After A Week On Board, I’ve Found The River Cruise For Small Ship Ocean Cruisers

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I was skeptical at first. Could AmaWaterways’ new AmaMagna be the perfect transitional ship for small ship ocean cruisers who are wanna-be river cruisers? I won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is, possibly. I’m not hedging by taking the middle ground. After all, small ship ocean cruisers know well what they have to give up to test the rivers. Stateroom size tops the list. River cruise staterooms could never be described as palatial. Some cabin categories start at 135 square feet. Sure, you could book a suite, but the general feeling among small ship ocean cruisers is that they’re going to compromise, quite a bit.

That changed this past spring when AmaWaterways introduced a ship that was nearly double the width of the classic river cruisers. After spending last week sailing from Budapest to Vilshofen (as a guest of AmaWaterways), I can say with certainty that this is no longer river cruising as you once knew it.

As the first ultra-wide vessel built for a major river cruise company, AmaMagna introduces something completely different to the rivers (while the refurbished Crystal Mozart also is a double-width river cruiser, it will be leaving Crystal’s fleet at the end of this year).

AmaMagna is double the width of a normal river cruise vessel. Among its many features is a marina with a Sundowner pleasure craft. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

I suspect the new ship will appeal to a broad swath of travelers because of its spaciousness, wide selection of dining venues, and boutique-hotel-like amenities. AmaMagna features four dining venues, an expansive lounge, a large gym with modern cardio equipment, spin bikes on the aft deck outside overlooking the river, an expanded spa, seemingly acres of sundeck, and a majority of staterooms that measure 355 square feet, larger than any of the top-tier suites on AmaWaterways’ classic fleet.

AmaMagna’s width does much more than allow AmaWaterways to offer its guests additional features, though. The ultra-wide vessel also brings to the rivers something surprising: changes in the social dynamic of river cruising, and for some travelers, those changes will be appealing.

The difference is this: On AmaWaterways’ classic river cruise ships, nearly everyone goes to the same restaurant where they spend a couple of hours at dinner before exiting through the same door to trundle up a single set of stairs to the ship’s only lounge. Although you can switch tables or dine one evening at the Chef’s Table, you’re pretty much dining with the same group of people for the duration of your cruise. And then you’re spending after-dinner hours with them in the lounge. That fine for many folks and some actually prefer this arrangement. For others, it may be too much togetherness. AmaMagna gives you the choice of both styles of cruising. Groups can stick together if they wish while couples who prefer intimate dinners can have it their way.

On AmaMagna, with its four restaurants, people are exiting at different times to a) the ship’s lounge; b) one of two libraries; c) the sundeck; or d) staterooms that are quite a bit larger than those on the classic fleet. Speaking from my recent experience, I can assure you that you won’t mind spending time in AmaMagna’s staterooms, or sitting out on the stateroom balcony.

To put it succinctly, the classic river cruisers are cozy and intimate whereas AmaMagna presents a social dynamic that will be familiar to small ship ocean cruisers.

AmaMagna making a ‘technical stop’ to pick up guests on excursions. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

With all of this in mind, here are seven types of travelers that I believe AmaMagna will appeal to:

1. Small luxury ocean ship cruisers. Aside from AmaMagna’s exterior, what struck me when being escorted to my stateroom the day I embarked was the width of the corridor. Two people walking side by side fit comfortably in the corridor. That’s not the case on the classic river cruisers.

Opening the door to stateroom 321, I was impressed by the depth of the room. At the entrance was the landing area, which leads to the bathroom, featuring a dual-sink vanity and large shower. The toilet was in a separate room, a nice feature for two (or three) sharing a stateroom. Through a dual set of doors, the living room and bedroom featured a comfortable sofa and a queen bed (that can be configured to two twin beds, as ours were), 27-inch iMac computer with keyboard and mouse, a huge flat-screen television, closets, drawers, minibar (stocked with sodas and juices) and a balcony that resembled those I have seen on luxury ocean vessels.

Two things reminded me that I was not on a small luxury ocean ship: the lack of tenders to get us ashore (we needed only to walk the gangway) and the ever-present banks of the Danube on both sides of the ship as we traveled from Budapest to Vilshofen, Germany.

