(11:41 a.m. EDT) -- With the smash of a Champagne bottle, AmaWaterways christened its newest ship, the 154-passenger AmaLea, today under sunny skies at a ceremony in Vilshofen, Germany.
Travel industry veteran Filomena Andre served as godmother. Andre is vice president of travel products for the Auto Club, the largest AAA affiliate in the U.S.
AmaLea is the 20th ship in the fleet and sister to AmaKristina, the namesake vessel of the line's co-founder, Kristin Karst. Karst and her husband and line co-owner Rudi Schreiner also were on hand for the ceremony, after spending a week onboard AmaLea, sailing along the Danube River.
The christening took place in Vilshofen, a Bavarian town that AmaWaterways has now used to launch ships since 2009. AmaWaterways is one of the few river cruise lines that stops in the town, using it as an embarkation and disembarkation port. The line usually holds an Oktoberfest party for passengers, too, with German food, beer and Bavarian musicians and dancers.
Civic leaders acknowledged the partnership by erecting an AmaWaterways-themed Maypole (a tall, decorated wooden pole utilized during various European festivals) at the dock, which will be up through October. The mayor also said the city is considering building a new terminal building on the Danube to make embarkation and disembarkation even more pleasant for AmaWaterways passengers.
With the line's signature "twin balconies" for many cabins, AmaLea began sailing earlier in the season on tulip cruises in the Netherlands. It's now on the Danube River, where it will spend the entire season through the Christmas Markets.
The line is already getting ready for next year's crop of new ships, which will include AmaMagna, a vessel that will be twice as wide as most current river ships.
Slated to launch in May 2019, AmaMagna will sail on the Upper Danube -- between Budapest, Hungary and Vilshofen, Germany -- for its first season, Karst said. In 2020, the ship will sail itineraries on the Lower Danube, traveling between Budapest and the Black Sea. The only river ship the size of AmaMagna that sails on Europe's rivers is Crystal Mozart, which is a refurbished vessel as opposed to a newbuild.
Although it will be twice as wide as AmaLea, AmaMagna will have only 196 passengers. The ship will have four dining areas: the main dining room and Chef's Table, which are already on AmaLea, as well as Al Fresco restaurant outside and Jimmy's Wine Bar inside. It will also have larger cabins, an enhanced wellness studio and a water sports platform at the back.
The other AmaWaterways ships coming in 2019 are AmaMora, which will boast the same layout as AmaLea, and AmaDouro, the line's second ship on Portugal's Douro River.
--By Chris Gray Faust, Managing Editor