well.

Winterton said: “We tested demand and it was strong. We did the same first on the Rhine, then built our own ship there; we chartered a vessel initially on the Mekong, and then built the Emerald Harmony for that river, and so this was a natural next step after trialling yachts on the Dalmation coast. But it was a bit crowded and we wanted to take it to the next level and into the Med and beyond.”

Emerald Azzurra Video.

UK sales director Joseph Grimley added: “We have 40-50% repeat rate in the river. They buy into the brand and always want to know where they can go next. This is one of the reasons that the Emerald DNA will flow from the river product to the yachts.

“We want to be quite consistent between the two brands, so the bar and lounge will be called ‘Horizon’, as it is on our river vessels, and the restaurant will be called ‘Reflections’.

Similarly, the yacht won’t be all-inclusive. Guests will enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner, with wine, beer and soft drinks at mealtimes, and some excursions included – just as it is on the river cruise vessels. It will also be adult-only, as with Emerald Waterways, allowing children only 12 years old and above.

Agents will earn the same commission as they do selling Emerald Waterways river cruises, but Grimley pointed out that the price point on the yacht cruises was slightly higher, giving them greater earning potential.

Prices start at £2,965 per person for an eight-day French and Italian Riviera sailing, on an early-bird fare.

“This will be quite lucrative for agents, especially if they start to sell some of the longer itineraries and the higher category suites,” Grimley added, predicting about 50% of guests would come from the UK, with the rest deriving from Australia, America and Canada.

He said he plans to get as many agents out to see Emerald Azzurra during 2021 as possible.

Glen Moroney, owner and chairman of The Scenic Group said: “Emerald Waterways has been operating award-winning river cruises in Europe since 2014. The launch of Emerald Yacht Cruises and the stunning Emerald Azzurra are a logical extension of the Emerald Cruises portfolio, adding intimate yacht cruising of the Mediterranean to its Emerald Waterways river cruise offering.”

Making a run at the cost-conscious consumer

At a time when other river cruise lines are scaling back on growth, French river cruise company CroisiEurope this week announced it will launch seven new river cruise vessels this year and next.

Granted not all seven are full-size European river cruise ships — two are 22-passenger canal barges, and one is launching on the Mekong — but still, seven ships is worth noting, especially for a company many of us here in the U.S. didn’t know much, if anything, about as recently as a couple years ago.

By the time these seven vessels are launched, CroisiEurope will have 46 company-owned vessels in its fleet. In 2014, the company carried some 200,000 cruise passengers (compared to the approximately 250,000 passengers carried by Viking River Cruises), although only about 8,000 to 9,000 of those hailed from the U.S. But CroisiEurope is growing its U.S customer base, and quickly.

So, what’s the deal with Croisi? Well, the company saw an opening at the lower end of the river cruise market and it is clearly going after it. For a long time, river cruising has grappled with a reputation of being a bit pricey. Travel agents would lament that while they wanted to sell more river cruises, especially since the very inclusive vacation style generally offers lofty commissions, not all of their clients could afford it.

Therein lies the opportunity for CroisiEurope, which after 40 years of building river cruise ships in Europe, is banking on its home-turf shipbuilding ties and a more pared down version of river cruising to bring lower prices to market. And while CroisiEurope’s older vessels do not compete with the sleek newbuilds being churned out by U.S.-facing river cruise lines such as Viking, AmaWaterways, Avalon, Uniworld and all the rest, the company has upped its ship design game and its newest batch of river cruise ships is focused on chicer interiors and enhanced amenities.

Another line going after this segment with arguably even chicer ships is Emerald Waterways, the lower-priced sister brand to Scenic. And it is having a good deal of success too. Having only launched in 2014, Emerald is on pace to have seven river cruise ships in Europe by 2017 (its fifth vessel, the 182-passenger Emerald Belle, was slated to launch this spring, but has been set back by a fire in the shipyard).

As river cruising piques more travelers’ interests, and the travel style opens up to a wider audience, there is clearly going to be more demand for and thus greater opportunity to provide a more accessible river cruising experience.

River cruise news to watch in 2016

KV Ganges Voyager

As I look ahead at what news the river cruise industry will bring in 2016, I’ve got my eye on several stories and developments.
As we kick off the year, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection is launching its first-ever program on India’s Ganges River with Haimark Travel’s luxury vessel, the 56-passenger Ganges Voyager II. We’re bound to start hearing some of the initial feedback and reviews from that product launch in the coming days and weeks after completion of the first few cruises.
Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

This spring, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the launch of CroisiEurope’s 80-passenger Elbe Princesse, a paddlewheeler the French company has custom-built for Germany’s shallow Elbe River. And of course I’ll be looking for new innovations and ideas among all the ship launches in Europe this spring. With Viking River Cruises, Amawaterways, Avalon Waterways, Tauck, Scenic and Emerald Waterways all adding inventory this year, someone is bound to surprise us with something, no?

Come summer, I’ll be looking for word on how the new Adventures by Disney river cruising product plays out after the first sailings begin in July on AmaWaterways’ AmaStella. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say one of the developments I’m most curious about is the introduction of Crystal Cruises’ first river cruise effort, the renovation and relaunch of the former Peter Deilmann Mozart, which will set sail anew on July 13.

This will be our first glance not only at Crystal’s version of river cruising but at how an ocean cruise line interprets the river cruise market. I, for one, am agog. And Crystal only has additional excitement planned for us in 2017 when it introduces us to its version of four river cruising newbuilds.

Elsewhere in the river cruising world, I’m wondering how and whether the Nile will pull out of its perpetual slump, and if the Amazon will see an uptick in interest due to the Rio Olympics. I’m also following developments in Asia, where Pandaw River Expeditions keeps surprising with new river routes and other companies keep adding capacity.

And imagine, that’s just the stuff we more or less already know about. There’s no telling what river cruising bombshells (either good or bad) are yet to be dropped on us. Take cover!