Column: Cruising With AmaWaterways and American Express

John McMahon (third from right) and fellow AmaReina guests take a break during their 43-mile bike ride through Germany.
John McMahon (third from right) and fellow AmaReina guests take a break during their 43-mile bike ride through Germany.

The growth of the river cruise industry continues to amaze me. Every day we hear about another new ship or more itineraries. A key difference from ocean cruise ships that continue to grow larger and larger is that river cruise boats are limited in their length, width and height. That doesn’t stop creativity and innovation, however. Swim-up pools, balconies, gyms and public spaces are being upgraded to fulfill the needs of today’s travelers. Culinary experiences and land excursions are being elevated as well.

The other important fact is that the average age of passengers is dropping as rivers gain popularity. This is a vital piece of information for you when recommending cruises to families and the under-50 crowd.

My recent seven-day excursion on the AmaReina started in Basel, Switzerland, and headed up the Rhine to Amsterdam. I was joined by Gary Murphy, AmaWaterways’ vice president of sales, and several dozen American Express advisors led by Ernesto Lavandero, director of American Express Travel.

Our big adventure off the ship was a 43-mile bike ride in Germany, which started in Rudesheim. Our crew had sent us off with some refreshments and lunch to fuel ourselves on our picturesque and challenging ride. We pedaled from town to town and met up with the AmaReina in Koblenz. I would not embark on that kind of excursion every day, but I was pleased to see such activities that address the desires of the youthful guest.

Several years ago, I predicted that with the popularity and expansion of river cruising, the average age of its passengers would come down—and it has.

Some helpful hints to help you prosper in this market:

*Get yourself on a ship. You need to experience it to sell it.

*Many itineraries sell-out once schedules are released. Convince your agency to purchase cabins in advance. Many clients don’t like booking so far ahead, so if you have prime inventory, it will be to your advantage. You can also make a lot of money. Take the risk—it will pay off.

*Get to know the brands, as they have different personalities and cater to different clientele. Learn to sell this market and become a specialist. At first it may seem pricey, but once you do the math and add up the food and beverage and excursions, it’s a great value. My host on this cruise, AmaWaterways has a learning and loyalty program to assist in that process. You can find it on

This is the fastest growing segment in the travel industry, so don’t miss out.

On a sad note, Jimmy Murphy, co-owner of AmaWaterways, passed away last month at age 82. At some time over the past 50 years Jimmy probably visited your office. He was a champion for travel agents, a friend and a man who always had a smile on his face. He will be missed but never forgotten.