New B2B, Charter-Only River Cruise Company, Transcend Cruises, to Set Sail in 2024

In spring 2024, a new river line, Transcend Cruises, will begin operating on European rivers with the first of two new, purpose-built river vessels—but it won't be akin to other European river cruise lines. Based in Atlanta and Miami, Transcend is a new, B2B, charter-only river cruise company and plans to focus on travel advisors as one key market. 

Transcend has partnered with United Rivers, a veteran in premium river cruise management, to begin the chartered sailings on such high-demand waterways as the Rhine, Danube and Moselle rivers.

Intimate River Vessels

Carrying 120 passengers, those identical, 443-foot-vessels will be built by Den Breejen Shipyard in the Netherlands, with a focus on sustainability. Tillberg Design of Sweden will craft the interior design with a wellness and luxury focus.  

What’s unusual is the B2B approach.Typically, river cruise companies operate their ships for retail sales to consumers, as well as some groups that also may sail within those departure dates. With enough advance notice (often before schedules are opened for public sale), the lines can also set up full-ship charters. But Transcend will be "charter-only" on all voyages on Europe's rivers. So, it won't be marketing directly to the public nor taking bookings from individual consumers or small groups not able to charter the full vessel. 

Among its primary markets, though, is the travel advisor community—advisors with leisure or corporate clients who need a full ship charter. Perhaps, the agency is aware of a large family group that would like a cruise for a reunion, for example. Or, the agency may work with a local business or museum on a charter sailing or even brand a particular sailing as its own. 

The new line also says it will look to tour operators, corporate meeting and incentive planners,affinity/alumni groups,third-party agencies and other businesses that set up their own full-ship charters and market the trips under their own brand.

Insight From the CEO, Co-Founder

One big change? Traditionally, “the retail river cruise product is very homogenous,” believes Matthew Shollar, Transcend’s CEO and co-founder. “Retail itineraries are prebaked.”

He points to the schedules, citing many “weekend-to-weekend and point-to-point cruises.” Yes, they’re on “pretty wonderful rivers,” he adds, but says that everybody is doing a version of the same structured approach.”

Matthew Shollar, CEO and co-founder, Transcend Cruises
Matthew Shollar, CEO and co-founder, Transcend Cruises. (Photo by Transcend Cruises)

With two decades of experience in travel industry, charter and luxury sales, Shollar says Transcend sees a “window of opportunity that we can drive a boat through.” So, it plans to craft each charter sailing to the client’s individual needs. For example, a travel advisor, tour operator or corporate planner could charter a river vessel for what their schedule requires, say four nights, six nights or 11 nights, and the sailing could be point-to-point or roundtrip. The only requirement will be a three-night minimum.

Ports of call can be customized to each group too. So, while a retail Danube river cruise typically might always include the iconic port destinations of Vienna and Budapest because that’s what consumers desire, that’s not always the case with a full-ship charter.

Yes, both of those cities could be included, if the advisor desires that for his or her group charter. But, in contrast, perhaps only one of the cities or neither of them could be an option. Again, it’s up to the client. Instead, Shollar expects the vessels to call at many other smaller destinations—some people may not have heard of—along the route.

“Charter what you need,” is Shollar’s philosophy. “We’re built to support groups.” He says the line will easily accommodate multi-day tours, meetings and events. Both ships could also be used in tandem on the same itinerary for groups up to 240 guests.

Travel advisors will begin learning more about Transcend Cruises after June 1, 2022, when the line introduces its North American sales team. It plans to reach out to advisors via a series of events and webinars.

About the River Vessels

With a high guest-to-crew ratio, Transcend’s ships will also accommodate 30 to 60 percent fewer guests aboard each sailing than most retail-focused European river cruise lines. Yet, their size will be comparable to ships of many retail river lines. But with fewer people in the same space, Shollar says the experience will be "more yacht-like, less cluttered." In addition, the ships are being built using a “convertible design” philosophy for the accommodations.

For example, up to 120 guests can be accommodated in oversized staterooms, or, in contrast, the travel advisor chartering the ship can opt for up to 60 guests staying in two-room, two-bath suites. The suite approach will be available for all accommodations.

As for public spaces, Transcend’s vessels will each have five separate venues capable of accommodating all guests. Plus, there will be intimate settings for group events, dining, presentations and break-out sessions.

One showpiece feature? Each ship will have a 2,600-square-foot indoor/outdoor fitness, spa and guest wellness facility.

Food and Beverage

Dining room on a Transcend Cruises ship.
Here's a sneak peek at one dining room on a Transcend Cruises river vessel. (Photo by Transcend Cruises)

The food and beverage program will offer European cuisine and wine with a chef-driven restaurant and speakeasy bar/lounge experience, with a mixologist and sommelier onboard. Onboard dining options will be akin to what might be offered catering-wise within a conference setting on land. Transcend will tap into the culinary resources in areas visited along the river, and bring in chefs and food service teams to fit the requirement of each group.Some charterers may desire a strong gastronomy approach, others a more basic option. 

In contrast,retail river lines typically must have a full onboard culinary team that provides service in multiple restaurants – not just the main dining room but up to three additional venues at times. And those venues must offer "the full shebang" of choices, not what a charterer would perhaps select for a conference group or family sailing.

Because of the ability to totally customize the onboard experience including the food service, the product (and resultant pricing) could be classified as ranging from upper premium to upper luxury, according to Shollar.

Sustainability and Pricing

Sustainability will be reflected in elements of the ship’s construction, as well as the onboard experience, product inclusions and nature-inspired design. Travel advisors can expect extremely large windows, to bring the views of river scenery inside. 

Pricing-wise, Shollar says the model is a new sales approach. Charter pricing will consist of flat rates that are clearly defined. They'll come with no black-out dates nor any fare increases that can arise on retail river lines' vessels if bookings surge.   

The line plans to integrate proprietary technology that will simplify and support clients’ pre-trip planning. It will also foster a seamless onboard experience that reflects the client's brand. 

Parting Thoughts

“We have a fair number of sailings the first year and a half that are already spoken for,” notes Shollar. He says that instead of a line telling the client which itinerary is available for a full-ship charter, the travel advisor can pick what works for them. “It’s about what the client needs.”

Matthew Shollar, CEO and co-founder, Transcend Cruises, reviews a schematic in his office.
Matthew Shollar, CEO and co-founder, Transcend Cruises, reiews a shipyard schematic. (Photo by Transcend Cruises)

In summary, “we’re not just coming up with a new product, but rather with an entirely new business model,” he stresses. “It’s 100 percent driven by the business-to-business cost of sales and the cost of delivering the product is managed very differently" than for a retail river line. "We don’t have those heavy overheads.”

For instance, the B2B model doesn’t require the hefty retail advertising budget that retail cruise lines must incorporate. Charter ships also have more food-beverage flexibility (as described earlier in this article). 

“So, we can sell a more upscale experience at a competitive price,” believes Shollar. For example, “some elements that wouldn’t work for our colleagues would work in our model,” and vice versa.  

Is Transcend going to be competition for the retail river lines? Given that the products are so different in many ways, Shollar doesn’t see that, as “we’re focused on getting more people into the river market”—clients who aren’t now sailing on full-ship charters.

And of interest to advisors, he stresses: “We’ll never market directly to their clients."

For more information on Transcend Cruises, visit

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