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When fluctuating water levels on the European rivers forced most lines sailing in the region to cancel or drastically alter their itineraries, one company still had its ships in the water. Lüftner Cruises operates the 13-ship Amadeus fleet, which have been built with extra shallow drafts and special ballast tanks that enables them to sail when others cannot.

Cruise Passenger had an exclusive interview with founder and director of Lüftner Cruises, Dr Wolfgang Lüftner, while he is in Sydney to launch an exclusive partnership with McLachlan Tours under the Amras Cruises brand. When he was trying to sell the idea of river cruising in Australia 25 years ago, no one was interested. But last year, almost 70,000 Australians took a river cruise in Europe. “River cruising is the program to visit Europe,” said Dr Lüftner.

Lüftner practically invented modern river cruising back in the 1970s, making it the oldest company operating in Europe. The line is still family owned and operated, something that Dr Lüftner believes gives them a distinct advantage. “We are a European company, this is our home ground, and we think that really adds something to the experience,” he said. This local knowledge has also taught them that river levels are unstable, so they’ve designed their ships accordingly.

Dr Lüftner thinks that Australians will appreciate the European touch, as well as the multicultural makeup of the passengers onboard. Though English is the common language, passengers onboard Amadeus ships come from Europe, North America and Japan. The average age is 55+, though ships to have connecting doors to appeal to the burgeoning family market.

Amras Cruises is launching in Australia with just seven itineraries, ranging from eight to 15 days. They cruise along the popular Amsterdam to Budapest route, but also venture further afield to the lower Danube and Seine river, or to countries like Romania and Bulgaria. The programs are all inclusive, covering food, beer and wine with meals, excursions, gratuities and transfers (though no open bar). There’s a focus on regional food and wine, so you’ll be eating wiener schnitzel in Vienna and goulash in Bucharest. They also feature “enriching moments”, exclusive excursions available only to Amras passengers, like dinner on the terrace of an Austrian castle.

So what does Amras Cruises have to offer the Australian market? It promises to offer a high-end, all inclusive river cruising experience at a more reasonable price than its competitors, with fares up to $2,000 less. The Amadeus Silver was awarded river ship of the year in 2013 and another ship will be launched in April next year. “We are synonymous with the word ‘upmarket’,” says Dr Lüftner. “The design and set up of our ships is unique and puts us ahead of the rest of the market.”