The belly of the beast

The belly of the beast

Do you ever stop, mid-cruise, and think about the ship you are travelling on? We mean really think about it. The number of man-hours involved in designing, trialling, constructing, and fitting together the hardware? The thought process behind the endless intricate details that all make up the collective bigger picture of your holiday?

Maybe you don’t, but we certainly do. So when luxury river line AmaWaterways asked us if we wanted to go to Amsterdam and see how their vessels are pieced together, there was only ever going to be one answer.

Founded in 2002 by Rudi Schreiner, Kristin Karst and the late Jimmy Murphy, AmaWaterways currently has 19 ships operating across Europe, Asia and Africa. Its rapid expansion has been in line with a 22% rise in European river cruising in 2013, according to figures released by Clia UK & Ireland. Schreiner himself has played a pivotal role in the renaissance of river cruising, culminating in the foundation of AmaWaterways. The company typifies the high standards he has set across his career, from postings at Uniworld and Viking River Cruises.

This year will see the company add a further two ships to its European river stock, the AmaVista and AmaSerena. Constructed by Dutch company Vahali, the shell of both ships was forged at the shipyard’s Serbia facility before engines and essential components were installed. The ships then made the long, four-week journey to Holland.

When they arrive in Gehnt, an hour outside Amsterdam, the hard work begins, Koert Kamphuisen, the shipyard’s owner, tells us. Each ship takes between 18 and 24 months to complete from design through to completion. And the biggest tool that Vahali has? Its team of highly-skilled engineers.

Belly of the beast AmaWaterways
The belly of an Amawaterways ship

“We build all the suites onboard by hand,” Kamphuisen explains. “We do that because of the craftsmanship involved, despite the fact that it costs more compared to slotting in pre-made units.”

The hard work shows. As we walk through the belly of AmaWaterway’s two unfinished vessels, it’s interesting to note the varying degrees of completion on show. The one constant is that there is always something being scrutinised or tinkered with by one of Kamphuisen’s team.

“A river ship is limited by its width, height and length because of the locks and bridges on European rivers,” Kamphuisen adds. “However, that’s not to say we can’t be creative within those limitations.”

While a river ship is never going to be the destination itself – unlike some ocean going ships – that’s missing the point. River ships are designed to be extremely comfortable, but are made for those that want to go out and experience a destination as much as possible. It’s also telling that cabins are often decked out to a far higher standard than most ocean ships. Luxury river cabins have a modern décor that’s more akin to a high-end hotel room than what you would associate with a cruise ship.

Other innovations on board the new ships include twin balconies, inter-connecting rooms and a glass pane between the bathroom and stateroom that can be ‘frosted’ at the click of a button.

During our tour, it’s striking to see in person the amount of craftsmanship that is being poured in to these ships. As AmaWaterways continues to grow within an industry that is already rapidly developing, the quality that is being put into their hardware will continue to keep people coming. The jury is out as to where new passengers are coming from – whether river attracts its own new to cruise market, or if they migrate from ocean cruising – but if Kamphuisen, and the wider AmaWaterways team, keep up the standards they’re already setting, then the future is looking very rosy indeed.

This feature was taken from Cruise Adviser’s River guide 2015, to read the entire guide click here

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