For an impressive 35 years, visionary travel agency owners Alonzo and Sheila C. have owned Our Gang Travel, one of the oldest minority wholly-owned travel agencies in the Northeast United States. From the very start, Alonzo stated, “We wanted to do something educational, experiential and totally different.”
Perhaps it was fate then that the travel agency owners were introduced early on to Columba Calicchio, whom they describe as their “inspiring” AmaWaterways Business Development Manager in charge of New Jersey and New York – although their relationship began when Columba worked in ocean cruising. “She was our match to the fire,” said Alonzo, crediting her for helping Our Gang Travel create successful groups with loyal clientele.
Following their Heart to AmaWaterways
Alonzo admitted that he was somewhat skeptical about river cruising at first when Columba began her position at AmaWaterways seven years ago. However, because of their longstanding relationship, he trusted her judgment and sought out to learn more. “I am the kind of person for whom you can’t tell me how good the food is, I have to taste it,” he said. After being offered the opportunity to spend an incredible evening getting to know Co-Founders Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst on a personal level, however, Alonzo and Sheila decided it was time to experience their first AmaWaterways sailing on the Danube River.
As top sellers with an ocean cruise line, the couple had earned, and was accustomed to receiving, special “elite status” while sailing certain ocean liners. This was not something they were expecting as first-timers with AmaWaterways. “With Ama, every single guest receives special attention – personalized service is not just offered to the people staying in suites,” said Sheila. They were also surprised and delighted that every AmaWaterways crew member remembered their names almost immediately, from the front desk to the dining room staff. “It was like we were on our own personal yacht,” Alonzo shared.
Overall, Sheila recalled, “The included tours were out of this world and the food and wine were indescribable.” There was no doubt after their first river cruise that Alonzo and Sheila would return.
xperiencing River Cruising’s Evolution On Board AmaMagna
Columba had encouraged Alonzo, Sheila and their clients to enjoy one of AmaWaterways’ complimentary guided bike tours during their Danube River cruise. However, knowing their guests’ interests reasonably well, the advisors really didn’t think this would be their group’s cup of tea. “To my surprise,” Alonzo laughed, “the biking experience has turned into a major draw for our guests and they always ask us if there will be bike tours on their next river cruise.”
Now several sailings later and proud members of the AmaWaterways family, the power couple had the opportunity to sail aboard our most innovative ship to date, AmaMagna, during her inaugural year on the Danube River in 2019. Twice as wide as traditional river cruise ships and designed by Co-Founder and President Rudi Schreiner, AmaMagna offers the luxury of space with more than 50% ultra-spacious suite accommodations, an expansive Zen Wellness Studio and four unique dining experiences that make her the perfect ship for introducing ocean clients to the river.
“The ship is unbelievable,” raved Alonzo. “A lot of cruise lines say they’ll listen to your suggestions, but you might not see them come to fruition. With AmaMagna, it was important for my clients to have more suites available and Rudi listened to us all. The spacious suites, the layout of the onboard boutique, the dining areas – they were all incredible. It was the epitome of what I would want on my own yacht.”
Sheila’s favorite enhancements were AmaMagna’s chic onboard cinema and the ability to choose from four dining venues, including two new restaurants: Al Fresco, which offers light, vegetable-forward menu with panoramic views, and Jimmy’s, with its warm, familial atmosphere. “I also loved the Zen Wellness Studio,” she recalled fondly of the expansive space that encompasses a well-equipped fitness room with outdoor spin bikes, a relaxing juice bar, two massage rooms and hair and nail salon. “I don’t ever take a cruise without a spa treatment – and it was fabulous!”
A Family Affair
Our Gang Travel has found enormous success throughout the years, including selling AmaWaterways river cruises, which they attribute to the way they personally connect with their clients. “Everyone has to be Sheila’s friend – that’s number one,” Alonzo joked. “In all seriousness, many of our clients will be here at our office for two or three hours because we serve them wine or Champagne, we’ve even shared dinners with them. We make them feel like they’re part of our family, ‘our gang.’”