Our Ama Waterways April 8-15 2012 riverboat cruise. Vineyards of the Mosel and Rhine River Valleys from Remich to Bernkastel, Cochem, Koblenz, Mainz-Rudesheim, Cologne, Amsterdam
My wife and I flew from Edinburgh at 6 am on April 8, 2012, first to Amsterdam then on another KLM flight to Luxembourg. We got to Luxembourg at 10:30 am and boarded the ship's bus with others from same flight from Amsterdam. Iit was cold and briefly snowing. We got to Remich, on the Mosel River where the Ama Dolce was moored offshore, waited while it moved and boarded about 11:30 am. We were very early but were welcomed to relax in the lounge over coffee, tea and sandwiches, while the crew took our luggage and prepared our cabins for our expected use from 3 pm.
Most of us on this cruise had cabins of the same size irrespective of deck, of about 170 square feet. They were certainly nicely furnished and equipped. The power showers in the bathrooms were wonderful, better than on the Viking ships. But I personally think the cabins were slightly smaller than the advertised 154 square feet ones on the Viking Sky. (I'd heard that on Viking the bathrooms are excluded). On the Ama Dolce, in the bathrooms, the basins were very small. But the bathrooms even had nice white dressing gowns per person, a full range of daily-renewed body and hair soaps and lotions, bottled water and more. Nice cabin surprises for those of us over Easter Week included Lindt Easter bunnies and artistic animals made with towels or face cloths. Cabin attendants, always courteous and friendly despite obviously being very busy, seemed to know when we went for breakfast and had our rooms cleaned by the time we got back.
Our special needs
As an international travel writer I need to be able to write and email on a daily basis my copy plus attachments including pre-sized digital photos. I booked and paid for my trip and my wife's on Ama Waterways in the hope I'd be able to do this. I had relied on a UK Daily Telegraph report that Ama Waterways had the best Internet and WIFI on the European riverboat market. Earlier, as a Viking River Cruises client on River Danube and Holland/Belgium cruises, I'd been very disappointed by the poor standard of onboard Internet/WIFI.
I regret to say I was hugely disappointed with the Ama Dolce's WIFI. It did not work for me in the ship's lounges. In the cabin on my own laptop/notebook it worked but with such a weak signal it could not send my pre-prepared copy and photographs. We are all told and accept that when riverboats enter locks or go under bridges their satellite Internet systems won't work. But I was counting on it working otherwise. Yes, the Ama Dolce had an in-cabin Internet connection coupled to the TV. It worked well for reading and replying to no-attachment emails but again, was unable to send any attachments such as photographs.
Using the cabin Internet, on the last full day of our voyage I was at least able to log on to my UK-based ISP, see and reply to my emails and check my bank. Plus, a nice feature the Ama Dolce had that other riverboat cruisers do not, I was also able to log on to KLM to both confirm my return-portion seating and that of my wife and also print out our boarding passes. All I had to do was go to an upper deck to the Aft Lounge, a quiet place that also served as the ship's library, where a printer for the ship's Internet system was located.
But I really wish that when riverboats in Europe of the calibre of the Ama Dolce don't offer any onboard opportunities and powerful enough WIFI or wired Internet to enable travellers, travel agents and travel writers like me to write and send reports they could at least state the name of and give directions to places like Starbucks and cafes where I know there are decent WIFI services for up to two hours merely for the price of a cup of coffee. Riverboats already have it for their satellite navigation, their daily briefings and more. They should extend it to their passengers too, as trains, planes, etc .now do routinely.
I've noted how, on ocean-going cruise ships visiting the Canary Islands and Madeira of the Atlantic, the shopping plaza buildings very close or adjacent to where the cruise ships moor all now routinely have plaza-wide free WIFI complete with sending attachments ability both for their stores and for their customers who visit and shop there. I've used them with good results. If they can go to this time, trouble and expense for their visiting tourists then surely Austrian, Belgian, Bratislavian, Chinese, French, Dutch, German, Hungarian, Portuguese, Russian, etc. towns and villages on the Elbe, Moselle, Rhine, Rhone, etc. can do the same.
