Cruising the Danube with AmaWaterways
A mother-daughter journey on the innovative AmaMagna
“Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit.”
The beer was flowing and the scent of fresh pretzels lingered as a group of local musicians started playing the popular German drinking song. But rather than Munich, we found ourselves in a shoreside party tent in the small town of Vilshofen – where guests on AmaWaterways itineraries on the Danube start or end their trips with a special Oktoberfest-like celebration.
This song in particular I’d heard – and sang along to – hundreds of times. While there’s no direct translation, Gemütlichkeit conveys a feeling of warmth, friendliness and general good cheer.
“It feels like home,” my mom exclaimed from across the picnic table, smiling as the band began.
How fitting, I thought, that our mother-daughter journey aboard the brand new AmaMagna started in her homeland of Germany as we joined into the chorus.
“Zicke zacke, zicke zacke, hoi hoi hoi!”
If this was any indication, the next week was bound to be full of Gemütlichkeit.
Work it out
Early the next morning as the alarm went off in our spacious stateroom, I initially regretted ambitiously signing us up for the 6:50 a.m. spinning class. But as I climbed onto my bike on a dedicated outdoor fitness zone at the back of the ship, I was rewarded with scenic views across both sides of the river as our enthusiastic instructor Tiago Monteiro set the pace for the class to the beat of the music.
All European AmaWaterways itineraries now come with a wellness host, but the AmaMagna is the first to have its fitness zone take up such prime real estate in a larger space with the open-air cycling area.
“Having a major wellness area was important to me and to Kristin [Karst],” AmaWaterways’ president and co-founder Rudi Schreiner told Travel Courier. “A healthy lifestyle is getting more and more important to our guests – healthy eating, exercising, I think well-being is important. For us, from the very beginning, healthy eating and active lifestyle was important. Already on the first ships we had 25 bikes on all the ships. On the Magna we have 50 now.”
A variety of fitness classes are offered daily, ranging from pilates and yoga to digestive walks on shore and even line dancing, which was a big hit among women and men of all ages alike. Classes often take place on the sun deck so participants can take in the unparalleled views of the scenic sailing route as they work out.
As mist came off the water and castles and ruins appeared along the shore while cruising through Austria one morning during a particularly memorable core strengthening class, I wished every gym could feature such incredible views – perhaps then I would find the motivation to workout more often.
Along with the classes, there are active options for all the excursions on the Romantic Danube itinerary from Passau, Germany to Budapest, Hungary, including hiking and biking day trips.
A matter of size
A project more than six years in the making, what sets AmaMagna apart is it’s twice the width of a standard river cruise ship, something that’s feasible since the locks on the Danube are larger. The magnitude of the ship is not only apparent when it’s docked next to a regular ship, but also upon entering the expansive lobby and seeing the ample common spaces throughout.
“With the double width of the ship, you end up with huge staterooms because they are going to be double as deep so the first question is, is the market going to be ready for a really deluxe upscale product number one, number two Danube only,” he said. “The whole thing was kind of always on my mind, but you need to have a substantial fleet in order to dedicate a specific ship to a specific river. I was always in favour of one hallway and really luxurious suites so that’s when the first drawings started.”
Schreiner believes the roomy accommodations (the most common rooms are 355 square ft suites) and additional amenities on the ship make it contend with the offerings of an ocean liner.
“I think there is still one area where ocean cruises have an advantage over river cruises and that’s the luxury side of large suites and multiple dining facilities,” he said. “[AmaMagna] is a unique ship. There are four different dining facilities, we have an Al Fresco restaurant, we have Jimmy’s Wine Bar, we have the Chef’s Table and we have the regular restaurant. A beautiful big fitness area in the back, a spa area with two massage tables, manicure, pedicure, hair dresser and so on. Although the ship has double the deck space as our other ships it only has about 20% more passenger capacity. It has a big movie theatre for up to 40 people inside, it really is a magnificent ship.”
Since setting sail for the first time in May, he has already noticed that the 196-passenger ship is attracting different types of travellers.
“There is really a new upscale clientele – space is important for them, variety is important for them,” he said. “We also see that people end up spending more time onboard in their stateroom.”
From the moment we arrived on the AmaMagna, we felt welcomed thanks to the attentive staff – and the complimentary bottle of champagne we used to raise a toast to the beginning of the adventure from the comfort of our private balcony.
Throughout the course of the week there were countless highlights like taking in a Mozart and Strauss concert in Vienna, trying some local beer in Bratislava, admiring the views of the Wachau Valley, and enjoying a sunset sail along key sights of the Buda and Pest sides of Budapest. In every different region, the kitchen staff also served up some regional dishes for us to taste the typical local fare.
After every daily excursion, we were welcomed back onboard by the team with cold towels and refreshing drinks. There was a sense of Gemütlichkeit and it felt like I was returning home – if only my home had multiple restaurants and countless staff tending to my every need.
“I want my employees, my crew members to love being on the ship. I want them to be well rewarded and I want them to take good care of our guests,” said Schreiner. “Creating a beautiful environment already makes you feel more at home so this is something Kristin and I are very strongly behind, to create this atmosphere.”
I won’t forget all the special experiences like the Oktoberfest celebration and most importantly a week of memories made discovering remarkable cities and countries alongside my mom.
Selling tips 101
Things to know about the AmaMagna
- For clients considering transitioning from ocean to river cruises, AmaMagna is a great option since it has more of the amenities they are used to such as larger rooms, more common spaces to hang out, a cinema and a variety of restaurant choices.
- Agents are key to AmaWaterways. “We pretty much work exclusively with the travel trade community,” said Schreiner. “In general less than 5% of our bookings are direct bookings, 85% are US customers, 10-11% is Canadian and the rest is the rest of the world.”
- Although in the past river cruising had a reputation of skewing older, AmaWaterways caters to a variety of ages. Guests on my cruise ranged from 13 to 80.
“From all the tour operators that are promoting river cruise lines we probably have the youngest age group,” he said. “But it also has to do with that we’re pushing wellness and health very much.”
- The standard suites feature smart design touches like double sinks, a separate water closet and a shaving stand in the shower.
- For clients considering between a river cruise or a motorcoach, Schreiner said the former gives you more time to explore.
“The nice part about river cruising compared to a motorcoach or a train or a car is you physically get twice the leisure time than you would any other means of transportation because you don’t have to pack/unpack, you don’t have to go through rush hour and you go to bed at night and you wake up the next morning in the next city,” he said. “You just step off the ship and you are in downtown. That gives you double the time to explore the local culture, the local environment, than any other means of transportation. And that’s basically what really attracts people to river cruising.”
- Clients don’t have to worry about staying connected as WiFi is included onboard, and the rooms come with a computer and tablet.
“Last year we spent more money per person on the internet than we’re spending on fuel,” he said.
- From wine and beer with lunch and dinner to a nightly sip and sail cocktail hour and daily excursions, it’s all already included in the booking price.
- Whether it’s gluten-free dietary restrictions or customers looking for lighter menu choices, the restaurants cater to allergies and specific food requirements. For those looking for a special meal, consider the set seven-course meal at the intimate the Chef’s Table restaurant or a meal at the specialty Al Fresco restaurant. Another social option is Jimmy’s, a family-style restaurant named after one of AmaWaterways’ co-founders, the late Jimmy Murphy. Jimmy’s serves the same dishes as the main restaurant each night, but in a communal setting with sharing platters.