Lou Tandy is a big part of the generational change at APT, the family-owned, almost century-old brand that pioneered touring for Australians around their own country and beyond.

So it was fitting that Tandy, the daughter of APT’s legendary founder, Geoff McGeary, unveiled designs for the company’s new fleet of river ships – a “new dawn” for river cruising she maintained was aimed squarely at a new generation of Australians travelling to Europe.

APT has been quiet for quite some time. There was surprise when they split from their long-time ship provider, AmaWaterways. Now we know why.

“For a few years in the background we’ve been working along feverishly,” said Tandy at a Sydney launch event.

Gruner Bar and dining - it has hydraulics that can turn it Al Fresco
Grüner Bar and Dining – it has hydraulics that can turn it alfresco

Brought to life hand-in-hand with two local companies – design firm Hecker Guthrie and hospitality firm Fellow Hospitality – APT Solara and the APT Ostara are certainly a departure from the cookie-cutter vessels currently plying the waterways of Europe.

For a start, there are six restaurants – one of which is on hydraulics can be moved up and down to give guests an alfresco experience, aligned to capitalise on the views depending on the port.

There are amazing owners’ suites and even the base level window cabins are well appointed, with smart spaces in light wood tones.

The question that drove the design decisions was: ‘Is what we’re doing the most luxurious available?’

“Let’s throw out all the pre-conceived ideas about what a boat should be and re-think it from the ground up,” said Paul Hecker. “The design tenets were elevated, stylish, quiet luxury.”

Solara and Ostara will launch in Central Europe in 2025. At the heart of their difference is the fact that they are built with an Australian market in mind.

Because Australians spend long hours travelling to Europe, the average river cruise is 15 days (many rival companies now do short seven-day trips to appeal to European cruisers).

APT's new river ships
APT’s revolutionary new river ships

A 15-day trip equates to 45 meals on board, give or take. Stacked against their ocean liner peers, river cruise ships typically have dramatically limited dining options.

Which is why “freedom of choice” is the main tenet underpinning the dining aboard the Solara and Ostara.

The two new ships break a number of records, including having more dining options than any other river cruise ship in the world.

There are six separate dining venues, each of which aims to be distinct enough to give passengers the sense they are free to eat a different meal, at a different venue, each time they visit — or, to put it simply, to bring the luxury of choice available in Australian cities to the context of a river ship.

The idea is that these dining options will change within themselves. Underpinning each are the core values of regionality, curated quality, flexibility and seasonality. As the ships sail through the countries and regions of their respective itineraries, the menus will shift to reflect the seasonal specialties of the lands through which they pass.

Bistro Saison will recall the atmosphere of a neighbourhood European bistro, with classic fare inspired by local regions. There will be both hot and cold buffets serving locally sourced proteins and produce, as well as freshly baked bread at breakfast and lunch, and a fresh-to-order, seasonal à la carte menu for dinner.

The Daystar deck on APT's new river ships
The Daystar deck on APT’s new river ships

The Salon will be a relaxed space designed around the idea of social connection on board the ship. The space itself will be flexible, equally capable of functioning as a quiet reading nook with barista-made coffee in the morning, and a live music entertainment hub in the evenings.

Annie’s Table is a contemporary offering, centred around familiar dishes executed with precision and designed to share. This concept is a personal one, with the Annie in question being Ms Tardy’s mother.

The Daystar Deck, a top-level offering flush with fresh air and whatever views Europe offers at the time, which specialises in Mediterranean-style BBQ: flame-grilled meats, seafood, vegetables and, of course, cocktails.

Then there’s The Grüner Bar & Dining, which is inspired by European farmer’s markets. Going further than simple seasonality, this venue will feature a new ingredient each day, to reflect the specific region you find yourself exploring at the time.

This is also the venue that will be powered by hydraulics.

The entire Grüner venue can be lifted up or shifted down, depending on the time of the day or the port you’re sailing into, to capitalise on the very best views — and with the happy side effect of making its patrons feel like they’re each the star of their own James Bond movie.

CEO David Cox says: “We are the first river ship in the world to do this.

“There is a lower deck, a middle deck and an upper deck. At the rear of the upper deck is a venue that’s being referred to as The Grüner Bar & Dining, and that area houses 28 customers. That venue has been built on hydraulics.

“So when we pull into the dock at sunset, you need to imagine it’s kind of like the Alan Bond Australia 2. That whole venue lifts and becomes level with the sun deck, and opens out onto the sun deck. So we kind of want you to imagine that you pull into Budapest and up comes the back venue, and you can sit there at sunset and have one of your very special cocktails.”

The ships will be sailing in 2025 – but the itineraries are on sale from today. 

Find out more here

5 things to know about APT Solara and APT Ostara

  1. There are six dining venues –  more than any other river cruise ship in the world.
  2. The farmers’ market-inspired Grüner Bar & Dining will be powered by hydraulics, capable of being lifted up and down to capitalise on prime views.
  3. Interiors have been designed by Melbourne firm Hecker Guthrie, behind some of the country’s finest hotels.
  4. Dining will be seasonal and regional, with ingredients changing to reflect local specialties of where each boat finds itself.
  5. Both boats will sail Central Europe in 2025, with itineraries on sale from today.