Sailing rivers and inland waterways across the globe, AmaWaterways ranks among the top global river cruise lines with 24 ships. It offers upscale cruise vacations along Europe’s Danube, Douro, Main, Moselle, Rhine, Rhône, Garonne, Dordogne and Seine rivers, along with Dutch and Belgium waterways and France’s Gironde Estuary. The line’s vessels also cruise Southeast Asia’s Mekong River and Africa’s Chobe River.
Headquartered in Calabasas, CA, AmaWaterways was founded in 2002 by Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, a husband-and-wife team with much river cruise line experience, and the late Jimmy Murphy, founder of Brendan Worldwide Vacations. So, what sets the line apart? What makes AmaWaterways different? Here are some points to consider.
It’s Upscale, Comfortable, Contemporary & Chic
Carving out a niche in the upscale segment of the river cruise industry, AmaWaterways is luxurious in many ways, yet with a contemporary, comfortable vibe. Onboard service is friendly, guest-centric and never stuffy. Lisa Long, owner of Luxury Vacations LLC, an independent travel agency in the Avoya Network, Marietta, GA, sells many river cruises and from her perspective, “I would classify AmaWaterways as a luxury river cruise experience with a warm and friendly staff and excellent food.”
Dress-code wise, guests can leave their ball gowns and tuxedos at home. While jackets for men and cocktail dresses for ladies are recommended for a few special nights at dinner (such as the Captain’s Dinner), you most likely won’t be stopped at the door if you’re not wearing those. That said, shorts and sandals aren’t permitted in the dining room on any night, but fine at lunchtime.
It’s Highly Inclusive
Fares are highly inclusive (not all-inclusive). Read on in this article for more detail, but guests enjoy free Wi-Fi, a “balanced” approached to alcoholic drinks, complimentary specialty dining and, as Karst, the line’s co-owner and executive vice president, stresses, “the luxury of choices” in complimentary shore trips and other aspects of the cruise. In lieu of butler service, a fixture on some luxury lines, AmaWaterways has opted for enhanced service touches and personalized assistance.
For example, during an AmaMagna suite stay last summer, I wanted to work on my computer while seated on the settee, which faced the floor-to-ceiling glass and stellar views outside. But the suite’s desk area faced the side wall. So, I called the number provided for suite guests to secure assistance. Within minutes, a friendly housekeeping supervisor showed up, learned my needs, headed out and in less than an hour returned with a small serving table covered with a linen tablecloth. Later, I was asked by crew if the table was working well for me, a nice touch.
From another travel advisor’s perspective, Tiffany Jesudian, owner of Travel Footloose, North Andover, MA, believes that AmaWaterways offers “an excellent value” for its many inclusions and that “AmaWaterways holds a unique position on the scale of luxury for river cruise lines – right in the middle, which also corresponds to their price point.”
It Has A Signature “Twin Balcony” Concept
In the 1990s, most river cruise ships had small portholes or windows at best, with no opportunity for guests to open the window, enjoy a view or step outside to a private space. Today, many river lines offer open-air balconies (via drop-down glass), French balconies or even private exterior balconies.
What’s different about AmaWaterways is its signature “twin balconies” concept in many accommodations – offering both a French balcony and a full-size, private exterior balcony. On an AmaStella cruise I took this past year, twin balconies were available in both suites and deluxe balcony staterooms (AA, AB, BA, BB categories); other cabins had either French balconies or small windows atop the outer wall.
For those staying in twin balcony accommodations, the exterior balcony with two chairs and a small table is a great perch for watching scenery float by while sipping a fine glass of wine and sampling cheeses. During my AmaStella cruise, though, the outside temperature was simply too cool for sitting on the exterior balcony. So, seated on an upholstered mini-settee in a small interior area adjacent to the French Balcony, I admired scenic views in comfort and simply hopped up to pull the French Balcony door aside when I wanted to snap a quick photo.
Video: AmaViola Stateroom 211
It Offers Many “Included” Shore Excursions
“One of the best ‘extras’ with AmaWaterways is that they have a choice of excursions in most ports at no extra charge,” says travel advisor Candie Steinman, franchise owner, Dream Vacations, Fort Myers, FL. “While most river companies offer just one basic excursion, AmaWaterways has choices for extras including culinary choices and more adventurous offerings such as escorted bike trips.”
