Fantasy Cruises, based in Washington state, is among the American lines feeling the resurgence in river cruising.
“The business is stronger than it was a couple of years ago,” said Jeff Behrens, owner of Fantasy Cruises. “We have created several new itineraries to try to interest people in returning, and we’ve had good repeat business. Five years after a cruise with us, we have 25 to 30 percent repeats.”
Fantasy Cruises specializes in Southeast Alaska small-ship cruises. For example, the Island Spirit will whisk you away for a nine-day adventure to our 49th state on which you will cruise the deep channels, fjords and islands of the Alexander Archipelago and tour popular destinations on the Alaskan mainland.
Behrens said his company is a little different than other lines “because we’re owner-operators and involved in all trips. People are surprised they get our level of customer service. But it’s all about the guest experience.”
That also means flexibility. If the crew learns that whales are feeding somewhere five miles away, with the owner on board, a decision on whether to go can be made in seconds instead of having first to call some corporate office in the lower 48 for permission.
Behrens gave another example of the difference between the big Alaska cruise liners and smaller Alaska ships like his.
“Our boats run on batteries at night. The lights are on, and everything works fine, but we can open the windows, and guests can actually hear a nearby waterfall because there is no generator noise.”
Behrens divides his customer base into two types of travelers. One type wants to get away from the crowds; the other type has already done huge cruise ships and now wants to “get into the little villages during the shore excursions, see the natives, do more and experience ‘the real’ Alaska,” he said.
Like many other river cruises around the world, Fantasy Cruises trips are all-inclusive, with no hidden fees or incidentals. Meals, cocktail hours, wines with dinner, kayaks, walking tours, port charges and taxes are included in the price of your ticket.
Behrens said Fantasy Cruises has welcomed groups for years. He’s a member of the National Tour Association. He also observes that multigenerational group travel is picking up.
“We specialize in family cruises now, so people can bring kids and put them in a kayak and do different things.”
In 2014, Fantasy Cruises will return to the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest; more on that in coming months.
“For now, we’re very busy,” said Behrens. “Business is good. We’re having a great year.”