Our first river cruise on the delightful AmaWaterways "AmaCerto" from Budapest to Vilshofen on the Danube river was a wonderful, memorable experience. We thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the cruise and the add-ons in Munich, Budapest and Prague, all uniquely beautiful and interesting cities.
The boat itself was lovely. Brand new (this was only AmaCerto's fifth cruise), the vessel was clean, well laid out and stylishly furbished. Cabins are understandably a bit smaller than on the bigger ships but had quite sufficient storage space. The only minor criticism is with the strange triangular lay out of the minute shower that makes it difficult to do anything but get wet when in the confined space!
We had a cabin with a french door configuration. The more costly cabins have both a french door and a full balcony. Interestingly, we did not miss a balcony at all. With the french door open it was just as if one was sitting on a balcony in any event and frankly, the extra cost of the balcony on a river boat seems to be an unwarranted expense as they are unusable for much of the time particularly when docked. As is typical of all river cruises, the boats tend to dock in stacked fashion adjacent to each other so, unless one is an inveterate voyeur who delights in staring into the cabin windows of the adjacent boat, it is advisable to keep ones curtains drawn! However, the balcony class cabins are probably about 20% bigger so perhaps the extra space justifies the additional cost.
It is difficult to find fault with the Amawaterways brand. The almost all inclusive nature of the river cruise experience makes it a compelling option. Three plus meals a day with gourmet style dinners often featuring regional specialties, unlimited free bottled water, unlimited wines and beers at dinner ( generally quite quaffable but occasionally of questionable provenance!), included guided tours in each destination with excellent, knowledgeable local guides, welcome and farewell drinks with the Captain together with some unexpected "extras" such as a visit to a regional wine bar in Venice, a "beer fest" organised free by the Town Council of Vilshofen especially for Amawaterways, and the occasional free drink offered at lunch, can all be added to the plus side of the balance sheet.
However,we found the overall experience to be somewhat restrictive, especially with the lack of any real alternative dining options on board. Having to take almost all meals in only one dining venue becomes somewhat tedious. The AmaCerto has a main dining room used for breakfast, lunch and dinner capable of seating all guests at one sitting. The only alternate dining venue is a small 20 seater speciality restaurant open only for reserved dinner to which each guest is only entitled to make a reservation once per seven night cruise to give all guests the opportunity to experience the excellent speciality menu. Apart from these a limited snack lunch is served in the bar/lounge area daily. Surprisingly, no use was made of the top sun deck for al fresco dining despite the weather being pretty good on a number of days during the cruise. Serving a limited menu such as brockwurst rolls and salads on the sundeck could make a delightful alternative luncheon option while slowly cruising through the beautiful surrounds of Central Europe.
We have usually found that an ocean cruise of between 12 to 15 days to be just about right. However, because of the number of towns and cities visited in such a concentrated period (sometimes as many as three different destinations in a single day), we found the seven night river cruise to be about optimal - anything longer could have been too hectic and tiring.
Destinations visited were all worthwhile and interesting. In each port an included tour was offered - normally a walking tour, sometimes a coach tour and on some occasions a combination of both. Local English speaking tour guides were knowledgeable and universally excellent. Interestingly, walking tours are split into gentle and active walker groups to enable passengers with mobility difficulties to tour at a more gentle pace while not limiting the needs and sight-seeing expectations of the more active guest. There was even a tour group that catered for the late risers! All guests are issued with an audio headset to make it easier to follow the commentary the commentary of the tour guide - especially useful on walking tours.
Only three optional tours were not included in the tour price, all in Vienna. The one we went to was the obligatory Mozart/Strauss concert which was enjoyable if perhaps overrated. Other optional tours (all by coach) - a choice between a visit to the beautiful city of Salzburg, or to the picturesque Grumden Lake district or the historic UNESCO protected Czech village of Cesky Krumlov, were included at no extra cost.
Entertainment options on board a vessel the size of a river boat are obviously limited. An excellent resident pianist delighted guests with his unobtrusive melodies most afternoons and evenings while on a number of occasions regional dancers or musicians were brought on board to entertain guests in the lounge/bar area. On one evening in Vienna an included visit to a local "Heuringer" (wine tavern) was organised where guests enjoyed an evening of wine and music.
We are pleased we added short stays in Munich and Budapest before the cruise and are very happy we chose an AmaWaterways Prague add-on option. All three cities are just so full of culture. The history, art work, statues, monuments, music, majestic and historic old buildings of old Europe are absolutely awesome. We took organised tours in all cities but probably most enjoyed just ambling around on our own soaking in the ambience, history and culture of these delightful gems of central Europe.
Have we been converted to river cruising? As indicated, we found the experience to be bit too limiting. However the wife seems to be far more enthralled with the river boat option so we could be in for some interesting negotiations when we start to plan our next adventure after we complete an Oz/New Zealand cruise next year that has already been scheduled!