AmaWaterways Unveils Magdalena River Cruises

AmaWaterways has opened bookings through travel advisors for Colombia’s Magdalena River, the first foray by any luxury river line into this exotic region. Rudi Schreiner, the line’s president and co-founder, and Kristin Karst, executive vice president and co-founder, revealed more details about what’s planned at a virtual “Sip and Sail” online event Thursday for advisors, media and consumers.

“The Magdalena is really the heart of Colombia,” Schreiner emphasized. Brimming with enthusiasm, he cited the region's incredible bio-diversity and authentic cultural options. For example, guests will have the opportunity to explore six UNESCO World Heritage sites along the river, and also to potentially spot tropical birds, crocodiles and other wildlife.

While ocean cruise lines typically call for the day at such well-known Colombian ports of call as Cartagena or Santa Marta, the line's new river itineraries will travel deep into Colombia’s interior. That's expected to provide Colombia with economic benefits and also increase North American travelers' familiarity with the country's inland destinations. 

"Now with AmaWaterways, we have the opportunity to show new destinations,” said Maria Jose Abuabara, director of tourism, ProColombia, who also participated in the virtual event.

Citing the region’s “immense beauty,” she talked about the country’s diversity of flora and fauna. For example, Columbia has the most species of birds of any country across the globe. Butterflies and orchids are among other big eco-draws.  

Two New River Itineraries 

AmaWaterways will operate two new, seven-night itineraries. “Wonders of Colombia” from Cartagena to Barranquilla, starting March 30, 2024. Guests have the option to add two nights pre-cruise in Cartagena or three nights pre-cruise in Medellin, Colombia, or even both of those; it depends on how robust a Colombia experience they desire.

Post-cruise for that itinerary, AmaWaterways also offers a three-night Panama City, Panama extension. So, advisors can sell up to a 15-night experience if guests choose them all.

In addition, the new “Magic of Colombia” itinerary will sail in reverse from Barranquilla to Cartagena, starting April 6, 2024. A three-night pre-cruise option is offered to Medellin, Colombia, and a three-night, post-cruise extension will take guests to Panama City, Panama, and visit both the Panama Canal's Miraflores locks and Chagres National Park.

Bird in Colombia
The opportunity to spot exotic birds and other wildlife is one plus of a Magdalena River cruise in Colombia. (ProColombia)

The two itineraries have only slight variations. They’ll call at Palenque, Santa Barbara de Pinto, Mompox (double overnight), El Banco, Magangue and Nueva Venecia, In Magangue, for example, guests can choose between a birdwatching tour or a Cienega hike, while in Nueva Venecia, they’ll have an opportunity to tour a stilt-house village. 

As for Palenque, founded by people fleeing slavery in colonial times, "music is definitely such an important piece of the heritage and the rhythmic heritage that was developed in this city," Karst told the online audience. Guests will discover storytelling, gastronomy, heritage and musical connections from both Africa and Colombia. 

Elsewhere, AmaWaterways will offer several exclusive activities for guests. Describing the "Carnaval de Barranquilla" as the largest such celebration outside of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Schreiner emphasized that every time an AmaWaterways ship is in Barranquilla, guests will be treated to a small, festive, dockside Carnaval celebration. Think of it as a similar kind of event to what the line offers for its Oktoberfest celebration dockside in Vilshofen, Germany.

In addition, when Schreiner and Karst first visited Colombia on an exploratory trip in 2021, they had a fantastic evening dinner outside in Mompox, in a plaza right in front of and above the river. “We decided that we wanted to repeat it for our guests,” he noted. So, AmaWaterways guests will enjoy a special dinner on that huge terrace with entertainment by cumbia musicians and dancers.

Fares for both itineraries start at $3,599 per person, double occupancy. Prices are subject to change.

Two New Ships

AmaWaterways previously announced that it was building two new luxury vessels to operate the Magdalena River cruises, but the line provided a few more details about those intimate vessels on Thursday. Both are being built in Colombia.  

First to sail is AmaMagdalena, which will depart on its first voyage on March 30, 2024. A new sister vessel, AmaMelodia, will debut in June 2024. Schreiner says the two will accommodate “somewhere around 60 passengers" and won't meet up anywhere while operating the itineraries.

All staterooms/suites will offer AmaWaterways’ signature, private twin balconies – both a French balcony and separate outside balcony. Size-wise, the staterooms will start at 237 square feet and range up to 516 square feet for the two Grand Suites on AmaMagdalena. So, there will be 30 accommodations on that ship.

In turn, AmaMelodia will have 32 accommodations. What's different? Two small staterooms will take the place of each Grand Suite on that vessel.

Both 225-foot-long river vessels are 42.6 feet wide. That's a bit wider than many of the line’s European vessels, according to Schreiner. In one case, navigating one narrow Colombian waterway will be tight, and he says guests will get very close-up riverside views, almost as though they can reach out and touch land.

As for public spaces, the vessels will each offer “a little pool on the top deck to refresh,” he noted. Plus, they’ll be a fitness area. On the culinary side, they’ll be a main restaurant and also a smaller specialty dining experience.

Strictly AmaWaterways

In summer 2021, AmaWaterways and Metropolitan Touring had announced that they were partnering for the launch of the Magdalena River’s first luxury river cruise product. But that’s changed along the way, with Schreiner recently confirming to us (separately from this virtual event) that the river cruise product and operation will now be “strictly AmaWaterways.”

Separately, “we’ve engaged a fantastic Colombian architect for all the interiors," he told Luxury Travel Advisor. During the “Sip and Sail” presentation Thursday, the audience met him—Camilo Restrepo, president and founder, AGENdA Agencia de Arquitectura.

Schreiner said the naval architect is creating ships that are “an extension of the beautiful destination." To do that, Restrepo is designing a ship with three different “acts” or concepts. Essentially, they're stages of this exotic journey.

  • Reality: Centered around the top deck, this involves “emotionally” soaking in the sense of the tropics and taking in views of the exotic landscapes along the river. Guests will experience the tropics’ heat and humidity, incredible sunsets, and "the unknown" around every river bend. Restrepo’s vision is that this is the “new reality” for guests.
  • Representation: After experiencing their new reality both on the top deck and ashore, then guests will head to the ship’s lounge, bar, lobby and dining room. Restrepo says they’ll have different sensations in doing so. They’ll relax in these public gathering spaces, yet still feel “an echo of nature and colors.”
  • Abstraction: After a day ashore and dinner, guests will then retire to their staterooms or suites. They'll continue to relax, take stock of the day, but then get a good night's sleep in an aura of silence, readying them for the next day's adventures. 

The three-act design approach will “tell a story about how things change day after day,” said Restrepo. "We knew this would be the beginning of a wonderful partnership," Karst stressed. She previously viewed structures he designed for the Medellin Botanical Garden and said those were incredible.  

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