“Gosh, this is something special,” the man next to me enthuses. He’s my hubbie and not given to gushing about ships, food, service… anything really. Yet here we are, stepping on board the river ship AmaMagna, and I swear he’s close to uttering ‘wow’.

He’s spot on. AmaMagna is something special. It’s twice the width of almost every other river ship plying the waterways of Europe (only two others come close), has cabins large enough to swing several cats and four restaurants, yet holds just 196 passengers. That’s a mere handful more than vessels half its size,

Beautiful inside and out, the vessel was the dream of Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and president of AmaWaterways, and not only impresses people like us who are sold on river cruising but is perfect for ocean cruisers put off sailing the waterways by the thought of small cabins and fewer dining options.

It can only sail the Danube, where the locks are wide enough for it to slip through, but hey, with all there is to discover along the riverbanks that really is no hardship.

We’ll be visiting castles, abbeys and wineries on our seven-night Magna on the Danube cruise from the German town of Vilshofen to Budapest, the gorgeous capital city of Hungary. We’ll also be sailing through the beautiful Wachau Valley and ticking off two other great capitals – Vienna and Bratislava, respectively in Austria and Slovakia.

If we continued downriver towards the Black Sea on one of AmaMagna’s Lower Danube cruises, we would additionally notch up exciting Belgrade and Bucharest, respectively the capitals of Serbia and Romania, see more castles and journey through centuries of history.

An exterior view of the Ama MAGNA in Passau.
An exterior view of the AmaMagna in Passau.

New kid on the block

AmaWaterways has been around for years – its 20th anniversary was in 2022 – but chances are few Australians have heard of it because its cruises have always been sold Down Under through APT. That’s all changing. The companies are going their separate ways at the end of 2024. AmaWaterways has already opened an office in Sydney and is giving Australians and New Zealanders an exciting – and expanded – portfolio of river cruises to discover.

“APT chartered five AmaWaterways’ river ships and sold other itineraries, but it didn’t sell our entire portfolio,” says Steve Richards, managing director of the new office. “From 2025, all AmaWaterways’ cruises will be available to Australians and New Zealanders.”

Prepare for some tough choices! AmaWaterways has 25 river ships (plus two more launching in 2024 and two again in 2025) that between them sail the world’s greatest rivers.

To the Danube, add Rhine cruises through Holland, Germany, France and Switzerland, voyages on the Seine, Rhône, Saône, Garonne, Gironde and Dordogne in France, and sailings along the Douro in Northern Portugal. There are also wine, golf and Christmas market-themed cruises.

Outside Europe, you’ll see temples, tombs and pyramids sailing the Nile in Egypt, get a cultural overload on the Mekong in Vietnam and Cambodia, and have wildlife encounters on safari cruises on the Chobe in Botswana. In late 2024, AmaWaterways will make history with the first cruises on the Magdalena River in Columbia for 60 years. They are seven nights and promise everything from nature and wildlife to music and culture.

Jimmy’s Wine Bar shows long ‘family’ tables on which is served share plates.
Jimmy’s Wine Bar has long ‘family’ tables with food served on shared plates.

Five countries

All 2025 cruises are already on sale with prices in Australian and New Zealand dollars. They include new 14-night itineraries specially created for the local market, among them the popular Amsterdam to Budapest run, which takes passengers through five countries on a journey that ticks off three rivers (the Rhine, Main and Danube) and a canal (the Main-Danube).

There are also river combos that pair the Seine, Rhône and Saône in France and a fabulous new cruise covering the length of the Danube, from Vilshofen in Germany through Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria to Bucharest in Romania.

Fares include wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, a pre-dinner cocktail hour, excursions and, exclusively for Australia and New Zealand, tips. In 2025 the seven-night Magna on the Danube cruise costs from $4318 per person. Flights and transfers are extra.

Early booking trends show 14-night cruises in big demand, with July and August popular for Europe’s summer and December for Christmas markets. “We look forward to welcoming everyone: ocean cruisers making the move to rivers via AmaMagna, those yet to cruise and past river cruisers trying AmaWaterways,” says Richards. “It’s an exciting time.”

