The AmaMagna in the colorful Danube port city of Passau, Germany
Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways
In this section of AAA Traveler Worldwise, we usually focus on destinations that our AAA travel agents have visited, sharing highlights of their experiences and providing their insider tips on when to go and how to go there. This time, we’re changing things up a bit to focus on a means of travel.
But, to call river cruising a means of travel is like calling the Orient Express a mere passenger train. River cruise ships offer leisurely passage through the interior of many of the world’s most picturesque countries, serving as a vacationer’s floating hotel and bringing them to charming towns, historic cities and interesting ports—all without the need to pack and unpack at different lodgings every night. In addition to stateroom accommodations, a river cruise vacation price includes meals, most shore excursions, transfers and a lot more depending on the cruise line, making it not just an efficient way of traveling but also a great value.
It’s no wonder that river cruising is the fastest-growing vacation segment among AAA members, with passenger counts increasing exponentially every year (as does the number of river ships in the marketplace). In response to our members’ interest, AAA has invested in our agents’ knowledge of river cruising so that they can be fully prepared to advise you on the best options at the best value.
To achieve River Cruise Expert designation, at AAA, our travel agents must fulfill certain criteria. First, agents must participate in extensive training, including an eight-hour classroom program focused on destinations and itineraries of nationally recognized river cruise partners. Then, they must successfully complete online training with AmaWaterways, Viking Cruises and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, three of the world’s leading river cruise providers. Finally, agents must have personal experience on a river cruise before achieving Expert status (AAA provides every agent with the opportunity to travel on a river cruise). At press time, nearly 130 of our 300 travel agents have met the qualifications to become designated River Cruise Experts, and another 120 have completed the initial classroom and online training. So what have they learned, and how does their knowledge help you? Let’s hear from a couple of our agents who have expertise in river cruising.
BETH FAISON, TRAVEL AGENT, AAA GLENSIDE, VIRGINIA
After five years as a travel agent selling river cruises to others, Beth chose a Danube River itinerary with U River Cruises for her honeymoon following her September 2019 marriage to fellow travel agent Robbie Faison. These two professionals could have chosen any destination or type of trip to celebrate their nuptials, yet they selected U River Cruises. Why? Because they knew it would be hassle-free since each day’s itinerary was planned, yet they would still have the flexibility to explore the ports along the Danube River on their own.
“U River Cruises offers a fun, fresh approach to travel. It takes the best aspects of a traditional river cruise, guided tours and independent travel and seamlessly blends the experience together,” says Beth. “The people traveling on our ship were a younger and younger-at-heart crowd who all shared a similar passion for travel. There was amazing locally inspired food, knowledgeable staff and just the right amount of included tours while still leaving plenty of time for exploring and making the trip our own.
“We came home with new friends from the cities we visited as well as new friends from the ship. It felt like a real vacation away from it all because all the little details were handled, leaving us fully refreshed to immerse ourselves in the culture of where we were visiting,” adds Beth. “I have traveled extensively, and this was one of my favorite experiences.”
Beth Faison drinks up local culture in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Photo by Beth Faison
COREY GREEN, TRAVEL AGENT, AAA DOWNINGTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA
In 2019, Corey was a top-selling travel agent for AmaWaterways within AAA Club Alliance. Because of his sales achievement, Corey earned an incentive trip on AmaWaterways’ eight-day Riches of the Mekong River itinerary, visiting exotic ports throughout Cambodia and Vietnam. He even got to bring his mom, Barb, along for the trip. Corey has also sailed with AmaWaterways on the Danube River and is now a strong influencer for the AmaWaterways brand based on his personal experiences.
“When talking to guests about the Ama difference, there are two major points I like to bring up about what makes Ama unique,” says Corey. “The first is the twin balconies in most staterooms. Having a French balcony and a walk-out balcony in one room is AMAzing! The second is the fact that during late summer’s low-water season, Ama ships can float on just 16 inches of water. Wave goodbye to some of the other cruise ships that can’t sail in low water while you continue to glide along the river!
“And river cruising is such a great travel option,” Corey continues. “We all dream about seeing the big cities of Europe, like Paris, Budapest and Amsterdam, but what about the little gems that no one knows about? Weissenkirchen, Austria, is now one of my favorite towns, and I had never heard of it until my Danube River cruise—and with Ama, you dock right downtown. A river cruise is a great vacation for every traveler. With the triple and quad accommodations or connecting rooms available on Ama’s newest ships, you can bring the whole family. I find that my clients between 40 and 70 years old love Ama because it’s a more active crowd and everyone gets to know each other on board.”
Corey Green and his mom, Barb, embarked on an ox cart ride in a port stop along their Mekong River cruise.