Trying to decide whether to cruise with AmaWaterways or Scenic can be tricky, as on the outside both lines look pretty much the same. They also share a similar heritage as they are both family-owned. AmaWaterways' President Rudi Schreiner, who was born in Vienna next to the Danube, came from a background in the travel industry and the line was launched in 2002. Scenic's family tree goes back to 1986, when founder Glen Moroney began operating motorcoach tours in Australia before entering the river cruise market in 2008.
AmaWaterways says it provides passengers with the "luxury of more" -- in terms of dining options, excursion choices and onboard amenities, while Scenic gives itself a self-styled five-star rating (unlike hotels, there is no official rating system for river vessels). In general, Scenic tends to be more on the luxury side of river cruising, although AmaWaterways keeps upping the amount of inclusions in their fare.
Here's a look at the details between the two lines.
Pricewise, Scenic cruises are more expensive -- at least $500 on a July 2018 seven-night Danube sailing and $1,000 or so on other itineraries -- due to the all-inclusive nature of its vacations. The fares include unlimited premium brand drinks from the bar, as well as a stocked mini-bar in every cabin and all gratuities. AmaWaterways includes wine, beer and soda with lunch and dinner and, from 2018, a new complimentary "sip and sail" cocktail hour. All other drinks from the bar cost extra.
In terms of gratuities, all are included with Scenic, which also has butler service for all cabins (although the amount of service can depend on your cabin). AmaWaterways has a recommended gratuity of 3 euros per passenger, per day for the cruise manager and 12 euros per passenger, per day for the crew on European cruises, which is divided up equally among the ship's personnel. Gratuities on most vessels, but not all, may be charged on credit card as well as cash. On Vietnam and Cambodia cruises, the recommendation is $2 per person, per day for the cruise director and $10 per person, per day for the crew, and on Africa cruises between $65 to $80 per cabin for the cruise.
Both lines require a deposit at the time of booking and have a sliding scale of cancellation penalties that are very similar. Passengers with both lines lose their deposit for cancellations more than 90 days before departure. AmaWaterways operates a more generous scale of cancellation fees with passengers forfeiting 35 percent of the fare for cancellations 60 to 89 days before the sailing, 50 percent for canceling 30 to 59 days before, 80 percent for cancellations between seven and 29 days before sailing and the full fare for cancellations of a week or less before the departure date. With Scenic you lose your deposit for cancellations more than 90 days before departure, 50 percent from 62 to 90 days and loss of the full fare for canceling 61 days or less before the date of sailing.
In 2016, Scenic launched an industry first with a guarantee that provides a refund of up to $750 per day for up to seven days, or $5,250 per person, for issues that include the ship being unable to sail due to high or low water levels, mechanical breakdowns or industrial action affecting the sailing. The policy is free, but it should be noted that it only applies to cruises sold in the U.S. and Canada.
The fares might be higher, but if you enjoy your drinks and don't want to worry about tipping, then Scenic will suit you. It also provides peace of mind with its included insurance policy for cruise disruptions.
If you're a light drinker and enjoy a glass of wine or two with dinner, then AmaWaterways is the best choice as you won't be subsidising other passengers and paying, through your higher fare, for beverages that you don't consume.
Both AmaWaterways and Scenic go the extra mile when it comes to shore excursions. Most river cruise lines include at least one, but these two companies include a diverse menu of land tours with something for everyone. Both offer standard walking and motorcoach tours that are divided into different levels so passengers can go at the pace best suited to their requirements and interests.
In addition, AmaWaterways offers "Limited Edition" tours, which might include sampling Belgian waffles and chocolate in Antwerp or making pretzels in Germany. These tours are included in the cruise fare at no extra charge, however space on them is limited so you need to sign up early to avoid disappointment. The Scenic equivalent, also included in the fare, is called "Scenic Enrich," which might typically be a private palace tour or concert. Led by expert guides, passengers are divided into groups (around the same size on both lines) and are given personal audio headset systems so they don't miss a word of what is being said.
Scenic also has the novel "Sundowner" excursions where passengers are transported to a picturesque spot, such as a castle, to enjoy a complimentary sunset cocktail.
For active travelers, both lines have a fleet of onboard bikes (in Scenic's case, electrically assisted) that are available on a complimentary first-come first-serve basis and are also used for guided tours. AmaWaterways also offers a good number of guided hikes into the countryside, which are more strenuous than city walking tours.
The line has "Late Starter" excursion options for passengers who want to sleep in but not miss out on key tour highlights in the places being visited.
Passengers can pick up GPS handsets that are pre-programmed with walks and maps on personal recordings. Available in more than 140 locations, they start and finish at the ship's location so you'll never get lost. Scenic also includes every excursion choice in the fare.
Scenic operates a fleet of 12 "Space-Ships" and, like AmaWaterways, also sails on the main rivers of Europe. The name refers to the larger-than-average public areas, rather than the size of the ships; most European riverboats are restricted to a set length and width so they can navigate low bridges and narrow locks. Scenic also sails in Vietnam and Cambodia, Myanmar and Russia. Both lines offer late-season Christmas market cruises.
Both lines carry roughly the same number of passengers on their European ships -- 164 for AmaWaterways and 169 for Scenic -- which is around 20 fewer than vessels of the same size operated by other lines.
