At the end of 2022, Travel Counsellor Claire Bevan won a cruise for two in the APT Travelmarvel Time to Escape agent incentive. She shares her story exclusively with Cruise Trade News.
When I entered APT Travelmarvel’s incentive last autumn, I never expected that I would actually win one of the two cruises that the line was offering aboard their new Contemporary river ships.
Despite a long and successful career as a travel agent, and matching many of my customers with their dream cruises over the years, I have never been on a river cruise ship myself, so I was very intrigued to see what the experience was like.
What I didn’t appreciate at the time of winning was how transformative this first-hand experience would be, both personally and professionally.
APT Travelmarvel ‘more than just flexibility’
Taking my husband with me, we set off on an early December sailing of Travelmarvel’s nine-day Delightful Danube river cruise from Nuremberg to Budapest.
From the moment I stepped on board, I realised that the Travelmarvel brand offers so much more than its ‘flexible, four-star’ positioning might suggest.
I had expected the ship to be relatively simple, but instead she was elegant, tastefully modern and thoughtfully designed.
Just like her two identical sister vessels, Vega has been created to give as much space and light as possible, and to embrace indoor/outdoor living.
We had every possible amenity that we could need – there was even a whirlpool on the top deck – and the cabins were extremely comfortable.
While some ships can be a bit over the top, and others too basic, the balance that Travelmarvel struck felt just right – the Goldilocks of vessels, if you will – and we knew we had the perfect base for our European adventure.
Looking beyond the hardware, we found the people on board to be equally superlative. The Travelmarvel team were on the top of their game, with warm, relaxed but attentive service, and eager to go the extra mile to make our trip as special as possible.
Our cruise director was very present, brimming with information and ensured things ran like clockwork, and the chefs went above and beyond to cater to every need.
Making new friends on Vega
With APT & Travelmarvel being an Australian owned company, the other guests on board hailed from across the globe. We shared our trip with an even mix of Brits, Aussies and New Zealanders – some travelling solo, while others were in couples, with family or holidaying with friends.
In true antipodean style, the mood was relaxed and there was no pressure to formally dress for dinner as some cruises mandate.
With a choice of dining venues such as the multi-course offering of Constellations Restaurant, the lighter buffet options available in the True North Lounge, or the Irish pub-inspired McGeary’s Bar (named after APT’s founder), we felt empowered to be ourselves and unwind.
This was a holiday without constraining formalities that can be common with other lines.
The inclusive nature of the activities and the layout of the ship helped us all to bond, and we forged a tight group with our travelling companions over the course of the week. So much so that we still have an active WhatsApp group, and one lady who turned out to live fairly near me in the UK has become a good friend.
It was clear that Travelmarvel’s itineraries have been created to orientate guests in each destination, showcase the unmissable highlights and then provide plenty of time to explore.
‘Treated like VIPs’
For anyone who likes to strike out on their own, Travelmarvel offers the perfect blend. When needed, our cruise director was on hand to suggest things that we might enjoy but, having already explored each city with an expert local guide, we felt familiar enough with the destinations to maximise our free time.
While showstopping cities like Budapest and Melk wowed us, the town of Durnstein was an unexpected delight. Travelling in the shoulder season meant that we escaped the crowds.
In the height of summer, visitors normally share this German city with thousands of other tourists, but we had the place almost to ourselves.
We could leisurely peruse the shops, tasting the local schnapps and chocolates offered to us by relaxed and conversational staff who clearly delighted in having plenty of time to chat with their customers at this time of year.
We loved the on-board entertainment, including a fantastic Bavarian evening, but the defining experience of our week was a concert that Travelmarvel offers at the Vienna Opera House.
With front row access to a stunning eight-piece orchestral performance, a choir and dance recital, we felt like VIPs. The intimacy of the event and the absorbing music was unexpectedly emotional. Even my husband, who is a regular at events like The Proms at The Royal Albert Hall, said that it was one of the best things he had ever seen in his life.
Travelmarvel: ‘A new player in the game’
In the past, I have found APT to be the easier of the company’s brands to sell because customers are better acquainted with the offering, and it is quite clearly defined as a luxury river cruising product for the discerning customer.
A newer player for UK guests, Travelmarvel may be easily pigeonholed as a value brand, but make that mistake at your peril. Having experienced it for myself, it is so much more.
The value that Travelmarvel offers is clear, but I’m convinced that other river cruise lines will be hard pushed to rival the quality of this product at the same price point.
In addition to a traditional four-star clientele, I would urge fellow agents to be confident recommending Travelmarvel to their luxury clients who are looking for a good deal without compromising on quality.
I have sold the Contemporary river ships in Europe to some of my most exacting customers, and they have been so impressed that they have already rebooked with the brand.
I feel incredibly lucky to have won this cruise with Travelmarvel and for the deeper understanding I now have of the brand.
Personally, my Travelmarvel experience has inspired me to choose river cruising again for my next holiday, while professionally it has reinforced what a great sales opportunity the brand offers.
- APT Travelmarvel’s nine-day Delightful Danube cruise from Nuremberg to Budapest is priced from £1,895pp and includes return flights.
Image credits: APT & Travelmarvel