Using the example of Rudesheim, Germany, Karst told Avid Cruiser that AmaWaterways typically would offer a choice of a gondola ride to the monument overlooking the Rhine followed by included wine tasting; a hike through the area’s vineyards; a guided bike tour; an evening visit to taste the famous Rudesheimer Kaffee, an alcoholic coffee drink; or a tour of Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet, a museum with an amazing array of historical automated instruments musical.
Another perk is that the line offers multiple “pace” levels of walking tours – gentle, regular and active. Gentle is designed for those guests needing a slower pace and, at times if possible (not always), even a bit less walking. Regular is simply a normal walking tour and pace. Active is for very fit travelers wishing more intensity and a faster pace.
Let’s look at a port call on the Danube River in Durnstein, Austria. Those on AmaWaterways’ regular walking tour, will head out with their guide from the riverbank and walk into town to begin the walking tour. In contrast, gentle walkers will board a tiny motorized train not far from the gangway – taking a short scenic drive through vineyards before being dropped in the center of town to begin the walking tour (or to find a café in which to rest and enjoy a coffee). Active walkers might hike up a nearby mountainside for views of town before an invigorating hike back into town, where the walking tour will begin.
Video: Castle Hike In Durnstein
It’s Active In Many Ways
In the past few years, AmaWaterways has gone “active” in a big way. It carries bicycles and helmets for guest use on its ships in Europe and Southeast Asia. Guests can reserve a bike for their own independent touring ashore, ask for suggestions from the concierge about a good route to take, or alternatively, join one of the line’s guided bicycle tours.
Separately, AmaWaterways and Backroads have partnered for several years to serve cycling enthusiasts on many designated AmaWaterways voyages, some full-ship charters. Backroads bike tours feature custom-designed titanium bikes for all rider types—performance, touring and electric-assist—and include fully loaded GPS routes.
Fitness-wise, AmaWaterways’ vessels also have small fitness facilities with an array of exercise equipment such as treadmills, bikes and free weights. Core wellness classes include resistance band training and core strengthening. Yoga may also be offered as a Signature class.
Given its larger size, the new AmaMagna has an aft Zen Wellness Studio with an exercise room, wellness bar with juices and mineral water, indoor/outdoor table seating, outdoor spinning machines so guests can work out with great views, space for fitness classes and more.
One nice perk? Professionally trained wellness hosts also sail on most ships to lead fitness/wellness classes. The only exceptions are on ships sailing Portugal’s Douro River or Africa’s Chobe River.
It’s Heavily Into Wine
While many river lines showcase local wines from the region of sailing, AmaWaterways does that but it also has offers dedicated “Wine Cruises” – 67 such themed cruises in 2020. In 2021, it will offer 60-plus of these vino-focused sailings. For example, in 2021, wine enthusiasts might head into France to taste vintages on an Essence of Burgundy & Provence wine-themed sailing or into Austria and Germany for a Melodies of the Danube wine cruise.
Steinman emphasizes that these wine cruises have all the tours that would be available on a regular cruise, yet guests also can enjoy special wine tastings, wine pairings and interaction with a special wine host. That’s typically a U.S. vintner who sails and lectures onboard as well as brings hand-selected vintages (from his or her own winery or those from the region of sailing) for guests to taste. The wine host also accompanies guests during vineyard tours and tastings ashore.
Onboard meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) are included in AmaWaterways’ cruise fares, and cuisine is best described as regionally inspired with fresh local and seasonal ingredients; guests will also find some international favorites and always available classic dishes too. Beyond the main dining room is a specialty restaurant, Chef’s Table, which offers a creative and savory tasting menu; reservations are needed but there is no added charge. The larger AmaMagna has those two dining venues plus the new Al Fresco dining area and Jimmy’s Wine Bar, a new eatery that’s a tribute to late co-owner Jimmy Murphy.
From the outset, culinary excellence has been a passion of AmaWaterways’ owners. The line is the first river cruise company inducted into Chaîne des Rôtisseurs (“The Royal Guild of Goose Roasters”), a prestigious culinary organization. All the line’s European ships are “members” of this oldest and largest global food and wine society, with origins from the 13th century; one evening guests enjoy a special Chaine des Rotisseurs dinner onboard.
For those with special dietary restrictions, the line can provide vegetarian, gluten-free, low-sodium and vegan dishes.
