The strike paralysed the city. In those days few people had cars so no one could get to work. Enter Bill McGeary, Robert’s grandfather. He saw an opportunity, turned his truck into a bus and started transporting people to and from work. One bus grew into a fleet of five and a company was born.
In the 1960s, Bill’s 19-year-old son Geoff stepped into the driver’s seat – literally – and turned the business from a transport firm into the holiday company it is today. “My father started taking Australians on two-week camping trips to Ayres Rock,” Robert said. “My mother was the sales rep, handing out flyers to travel agents.” Still keeping it very much in the family, Robert is now a director in the company, as is his sister, Lou Tandy.
By the 1980s the company had expanded overseas, first to New Zealand and then the US and UK, and was taking Americans and Britons on touring holidays Down Under. Its name changed from Australian Pacific Coaches to Australian Pacific Touring and when European and tours were added in the early 2000s, it was shortened to APT.
The next obvious step was into river cruising, so how fitting that I met Robert on a Rhine cruise. Rather than starting a new company, APT bought into AmaWaterways, a US company founded in 2002 by Rudi Schreiner and Kristen Karst. They were on the cruise with us for the christening of the new AmaKristina, along with Geoff McGeary and other APT execs. It was very special, like being part of one big happy family.
The original idea behind the partnership was for APT to introduce Australians to the wonders of river cruising in Europe. It has certainly done that, but these days you’ll find plenty of Brits on its river cruises as well. Indeed, ROL Cruise is one of APT’s biggest partners in the UK, selling its river cruises in Europe, India, Asia and even China.
Robert said: “When you cruise on APT’s luxury river cruises, you are on an APT sailing that has been tailored to suit the Australians and British. They don’t like tipping so we include it. It is high-quality river cruising with everything included in the price and that has really worked in the UK.”
When Robert says ‘everything’ included, he is not exaggerating. Flights, UK and overseas transfers, drinks, Wi-Fi; you don’t have to fork out extra for any of it. There is a choice of tours at no extra cost and a wealth of complimentary Signature Experiences that offer something just that little bit more special.
I cruised the Danube with APT earlier this year and enjoyed two signature experiences – a Mozart and Strauss concert in the opulent Palais Lichtenstein in Vienna and a journey on a replica imperial train to Salzburg. I’ll write more about both in a future issue of Blue Horizons.
Others include Champagne, music and dinner at Namedy Castle, home of Princess Heide von Hohenzollern, for those cruising the Rhine, and dinner at Michelin-starred chef Paul Bocuse’s restaurant, L’Abbaye de Collonges, in Lyon for those sailing the Rhône. Choose the Seine and you’ll be treated to dinner and cabaret at the world-famous Moulin Rouge in Paris.
In Asia you might be sipping Champagne as the sunrises over Angkor Wat in Siem Reap or as it sets over the famous U-Bein Bridge in Myanmar. New next year, those cruising the Mekong will dine at APT Ambassador Luke Nguyen’s restaurant Vietnam House in Ho Chi Minh City.
In 1996, APT launched a sister brand, Travelmarvel, which offers river cruises with slightly less-inclusive prices. I have been lucky enough to do two of these cruises, one on the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia, the other on the Ayeyarwady in Myanmar, and both were fantastic (and incidentally are also sold by ROL Cruise, as are Travelmarvel’s European cruises).
Having dipped a toe in the water with rivers, APT has grown its cruise portfolio. It charters Ponant ships for cruises in the Australia’s remote Kimberley region and owns 45% of Noble Caledonia and 50% of Botanica World Discoveries, an Australian firm specialising in botanical-themed touring holidays and cruises.