Guests Monique and Karen reminisce about our first-ever river cruise highlighting Black history and culture

In August 2023, after more than 12 months of careful planning and anticipation, AmaWaterways debuted our premier Soulful Experience – a specially curated 10-night Colors of Provence river cruise and land journey celebrating the Black and African diaspora in Paris and along the Rhône River. With guided tours curated to showcase Black history and culture of Marseille and Paris, as well as an excursion to a truffle farm, jazz concerts, and exquisite food and wine, this first-ever experience for AmaWaterways received immediate and enthusiastic support from travel advisors and guests within the Black community.

“I could say so much about the journey to our Soulful Experience, but the one word that immediately comes to mind is ‘support,’” said Jazzmine Douse, AmaWaterways’ Director of National Accounts. "It takes a lot for a company to look inward and be honest about where change or improvements are needed. The proposal, execution and support for this venture was a true testimony to the open and transparent nature you find at AmaWaterways. A company committed to growth, inclusivity and a welcoming environment for all – AmaWaterways truly leads by example and not just intention.”

A Surreal Mother-Daughter Getaway

Mother and daughter duo and Texas residents Karen and Monique were excited for their first Black travel experience. “When Monique first told me about this journey with AmaWaterways, I said, ‘Sign me up!’” recalled Karen, happily. “I wanted to be with other cruisers that looked like me.”

Even before stepping on board our beautiful AmaKristina in Arles for their 7-night cruise to Lyon, Monique was surprised to see so many Black travelers at the airport in Marseille. Strangers for a mere moment, they congregated together, bonding almost immediately. “That first day in France was very surreal,” she observed.

The Excitement of Customized Excursions

Among a plethora of included excursions typically included on our Colors of Provence itineraries, such as a visit to Avignon’s Papal Palace and a steam train ride in Tournon, AmaWaterways planned special experiences throughout the journey highlighting the Black and African diaspora. One of these excursions traced the footsteps of legendary entertainer and civil rights activist Josephine Baker during the land package portion in Paris, which was included for all guests as part of the 10-night Soulful Experience.

“Growing up as a little girl, I was a jazz and tap dancer and would remember our dance teacher celebrating Josephine Baker especially during Black History Month,” recalled Monique. “Being in the same locations where she performed was an amazing experience for me.” She was also surprised and delighted to see beauty supply stores and hair salons with women inside having their hair braided while visiting Paris’s “Little Africa” village. “It reminded me of home,” she remarked.

However, what struck Monique the most was the attention and respect each of the guests gave AmaWaterways’ phenomenal tour guides. “They were 100% hands-on-deck, soaking it all in,” she remembered.

“I felt like a child on Christmas morning waiting to see where we were going – I could hardly sleep at night,” Karen giggled. For her, it was the warmth of the intimate community formed during the cruise that she appreciated most. “I felt like I was with family. If I missed taking a picture of something, someone said, ‘I got you,’ and sent it to me. They really showed me love. It was wonderful!”

Soul Train Lines and Tears

Evenings were a highlight of the Soulful Experience for the 122 guests on board. According to Monique, there was plenty of great music, dancing, and soul train lines each night after dinner as guests excitedly congregated together in the Main Lounge. “We even thought we were singers at times,” laughed her mother, Karen. “I never once spent the evening in our room. And I never got anywhere on the ship fast because everyone was so nice and always wanted to chat!”

Jazz bands performed both on board and on shore, an intentional choice for this specialty cruise. However, the guests were particularly fond of AmaWaterways’ onboard musician, David. “He brought tears to our eyes,” remembered Karen. “He was very appreciative of all the love we gave him and for the chance to play for an entire ship of Black guests – just like him.”

High Praise and Parting Words

Our June 2023 Soulful Experience was in the very capable hands of AmaWaterways’ extraordinary South African Cruise Manager, Crystal. According to guest surveys, she was a tremendous part of what made the experience so successful – and memorable.

“There are no words to explain how amazing Crystal was,” professed Karen. “If I could rate her on a scale of one to ten with ten being the best, I would give her a hundred. She and the crew on board AmaKristina treated us like kings and queens.”

Monique shared similar praise for Crystal and her level-headedness as well as her ability to overcome the little “hiccups” that come along with any travel experience. However, Monique was also introspective about the rare opportunity this sailing gave her, not only to enjoy a travel experience curated for the Black community, but to strengthen her bond with her mother. “We’ve never really gotten the chance to spend so much time together,” she stated. “It really meant the most to me to create these memories with my mom.”

Even employee Jazzmine Douse was emotional summing up the river cruise. “Exploring the cultural history of France among such a large and incredible group of fellow Black travelers and witnessing so many moments of high emotions and pure joy firsthand was one of the most unforgettable experiences in both my personal life and professional career,” she said.

As for the rest of us at AmaWaterways, we cannot wait to share this experience with more travelers in 2024 and beyond.

Limited staterooms are still available on our four incredible Soulful Experiences departing in France, Egypt, and Portugal in 2024, but space is filling fast. Contact your travel advisor as soon as possible and visit AmaWaterways.com/soulful for full details. Plus, stay tuned for information on our 2025 Soulful Experiences coming soon!

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