Aria Amazon is a small, quiet ship with relatively little in the way of entertainment options. You won't find a casino, a theater or live musicians in the lounge, but passengers seem happy enough to provide their own entertainment in the form of reading, sorting through the day's photos on their laptops or chatting at the bar. After dinner most passengers had a drink in the lounge or simply went to bed.
Aria Amazon generally offers two shore excursions a day, one in the morning and one around 4 p.m. (The ship sails from one location to the next during the heat of the day.) All excursions are included and last from two to more than four hours. There's no need for advance reservations.
* May require additional fees
All passengers participate in the same excursions, though some activities are optional once you're out and about (such as kayaking or swimming in the river -- if you don't wish to join, you can stay on the skiff and take pictures).
During the high-water season (December to May) the river is flooded, so there are few chances to hike; instead you'll do mostly exploring in the skiffs, looking for monkeys and other wildlife in the trees. During the dry season (June to November) other activities become available such as power hikes or playing soccer on a riverfront beach. Kayaking, visiting local villages and fishing for piranha are available year-round.
The majority of excursions are low-impact and accessible to anyone who's mobile enough to climb from the ship into a skiff and to walk at a leisurely pace on flat ground.
Most passengers participated in all of the excursions, though those who were on for seven nights began opting out of some toward the end (because most passengers only cruise for three or four nights, there's some repetition in the type of activities offered over the course of a full week).
Some of the longer excursions felt a bit too long for some passengers, such as a piranha fishing activity in a marshy area at dusk when mosquitoes were feasting on us. Many excursions also involved lengthy motor rides on the skiffs (20 to 30 minutes) to get between the ship and the area we were exploring.
Note that your first wildlife-watching excursion may happen before you board the ship and get access to your bags, so you'll want to dress accordingly on your arrival day.
The wildlife checklist you'll find in your cabin offers hundreds of species to look out for during your time on the Amazon, including sloths, monkeys, pink river dolphins and dozens upon dozens of birds. The checklist helps you manage expectations by predicting the probability of seeing each type of animal. Your chances of seeing a long-nosed bat or a common squirrel monkey? Very high. But don't get your heart set on spotting a manatee or giant anteater.
The naturalist guides carry walkie-talkies and send out a heads-up to the other skiffs if their group stumbles upon a particularly interesting animal. ("Mono, mono!" -- or "monkey, monkey!" -- is a common cry.) The experienced guides have the uncanny ability to see a dark blob at the top of a tree and recognize it as a sloth, even when the skiffs are moving at high speeds. A couple of them carried laser pointers to help passengers find animals that are well camouflaged by branches or foliage.
The animals we saw most often on our sailing included monkeys, kingfishers, egrets and sloths. One night we stayed out after dark to look for caimans, which you can spot by the glow of red eyes when the skiff's spotlight passes over them. Our guide reached into the water and brought out a baby caiman, perhaps 2-feet long, and gave passengers a chance to touch or even hold it.
Wildlife viewing is generally easier in the rainy season because the river is about 30 feet higher -- meaning that you're 30 feet closer to the treetops where monkeys swing and birds perch. No matter when you come, binoculars are highly recommended.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
On arrival day traditional Peruvian musicians and dancers performed for us at our welcome lunch, and on our last night a number of crew members gave a brief concert in the lounge (who knew our room stewards could sing and play guitar?!). Otherwise there's no organized entertainment aboard Aria Amazon.
The cruise director's office has tablets stocked with 250 movies to borrow at no charge. If you'd rather stream a film to your own device, the cruise director will give you login information to access the onboard entertainment stream.
Aqua Expeditions focuses less on enrichment than many other expedition lines. During our four-night stay there were only two organized educational activities onboard: a 30-minute lecture on Amazonian fish and a demonstration on making ceviche, mixing a pisco sour and folding linen napkins. The guides also offered a little bit of information about the region during our transfers to and from the airport, and there was a brief and rather oddly timed mini-talk on Amazonian fruits at the end of breakfast on our last morning, when many passengers were eager to return to their cabins and finish packing.
The ceviche and pisco sour demonstrations were particularly fun, with several passengers enlisted for hands-on help and everyone else welcome to try the results. But only having one in-depth lecture on the flora, fauna and climate of the Amazon felt like a missed opportunity, especially when there were siesta breaks of at least two hours just about every afternoon. The guides gave us plenty of information about the animals and plants we saw during our excursions, but having them do a few more lectures or even join us at the table for one meal a day would have offered interested passengers more access to their knowledge.
