ALBERT PETER, THE FORMER CEO OF SILVERSEA CRUISES, hopes to revolutionize the river cruise business with a new venture he has launched along with a small cast of cruise industry veterans. Jewel River Cruise Line, to be composed of three brands, will debut in 2008 with a fleet of six, including one all-suite luxury ship. Plans already are set to add two more luxury vessels in 2009 and 2010.
Similar to ocean cruising, which has ships in price categories from contemporary to luxury, Jewel River Cruise Line will have three distinct brands: Jewel River Cruises (luxury), Emerald River Journeys (premium) and Princess River Journeys (contemporary).
The new company aims to bring the comforts and amenities of ocean liners to river cruises. "We are looking to replicate on a small-ship scale what something like a luxury cruise ship offers," Albert says. "We really want to be different and give an experience people won't soon forget. The industry needs something new."
European river cruising has been witness to a recent boon, with passengers falling in love with the quaintness of the experience and the convenience of disembarking in the heart of the town where the cruise calls.
Peter, though, is equipping his boats with services and amenities that other river cruise lines may not offer. On the 45-suite Jewel Imperial Blue, expect a full-fledged spa, a wine bar, a coffee bar and two dining rooms including a specialty restaurant (an announcement will soon be made regarding a partnership with a top European chef). Peter says that this five-star experience will be marketed in the U.S. exclusively through travel agents. "We want to make agents feel part of the company," Peter says. A travel agent advisory board will be formed and announced in December.
The Jewel Imperial Blue will sail the Seine beginning April 5, after undergoing a $3.5 million refit that will reduce passenger capacity of the former Hispania from 144 to 90. Jewel's five premium and contemporary ships—none of which will be new builds—will ply the rivers of Central Europe starting next year.
Peter says changing people's preconceived notions of river cruising must be done through differentiation. He intends to accomplish that with shore excursions and onboard entertainment. Jewel River Cruise Line will offer what it calls "lifestyle excursions," which are meant to evoke exclusivity. While most river cruise lines bundle shore excursions into their rates, Jewel will charge separately for them. Peter says onboard entertainment will straddle the line between a raucous club and a reserved piano bar.
Peter has enlisted Jacques Wulffaert, previously a senior executive at Celebrity Cruises and ResidenSea, as president and COO. Reservations for Jewel will be accepted beginning in January 2008, and detailed itineraries and fare information will be released next month.
Announcements will also be made next month regarding two branding partners.
"No other river line is co-branding," Peter says. "That's a mistake. When people hear about it, they'll say, 'Wow, that makes sense.'" —DAVID EISEN