A Grand Suite on AmaMagna with views out to the balcony.
A Grand Suite on AmaMagna with views out to the balcony.

Ships

It’s easy to spot AmaWaterways’ river ships as all names start with Ama. The exception is Zambezi Queen, which sails four-night cruises on the Chobe that are packaged variously with Cape Town, Victoria Falls, Johannesburg and the Rovos Rail luxury train.

Zambezi Queen is the smallest vessel, with room for just 28 passengers. The rest hold between 72 to 162 guests. AmaMagna, with room for 196 passengers, is the company’s only double-width river ship.

Accommodation

Cabins or suites have split inside/outside balconies to cater for all weather, French balconies only or high fixed windows. All rooms face the river and have good-sized bathrooms with large showers. All Zambezi Queen rooms have step-out balconies.

The smallest cabins on AmaMagna are as large as higher-grade rooms on some river ships. Splash out on the Owner’s Suite and you get a separate bedroom and living room, a dining table, a coffee machine and a free minibar. Standard suites have oodles of storage space, a large bathroom and a separate toilet.

Dining

AmaWaterways has replaced the buffet breakfasts and lunches common on other river ships with a refined waiter-service start to the day. It beats quick-stepping around others at the buffet or trying to piece together bacon and eggs before one or the other goes cold, but it takes longer to get through meals, especially if there’s a rush, so doesn’t suit everyone.

Dinners in the main restaurant are four courses – appetisers, soups, mains and desserts – and always include vegetarian options. Once every cruise, there’s a set dinner under the banner of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, an association of gastronomy enthusiasts from around the globe, of which AmaWaterways is a member.

AmaWaterways’ European river ships (although not those on the Douro in Portugal) and also the AmaDara in Vietnam and Cambodia have a Chef’s Table where everyone can dine once (more if there is space). The meal is seven courses and complimentary. The Chef’s Table on Nile ships is outdoors.

AmaMagna has two additional restaurants. Al Fresco is an intimate eatery with great views over the river that’s open for walk-up breakfast and lunch, and serves a set menu in the evenings, when reservations are needed. Jimmy’s Wine Bar has long ‘family’ tables and serves food on large plates from which everyone helps themselves. It also requires reservations. All restaurants are complimentary.

Al Fresco is an intimate eatery with great views over the river.

Service

The crew are wonderful, offering a service that is both friendly and efficient. I have cruised with AmaWaterways several times but am always amazed at how they remember me given the thousands of guests they see each year.

Excursions

Whether you’re into cycling or hiking, want to dip into history, visit churches and cathedrals or taste local wines, AmaWaterways has excursions to suit. There are various outings at each port – up to six options in some – and almost all are complimentary (one exception is a Mozart and Strauss evening in Vienna). Quietvox receivers ensure everyone can hear the guides.

The pool and skybar on board AmaMagna.
Enjoy the pool on AmaMagna before exploring at each port.

Expert tips for AmaMagna

Favourite meal on board: The Chef’s Table on AmaMagna was a seven-course extravaganza that served up everything from a spicy coconut and lemongrass laksa soup to a cassis sorbet in sparkling wine and beef brisket. The food was delicious and the personal service excellent, with dietary requirements taken care of without fuss or bother. To top it all, the accompanying wine was my favourite Austrian grüner veltliner (white).

People on stationary bikes for a spin class.
AmaMagna has a gym and onboard trainer who hosts stretching, yoga, Pilates and spin classes.

Insider tip: Pack your keep-fit gear. AmaMagna has a large gym and, like all AmaWaterways’ European river ships (except on the Douro), an onboard trainer who hosts stretching, yoga, Pilates, spin and other classes. There are up to six a day, all free. You can also bat off the calories on a pickleball court.

What to expect: Most passengers on AmaMagna were active 55+ sorts and a mix of river cruise veterans or first-timers making a switch from ocean ships. There were several British guests, but most were from the US so the vibe was very much relaxed American. AmaMagna’s size meant we never queued and could always find a quiet hideaway. The lounge bar was lively each evening, as first cocktail hour and then after-dinner entertainment kicked in.

A woman plays pickleball on the deck of AmaMagna.
A woman plays pickleball on the deck of AmaMagna.