The China cruise and hotels were wonderful and the guides were incredibly informative. The Russia cruise -- which we chose because AMA had the new ship the AMAKatarina, and we were on its second sailing -- was weaker in various respects. The problems of the maiden voyage of the AMAKatarina have been well documented here. We didn't encounter many of those and we're experienced travellers who don't get worked up about stuff like that. We're really there to explore and learn.
The AMA Waterways guides were disappointing, though. Whereas with Viking every bus had a tour director who was with us throughout the cruise, who spoke excellent English, and who could have taught at any U.S. university as far as I'm concerned, with AMA Waterways we had local guides whose quality varied dramatically and we were shepherded around by pretty young girls who openly said their goal in life was to get married. (No, I am not making this up.) The bus groups were arbitrarily set up and seriously on some days when one guide was completely incomprehensible and another was highly informed, there would be a near-stampede to the better bus.
Truthfully, this is not how I want to spend my vacation. Seems reasonable to expect a level of uniform excellence or even near-excellence.
Why don't we just stick with Viking in Vietnam, you are probably wondering. Well, in Halong Bay AMA Waterways includes an overnight on a junk. That sounds pretty appealing.
Avalon makes a claim about 7 hours less bus time on their smaller ship. Don't know much else about them.
Overall I just have a sense that Viking cared more and is better managed (am avoiding a bad pun here about a tight ship) but am totally open and eager to hear from people who can talk about the quality of the guides on any of these lines. Also would be grateful for info re the feel of a smaller ship vs. that of a bigger one, since Viking and AMA Waterways both have ships of different sizes and of course the Avalon Angkor is tiny.