The Amazon rainforest has been in the news quite a bit lately as more “uncontacted tribes” — communities without significant contact with modern civilization — have been identified. Given the pace of globalization in 2014, I’d find this fact unbelievable … if I had not just visited this region on my winter break trip with the river ship operator Aqua Expeditions and experienced the surreal vast and impenetrable jungle in person.
My photos of the Amazon rainforest in Peru tell some of the story. There isn’t a soul I’ve shared them with who has not found them remarkable in one way or another. Without a doubt, what made our journey to this region so extraordinary was Aqua Expeditions. The comfort of the boat, food quality, attentive service, and unbelievable guides enabled us immerse ourselves in one of the most exotic regions in the world completely, without a care in the world. And if you’ve seen my pictures, you know this is quite a feat.
Our boat, the Aria, first captured my attention in 2011 when I met the CEO and creator of Aqua Expeditions, Francesco Galli Zugaro, at the International Luxury Travel Market (ILTM) in Cannes, France. I was wowed at first sight by his vision to give people unprecedented access to the Amazon via his extraordinarily designed vessels. Although these boats are intimate with 12 to 16 guest staterooms, Francesco envisioned families participating in these journeys from day one and built connecting room configurations into the room plans.
A kid-friendly cruise on an intimate luxury riverboat? It seems improbable at first blush, but Francesco has young children of his own and understands what’s required to have children successfully join a trip like this to a remote destination. One important driver to include kids at all in this incredible experience is the belief I now share that educating kids about conservation in a meaningful way as early as possible is a gift to them and our planet.
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The staterooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the jungle and are a ship highlight. Like a safari, excursions happen when wildlife will be most active during the morning and late afternoon hours. The middle of the day is siesta time and these staterooms become personal havens for guests to rest and digest the setting.
Given the Amazon’s location just a few degrees south of the Equator, the temperature is warm to put it mildly. I’m not usually an air-conditioning addict, but in this case, the cool ship and staterooms provided a very welcome respite from the elements. Plus, there is a full-size shower with all the pressure one needs to feel thoroughly refreshed and rejuvenated after a day in the jungle.
Our room had a sofa that converted to a bed — it works perfectly for a family of three people and as I mentioned above, connected staterooms are available for families of four plus people.
The Aria’s public spaces are wonderful and include indoor and outdoor lounge areas. The interior lounge has a full bar and is the place where the group gathers for presentations and planning.
The design is light and airy with light fabrics and gorgeous wood furnishings. More floor-to-ceiling windows mean not much decoration is required to complete this beautiful space.
We loved sitting outside when the ship was in motion with a breeze; there’s a canopy offering protection from the strong sun. The deck includes a Jacuzzi, although I never saw anyone use it on our trip for whatever reason.
The dining room is an intimate space and set up with tables that enable guests to sit alone or join other guests for meals.
Overall, there is little room for kids to run around in a traditional way and for that reason, I recommend Aqua Expeditions for school age kids who are 8 years old and up. Given the random date of our trip, there were not other families on board, but over the holidays they regularly have families on these cruises. In that case, kids can gather in the lounge for games together.
The meals on the Aria are incredible. The Executive Chef for Aqua Expeditions, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, has masterfully designed meals that incorporate ingredients from the region. It’s not so exotic that it feels fussy and the food is amazingly light so that guests don’t feel lethargic given all the sitting during wildlife watching excursions.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are fresh and lovingly prepared. They’ll customize anything on request so picky children won’t have an issue.
The guides are professionally trained naturalists and enhance the experience for each and every guest. All of them are sourced from the Amazon communities and have stories to share about life on the river.
Not unlike a safari, spotting wildlife is an art and the best guides seem to have supernatural senses. These guides are no exception and work tirelessly to engage guests in what they are seeing and hearing. From the people, to the plants, to the animals, there are many facts to share and the Aqua Expeditions guides provide an unbelievable amount of information, both on the river and during evening presentations.
The guides were wonderful with our 11-year-old and all took the time to ensure he participated in the experience. It’s not a zoo and animals do not show themselves on command and kids get restless after too much time in one place, but the overall exposure and fun they have during active periods more than makes up for any “mom, I’m bored time.”
The crew from the dining staff to the cruise director to the room attendants are all unbelievably friendly and attentive. They all have a big role to play in what makes the Aqua Expeditions experience phenomenal for guests.
Up next: stay tuned for my next article Aqua Expeditions Amazon activity highlights.
Editorial Note: Ciao Bambino was provided a media rate to review Aqua Expeditions for families. As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy
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