This was our second river cruise, the first being on the Nile (MS Darakum - recommend). Our cruise was part of a 17 night tour of Vietnam and Cambodia, starting in Saigon and ending in Hanoi, via Siem Reep (Angkor Wat). The organisation was brilliant from start to finish. Our Tour Manager was extremely efficient as he needed to be as there were 88 people in our group - ranging in age from 50 to 86. As quite new 'cruisers' there was the odd sharp intake of breath at the degree of herding required to ensure that everyone followed what they were supposed to be doing - quite a lot of repetition of very basic stuff, but very necessary for many of the travellers - who still persistently failed to understand. We are accustomed to travelling independently but were attracted by the AmaLotus, so decided on the whole tour, but the infantilisation of the whole group did get a bit trying. However, the schedule was very tight, with lots packed in, which suited us very well as we saw so much. Early starts for morning tours occasioned some grumbling but the Tour Manager set the tone early on by insisting on prompt departures. With only 2 exceptions (people forgetting their entrance tickets despite being reminded only 12 times!!) we left promptly, so weren't inconvenienced.
The ship; We had The Owner's Suite, which was absolutely fabulous. Sitting room with small balcony and shower room, huge bedroom and full bathroom with jacuzzi bath with view over our own larger balcony with two sun beds. We had no problem with hot water and didn't have to wait at all. The room was beautifully serviced and the staff in general were very friendly and eager to please. Swimming pool very cold - couldn't go in. Food; Not bad. Not enough Vietnamese/Cambodian food - too many Americans, so 'International' cuisine. More local food in Cambodia. Very good breakfast pho though. Terrible coffee. Necessary to pay extra (not much, $1.50) for delicious cappuccino. House brands included in the trip price. Wine not great - only Chardonnay at mealtimes, no option of Sauvignon. Red wine adequate. Otherwise, wine very expensive for very average stuff - we paid $45 for a Villa Maria sauvignon.
For land tours we were divided into 'families' - Blue, Orange, Green, etc. While possible to switch groups, not many people did. We did after our visit to Angkor Wat as we didn't like our guide. His English wasn't great and he seemed to lack knowledge about the art and architecture. We were also hampered in our group by lack of mobility of many of the travellers, which meant that at Angkor Wat - the highlight of our trip and why we booked in the first place - we lost lots of time by poor group management by the guide. I would recommend that for the true highlights, it is wise to book your own guide to ensure you get maximum value from the site. At Ta Prohm, instead of talking to us about the history/architecture of the temple, our guide instead talked a lot about Tomb Raider and Angelina Jolie - and took everyone's photos - instead of telling us anything useful. I regret not hiring our own guide for the 2 days in Angkor and would advise that if you are serious about the art/architecture of the temples, get your own guide. Make sure they have good English. My advice to AmaWaterways would be to divide groups into mobility so that the faster groups can see more and not spend too much time being herded through in a slow group, therefore missing lots. We split off and made our own way to the meeting point, which meant we saw all the brilliant not-to-be-missed bas reliefs at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.
The tour has lots of trips which require good mobility and good general fitness - which AmaWaterways state clearly in the itinerary. Despite this, quite a few passengers were really too frail to undertake the trips and several even stayed on the bus on the tour to Angkor Wat! If stuck in a group with the frail, very elderly and very unfit, it can spoil the enjoyment of the tour as the guide has to stay at the pace of the slowest. Can be annoying.
Apart from the Crew Talent Show (!) and a nice dance display by Cambodian children, there was very little evening entertainment and the boat was pretty deserted by 9.30pm - not a problem really, as most trips were very early - breakfast at 7am and on the bus by 7.30/7.45am. Quite a small selection of DVD's of any interest and nothing current. Your own DVD's won't work as they won't be configured for the Far East. No reception at all on the 2 beautiful, large plasma screens in our room - so they are decorative only!
On the whole, the tour guides were very good at their jobs and very keen to give as much insight as possible into the lives of the people in both Vietnam and Cambodia. I would recommend the tour and the cruise - but patience is required as everything is done in a group and if you are not a natural group animal a few deep breaths will be necessary now and again. If you are an experienced cruise person, you'll be accustomed to that by now! Overall, this was a very good experience and I would recommend AmaWaterways.