Advance by Transcend is the former Crystal Mahler, on charter from new owner Riverside Luxury Cruises this season and next. The 110-passenger vessel recently completed a shakedown cruise carrying charter clients and prospects, advisors, investors and senior Transcend Cruises management before its first revenue business, for a European tour operator.
'We're up and running,' said Matthew Shollar, co-founder of Transcend Cruises. 'Not only are we out there with a new concept and a new way of doing business and something that's very charter friendly and a structure that's focused entirely on their needs — which is not the current dynamic in the market — we're operating at a high quality level on a very good vessel, probably the best currently available on the rivers.'
Shollar described an 'interesting mix of clients,' with different needs, ranging from using the vessel static as a hotel to programs with three port calls a day.
'We're ready to serve the clients' needs,' Shollar said. 'This is not a generic product they have to fit into.'
Transcend's fully B2B model provides net fares, with customizable itineraries and excursions. This year, Advance by Transcend is focused on the Rhine, primarily destinations in Germany and Switzerland.
'This concept allows for really cool tailor-made experiences that nobody else can do,' CEO Hans Rood said.
During the shakedown cruise, which traveled through the Netherlands and carried VIPs, business partners, advisors, brokers and investors, Rood himself led a 30-kilometer bike trip through small villages with a stop for Dutch apple cake. For participants interested in architecture, a guide customized a tour of UNESCO-protected windmills to add a private residence visit.
Aboard, Shollar and Rood hosted a Friday Shabbat dinner in a private room. This tested Transcend's intent to offer kosher and halal on a regular basis, along with serving other dietary needs such as vegetarian.
The shakedown, which carried a cross-section of the types of clients Transcend aims to serve, sought feedback in the moment, to make sure things were working and get the crew ready for the first revenue sailing.
Transcend received 'important feedback related to the service orientation' as the River Advice-supplied crew will need to adjust to different nationalities, languages and itineraries, Rood explained. Their training involves learning to serve clients with different purposes for being on board; they aren't the usual FIT leisure travelers.
Shollar said the company quickly identified some 'shining stars' among the staff.
Seasoned operations manager
For Transcend's start, Carmen Mladenovic, formerly with Viking and Uniworld, is working on board as operations manager to ensure a good level of performance. Eventually she'll become the shore-based liasion between shipboard and shore operations as plans include hiring a top-flight luxury hotel manager who'll take over on board.
The company also got feedback on technology and audiovisual equipment. The fact the vessel has a very large galley plays well into Transcend's promise of customizing dining for charterers.
But this temporary, two-season vessel isn't as flexible as Transcend's newbuild will be, with its spaces tailored for groups and its flexible accommodations for up to 120 in staterooms or 60 in two-room, two-bath suites.
'It's a beautiful ship, a former Crystal vessel, one of the nicest vessels on the river. But it's not 100% what we intend for this market segment we're after,' Rood said. For that, Transcend has designed a fully customized vessel to be built at Den Breejen Shipyard in the Netherlands. Its debut is planned for the 2025 European season.
Rood said the current client mix includes North Americans, Europeans and Asians. Since the vessel launched late in the season, the close-in business includes more European companies.
Some of the clients in 2023 are an LGBTQ tour operator, a private family for an anniversary event, two 'pied piper' programs with a VIP bringing friends and family, and corporate meeting sailings with a European company drawing in its worldwide associates. Another client, Susan Sadolin's Innovation Lounges, will use the vessel for five-night trade shows/exhibitions of products for the hospitality industry with a focus on technology and sustainability.
And a 'Christmas on the Rhine' affinity group cruise will be hosted by In The Loop Travel's John Roberts with fellow travel influencers Mikkel and Dan Woodruff (SometimesSailing.com) and Justin and Lauren Ceksters (JustinPlusLauren.com), and celebrity chef Jon Ashton.
'The beauty is the flexibility'
True to Transcend's promise, 'The beauty is the flexibility we have in curating the experience to meet the interests of our guests,' Roberts said.
The hosts will offer panel discussions on content creation, the art of storytelling and photography. Ashton will lead cooking classes and wine tastings on board and at a vineyard. There will be gingerbread decorating and entertainment by local musicians. Roberts has curated experiences like a brewery tour and tasting of Bamberg's famous smoke beer, and a sunset cocktail event on the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal.
A fitness buff, Roberts also will be encouraging his fellow cruisers to join him on walks, bike rides (weather permitting) and morning stretch/yoga classes or gym workouts.
The seven-night cruise salls Dec. 17 from Nurenberg to Bamberg, Kitzingen, Würzberg, Wertheim and Miltenberg, ending at Frankfurt. The five-star, all-inclusive experience will include all meals, drinks, excursions and entertainment. Prices start at $3,325 per person (airfare and transfers not included).
As Shollar said: 'We're open for business and interested in meeting the needs of all types of clients.'