By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination and River Cruise Exper
River cruise travel is a matter of taste. There is no right, universal answer as to the best travel experience. The things we see and do on our vacations depend on our perception of value, our personal tastes and moods, the weather conditions, the crowds at the destination, and, perhaps, most often, our expectations. Most river cruise companies basically sail the same routes and generally provide similar trips but how they deliver the vacation experience is quite different. Cuisine, ship layout, excursions are among some of the differentiation factors between the competing river cruise companies. There is, however, one factor that makes a huge difference—it is the service on board your river cruise ship. How you are treated by the staff almost always enhances or detracts from your travel experience.
You will be greeted with a champagne toast on the first day of your AmaWaterways cruise–our the captain, hotel director and cruise manager on the Tulip Time cruise 2013
Service seems easy but it is hard to consistently deliver outstanding service all the time. Anne constantly reminds me about what good service is—her buzz word is consistency—you should expect the same experience no matter how many times you go on a trip or visit a restaurant or a hotel or sail on a rivership. It is about exceeding expectations, an intuitive service that anticipates guest needs. So, let’s talk about our 11 sailing experiences on AmaWaterways, to learn about what they consider is service excellence and see how they consistently have provided us great service.
Your cabin will always look great–this from our Danube River cruise 2013
Baked Alaska paraded around the main restaurant
Berlitz River Cruising in Europe 2016—2017 Ratings on Service
Douglas Ward, the author of the Berlitz guide, rates AmaWaterways the best “in terms of customer care”. Here is the rest of what he has to say “AmaWaterways spends considerably more on hotel crew service training than other river cruise company. The company is also known to offer the highest levels of customer care and friendliness in the river cruise industry.” Many see Douglas Ward as an unbiased, leading authority on river cruising.
Cruise director Kris, dressed up as Snow White for Halloween, greeting guests as they return from an excursion–she has become a great friend! AmaLyra 2015
It is Difficult to Find Unbiased River Cruise Ratings Information
It is hard to find unbiased information on river cruise companies due the marketing efforts of individual river cruise companies and the confusion created by the large number of travel awards that a river cruise line could win—it seems to me that every river cruise line has won at least one or more award. I have a very hard time distinguishing who is best and how reliable the “best” award to an individual river cruise might be. I study and read all I can about river cruising and we are river cruise specialists for most river cruise companies (between Anne & I we are specialists for 6 of the 8 river cruise lines and 2 do not currently have specialist courses)—I just don’t see how an average consumer could distinguish between lines objectively. We find Douglas Ward’s reviews to be quite accurate and unbiased, based on our experiences. I am sure a lot of this confusion also is a result of how good river cruising is—all river cruise lines provide good trips, but some provide better experiences than others. We have tried to provide an unbiased overall ratings of the eight major river cruise lines that market to US consumers—CLICK HERE TO READ OUR COMPARISONS
The AmaWaterways Family Concept of Service
The first thing that has always be clearly evident to me is that the crew considers each guest as part of the Ama family. All the crew is well trained and friendly—despite their busy days, they always greet you with a smile and ask if there is anything they can do to make your trip better. I’m not sure how many folks realize how hard the task is for the crew—it is at least 12 hours a day or more, they all have multiple responsibilities, and these ships run with military precision (I should know—I was an career Army officer serving for 20 years, so I know a thing or two about what it takes to mold effective teams). The crew’s contracts cause them to be away from family and friends for long periods of time and to be honest, at times the work could become quite monotonous, so it could be easy to provide just good service. Our experience with the crew is just the opposite—they just seem willing to go the extra mile and handle any problems that arise with dignity and professionalism. It is luxury service that is friendly, not stuffy, and it always enhances our trip.
Wine Service during the Evening Meal Rivers & Castles Rhine cruise 2009
Some of our unique service stories
Here are two great examples of the crew going the extra mile. On our Rhone River cruise in 2014, we had the same cabin attendant as on a previous sailing. As we boarded, she greeted us, and then ask Anne if she still wanted ice in the afternoon for her scotch—it was over a year from our last cruise and she remembered—we were stunned to say the least!
On a recent trip, while in the hotel in Budapest, the day before our cruise, I heard this loud “Hank, Hank!” I turned to see one of our bar servers from a previous cruise—Tomas. We hugged and then he explained he was working in Budapest now—he left Ama because he girlfriend just didn’t want him gone so long. He told us where he was working and said he hoped to see us soon at his new waiter job. Now for the great part, without us knowing, he texted the crew of our ship, told all about us and on boarding the next day, crew members greeted us and told us Tomas told them about how great we were and to take special care of us—he didn’t even work for Ama anymore and he reached out to make our trip special!
Miro, Frank and Tomas (far right) from our Provence Cruise 2014. Tomas is the former crew member who help make our 2015 cruise special by texting the crew.
Seeing crew members on different cruises and watching them progress in their careers. We always seem to run into past crew, and often seek them out when more than 2 AmaWaterways ships are docked together. They always remember us, are smiling and fun. But the best part is to come back and learn they have been promoted to more responsible positions. We have even met some of their families—what a treat!
Our Salute to the Crew
Starting with the captain and his group of sailors, the wonderful cruise managers, the hotel staff with food service and room staff and all other members of the crew—all have added in some way to our great cruise experience. They have truly made us part of the Ama family and our clients feel the same way and they often tell us so. Thanks for caring so much—we can’t wait to sailing with you in the future! We look forward to the personal touches, the consistency, and the intuitive service we know we will receive on all our future AmaWaterways cruises. Here are some photos of these special people
Captain Danny with us on the Provence Cruise 2014
Lazlo with Anne on German Buffet at Lunch Blue Danube discovery 2013
The crew of our 2015 Christmas market cruise getting ready to sing Christmas Carols
Perhaps someday we can help you go on a river cruise. Please reach out to Hank at 713-397-0188 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org—we would love to help you–Savor Life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!