Thursday,  June 30, 2022  3:54 am

On Location: Art, wine & truffles – what it’s like sailing the Rhône & Saône with AmaWaterways

On Location: Art, wine & truffles – what it’s like sailing the Rhône & Saône with AmaWaterways
PAX recently sailed the Rhône and the Saône rivers with AmaWaterways. (Ming Tappin)
Ming Tappin

Ming Tappin is a cruise industry expert and is the owner of Your Cruise Coach.

When it comes to river cruising, one’s thoughts automatically run to the Rhine and the Danube, which are, perhaps, the two most-advertised and popular European rivers.

Sure, because they flow through marquee cities such as Amsterdam, Cologne, Nuremberg, Vienna, and Budapest. And they naturally attract a large audience – especially first-time river cruisers.

But no less are the rivers of France, in particular, the Rhône and the Saône, which PAX discovered with AmaWaterways on board the AmaKristina in early May.

The colours of Provence

This aptly named seven-night itinerary is offered from the end of March to December, operating between Avignon and Lyon.

Our cruise visited delightful ports that showcase the multi-faceted region of France, with an emphasis on art, history, food, and wine.

In Tarascon and Arles, history and art take centre stage as we toured a medieval castle and a Roman amphitheatre, and walked in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh.

More Roman history is found in charming Vienne, a city full of well-preserved ruins.

The AmaKristina docked on the Rhône river. (Ming Tappin)

Foodies on our cruise loved the opportunities to sample local delicacies in ports along the way. Included excursions took them on market tours in Avignon and Lyon, and a visit to a truffle farm at Viviers.

On board, we enjoyed delectable meals made with river-caught fish, artisan cheeses, and local fruits and vegetables in season.

And wine lovers found contentment both on board and ashore.

The Colors of Provence itinerary either starts or ends in Lyon, at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône rivers. (Ming Tappin)

Vincent Van Gogh’s presence in Arles is reflected in several locales in the city. (Ming Tappin)

Our cruise sailed through two of France’s legendary wine regions – Côtes du Rhône and Beaujolais. All wines featured on board were from these regions, and the selection changed daily.

Ashore, wine-themed activities included a hike through the vineyard, red wine and chocolate pairing in a castle, and a Beaujolais tasting excursion.

"Hardly any boat traffic"

The Rhône originates in the Swiss Alps and flows through the heart of Provence into the Mediterranean Sea. The Saône rises from the north of France and joins the Rhône at Lyon.

Both are quiet and peaceful, and unlike the Rhine and Danube, there was hardly any boat traffic.

Beautiful Provençal towns line the shores of the Rhône and Saône rivers. (Ming Tappin)

As we sailed through the idyllic countryside, we were treated to sights of green pastures dotted with grazing sheep, electric trains whizzing in and out of tunnels, the sounds of barking dogs and the bells of cyclists riding along the shores.

Exploring AmaKristina

Launched in 2017, AmaKristina is named for the company’s Co-Owner and Executive Vice-President Kristin Karst.

The ship shows like new, her public areas are decorated with colourful furniture and rich floral motifs.

The expansive top deck has plenty of lounge chairs in the sun and shade and there is a heated outdoor pool.

AmaKristina is named for the company’s Co-Owner and Executive Vice-President Kristin Karst. (Ming Tappin)

With a capacity for 152 guests (but currently capped at 140), our sailing only carried 92 but operated with a full crew of 50, which resulted in very attentive service.

Crew members are also loyal to Ama, with many having more than a decade of service with the company.

The accommodations are well-appointed. Ama is known for its twin-balcony staterooms (available on 11 ships of the fleet), which feature a French balcony and a full balcony, allowing for all-weather enjoyment.

AmaKristina’s signature twin balcony stateroom is well appointed and spacious. (AmaWaterways).

Although the top deck is the best place to catch all the action while sailing, we often sat on our balcony with a glass of wine or a coffee to enjoy the passing scenery.

The onboard ambiance is relaxed and the dress code is casual. The guest demographic is 55 plus, consisting of couples and groups of friends travelling together.

There is a limited number of triple and quad occupancy staterooms for families.

The heated pool on board AmaKristina. (Ming Tappin)

 AmaKristina’s colourful lounge is where guests gather for the daily briefing and Sip and Sail cocktail hour. (Ming Tappin)

Ama employs a wellness host who leads a variety of complimentary fitness classes daily. A fleet of bicycles is available for guests to take ashore, and several biking tours were offered during our cruise.

