It's not so much that the ship is unique, although it is one of the loveliest modern riverboats out there today. (It's a sister ship to AmaPrima, which last year received Cruise Critic's Editors' Picks award for best new river vessel.)
What was different for us at yesterday's event was that it was our first-ever covering an APT launch. Haven't heard of the line? The venerable company was founded in 1927 and represents a wide range of travel opportunities, from land tours and small-ship ocean cruising to river journeys. It's based in Australia's Melbourne and primarily serves Aussies and New Zealanders. (It also thrives in the U.K.)
Cruise Critic members already know about the stellar fleet of AmaWaterways. Here's the rub: APT is a major partner in that line and operates a handful of ships that are dedicated to its market. It even tosses an APT banner over the AmaWaterways logo. But the product is consistently AmaWaterways, whether you're an Aussie or an American.
In fact, it was actually kind of tricky to distinguish between both lines yesterday at the christening, as it almost entirely mirrored that of AmaPrima last summer. Both took place in the darling small city of Vilsofen, on the Danube. Both featured a hog roast and Bavarian picnic on the pier, fun music, speeches from local leadership and, in this case, APT's visionary chief, Geoff McGeary. Princess Heide von Hohenzollern, who offers APT exclusive use of her 14th century Rhine River castle Burg Namedy for tours, served as godmother.
What AmaWaterways has created is a platform for experiences that can then be tweaked by geographic partners, based on local custom. For instance, many North Americans prefer shorter cruises (7 days to start), don't mind paying extra for tips when it comes to crew and tour guides, and don't want to underwrite someone else's bar bill with an all inclusive drinks policy.
Aussies? Different. Having inclusivity, which features gratuities, flights and cocktails (save for top-shelf stuff) matters. Plus, it's such lengthy journey between Australia and Europe that most prefer longer itineraries. Wouldn't you?
Sitting squarely in the catbird seat is the British traveler. That's because both APT, with its more-inclusive but higher fares and wider range of long trips, and AMA, with a slightly more price sensitive approach, market to passengers there.
Regardless, the traveler who opts for either company -- together they oversee 14 modern ships -- can rely on superb food and service within an ambience that's both luxurious and contemporary. All ships have bicycles which are free to use, and, on select cruises, both lines offer truly unique tours. In APT's case, for instance, we were able to sample this year's new Viennese offering: an exclusive concert at the very private City Palace of Luxembourg.
The companies, whose major partner is L.A.-based Brendan Tours, will have a fleet of 16 riverboats by the end of 2016.
When making remarks before successfully smashing a bottle of Veuve Clicquot against the side of AmaReina today, Princess Heide von Hohenzoller summed up the AmaWaterways/APT experience. "I really believe the pleasure of a ship is the people who work there -- waiters, housekeeping, chefs, cruise managers, tour leaders, and staff and officers. All of these people work hard to make you feel at home."
--By Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief