Mosey Down The Danube
When we heard that AmaWaterways’ Joanne Smithies would be sailing the Danube on board AmaMagna, we couldn’t resist asking her to tell us all about it when she got home.
As I arrived in Budapest on a beautiful summer’s day in June, a sight to behold awaited me on the banks of the Danube. AmaMagna, the newest addition to the award-winning AmaWaterways fleet of luxury river cruise ships, looked magnificent. At first glance, its sleek yacht-like appearance looks identical to the rest of the AmaWaterways fleet. But when standing face on, you can immediately see what sets this awe-inspiring ship apart; she is double the width of standard river cruise vessels. This ground-breaking innovation promises to take river cruising to a new dimension, offering more space, more choice and more luxury for discerning guests than has ever been seen before on the rivers.
Departing the Hungarian capital to begin my week-long voyage, I sailed through the heart of the country and beyond, into Slovakia, touring the old town of Bratislava, then on to the ‘City of Waltzes’ Austria; Vienna is a truly elegant and romantic city, with the grandeur of its monumental buildings lining the famous Ringstrasse. Heads were turning from the river banks, bridges and passing ships at the sight of this vessel mooring centrally in each iconic destination.
Although much of AmaMagna’s design and features can be likened to those of a small ocean-going luxury cruise ship, she has retained one vital factor, and that is the reason why so many people are choosing to river cruise: low guest numbers. While AmaMagna has doubled in size, her capacity has been unaltered, meaning her 196 guests enjoy double the space. With this comes an unusually high staff-to-guest ratio resulting in impeccable service levels. The crew are a delight; attentive, polite and all so proud to have been selected to spend the season on board this mighty new addition to the fleet.
Cruising further up the river, deeper into Austria and away from the bustling cities, it was time to relax and unwind on board. It’s hard to imagine a better way to do this than by sailing through one the most picturesque regions of the Danube, the Wachau Valley, lined with castles, ruins, abbeys and lush green countryside.
Whilst river cruising is very much about the experiences within each destination, these scenic cruising hours taking in the panoramic sights of the river banks are not to be underestimated. Without a doubt, the best way to see these views is from the Sun Deck and – as you can imagine – the outside deck space on board AmaMagna is expansive. With sheltered seating areas, deck chairs, a heated pool, whirlpool jacuzzi and pop-up pool bar, it really is the best place to while away an afternoon’s cruising. Featuring a walking/jogging track, mini golf, table tennis, chess and a heated floor area which can be used for outdoor yoga and the extensive range of exercise classes available through the AmaWaterways Wellness Programme, the Sun Deck is also the place to get active. The Zen Wellness Studio spanning the aft of the ship further adds to its unique appeal, with a well-equipped gym, outside spin bikes, healthy juice bar, manicure room, hair salon and two massage rooms.
Of course, it’s not just the Sun Deck that offers up the best viewing platform; I see some of the Danube’s most gorgeous sights from the privacy of my balcony. With full outside balcony staterooms and suites ranging in size from 252 to 710 square feet, you can watch the river go by from the comfort of your own luxury accommodation. With rainfall showers, spacious bathrooms, robes, slippers, flat screen TV with entertainment system, Apple computer, tablet and not forgetting the mood lighting, it was sometimes a task in itself having to leave my private haven. When I did leave and wasn’t exploring ashore, I had plenty of options for rest, relaxation, socialising and sipping a coffee or cocktail. The main lounge offers an abundance of space; stretching the whole width of the ship and edged with floor-to-ceiling windows and two lower library lounges at either side, it is the perfect place to relax with a coffee or enjoy a pre-dinner drink during the nightly Sip-and-Sail cocktail hour.
Sailing onwards through Austria, the towns and villages became smaller but there was no shortage of things to do at these tiny, charming ports, from a walking tour in the fairytale town of Weißenkirchen to a visit to one of the most famous cultural sights in Austria, Melk Abbey. Other options were more energetic, like a hike up to the fortress in Durnstein, where Richard the Lionheart was held prisoner in 1193. I opted for one of the speciality culinary tours, a gentler walk through the picturesque town of Durnstein for a morning of apricot and wine tasting, before strolling back to the ship for lunch. This brings me nicely to what makes AmaMagna stand out in the world of river, apart from the obvious size difference, and that is the dining.
As members of the prestigious La Chaîne De Rôtisseurs, AmaWaterways are already known for their exceptional standards of world-class cuisine. However, what AmaMagna delivers that standard-sized ships cannot is a choice of dining venues, something more akin to what you would expect to find on a small, luxury ocean vessel. She boasts three dining venues in addition to the main restaurant, all of which are included in the cost of the cruise with wine, beer and soft drinks at mealtimes too.
The Chef’s Table is an AmaWaterways exclusive, an intimate restaurant seating 36 guests, its chef preparing a seven-course fine dining tasting menu while you watch. The experience is unmissable and, most importantly, the food is delicious.
Elsewhere, the Al Fresco Restaurant is a casual venue at the very front of the ship, a retractable ceiling and expanse of windows offering panoramic views of the river. A multi-course dinner of Mediterranean style cuisine can be enjoyed here and it is also where I would head to enjoy a lighter breakfast or lunch, and even afternoon tea or tapas later in the day. Last but by no means least, there is Jimmy’s Wine Bar. This fun, relaxed venue is named after AmaWaterways’ late co-owner Jimmy Murphy and an a la carte menu served up ‘family style’ on sharing platters makes for a sociable and friendly evening.
Fast approaching the Austrian-German border, we moored in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria. As well as being a fantastic destination to explore on foot or by bicycle, Linz also serves as the base for many tours available in the stunning Austrian Lake District region. We had plenty to choose between, from a visit to Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and location for The Sound of Music, to a hop across to the Czech Republic to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cesky Krumlov. Finally, after crossing into Germany and through the beautiful baroque city of Passau, our voyage ended in the quaint village of Vilshofen. On our last evening, we embraced a Bavarian feel with an exclusive AmaWaterways Oktoberfest celebration. Straight off the ship, on the banks of the Danube, we enjoyed steins, pretzels and music from a traditional folk band, the locals heading down to join us and marvel at a ship so welcomed in their German village. It was the perfect end to an amazing week. There is a saying that ‘oceans take you to countries and rivers take you through them’, something which perfectly describes the experience a river cruise can offer. But AmaMagna further redefines the luxury river cruise as we know it and in doing so, delivers a world between both.