On city tours, guests can choose the “gentle” group with easy strolling or opt for “active” with more walking and at a faster pace.

Lunch and dinner are served with complimentary regional wine, beer, and soft drinks (sparkling wine is available at breakfast).

Complimentary bike tours led by local guides take guests through city parks and trails. (Ming Tappin)

Specialty coffees and teas are available 24/7 at the self-service machine.

Tipping to the cruise manager, housekeeping and wait staff, and tour guides is not included (guests will be advised of a recommended amount). While in Europe, onboard charges are processed in Euros.

River cruising is back

With its full fleet back in service for the second year (river cruising was open to European nationals in 2021), AmaWaterways is seeing a healthy return of new and past guests, with occupancy ranging from 50 to 100 per cent, including full-ship charters.

The AmaKristina docked in Tournon. (Ming Tappin)

In fact, Ama is so confident that river guests will be returning with a vengeance, it is introducing a series of seven-river Journeys in 2023, where guests can hit seven European rivers and visit 14 countries for a whopping 45 or 46 nights all on one trip.

COVID protocols are country-based

In Europe, AmaWaterways follows the protocols set by the country it is cruising in.

For our cruise in France, all guests had to be fully vaccinated including a booster if the second dose was more than 270 days ago, but a pre-boarding COVID test was not required.

Wine lovers can enjoy excursions to local wineries with complimentary tastings. (Ming Tappin)

Until further notice, guests are assigned to sit at a specific table in the restaurant for the entire cruise and only with their immediate party.

As protocols and government regulations are constantly evolving, guests and travel advisors should continuously check with AmaWaterways for the latest entry and sailing requirements.

5 distinguishing features 

River cruise lines are similar in that they provide all onboard meals, most beverages, wi-fi, and a walking tour at each port.

All river ships have similar accommodation categories – although you’ll find larger staterooms and suites on newer vessels.

In deciding which brand to cruise with, it really comes down to the guests’ preference for shipboard amenities such as bicycles, fitness facilities, or a swimming pool, and whether they want to have all beverages and tipping included.

Here are five unique things about AmaWaterways that make them stand out from other river brands.

1. Seven-night sailings

AmaWaterways cruises are always seven nights in length, with the option to add pre or post-cruise extensions.

For example, our Colors of Provence itinerary can be bookended with a three-night Barcelona tour and a three-night stay in Paris.

2. No buffets

AmaWaterways has always felt that self-service buffets were incongruent with their premium onboard experience and therefore has eliminated them with its return to service.

Guests now enjoy a full menu and table service at breakfast and lunch.

3. All tours are included

All advertised tours on Ama sailings are complimentary – including special interest tours such as wine tasting, market tours, or visits to unique attractions.

Hiking through the vineyard in Tournon is one of the “active” excursion options. (Ming Tappin)

4. Sip and sail cocktail hour

Guests are treated to complimentary cocktails in the ship’s lounge one hour before dinner every evening of the cruise.

5. Complimentary specialty dinners

Ama guests are invited to two complimentary specialty dinners on every cruise. The Chef’s Table dinner is a multi-course tasting menu using local and imported ingredients, paired with regional wines.

Guests dining at The Chef’s Table restaurant can watch the preparation of their meal through the open kitchen. (Ming Tappin)

The intimate restaurant is by reservations only and has an open kitchen where diners can enjoy watching the chef prepare and plate each course. (Note: the Chef’s Table is not available in Portugal).

AmaWaterways is the only river cruise line that belongs to the prestigious La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, an invitation-only culinary society whose members excel in gastronomy.

In celebration of this proud achievement, a special Chaîne des Rôtisseurs dinner is served in the main dining room one evening during the cruise.

The intimate Chef’s Table restaurant is one of two complimentary specialty dining experience onboard AmaWaterways. (Ming Tappin)

Your AmaWaterways sales team

AmaWaterways is represented by three business development managers in Canada.

Contact them for more information on how to grow your AmaWaterways business.

Shauna Carter in Western Canada shauna@amawaterways.com

Neil Dudley in Central & Eastern Canada neil@amawaterways.com

Sandra Gardiner in Atlantic Canada (she is also Director of National Accounts in Canada) sandra@amawaterways.com


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