A river cruise has been on my bucket list since I first started as a Travel Advisor 5 years ago. When I started training on the many different destinations and types of trips I could help my clients book and plan, a river cruise stood out to me right away as the most efficient way to tour the cities of Europe. How convenient to have your hotel float along with you to see a variety of different cities and even countries! I have traveled internationally before and feel that the added level of stress to move yourself and your belongings from one place to another takes away from the magic of visiting multiple enchanting European cities in one trip. After my experience on my first river cruise with Amawaterways, I am confident this is the easiest European vacation you can take!
I cruised with Amawaterways on the Colors of Provence itinerary on the Rhone River in France. My home for 7 nights was the beautiful Amakristina. We started in Avignon, France and ended in Lyon, France. Amawaterways ships offer more balcony staterooms than any other river cruise company along with the option for connecting staterooms that would be perfect for families traveling together. My first impression as we drove up to the ship was how long it was! Despite being a smaller vessel in terms of number of guests on board (156 max capacity for the Amakristina) compared to large ocean liners that average 3000+ guests, it was so much more spacious than I imagined. Our stateroom did not feel small or cramped but more like a spacious retreat to rest and recharge. As we stepped onboard and entered the lobby, the decor and furnishings were elegant and impressive with marble floors, well placed modern art, and of course the entire crew there to welcome us onboard.
My stateroom was a Twin Balcony stateroom which meant we had floor to ceiling windows with one Juliet balcony where the windows slid apart and the balcony was a sliding door with a full balcony and two chairs to sit out and enjoy the fresh air and views. I highly recommend going with this stateroom category as it was the perfect way to enjoy your cruise views from morning until night! Our accommodations were well appointed with daily housekeeping and turndown service in the evenings. This luxurious, boutique, 5 star hotel feel carries throughout the common spaces, lounges, and dining areas of the ship.
The level of service did not end with our amazing stateroom! I was most surprised that each and every meal was a multiple course gourmet meal. I should have realized when our first lunch on embarkation day was a caesar salad with fresh shaved parmesan cheese, crispy bacon, tender chicken, and fresh sliced anchovies that I was in for a week long culinary retreat. Each meal was just as good as the next and the chef’s recommendations each day matched the local city’s cuisine, including local wines, ingredients and famous dishes from the region. I definitely took some culinary risks (re-trying lamb) and was handsomely rewarded with amazing flavors. The best part was all meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner, were included in the cost of the cruise. In addition, all beverages including wine, beer, coffee, tea and soft drinks were also included with your meals. Mimosas with breakfast? Included. Wine with lunch? Included. Bottomless glasses of wine at dinner? Included. There was also a hosted cocktail hour with a signature cocktail and open bar with lounge entertainment each night before dinner.
I can’t forget to mention that each Amawaterways cruise offers a unique dining experience at the intimate Chef’s Table where you indulge in a multi-course tasting menu prepared before your eyes, and paired with complimentary hand-selected wines. The only venue of its kind on the rivers, you can enjoy the Chef's Table dining experience at no additional cost. It was my favorite meal of the entire week from start to finish and I’m still dreaming about the champagne cocktail prepared for us that evening. Insider tip: put a splash of Grand Marnier and bitters in your next champagne toast and thank me later!
Each morning we woke up to a beautiful new view and city to explore. Then onto our mouthwatering breakfast selection before heading out on morning tours. Back on board for lunch (some days while sailing to the next stop on our itinerary) and then more tours and activities in the afternoon. On this particular itinerary along the Rhone River, we had so many options to choose from such as vineyard hikes, wine and chocolate tastings, bike tours, city walking tours, castle tours, and city market tours. These tours all ranged in difficulty level from easy, moderate, intermediate, challenging or difficult. When they described an activity as difficult, they meant it. Our hike to Mt. Pipet in the city of Vienne had me wishing I hadn’t eaten such a gloriously large gourmet breakfast earlier as we climbed higher and higher. When we were at the summit, I noticed the other tour listed as “easy” had leisurely been brought up to the same point via a trolley (perhaps I needed to work off those extra calories and it was meant to be?). The next day we chose the easy tour option of wine and chocolate tasting with minimal walking. The great thing about excursions with Amawaterways is that they are all included in your cruise fare so you don’t pay an additional fee to choose an upgraded tour. There were also opportunities here and there to explore on our own (most nights the ship was docked overnight and you could come and go at your leisure until about 11 pm), but overall the pace was a good mix of organized touring and rest and relaxation to enjoy your vacation and not constantly be going.
The excursion that stood out most was a visit to a local truffle farm to meet the owner, Serge, and his dog, Amy, trained to hunt for these culinary gems. We learned all about truffles, how to train dogs to find them when they are ripe, and even got to see Amy in action digging them up under the roots of the oak tree where the truffles grow. What was even more special was that we were the first visitors that Serge and his family had to their farm in two years due to the covid19 pandemic restrictions on travel and tourism. We even had our ship’s head chef with us who was hand selecting truffles to bring back for our evening meal the same day (my truffle pasta was perfection later that night). It was certainly an unforgettable experience for everyone!
The name Ama means love and you certainly feel welcome and immediately part of the family when you step onboard. They were so happy to be back sailing and hosting guests once again. The covid19 health and safety protocols were being implemented and effectively communicated before and during our sailing, with face coverings required in common areas of the ship except while seated in the dining room or actively eating and drinking in the lounge and onboard our tour buses for excursions. All passengers and crew were required to be fully vaccinated and crew members were tested daily before their shift.
AmaWaterways’ friendly and knowledgeable Cruise Managers and dedicated crew are unparalleled in the industry – with extensive backgrounds in providing extraordinary levels of personalized service. Our server for the week, Martin and Sommelier, Alexa, took amazing care of us with their recommendations, attentive service, and always taking the time to talk to us about our day. And with Ama, your Cruise Manager is there for you every step of the way, both on board and during your pre and post-cruise land programs – an exclusive benefit of sailing with AmaWaterways. We had a fantastic Cruise Manager, Dejan Stancic, whose joy and positivity couldn’t help but make you smile. We definitely missed his kindness and knowledge of the area when we spent the last day of our trip exploring Paris on our own before flying home. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone! I even came home to a hand written postcard from Dejan.
My overall impressions of river cruising and in particular river cruising with Ama, is that it personalizes the European travel experience. It takes the big overwhelming task of touring Europe (Where do I stay, What do I eat?, What do I go see?, etc.) and allows you to personalize your vacation with a well appointed stateroom that moves with you, amazing new dining experiences using culinary delights of the region within the comfort the ship, and a variety of curated and unique excursions, all with a crew with a giant smile on their faces (even with face coverings, you can see it in the smile in their eyes!) to make sure you have the best vacation ever. A river cruise would be perfect for a high school graduation trip, a multigenerational family trip, and especially for groups of friends to explore the world together.
Ama cruises happen throughout the year and on all major rivers of Europe. There are cruises themed around food and wine or holidays such as the famous Christmas Markets of Europe, or a particular season such as the Fall Harvest in the Wachau Valley. If you want more information and want to explore booking your next adventure on a river cruise, I would love to provide you with a quote and complimentary, personalized planning services to start you off on the right foot from the very beginning to find the perfect ship and itinerary. You can find my quote form here. I can’t wait to plan my next river cruise with Amawaterways and help others do the same. Europe is open to U.S. travelers (less restrictions for fully vaccinated travelers) and the rivers are waiting to host you on the easiest European trip you’ll ever take. Have you been on a river cruise before? Is a river cruise on your bucket list too?