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Heath & Fitness

Can you keep fit on a river cruise? What if it’s a supersize ship filled with places to eat?

AmaMagna is a giant in the river cruise world, and although it’s double the width of other vessels it boasts one-of-a-kind facilities to help stop passengers’ waistbands expanding and keep fit on a cruise. Sailawaze went onboard to put it to the test.

Words by Jeannine Williamson

Armed with a generous sprinkling of willpower, keeping fit on an ocean cruise isn’t too hard. Large ships have room for big gyms, running tracks and – more recently – sports courts to cater for the pickleball craze.

Now, luxury line AmaWaterways has upped the game with river cruise fitness. Measuring 21m across the beam, AmaMagna (launched in 2019) is twice the width of other river ships and has the first-ever full-size pickleball court on a riverboat. Here’s what you can expect to do onboard.

How do you get exercise on a river cruise?

Play river cruise pickleball

As I raise my right arm and prepare to power through Damian calls out: “You’re standing in the kitchen so you can’t volley.” Thankfully, the scenario isn’t as alarming as it sounds – and I’m not about to start throwing pots and pans around; I’m getting to grips with my first pickleball lesson and the terminology that goes with it. I duly bounce the ball on the court and hit it over to my partner.

Having not lifted a tennis racquet or similar since school, I’m amazed. Within 15 minutes, thanks to AmaMagna wellness host Damian’s patient instructions, I’m even getting to grips with what can, and can’t, happen in the kitchen – the area closest to the net. In fact, I’m so absorbed in my river cruise fitness session I’m oblivious to the handful of people looking down on my pickleball initiation from a bridge across the Danube.

“Well done,” enthuses Damian as I run across the court red-faced from effort, rather than the initial embarrassment of being watched. “Don’t forget pickleball is very sociable, you can talk to each other while you play.” I’m liking it more and more, and I’m not the only one.

What started as a backyard game invented by three American friends in 1965 has mushroomed into a global fitness craze, including in the UK. Last year the English Open was the first tournament outside North America to have more than 1,000 registered players. Recognising its popularity, in 2023 AmaWaterways unveiled the first full-size pickleball court on a river ship.

A cross between tennis, badminton and table tennis, the reassuringly large paddle means even rookies like me stand a good chance of hitting the ball. Although, I’m relieved to see the high nets that stop wayward balls ending up in the Danube. It’s one of the most energetic things I’ve ever done on a river ship. After an hour – even though I lost the game – I’m hooked.

“More people want to stay active when they’re on holiday,” adds Damian. “Pickleball is really easy to pick up and you can quickly start playing a game.”


– READ MORE: Discover the latest cruise wellness trends

Clock up the nautical miles with a river cruise spin class

Peloton bike and spin class fans can pedal away to their hearts’ content – and attract some amused glances from more sedentary river cruisers. The bikes might be static, but they’re out on deck behind the gym and when AmaMagna’s moving it looks like AmaWaterways has come up with an ingenious idea to harness a bit of extra propulsion.

I join a couple of river cruise fitness classes on my winter sailing and, as the music starts pumping and our legs get moving, we soon warm up and start shedding layers. Damian rings in the changes with a good mix of hill climbs and race sections and we’re all puffed by the time we get to the cool down.

It’s a novelty to do an outdoor class, and equally entertaining for passing ships as passengers gawp at our whizzing legs going nowhere. Feeling suitably smug as we head back down to a well-earned afternoon tea.

Are fitness classes free on cruises?

This depends on your cruise line but AmaWaterways’ small-group fitness classes are all complimentary. We advise checking costs ahead of your sailing.


– READ MORE: Where in the world to cruise when

Hit the cruise ship gym

Most euphemistically named gyms on river ships amount to a lower deck cabin converted into a tiny workout area. If you’re lucky, there’s a bike, a treadmill and free weights. Not so so AmaMagna which has a large, airy gym with floor-to-ceiling windows. As well as bikes and treadmills there’s equipment, a wall bar and even hula hoops (as in the kind you spin around your waist – not the snack).

Next door is the equally roomy Zen Wellness Studio and juice bar. I’m told river cruise fitness classes here start at 7am with a rotating mix of circuit training, resistance band, core training, yoga, Pilates and stretching.

If you prefer to hit the snooze button rather than the exercise studio you won’t miss out as up to five classes are spread throughout the day. One-to-one personal training is also available.

Do river cruise ships have gyms?

Yes, most river cruise lines offer some sort of fitness centre onboard but it’s worth checking ahead of your cruise what facilities your ship has.

Do river cruises have personal trainers?

Cruises offering fitness programmes tend to have personal trainers on hand, but always research before your holiday to avoid disappointment.


– READ MORE: Top 5 cheapest European cities for a cruise

Exercise now – food and wine later

When you’ve put in the steps and it’s reward time AmaMagna doesn’t disappoint. Being so large means there are more places to eat (and drink). As well as the main dining room there’s the casual Al Fresco venue serving bistro-style breakfast and lunch and Mediterranean-style dishes for dinner. If you can resist temptation, there are plenty of healthy options including a veggie menu at each meal and ‘always available’ dishes such as grilled chicken breast, salmon fillet or salad.

Jimmy’s Wine Bar & Restaurant has large communal tables, and is a good choice for families and groups of friends, while the Chef’s Table – my favourite – is a classy spot with a tasting menu and wine pairings. Wine is included with lunch and dinner and the Sip & Sail cocktail hour (including non-alcoholic mocktails) in the bar is a daily highlight; unsurprisingly as all drinks are free. Go on, you’ve earned it.


– READ MORE: Best cruise lines for vegans

Can you keep fit on other river cruise ships?

Amadeus River Cruises’ Amadeus Cara and Amadeus Silver III have smaller pickleball courts and offer pickleball-themed cruises on which you can take on locals at clubs along the way.

Avalon Waterways pioneered a more energetic style of river cruising with its Active & Discovery sailings which are available on the Danube, Rhine, Moselle, Rhone and Dutch waterways and include biking, hiking and kayaking.

Emerald Cruises, Scenic and A-ROSA are among the lines also offering active excursions. When it’s time to ease sore muscles some ships have small massage rooms – A-ROSA even has impressive spas with saunas.

Finally, with any line you can simply pull on your running shoes and go for a jog along the bank – it’s flat and if you stick to the river you can’t get lost.


– READ MORE: Best Greek hotspots to boost longevity

Set sail

Amamagna sails on the Danube between Vilshofen in Germany and Giurgui in Romania, with itineraries of up to 14 nights. It can’t go any further as it’s too big to fit in locks, but the sailing area packs in plenty of Danube highlights – the Austrian, Hungarian and Slovakian capitals of Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava.


Duration: 5 nights
Where: Round-trip Passau
Ship: AmaMagna
Price: From £1,399pp

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Published 20.02.24