AmaWaterways’ New Wellness Program
By John Roberts.
I’m always battling jet lag when I travel to Europe from the United States.
At least for a couple days.
It was more of the same when my wife Colleen and I recently embarked on a 10-day “Dutch Waterways” river cruise round-trip from Amsterdam with AmaWaterways. The first couple nights had us tossing and turning aboard the 164-passenger AmaPrima before we got up around 6 a.m. feeling a bit haggard.
Fortunately, on this sailing, we were offered a good way to kick start our mornings.
We were pretty excited to try out the new Wellness Program, which AmaWaterways offers on a handful of its ships. And AmaPrima’s Wellness Host Andre was there to greet us with a smile in the ship’s lounge each morning as a small group of four to six people would show up for his classes.
Andre, an effervescent soul who hails from Portugal, organized a schedule that offered four or five sessions each day of our 10-day cruise. In the mornings, it was always an 8 a.m. stretch class. This was preceded by a rotating mix of workouts like Pilates, resistance-band training, yoga or core strengthening.
Colleen and I attended seven out of 10 mornings and multiple afternoon classes, too.
The morning sessions truly offered an energy boost and proved an invigorating way to start the day. We would top off our workouts with a healthy breakfast — the buffet spread included healthy smoothie shots — and were ready to explore places like Kinderdijk, Rotterdam, Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Utrecht, Ghent, Antwerp and Amsterdam that our ship visited during the cruise.
The jet lag was kicked quickly, too, and we felt normal again after two nights.
How It All Began
AmaWaterways co-owner and executive vice president Kristin Karst likes to live a healthy and active lifestyle. A few years ago, she began noticing a trend: A growing number of travelers seemed to be living this type of lifestyle, too.
Karst had a hunch that offering a “Wellness Program” on an AmaWaterways river ship might be a good fit for the line’s cruisers. What started in 2017 with one ship, AmaLyra, and one Wellness Host has quickly expanded. Now in 2019, the program is on the entire AmaWaterways fleet (except the Portugal and Africa boats).
The first Wellness Host, Selina Wank, arrived at AmaLyra with a blank slate and has built the program from scratch.
Wank, 28, from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, has spent the past two cruise seasons designing the Wellness Program, hiring new fitness instructors and working out the kinks to offer the best experience for passengers.
“This year has by far exceeded our expectations,” Wank says of her second year running the wellness program on six AmaWaterways ships: AmaPrima, AmaCerto, AmaSonata, AmaDante, AmaDolce and AmaLyra.
“Of course, you have speed bumps and things that go wrong, but overall, it has been amazing. The feedback, the ratings, the things we get back are really positive. A lot of people even say they only came because we have this program,” Wank adds.
A Chat with Ama Fitness Guru Selina Wank
QuirkyCruise Contributor John Roberts sat down with Wank while trying the program on AmaPrima a few months ago, and he discovered a lot about the goals of the program and the passion that drives its creator.
Quirky Cruise: What is your background with fitness and wellness and how did you end up with AmaWaterways?
Selina Wank: When I was 16, I became a professional horse rider. I rode for the German team as a junior. (She is a German citizen with permanent residence in South Africa.) I went to study at the age of 20 at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth. We studied three years of human movement science, and I specialized for one year in sports science, a degree to work with high-performance athletes.
After that, I wanted to go work on the ocean just for one season and then, go back home, make money — you know, start my life. Then, I got a job offer from AmaWaterways. You apply through agents, and somehow, they got my CV, and asked me if I would like to go on the AmaLyra to try (to start) a program.
I didn’t really know what to expect. When I got to the AmaLyra (in Paris), I thought that ship was taking me to the big ship. I had no idea about river cruising and remember standing there like, “Is this it?” (Laughs.)
But in the end, it became like a trial and error. AmaWaterways operations managers from Basel came on and explained what the idea was and what they wanted to do, and they actually just gave me a free hand.
I tried hard-core classes, and a lot of guests said that this isn’t appropriate. I just adjusted from whatever feedback I got, which was perfect. Nobody told me that this is what you have to do. I developed it according to what I got from the guests. After about three months of developing it, it worked really well.
(Wank says the passenger participation rate on a good summer cruise was 15 to 30 people for the four to six classes held each day.)
QC: What is the most challenging part of setting up the Wellness Program?
Selina Wank: The hardest part is to teach people to think outside of the box. Any normal gym instructor is used to working in a gym. They have all their equipment. They might have one client. They come to me every day. I get to know you, and we can build up together. That’s the usual environment that fitness instructors work in.
