This is our third cruise with AmaWaterways which must tell you that we like the Ama experience. Our first cruise was on the Danube on AmaSonata - and I rave about that elsewhere. Our second cruise was on the Rhine, on AmaSonata by coincidence. I was less happy with that trip - mostly because I did not like the Rhine as much as the Danube which was not Ama's fault and there were too many Asian flavours in each meal - which was Ama's fault. It would still have been 5 stars even then.
This year we searched for a new Ama European cruise that provided the right balance and type of activities and came up with the Rhone - Colours of Provence aboard the AmaCello. Coming from the UK, we flew to Lyon from Heathrow and back to Heathrow from Marseille booked through Ama. The flights were not fun - proper cattle truck flights - and that seems a huge shame as they top and tail what was a luxury cruise. If I was doing it again, I would investigate the train services which were used by other guests on the cruise and reportedly were excellent.
Our transfer to the ship from the airport was handled well, though the traffic was bad so we only arrived at 1810 to find we were invited to the Captains Table for Dinner starting in 20 minutes - no time to unpack or shower so we were the scruffy pair at the table. Oh well - at least the Captain - Philippe Stypa was a really good host who managed not to notice. He was the most pleasant and affable captain we have sailed with. He remembered us throughout the week, gave tours of the wheelhouse to those of us who wanted to know how the ship operated and greeted each on-shore excursion as it returned. An excellent captain.
AmaCello is an old ship by Ama standards. Compared to AmaSonata, the cabins are smaller, have French Balconies rather than twin balconies and the en-suites are smaller. Those are not necessarily minus points. I prefer the French balcony as I get more uninterrupted window space and my wife preferred the en-suite - mostly because it did not have the unnecessary window into the cabin the illumination from which woke her when I used the bathroom at night on the AmaSonata. Although small, the cabin was perfectly adequate for the two of us. So score one to AmaCello.
The restaurant and lounge were different but similar to those on the Sonata - generally very adequate though the air-conditioning struggled in the very high temperatures experienced during the cruise when the rooms were full - at mealtimes or during briefings for instance. The food in the restaurant was a pleasure to eat. There was a good variety, it was well presented, tasty and much more appropriate to the region than on our Rhine cruise. The quantity was generous - we were encouraged to have second helpings of desserts for instance and our glasses kept getting refilled as long as we continued to allow it.
The excursions were good, the coaches comfortable though the journeys sometimes seemed long in relationship to the time at the destination. The guides generally spoke good English, many were really excellent. They all knew their subject though occasionally it sounded as if they were bored to be giving the commentary to yet another group. I enjoyed the Steam Train in Tournon, the Pont du Gard visit and the Truffle Farm visit. We had been doubtful about the latter but a truly excellent guide made it totally hysterical fun. You would be lucky if you had the same guide visiting the same Truffle Farm.
I am slightly less enthusiastic about the onboard entertainment. The resident musician played Spanish style guitar mostly. Maybe if I had concentrated on listening it would have been excellent but as a background noise it could be jarring. The evening entertainers were all impressively skilled but I was too tired by the day's activities to really appreciate them; my loss I suspect.
So that brings me to Service and the "but....". Every member of the crew greeted us whenever they saw us. Initially I thought that was excellent but it did begin to sound a little bit overdone by the last day. Our cabin was kept beautifully clean and organised by our room steward. I thought the housekeeping on the previous cruises was excellent but this was just that little bit better, more thoughtful. The receptionists were brilliant, very professional. The cooks must have suffered greatly producing excellent food in a small kitchen area that I guess was like an oven what with the cooking and the sun's heat. The restaurant and bar staff worked very hard - they were always rushing on some errand or another.
But.... - two of the waiters seemed totally untrained. I doubt that either of them had worked at anything before much less coped with the huge pressures of serving a complex menu to customers who all descend on the restaurant within minutes of it opening. They did not have a clue - forgot to serve courses that had been ordered, mixed up the orders, gave people courses they had not ordered. Some guests gave up and left the restaurant without finishing their meal. Other waiters tried to help but had plenty to do themselves. I am NOT picking on those two novices; they should not have been put in such a situation. Many of the guests will not even have noticed these problems especially if they sat at the other end of the restaurant and were served by hard working and competent waiters. Some guests who were effected took it all lightly but it should not have happened on a cruise that claims to be a luxury cruise specialising in a superb eating experience.
On our first cruise, the waiters were impressive. I do not remember them putting a foot wrong. The second cruise was slightly less impressive and this one was poor; not in terms of the effort put in by the staff but in terms of the failure of Ama senior management to employ trained staff or to train them before letting them loose on guests. Therefore, I deduct one star due to a failure by Ama senior management. The AmaCello's reputation suffers but that is really collateral damage, it seems that Ama Waterways have put business growth above quality of service.
The cabin is smaller than on more modern ships and the design reflects ideas current a few years ago. However it is comfortable and there is enough space for two reasonably well organised people. I found it easier to see out of this cabins French balcony than I did in a cabin with a twin balcony as there are less obstacles - so a plus point to AmaCello. The bed was comfortable, the air-conditioning worked well and was no noisier than any other. The en-suite was small but in an excellent state of repair. The lighting could have been slightly better to aid shaving (or make-up application).
The excursion consisted of an early morning cruise up the Soane under some very low bridges, a coach ride over some attractive and perhaps spectacular countryside to a small family run vineyard. It was interesting seeing the traditional equipment used but the explanation of the process really amounted to "it depends what my father thinks we need to do to produce whatever we are trying to produce". So not very informative.
I am no wine connoisseur but we tasted 4 different wines and all were very palatable. Many in the group decided to buy bottles so that they could sample it further.View All 34 Beaujolais Vineyards Reviews
I found the city tour rather confusing - rather hop on, hop off in nature and I am sure we went round in circles. However, Lyon has a lot of interesting things to offer, the wall paintings being one of the most fun. The view over the city from the Basilica was spectacular but I have seen better interiors. The concept of the traboules was fascinating.View All 47 City Tour Reviews
We moored almost alongside the town square which lies along the river and is surrounded by the main shops and restaurants - very normal, run of the mill ones though so mainly interesting for the atmosphere of the town.
We chose an excursion to an old train line that travels up the gorge of the River Doux. The ride was sufficiently exciting and the scenery sufficiently spectacular for me to think it a morning well spent.
Note that it is a steam train with open carriages so the smoke does get to you - black dots on clothes and a strong smell in the air. All great fun and part of the experience as long as you are not in best clothes and do not have breathing difficulties.
Avignon had two features for us. The first was the Pont du Gard - which is not really Avignon but some way outside. It is a remarkable aquaduct slightly spoilt by the modern bridge in front of it - but better from the upstream side. The Museum is excellent with a good explanation of how it was built.
The second feature was a cruise up to the bridge of Avignon. For us, the cruise was only a few hundred yards but the Captain held the boat just off the end of the bridge for several minutes allowing us all to have a good view.