After an insanely busy December, I was ready to get away! I left Atlanta on December 27 to arrive in Munich on the 28th. I took the Lufthansa Express Bus from the airport to the train station, which was very easy and inexpensive. My hotel, Sofitel Munich Bayerpost, was right by the train station. I had a lovely time in Munich and loved the hotel, but this post is about my cruise.
I took the train from Munich to Vilshofen, the embarkation port for AmaMagna. It was an easy walk from the train station to the ship. (pro tip: I had saved the Vilshofen map in Google Maps, with the port location starred so that I could keep my phone in airplane mode.) I was early, by the way, so I reached the ship at around 11:00 in the morning. My first view of the ship:
I learned quickly that if you have only been on ocean cruises, then a river cruise has very few similarities. I was greeted by two men outside the ship, and they checked to be sure my name was on the guest list. I can't remember whether they checked ID or not. One of them took my bags and escorted me to the reception desk, where I was quickly checked in. My cabin wasn't quite ready, so I was told that I could go to Al Fresco for lunch and that someone would find me when the cabin was ready.
I'll pause here to mention my first impression of the ship. I had watched a few videos and had seen pictures, so I had an idea. The ship was really beautiful--better than expected, especially with the Christmas decorations. The entire ship was decked with decorations. It was really stunning!
Back to lunch: I found a nice, healthy spread of food available in Al Fresco, which is the restaurant the the front of the ship on the top level. It's a great place to be when the ship is sailing down the Danube. I had a light lunch (pacing myself) of split pea soup and a few other things. It was all very good. My only complaint was that nearly everything contained cucumbers (YUCK), but they were easily removed. Just as I was standing up from my table after eating, someone was walking towards me and said that he was looking for me to take me to my room. I was very impressed, because I assumed that I would have to wait several hours!
He (can't remember his name!) was very personable, and we had a nice chat as he escorted me to my cabin. He told me that he would be my butler if I needed anything while on board, and he encouraged me to make dinner reservations that afternoon. As we entered my cabin, he explained things to me, like where lights switches are, as well as the iPad that controls lighting and temperature. This became very handy, because I could keep it my the bed to turn the lights on & off or adjust temperature without getting up!
First impressions of the cabin: It was huge for a cruise cabin and beautiful. The bathroom was fantastic, with two sinks, marble, nice lighting, and a big rainfall shower. There was a small sofa in the room, with to small tables in front of it. This was facing the desk with the iMac, which you could use as a television or to play music. The bed was fantastic and faced a large television, and the balcony was wonderful, with two chairs and a table. I truly loved this room and made myself at home. I probably could live in it!
From this point on, I'll focus on the overall experience, instead of a play-by-play of the entire 7 days!
Food: First, I'll just say that the food was very good. I honestly don't have any complaints about my meals.
Breakfast: There was always food available in the morning for early risers in Al Fresco, and the main dining room would open at 7:00 or 7:30 for the full breakfast. I am an early riser, so my breakfast was typically in Al Fresco. There was a variety of cereals, müsli, granola, yogurt, fruit, etc. A bit later, there would be eggs & bacon. OH, and the coffee machine was wonderful. There are two automatic espresso machines with options like espresso, mocha, latte, cappuccino, etc. Since I typically eat 5 times a day, I would have the light breakfast early and go back mid-morning for a bit of protein before going out for a tour! :)
Lunch: Similar to breakfast, you could have lunch in Al Fresco or the Main Dining Room. My lunches were almost always in the Main Dining Room. There was a buffet, as well as a menu. The buffet had a nice variety of typical lunch food (salads, sandwiches, etc), and there was always a chef's station (carving meat, making pho, etc). Sometimes there was a theme, such as Bavarian lunch, which was wonderful. The menu always had burgers, soup, and a few other items. Here are a few lunch photos:
Snacks: There was almost always food available, except for sometimes when we wanted it. For example, on maybe two occasions, we returned from a tour and had a few hours before dinner. There was no food available. The first time, we asked if we could get some snacks, and we were told no. We then saw other people being served food, and we were very confused. We learned that there was something lost in translation and that we should have asked for tapas. The next time, we asked for tapas, and all was well!
Dinner: Dinners were wonderful and beautiful. AmaMagna has four options for dinner. You can dine in Al Fresco, Main Dining Room, Jimmy's Wine Bar, and Chef's Table. Unfortunately, I never made it to Al Fresco for dinner, but I did all of the others. AmaWaterways boasts that they are the only cruise line to be a member of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, which is quite an honor. In addition to a Captain's Dinner, there is also a Chaîne des Rôtisseurs dinner. Our cruise had a fantastic New Year's Eve dinner as well!. Chef's Table is a multi-course, fixed menu, so all you have to do is show up and enjoy the experience. Not only was this one of my favorite meals, but the company was the best on this night. We had such fun that I didn't pay the food as much attention as I should have. Dinners in the main dining room were also very good and multiple courses. Jimmy's Wine Bar served the same food as the main dining room but served it family style. It's a nice experience, but it was my least favorite dinner. I think that's purely personal preference and isn't a reflection of the restaurant. A few dinner pics:
Beverage: Wine and beer are included at meals for no extra charge. There was always a red wine and a white wine, and the same person always politely, but unceremoniously, came around to offer wine. I'm sure her job gets repetitive, but I would prefer the wine experience to be a bit more special. Maybe that happens on wine cruises. There was one wine that I simply did not want to drink (and was given something), but they were otherwise pretty good. The sparkling wine served was a bit on the sweet side, so I didn't want to drink it. A really fun feature of AmaWaterways is "Sip & Sail," which is basically happy hour before dinner. There is a Sip & Sail menu, which lists complimentary drinks you can order, which is pretty much any standard drink, as well as wine & beer. I usually ordered a Manhattan. This is my biggest complaint of the whole trip--they were not measured, and they were served on the rocks with cheap, bright red maraschino cherries. Considering the high standards of AmaWaterways, I think the standards of bartending need to be higher!
