AmaWaterways may have gotten it start along the Danube, but it is the line’s most exotic itineraries that are turning heads. By the time this post is on your screen, AmaWaterways will have just introduced their newest – and quite possibly most exotic – destination: The Ayeyarwady.
Popularized by author Rudyard Kipling as ‘The Road to Mandalay’, the 2,000-kilometer Ayeyarwady has only recently become accessible to tourists after Myanmar’s decades of self-imposed isolation – and a river cruise through the vast cultural and historic riches of this mysterious locale is one of the best ways to take it all in.
Sailing the Ayeyarwady is the 56-guest AmaPura. Newly-constructed, this intimate 57-meter river cruise ship features 28 staterooms offering either French or full balconies, or lavish suites that feature both French and full balconies; an AmaWaterways staple popular with guests on its European river cruise ships. Public areas include a lavishly decorated lounge and main dining room, and a gift shop, spa, refreshing pool and an expansive sun deck round out the mix of amenities onboard.
AmaWaterways has cleverly designed the culinary options onboard to reflect local Burmese cuisine, but with Western specialties available. Influenced by Chinese, Indian and Thai specialties, Burmese cuisine can best be thought of as a mix of all three.
For its inaugural season in Myanmar, AmaWaterways has developed two itineraries: the 14-day Golden Treasures of Myanmar; and the extended 16-day Hidden Wonders of Myanmar. Both journeys operate roundtrip Yangon, but the first includes a 10-night upstream cruise aboard AmaPura operating from Pyay. The latter of the two itineraries includes a full two weeks onboard the AmaPura, sailing downstream.
Cruises include pre-cruise accommodations, complimentary house wine, local beer and soft drinks with every lunch and dinner onboard, as well as onboard cultural shows, lectures, and special Burmese historical discussions.
This isn’t the line’s first foray into the exotic Asian river cruise market. AmaWaterways has been providing innovative river cruises along the Mekong for several years now, but 2015 will see the addition of a brand-new ship to the run.
Slated to enter service with the line’s August 11, 2015 cruise-tour departure (or August 17, cruise-only), the 124-guest AmaDara will take the place of the smaller La Marguerite that has been operating itineraries in conjunction with the gorgeous AmaLotus. AmaLotus was introduced in 2011 and is larger and more amenity-laden than the smaller La Marguerite, which wrapped up her scheduled sailings for AmaWaterways in March of this year.
At first glance, the new AmaDara will be similar to fleetmate AmaLotus. Both vessels are capable of carrying 124 guests and measure 92 metres in length. You could say they’re sister ships – except for the fact that they’re not. A quick look at the deck and general arrangement plans reveal some exciting and interesting differences for the new AmaDara that make her wholly different from the AmaLotus.
Accommodations aboard AmaDara are all placed aft of the main reception lobby, with the ship’s public rooms taking the prime forward-facing positions. These consist of a Pool and Sun Deck on the Terrace Deck; the Saigon Lounge one deck below on Upper Deck; and the main Mekong Restaurant forward on Main Deck.
AmaDara also seems to have a small alternate dining venue all the way aft on Upper Deck, which – at this time – simply sports the generic name Restaurant.
Another interesting twist found aboard the new AmaDara: no riverview staterooms. In fact, the lower deck looks to be dedicated entirely to crew and or technical spaces, in contrast with AmaLotus which features six riverview staterooms on this Lower Deck.
This means all accommodations aboard Amador feature both French and Outside Balconies.
In terms of physical size, the majority of staterooms aboard AmaDara will be sized exactly as their AmaLotus counterparts are: 225 square feet, tastefully decorated with regional and colonial accents.
Two changes have also been made to AmaDara’s top-of-the-line accommodations: Luxury Suites will decrease slightly in size to measure 452 square feet, while regular Suites will increase to 334 square feet, more than their AmaLotus equivalents.
The little-used Panorama Lounge aboard the AmaLotus has been eliminated aboard the AmaDara, and the Fitness Center and Massage Room are now located at the stern of the ship instead of just off the Atrium’s uppermost level as on AmaLotus.
With river-cruise-only and extended land tour options that explore the riches of Cambodia and Vietnam, AmaWaterways has understandably focused heavily on its foothold in the region, operating the only ships on the Mekong that feature air conditioned interior corridor access to guest accommodations.
AmaWaterways’ Vietnam, Cambodia & the Riches of the Mekong itinerary has been fine-tuned over the past few years, and guest satisfaction tends to be high whether you’re choosing the full 16-day land and cruise tour that begins in Hanoi and concludes in Ho Chi Minh City, or wish to simply partake in the weeklong cruise from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Vietnam.
Before embarking the ship, guests are treated to the wonders of Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the prime reason visitors flock to Siem Reap. It is one of the most prominent remains of the Khmer civilisation, dating back to the 12th century.
From there, guests are whisked by traditional boats and skiffs out to their AmaWaterways ship, which lies at anchor on the brackish waters of Tonle Sap Lake. The lake confounds the senses; land can scarcely be seen during times of high water levels, and it’s not uncommon to feel as though you’re embarking on an ocean cruise instead of a river cruise.
What follows is a week of immersion into the nuances of Cambodian and Vietnamese culture. There’s the chance to travel through the rural village of Kampong Tralach by “Khmer Limousine” – a cart pulled by a team of oxen. In Oudong, guests visit a centuries-old Monastery where they receive a traditional Buddhist blessing. This requires you to sit perfectly still, hands clasped in front of you, for several minutes; not as easy as it looks.
Following the bright lights of Phnom Penh and the sobering reminders of the deadly Khmer Rouge regime that still exist within the city limits, Vietnam welcomes guests. Once you’ve managed to cross a street in Ho Chi Minh City as a pedestrian, you’ll never look at traffic the same way again.
It’s not just Asian destinations that are being offered by AmaWaterways, though: The line recently enhanced its cruise tour itineraries in Africa with four separate journeys ranging from 12 to 18 days.
On each itinerary, four nights are spent sailing along the Chobe River aboard the 28-guest Zambezi Queen. The land portions that AmaWaterways has designed, however, are where these voyages really shine. Guests can enjoy two nights at spectacular Victoria Falls, overnights in Johannesburg and Cape Town, or even take part in a two-night journey aboard the prestigious Rovos Rail train or a three-night South African safari in Kruger National Park.
River cruising may be most famous along the Danube, but exotic itineraries like these are becoming increasingly popular with each passing season.
More information on AmaWaterways can be found by viewing our complete company overview here on River Cruise Advisor.