When trip-planning clients pounce on a river cruise line bearing a name derived from the Latin word for “love,” chances are they’re conjuring a vision of themselves as pampered passengers on the receiving end of intimate, nurturing attention.
And why not? Such expectations, according to Kristin Karst, executive v.p. and co-owner of AmaWaterways, are right on the mark. “We not only want our guests to feel welcome, we want them to feel at home. From our comforting staterooms to our variety of onboard amenities, we provide the necessary offerings to make guests feel at ease. Our crew’s award-winning service standards and warm, friendly demeanor provide a special touch so that guests truly embrace our ships as their home away from home.”
Indeed, the family-owned company has ways of making a guest feel like part of that family—a pleasant discovery I experienced on a 7-night AmaCerto spring itinerary on the Rhine, sailing from Basel to Amsterdam with stops that included history-rich Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Koblenz, and Cologne (fares start at $2,599 pp).
As Karst promises, staterooms are comforting—most notably the big, rest-inducing bed—with emphasis on actual space (mine was 235 sq. ft.) rather than haute decor tricks. In the attractive, well-kept layouts are a flat-screen TV, complimentary WiFi, entertainment system with news and current movies, ample closet, fridge with replenished complimentary water, robe/slippers, and a marble bathroom. Hands down, the most uncommon feature is the pair of balconies (most of the staterooms boast these)—a French balcony plus an outside balcony with table and chairs.
Also rare on the rivers: A cool glass elevator. And a heated pool with swim-up bar on the sun deck.
With no more than 164 passengers aboard, both crew and guests are soon acquainted, which leads to convivial dining. Service is attentive and accommodating; there’s even courteous assistance at your elbow for the breakfast and lunch buffets. Cruisers can also order from the menu—while some discover the peace, soft keyboard sounds, and window-wrapped panoramas of the spacious lounge-with-bar, which spreads a lunch buffet that’s essentially the same as in the bustling, open-seating dining room. Evening menus are uniformly appealing, with tasty vegetables served separately in family-like fashion. The chef stars in particular during the Farewell and the Chaine des Rotisseurs dinners (AmaWaterways is the only river cruise line to be inducted into the prestigious gastronomic society).
Among the delights of river cruising in what Karst aptly calls “a highly cultural environment”: local entertainment in the evening and regional cuisine on the menus. AmaCerto not only treats passengers to specialties of countries visited but delivers recipes to staterooms for cooks to try at home. Hungarian sauerkraut soup, anyone?
Not to be missed is The Chef’s Table, with its fine dining menu and paired wines. No charge here but a reservation is necessary, and clients should be advised to handle this early on since large groups can fill the limited space. Along with culinary rewards to remember come expansive aft windows for a spectacle of evening-lit towns and cities, not to mention a competing view of the chef making magic in his open kitchen. Here, as in the main dining room, wine, beer, and soft drinks are complimentary with meals.
Perhaps nowhere in the passenger-pleasing picture does AmaWaterways shine more than in its shore adventures, included in the fare. Clients who would welcome a slower-paced walking tour? They can join the Gentle group. Prefer a steady clip? Choose the Regular group, or the Active for stepping it up and seeing more. Rather sleep in? Make it the Late Starters. For those with energy to spare, there’s a fleet of bicycles. To be sure no one misses a moment of commentary by top-notch local guides, all are equipped with audio devices. The ship’s cruise manager insures that excursions proceed seamlessly; buses, when needed, are pristine.
On this journey, guided walking tours were the way to go, spotlighting legendary landmarks from the soaring cathedrals of Strasbourg and Cologne to romance-infused Heidelberg Castle. Agents, do take note of the Limited Edition tours served up for your travelers who may have passed this way previously. Example: Amsterdam options include, along with the standard city tour via canals, Limited Edition excursions to either the upscale environs of the Jordaan District or the celebrated Keukenhof Gardens.
Still more singular offerings are on the way. Following this year’s debut of AmaDara on the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia, two more new vessels will launch in Europe in 2016, for a fleet total of 20. Sister ships AmaViola and AmaStella (family market alert!) will show off new connecting staterooms as well as larger suites. AmaWaterway’s buzzed-about theme cruises (another rarity on the rivers) are increasing next year with a total of 38 wine-themed sailings and five art-focused itineraries.
With a nod to today’s active travelers, the line is teaming with Backroads for 2016 Danube cruises that feature expert-curated biking tours complete with leaders, bikes, vans, and routes for various abilities. For (again) the family market, check out Adventures by Disney for partnering programs set for six AmaViola sailings in 2016.
What travel professionals are saying…
Notes Jo-Ann Moloney, river cruise specialist with Travel Professionals International, “AmaWaterways is a family-owned business and the owners are very ‘hands on.’ They pay attention to small details. And the staff is extremely helpful to travel advisors with groups on board.”