As it's an Australian company, Scenic generally has more Aussies onboard, including some who will be in their 40s and early 50s and younger than typical river cruisers who are generally 55+ and retired. This creates an onboard vibe that can be a little more lively and fun as Australians love to party, often into the early hours.
Both cruise lines also attract active types. In 2016 AmaWaterways partnered with the active travel company Backroads to debut cruise and bike trips on the Rhine, Seine and Douro, providing travelers with the opportunity to cycle along stretches of the rivers. For 2017 it expanded the number of active river cruise departures, which also feature walking and hiking tours. Similarly, Scenic has teamed up with Trek Travel, an active vacation company that specializes in cycling vacations. Passengers booking the line's seven-night Bike & River Cruise voyages can cycle up to 60 miles a day beside the Rhine and Danube.
With a larger -- and growing -- fleet of ships, AmaWaterways offers a wider choice of sailings in Europe, including themed wine and golf cruises. The line also partners with Adventures by Disney to offer family cruises.
Scenic also sails on the Volga in Russia and the Irrawaddy in Myanmar (Burma).
The staterooms on both lines are extremely comfortable and well-equipped with standard amenities including on-demand entertainment system with music, movies and English-language TV stations, safe, hair dryers, upscale bath products, robes and slippers. Where the difference lies is the look of the cabins and the availability of butler service (Scenic) and walkout balconies (AmaWaterways). Scenic also provides a complimentary stocked mini-bar in every cabin, which is replenished daily.
AmaWaterways has around three fewer cabins on ships of the same size, and standard staterooms generally measure 210 to 235 square feet. Suites measure 300 square feet and the Owner's Suite is 350 square feet. It should be noted that although both lines call their largest cabins suites, they are all bigger staterooms and do not have two rooms. Both lines also have single cabins, which is still quite a rarity on river ships.
Staterooms on the Scenic "Space-Ships" range in size from 160 square feet to a spacious 475 square feet, which tops the largest suites on AmaWaterways. Scenic ships do not have walkout balconies, but boast innovative "sun lounge balconies," which comprise fully retractable glass windows that lower down to let in fresh air and can be closed off from the rest of the cabin with folding glass doors. Scenic also offers one wheelchair-accessible cabin on these ships. Cabins on Scenic are decorated in a bright, contemporary style and AmaWaterways has a more timelessly elegant and traditional decor.
In 2010, AmaWaterways introduced the "double balcony" concept on its ships. A total of 52 of the 81 cabins on these ships are Twin Balcony Suites with both a French balcony, with floor-to-ceiling windows that open out over a railing, plus a walkout veranda with room for a table and chairs.
All passengers on Scenic have butlers, with the level of service depending on the cabin category. Butlers in all cabins will shine shoes, arrange shore excursions and bring drinks, and services in higher level suites include room service breakfast, free laundry and suitcases packed and unpacked, arranging in-room cocktail drinks and even running baths.
AmaWaterways is the only river cruise line that's a member of the prestigious French gastronomic association La Chaine des Rotisseurs. In addition to the main dining room, there is the intimate Chef's Table restaurant at the back of the ship and each passenger gets to sample the tasting menu, paired with superior wines, at least once during the cruise.
Scenic offers three dining choices in addition to the main restaurant. During the day, the lounge has a snack bar in the lounge known as River Cafe. It serves early- and late-riser breakfasts, as well as light lunch from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Every evening the forward section of the lounge becomes the Italian restaurant Portabellos (or L'Amour, depending on the ship), and every passenger can dine here at least once a week during their cruise at no extra cost. In the main restaurant is Table La Rive, a 10-person chef's table exclusively available to upper deck passengers, once per cruise and again at no additional cost.
Concerto-class ships feature a dining room that is divided down the middle with buffet stations behind screens at each end. This gives it the feel of restaurant during the evening meal. On certain nights, typically number nine on a 14-night cruise, it is actually run as two venues with separate menus, with the Bella Cucina Italian restaurant on one side and the Verde Grill international restaurant on the other.
Scenic offers all passengers a 24-hour room service menu. AmaWaterways offers a limited room service menu to passengers in the higher cabin categories.
AmaWaterways and Scenic both offer enrichment programs when the ships are sailing and on some evenings in port. On both lines, these will typically include talks by members of the crew and visiting experts, and activities such as language lessons and cooking demonstrations. On its ships in France, Scenic has added Scenic Culinaire, an island in the main dining room that is used for cooking demonstrations on sea days. Local entertainers will also come aboard to perform music, song and dance from the areas being visited; on Scenic, the line will also bring in rock bands to liven things up some nights.
Both lines cruises boast the type of amenities you'd expect on upscale ships, including concierge services, small libraries, a comfortable lounge bar, free Wi-Fi, bicycles, splash pools or hot tubs, top-deck walking tracks, gyms and massage rooms, and salons for hair services. On its ships in France, Scenic has added a salt room to its wellness offerings. Both lines have elevators and offer a laundry and pressing service.
AmaWaterways and Scenic both offer quality river cruises that are constantly striving to improve amenities and raise the bar on active excursions. AmaWaterways will be appreciated by traditionalists, as well as first-time cruisers who are interested in theme sailings. Scenic will appeal to passengers that want to sail in more contemporary surroundings, as well as those who want virtually everything included in the fare.