It Strikes A Balance On Drinks
Some luxury lines have free drinks 24-7 including cocktails, spirits, wine and beer, and, not surprisingly, luxury cruise fares reflect those higher costs. But the reality is that many guests don’t desire to drink that much or at all. So, while offering an upscale experience, AmaWaterways isn’t all-inclusive on the drink side, but the approach is “the next best thing.”
Guests enjoy complimentary wine and beer with both lunch and dinner, plus sparkling wine at breakfast. In addition, AmaWaterways has a nightly “Sip ‘n Sail” happy hour in the main lounge with complimentary wine, beer, cocktails and spirits (except specialty brands) one hour before dinner.
It Has a Wider, More Spacious Danube Ship
While locks on most European rivers limit the size of river vessels plying those waterways, the Danube can accommodate some larger ships. Born in Austria, Schreiner always dreamed about building a larger river cruise vessel to sail the Danube, and now that’s become a reality.
Debuting in summer 2019, the creatively designed AmaMagna is twice the width of a normal Danube river vessel and offers some of the largest staterooms on European rivers. It can accommodate 196 passengers, not that much more capacity-wise than some vessels half its width. I sailed on AmaMagna in July and found it exceptionally spacious, both in public spaces and within the accommodations.
Ocean cruisers who’ve wanted to try a river cruise but have been afraid of feeling too confined will likely find AmaMagna more to their taste. The ship’s spacious two-level lounge has plenty of comfortable seating areas, a bar, dance floor, space for entertainers, a lower level library with an electric fireplace and a door that opens to reveal a movie theater.
As for accommodations, ultra-spacious suites account for more than 50 percent of AmaMagna’s accommodations. The majority measure 355 square feet, but six Grand Suites are 474 square feet and an Owner’s Suite is 710 square feet. “The suites are extremely spacious – great for passengers who want larger accommodations,” adds Steinman, noting that “even lower deck cabins are 200 plus square feet.”
It’s Family Friendly in Multiple Ways
AmaWaterways welcomes families, and Karst believes that in a fast-paced world, “sharing family time together is so important.” The line typically sees family groups during holiday periods or in the summer. Increasingly, it’s also seeing more grandparents sailing with their grandchildren. That said, here are a few rules to consider: AmaWaterways doesn’t accept children under 4 years of age for travel and Karst believes kids 6 to 7 years of age or older are best as they’re in school and can appreciate what they’re seeing and doing.
From my personal observations on AmaWaterways’ ships, a river cruise can be a great family option if children or teens are curious about the world, love seeing outside scenery and doing activities ashore with their family and can “self-entertain” onboard, playing with quiet electronic games or toys or watching the sites outside along the riverbanks. Don’t expect babysitting services or a kids’ club onboard, as is the case with most river lines. And there may be no other children the same age onboard.
That said, families have a more robust family-focused option on AmaWaterways, which partners with Adventures by Disney for dedicated family river cruise departures. Disney’s hosts assure that families are engaged and organize kid-centric and family-friendly activities onboard and ashore. So, children might head out with their parents to learn how to make pizza in Italy, explore a castle or take a family hike. For teens, Disney has a welcome party, teen and Junior Adventurer dinners and Disney movie nights.
River cruise cabins are typically sold at “per person double occupancy” pricing, so solo travelers on river vacations typically may have to pay for two fares if they want single use of a cabin. One tidbit Steinman has for cruisers, though, is that “on many AmaWaterways sailings, the D and E categories can be purchased as a single with no additional supplement.” So, the solo traveler pays just one fare not two. That’s not always the case, but worth checking into depending on your preferred date of sailing.
Finally, the most important AmaWaterways differentiator from Karst’s perspective is “heart and soul.” She and Schreiner have spent 18-plus years building AmaWaterways from the ground up, and creating a friendly, family-focused corporate culture. Also highly involved is Gary Murphy, the late Jimmy Murphy’s son; he’s also a co-owner and senior vice president of sales.
Karst believes that family feeling, the true caring about each other, is reflected in the company’s corporate culture which reflects itself in the crew’s service and interactions with passengers. “We act in a more genuine way [with guests],” she emphasizes. “It’s not staged.” Concurring is Steinman, who says that “the feeling on AmaWaterways is one of being part of a family.”