Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Shapiro and his teenage daughter spent three days on the Amazon River. // © 2018 Aqua Expeditions
Feature image (above): Aria Amazon has 16 exterior suites. // © 2018 Kenneth Shapiro
When I hear “river cruise,” I imagine passengers sitting by a window, maybe sipping tea, as they drift by quaint European towns and castles. Well, that’s not how I would describe the recent trip that my daughter and I took on the Amazon River onboard Aqua Expeditions’ Aria Amazon. Our cruise focused on adventure and wildlife, and it was much more a luxury safari than a European tea party.
The three-day itinerary was the final part of an 11-day Abercrombie & Kent Luxury Tailor Made Journey to Peru that also included time in Lima, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Just as safaris go into the bush every day searching for animals, passengers and crew on our cruise set out from the ship each day on small, flat-bottomed skiffs to explore the tributaries of this wildlife-rich part of the world.
The small boats are able to traverse swampy backwoods that seem impenetrable, exposing guests to a wide range of exotic plants and animals. We saw many different wildlife species, including sloths, monkeys, snakes, caimans, tarantulas, bats, pink and gray river dolphins and a wide range of birds. The ship’s skilled naturalists — many of whom grew up in this part of the Amazon — are experts at spotting game, and they were always prepared with anything guests might need, such as mosquito repellent, rain gear, boots, binoculars or cold drinks.
The off-ship excursions were highlights of the trip. Besides wildlife-spotting, we also spent one morning visiting a local school, followed by kayaking and swimming in the river. Another afternoon, we took a hike in the dense jungle. One excursion that we especially enjoyed included searching for animals from our skiffs and idling on a large lake. As we sipped sundowner drinks, we watched the sunset and listened to the sounds of the jungle. We followed that with a thrilling night safari. It was an experience my daughter and I won’t forget.
One of the treats of our trip on Aria Amazon was the quality of the onboard experience. It was a true delight to come back to the extreme comfort of the ship after one of our adventures — when we were often dirty, sweaty and muddy — and clean up and recharge before our next outing.
Aria Amazon’s 16 suites are large, measuring 250 square feet, and all are outside-facing. The decor is contemporary and sophisticated, balanced with warm wood accents, indigenous fabrics and earth tones. Each room includes a floor-to-ceiling window, air conditioning, a seating area and a sizable bathroom with a rain shower. The beds face the window, so guests can watch the scenery float by in comfort. There are no televisions in the rooms, and Wi-Fi access throughout the ship is spotty, but the idea is for passengers to unplug and focus on the natural surroundings. Since I was traveling with my teenage daughter, I must admit I was concerned about the lack of Wi-Fi access, but with so many activities each day, we hardly noticed.
The ship features a dining room in which all meals are served; a large, comfortable lounge with a bar; a massage room; a small exercise room; a boutique; and a sundeck with a Jacuzzi.
The Aqua Expeditions brand is known for its culinary offerings. Breakfasts feature a small buffet, as well as cooked-to-order specialties such as eggs Benedict or banana pancakes. Lunches include options such as warm entrees, cold meats and pastas. But dinners on the ship are truly outstanding, featuring a variety of ingredients specific to the Amazon — most of which were totally unknown to me before this trip. The company says around 70 percent of all ingredients onboard are sourced from the waters and rainforests of the region. The menu was inventive and gourmet, and dishes were paired with excellent wines from South America.
There’s no shortage of crew on the ship, with an almost one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio. They expertly handled onboard problems quickly and with a commitment to making everything as easy as possible for passengers. In addition to their regular duties, the crew led a cooking class on Amazonian cuisine one afternoon, along with a demonstration on how to make a pisco sour, the famous Peruvian cocktail.
While an African safari may not be on every client’s wish list, travel advisors should not overlook an Amazon River cruise with Aqua Expeditions, booked as part of an Abercrombie & Kent itinerary or on its own. The diversity of wildlife, the unique natural surroundings, the spirit of adventure and the exceptional luxury make this Amazon cruise a trip that will expose travelers to a whole new world.