The 148-passenger AmaDolce, newly deployed in 2016 to France's Bordeaux region, offers an elegant and warm-hearted river cruise experience. Part of a class of ships that represented the first new-builds that AmaWaterways designed itself, AmaDolce is a hybrid riverboat. There's room for some more modern elements -- a spacious sun deck has a whirlpool, the front-facing lounge is both a social spot and a place for quiet repose depending on the time of the day and there's a spa for hair treatments and massage. Additionally, The Chef's Table open-kitchen boutique restaurant is one-of-a-kind on the rivers but manages to also have a traditional feel to it.
At the same time, what really fuels the AmaWaterways experience is the personal connections you make with fellow passengers and crew onboard. You may board AmaDolce knowing just your traveling companions (or even solo -- this is a terrific option for single passengers), but you'll depart your cruise feeling like you've made a whole crowd of new friends, primarily because you're spending more time together at meals; the passenger count itself is smaller than some of its competitors. We experienced many easy, bonding moments that made our trip special.
On shore, the balance between tours for gentle travelers and active recreationalists was superb. Complimentary half-day options utilized motor coaches primarily (unless walking tours were available) and yet we were pleasantly surprised at the fact that there were four or more guided cycling opportunities throughout the week at no extra charge as well. The ship stocks Nordic walking sticks and a fleet of its own bicycles so passengers hankering for a casual hike or stroll could also sightsee independently.
If there's a passion that goes beyond the convivial camaraderie on board, it has to be the lines' devotion to the culinary arts. Meals reflected a continental European style and offered a balance of exotic local dishes (frog legs anyone?) with simpler steaks and grilled fish. There's plenty of attention paid to healthful dining, too; beyond designated healthy choice items on all menus, we loved the varying selection of special waters. The Gemstone Water, made with traces of rose quartz, amethyst and mountain crystal and reputed to help relieve jetlag, at least made us feel like we were making an effort.
On AmaDolce, passengers hailed primarily from North America; most if not all are English-speaking. The ship appeals to culinary and cultural enthusiasts in the 50-plus age range though the cycling activities broaden its appeal.
During the day, travelers wear comfortable, casual travel gear -- from shorts to khakis -- out on excursions. Comfortable shoes, as some tours involve walking over uneven surfaces, are a must. At night, passengers typically change to country club-style flowing dresses and pants outfits for the ladies. For men, open-necked golf shirts were absolutely acceptable. The once-a-cruise captain's dinner is a bit more dressy (some men wore jackets but still, no ties were necessary). The Chef's Table dinner, the most formal dining experience onboard, is casual dress-wise, with the usual country club-style dress considered acceptable.
In the past few years, AmaWaterways has ramped up its inclusive policies to include most expenditures. At least one tour per port (and sometimes more) is complimentary. Wine and beer (along with sodas) is free at lunch and dinner. Airfare and pre-cruise hotel stays with transfers can be part of the cruise package (you can also buy a cruise-only package). You will pay out of pocket for an occasional and special shore excursion, cocktails, wine and beer beyond mealtimes, the reasonably priced services from the massage therapist and the beauty salon, and laundry. The onboard currency is the euro.