Linda Gruneklee joined Emerald Waterways as the SE Regional Sales Manager in September 2015. Her territory includes Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Linda is an industry veteran, having begun her career in 1980 with Eastern Airlines, where she worked as a ticket and gate agent. Prior to joining Emerald Waterways, she held the position of Business Development Manager for MSC Cruises. Her cruise experience is extensive, having worked with Norwegian Cruise Line for 24 years, most notably as Business Development Manager in North and South Carolina for 16 years.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What motivated you to pursue a career in the travel industry?
Linda Gruneklee (LG): I owe my interest in the travel industry to my father, who worked for Eastern Airlines. I became enamored with flying first class, and am convinced the travel bug bit me during one of my flights. Weekly, I watched the TV sitcom, “The Love Boat”, and fell in love with the idea of travelling to new destinations and experiencing exciting adventures onboard a cruise ship. I knew as a teenager that I wanted to work for either an airline or a cruise line. After college, I was hired by Eastern Airlines as a gate and ticket agent. In 1984, I realized my dream of working for a cruise line when I was hired by Norwegian Cruise Line as a part-time reservations agent. While there, I worked in a variety of positions including Reservations Supervisor and Revenue Management Supervisor, before accepting the position of Business Development Manager for North and South Carolina.
TRO: With your prior experience in ocean cruising with Norwegian Cruise Lines, what were some of the challenges you faced when you started in the river cruising industry?
LG: While ocean cruises and river cruises do have similarities, they also have marked differences in terms of the booking policies and procedures. This is most apparent when booking groups. I quickly learned that agents and I must implement our marketing plans immediately upon booking a group. The Emerald Waterways’ ships have a capacity of 192 passengers, thus inventory fluctuates more rapidly than it typically does on an ocean going vessel. There are distinct advantages to booking a river cruise group as well, such as the fact that the tour conductor policy is more aggressive, typically 1 free for 9, versus the standard 1 for 15 on an ocean cruise. This results in the travel agent earning free berths quicker. I encourage travel agents to contact their Sales Manager, who will be happy to share their expertise, and ensuring agents are familiar with the individual supplier’s requirements.
TRO: Ocean cruising vessels are becoming notorious for going bigger and flashier, most notably Royal Caribbean’s most recent ship Harmony of the Seas. What advantages do you think the smaller river cruisers are offering passengers that these enormous ships lack?
LG: I believe as travelers mature, their vacation styles change to closely mimic their individual interests and passions. While the large ocean ship’s offer a wide range of activities onboard, not everyone wishes to sail with 4,000 or so other guests. River cruising offers a cozy, intimate cruise experience, with the opportunity to interact with fewer than 200 passengers. Our lounges are gathering places, reminiscent of having a get-together in your home. Many clients develop long lasting friendships as a result. Highly personalized service is also a hallmark onboard. Most importantly, guests dock in the heart of small towns and villages, enabling them to disembark the ship in minutes, not hours. This also gives them the flexibility to go ashore repeatedly while the ship is docked, so they have more time in port. River cruising appeals to those clients who desire a unique, in-depth opportunity to experience the history and culture of the areas they are visiting.
TRO: Tell us about the amenities offered on the Emerald Waterways (EW) ships.
LG: On an Emerald Waterways river cruise, our “Star-Ships” are stylish and spacious. With brand new, custom-built ships, we offer a deluxe, 4-star experience, with more space and amenities per guest than most other river cruise lines. Winning the 2015 Cruise Critic Editors’ Award for the Best Value in river cruising, some of our amenities include:
- Innovative open-air balcony systems that allows guests to enjoy their balcony, regardless of the weather
- Heated swimming pools that transform into to a cinema, providing an additional evening entertainment venue
- Complimentary regional beer, wine, and soft drinks during lunch and dinner
- Visits to many UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- An included shore excursion in almost every port
- Knowledgeable local guides at each destination
- Extra special included shore excursions with EmeraldPLUS, offering authentic local encounters
- Gratuities, both onboard and onshore
- Complimentary WiFi onboard
- Emerald Active guided hiking and biking tours
TRO: What are some of the most popular ports and destinations EW offers?
LG: One of our most popular itineraries is our 8-day Danube Delights cruise, which sails from Nuremberg to Budapest. Guests have the opportunity to discover ‘Old Europe’, uncovering ancient abbeys, beautiful palaces, and historic landmarks left in the wake of WWII. An invitation to a hosted afternoon tea provides a truly authentic insight into Slovakian life and the chance to try traditional fare, while vibrant cities such as Vienna and Budapest fill their European exploration with trips to iconic sights.
Two other popular itineraries we run include the Legends of Moselle, Rhine and Main, which takes our guests from Nuremberg to Trier as they explore the Heart of Europe. And on our 8-day Danube Explorer, guests have the opportunity to really spend some time in Vienna and Budapest, with two nights in each magnificent city.
TRO: Are there any special cruises EW offers during the holiday season?
LG: We offer a 15-day Splendours of Europe Christmas Markets cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest on November 26, 2016 & November 29, 2017 in the reverse direction. In just 15 days, guests will have the chance to experience many of Europe’s highlights at Christmastime! As our Star-Ship sails along the epic Rhine and the fantastic Main and Danube rivers, our itinerary weaves through the most stunning landscapes creating the perfect backdrop for an amazing Christmastime experience.
Walking through the Christmas markets each day, sipping mulled wine, and shopping for that perfect present is something everyone should experience.
TRO: What can an agent expect when booking their client on an EW cruise?
LG: From our reservations staff to our Groups team to our Regional Sales Managers across the U.S., we are here to help make your client’s trip as effortless as possible. We want to take care of it all for them as soon as they touch down in their destination. We’ll even get them started on the right foot with customized ship documents, luggage tags, and backpack delivered to them (or their travel agent) before the start of their trip.
Agents can also find helpful resources in our Agent Portal at emeraldwaterways.com/agentportal. For those agents wanting to truly be an expert on Emerald Waterways, I encourage them to take our online course. EmeraldSpecialist.com is a great tool with wealth of information. Even better, once an agent completes the course and makes their first booking, they are eligible to receive a $100 bonus!
TRO: What is your favorite travel destination to date?
LG: This is like asking me to pick my favorite child! On the off chance that my husband reads this article, I would have to say one of my favorite travel destinations to date is Australia, where we travelled on our honeymoon. We spent several days exploring Sydney, the Blue Mountains, and Hunter Valley before cruising for 10 days to remote islands such as Vanuatu, long before Survivor put it on the map!
TRO: What is on the horizon for Emerald Waterways in 2017?
LG: 2017 is turning into quite the year for us! Three new ships are set to launch, bringing our fleet up to seven. The fifth Star-Ship to sail the Rhine, Main, and Danube is the newly announced Emerald Destiny, set to launch in April, 2017. Also joining the fleet will be the Emerald Radiance sailing 8-day itineraries on the Douro in Portugal and the Emerald Liberté sailing the Rhône & Saône rivers with our 8-day Southern France cruise. The wonderful thing about these two itineraries is the ability for our guests to combine the two into one 15-day vacation. Our Southern France cruise can also be combined with our 8-day Jewels of the Rhine itinerary that sails between Amsterdam & Basel. We realize vacation time is precious, so we encourage guests to take advantage of these combo itineraries since they are already traveling in Europe.
For more information on Linda and Emerald Waterways, visit them online at www.emeraldwaterways.com.