There's no charge for enrichment activities.
Aria Amazon's sole lounge is on Deck 3, between the sun deck and the central staircase. It's an inviting space with lots of comfy sofas and chairs, plus full-length windows on both sides. Coffee tables are stacked with books of local interest -- "The Art of Peruvian Cuisine," "Peruvian Silver and Silversmiths," "Paiche: The Giant of the Rivers" (paiche is a common fish in the region). There's a large telescope in one corner.
At the far end of the lounge is a bar, where you can help yourself to coffee, tea and cookies between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Beer and house wines are included in your cruise fare. Other drink options include cocktails -- including Peru's famous Pisco sour -- for $8, liquor ($7 to $12), Champagne ($170 to $600 per bottle) and a range of red and white wines, mostly from Chile ($40 to $302 per bottle). A $25 corkage fee applies.
The lounge is a popular gathering spot during the day between excursions, but it never gets raucous; every time we stopped by, passengers were reading, playing board games or chatting quietly. Many people stop by the lounge for a pre- or post-dinner drink.
The lounge is also the site of enrichment activities such as cooking demonstrations and lectures.
The only outdoor public area -- and the only place on the ship where passengers can smoke -- is the sun deck at the front of Deck 3. Under a shady canopy are six loungers and four chairs, along with a few tables for drinks. Beyond the canopy is a hot tub where you can soak up the views and the sun. (Note that the water in the hot tub is lukewarm, as the weather is generally hot enough already!) The sun deck drew passengers with books or tablets during the afternoon siesta period.
In the center of Deck 2 is a small boutique where you'll find Peruvian handicrafts and jewelry, as well as a selection of Aqua-branded shirts, caps and bags. The boutique is also home to the cruise director's desk, where you can book a massage, ask for info about excursions or handle any service issues. In the atrium outside the boutique is a chalkboard where the daily schedule is posted each morning.
There are no guest laundry facilities on the ship, self-service or otherwise. That said, if you're in a pinch and you need something cleaned, the staff will do it for you at no charge. (This does not include dry-clean-only items or any other garments that couldn't safely go into an industrial-strength washing machine.)
There's no internet cafe or onboard Wi-Fi, although passengers occasionally get intermittent cellphone service when the ship passes by a local community. There's a satellite phone onboard for emergencies.
While the ship doesn't have a dedicated library, there's a cabinet in the corner of the lounge on Deck 3 with a couple of shelves of eclectic reading material (novels by James Baldwin and Patricia Cornwall, a Frommer's Peru guidebook, "Birds of Northern South America"). Beneath the books is a selection of board games including Pictionary and Scrabble. There's even a set of paints for aspiring artists who want to try to capture an Amazon vista.
A full-time paramedic is onboard and travels in one of the skiffs during excursions. Although the kitchen staff takes great care to source ingredients from reputable suppliers and wash produce with purified water, a few passengers did have some short-lived stomach issues during our cruise. The paramedic has over-the-counter remedies on hand and can acquire antibiotics if necessary. However, we recommend packing your own prescription antibiotic such as azithromycin, xifaxan or ciprofloxacin, as well as an antidiarrheal such as Imodium or Pepto-Bismol. Visit a travel clinic before your trip to get personalized advice on medications and vaccinations.
There's a small massage room on Deck 3 where you can enjoy any of a half-dozen treatments, ranging from a 40-minute reflexology session to the 70-minute "Signature Massage - The Meeting of the Three Rivers and the Wind," which combines Swedish massage, shiatsu, reflexology and therapeutic massage techniques. Treatments are reasonably priced, from $45 to $70.
Across from the massage room is a small fitness center with a treadmill, a stationary bike and a basket of yoga mats. (There's barely enough space in the gym to actually roll out a yoga mat, but you can take one back to your cabin.) Floor-to-ceiling windows allow you to watch the jungle go by as you jog or cycle. There is no fee to use the fitness center.
The minimum age for children is 7 years old. There are no dedicated kids' clubs or activities, though the guides make an effort to engage children during excursions and onboard demonstrations. Staff will also screen movies or offer a painting activity if there are a lot of children onboard.
This trip is best for kids who are a little older and don't need or want constant entertainment; they should be able to sit through excursions of several hours, as well as lengthy multicourse dinners.
Families may want to book one of the sets of interconnected cabins on Deck 1. Alternatively, the sofa in other cabins can turn into an extra bed.
Most children sail during the spring break season. (On our spring sailing there were four kids under 18.) The ship provides child-sized lifejackets and rubber boots.