Dispatch, AmaLucia: Fringe benefits with fewer passengers

We know there are no true “perks” to a pandemic. But when something so serious stretches for so long, it’s important to look for the bright spots. 

For anyone who loves travel, especially cruising, it’s been a disheartening year followed by a thorny few months as cruise lines restarted operations only to dance with setbacks and changing regulations. 

A desire to do away with buffets has been percolating in the mind of AmaWaterways president Rudi Schreiner for a while.

But for travelers who got vaccinated; who stuck with their booking like glue through cancellation and postponement; who would gladly mask up at a moment’s notice and readily offer up their noses to endure swab after swab; for those who know that the F-word in travel is flexibility, there is some reward to be found for their commitment to cruising.

This past week I’ve been on board AmaWaterways’ new vessel, the AmaLucia, sailing the Rhine and Moselle rivers. The AmaLucia carries 160 passengers at full capacity; on this cruise, there are 27 other guests. 

AmaPrima, which is sailing a similar itinerary, has a reported 60 guests onboard. In the case of AmaLucia, the postponement of its christening led to the drop. And while the decision to keep the voyage is a logistical one to reposition the ship, it’s much appreciated by the two dozen folks onboard eager to sail.

Although the spread of the delta variant continues to depress the news cycle, in the interest of bright spots we offer a few perks of sailing with reduced capacity, as well as one important point if your clients plan to embark on a river cruise in the near future.

Crew outnumber passengers

Many river cruise lines like to tout their crew-to-passenger ratios. Even with reduced staff onboard the AmaLucia, it’s about 2:1. No guest wants for anything. We are encouraged daily to order three breakfasts, and there are so many extra amenities on hand we could turn our cabin into a very comfortable blanket fort and offer a tasting menu of pillow chocolates.  

Heavy pours

Considering the breakdown of crew to passengers, this benefit is pretty self-explanatory. Beer and wine are included at meals, and there is a daily cocktail hour. Like a biblical miracle, you can consume all the wine you want and the amount in the glass never seems to lessen. Sometimes you leave the dinner table littered with five types of stemware. 

Private tours

If you don’t choose the popular tour in any given port (the marquee walking tour or the signature wine tasting), the odds are in your favor for a one-on-one experience. I was treated to a private bike tour of Cologne when no one else showed up for the excursion. Two cheerful local guides tailored the ride to my pace and stopped for a photo shoot at the drop of a helmet. 

Not to mention that the cities are not as crowded as they would normally be with tourists. It was possible to take a shot of the love lock bridge without elbowing past the masses. Private tours tend to be higher-priced, so the chance to take advantage of this intimate excursion at no additional cost is a real value-add. 

One-on-one training

AmaWaterways offers a wellness host on every sailing, and a sailing with few people was no exception. On a low-capacity cruise, the probability of showing up to a class with no other company is higher than usual. On any given day there might be up to five classes, from Pilates to high-intensity training, all complimentary.

A fellow passenger commented that early-morning yoga on the sun deck with just her and the instructor was an unusual treat. Much like private tours, customized training is a luxury that is afforded free of charge on a river cruise that is far from fully booked. 

You really get to know everyone

A longtime selling point of river cruising versus ocean cruising is that it’s a much more intimate and low-key experience, with a mere hundred-plus passengers on a river ship compared with a thousand or more on an ocean vessel.

However, when there are many other guests onboard as there might be at an extended family gathering on Thanksgiving, you truly learn names and stories. It turns the usual cliques and couples you meet on a cruise into a ship-wide camaraderie that is warmly received after so many months of social distancing. 

One important point: PCR tests

Of course, even with all of the perks of this cruise, it’s still a pandemic. Protocols in Europe are fluctuating all the time, from fines if you are not wearing a mask in the town square to the chance you’ll need your vaccination card and passport to enter a museum or café. 

One constant is the U.S.’s requirement that inbound travelers test negative for Covid-19 no more than two days prior to flying back from abroad. On our voyage, AmaWaterways arranged to have a company come onboard to administer the test to those flying home at the end of the sailing and not doing a post-cruise tour.

However, the test is not included, and because it needed to be done on a Sunday, a special fee was applied.

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