More positively, lovely attributes of the Ama Dolce included the
-Extremely spacious and nicely furnished Lounge and Bar area with its panoramic views and lots of couches everywhere. I found this especially nice after the less spacious lounge on the Viking Sky.
-Pleasantry, charm, courtesy and affability of the ship's captain who was seen in many places.
-The sheer niceness and helpfulness of the ship's cruise director. His daily commentary was excellent.
-Outstanding way in which all the ship's restaurant staff treated their passengers, even on the last day. This was the best I've seen on any riverboat to date.
-Quality and variety of the food at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfasts were amazing, lunches were sumptuous and dinners were special treats. There were also light lunches and early-breakfasts for those who preferred them. Waiters, when they saw us with our sticks and crutches, without being asked to, offered to get us items ordinarily on the serve-yourself-buffet tables. They ensured our glasses of wine were always topped up.
-Tea time, around 4 pm had some nice surprises. One day there was a massive multi-flavor ice cream orgy, other days there were lavish selections of cakes, black forest gateaux, etc. Coffee and tea of many types were constantly on offer.
-First full cruise night's absolutely superb classical music concert by La Strada, a trio of amazing young Belgian musicians, two female violinists and a male guitarist. They were by far the best entertainers I've ever heard on any riverboat. Never before have I ever heard musical instruments sing to and flirt with each other as I did on that night. The choice of music was perfect for the occasion. We were informed the trio drove for 5 hours each way to give the concert.
Very well handled by the cruise staff and onshore guides. All credit to the onshore tour guides for speaking English -- if at times a little laboriously - so much better than almost all of us could speak German or any other European language.
Most interesting was how French King Louis XIV -- "Le Roi Soliel" - the "Sun King", invaded and occupied so many now-German towns and cities in the belief that the entire Mosel/Moselle River and its hinterland should have been French. That occupation caused much misery and revenge in later French/Prussian wars. We learnt a lot of Germania, how it evolved from Prussia; how so many areas of Germany were devastated during the Allied bombings of World War 2 and re-built. In the Moselle and Rhine areas we also learnt much about and sampled Moselle and Rhine wines; how labour-intensive the winemaking process is, how vineyards extend right up the hills and therefore need considerable agility to get to; discovered the differences between the sweeter Moselle and more robust Rhine wines, saw for ourselves how expensive the best ones were and heard many wry comments from locals about how their traditional sources of income from their wines were being eroded by much less expensive imported wines from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, California, etc.
My only special comments are that the
-Tour of the Rudesheim Musical Museum, where we could have spent hours, was too short. We had only a bare hour there, to get the last miniature train back to the ship. Earlier, my wife and I had opted to go on the tour to Heidelburg, 1.5 hours each way on the bus but it meant we missed seeing downtown Rudesheim. After having previously heard so much about Heidelburg we were disappointed we spent so much time in the castle area overlooking the city instead of seeing more sights in the city.
-Tour of the Floriade, which should have lasted 1.5 hours ended up being just over 1 hour because the Floriade authorities could not process our passes immediately. We could have spent much more time there. Unfortunately, through no fault of the ship, the cruise director of which kindly went out of his way to wait for them instead of leaving them, two passengers got lost at the show and we waited on the bus for 45 minutes until they were found.
-Cologne began as a disappointment mostly because of the massive amounts of reconstruction for an underground train service we had to go through. We also went by some substantial excavation works to unearth an ancient Jewish community. But it became much more interesting once we saw the magnificent Dom -- the Roman Catholic Renaissance-era Cathedral. Oddly, it's not mentioned in most common guide books of cities along the Moselle, Rhine (and also Danube rivers) why Roman Catholic cathedrals in Germany (and Austria) are referred to as Dom -- then their name. It is because DOM means Deo Optimo Maximo, Latin for "To God, the Best, the Greatest" and is why they were built in the 12th century or later, often over 30 to 300 years. Non-Catholic churches are never referred to as Dom structures. It was good that our guide pointed out the Starbucks from where I was at last able to use its WIFI to send my material.
