RIVER OF DREAMS
State-of-the-art technology complements a creative vision on AmaWaterways’ beautiful AmaCerto.
By Michel Verdure
After more than 200 cruises in 20 years, the word “cruising” still brings up visions of a long journey over vast expanses of ocean to faraway ports and tropical beaches. Well, there exists another kind of cruising, one which doesn’t require sea legs — or even a sea, for that matter — where you may wake up in the middle of a city, surrounded by land rather than water.
Welcome to the wonderful world of river cruising!
These intimate, river ships offer all the comfort and amenities that a room in a fine hotel would provide, with detailed, up-close views of worlds that megaships simply can’t navigate. Over the years, improvements in design and quality of materials have substantially changed the onboard experience of these vessels. AmaWaterways’ AmaCerto, launched last spring, is an excellent example of what new technology and a touch of creativity can bring to this special breed of cruising.
As soon as guests board, they feel AmaCerto’s delightful newness — sleek, and fresh. Public areas and staterooms boast clean lines and classic neutrals, accented by fun pops of tropical colors and fabrics patterns that run the gamut from damask to tree leaves to crocodile. The central reception area is elegant and contemporary, with marble floors, glossy woods, and two gleaming staircases wrapped around either side of an all-glass elevator. From here, the main bar and lounge area are set diametrically to suites or staterooms in the other. With only three decks, the ship is not very tall, but this can be a welcome feature — guests don’t have to walk very far to get anywhere.
AmaCerto was designed with the upscale, modern-day traveler in mind. While most ocean cruise ships have Internet availability on board, it comes with a fairly high price per minute and tends to be frustratingly slow. The AmaCerto, on the other hand, offers free Internet/WiFi access. Moreover, the small fitness room has enough treadmills and weight equipment for the motivated passenger to get in a decent workout (there’s a walking track as well), and the spa, staffed with professional aestheticians, offers a full range of massage, salon, and beauty services.
A Room with a View
The stateroom is probably the most important space on a ship, your own private little haven to relax, regroup, and rest. And AmaCerto’s staterooms are top notch. Yes, river ships are small and the space is limited. However, the AmaCerto architects and designers worked magic, cleverly utilizing all available space to create ample storage for clothes and belongings without compromising on style and comfort.
There are no inside cabins on the AmaCerto, one of the rare river vessels to offer passengers their own private balcony, the ultimate luxury in river cruising. Yet, everyone enjoys a river view, either from a fixed window, French balcony, or private terrace, where guests sit and watch the stunning scenery roll by, such as the brightly-hued tulips of Holland or the twinkling Christmas markets between Nuremberg and Budapest.
All staterooms feature top-of-the-line bedding, a desk, flat-screen TV, and all the usual amenities you would expect from luxury accommodations. The bathroom is very well designed. Of course space is limited, but with its multi-jet showerhead and outstanding water pressure, I found the layout ideal and the shower amazing, a rarity for most cruise-ships!
Locations, Locations, Locations
Our AmaCerto cruise took us down Central Europe’s Blue Danube. We embarked in Budapest, Hungary, sailed through Slovakia, Austria, and ended in Germany. Our guides explained that most European cities were built around rivers. Water, life’s essential element, also served as a natural protection against invaders, allowing cities to thrive, which means that your AmaCerto tours begin right at the living cultural heart of everything.
While most excursions are included in your vacation, AmaCerto also offers a few optional and reasonably ones, such as a visit to the breathtaking medieval town of Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic, a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, known for its historic architecture and cobblestone streets that wrap around a 13th century castle. Walking tours take place every day, led by extremely knowledgeable local guides who speak impeccable English.
As a photographer, I usually run ahead or hang behind the group to take pictures — and miss most of the verbal tour. Not this time. A new technology provided by the ship at no extra charge — the QuietVox system, a kind of receiver that’s roughly the size of a cell phone with an earpiece — allowed me to stay behind, take my photos, and not miss a word of commentary. The guide transmits the tour into a microphone, and everyone can listen to the narration regardless of distance and ambient noise. We enjoyed the tours immensely, heard every detail, and felt kind of badly for other tourists not riding this wave of the future.
For the more adventurous, AmaCerto offers another cool and complimentary option: bicycles. Take a guided group tour or venture out on your own. I absolutely loved charting my course and riding at my own pace, exploring the bike-friendly European cities, smaller villages, and rolling countryside.
Being on the move all day stimulates quite an appetite. While the delicious goodies offered at tea-time every afternoon can hit the spot, there is nothing like a sumptuous dinner in the evening to top off a lovely day. The elegant Dining Room, located below the lounge in the forward part of the ship, first welcomes diners with elegant seating and crisp, quality linens. But what comes on the plate is even more amazing. The gourmet menus, different every day, propose classic as well as regional specialties, artfully prepared using the highest quality ingredients.
At dinner, sip the cruise line’s special house wine free of charge, or choose another vintage from the wine list for an additional fee. For a more intimate dinner with a breathtaking panoramic view, try AmaCerto’s gourmet Chef Table, Erlebnis, at the stern of the ship. Here you’ll savor a multi-course tasting menu, prepared right there by the chef.
For those who would like to end a perfect day with a cocktail and a little nightlife, there is always entertainment after dinner in the main lounge. In this intimate setting, guests can enjoy a little dancing, a troupe of local musicians and performers, or perhaps a classical concert with live strings and piano. Of course, there’s always the upper deck for strolling and watching the lights and life along the riverbank as you gaze at the stars.
Making the Magic Happen
AmaCerto is a sophisticated and lovely ship, with fantastic tours and delicious meals. The icing on the cake? She delivers first-class quality with impeccable service. The staff attends to your every need, in a uniquely warm but professional way. No wonder: AmaWaterways boasts that it likes to treat passengers like family. And indeed, we felt like honored guests.
While on AmaCerto, I had the wonderful opportunity to dine with two of the owners of AmaWaterways: Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst. Not only are they gracious hosts open to discussing any topic concerning their new ship, but they love what they do — and it shows. The intense competition between Europe’s major river cruise companies helps elevate the quality of these vacations to an extraordinary level. The AmaWaterways team replicates that experience on each of its 15 ships, cruising everywhere from Europe to Russia to Africa to Southeast Asia. Schreiner is very clear on the fact that he aspires to excellence and wants to be the best.
I don’t know if there is even such a thing as a perfect product, as many factors are ultimately a matter of taste and personal preference, but I can say that as an honored member of this ship line’s family, there is no doubt that the AmaWaterways does a stellar job.