Founded in 2002 by industry vets Rudi Schreiner, Kristin Karst and the late Jimmy Murphy, AmaWaterways now boasts a fleet of 18 elegant, contemporary river cruise ships sailing the waters of Europe, with an additional four ships operating itineraries through Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, and Africa’s Chobe River. The line likes to say, Welcome to the Ama Family in their marketing, but it’s more than just PR-speak: AmaWaterways is the big river cruise line that still operates like a fledgling cruise line. Schreiner and Karst still work the company’s booth at trade shows, and AmaWaterways Crews are some of the friendliest on the rivers. Contemporary and stylish, they’re the river cruising equivalent of a cool, hip hotel gone to sea but with the amenities and the talent to back it all up.
Food & Wine: AmaWaterways has several dining venues on each of its vessels with an emphasis on high-quality ingredients and unique recipes. The company also brings an impressive selection of wines on board and has a large portfolio of wine-themed cruises.
Least Itinerary Disruptions: AmaWaterways’ president and co-owner Rudi Schreiner is one of the forefathers of modern river cruising. Schreiner’s insider knowledge of inland waterways and his careful deployment of vessels means that AmaWaterways usually experiences the least (or no) disruptions on its river sailings when water levels are acting up.
Customer Service: With a strong emphasis on providing top-notch customer service, AmaWaterways often makes decisions that are not necessarily in its best financial interest (think generous refunds when things go wrong) to ensure that customers go home with a positive impression.
Worldwide Itineraries: AmaWaterways offers dozens of river cruise itineraries throughout Europe, along Africa’s Chobe River, Myanmar’s Irrawaddy, and the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia.
Dual Balconies: Can’t decide which kind of balcony stateroom you want? AmaWaterways’ newest vessels offer both French and full Step-Out balconies in many stateroom categories.
Playing It Safe: Because AmaWaterways doesn’t like to take risks on emerging and less predictable rivers (such as the notoriously shallow Elbe River in Germany), it generally sails on more run-of-the-mill rivers, at least in Europe.
Few Suites: Those who like their staterooms spacious might find it difficult to book one on AmaWaterways: Older vessels, like AmaLyra, have but three on board.
European Electrical Outlets: Not really a con, but more of a quantifier: Many AmaWaterways ships have only two-prong, European-style electrical outlets. That means you’ll need to bring an adapter.
Imagine a well-staffed boutique European hotel. Now place it in a river and send it downstream: That’s AmaWaterways. The line isn’t the cheapest game in town it’s on a par with Uniworld ( p. 314 ) and Tauck but what you get for that money is a surprising level of inclusiveness, supplemented by a courteous and friendly young staff that are eager to please and a better-than-the-norm variety of culinary offerings.
AmaWaterways includes all meals on board, at least one excursion in each port, and beer and wine with lunch and dinner. The excursions are nicely tailored for the clientele: Active Walkers outings are for guests who want to cover more ground; Gentle Walkers are for guests who want to linger over monuments and important sights, or for those who need more time to get from place to place; and a Late Starter group for those who like to sleep in. The latter is particularly rare in an industry dominated by excursions that can depart as early as eight a.m.
We’d say the line, with these well-executed excursions, is trying to find that balance between taking very good care of its passengers while also giving them the free time to explore on their own. Thus, if you want a fully inclusive river cruising experience, AmaWaterways may not be the line for you they aren’t about hand-holding the same way a company like Tauck, for instance, is.
The company does a great job catering to special groups too, which can be anything from a full-ship charter, or just a larger group traveling together, so if you’re looking for a line to host a meeting, special event or reunion, this is a forte of theirs.
They also have bikes and biking excursions available to guests (AmaWaterways recently partnered up with active bike-and-hike outfit Backroads) an attractive option for more fitness-focused travelers. And the company is pushing more fervently into the family market by, for instance, having partnered with Adventures by Disney.
For those to whom it’s critically important to be connected, AmaWaterways invests a lot of money into its onboard free Wi-Fi it’s still a bit spotty in between ports but it seems to be getting more reliable.
AmaWaterways’ passengers are often seasoned travelers who are both affluent and well-educated. With a strong biking program, there tends to be a more active contingency on board. And though the average age range is 50 years old and up, the partnership with Disney has been such a HUGE success these specialty cruises may carry a passenger load that is one-third children. Fellow guests tend to hail primarily from the United States, with a healthy dose of Canadians and Australians intermingled (AmaWaterways is marketed in Australia under the brand name APT, and the Aussies love to river cruise).
AmaWaterways specializes in European river cruising, with 20 different itineraries offered along the Danube, Rhine, and Main; France’s Seine, Moselle, Garonne, and Dordogne; and Portugal’s Douro River, to name a few. Outside of Europe, the company offers voyages along Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River; Vietnam and Cambodia’s Mekong; and Africa’s Chobe River.
AmaWaterways was among the pioneers of creating multiple dining experiences on board its river cruise vessels, including one of its venues that is now a signature, AmaWaterways’ reservation-only Chef’s Table dinner venue at the aft of the vessel, now available on the AmaCerto, AmaReina, AmaSonata, AmaPrima, AmaVerde, and AmaBella. These truly gourmet five-course dinners are served in an intimate restaurant at the aft of the vessel, with a view into the glass-encased kitchen where the chef and his/her team are hard at work. Dining at the Chef’s Table restaurant is available to all passengers on board they need to make sure to reserve a table as it’s a smaller venue.
Weather permitting, there is also an alfresco grilling venue for casual lunches on the Sun Deck on the
AmaVista, AmaSerena, AmaSonata, AmaReina, AmaPrima, AmaCerto, and AmaVida. This is a popular spot for serving up grilled sausages and sauerkraut, with a mug of beer to wash it down.
The AmaVista, AmaSerena, AmaSonata, AmaReina, AmaPrima, and AmaCerto also feature charming private dining wine rooms adjacent to the main dining room for larger groups of about 10 that would like to sit together.
What kind of food should you expect from the main restaurant? There will be a decked-out breakfast and lunch buffet featuring an assortment of American standards anything from eggs benedict and waffles for breakfast, to grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and familiar pasta dishes for lunch alongside regional fare, with the European soups being particularly delicious. The multi-course dinner in the main restaurant is accented by impressive details such as fresh, in-house-baked bread with multiple butters and spreads and mains that sometimes have an Asian influence (it’s a nice counterbalance to the European dishes, though they tend to be top-quality, too).
Lighter fare is also available in the lounge during meal times, for those who would prefer a small soup or salad and a bit of solitude.
AmaWaterways even lets you take the culinary experience ashore, with specially designed shore excursions that can include cooking school cooking classes, visits to specialty shops, or even a trip to the local biergarten.
While the emphasis on AmaWaterways cruises is more often on giving passengers options for things to see and do off the ship, during the occasional longer daytime sailings, there will be informative lectures and/or demonstrations on board that highlight the theme or region of the cruise. For instance, there might be a wine lecture and tasting during a Douro River sailing, or an art history discussion on the Rhone and Saone rivers. AmaWaterways also offers a fair amount of themed sailings such as wine-themed, beer-themed or art-themed cruises, during which there will be enhanced lectures by an expert or experts and/or tastings relevant to the theme.
AmaWaterways leads the way when it comes to children’s programs on the rivers of Europe. In 2016, the company partnered with Disney-affiliated travel company, Adventures by Disney, to offer distinct sailings designed exclusively for families. Some are in the summer, some in the winter during Europe’s Christmas Markets season. On these partnership voyages, kids are treated to special menus, excursions, and special activities like Disney movie nights, chess lessons on a giant board, karaoke, kid-friendly cooking classes and more. Mickey and Minnie don’t drop by as they do on Disney Cruise Line, but in every other way these sailings are the best choices on the rivers for families (and multi-generational families).
AmaWaterways places a lot of attention on hiring, training and retaining its crew members. The river cruise operator has done particularly well in recruiting charismatic and charming cruise directors they have some of the best in the biz. The crew tend to be very hands-on and accommodating to passengers’ personal requests.
When it comes to gratuities on European sailings, the line currently recommends about 12‚ per person, per day, for the cruise staff; and 3‚ per person, per day, for your cruise director. The onboard currency is the euro (‚).
AmaWaterways operates a total of 18 company-owned ships on the rivers of Europe, with four additional ships located on rivers outside of Europe. These ships aren’t company-owned, but are operated in conjunction with local partners. The oldest European ship, AmaDagio, entered service in 2006, while their newest, AmaKristina, will set sail in 2017.