Life on The Danube from the decks of a river megaliner

A revolutionary new design redefines the Danube river-cruise experience, writes John Roberts.

It started 10 years ago, perhaps even longer, as a bold idea, the vision of AmaWaterways' co-owner and president Rudi Schreiner. A European river ship twice as wide (22 metres) as the standard, featuring an array of new facilities and venues. It could be a game-changer, he thought.

AmaMagna launched in May last year, and the double-wide Danube River ship's revolutionary design gives cruise passengers a whole new way to look at the experience of sailing in Europe.

"This is a total prototype," Schreiner said.

"It offers a lot of new things here and still a lot of stuff that can't be planned, and we still don't know how it will work out."

The early results are positive after ten months of sailing.

AmaMagna gives "more choices and attracts a wider market", says Chris Hall, group managing director for Australian Pacific Holdings (APH), which distributes AmaWaterways cruises under the Australia Pacific Travel (APT) brand.

"It opens die-hard ocean cruisers to a river cruise experience," Hall said.

Hall says an APT full-charter two-week sailing scheduled for next year on AmaMagna going roundtrip from Budapest to the Black Sea has been one of the best-selling departures.

Yes, AmaMagna is a drastic departure from the standard river ships that navigate the waterways in Europe - mainly Rhine and Danube river itineraries, as well as French and Dutch waterways.

Nestle into one of the libraries. Picture: Supplied

Nestle into one of the libraries. Picture: Supplied

This means, however, that AmaMagna is restricted to The Danube because it's too wide to transit the lock system of the Main-Danube Canal that connects to the Rhine River.

Week-long Upper Danube sailings visit ports such as the capital cities of Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava and several towns and villages in Germany. AmaMagna will also sail the Lower Danube to the Black Sea.

Standard cabins are larger, corridors much wider and public areas more diverse and spacious. This is because passenger capacity is 196, only a 20 per cent bump from the other ships in AmaWaterways' 23-vessel fleet.

The feel is more like that of a small ocean ship, as more venues have been added and the layout differs so greatly across its four decks.

Most staterooms are suites ranging between 33 square metres and 66 square metres, with full step-out balconies. The rooms also contain an enormous amount of storage space and hi-tech room controls. A touch-screen panel on the wall or via a tablet adjusts the lights, room temperature and curtains.

Colours throughout the ship are vibrant, with splashes of red, gold, yellow and blue in the carpets, couches and throw pillows.

But Schreiner's true vision comes to life with AmaMagna's additional restaurants, innovative lounge and main atrium spaces, the Zen Wellness Studio and a marina.

In addition to the Main Restaurant, which seats up to 140 people, AmaMagna offers Al Fresco, an eatery at the front of the ship featuring an outdoor feel and great views.

This venue offers a set-menu for dinner for the entire cruise and can seat up to 24 people. (It's also open for light bites at breakfast and lunch.)

The Chef's Table is a set menu with multiple courses, with space for up to 36 passengers.

Jimmy's Wine Bar (named in honour of AmaWaterways' late co-founder Jimmy Murphy) features the same menu that is offered each night in the Main Restaurant, but the venue allows larger groups to share the dishes family-style in a warm, friendly atmosphere.

"Having the four restaurants and having choices is a big difference," says Schreiner.

"There's a different life on this ship. People are more independent. There is a different flow than on other ships.

"We are hearing that people are tending to spend a little bit more time on this ship" compared with the others in the fleet.

AmaWaterways has always been on the forefront when it comes to designing fitness-oriented programming. AmaMagna take the line's wellness program to the next level with the Zen Wellness Studio.

The facility serves as a full-scale gym and fitness studio, where the ship's Wellness Host offers spin classes and personal training sessions, and cruisers can do their daily workouts using the resistance and cardio equipment, which includes two bikes, a rowing machine and two treadmills. It also offers a relaxation room, juice and refreshments bar, and spa treatment rooms.

Fitness isn't forgotten on board. Picture: Supplied

Fitness isn't forgotten on board. Picture: Supplied

The massive Sun Deck has a walking track and an array of seats and loungers, with canopies for shade. This is the place to be for periods of scenic sailing along the Danube. This is also where you can find the pool and hot tub - plus a pop-up bar.

There is a small golf-putting area nearby and a "Yoga Tent", a canopied space dedicated to yoga classes.

The ship's main lounge is smaller but more aesthetically appealing than those on traditional river ships. It has a bar, dance floor and self-serve tea and coffee station. The space offers more intimate areas and nooks for relaxation and conversation.

There are also "lower lounge" spaces on each side of the ship that offer more quiet spots to relax and shelves full of books and magazines. These library areas contain faux fireplaces for ambiance and flank the cinema, a large room with couch seating for watching movies and other programs on the big screen.

AmaMagna has a marina, too, which serves as the sports platform off the back of the ship for activities such as skiff tours.

The ship also has an elevator that reaches the Sun Deck. This is a first-of-its-kind amenity for a river ship, which makes the outside top deck easily accessible for all passengers.

Travel guru Samantha Brown is godmother of AmaMagna, and the long-time TV personality and travel advocate christened the ship at her launch in Grein, Austria, last July.

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