The old adage goes that you’ve got to start somewhere. For Vienna native Rudi Schreiner during his university years in the 70s, it was driving from Vienna to Nepal. This adventure was followed by a “cruise” on a river raft through Peru researching how changes in society affect architecture. The inspiration and insight he gained on those journeys led to a globetrotting career along the world’s great aquatic thoroughfares as a founder of Student Travel International, executive at Uniworld, and one of the founders of Woodland Hills–based Viking Cruises.
Knowing the figurative bar on luxury cruise travel could be raised considerably higher, Schreiner founded Amadeus Waterways in 2002 with wife Kristin Karst and late cruise industry veteran Jimmy Murphy. Now known as AmaWaterways, it thoughtfully balances luxury and adventure travel through itineraries combining the world’s great destinations with lesser-known gems awaiting discovery. In 2015, AmaWaterways has a fleet of 14 ships in Europe (mostly cruising the Rhine, Danube, and other French rivers), two ships on the Mekong River and exclusive, ultra-premium safari tours through Africa.
“I found that once you do a lot of extensive travel, it’s very hard to get yourself out of the lifestyle,” confides Schreiner, fresh from another research-driven jaunt. “I still travel quite extensively, about six months a year. I go on five to eight cruises per year, not just on our own cruises but on ocean cruises by other companies to research what trends are taking shape and find new ideas for improving standards on our cruising experience.”
Although Schreiner’s ultimate goal is to get passengers off the boat and exploring at every port of call, the AmaWaterways traveler could never leave the ship and still feel well-traveled. It is the only river cruise line ever inducted into the prestigious culinary organization La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs. Other features include contemporary destination-inspired décor, lounges with panoramic views, and Wi-Fi connections in most destinations.
Smaller corporate groups can do a buy-out of 5 to 10 staterooms, and get assistance with conference organizations and sightseeing opportunities. The only qualifier is that the firm booking the cruise has to adhere to beginning and ending the tour in the cities designated on a particular route.
“The most important thing I have learned is that the demand for luxury travel gets stronger every year,” he says. “People want better services, larger cabins, spas and the best Internet access possible. Today, every stateroom of our European ships has web ports and an Apple computer, Internet access and Wi-Fi throughout the ship. The needs for greater connectivity increase in my estimation by about 50 percent every year because [of] people having more mobile devices.”
Schreiner also observes that his clients are more inclined to do some kind of work or maintain contact with their firms over the course of their stay. He points out that 20 years ago, many customers would take one vacation averaging two weeks. The target market at that time was perceived to be older, slower-paced travelers. Today, in contrast, luxury cruise market customers are more active and youthful, and often travel multiple times a year. They are more likely to seek out extras like hotel extensions and on-board business amenities.
“Because people want to travel more often and reconcile their work commitments, we’re always looking for ways to provide more extensive services to satisfy their business needs, as well as ways we can make their life more interesting on board between destinations on the itineraries,” he continues. “When it comes to those important extra details, we had our hands in everything, from design of the silverware and glassware to the floor plan to the colors of the interior design. We have 30 bicycles on every ship and offer fitness and health-driven programs.”
In terms of executive and incentive travel, AmaWaterways offers numerous seaworthy options. Companies wanting to make a splash can charter one of the ships (holding 140-160 passengers) during shoulder seasons and work with AmaWaterways to develop the on-board programs and tours appropriate for that group of people. Smaller corporate groups can do a buy-out of 5 to 10 staterooms, and get assistance with conference organizations and sightseeing opportunities. The only qualifier is that the firm booking the cruise has to adhere to beginning and ending the tour in the cities designated on a particular route.
“The big difference between traveling Europe on AmaWaterways and via other forms of transportation is that river cruising gives you the luxury of twice the leisure time. You don’t have to worry about constant packing and unpacking, checking in and out of hotels, rush hour traffic, and getting in and out of a city,” Schreiner states. “You wake up in the morning to a gorgeous view, have breakfast in the dining room or your room, and get off the ship and go for a jog. This makes Europe a more exciting, customizable experience than other means. You are not confined to the ship, as many of your waking hours you will be in one of the bigger cities or smaller towns on the itinerary. We cruise half a day or at night, and you wake up the next morning in a new city to explore.”