For customers looking for a unique destination they have not yet visited, AmaWaterways might just have the answer. Last week, it announced a new ship sailing a new river in a new continent to the Ama repertoire.
Colombia’s Magdalena River will host a partnership between Ama and Metropolitan Touring, known and well-respected by many travel advisors for its Galapagos and South America tours, aboard the brand-new AmaMagdalena in time for the holidays in December 2023.
On a press conference via webinar today, the two companies shared their excitement at having found one another, and in bringing the first luxury river cruises to the region. Just “two or three hours” from Florida, the Magdalena River offers beautiful scenery, diverse nature, and the second-largest Carnival in the world. (Also, the world’s best chocolate and best coffee, “and some really good rum,” says Metropolitan Touring’s Francisco Dousdebes.)
“It is the prime river in Latin America,” asserted Ama’s ever-cautious new destination seeker, co-founder and president Rudi Schreiner, who has been scouting “the whole area from Argentina to Bolivia” for over a year, in search of a new itinerary. It’s “a place where you have, every day, something exciting, something different” to see and do, he says, with “fantastic culture in the key cities and also fantastic nature, tons of birds and beautiful little charming towns.”
State of the Company
The announcement comes as Ama rejoices in the return of its ships to Europe, and its staff to a new headquarters building. July will see seven ships cruising the rivers of Europe, with Rudi and his wife and co-owner Kristine Karst included among the guests; nine more will sail in August.
Ama co-owner and Sales SVP Gary Murphy noted that while advance sales for next year are soaring, “we have plenty of space available” in 2021, “and the European market can’t wait to welcome US travelers back. It’s the best time to experience Europe at exceptional rates.”
Still, he said, he has been fielding calls “every day” from travel advisors asking where Ama is headed next—and he is excited to be able to now offer a continent many travelers have not yet experienced. “Rivers are the best way to introduce travelers to a destination,” he said. “Rivers are the highways of old.”
While the master plan is set, the first departure is still a long way off, and the Ama team was not yet ready to share many details, but here are a few:
“Dining is changing a little away from the buffet.”
The ship will be slightly smaller than, but have a similar design to, Ama’s European fleet. It will hold “under 100, probably around 80 guests,” in balconied suites “possibly larger than the Danube and Rhine ships.”
The AmaMagdalena will sail between Cartagena and Baranquilla, on the northern coast of Colombia, on the northern tip of South America. Colombia is about twice the size of Texas, and its weather is mild in December. It is richly biodiverse, with almost three times as many species of birds as the entire United States, plus a “long list of mammals, reptiles and amphibians.”
Ama will probably start actively selling the ship in late fall 2021.
In keeping with Ama’s goal of supporting the local economies of its ports, “our focus is on local ship construction and a local crew,” along with “international cuisine adapted to the local environment,” Schreiner said. “You will love the food onboard.”
There will also be morning yoga on the sundeck, water sport, bicycles to take on the “beautiful bike paths” and “fantastic nature,” Karst promised.
Travel Advisors React
Most travel advisors with whom we spoke were eager to try out the new itinerary (which the Ama team promises many will be able to do on fam trips) and to sell it.
“Always looking for something new and unique,” to sell at her Dream Vacations franchise in Pembroke Pines, FL, Angie McCullough Gonzalez “loves this new itinerary.”
“Ama has really done a great job with their comeback. They’ve had success selling the longest river cruise, now adding this? I feel it will do well,” she says.
“This will be a brilliant partnership; I love Metropolitan,” says Jordana Manchester at Storied Lands Travel in Squamish, British Columbia, who has used them in the past for custom trips to Peru, the Galapagos and Colombia. “Their sales team has always been brilliant, and I don’t think there’s a better DMC for Peru and Ecuador out there.”
Still, some expressed concern that Ama is expanding too far and too fast. “Like Destination Specialists, [Ama has] a reputation and a brand for something, and that builds over time. It reminds me of Porsche and Jaguar offering SUVs and Lincoln offering trucks. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for growth and expansion but getting third party ground teams to support your service levels is challenging enough on one continent. Coming out of a bleak year, I would like all vendors to reinforce their core products first. Once the ships are full of all those sailings, then thing about new markets,” said one river cruise specialist.
“I hope they take the proper time and carefully develop this potentially special new addition to South America,” said Nina Fogelman, owner of Ancient Summit Inc. “Working so closely with luxury cruises in Peru, from the time they began and having to experience all of the growing pains in the beginning, this will be interesting to watch.”
And yet, the initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. “Yes, I can sell it,” says Maryanne Scully of Travel Experts in Queensbury NY. “I can think of a few people I can market it to. They want luxury, they want something out of the norm! It is nice that they can see some special parts of the country, without all the schlepping. I hope Ama includes great naturalists. I think that will be key for this type of itinerary.”
“I love this idea, and I think it will appeal to people who think Europe is too ‘tame,'” says Trips by Anna owner, Anna Potier Harrison. “I know I have clients that would perk up at the unique destination. I have been to Colombia many times, but the average American doesn’t understand what a beautiful destination it is, so maybe this will also appeal to clients who still want that ‘tour’ component.”
“I was happy to see this,” says Cindy Watty at Alfresco Travel in Phoenix, AZ. “Ama has done such a great job in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Glad to see them exploring South America.”
“Anyone who has been there can tell you that South America is an amazing continent with much to offer,” says Beverly Falley at Island Dreams Travel in Kansas. “Every country is unique and the Amazon rain forest is fascinating. I hope Ama will expand more into this region. This is not just about covering their bases, it is about offering much more to clients. I look forward to it.”
And on Long Island, NY, Toni Day, president of Toni Tours, already is planning a group for May 2024.
Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook.
As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business and technology sectors.