(11:20 a.m. EDT) -- It's tough not to notice AmaMagna when you spot it sailing down the Danube. At 72 feet wide -- double the width of the other river cruise ships on Europe's main waterways -- the vessel turns heads. The interior, which feels more like a boutique hotel than a riverboat, is equally striking.
The ship is a passion project for AmaWaterways president and co-owner Rudi Schreiner, who says it took about five years to develop from concept to creation. We're onboard two-month-old AmaMagna this week, sailing the Danube from Budapest to Vilshofen and discovering why this ship is a game-changer for cruisers.
(Note: AmaMagna was launched in May in partnership with Australia's APT.)
The cabins are really special.
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Many river cruise ships feature cabins that are fairly snug. In truth, passengers spend most of their time each day exploring ports, so cabin size often isn't an issue. But on AmaMagna, where the smallest cabin begins at 205 square feet, people will want to spend some time in their rooms when they need to unwind. Many of the cabins onboard have true balconies, something only a few river lines can say.
Our favorite cabin category features an upgraded balcony cabin that measures an expansive 355 square feet. It contains a hallway, separate bathroom and water closet, oodles of storage, a desk and a full-sized couch. AmaMagna has 18 of these cabins, with four that connect, offering capacity for up to four people -- another rarity on river cruise ships.
You'll also find seven sizeable suites onboard, including one Owner's Suite, which features a large bar, separate sleeping area, large living room and full bathroom with a giant soaking tub. Grand Suites, at 474 square feet, aren't too shabby, either. These feature beds that face the balconies, pop-up TVs and soaking tubs. Co-owner Kristin Karst said AmaWaterways added more (and bigger) suites to the ship as a way to provide more options for group luxury travelers who wanted to cruise together in the most high-end rooms.
AmaMagna is roomy and comfortable.
While AmaMagna is significantly bigger than the other ships in the AmaWaterways fleet, the company elected to add only 20 percent more capacity; the ship accommodates 196 passengers, while others in the line's 23-ship fleet carry around 156. A lot of that additional space was used for cabins and balconies, but it's also noticeable in the ship's public spaces.
Yes, the ship has a lounge and main dining room like other river ships, but it also has a good-sized cinema. On our sailing, it was used by passengers who wanted to watch the women's World Cup final and by kids for gaming. There's also a large store, stocked with AmaWaterways logo items, gifts, jewelry and clothing. And you'll find a free self-service laundry, along with a large wellness area and small salon.
You'll have choice at dinnertime.
The ship also has four restaurants, so passengers have options for dining. The Main Restaurant onboard is the busiest one, but the ship also offers a Chef's Table, a light Mediterranean dining experience and a family-style dinner option. This gives passengers more choice than they have on smaller ships in the fleet.
The main dining room serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, as does the Al Fresco Restaurant. For breakfast and lunch, passengers can enjoy buffet-style light bites and tapas at Al Fresco. For dinner, it's a sit-down, multicourse affair. You pick your appetizers and entree, and the rest is filled in with set selections. While you'll eat a lot of courses, the portions are perfectly sized, and the meals feel light. We heard some passengers say it was their favorite option onboard. The same menu is offered every night.
The other two restaurants are The Chef's Table and Jimmy's Wine Bar Restaurant. The Chef's Table is a set menu, so you'll have the same dinner every time you dine there. A favorite on other AmaWaterways ships, The Chef's Table onboard AmaMagna is a culinary journey with lots of courses and even more wine. This is perhaps the most formal option onboard, and you should expect a meal that spans about three hours.
New to Ama is Jimmy's, named after co-founder Jimmy Murphy. The restaurant has long tables to accommodate many people eating family-style meals. Jimmy's serves the same items available in the main restaurant. The difference is you don't choose: All items on the menu are brought to the table to be shared among everyone.
We liked being able to choose what we liked while trying a bit of everything, but being served everything on the menu made for some strange pairings -- salmon and Weiner schnitzel? It also means if you are a party of two, you're going to end up sharing plates with relative strangers, which might make introverts uncomfortable. Jimmy's is one of the prettiest venues on AmaMagna, and we suspect the concept will be tweaked a little as passenger feedback rolls in.
The wellness program is totally integrated.
AmaWaterways is a pioneer when it comes to wellness and fitness onboard its ships. In fact, almost every ship has a dedicated wellness host onboard who sets programming and leads classes. On AmaMagna, it works brilliantly, in part because of the size of the ship's Zen Wellness Studio fitness center and spa area. It's huge, by river standards and allows for personalized workouts and classes, as well as private massage and nail treatments.
But there's also outdoor space that's perfect for classes. The ship offers four spin bikes, and on our cruise, two spin classes have been offered almost every morning. And up top, on the ship's Sun Deck, there's ample room to hold classes under shaded awnings. Yoga, Pilates and resistance-band training classes take place there most days.
Typically, there's a digestive walk offered after lunch on the track. In the future, passengers will be able to take these classes under a dedicated "yoga tent," which now houses several dozen bikes that are used for tours or can be checked out individually for port exploration. Ultimately, the bikes will be moved, and the yoga tent will provide shaded, somewhat private space for top-deck workouts.
On our cruise, workouts and active port options have been well-attended, with full classes for yoga and spinning. Bike tours have been wildly popular: A 10-miler from Pochlarn to Ybbs in Austria saw 35 riders.
There's more to come.
When it comes to concepts, Schreiner says he often moves forward with building an idea and then figures out how to make it work. "I throw things in and see what will happen afterwards," he says.
On AmaMagna, the company has built a marina deck -- essentially, a platform designed to fold down from the back of the ship and provide passengers easy access to the river. The marina also could host waterside parties and be a loading dock for passengers boarding the ship's Sundowner yacht. But right now, it's not in use. And neither is the yacht, which is stored onboard at the aft of the ship. Schreiner seems unfazed and assures it will be used in the future.
The same goes for a table for five, which sits in the galley. Inspired by a chef's table galley dining experience onboard an ocean cruise, Schreiner said he added the table to his own ship, knowing full well that European rules regarding food safety would initially make use by passengers impossible. For now, crew use it to test food. But Schreiner says it's up to AmaWaterways to figure out what it will take to be able to offer a unique dining experience for passengers.
AmaWaterways welcomes ideas that seem "out there." One of the most radical ideas on AmaMagna -- an elevator that goes up to the sun deck -- is a reality, and it's a hit with passengers (especially those with mobility issues). The elevator is the first of its kind in the river cruise industry.