Here, you get guests that come for seven days. So, you have to win them over in a day, convince them that you can give them what they want. You have to get to know them, work with them, and then they go home again. And you don’t have a gym to work with. You don’t have all the equipment to work with.
So, I get trainers who think out of the box. Andre (the Wellness Host on AmaPrima) thinks out of the box. He uses bands, he uses Pilates. He finds a way to fit four or five people into the ship’s small gym, and he makes it work. That’s very unique. It’s hard to find those kinds of people.
QC: What do you like to see passengers get out of the program?
Selina Wank: It’s not about us selling anything (the Wellness Program is included in the cruise fare). It’s about improving. It’s about you having a good experience. I always say that if we have one or two guests who leave the ship with some form of a changed mindset or a little something they learned about wellness, then that makes my time worthwhile.
Those guests that might not belong to a gym at home, they come to me and say they want to join the classes. So, they start something, and when they leave, they tell me “You know what? When I leave, I’m going to go home and join a gym.”
That for me is the biggest reward out of this job.
QC: What traits for a Wellness Host are most important?
Selina Wank: Of course, they have to have qualifications. There are certain certificates that they should have (to teach group classes, yoga and personal training, for example). After that, I go according to personality.
You want someone who is outgoing. The most important thing for me is warmth, like a friendly, warm person. When I see the Wellness Host, I want that feeling that I want to approach him.
They don’t have to be able to do the splits. They don’t have to be able to do more pushups than you, but you go to them because you like their personality.
QC: How does the idea of wellness or fitness and a great travel experience fit together?
Selina Wank: For me personally, I would never go on a vacation unless there was fitness or activity involved. When we look at wellness, it’s not just the exercise classes. It’s also being inspiring and making people realize how to live better.
Our cruises are not only retired people but also working people. Part of what the program tries to do is make them realize that we all work so many hours, and we never switch off.
So, there is also wellness in the form of occupational wellness and stress (reduction). We are on vacation, and we can improve our vacation through wellness, especially learning about it. Or maybe gently being reminded: “Have you been outside today? Have you gone for a walk?” or “Come for the stretch class.”
Anyone who goes to a stretch class knows that if you go for a stretch class, afterwards your day starts better. It’s just that feeling that you are more energized.
Also, for example, a lot of the older guests walk a lot and might get stiff during their tours. You can help them to feel better to enjoy more of their vacation.
A Couple of Fitness Fanatics
Colleen and I work out five or six days a week and are always looking for ways to keep up with our workouts while on the road or at least boost our levels of activity. Until recent years, this has been a challenge on river cruises.
While we have always enjoyed getting off the ship for a run or bike ride, the true workouts have been mostly left up to our own imagination and motivation while using a small river ship fitness center (and, some ships don’t even have them).
AmaWaterways has made it easy and fun with its structured Wellness Program. On our “Dutch Waterways” cruise, we would plan our days knowing we were going to get in at least one good workout with Andre. On a couple nicer days, we were able to use the sun deck and its ample space to do a fun circuit training with resistance bands, body-weight exercises and laps around the walking track.
At first glance, I wasn’t sure that the workouts would be that challenging, but I was quickly set straight once Andre put us to work. He is able to easily tweak a workout to meet the abilities of his guests and always offers alternative movements alongside the most challenging ones.
(For full disclosure, this was not my most-active river cruise; I have done three themed river cruises there were geared to hard-core fitness, two with AmaWaterways in its collaboration with active travel company Backroads — one hiking cruise and one cycling cruise — and a biking river cruise combo with Scenic and Trek Travel. These cruises featured a subgroup of avid cyclists and hikers who went out for their own excursions, such as a 50-mile bike ride along the Danube. Those were killer. But for a great one-size-fits-all flexible program as a regular feature at no extra cost, Ama Waterways offers the best chance to be more active than you can on any other typical river cruise.)
We also took advantage of the group biking excursion in Rotterdam, as well as signing out bikes to use independently on a blissfully quiet ride in Enkhuizen and a chilly but exhilarating stretch of pedaling into Ghent on a brisk but sunny Sunday.
The two of us refueled with hot chocolate before riding back to the ship that day. Real Belgian chocolate hot chocolate! How could we not?
Andre also led active walks in a few of the ports, and he recommended the best running routes for certain towns. We took advantage of our day in Kinderdijk to run through the misty conditions and explore the rows of canals and windmills.
Now, that we’re back home, we even have kept up the routine of a morning stretch to start our days.
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