The sun has just begun to dip on the horizon, finishing its daytime migration toward the horizon at the end of another long, hot summer’s day—and I can’t quite keep my eyes on my food, or the good company at my table. Rolling down the Danube River, a light, warm breeze coming through the open windows, we bend through broad, lascivious curves, each one seeming to reveal a new tower, or turret, up on a cliff, or right by the water. The courses keep coming—local food, fresh ingredients—and so does the conversation. But my attention remains firmly focused ahead, my fork frozen in my hand, my eyes aimed out those windows, here at the alfresco restaurant.
I’m on board AmaMagna, AmaWaterways’ revolutionary new double-sized river ship, 72-feet wide. While the primary difference is space (it's twice as wide as the standard river ship), the essence of the experience is variety. And if you’ve ever been on a river ship before, you won’t quite believe your eyes, from the second you step on board. “This is a floating boutique hotel,” notes Kristen Karst, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of AmaWaterways.
While most river ships have a standard layout—lounge toward the bow, staterooms toward the stern, restaurant downstairs from the lounge —on AmaMagna you take a few steps, and even standard river cruisers notice there's so much more space! For starters—three lounges, versus one. Separated by steps, the main lounge—with its long bar, grand piano, curving couches and dance floor—is the main gathering place, where, on my cruise, we all got together there for Champagne toasts and music and dancing that stretched long into the night.
But walk down to the lower level, toward the bow, and you’ll find twin, fireside libraries, which provide intimacy and quiet—a place for long conversations, or intimate moments, or intense board game competitions (important note: board games provided) in a space that feels like your own private living room (even better, actually—these have lovely faux-crackling fireplaces). And in between the starboard and portside libraries, there’s a cinema room that’s better than any you’ll find in a man-cave, equipped with long, cushy seating—on my cruise, I watched some international sports on the massive screen during the day, and came back in the evening for movie nights (complete with popcorn).
And when I finally make it to my suite, I do a double-take, walking through the door. It's bigger, yes, but also completely different than any other suite I’ve seen on a river ship. (While the size of the ship is doubled, the number of staterooms has been held to just 98, with total capacity at 196 guests, similar to other, smaller river ships.) With the standard suite (like mine) totalling 355 square feet, that’s enough space for a separate living area with a full-size couch (perfect for my requisite afternoon naps), a large, flat-screen TV, king-sized bed and a big balcony, large enough for two comfortable chairs, ideal for sipping a glass of wine and watching Hungary and Austria and Germany flow by.
Splendid Sun Deck
The Sun Deck, too, is anything but standard. It’s one of my favourite places on any river cruise—a broad, blue sky above, 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape—and the deck on the AmaMagna brings people together unlike any other I’ve seen. With multiple areas—upscale patio furniture right up at the bow, near the bridge, a walking track further back, comfortable loungers under sun shades in the middle and, at the back, a pool and hot tub—it’s got something for everyone.
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On any given day, I’d climb the stairs to find dozens of active cruisers walking the track. When we passed through locks—particularly tight, and thrilling, given the ship’s double-wide size—I would sit near the bow, watching intently as the captain at the controls, navigated into the small space, seemingly just inches on each side of the ship. (Once, during a top-size barbecue, we all had to make sure we were seated, or at least ducking, when we passed under a low bridge—afterward, two waiters danced a jig, to celebrate another successful passage through the lock.) And on one particular night—a festival in the surrounding town, the ship tarrying in the middle of the river—I joined a couple friends, with a couple of bottles of champagne, and climbing into the pool where we watched fireworks splash across the sky above, in style.
Discovering New Places Onboard
And AmaMagna is the kind of ship where you can discover a new space—one you hadn’t even realized was there—after several days on board. It took me that long to find the gym (known as the Zen Wellness Studio), located near the stern. It's much larger than most on a river ship, outfitted with plenty of machines, free weights, even a wall-cable resistance trainer. Windows open to the outside, and exercise bikes sit on the back deck, for open-air spin classes. I also found the studio's juice bar, next door, on day three of my voyage, another nice little niche which, like so many others on this ship is bathed in natural light from skylights.
Dining is a surprise, too. Karst says that they wanted to replicate the excitement of having choices that you’d usually find on a larger liners. “On ocean ships, you hear people asking each other, ‘Where will we go tonight?,’” says Karst, noting that they wanted to bring this kind of excitement to the river.
Where Will We Dine Tonight?
Along with five bars, the AmaMagna features four restaurants. The main dining room and the multi-course tasting menu at The Chef’s Table are both standard and available across AmaWaterways’ fleet. AmaMagna adds Jimmy’s Wine Bar. Named for AmaWaterways co-founder, the late Jimmy Murphy, it feels like a subterranean urban bistro, and serves family-style meals, at long, communal tables. And, lastly, there’s the 24-seat Al Fresco, set on Deck 3 near the bow, which features a lighter, veggie-forward menu.
Which is where, on this night, I can’t keep my eyes off the huge windows, showcasing the evening sky as it fades from orange to red and finally, to black. But the night is still young. Before I return to my roomy stateroom, I’ll maybe kick up my heels in the lounge, or take in a movie in the cinema or maybe, just maybe, take a dip in the hot tub, with a glass of wine, in hand.
*Always in search of the next great story to tell, Tim Johnson is often found circling the globe. He's visited 145 countries across all seven continents and taken almost three-dozen voyages, including several expeditions to the polar regions, small-ship luxury adventures and cruises with major lines. Based in Toronto, his work has been published in the New Yorker, AFAR, the Globe and Mail, Reader's Digest, Bloomberg, CNN Travel and many others.
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