Sarah Feldberg
Sarah Feldberg

With river cruising's explosion in recent years, popular waterways like the Danube, Rhine, Seine and Rhone have been flooded with ships and passengers eager to see Europe by floating along its rivers and canals.

Joining the mix of river cruise companies catering to U.S. passengers is now Luftner Cruises, which quietly entered the U.S. market as Amadeus River Cruises this spring.

Based in Austria, Luftner actually predates most of the powerhouse cruise companies plying Europe's rivers. The family-owned brand has been around for 30 years and was one of the very first to establish cruising on the Danube, according to executive vice president Marcus Leskovar.

"There's a deep and rich history with the company and a large pool of knowledge and expertise," he said.

Luftner previously carried U.S. passengers aboard its Amadeus fleet through charter partnerships with Abercrombie & Kent, Keytours and Collette, and in 2014 the company began to target U.S. travelers through Amras Cruises Worldwide with limited results.

"The brand itself didn't have any footing in the U.S. market," said Leskovar. "Now we are trying to really get the word out there and trying to really introduce the brand to the U.S."

Luftner already carries approximately 50,000 passengers per year, 25% of whom are English speaking. The company is considering English speaking departures and is marketing 10 of its 14 vessels in North America via dedicated website, including the Amadeus Silver III, a 168-passenger, 443-foot ship which debuted in April. 

"It's very much a B2B strategy," Leskovar said. "We're trying to work with tour operators; we're trying to work with travel agents. The strategy is to really show customers out there our value."

For 2017, the eight-day Classical Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel aboard Amadeus' Silver line starts at $1,854 including free-flowing wine and beer, onboard wifi and use of bicycles. Excursions, which cost extra, can be booked a la carte or as a package for a 15% discount. 

Agent commissions are in keeping with industry standards, Leskovar said, and agents will get a free cabin for every 10 sold, even if they're aboard different departures. 

In addition, Leskovar stressed that prices are stable and that the company doesn't do last-minute deals or heavy discounts that undermine the trade. 

"It's just a really great value, and the value holds."

Even with all the competition, Leskovar is confident that Amadeus will make inroads among American river cruisers. "I think there's so much product out there that people just have a choice. Everyone likes value. They're going to look and see who's the cruise line that provides the best value; who's the cruise line that can provide the best experience. Some will have longevity, and others will start to struggle."

Luftner is betting on longevity. It's even in the process of building a new ship, the 140-passenger Amadeus Provence, which boasts walk-in closets and an outdoor infinity pool. It will set sail on the Rhone in 2017.

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