Cruising the Mekong River


Starting in 2011, AMA Waterways will offer cruises on two vessels, La Marguerite and a yet unnamed entrant


Asia’s Mekong River is more than an exotic frontier for AMA Waterways. In less than a year, it’s proven itself as an enticing waterway that strongly appeals to experienced travelers and river-cruise fans alike. After just six months of operating a 15-day  “Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong” itinerary including a weeklong cruise on the newly built La Marguerite, AMA announced last month that in late spring 2011 its guests will sail on a second, as-yet-unnamed river vessel to debut on the Mekong.

When completed, the new 124-passenger ship will join the 92- passenger La Marguerite in offering seven-day Mekong river cruises from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to Siem Reap in Cambodia and in reverse. The two vessels will depart on the same day of the week, one sailing downstream from Siem Reap, the other operating upstream from Ho Chi Minh City.

In addition to the weeklong river cruise, guests may also opt for a land package—as they did over the past few months—that effectively creates a two-week Southeast Asia vacation. Included in that optional package are such features as two nights in Hanoi, an overnight cruise on a traditional junk in Vietnam’s Ha Long Bay, three nights in Siem Reap for exploration of the Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Site and an overnight in Ho Chi Minh City.

The new Mekong vessel will be 295 feet long, compared with the 246-foot La Marguerite. The new riverboat will accommodate 124 passengers in 62 balcony cabins, 10 junior suites and two suites. Layout and decor will resemble that of La Marguerite, boasting a rich interior of tropical woods, elegant textiles and regional Khmer artifacts.

Travel Agent spoke with Rudi Schreiner, AMA Waterways’ president, about the decision to increase service on the Mekong. Why now?

Schreiner says La Marguerite is pretty much booked for Southeast Asia’s prime travel season in 2010 and well booked even into spring 2011. So, Schreiner says not only is his company going ahead with a second ship but it’s also “considering the possibility of a third.”

Schreiner says experienced travelers are the best clients. Most are likely to be upper middle class, many are retired and most have done many other river or ocean cruises. “They’re looking for new things,” he says, noting that these travelers plan two or three trips per year.

AMA Waterways cites its trade partnerships as one reason it has been so successful in Southeast Asia. In North America, for example, the line is a preferred supplier for both American Express and the Signature Travel Network. In addition, many Mekong guests originate via APT, a large Australian tour operator that’s an AMA partner.

Schreiner says his company is continually working to enhance the onboard product on the Mekong. In January, for example, AMA brought a European executive chef and executive hotel manager aboard La Marguerite to fine-tune the vessel’s kitchen operations and shipboard management.

In addition to the river-cruise vacations on the Danube, Rhine, Main and Mosel rivers through its core fleet of ships based in Europe, the line undertakes river voyages in Portugal, on France’s Rhone River and on Russian waterways.

AMA Waterways has embarked on a fast-paced fleet expansion. The new Amabella will begin sailing this spring and the Amaverde will debut in 2011. Other vessels include Amadolce and Amalyra, launched in 2009; Amacello and Amadante, introduced in 2008; Amalegro which debuted in 2007; and Amadagio, launched in 2006.

Looking forward to this year’s European cruise season, Schreiner says his line has worked to maintain price integrity while he has observed many other lines—both ocean and river—increase prices and then tell customers they’re getting two-for-one deals. Beyond specials on a few dates, he says AMA Waterways keeps fares where they should be and currently sails at 86 to 87 percent occupancy.

As for river-cruise potential globally, Schreiner expects the fast-paced growth of the past few years to continue. “We’re adding ships in Europe, one in April of this year and the next one in March of next year,” he says. “We see constant, nice growth, and the market [penetration within the vacation industry] for river cruising is still fairly small.”


2010 River Happenings

Uniworld will refurbish River Empress and River Queen in partnership with the Red Carnation Hotel Collection. Separately, Uniworld is introducing butler service for River Beatrice’s suites.
Fleet-wise, it will add such new suite features as wine-upon-arrival, in-room breakfast and free laundry services.

Viking River CruisesViking Fontane will sail with refurbished accommodations. Eight new Category A Deluxe upper-deck staterooms will feature hotel-style beds; category B, C and D staterooms will have two full beds instead of single and Pullman-style beds; and all single staterooms will become doubles.

Avalon Waterways welcomes two new ships—Avalon Felicity and Avalon Luminary. Separately, the line debuts five cruise itineraries, including a 16-day “Grand France” cruise between Paris and the Côte d’Azur.

American Cruise Lines’ 104-passenger Independence will launch in June; 85 percent of cabins will have private balconies. Independence will cruise the Chesapeake Bay, Hudson River and U.S. East Coast.

La Marguerite set out on its first Mekong River cruise six months ago