Founded in 2002, California-based AmaWaterways is one of the newest entrants in the European river cruise market -- and since its launch, the line's growth has been nothing short of remarkable. The fleet has expanded to include over 20 ships sailing in Europe, Russia, Asia and Africa.
To be fair, the rapid growth isn't that surprising. While the line itself is relatively new, AmaWaterways president and CEO Rudi Schreiner isn't a novice when it comes to operating a river cruise line. Schreiner has held executive positions for Uniworld and Viking River Cruises, two major competitors who sell European river cruises to the North American, British and Australian cruising population. With Uniworld, he served as vice president of tour planning for eight years before heading to Viking River Cruises, where he opened Viking's U.S. office in 2000 before becoming the line's first president. In 2002, Schreiner helped to open AmaWaterways (then called Amadeus Waterways; the name was shortened in June 2008). By 2006, the line was introducing its first new-build.
AmaWaterways focuses on Europe's Rhine, Danube, Rhone, Saone, Seine, Douro, Mosel and Main rivers using its own ships, and also offers options in Russia, Africa, France, Vietnam and Cambodia and Burma (Myanmar). Though its itineraries are international, AMA cruises are typically aimed at English-speaking passengers from North America, the United Kingdom and Australia.
An AmaWaterways cruise offers ambitious regional cuisine, well-designed cabins, guided port stops (most included in the fare) -- on ships featuring amenities like in-cabin multifunction TV/Web setups, elevators, and mechanized wheelhouses that can be lowered to transit under bridges.
Since the company was created in 2002, it has launched several ships. The first half-dozen vessels in the fleet tend to represent standard riverboat design and layout, with two lounges -- a large main lounge at the bow and a more intimate lounge located aft -- that offer panoramic views of Europe, as well as expansive sundecks with plenty of loungers. Public areas offer free Wi-Fi, and all cabins have "Infotainment" setups, basically flat-screen TVs with Internet access, movie and music libraries, and bow and navigational cams. Eighty-two percent of cabins feature French balconies.
Newer debuts, which began with AmaBella in 2010 and now include several more, feature a unique-to-the-industry design in which cabins have two balconies: One's a French veranda, with floor-to-ceiling windows that open, the other is a true, step-out balcony with a pair of tables and a chair. These ships also feature the Erlebnis restaurant, using the traditional aft-lounge area to create an alternative venue, complete with glassed-in chef's kitchen.
Every ship is nonsmoking (except on the sundeck) and features a beauty salon and massage therapist. Unlimited local wines, as well as beer and sodas, are included with each open-seating lunch and dinner, which consists of indulgent regional cuisine with special selections from local European ports.
AMA ships feature international staffs. The majority of workers onboard are Hungarian, Romanian and Slovakian, and all staff members speak English. Each cruise also features a knowledgeable cruise director who does everything: leads shore excursions, arranges for airport transportation and offers running commentary during scenic cruising.
Daily sightseeing programs are included with each cruise, and tours include wireless audio devices so cruisers don't miss a word on history or culture. All ships offer roughly 20 bicycles that passengers can use to explore ports.
Entertainment is focused on local customs and culture -- performances by European dancers or an orchestral group keep passengers occupied in the evenings. There are also some more down-to-earth offerings such as an always entertaining crew talent show and wacky trivia night.