How AmaWaterways Made a River Cruise Fan of Me

If five years ago anyone had suggested I’d become a fan of river cruising, I’d have scoffed. In my naivete, I imagined cruising to be for a different sort; an unadventurous sort not exactly prone to physical activity and whose interests leaned more toward bountiful buffets. But after experiencing my first river cruise, I declared myself a full-fledged fan, and I’ve enjoyed a number of itineraries within the last half decade, the first and many of which have been with AmaWaterways. Here’s why I am an enthusiast:

1) The Ease: Embark, unpack, and float my way to relaxation, culinary excellence, and exploration. The only choices I have to make during my week or more itinerary are which cocktail to enjoy during the evening Sip and Sail, what to order at each meal, and in which daily excursions to take part, if at all. The rest is handled by a stellar crew of professionals who aim to please. It’s truly one of the most leisurely ways to travel.

Great wine, gourmet cuisine, stellar service, and extraordinary destinations make for the perfect vacation. Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

2) The Destinations: With 29 custom-designed ships, AmaWaterways sails Europe’s Danube, Douro, Rhine, Moselle, Main, Rhône, Saône, Seine, Garonne and Dordogne Rivers, and Dutch and Belgian Waterways. Southeast Asia’s Mekong River, Africa’s Chobe River, Egypt’s Nile River, and Colombia’s Magdalena River (2025) are also options. While the rivers are well known, the smaller towns and hamlets that line each are not likely locations for which you’d make an independent travel plan. Case in point: Mondsee, Austria and its Cathedral, the sight of The Sound of Music’s marriage scene, and Le Havre, France, where Monet crafted the painting that gave rise to the Impressionist movement. River cruising opens doors and introduces you to places that are a bit off of the radar, and that’s where travel magic happens.

Sunset along the Seine, aboard AmaWaterways AmaLyra. Photo by Fran Miller
The Danube, as seen from an AmaWaterways AmaMagna excursion hike in Durnstein, Austria. Photo by Fran Miller

3) Comfortable Ships: Each AmaWaterways ship (and I’ve experienced four now) features a spacious and well-appointed main lounge in which all passengers find a comfy seat during cocktail hour and evening entertainment. Staterooms and suites range from cozy to capacious, and each is tended to twice daily by an attentive housekeeping staff that is happy to fulfill special requests. Evening turn down includes a pillow-placed chocolate, bottled water, and soft illumination. Most ships feature a large wardrobe with plenty of hanging and shelving space for clothes. There is also a personal safe to store valuables, as well as storage in the bathrooms for toiletries and makeup bags.

4) The Excursion Choices: In most destinations, I’m free to choose from one of several guided tours (all included in your cruise fare), designed to please every activity level. There’s always a city tour that reveals renowned highlights and landmarks. If a first time in Vienna, Austria, I might opt for exploration of the major sights led by a local, English-speaking guide, well versed in history and culture. If I’ve already been to Nuremberg, Germany, I’ll skip the city tour and enjoy a bratwurst and beer tasting. If I’d like something more active, I’ll choose a strenuous hike to a scenic overlook. The many options allow for a personalized experience.

Biking along the Moselle River. Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

5) Biking: AmaWaterways was actually the first cruise line to stock an entire fleet of complimentary state-of-the-art bicycles (and helmets) on board its ships. Typically, one of the daily excursion options includes a bike tour, and on every one of my cruises where the option has been offered, I accept. I love exploring via bike; the freedom of cycling provides an immersive experience, allowing for a more personal connection to the towns and cities in which we dock. With my usually small band of fellow cruisers, I’ve biked through the vineyard rich Bordeaux countryside, stopping to sample grapes along the way. I’ve pedaled the bike trails of Parisian suburb Les Andelys, along the narrow city streets of cathedral-filled Rouen, and to the foot of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. These guided experiences allow for unique perspective, while also allowing me well-earned enjoyment of the always delicious AmaWaterways cuisine.

Biking tour of Paris, an excursion choice aboard AmaWaterways AmaLyra. Photo by Fran Miller
Most AmaWaterways ships feature a top deck track for walking. Photo by Fran Miller

6) Emphasis on Wellness: Co-founder and executive vice president Kristin Karst strongly believes in providing guests with a vacation that encompasses physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. And thus, in addition to hiking and biking excursions, nearly every AmaWaterways ship features a Wellness Host who leads a variety of daily activities such as Pilates, resistance band stretching, cardio, active wellness walks and dance. (Wellness Host-led line dancing to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” as we entered the Wachau Valley along the Danube is a favorite memory.) Guests of all ages and activity levels are encouraged to participate; simple modifications are offered for guests with mobility limitations.

AmaWaterways cuisine is fresh, seasonal, and regional. Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

7) The Cuisine (and Cocktails): Every AmaWaterways meal is redolent of a fine dining experience. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner feature white table cloths, a la carte menus, attentive service, and a bevy of quality entrée choices, each beautifully and artfully plated. It’s a dream to be waited-on at every meal in this manner. So plentiful are the selections that no meal entails repeats, though I adored and oft-ordered the always available and perfectly prepared salmon filet…with French fries. (AmaWaterways French fries are amazing.) On most ships, guests are also invited to reserve a seat at the Chef’s Table Restaurant where a seven-course meal with wine pairings begins with a celebratory Kir Royal. At lunch and dinner, a choice of quality red and white wines reflect the region in which the cruise is sailing. And every dinner is preceded by the festive, complimentary Sip and Sail cocktail hour in the main lounge where the bartender serves-up a menu of wine, beer and the crafted cocktails of the day, such as a Manhattan, a Whisky Sour, or Cosmopolitan. Additionally, every ship features a 24/7 coffee/tea station featuring a state-of-the-art coffee machine that serves-up espresso, lattes, cappuccinos and hot chocolate.

Every AmaWaterways meal features a selection of entrees. Lunch and dinner are paired with regional wines. Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

8) The Staff and Service: The heart and soul of AmaWaterways is its professionally trained staff. From the captain who hands-out roses at dinner the first night, to the waitstaff who remember everyone’s name and specific coffee orders, to the congenial cruise manager who organizes daily excursions and patiently answers each and every query, theirs is a team to which others aspire.

The service aboard every AmaWaterways ship is impeccable. Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

Fran Miller

Fran Endicott Miller is an experienced travel, wine, and general feature writer for a variety of luxury lifestyle publications and websites. Prior to her journalism career she established and managed the Golden State Warriors' first official community relations department and efforts. Principled and genuine, she’s known for thoughtfully eloquent writing. When not traveling, she can be found walking her Northern California neighborhood with her beloved golden retriever Nate.