When I heard the news that Celebrity Cruises had linked up with Amras Cruises to create ocean-and-river cruise packages, my first thought was, “It’s about time someone create a joint ocean-river product.” My second thought was, “What a coup for Amras.”
Amras Cruises Worldwide is a Boston-based river cruise company that launched in February as the U.S. distributor of Austrian company Luftner Cruises’ Amadeus fleet of river cruise vessels. Bret Gordon, formerly COO of director-to-consumer tour and river cruise company Vantage Deluxe World Travel, is CEO of Amras, having left Vantage in 2012.
While Amras has yet to be a household name in the river industry, the Amadeus fleet that it sells has been around for several decades, and the vessels are very familiar to anyone well-versed in the river cruise biz. The pairing between Celebrity and Amras will only stand to benefit the budding U.S. river cruise line.
It was a deal any river cruise operator would likely have benefited from. Not only will Amras be able to tap into Celebrity’s passenger base and introduce them to river cruising, but the match-up will certainly help boost Amras’ brand identity in an increasingly competitive river cruise marketplace.
“Some 36% of ocean cruise passengers are very familiar with river cruising,” said Rudi Joham, president and managing director of Amras. “If you take a company like Celebrity, and say Celebrity carries 1 million-plus passengers, if 36% are interested in river cruising” — that bodes well for Amras, noted Joham.
But it also bodes well for the river cruising industry at large. While there have been some attempts by river cruise lines to court ocean cruise passengers — most notably in 2012, when AmaWaterways and Crystal Cruises partnered to cross-market to past passengers in the hopes of getting ocean cruisers to try river cruising and vice versa — the deal marks the first time a major ocean cruise line has linked up with a river cruise line to create a comprehensive joint itinerary, complete with transfers and hotel stays to fully combine the two products.
Ocean cruisers who are introduced to river cruising through the newly launched Celebrity Explorations ocean-and-river cruise vacation packages could become avid river cruisers.
The question is, will they like it? There are similarities, but there are also many differences. The smaller river cruising hardware could seem like a disappointment compared to the large Celebrity vessels (maybe that’s why all the itineraries feature the river cruise first?), and river cruising is a much more intimate experience than being on a oceangoing ship.
The hope is that the synergies, such as both Amras’ and Celebrity’s destination-focused approach to cruising, will outweigh the differences. And perhaps that the differences will actually prove to be complementary.
“The initial feedback from this pairing of products was very positive,” said Joham. “The way it’s looking it should be sold out by the end of the year, if it continues to book as it has been.”