AmaDouro launches in Portugal

AmaWaterways has christened its new ship AmaDouro, increasing the line’s capacity in Portugal, while two other new vessels are also entering service on the Danube and Rhine. Jane Archer reports

It’s been a busy few weeks for AmaWaterways, with the line launching two new river ships in less than a month, with a third set to enter service in early June.

Vessel number one was AmaDouro, which is sailing the Douro in northern Portugal and was christened in Porto last month by its godmother, Advantage Travel Partnership’s chief executive officer Julia Lo Bue-Said.

AmaWaterways’ first-ever British godmother, she was chosen in recognition of the growth in bookings from the UK trade the company has enjoyed since opening an office in Guildford in September 2016.

Lo Bue-Said revealed Advantage members alone have seen double-digit growth in that time. “It is a great honour for me to be the ship’s godmother, but also recognises the value of UK agents to AmaWaterways. It will raise their profile in the UK trade, and also that of river cruising overall.”

AmaDouro doubles the company’s capacity on the Douro, where demand has “exploded” in recent years, according to president and co-founder Rudi Schreiner.

It is sailing one-week Enticing Douro itineraries from Porto to Vega de Terrón and back, while sister ship AmaVida, launched in 2013, offers one-way cruises from Porto to Vega de Terrón that can be paired with stays in Madrid and Lisbon. Both vessels are heavily sold for 2019.

The vessels, each for 102 passengers, are leased from DouroAzul, a Portuguese company that builds and operates both river and ocean ships. AmaWaterways gets a say in the interior décor, which was a safe combination of beige and purple. The novel all-gold exterior, presumably to reflect the Douro’s ‘River of Gold’ moniker, was selected by DouroAzul.

Each vessel has a top-deck swimming pool, lounge bar, restaurant and massage room. A masseur holds a daily fitness class, which is slightly different to AmaWaterways’ own river ships, which have dedicated wellness hosts who hold six or more classes a day.

This is an area close to the heart of AmaWaterways executive vice-president and co-founder Kristin Karst. She said: “We will continue
to expand our wellness programme. Our guests want a balance of good food and activities.”

That was evident on AmaDouro’s inaugural cruise, with many passengers opting for three active excursions offered on the Enticing Douro itinerary. These involved walking up and down the steep Porto hills, admittedly with stops to admire the city’s grand squares, cathedral and railway station; climbing the 686 steps to the Catholic Sanctuary of our Lady of Remedies in Lamego, which was testing even for the guide (and then walking down again); and a gentle hike to the medieval hilltop village of Castelo Rodrigo.

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The itinerary also includes a day trip to Salamanca in Spain, a visit to Mateus Palace, the manor house depicted on Mateus Rosé wine bottles, and a lunch in Quinta da Avessada, where the owner Luis Barros, known affectionately as Mr Bean for his exaggerated facial expressions, told us about the company’s wine production between a banquet of local delicacies such as codfish and bread stuffed with pork.

Vessel number two, AmaMagna, is a prototype double-width river ship built specially to cruise the Danube, where the locks are wider. It started sailing in May.

Despite its extra size, the vessel holds only 196 passengers. Cabins are considerably larger than on a traditional river ship and most
have balconies. There are four restaurants and a large spa.

Karst said bookings were initially slow because customers were worried it would be too big and agents were not sure how to sell it. That perception changed following a shipyard visit for the trade, with many sailings now sold out.

Karst said: “AmaMagna is all about space, a luxury floating resort. We wanted to build a vessel with larger cabins and more places to eat that would give our guests choice, and also attract first-timers and ocean cruise clients concerned that traditional river ships are too small.”

With two of this year’s trio of new vessels now in service (AmaMagna will be christened in July), Karst and Schreiner can turn their attention to AmaMora, which launches on the Rhine in June. It has a top-deck pool, Chef’s Table Restaurant and cabins with connecting doors for families.

They can also focus on AmaSiena, a new vessel entering service in July 2020 that was announced before the champagne bottle had even smashed against AmaDouro. A sister ship to AmaMora, it will sail 10 and 11-night voyages pairing the Rhine and Moselle. “The Moselle is a fantastic river with small towns that are not well known, so these itineraries will give our guests more treasures to discover,” Karst said.

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