European river cruises are one of the hottest travel trends right now and the brands that cater to this market are developing their offerings like crazy … making the fact that AmaWaterways just won Virtuoso’s 2017 award for the Cruise Line of the Year — across all categories — even more remarkable. My family had the opportunity to sail from Paris to Normandy this summer with the AmaWaterways river cruise line and discovered firsthand why it is award-winning. Our AmaWaterways review showed us that every aspect of an AmaWaterways cruise is done with guest happiness in mind and their adept handling of logistics and details is nothing short of extraordinary.
River cruising is a fantastic way to maximize sightseeing for a trip spanning generations who have a mix of mobility requirements and interests. My family for this trip included my parents, who are in their 80s, and my 14-year-old son. Given its deep World War II history as the home of the infamous D-Day beaches, a visit to Normandy is an especially powerful destination for grandparents to share with their children and grandchildren. We found that AmaWaterways cruise ships and overall experience provided all we needed and more for this bucket list journey together. Here’s what makes AmaWaterways river cruises an outstanding option for families:
Many of AmaWaterways’ itineraries are wonderful for multigenerational groups that include middle-schoolers and up who don’t need or want dedicated kids’ amenities on the cruise ship, as the destination itself provides plenty of entertainment. This describes Normandy perfectly, and other compelling itineraries like this include iconic cruises down the Danube and Rhine Rivers, as well as Christmas-themed cruises throughout Europe.
For families with younger kids who want more kid-centric amenities, AmaWaterways has partnered with Adventures by Disney and offers family-focused itineraries.
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Our sailing was on the AmaLyra, a 350-foot ship with 73 staterooms and three suites. This boat is seamless for guests to navigate, with large and comfortable public spaces for both group and private gatherings. AmaLyra is immaculate and it truly feels as close to a home-away-from-home as you can get on a ship this size with a classic design, plenty of comfortable lounge seating, and an array of outdoor seating on the sun deck for sailing in good weather. Although you can get from one end of the ship to another in just a few minutes’ walk, it doesn’t feel cramped or crowded.
There aren’t connecting rooms on the AmaLyra, but some ships have them, including the family-centric ships Ama is using for their Adventures by Disney Cruise. Otherwise, rooms are spacious and elegantly appointed with large windows that slide open, comfortable beds, and good-size bathrooms with nice showers.
I was first introduced to AmaWaterways via owner and co-founder Kristin Karst and could immediately tell from her presentation that this river cruise line takes pride in the outstanding quality from top to bottom that they offer their guests in the river cruise category. If AmaLyra is representative of the line, and I think it is, brand mission accomplished.
I can’t say enough about staff on AmaWaterways. A river cruise is relatively close quarters with a variety of ages and interests. The AmaLyra staff was able to make my 14-year-old son feel as pampered as his 85-year-old grandfather. The entryway of the ship has a massive front desk, like a hotel, and this is where many requests and shore excursions are handled, but the service on AmaWaterways goes well beyond this. From the bar staff to the restaurant staff to housekeeping, everyone takes the time to get to know each and every guest and cater to their preferences. Their secret isn’t just about making everyone feel welcome; the AmaWaterways approach goes well beyond that. The cruise director and cruise manager take the time to understand the reason that every person is on a sailing and the staff strives to make their trip special.
Dining on the AmaLyra is an absolute treat. Excellent food and wine is an integral part of any trip to France and AmaWaterways ensures that this isn’t lost on their guests. Regional specialities are available at every meal, so the food is part of the exploratory travel experience, along with wine tastings. From frog legs to escargot to mussels to the biggest cheese spread we have ever seen, our week included incredible variety and options. Every lunch and dinner includes a special wine pairing and presentation. It almost feels like a dedicated wine cruise at times. The food isn’t all rich and heavy — meal choices always include lighter options like salads and fresh vegetables, as well as a variety of proteins.
The AmaLyra has a main dining room where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. Guests can sit at their own tables or join other guests, so dining can be as private or as group-oriented as someone wants. The ambiance is classy but casual, so it feels comfortable in all attire. Our ship had a second six-table dining room called the The Chef’s Table, where a multi-course meal is prepared in an open kitchen, then beautifully presented and served in a stunning setting overlooking the stern of the ship.
I covered our Normandy itinerary in detail here, but at a high level, a great deal of work goes into carefully selecting the shore excursions that promote the most variety and interest. It is structured so that there is always a “speed” choice for an excursion in every port, and so that those who have been to the region before still have options from which to choose. Local guides who are experts in the sights take over to provide relevant insight and information. On our cruise, the Beaches of Normandy and the American Cemetery were highlights and our guide gave us incredible context — not just about the sights themselves, but about the events leading up to D-Day. As residents of the area, they can offer detail that a guidebook just can’t.
Tours of all speed levels are offered for slow and fast walks. And new this year is a dedicated Wellness Expert who designs fitness programs through the day. This is a great way to work off all the great food and as the brand brings in younger families, they will find this new AmaWaterways program very appealing.
River cruising is a wonderful way to pair seeing small towns and local life with big-hit attractions. It’s relaxing with very little movement (no seasickness for folks prone to that) and just plain fun. It is also much less logistically intensive than an ocean cruise, where you have long lines and have to navigate ports. River ships dock in a smaller village and guests are subsequently free to just go on and off the ship.
I love river cruising for a multigenerational trip. My family was able to connect meaningfully in a cozy setting and excursion time was equally intimate. The small-group format and good guide ratio meant we weren’t in giant groups and could always be together on tours. It’s the best of all worlds, and those with limited mobility can still enjoy experiencing travel with their kids and grandkids. I’m a big fan!
Having now cruised AmaWaterways, I feel confident recommending this type of trip to our clients seeking a logistically easy and luxurious travel experience through the heart of Europe’s rivers. It’s is drastically different from what you may have experienced on large ocean cruises. Once you cruise on Ama, you’ll be a believer, too.
Editor’s Note: Amie was provided a media package to experience AmaWaterways with her family. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by AmaWaterways and Amie O’Shaughnessy.
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