Following my stay in Paris, I spent the next seven days cruising the waters of the Mosel and Rhine Rivers aboard one of Europe’s most luxurious riverboats, the MS AmaDante, on an AMA Waterways exclusive Wine Cruise highlighting some of Europe’s most acclaimed wine regions.
After a successful trial run last year, AMA Waterways offered several fall wine cruises this year in an effort to bolster shoulder season business. These cruises take advantage of fewer tourists in port cities, the beautiful fall colors of the surrounding countryside, and the regions famous wine culture.
The cruise includes an on board wine expert to share his knowledge of wine and provide wine tastings, lectures, and wine pairings throughout the journey. In addition, the cruise includes winery visits and other wine-oriented shore excursions.
The result is an elegant, entertaining and educational affair offered exclusively by AMA Waterways. Only a lucky few have Been-Here-Done-This.
Let’s start with a brief review of the ship and its features:
The MS AmaDante, took her maiden voyage on June 1, 2008 setting new standards in European River cruising. She carries 178 passengers in staterooms from 170-255 sq. ft., 80 percent of which offer French balconies, and is staffed by a highly-trained professional crew with an ongoing emphasis on personal service.
Features onboard include: Plenty of bicycles which can be used by passengers, free of charge, to explore the small towns along the way, a fitness room, massage and beauty salon, dining room, forward and aft lounges and an elevator. 170 sq. ft. staterooms provide a hair dryer, terry bath robes, slippers, monitors and keyboards with internet access, English language TV stations, movie selection and music programs, and a satellite telephone system service for a nominal fee. Junior Suites are spacious at 255 square feet featuring a sitting area with a sofa and two chairs, floor-to-ceiling windows with French balconies and extra spacious bathrooms with bathtubs and showers.
The ships public areas are nicely decorated and designed, offering many comfortable and intimate seating options.
The reception area is chandeliered with marble floors, a curving dual wood-railed staircase on the right leading to the ships three cabin decks and the ships dining room, and a wood and marbled countered reception desk on the left. An original of the Dutch artist Walter van Oel hangs above the reception desk, and reproductions of the Austrian artist Friedreich Hundertwasser adorns the walls. This combines to create a sense of elegance, which is carried on throughout the ship.
The reception area is where the ships elevator is located, providing access to all cabin decks and the ships dining room. The elevator does not go to the ships Sun Deck, however, which is occasionally utilized for disembarkation when the ship is parked outboard of other ships that are in port. As well, the cobble stone streets in the visited villages may require extra assistance for some.
Just off the reception area is the ships lounge. Spacious and comfortable, the lounge offers panoramic views of the passing scene on three sides. The use of white Tuscan style grooved square columns, fabric covered loveseats, end and coffee tables, intimate seating arrangements for two to eight passengers over coordinated carpeting creates comfortable and intimate space. Round wooden tables with club chairs add to seating variety.
On the fourth side of the lounge is the ships bar. Decorated in dark woods, glass, and overhead recessed lighting, it is an inviting area for drinks that is open throughout the day and evening.
The ships dining room continues the use of white Tuscan style grooved square columns and fabric covered chairs along with white table linens at every meal creating an elegant ambiance. Here, special attention has been paid to seating arrangements, providing more seating for two and four persons than traditional cruise ships. As well, the dining room employs banquettes backed by low room dividers to create intimate seating arrangements. All meals are served with open seating by a capable, formally attired, wait staff and sommelier.
Breakfast on board consists of an assortment of breads, croissants and pastries, a variety of fresh fruit, yogurt, cereals, waffles, scrambled eggs, and smoked salmon with a member of the kitchen staff preparing fresh omelets to order. A number of traditional breakfast items are also available from the menu, such as Eggs Benedict.
Special attention was given to “Early” or “Late” risers by providing excellent pastries and coffee or tea in the ships lounge pre or post breakfast hours. There were rumors that passengers appeared as early as 6:30 AM for this service (which seemed quite appalling to me); and others stumbled down just in time for a quick coffee and then lunch.
Coffee and tea service is available in the lounge 24/7, accompanied by an assortment of cookies until the wee hours.
Lunch consists of homemade soups, numerous salad selections, cold cuts and cheeses (applying the art of Garde Manger) and several additional selections from the menu. Pastries and desserts are offered to finish.
Dinner menus offer a choice of three appetizers, two soups, three entrees, and two desserts, along with a fine assortment of international cheeses as well as fresh fruits. Fresh breads, soft drinks, cocktails, beer and wines are always available.
For the health conscious, each menu provides “Healthy Choice” and “Low Calorie” notations; warnings I chose to studiously ignore.
Of special mention here is the excellent attention to detail the kitchen put forth in the way in which plate service was presented. The use of garnishes, color, texture and arrangement was excellent, exhibiting the chef’s artistic talents.
In addition, the ships Pastry Chef provided delicious offerings showing excellent culinary skill.
Another public space on the ship is the Aft Lounge; a wicker furnished reading and game room surrounded on three sides by floor to ceiling windows. This large, quiet space provides passengers with a place to get away from the ships more active areas. I found the offering of this room especially telling of AMA Waterways decision making process and emphasis on passenger comfort.
As with all such hospitality endeavors, the offering of public space brings with it a consideration of how much revenue will be generated by offering it. Non revenue generating space is often avoided with an eye to the bottom line.
In this case, AMA Waterways has placed guest comfort above such considerations. The Aft Lounge could easily have been designed as a bar, food service facility, or additional cabins, to generate extra profit. Instead, they showed concern for passenger comfort; no small act of thoughfulness.
Located in the aft area of the Violin Deck, and off the Aft Lounge, is the ships Wellness Area that includes a glassed-in fitness room, sauna, bathrooms, shower, massage and beauty salon. As are the rest of the ships public areas, the Wellness Area was always spotless.
The ships Sun Deck, covering the entire top deck of the ship, provides for top side seating and a hot tub. The fall temperatures were not conducive for its use for the most part, but the occasional stroll offered excellent 360 degree views and romantic evening scenes of passing village lights was very pleasant.
To summarize, the AmaDante is very well maintained, nicely decorated, and scrupulously clean throughout, in both its public spaces and guest cabins.
One further thing: this is a river going ship, not an ocean going one. The ship is nowhere near as large as an ocean liner. There are no climbing walls, casinos, movie theaters or dance classes here; and while there is evening entertainment, there are no floor shows, hypnotists or magicians to be found. It is also a much more personal experience. The crew learns your preferences and may call you by name, as the crew to guest ratio is very high. So, if you enjoy sharing your cruise experience with 5,000 others (a small town), then this may not be for you.
With this information as a backdrop, we’ll next discuss the daily activities offered by the AmaDante…