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A Danube River cruise aboard the revolutionary AmaMagna

The AmaMagna on the Danube River The AmaMagna on the Danube River. Photo courtesy AmaWaterways

With more restaurants, amenities, and space, Europe’s largest river cruise ship changes the river cruising experience.

AmaWaterways’ AmaMagna, which entered service in May 2019, is a game changer in the river cruising world. It’s twice the width of conventional river cruise vessels—72 feet vs. 36 feet—making it the largest river cruise ship sailing on European waters. 

Its expanded size allows for some features more common on oceangoing vessels than on river cruise ships: four restaurants, an elevator, two bars, two lounges, a 26-seat cinema, and a water-sports deck to launch watercraft. AmaMagna’s cabins are spacious, ranging from 205 square feet to 710 square feet for the Owner’s Suite.

How do these features and the ship’s size impact the riverboat experience, traditionally thought of as an intimate one? My husband, Barry, and I were about to find out as we boarded the vessel in Vilshofen, Germany, in June for a seven-night “Romantic Danube” sailing to Budapest, Hungary. In fact, we were to learn how those enhanced features influenced every aspect of the journey.

The cabins

A cabin aboard the AmaMagna. | Photo by Vani Rangachar

Most cabins aboard the AmaMagna are 355 square feet, with a king-size bed. | Vani Rangachar

Our 355-square-foot cabin—larger than an average-size hotel room of 330 square feet—felt roomy and came with a full-size balcony, a king-size bed, deep drawers and floor-to-ceiling cabinets, and a large bathroom with a glass-enclosed shower and two sinks. It also held a full-size couch and coffee table, a desk, and tech goodies, such as a flat-screen television with on-demand TV shows, music, and movies; a desktop iMac with Internet access; and an iPad to control climate, lighting, and “mood.” Some of the cabin gadgets were not intuitive. I was embarrassed to have to ask our housekeeper how to turn off the blue glow from the wall-mounted, touch screen cabin-control panel, which bothered us at night.

Food and drink

A chef preps in the AmaMagna kitchen

A chef preps for the evening meal service in the AmaMagna’s kitchen. | Photo by Vani Rangachar

AmaWaterways cofounders Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst have influenced the ship’s menus, adding lighter cuisine and vegetarian options, according to Adrian Chirita, one of the line’s executive chefs. “We are very adaptable to food allergies and dietary restrictions,” he said. “We also add dishes that may be appreciated by guests of different nationalities. This year we are focusing on lighter but tasty sauces, and more vegetable and fish dishes, as well as more Asian fusion cuisine.” It’s a feat, considering the kitchen serves more than 780 meals a day to the crew and the passengers.

The light-filled Al Fresco Restaurant has retractable windows. | Courtesy AmaWaterways

The light-filled Al Fresco Restaurant has retractable windows. | Photo courtesy AmaWaterways

A bigger ship meant more restaurants than usual on a river cruise, and the AmaMagna offers four: On Day 1, Barry and I ordered Nebraska beef striploin in the ship’s Main Restaurant. On Day 2, we dined on skin-grilled pike perch at The Chef’s Table restaurant. On Day 3, we joined other passengers at a large communal table to share courses of spring rolls, rack of lamb, and crepe Suzette at Jimmy’s Wine Bar and Restaurant. On Day 5, after several days of gorging on rich, multicourse meals, Barry and I opted for simpler veggie fare, such as an artfully crafted tomato tart at the airy Al Fresco Restaurant at the ship’s bow.

The meals and the wines served with them showcased the cuisine and traditions of the ports we visited in Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary. We paired bread dumplings with a local riesling for lunch in Austria, for example, and savored beef goulash with a wine from Chateau Teleki Villanyi in Hungary. “Food and wine are big parts of how people learn about and appreciate a destination,” Chirita said, “so we highlight local dishes whenever possible.”

