Above is a picture of AmaWaterways AmaCello riverboat which holds 142 passengers in 71 cabins and has a staff of 45. We sailed south from Lyon to Arles on France’s Rhone River (and briefly on the Saone) last week – early May 2017. We had a wonderful time on the ship and visiting South-Central France. Lyon is considered the capitol of French culinary tradition and all along the Rhone are Roman ruins showing the ancient history of the area. Wine, wonderful scenery, technology and culture made this a great choice of rivers. Last fall, Donna and I took our only other river cruise on the Rhine with Uniworld, so I will compare our AmaWaterways experience with that.
The AmaCello Experience
AmaWaterways is less inclusive than Uniworld (gratuities are not included and only wine and beer at lunch and dinner are included), but less crowded than the starting level lines like Viking. Where Viking’s longships hold 190 passengers in a riverboat that is only a little longer. As with other river lines, AmaWaterways includes daily shore excursion when docked, beer and wine with lunch and dinner, entertainment and all meals. The AmaCello is one of the lines older ships, but is still only 9 years old. It looks very fresh and has a comfortable design and good flow.
My only complaint is the dining room which has the main food station in the center of the room which create traffic bottlenecks during the buffet breakfast and especially lunch when most everyone eats simultaneously.
The cabin was small as expected, but the desk was deep enough to hold a computer which was an improvement over Uniworld. And the entertainment system was good with several news channels (essential in the Trump era), lots of good movies and other options. The bathroom was not nearly as roomy as Uniworld and the shower was narrow and challenging. There was very little space to put your toiletries. The bed was very comfortable and the safe and closet provided enough space for us, but might have been challenging for those who like to bring an extensive wardrobe. There were insufficient plugs for a multi-device family. A USB plug or two would have been a space saving solution.
The food was truly excellent. It’s hard to compare with Uniworld, but I would say the quality was about the same, but there was a bit less variety. Special diets were accommodated. Like most riverboats, room service was not offered, but there were food items available before breakfast, mid-afternoon and late night in the lounge.
Each dinner there were a nice choice of always available courses including steak, salads and desserts. Each night offered 3 entree selections including a vegetarian choice, multiple soups, appetizers and desserts. I ate a lot of seafood which was very fresh. The beef was a favorite with several friends. Servings were moderate size which reduced the temptation to over-indulge. You can always order two entrees.
Breakfast always included a special such as Eggs Benedict, but you could still order these on other days. Lots of fruit, cereals and excellent breads were offered. Coffee was available in the lounge 24 hours a day including decaf, espresso and cappuccino. Most agreed the machine made excellent coffee.
Lunch included made to order items and a buffet. A lunch highlight were the homemade ice creams and toppings with the head waiter providing entertainment as he served them.
The culinary high point was the Captain’s Table Dinner, which offered a sampling menu. The elegant Captain’s Table dining room held 24 though most nights it was not full. The list of items was extensive and adventurous. For me the highlights were the Japanese inspired Graved Salmon with Seaweed and Caviar, the Porcini Soup, the Truffle Mousseline (mashed potatoes), the Beef Burgundy and Salty Caramel and Hazelnut Cake.
Service and Staff
The key to good service is a desire to please. And the staff on the AmaCello certainly had that attitude. When the Maitre d’ realized that our friend liked the Blue Cheese they were serving, he made sure that there was some on our table at lunch and dinner every day!
But there is more to good service than that. And in several areas the AmaCello staff needed a bit of training. With a small staff and a tight schedule, there were times when we were rushed. This happened both in the dining room and in our cabin. The first night we had just been seated when the waiter made it clear that we needed to decide what we wanted to order right away. And he waited until everyone told him what they wanted…soup to nuts. Our cabin attendant did an excellent job, but every morning asked if it was time to clean the room while Donna was still getting ready. When I said no, her face told me what she felt. These issues would be easy to correct with a little training.
The ship leaders – the captain, the cruise director and the hotel manager – were fun and positive without fail. Sebastian, our cruise director, was always smiling and a continuous presence who made everyone feel comfortable. He set a high standard. The Hotel Director was always ready to help. The Captain got us there safely, but also joined the party in the evening.
Suggested gratuities were $15 per guest for the staff and $3 per person for the cruise director which seemed reasonable considering the continuous pampering we received.
This is an area where AmaWaterways exceeded Uniworld. On four nights we had guest entertainers and they were excellent. There were two violinists and a guitar playing pop and classical pieces. We had a comic pianist who played a wide variety of international hits including lots of dance music. And my favorite were two guitarists and flamenco dancer who played and sang energetic Spanish and gypsy music.
A special part of the entertainment was the captain, hotel manager and waiters joining the dance floor in the evenings. Sebastian admitted that our cruise was special because the guests were a party group. Normally you do not expect much of the entertainment on a river cruise, so this was a great surprise.
Sebastian did an excellent job making everything run like clockwork as far as the land tours. AmaWaterways did not have their own buses on the Rhone, but that did not affect the quality or service on the tours. All our guides did an excellent job, had clear English and made sure things ran smoothly.
The choice of tours was limited as with any small ship, but the itineraries were well planned. In places where there was only one option, we were given the choice of slow walkers, normal and active tours. And I was able to do two very nice bike tours which were fairly easy going. I will go into greater detail when I write about the different ports.
We loved the AmaWaterways cruise. The ship was lovely and the staff worked very hard to make sure we had a relaxing and fun time. The fact that the drinks in the lounge were not included did not seem to bother anyone since the drink prices were reasonable. It was an excellent value – less inclusive than Uniworld, but also less expensive.