I've been lucky enough to have sailed on several different river cruises over the past few years, including ships belonging to AmaWaterways, Tauck, Uniworld and Viking River Cruises. Well, I'll amend that. I've actually never been on a full seven-day sailing because I’m usually attending ship christenings and I’m onboard only for two or three days.
Last week, however, I finally got to do a full sailing on AmaWaterways' newest ship, AmaPrima, which was christened on Aug. 6 in Vilshofen, Germany, by Valerie Ann Wilson, founder, chairman and CEO of Valerie Wilson Travel, based in New York City.
It was a grand christening ceremony with German bands, dancers, people on stilts dressed as butterflies (if you can imagine that) and speeches by the mayor of Vilshofen, host of the christening and a turning point on the Danube for AmaWaterways’ Danube sailings. Also playing major roles in the ceremony were Rudi Schreiner, owner and president of AmaWaterways; Kristin Karst, owner and executive vice president of AmaWaterways, and Rudi’s wife; and, of course, Valerie Wilson herself.
The event also was held on what happened to be on one of the hottest days of the year in Germany (well over 90 degrees F). Fortunately the ceremony was over fairly quickly and we all retreated to the AmaPrima’s welcome air-conditioning, as well as its small pool with swim-up bar on the Sun Deck. I never imagined I would use a swimming pool onboard a river ship, but this summer it provided some wonderful relief!
Throughout the christening Rudi and Kristen, as well as Jimmy and Gary Murphy, AmaWaterways’ other owners, proved to be excellent hosts. Indeed, with the Wilson family (Valerie’s two daughters, Kim and Jennifer, joined us late in the cruise), Rudi and Kristen, and Jimmy and Gary, the entire event was very much a family affair. And that’s just the image that AmaWaterways wants to project for its product and the experience it delivers onboard AmaPrima.
A virtual twin of the AmaCerto launched last year, the AmaPrima carries 164 passengers on three decks of cabins. On Decks 2 and 3, the ship offers suites and staterooms, each of which has both a full balcony and a French balcony. My stateroom had plenty of space, a large queen-size bed, marble-topped desk, two comfortable chairs, flat-screen TV with keyboard, and a bathroom with marble topped sink and good-sized shower with excellent water pressure – and, most importantly, free WiFi Internet access.
All in all, my stateroom proved to be very comfortable during the seven nights of my cruise, though I can't say I was in it too often, being pre-occupied with taking tours in the ports of call, relaxing in the ship's lounge, or eating in the dining room or specialty restaurant (and, yes, much time was spend on the eating part!).
AmaPrima, like many other river ships, has a large lounge, just forward of its main atrium and reception area, which serves as the hub for guests. It has a bar, tea and coffee service; light breakfasts and lunch; daily talks on the shore excursions; the captain's cocktail party; nightly entertainment such as small classical music trio and some opera singers; and on at least one night there was even some dancing courtesy of the ship's resident pianist (who played every night).
No, this is not a "party every night" ship in the evening (though it could be). The age range on this particular sailing was skewed more like 60- or 65-plus rather than the general 55 plus of most river cruises, though these guests often had quite interesting and engaging stories to tell about their lives.
And yes, there were some young people aboard, with the youngest being a 12-year-old boy traveling with his grandparents (he seemed to be having a wonderful time). There were also two older teens traveling with their grandparents, and they also seemed to enjoy the cruise. It goes back to a theory I've had that travel agents really should be booking younger clients and family groups on river cruises. These cruises offer a great and very convenient way to see the interior of Europe, and I think they are suitable for almost every age.
AmaPrima has a large main dining room far forward just below the lounge that is smartly divided into booths and tables for four, six and eight. That room also was acoustically designed so it was easy to hear table conversation. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style with serving stations or you can order table service; dinner is strictly table service with usually a choice of four entrees and multiple appetizers, a chef's recommended meal, plus some "always on the menu" items.
The food is often regionally sourced and reflects the countries around the Danube. For example, the lunch served in Germany one day had a strong Bavarian focus with sausages, sauerkraut, potato salad, etc. (it also proved to be one of the most popular lunches on the cruise). Wines and beer are all complimentary and they, too, are locally sourced for the most part (though you can get other wines and beers, too).
On Deck 3 in the stern, AmaPrima has a specialty restaurant called Erlebnis, a name I had difficulty pronouncing (it means adventure or experience in German). Fortunately (or unfortunately) I had no problems dining quite well here. The 28-seat restaurant, which requires reservations, offers a nightly “presented” dinner with a single menu including amuse bouche, appetizer, soup, two entrée choices, dessert and some excellent service. Guests can dine there on a complimentary basis once during a cruise. It’s a marvelous experience as you eat while gazing out over the ship’s wake back down the Danube.
AmaPrima also has a decent-sized fitness center overlooking the port side of the ship, with two stationary bikes, a treadmill and a Technogym weight machine. Most of my exercise, however, consisted of long walks and hikes on the daily shore excursions. There’s also a beauty salon and a massage room just across from the fitness center.
In a future column I’ll turn to what really is the heart of river cruising: the destinations and ports visited, as well as the included tours that the entire complement of guests gets to experience together. Indeed, this inclusiveness and guests’ shared experiences are what makes river cruising such a special form of travel today -- and one that seems almost limitless in its growth. In the meantime, my thanks goes to Rudi, Kristen, Jimmy, Gary and, of course, Valerie for such a wonderful gliding cruise along the Danube! I’ll always remember my first full river cruise.