Earlier this year, Gate 1 Travel did something few escorted tour operators do: It built its own river cruise ship.
While tour operator conglomerates, companies like The Travel Corporation and The Globus Family of Brands, long ago added river cruise lines to their brand mix, smaller tour operators have generally steered clear from investing in their own vessels.
But this past spring, Gate 1 Travel launched the 144-passenger Monarch Empress on the Danube River, the company's first European river cruise ship which it built and is operated solely by Gate 1. Constructed in 2015, it embarked on its inaugural sailing on April 3, 2016.
The Monarch Empress has a subdued elegance to it, with some faux-antique furnishings alongside slightly more modern pops of color. The cabins range in size from 140 to 210 square fee each and 80% have French balconies. The public areas include a bar and lounge area, a sundeck with a putting green, a library, a dining room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a fitness center, and an elevator between the second and third decks. There is also WiFi throughout ship, an in-house musician and a 24/7 tea and coffee station.
And for 2017, Gate 1 is increasing its river cruise capacity by adding two privately chartered ships to is lineup, the 144-passenger Monarch Queen and 144-passenger Monarch Baroness. These sister ships were built in 2006 and 2007, respectively.
"We acknowledge that vessel ownership is a major investment in both capital and time," said Marty Seslow, vice president of sales and marketing for Gate 1. "Therefore, we decided our best strategic approach was to build the Monarch Empress as our premier offering, while also offering itineraries aboard fully chartered ships."
Seslow said that the Monarch Empress was built by the Teamco Shipyard in Heusden, Holland.
The Monarch Empress and the Monarch Baroness will sail along Holland's waterways in spring 2017. After spring, the Monarch Empress and the Monarch Queen will sail the Danube River between Regensburg and Budapest, and the Monarch Baroness will sail Germany's Rhine River between Basel and Amsterdam.
The two new charters represent a 50% increase in river cruise inventory for Gate 1 Travel and the company said that two-thirds of its river cruise inventory is already booked for next year. Consequently, Gate 1 Travel has already opened up its 2018 river bookings.