New Year's Eve: This deserves its own section because New Year's Eve was spectacular! There was a special dinner, which I mentioned before, then there was a party (dancing, etc) after dinner. Around midnight, many of us went to the top deck to see the fireworks, which blew my mind. It wasn't that it was a great, choreographed fireworks show that made it amazing. It was that we were in the middle of the Danube, and there were fireworks all around. We were told that they were just individuals shooting the fireworks, and it was sort of a competition in Linz on both sides of the river. They seemed to go on forever, and we were all in awe. The other awesome thing was the late night snacks that were served. Enjoy:
Entertainment: Each night had some form of entertainment. When we were in Passau, they had two opera singers from Salzburg. They put on a very nice show, featuring some Mozart opera favorites, as well as some selections from The Sound of Music. It was well done and obviously designed to reach people who are not classical music experts. On another night, there was a cabaret style singer, but I didn't go that night. The last night of the cruise, there was a group of Hungarian folk musicians and dancers. They were great! When there were no guest artists, the onboard musician acted as a DJ. He also played some things on the piano during sip & sail, as well as other sporadic times. He served his purpose well but didn't exude any sort of personality.
Public Spaces and Other Facilities: The Lounge is the main public space, and it was lovely. There is a variety of tables and chairs for for eating/drinking/playing games, as well as many comfortable, upholstered chairs and sofas. The decor is rich and inviting, and the lighting is very comfortable. This is where the bar is, and it is where any public gathering would take place, such as a talk by the Cruise Manager, or the evening entertainment. The fitness center is small but nice. It is in the aft (rear) part of the ship, so it is a place for a great view while working out. Just across the hall is the spa, which had a juice bar in the mornings. Unless I'm mistaken, the juice bar was self serve. There's a juicer setup with a variety of fruits & vegetables, so you help yourself. That's what I did, anyway! Al Fresco Restaurant is also sort of a public space, especially at a time when the ship is sailing and you want a nice view from the front of the ship. The pool deck is great, although it was not a highlight on this sailing since it was in the winter. There is a pool and hot tub, as well as a huge chess board and a lot of chairs. Oh, and there is an herb garden, which you'll see at the end of my video below. I can't wait to do a cruise in warm weather to fully experience the top deck.
Tours: All tours are included in the price, so that is a major plus. It might be a concern that you might not like the tours that are offered, but for me, it was more of a problem of choosing which one to do each day. Ama rates their tours on an intensity scale of 1-5. The least intense tour is for "gentle walkers," which could even mean someone in a motorized wheelchair that is provided by the ship. They also provide Nordic walking sticks for those who would find them helpful. I generally did the most active tours possible, including a bike ride in Vienna. Three of the tours were hikes/walks up a hill to see a castle, monastery, or ruins at the top, as well as the view. One of them really felt like a hike, and the other two were pretty gentle walks, in my opinion. They were still great tours, though, and all of the guides were excellent. They were all local tour guides, had great personalities, and were passionate about their home. My favorite guide was at Melk Abbey. He was a former monk who was sort of asked to leave because he was so obsessed with soaking up knowledge. He was a bit of a genius and a bit "off," and he was passionate about religion and the Abbey. My only complaint about the tours is that while they were wonderful, I didn't have the opportunity to hang out in a town and get to know anything about the local life, other from the guides. You would have to opt out of touring in order to just explore on your own and have some cultural immersion. Without describing every tour, here are some of my favorite pictures from the week:
Other Passengers: This was a unique cruise because it was with one of the owners of AmaWaterways. It was a "Seminar on the River" for travel advisors, so there were 20-30 of us on board. They happened to be the people I spent the most time with. However, I got to know a few other people. There was a very nice, young couple from California. The husband is a firefighter and won the cruise in a contest. There were also a few other lovely, older couples I got to know and enjoyed. It is true that most of the passengers on board were over 50 (or 60), but they were typically active, interesting, and fun. There were two groups of people who seemed like people I wanted to avoid, so I stayed far away. As a solo traveler, I was fortunate to meet another travel advisor who was traveling alone, so we were friends all week and served as each other's "plus one."
In conclusion, this was a fantastic week, and it has been fun writing this review so that I could relive it. I think anyone can enjoy a river cruise, especially on AmaWaterways. River cruises are an entirely different product from ocean cruises, so if you think you don't want to go an an ocean cruise, don't rule out river cruises. That's 150-200 people vs 2500-6000 people, in addition to many other differences. If you are interested in going on a river cruise, AmaWaterways has many different options all over Europe, as well as Africa and southeast Asia. Of course, there are other companies to explore, and I am happy to help you find the right fit for you! Please contact me!