Not all river cruises are created equal and it’s important to understand the subtleties, inclusions and differences of each. Some are stand-outs in many ways, and it’s fascinating to see how AmaWaterways has grown and changed over the last 10 plus years - so if you’re still considering your first river cruise in Europe or are a relative newbie to the wide range of river options available, read on.
I first cruised with AmaWaterways nearly eight years ago and loved my experience with them from the outset, and in every way. There is a real sense of family with this river line and it shows in the onboard attention to detail, the feeling of belonging, and the sensibility of people who truly care. Several families own and operate the company and everyone involved is committed to seeing that guests are treated extremely well in every way. Every time I cruise on AMA it feels like coming home. There’s a comfortable and sincere atmosphere, and that certain “sparkle” from many of the staff you see again and again.
Last May, I was fortunate to be invited on a very special christening cruise on the AmaKristina, named for one of the owners herself – the lovely and charming Kristin Karst. The company decided to celebrate their 15th anniversary with a special Godmother cruise in celebration of many of the ladies who had previously served as godmothers for their ships – a rare honor. We were in very good company and felt as if we were with welcoming family and friends.
The AmaKristina sailed up the Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam and the ceremony was held on a sunny afternoon in the delightful town of Lahnstein in the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the perfect backdrop for such an occasion. The Rhine River Gorge area has the highest concentration of castles anywhere in the world – 30 to be exact. It’s a wonderful experience to be on deck as you sail through the gorge, castles on every side – one of the pure joys of river cruising. A lazy afternoon on a bucolic river, relaxing in the sun on the top deck with one of the best views in the world.
What were my favorite things about this ship and cruise line? One true standout was the Chef’s Table, a small and intimate space at the aft of the ship on Deck 3. Dinners are served there each night to a maximum of 28 guests with reservations required, but at no extra cost. The glass-enclosed open kitchen adds to the style and feel of this great venue and the tasting menu is delicious. The chef is Indonesian and he brings a pan-Asian focus to the meals. A fabulous chandelier anchors this bright, elegant room which offers great views of the river; and you dine, surrounded by glass. Most importantly, the cuisine is truly superb, as it is throughout the ship with a variety of options always available whether you dine in the main restaurant or choose a light lunch, tea or tapas in the main lounge. In keeping with the family feel onboard, the main lounge is often referred to as the “Living Room”. Entertainment in the evening is lively, with lots of fun things happening every night ranging from an Abba night that has everyone dancing to interesting lectures and piano tunes.
My stateroom was most comfortable, quite spacious and like most, offered a lovely balcony – a great spot for morning coffee. Each room has all the amenities, including Wi-Fi access, movies, some TV channels and a bathroom with a soaking shower. Cupboard space is generous – an important factor – and the space incorporates a sitting area and a small fridge. The arrangement works well and the bed is superb – always important!
As on most river cruises, AmaWaterways includes wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner. This year, however, they are introducing the Sip and Sail program, which offers free drinks during ‘Happy Hour’ – a time when many guests come to the lounge to hear about the next day’s events and excursions before going to dinner. This is an addition I feel will be much appreciated!
The AmaKristina is the 20th ship in the fleet, most of which sail on a range of European rivers including the Douro in Portugal, the Seine and Rhône in France, the Rhine and Danube of course, as well as the Moselle and other smaller rivers. Asia also features prominently in the cruise company’s offerings on the Mekong and the Irrawaddy. The company is also launching the AmaMagna in 2019, the widest ship to ever be built and sail on a European river – the lower Danube. She will be remarkable – and we will tell you more about her soon.
Recent innovations include a focus on wellness which has already been launched on one ship and, thanks to its popularity, will be rolled out to more this year. Gentle exercise, yoga, circuit training, lectures and nutrition as well as stress management programs and more are included. Bikes are available for an easy ride along a river pathway or for longer, more strenuous exercise that goes well with the more active shore excursions that are also offered. AmaWaterways has a partnership with Back Roads as well as with Adventures by Disney and is happy to offer family-oriented vacations along with special family staterooms on certain ships.
On AmaWaterways, the care and attention you receive comes from the heart. It is at the core of how this company operates and permeates everyone who works there – whether on the ships, or those who design the itineraries, the website, the menus and the lovely ships themselves. They are proud of their passion and enthusiasm for all they do and how much they value their guests – and it shows. And most importantly they will make sure you have the best possible river cruise vacation.
Written by Vanessa Lee. Published in Cruise & Travel Lifestyles Winter/Spring 2018 issue.
PHOTO CREDIT: AmaWaterways