In an increasingly crowded field, AmaWaterways continues to tweak its river cruises to keep up with the latest trends. On AmaLea, the line's 20th ship in the fleet, the changes can be seen in the hardware -- iPads now anchor the cabin air-conditioner -- and programming, with included alcoholic drinks at happy hour (as well as at lunch and dinner).
AmaWaterways has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to providing an active experience, and AmaLea is no exception. The ship carries an extensive fleet of bikes onboard that passengers can use in port, and guided bike excursions are available in nearly every port. If you don't bike, you can still stay fit, as several hikes are also available in port; we found the hike in Budapest lived up to its name, as we crisscrossed the city and climbed Buda Hill at a fairly rigorous clip (gaining 18,000 Fitbit steps as a result). In 2019, the line's Wellness Program, with a dedicated host and fitness classes, will be onboard.
But don't worry, if you'd rather relax, tours and accommodations for gentle walkers are also available; several passengers on our voyage had mobility issues that were handled with aplomb (and an elevator runs between three decks). There's also a massage therapist onboard for a truly relaxing indulgence.
The ship's decor is comfortable and casual, with fun patterns that wouldn't seem to go together, but somehow do. The main lounge vibe is also comfortable, with a friendly bar staff and a pianist who, at least on our sailing, was a cut above what you'd normally find. Cabin attendants were diligent about keeping rooms spotless and organized, while front desk clerks, as well as the hotel manager and cruise manager, answered questions frequently and patiently.
If there was one place we noted less than stellar service, it was in the main dining room; orders were occasionally mixed up or special requests did not arrive. The buffet can get crowded, and it sometimes seemed like servers were overworked. While the food on AmaWaterways is good, it's not necessarily gourmet, and the dishes didn't always live up to the menu descriptions. We did enjoy the special menu served at the Chef's Table, a five-course meal held in a separate dining room at the back of the ship, and would put that dinner up against lines with a higher price point.
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Another feature of AmaWaterways is the partnerships that the line has for specialty cruises, and this is one place where AmaLea would shine. Connecting rooms and the pool on the top deck are well-used during Adventures by Disney cruises, while an extensive lineup of wine cruises with partner vineyards make the ship a fabulous choice for oenophiles (the ship's demographics skew younger on these wine cruises too). Beyond the emphasis that AmaWaterways has on fitness, AmaLea is also used to host biking and hiking trips through the adventure company Backroads.
All in all, AmaLea has all of the ingredients for a river cruise that can be tailored to your interest and activity level. Active cruisers and cyclists in particular should give it a close look.
The average age on all Ama cruises is around 62, with the majority of passengers falling into the baby boomer demographic. On wine cruises, the average age drops to the mid-50s. Passengers are mostly from the United States and North America, followed by the U.K. and other English-speaking countries. AmaWaterways does run separate "Latin touch" cruises that are geared toward Spanish-speaking passengers.
AmaLea has a "casual and comfortable" dress code during the day and a "smart casual" guideline for dinner. What this means is that most passengers wear jeans, capris, shorts, T-shirts, golf shirts or athletic gear during the day, depending on their excursion. Usually they'll change for dinner into slacks and a collared shirt for men, or a dress or nice pants and a top for women. Shorts are discouraged at dinner, and bathing suits are not allowed in the restaurant or lounge.
The Captain's Dinner is held toward the end of the cruise (not the last night) and people dress up a bit more. You might see men wearing jackets, although it's not required. Women do not need to bring heels.
Comfortable walking shoes during the day are a must. A rain jacket is also an essential packing item for Europe; the ship does place umbrellas in the cabins.
Cruises on AmaLea include Wi-Fi; alcoholic drinks at lunch, dinner and happy hour; a choice of complimentary excursions in each port; and meals in all of the restaurants. A refrigerator in the cabin is stocked with complimentary bottled water.
Gratuities are not included in the fare. The suggested amount is 2 euro for a half-day tour to your local guide and bus driver; 12 euro per person per day to the ship's crew (the tips are pooled); and 3 euros per person per day to the cruise manager. Tips to the local guides and bus drivers are cash only and given at the time of service. All other tips may be paid by credit card or cash at the end of the cruise.
The onboard currency is the euro.