Sightseeing while cruising along the Moselle and Rhine
This was outstanding. We noted picturesque places galore and castle after castle. Passengers were free to either go outside to take photos or stay inside the lounge. Passengers like us who brought binoculars found them essential to get the full long-distance glory of many places. But when we heard about the costs of homes in the area, the taxes homeowners pay and how much Members of the European Parliament earn compared to US Congressman, Senators and Canadian, British and Australian Members of Parliament, we shuddered. The European Union may be beneficial in many respects to its nationals, but is extremely costly in taxation. Germany seems to shoulder the main burden in Europe these days to keep the Euro alive. Buying souvenirs for many of us was no problem but many of us baulked at the prices in the stores in the cities and towns e encountered, for shoes, clothes, fashions and more.
In most areas, it was a wonderful trip on the Ama Dolce. My wife and I would definitely consider another Ama Waterways/APT riverboat cruise. On this cruise, because we booked late, we were told by cruise.co.uk we had booked the last cabin available. We had specified at the outset we were both disabled/mobility-restricted and had a problem with stairs and staircases. So we will not, ever again, be persuaded to occupy a cabin on the Piano Deck or similar.
On riverboats generally, when there are no other river boats moored next to ours then yes, river boats are definitely a good way, perhaps the very best of all ways, for the somewhat older (over 50s) who are reasonably agile and not mobile- impaired to sample the attractions of riverside towns and cities. Yes, of all the forms of transportation available, only riverboats can get close enough to riverside towns, villages and cities to enable riverboat passengers to see and enjoy their charms and unique attractions.
Note the following for disabled or mobility-impaired passengers
But this is not the case for mobility-impaired passengers unable to walk far and/or using sticks or canes or crutches. They will discover that their riverboats are not flat. All have steps or staircases to be negotiated. For example, most have seven or so steps just to get to the restaurant, plus another set to go up to the main floor for the lounge, bar and observation areas. Yes, the steps have rails to aid passengers, but they must be approached slowly. If the riverboat has an elevator/lift it will probably not go to all floors including the floor with the lowest level of passenger accommodation.
Riverboat brochures never seem to specify exactly how many steps or stairs are involved in going down or up to reach the least expensive passenger cabins located on the lowest floor. I counted them on the Ama Dolce. There were eleven steps and they were both steep and on a semi-spiral staircase. One woman on my cruise fell down those steps and was injured. In their own Mobility-impaired passengers are strongly advised to avoid lower-deck cabins at all costs. They should always stress to their travel agents or riverboat operators directly that their have a disability and cannot safely negotiate such stairs.
For elderly, disabled or mobility-impaired passengers on riverboats there can be other hazards, again of the types not found on ocean-going cruise ships all of which have elevators going up and down to all floors. I noticed that some riverside towns and cities seem to have only a limited number of riverboat moorings. As a result, riverboats often have to go alongside each other. With their different lengths, sizes and gangplank placements, it is not an easy matter to negotiate them to get ashore, especially for elderly and disabled or the mobility-restricted. Your riverboat cruise staff will ask you to go outside the ship, climb up the narrow staircase, go to the other side of the ship, go down that side's narrow staircase, then cross over to another ship and do the same again. At Amsterdam, my riverboat required passengers to cross over not just one but three other riverboats. This poses unacceptable risks and dangers to mobility-impaired and elderly passengers on riverboats. They should not be expected to climb up and down outside staircases of riverboats so potentially dangerously.
But these problems are not the fault of AMA Waterways or APT or Viking or whoever. It is surely solely the responsibility of all the docking ports to have enough moorings to enable each vessel to moor alongside to give their passengers much more safety. Until this is handled, blame the port for being greedy -- wanting the tourism business but not wanting to spend the money on port safety for all passengers, particularly the elderly and disabled or mobility-restricted.
At Amsterdam, because of this problem I heard about how one elderly man using a walking stick fell down steps, had a heart attack and was hospitalised. Ironically, at Amsterdam, larger ocean-going vessels (a) have lifts to all decks and (b) won't have other ships alongside them for mobility-impaired passengers to have to climb over. There is a lesson here for elderly or other passengers who are disabled or mobility-impaired. It is that you are likely to have a far easier time in going from ship to port and from port to dockside on an ocean-going vessel that on a riverboat. But if you do this you won't get to see some otherwise lovely river ports.