VOLANTE Elyse Glickman was there for the christening of AmaWaterways’ new boat, the AmaSiena, and her maiden voyage from Amsterdam to Basel
Photographed by the author
From issue 44 of Lucire and the January 2022 issue of Lucire KSA
After 18 months of COVID-19 lockdowns and cabin fever, it is nice to fly across the ocean to experience another kind of cabin—the kind that’s outfitted with vibrant décor, fragrant organic bath amenities, and an outdoor deck that reveals views of impressive castles, vineyards, cityscapes, and adorable villages. This is just a small part of the AmaWaterways’ Captivating Rhine (Amsterdam to Basel) experience. While this unplug-and-play itinerary is the stuff dreams are made of (even more so if you add extra days in Amsterdam on the front end or Lucerne and Zürich on the back end), you can now do it aboard the sparkling new AmaSiena ship, which has boutique hotel surroundings, amenities, and beautifully prepared meals that connect with the various cities along the route.
The AmaSiena is essentially a floating boutique hotel, with a main dining room, white tablecloth restaurant and informal dining area, along with amenities such as a library, a stylish bar–lounge area (that’s a living room by day), fitness room, and hair salon. Some cruise ships (both ocean and river) are elegant, but in a way that duplicates every other vessel in a given line’s fleet. AmaWaterways’ answer to a signature look, meanwhile, is having each ship designed with its own æsthetic and identity. The décor is designed towards the tastes of Gen X and millennials, but is also clean enough so one can appreciate the castles, cityscapes, wine country expanses, and other points of interest through the lounge’s floor-to-ceiling windows or in a stateroom’s outdoor deck.
Between a first day perusing the trendy neighbourhoods along Amsterdam’s canals and disembarkation in the majestic city of Basel, the old adage that the journey can be as memorable as the destination rings true. Along the Rhine—one of Europe’s most storied waterways—and its legendary castles. The mediæval architectural marvels fill in the chronological and physical space between notable German towns and small cities (including the imposing Köln and Heidelberg, a university town surrounded by wineries).
A little past the midway point, the ship docks near the centre of sophisticated Strasbourg and, later, stops near the intentionally storybook-scaped Riquewihr, France (inspiration for the original animated Disney picture Beauty and the Beast). Both border towns expose one to hearty-but-elegant Alsatian delicacies along with the visual fusion of French and German æsthetic sensibilities. Strasbourg’s streets are also lined with a bevy of artisanal chocolate shops interspersed with curated boutiques and charming outposts of Parisian retailers.
For many of us who grew up with the Choose Your Adventure books, the itinerary has a bit of that spirit. If quaint isn’t your thing, you can instead opt for a morning bike ride through a vineyard or a hike in the Black Forest instead of eating your way through Riquewihr. With a mix of generations on board, from well-travelled Baby Boomers to increasingly younger and world-savvy travellers, there’s a nice cross-section of active options (the bikes and hikes) as well as alternatives for foodies (such as a winery visit) or history buffs (a local specialty museum or two, often off the beaten path). Depending on the location, sometimes you have the option of just getting off the boat and walking around the city your way (as I did for the second half of our full day docking in Strasbourg) or renting a bike to cruise the riverfront at a leisurely pace—provided you and the bike are back on the boat before the (strictly enforced) departure time.
What also sets AmaWaterways’ excursions apart is that they do not operate like a hyper-chaperoned school field trip. Should you stumble into an overbearing guide, the ship’s cruise manager (such as the AmaSiena’s warm and attentive Martina Valachova) is all ears, and will also provide recommendations for the best-fitting activities based on your personality and interests.
Culinary director Robert Kellerhals not only implemented Schreiner’s vision for the fleet (no buffets!), but makes sure everything made with vegetarian and vegan guests in mind will appeal to every guest while being in alignment with AmaWaterways’ new emphasis on health and wellness. The best things to come out of the kitchen include perfectly executed vegetable soups, fresh fish mains and eclectic appetizers that match up with the food culture of each port of call. A vegetarian falafel plate served at lunch sailing out of Amsterdam (vegan with the omission of a honey mustard drizzle) was one of the cruise’s culinary standouts. AmaWaterways’ culinary institutions, the Chef’s Table tasting dinners and the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs night, are even more boundary-pushing and impressive.
While COVID safety is now a part of the itinerary, kudos to the entire crew for working the precautions in so seamlessly. Valachova and hotel manager Romeo Luchian use warmth and humour to set the tone in enforcing the necessary rules and providing information about sanitation practices in the public and private areas. Valachova’s delivery in her PA announcements positions the necessities of masking up, pre-meal temperature checks, and pre-departure COVID tests as extensions of the safety protocols that existed in the “before-times”.
Wellness director Teodor Leta, who has to limit the number of people per class, makes sure everybody who wants some sort of coaching gets it. He deftly juggles the responsibilities of communicating the cruise line’s wellness emphasis equation and adhering to safety in his bouncy repartee. While his daily on-board fitness classes lean towards beginner-to-intermediate, he also participates on some of the more difficult hike and bike land excursions and provides fitness tips for the asking.
The new MyAmaCruise app, meanwhile, nicely ties the whole experience together as it simultaneously helps make cruising more sustainable and connects to younger guests in a tangible way. While saving paper and cutting down on stateroom clutter is a nice benefit, the app puts the whole itinerary and each day’s activities into a manageable format, while its gps feature proves to be useful offshore. Although AmaWaterways’ complimentary postcards and postage for guests are still available, the app shifts that idea into an e-postcard–social media format. •
Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.
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