AmaDara inaugural cruise: Life aboard AmaDara

Off on an excursion.
Off on an excursion.

A typical day begins with breakfast from 7 to 9 a.m., although early birds can have their coffee and nibbles from 6 a.m. in the Saigon lounge.

Breakfast fare always includes Pho Ba and eggs your way at the Action Station; a buffet of cold meats and cheese, pancakes, bacon, sausage, baked beans, broiled tomatoes, potatoes, boiled eggs, various juices and a variety of sweet pastries and fresh baked breads.

Morning excursions typically begin at 8:30 and last until 11:30 or noon. Passengers select one of four colors and are divided into corresponding groups each with its own guide. Departures are staggered so these un-touristy areas are not inundated. VOX audio systems are provided and bottles of water are available as you leave, often by boat. Life preservers are mandatory. Blissfully, unlike ocean cruises there is no photographer snapping and selling your images. Nor are you ever steered to “approved” souvenir shops.

Lunch, served at your choice of open seating tables from 12:30 p.m., is a four-course meal with choice of red or white wine.

Entrees on display.
Entrees on display.

Menus are surprisingly diverse and complete. Consider the choices on Wednesday, Aug. 19, for example.
Fresh and marinated salads, premium cold cuts, assorted cheeses and biscuits, hot BLT sandwiches for Appetizers.

Soups are creamy celery chowder or cold pineapple bowl. At the Action station chef is serving roasted whole chicken with lemongrass, salt and lime dip or gravy and fried rice.

Main courses are braised lamb in curry with vegetables and lentil rice or breaded Dory fillet with tartar sauce, sautéed carrots and potato wedges. The Vegetarian selection is vegetable red curry with couscous.

Desserts are coconut fancy, white chocolate mousse, poached sweet egg bananas in golden syrup, fresh local fruit and an ice cream station.

Lest you wonder what a dish will look like, Chef displays one of each on a table at the dining room’s entrance.
There is always n assortment of fresh breads and hamburgers, cheeseburgers with French fries and coleslaw or vegetable consommé are always available.

A Cambodian guide demonstrates one use for the national garment, the ubiquitous scarf.
A Cambodian guide demonstrates one use for the national garment, the ubiquitous scarf.

Wines served are from Chile, a Frontera Chardonnay and a Frontera Cabernet Sauvignon.

Speaking of wines, it is Ama Waterways’ tradition to feature wines from the region of a cruise. That wasn’t possible in either Cambodia or Vietnam so during the cruise passengers have a choice of wines from France, Argentina, Australia and South Africa.

Around 2:30 p.m. we expect a talk on an aspect of the region, country and the culture we are experiencing.

The afternoon excursion usually runs from 3:45 to 5 p.m. and there is often a special gathering for cocktails at 6 followed by a briefing about the next day’s activities at 7.

Dinner, always open seating, begins at 7:30. On Wednesday, Aug. 19 – are you ready – the menu is

  • Appetizers: Seafood salad with prawns, crabmeat and squid or mixed bitter lettuce leaves with quail eggs and Asian vinaigrette dressing served in a crispy rice basket.
  • Soups: pork with green papaya, pumpkin, spinach, carrots with Khmer spices or hot and sour with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu and crab sticks.
  • Main courses: fish fillet steamed in coconut milk with a light curry served in a banana leaf basket with bok choy and steamed rice or oyster sauce stir fried beef tenderloin served with fried rice.
  • For vegetarians, Siem Reap vegetable platter with mixed wild mushrooms on crispy noodles.
  • Desserts: Phnom Penh pumpkin custard with sticky rice, taro and green peas ice cream with baitoey foam and fried banana chips, fresh tropical fruit plate or cheese plate with crackers.
  • Always available, grilled chicken breast with coleslaw and fried potato wedges, main course Caesar salad, vegetable consommé, pasta al Arrabiata.
  • Wines: Charlotte Street Semillon Chardonnay 2014 and Charlotte Street Shiraz Cabernet 2012, Australia.

Clearly, no one goes hungry.

Cambodian dancers entertain.
Cambodian dancers entertain.

After dinner there might be a special film, a game like the Liars Club, a staff talent show or special performers.

From the moment we stepped aboard, the crew, a combination of Cambodians and Vietnamese, was efficient, eager to please and genial.

Unexpected opportunities are expected on Ama Waterways river boat cruises and AmaDara is no exception. In Oudong passengers have special permission to film and tape the monks at prayer at the Buddhist Center and in Kampong Chhhnang [sic] the unique opportunity for an oxcart ride.

Traditional Vietnamese musical instruments entrance AmaDara passengers.
Traditional Vietnamese musical instruments entrance AmaDara passengers.

The family theme is carried through consistently and by cruise’s end, you feel like one.

An interesting note: The line’s owners and board members were aboard for the inaugural cruise, but they occupied basic cabins. You didn’t find them in the owner’s suite or special accommodations.

“Oh no,” said Kristen Karst, executive vice president and co-owner. “Those are for guests.”

Passengers come first in this family.

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