Exercising options

Paulo Tiago Silva Monteiro (at right) leads an exercise class outside the Zen Wellness fitness studio. | Courtesy AmaWaterways

Paulo Tiago Silva Monteiro (at right) leads an exercise class outside the Zen Wellness fitness studio. |Photo courtesy AmaWaterways

With all the eating we were doing, I craved opportunities for physical activity, and the AmaMagna delivered. At the aft of the ship in the Zen Wellness studio, I signed up for one of the daily pre-breakfast yoga classes led by Paulo Tiago Silva Monteiro from Porto, Portugal, who also runs core-strengthening and resistance-band classes. (Extra-cost personal training sessions were also available.) I passed on the studio’s treadmills, exercise bikes, and weights, preferring instead to soak in glorious river views from the track that circles the double-wide sundeck atop the ship.

Technological feats

Captain Jan de Bruijn navigates the AmaMagna through a lock on the Danube River. | Vani Rangachar

Captain Jan de Bruijn navigates the AmaMagna through a lock on the Danube River. | Photo by Vani Rangachar

A bigger ship, I learned, doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger environmental footprint. The AmaMagna relies on a solar-heating system and is powered by 10 fuel-efficient hybrid electric engines. “We can sail with fuel; we can sail with hybrid fuel and electric together; and we can sail with just electric power,” Captain Jan de Bruijn told me one afternoon. The ship also has a vacuum sewage disposal and processing system (a bit noisy when used) with filtration to manage waste.

Still, the ship’s heftier weight and girth present navigational challenges for the calm, seasoned riverman, who began his career 45 years ago. For example, it takes more time to stop the ship, de Bruijn said. And passage under bridges and through locks are a tight squeeze, sometimes with just inches to spare.

Active excursions

A view of Passau and the Danube River from Passau Castle. | Vani Rangachar

A view of Passau and the Danube River from Passau Castle. | Photo by Vani Rangachar

The ship’s size limits its itineraries to the Danube, whose locks can accommodate its width. No matter. As on most river cruises, shore excursions were plentiful. They varied from low-key to challenging. In the Bavarian town of Passau, we joined tour guide Sabine Tham on a cardio-building hike up to the hilltop fortress of Veste Oberhaus (Passau Castle).

Cyclists ride through vineyards near the town of Dürnstein in Austria. | Vani Rangachar

Cyclists ride through vineyards near the town of Dürnstein in Austria. | Photo by Vani Rangachar

Another day, we borrowed bicycles and helmets from the ship’s fleet and set off on our own, spending an idyllic afternoon riding amid the sun-kissed vineyards of Austria’s Wachau valley and tasting grüner-veltliner, the country’s most widely planted wine grape. One evening, we tasted wines in a 600-year-old wine cellar in Krems, Austria. In our final port of Budapest, we took a bus tour of the Hungarian capital.

Personalized service

AmaMagna crew member Christian Radu manned the entrance to the ship. | Vani Rangachar

AmaMagna crew member Christian Radu manned the entrance to the ship. | Photo by Vani Rangachar

Even with a larger capacity of 196 passengers, the ship didn’t feel crowded. (The line's AmaLea, by contrast, can carry 156 passengers.) Nor did the AmaMagna's size diminish the crew's personal touch. The staff was friendly (security staffer Christian Radu greeted us by name each time we returned to the ship) and attentive (crew members handed us cool, moist towels as we returned hot and sweaty from shore excursions). They went out of their way to be kind. I celebrated a birthday during our cruise and was delighted to find a card in our cabin from the seemingly tireless and cheerful cruise manager Dejan Stancic and other crew members. On the bed was a gift from Alex of the housekeeping staff: towels shaped into a swan.

By the end of the week, Barry and I concluded that the ship’s size and amenities did change the river cruise experience—for the better. The AmaMagna delivered on its state-of-the-art billing, but still felt like a favorite pair of slippers, cozy and comfortable. 

Vani Rangachar is ACE Publications digital content editor.

AmaMagna: ship facts

The AmaMagna in Vilshofen, Germany

Photo by Vani Rangachar

Size: 72 feet wide and 443 feet long
Passengers: 196 in 98 staterooms
Cost: From about $470 a night per person for 7-night sailings. The ship’s size limits its itineraries to the Danube River.

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