Kristin Karst is the executive vice president and co-founder of AmaWaterways, an awards-winning river cruise company created in 2002. It has a fleet of ships, sailing in Europe, Asia and Africa. Because 2020 has been such a complex time in all travel dimensions including river cruising, JustLuxe wanted to discover new ideas and options that AmaWaterways was implementing for its guests in 2021. We are grateful that Kristin Karst discussed these ideas with us in such a meaningful, empathic way.
JustLuxe: 2020 has been a complicated year for luxury river cruise travel — when I last did an e-interview with you, the concept of wellness was an important element in the AmaWaterways cruise experience. Will it still be, and if so, how, once AmaWaterways river cruising starts again?
Ms. Karst: Ever since we first introduced complimentary bicycles onboard all our ships in 2006, wellness has been a focus on our river cruises, and it is an important part of the AmaWaterways experience now more than ever! In addition to our popular Wellness Program with fitness activities led by expert Wellness Hosts, our new ship designs will focus more on wellness space in addition to enhancing even further the dining experiences. I also anticipate our hiking and biking options to be even more popular for our guests, as they can explore a destination in the fresh air and open outdoors.
JustLuxe: When do you see AmaWaterways beginning cruise travel again? Also, will your company be doing themed travel, as it has in years before? If so, what themes do you foresee? We went on a Wine-themed AmaWaterways cruise, as was the AMAWaterways Rhine Christmas Markets cruise. Both were wonderful, educational experiences.
We remain very optimistic about returning for our regular season of river cruising in 2021, especially with the promising news on the vaccine front. While, we are not yet able to pinpoint an exact date that we will resume sailing, we are ready, thanks to the experience we had sailing with enhanced health and safety protocols this summer, to welcome guests on board as soon as the travel restrictions are lifted!
I’m so happy you were able to experience our Wine Cruises and Christmas Market cruises! The demand for our themed cruises has not gone away, and we cannot wait to welcome guests onboard these special cruises next year.
In fact, we have more than 60 Celebration of Wine river cruises scheduled for 2021 to answer the demand for incredible epicurean experiences. These special cruises are truly unforgettable, allowing guests to indulge in their personal passions while exploring the world in a new, immersive way. Our 2021 Christmas Market cruises are more than 50% booked currently, and we’ve never had such strong advance bookings in the history of AmaWaterways!
JustLuxe: I know Rudi Schreiner, a co-founder of AmaWaterways, as well as your husband, has made the cuisine dimension of the AmaWaterways experience an outstanding part of river cruising. Does he have anything special he will be doing in 2021?
Ms. Karst: When Rudi, the late Jimmy Murphy and I began dreaming of our own river cruise line, we wanted to create an experience that was everything we ourselves would love – and exquisite, regionally inspired cuisine was near the top of our lists! We are moving away from the traditional concept of lunch and breakfast buffets and introducing a new Chef’s Action Stations to complement the expanded a la carte menus for every meal. During this pause in sailing, we have also begun remodeling two of our ships, AmaBella and AmaVerde, to feature show kitchens in the main restaurants. We’re also introducing more relaxed outdoor dining venues for our guests to enjoy their meal and glass of wine.
JustLuxe: Are there any destinations that will be new and unusual in 2021-2022?
Ms. Karst: In 2021, we will debut our brand-new Secrets of Egypt & the Nile River itinerary to sail through Egypt, a destination that has enchanted travelers for centuries! This 11-night cruise and land package will uncover the ancient history and wonders of the region, with incredible experiences at every stop of the destination.
I’m especially excited for our guests to visit the Nubian Village of Hessa and share a meal with local villagers, creating personal connections and experiencing the vibrant culture firsthand! It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, along with the rare and exclusive chance to roam the Tomb of Queen Nefertari, which was closed to the public decades ago and is now only open to a limited number of visitors.
We will also be venturing into France’s Burgundy region for the first time in 2021 on our Essence of Burgundy & Provence itinerary! We created this 7-night cruise to please the palate and delight our guests’ taste buds, journeying to the heart of the Côte Chalonnaise wine region and tasting their way through the French culinary capital of Lyon.
JustLuxe: Many water-based travel groups are implementing Covid-19 cleaning and checking procedures. Would you explain what new procedures your vessels will be implementing, once AmaWaterways starts sailing again?
Ms. Karst: This past summer, through a 12-week series of private charters, AmaWaterways became the first and only U.S.-based river cruise line to sail with enhanced health and safety protocols in place. This invaluable experience showed us that it was possible to successfully protect the health and safety of our guests and crew, all while ensuring the extraordinary experience of a river cruise vacation!
Our enhanced health and safety protocols encompass every step of the journey for our guests, from the moment they book their cruise with flexible change policies to the experiences onboard our ships and throughout the destinations we sail through.
In addition to requiring face coverings while moving around the interior of the ship, physical distancing and regular sanitizing, we introduced new designs and amenities such as plexiglass partitions in the lounge areas, reduced guest capacity, and a personal Quietvox audio headset during shore excursions for guests to hear their guides from a safe distance.
Additionally, our ships are equipped with state-of-the-art fan coil air conditioning units in all statements and public areas, so there is no recirculating of air onboard. These are only a few of the procedures we have introduced to our river cruises! A full list can be found at www.amawaterways.com/protocols
JustLuxe: From a philosophical standpoint, what do you think the long-term effects of this absence of travel will be to the river cruise industry?
Ms. Karst: I am confident that travel will rebound as it has in the past, and that river cruising will become one of the first segments of travel to recover. River cruising seems to be tailor-made for the types of vacations travelers are craving, with intimate ships that accommodate fewer people and exclusive small-group experiences at every port of call.
AmaWaterways’ ships offer the luxury of more personal space and docking in the heart of grand capitals and fairytale villages allow guests to enjoy moving freely throughout – unencumbered by crowds on or off the ship. While onboard, guests may savor exquisite, fresh and locally sourced cuisine complemented by distinctive wines and beer with lunch and dinner. With so many ways to personalize a river cruise, our guests can even travel off the beaten path and explore a destination at their leisure, by foot or by bicycle.
Rudi and I have decades of experience in river cruising between us, and we have overcome many unexpected challenges since launching AmaWaterways 18 years ago. As a strong debt-free company, we have devoted our efforts to prepare for the return of travel, releasing new flexible policies and enhanced health protocols. This has been a difficult year for all of us in the travel industry, but out of challenges come opportunities to create new positive, memorable experiences with and for our guests — making travel a meaningful experiential and educational force for good in the world!
Onboard, Protocol Lounge