What’s The Big Deal?
Several readers asked questions along the lines of “How is this (A&K experience) different from any other river cruise?” Let’s start there.
An easy way to think of it is to first start by considering the common elements of any river cruise as the base experience. Unpack once and see multiple destinations; all meals included; focus is on the places visited, not what happens on the ship and international flight is needed to get there; all common parts of Euro river cruises, regardless of the cruise line.
What Abercrombie & Kent does with their “Connections” version of river cruises is to take that base experience and enhance it…if not blow it up. Included and unique to the A&K Connections journey we were on
- Personal meet and greet at the airport, limo service to pre-cruise hotel
- Pre- and Post-cruise hotel stays in very nice hotels with hosted dinners, sampling local fare, at each
- An A&K guide along for the entire journey from start to finish, great for first timers or those who just don’t want to worry about details
- Special A&K shore tours custom-designed just for our group of less than 24 travelers
- Our own vehicle when bus transfer was needed and a standard of two seats per passenger to allow plenty of room.
That part, what we have referred to as ‘the Abercrombie Difference’ in each daily post from the journey is totally unique, something no one else does.
What About The Cruise Line And The Ship?
“Chris, so little has been said about the ship, life on board and the cruise line in general. Are you ever going to cover that topic? asks Shirley from Omaha. Jim R from Chicago asks “It sounds like a great time, can I book just the ship and not the A&K package?””
In a word: No… to both questions.
No, I’m not going to go into a great amount of detail of the ship.
No, the ship we were on could not be booked as an individual reservation.
Odd I know, but the ship is less relevant when considering the A&K Connections package. We sailed on Amadeus Brilliant, a new ship from Luftner Cruises that specializes in charter groups. The only way to book it again, after being on board with a group, is by joining their past-guest club which can only be joined while sailing. Then, you could book a sailing that might have space and be a part of the past guest group on that particular sailing. On our voyage, there were two ladies in that past guest group and they sat at their own table for dinner, every night, alone. On the voyage after ours there were 22 past-guests, also in a separate group of their own.
This is a concept that is easier for some of us to grasp than others and I struggled with it in the early parts of the voyage, for reasons we discuss next.
Eliminating The Confusion
Roger from Tulsa, Oklahoma brought this popular question up first; “I’m totally confused. What cruise line are you on? I can’t find anything on Abercrombie and Kent cruise ships,” a thought echoed by Sally B from Denver, asking “So is this a group cruise and (A&K) just books space on someone else’s ship or what?”
On our sailing there were three schools of thought on this topic shared by those in our group. Those who had been on a standard river cruise were confused, first-timers were confused but not as much and those who had traveled with Abercrombie & Kent in the past were confident that it would be an excellent experience and ignored the confusion for the most part. Let’s break those three groups down:
Those Who Had Been On A River Cruise Before
This bunch (myself included) did not understand the relationship between the ship’s owner, Luftner Cruises, and Abercrombie & Kent. We attended the daily port briefing at night before dinner but commonly went in a different direction the next day. We dined in the same restaurant but did not mingle with other passengers and stayed at our assigned tables. Rather than paying €1.20 for a bottle of water when walking off the ship to tour as other passengers did, our A&K guide provided water for us. In a way, we were mentally hobbled by our previous sailings with other lines that included more, automatically, and did not take a special guide stepping in to make up the difference between expectations and an inferior base product.
Those Who Had Never Been On A River Cruise
The saying “ignorance is bliss” applies here. While those of us who had been on a river cruise before were comparing previous experiences with this one to make sense of it all, those who had no previous experience were far better off. All they knew was that at the end of the day, it had been a good one. However we got there, via something provided by the ship, some element of the ship experience that A&K had modified or a stand-alone A&K element; they had a good time. Where this group of people’s confusion will set in is on their next river cruise, if not done via Abercrombie & Kent.
Those Who Had Traveled With Abercrombie & Kent Before
Abercrombie & Kent’s brand is closely tied to personal, luxury service. Those who had traveled with them on land before unanimously stated that A&K had helped them along the way when traveling in the past, often going the extra mile to be sure everything went well. On this particular experience, not everything did go well, giving us a first-hand look at A&K in action, living up to their reputation. For example, in Munich when the tour bus did not show up to transport us to Nuremberg, our guide wasted no time finding luxury cabs to take us there, at a cost of over €1000, without blinking.
The End Result
Michael from Jacksonville, Florida asks “Chris, one easy question and a simple answer will do: Would you do it again?”
Michael, easy answer: Yes
Michael, more detailed answer: I would be very interested to see how Abercrombie & Kent operates on land as they were clearly out of their element on the river. Was it a great river cruise experience? You bet but not because of the river cruise line itself, because of the layers of experience piled on the river cruise by A&K.
A great example that clearly defined the part of the A&K differences that other river cruise lines will have to watch out for came at the end. The following all occurred over the last two days of the trip:
Our last stop on board Amadeus Brilliant was the city of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. The day we arrived, A&K first took us on an overall bus tour of the city, pointing out landmarks, famous places, etc. After that, we immediately boarded canal boats and sailed through all of Amsterdam’s canals, once used as a major transportation source, to see the city from a different viewpoint. Next, we went to the city center for a walking tour of the area and a floating Flower Market there.
At that point most of the group continued on their own, exploring everything from the famous Red Light District to the numerous museums, shopping and other attractions before walking back to the ship, also a sightseeing adventure of its own. That night we stayed on board Amadeus Brilliant before disembarking the next day, still in Amsterdam, to tour the countryside between Amsterdam and Edam.
On the way we stopped in several small towns then arrived in Edam just before lunch for a walking tour of the town. After lunch at a local restaurant, we proceeded to a cheese factory, learned about the making and sale of cheeses, had an opportunity to buy some to have shipped home then did a cheese tasting, pairing different varieties to different spirits and wines.
Checking into the Amsterdam Grand Sofitel, a 5-star property right in the center of town, we had further opportunity to explore the city on our own before a dinner hosted by A&K that night. In the morning after a fabulous room service breakfast, it was off to the airport in a chauffeured luxury car where A&K saw us off.
This is where I got the true meaning of their aptly titled travel product “Connections” as they had certainly enabled each of us to connect with the locations along the way, epitomized by the intense Amsterdam/Netherlands immersion at the end.