AmaMagna docked in Ybbs, Austria. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

What do you think of the ship, I asked Hotel Manager Cristian Dumitru? “Remember that I come from the ocean ships,” he said. Precisely. Comparisons are inevitable. What AmaMagna and small ultra-luxury ocean-going vessels have in common are passenger capacities of fewer than 200, spacious staterooms and multiple dining venues.

As an interesting aside, Dumitru came to AmaWaterways nearly a decade ago after working on the oceans. I’ve sailed with him a few times on AmaWaterways, and his professionalism and enthusiasm are worth noting. His supervisor told me over dinner one evening that the ever-smiling Romanian gives 180 percent. She worries, in fact, that Dumitru never unplugs from his job. Clearly, he loves his work. Dumitru is one of a few married couples who works on AmaMagna. His wife Alina heads up the spa and salon. A decade ago, she told him when he quit the oceans that if he ever worked on a ship again, she was going with him. They’ve been cruising together for nearly 10 years on the rivers.

Cristian & Alina Dumitru. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

2. Those who prefer multiple dining venues.  AmaMagna features a main dining room, with seating in booths and tables; Al Fresco, situated forward and windowed all around (an excellent choice for dinners while cruising); The Chef’s Table, also found on AmaWaterways’ classic fleet, and Jimmy’s, a family-style restaurant named for AmaWaterways’ late Co-Founder Jimmy Murphy.

Table set for four in the Al Fresco restaurant, perfect for those who enjoying dining by sunset. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

3. Groups. On AmaWaterways’ classic vessels, groups don’t have a lot of dedicated space to meet. There’s the lounge and The Chef’s Table. That’s about it, and those venues aren’t always private. AmaMagna has two attractive libraries forward of the lounge as well as the Al Fresco restaurant, ideal places for groups to gather. Plus, the restaurants are better suited for groups, particularly Jimmy’s with its large family-style tables.

One of two libraries situated forward of the lounge. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

4. Families. With a sun-deck pool, whirlpool, staterooms that can accommodate up to four and a dedicated cinema with movies, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, AmaMagna arguably is the best ship in the AmaWaterways’ fleet for families.  During our sailing (I was with my 24-year-old daughter), there were about a dozen teens and kids on board. I realize that some travelers aren’t fond of cruising with kids, but the kids on our mid-summer sailing were well supervised and behaved. AmaWaterways generally does not allow infants and toddlers on board.

In addition to staterooms measuring 355 square feet with balcony, AmaMagna also features adjoining staterooms in categories SA and SB. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

5. Fitness Fanatics. With wellness instructors on each ship in its European fleet, AmaWaterways strives to be the most active and wellness-oriented river cruise company. Each day, you’ll find classes in Pilates, Yoga, Stretch, Spinning, Circuit Training and more on board.

For those who enjoy being active, AmaMagna offers opportunities to stretch, spin, circuit train and much more. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

Ashore, you’ll be able to choose from five levels of walking, depending on your speed and endurance, as well as hikes, and independent and guided bike tours. I used one of AmaMagna’s bicycles to cycle 28 miles one day, heading upriver from Vienna and into the hills and vineyards. I came back from the Endorphin-inducing ride exhilarated and head-over-heels happy.

Cardio equipment in the Zen Wellness Studio, with spin bikes on the outside deck over looking the river. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

6. Past Ama guests. AmaMagna is AmaWaterways’ amplified. Far from a departure from what the company has built its success on for nearly two decades, AmaMagna marries the best aspects of an AmaWaterways’ classic river cruise with something that many river cruisers have been waiting for: more choice when it comes to dining, larger staterooms and more options for fitness and enrichment.

7. You. If you haven’t yet made the leap from ocean cruising to river cruising, what are you waiting for? With AmaMagna, your ship has finally come in.

AmaMagna, sailing your way. © 2019 Ralph Grizzle

December 15-23, 2019, I’ll be hosting a Christmas Markets cruise on AmaMagna. For more information about the sailing, from Vilshofen to Budapest, email me.

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