Cruising! Now, there is a prospect that would likely divide the population in two. Each party would have very strongly-held views and would profess to know all about the subject. But perhaps they don’t!
I have had the opportunity to ‘enjoy’ many a cruise so I can understand both opinions regarding a floating holiday. The nay-sayers will point out that this is a vacation for the elderly, the boring and the timid. On the other hand, those who have at least three cruises each year and a suitcase stuffed with spangled evening gowns will point out that the food is just like mother used to make (and she would have been a very plain cook). They proclaim that there is often a pub quiz or a fancy-dress dance on most nights. I would, until recently, have agreed with all the above claims; but eyes have been opened to quite a different style of water-borne trip.
My epiphany came in the form of an AmaWaterways cruise. Granted, the guests were mostly mature but with a good peppering of folks who were a lot younger. All of us were enthusiastic and up for an adventure. Many had a history of travel with this company, which recognised the fact with a special reception for that discerning group. Most passengers were American and they have choices, and high expectations of service and amenity.
No need for stuffy dress etiquette
AmaWaterways offers old-fashioned and thoroughly contemporary hospitality with no need for stuffy dress etiquette, and the experience starts as soon as one arrives. A company representative meets the guest, where appropriate, at the airport and accompanies them to the boat, in our case the new and shining AmaViola. The 50-strong crew line the reception staircase to offer a warm welcome. One is personally conducted to the cabin; there is a selection of styles of those, ranging from cosy with windows to larger with one or two balconies. Bathrooms are well-appointed with fluffy towels, dressing gowns and slippers. Wardrobes sport ample hanging space, a safe and a brace of umbrellas which went mercifully unfurled for the duration. Yes, there is the ubiquitous flat-screen TV but it’s probable it won’t be used apart from a morning news-channel surf before breakfast.
AmaViola is appealingly airy and bright. I have noted that some companies have boats that are somewhat more cottagey. Those vessels have walls hung with dark paintings, old-gold upholstery, too much brass and etched glass, thus displaying all the elegance of a 1950s bungalow with aspirations to become a Victorian pub. In contrast, AmaViola is thoughtfully furnished with colourful and eclectic fabrics, scatter cushions, and light wall finishes.
Food will always be a big part of any cruise and most companies guarantee regular meals and large portions. I know to my cost that quality can sometimes be in short supply. Some years ago I had a memorable 3-week cruise with another company. They had, it seemed, cornered the market in boiled carrots and Shepherd’s Pie. I am a food writer as well as a travel writer and I was curious to see how AmaWaterways would compare.
A location-inspired cake
Breakfast is a buffet with an additional selection of dishes to order fresh from the galley. Platters of fruit, yoghurt, juices and cereals presented a healthy option for those with temple-like bodies. The rest of us were tempted by, and mostly succumbed to, the lure of dishes of crispy bacon, eggs, sausages, vegetables along with freshly-baked breads and pastries. Coffee and tea were on hand as were cheery waiters to pour. But for those unfortunates who brand themselves ‘early risers’ there are muffins and croissants from 6am in the Lounge. One can also take tea and coffee there at any time, along with more snacks later in the morning and teatime treats during the afternoon.
Lunch is a combination of buffet and menu items. There might be a whole poached salmon or a roast suckling pig, Stroganoff, spicy curries or Asian noodle dishes. That could be followed by a self-assembled ice cream Sundae or a location-inspired cake such as Black Forest Gateau or the unmissable Eszterhazy cake. One tastes the countries through which the boat travels. This isn’t just food for food’s sake: it’s a gentle culinary adventure with both lunch and dinner garnished with wine or beer.
Dinner is mostly enjoyed in the main restaurant but anyone with a passion for food will want to try the intimate Chef’s Table Restaurant. This has only a few covers and it’s where one can appreciate the skill of the AmaWaterways chefs via the delicious medium of a multi-course meal with paired wines. Outstandingly fine dining!
Rejuvenated and planning to return
These cruises offer numerous excursions which are included in the price of the package. There are regular city walking tours appealing to those wanting to burn off those accumulated calories. AmaWaterways’ itineraries off gentle walks for those who need a little more time at an unhurried pace. There are also energetic hikes for people with whom I would never associate! Local guides and personal headsets are on hand but passengers are also free to enjoy ports of call on their own. There are bikes available for other more expansive tours or for lone rangers. On board there is a heated sun-deck swimming pool with a ‘swim-up’ bar; a fitness centre and a spa. For those of us who must stay connected then there is complimentary ship-wide Wi-Fi and in-room Internet via the TV.
AmaWaterways has a lot of which to be proud. The memory of this cruise is still making this seasoned and cynical traveller smile. Yes, it was a ‘work’ trip but even I came home relaxed, rejuvenated and planning to return as a civilian. I defy any passenger not to notice the difference between this experience and some other cruises… and it’s a big difference!
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018