I was invited to sail aboard AmaWaterways’ new ship AmaMagna last week. Though the ship just started sailing in May, Rudi Schreiner, AmaWaterways’ president and co-founder, jokes that the ship is already old, as its maiden voyage was followed by the launch of another AmaWaterways’ ship, AmaMora.
Though meant to be a funny comment, Schreiner’s joke raises an interesting point. There is so much growth in the river cruise industry, with the introduction of dozens of new river ships every year and even with the reinvention or rejuvenation of cruise companies and ships currently on the market. This growth encourages river cruise companies to think creatively and introduce new concepts to appeal to the river cruising population.
We see this with the introduction of AmaMagna, a double-wide river ship that cruises the Danube. Because of its size, AmaMagna gives passengers more space both inside and outside of the staterooms. But we will get to that at a later point, because today I want to talk about another way that AmaWaterways distinguishes itself, through its emphasis on family – both with its passengers and with its staff.
I spent most of my time this week talking to the crew aboard AmaMagna, some of whom I had sailed with in the past. In conducting interviews and conversing with the crew, there was one word that came up without fail every time – family.
When I thought about writing this story I thought, Many companies think of themselves as a family. Many people refer to themselves as family. And at first I couldn’t understand why the emphasis on family struck such a chord with me, but through talking to the passengers and the crew aboard the ship and ashore, it became clear that Ama takes the concept of family to another level.
Let’s start first with the founders of the company. Kristin Karst, Rudi Schreiner, and the late Jimmy Murphy. Kristin (from Dresden, Germany) and Rudi (from Vienna, Austria) are a married couple who, instead of trying to suppress their relationship for the purposes of work, seem to call attention to it. Whether they are sharing a slow dance in the lounge or giving their speeches at a Christening ceremony, the love that Kristin and Rudi have for each other is apparent. Throughout my crew-conducted interviews, Kristin and Rudi’s relationship was mentioned multiple times, often being cited as the reason for the closeness of the crew. They lead by example, not only with love and kindness for each other, but for everyone else as well.
Jimmy Murphy was another co-founder of AmaWaterways. Though Jimmy is no longer living, his legacy with AmaWaterways is carried by his children. Gary Murphy is a co-owner of the river cruise company; he also serves as the company’s vice president. Susan Murphy is the Godmother of AmaCello. I had the pleasure of meeting Susan, along with her daughter Anna, while dancing in Grein after AmaMagna’s christening.
Apart from the obvious familial connections from the founders and owners of the company, there is another family, or couple that I would like to mention. Leo Starico and his partner Wade Korzan head AmaWaterways’ office in Basel, Switzerland. Over dinner, Leo and I began to chat about the couple’s relationship with Rudi, Kristin, and the rest of the AmaWaterways staff. Leo told me that he and Wade were not only given the opportunity to start working together heading AmaWaterways’ office in Basel, but encouraged to do so, as a couple. As with Rudi and Kristin, the nature of Leo and Wade’s relationship is not suppressed, but mentioned frequently – continuing to emphasize the close relationships that some of the AmaWaterways’ staff have.
Cristian and Alina Dumitru are one of many couples working aboard AmaMagna. When I spoke with Cristian about what AmaWaterways’ means to him, he stated: “You see what we mean when we say AmaWaterways’ family. I have my wife onboard; we are one of six or seven couples onboard.” Alina works in the spa and salon, and Cristian works as the ship’s hotel manager. Cristian came to AmaWaterways after working aboard ocean ships, and frustrated with the amount of time Cristian spent away from her, Alina vowed that if Cristian ever went back to working on ships she would go with him. So, what did she do? Just that.
It is easy to look at the couples who work aboard AmaWaterways, and AmaMagna specifically, and view them as family. That all makes sense. Where the dynamic becomes more interesting, is within the relationships of individual crew members, and the crew as a whole.
I sat down with Ivo, who has been working with AmaWaterways for six years. When I asked him what working with AmaWaterways meant to him, his response was short – “Family style.” He mentions the relationship between Rudi and Kristin stating, “You can see it with the owners, they are family. We treat each other like family. We treat passengers like family. It’s a chain. They give the example.”
Flori, a member of the housekeeping staff, has only been working with AmaWaterways’ for a year now, though she has been working on the rivers for more than five years. I asked her what Ama did differently than with the other ships. She responded: “They take care of the crew. When you come onboard, you feel like you are in a family. Even though your own family is at home, you start knowing everybody – meeting new people and making new friends.”
The passengers feel a sense of family with the crew too. One morning I woke up in a bit of a funk. Marius, one of the bar staff, noticed that I wasn’t my cheery self so he walked up to me with a mimosa stating, “The doctor is here.” That comment alone was enough to put a smile on my face but let’s be honest – the mimosa also helped.
The crew of the ship are so in tune with each passenger, whether they know the guests from previous sailings or are meeting them for the first time, they are able to anticipate the needs of every guest. This creates a relaxed vibe, and while on other sailings I have heard passengers snap at crew members or waitstaff, requests made by guests seemed conversational rather than demanding.
On one final note, I will mention our cruise manager Maddy – who I feel like I can’t say enough good things about. Maddy sets an amazing example for the crew onboard, but also for the passengers. She is a beam of light who shined throughout the entire sailing. Her radiant smile greats you as you walk into the lobby, and sticks with you through your day onboard or ashore.
I sat down with Maddy in Linz to talk about her thoughts on AmaWaterways, and while we sat drinking an Aperol Spritz by the river, it felt like I was having a cocktail with an old friend. Everyone, and I mean everyone, on our sailing spoke highly of Maddy. In fact, on a final bus tour I head a fellow passenger say to her husband, “Can we take Maddy home with us?” And, as I’ve already written, if that’s possible I would like to be first in line.
The bottom line? Not only do I want to be a part of the AmaWaterways’ family, but I want them to be a part of mine. It’s one thing for a company to claim that its guests are family, but it’s another when the concept of family extends to crew and guests alike and forms a bond between them. AmaWaterways achieves that cruise after cruise.