We recently completed a 14 night trip to Europe, structured around a 7 night sailing on AmaCerto from Budapest to Nuremberg. This was our 6th river cruise and our favorite so far. As much as we enjoyed our cruise on AmaDante last year, AmaCerto managed to top even that experience. More on that shortly.
We arrived in Frankfurt on a Sunday and decided to overnight in Mainz, due to a schedule change by Lufthansa that created a 6 hour layover. We stayed at the Hilton Mainz and very much enjoyed the town and the hotel.
Early the next day we flew from Frankfurt to Budapest and checked into our home for 3 days, Marriott Millennium Court Apartments. We were very pleased with our choice as the hotel was perfectly located and the apartments spacious and well appointed, as well as an excellent value.
We explored the city the first day and had a casual and tasty dinner that evening at Vapiano, a favorite of ours in Europe for fresh and reasonable fare when we are not in the mood for a sit down dinner.
Early the next morning we met our guide, Andrea MkKay, and spent a very enjoyable morning exploring the city. Andrea is very good and I recommend her for those looking for a private guide.
Our tour helped us get the lay of the land and we had her drop us at the central market, where we had a forgettable lunch and spent about an hour, picking up a few things to take back to the apartment. We also stopped in at two of the famous public baths of Budapest as we were very curious and wanted to make a decision as to whether we would return.
That afternoon we spent at the Christmas markets, which we found to be of very good quality compared to many locations in Europe we have visited. Dinner was at Cafe Bouchon, which was outstanding and reasonable.
The next day we started off with a visit to the Terror Museum, which we all found both moving and educational. For any with an interest in how Hungary and its people were affected by the war (we found this insightful as to the overall personalities and temperament of today's residents) I recommend visiting this museum.
We made our way back to our hotel and had a snack at the markets. Then, four of us walked to Magnolia Day Spa and enjoyed several hours at this lovely spa. It is a great value as well as a luxurious experience and the cost is so much less than at home. Later that afternoon, we did laundry at the hotel (such a convenience) and then walked the riverfront, enjoying the views as the lights came on around the city. I think that Budapest is at its best in the evenings, when the buildings along the river are truly spectacular.
Dinner that evening was at Bottega la Famiglia and was very good. This place was hard to find but worth the effort.
We opted out of the Marriott breakfast and enjoyed the lovely, small cafe across the street for a light breakfast each day.
The last morning we walked over the Charles Bridge and took the funicular up to the castle to explore the area. We had visited briefly during our tour but wanted to spend more time there and were pleased that we did. We stopped at a place that was supposedly famous for strudel but the consensus among those who indulged was that it was quite average and not worth the calories. We also visited the Hilton while in the area which is a lovely hotel, but too isolated for our tastes. We were very happy that we had chosen to stay instead at the apartments.
We headed back and packed our bags and walked to the boat for embarkation. It was about a 10 minute walk and some of our group opted instead for a taxi as they had more luggage.
We boarded the AmaCerto and were immediately dazzled - she is gorgeous! The design is eclectic and mostly contemporary, with rich fabrics and a surprising mix of colors and textures in the public areas that worked perfectly together. The small library with its gas logs was cozy but could benefit from glass partitions separating it from the main lounge, as it was not always as quiet and cozy as it appeared, depending on what was happening in the main lounge.
Our group had 6 cabins in various categories, ranging from the cheapest Aquarium Class to the truly lovely AA twin balcony. That room was spacious, well laid out and the bathroom was the nicest I have seen on a river boat. There was lots of natural light, enhanced by the use of light colors and rich fabrics.
Our friends in Category E were thrilled with their room, which was quite spacious and very comfortable.
We explored the ship, unpacked and then got ready for the welcome aboard talk and cocktail party. We quickly got to know the excellent lounge staff, including Tamas and Ivo.
Dinner that evening set the standard for more to come. The food on AmaCerto was very good to excellent. Dinner was an event and we received consistently excellent service. Special mention to Bogdan (aka Beau) and Ivo, who were our waiters each evening as we sought out their stations.
Our only dinner disappointment was the evening in Vienna. I had called AMA prior to the cruise to find out if dinner was going to be earlier due to the optional excursion in the evening. I was assured that those of us not going to the concert would be able to have dinner at the usual time so we did not reserve to have dinner in Vienna. The reality was that dinner was at 5:30, which is far too early in my opinion. This has happened to us on two lines now that stopped in Vienna and I personally feel that there should be an option for those of us opting out of the optional concert and preferring not to have dinner at such an early hour. Had I been given accurate information, we would have planned dinner out at a restaurant but with a larger group, it was not practical to make last minute plans.
The specialty restaurant was a truly 5 star experience. Food and service were top notch and it was a highlight of the cruise for all of us.
Breakfast and lunch were very good as well. The omelet station was new enhancement that many in our group enjoyed (thank you, Adrian, the "Omelet Whisperer") and most lunches offered a specialty hot food station as well. We really enjoyed the curry and pasta stations.
Included wines were mostly good and always plentiful. Drink prices were fair and selection good. It would be nice to see an expanded selection of wines by the bottle, which is how we prefer to order.
Csaba, our Cruise Manager, was young, personable, and very good. He had a great personality, endless patience and was always accessible.
The entire staff of AmaCerto was wonderful. Veli, our room attendant, was excellent. The dining staffs hailed from many areas but were uniformly warm and professional. Angela and Alex at reception were always available to help. The head chef, Gino, was very visible and friendly and his staff put out exceptional meals on a consistent basis. The Captain and his crew were also very visible and professional and ran a tight ship. The crew was the best we have experienced on the river so far and that says a lot, as we were so impressed by the crew on our last AMA cruise.
Entertainment was very good. Matthias, the house pianist, had a good selection of music and also acted as DJ. Many nights there were people on the dance floor until well past midnight. The 60s party was a blast and the cruise staff that participated ensured that all had a great time. We enjoyed local acts included La Strada (different members from last year), the Aphrodites, and a female vocalist on the last night was excellent. Port talks were information and not bland as we have experienced on some other river boats. In room infotainment system offered free internet and a good selection of movies.
Laundry service was reasonable and very good.
The demographic on our cruise was quite young, with about half of the guests under 50 and a good percentage under 40. No kids or teens. For us, this was really a perfect mix as things were lively and fun, something we have not always experienced on other lines.
We did several of the included excursions, opting for the "Active Walker" pace, which was just right for us. Bike tours had good participation and the bikes also got taken out by a good number of guests to use on their own.
We most enjoyed Nuremberg and Regensburg this trip, and felt that time was too short in both. We enjoyed the tour least in Vienna, where we opted for the "Hidden Secrets" tour and had a guide that could not operate the equipment properly, making her difficult to follow. We joined Csaba that evening for a visit to the opening of the main Christmas market, which was a mob scene but fun anyway.
At Durnstein, several in our group walked all the way to the top of the castle and enjoyed spectacular views. I found the port to be too touristy for my tastes with not enough to do.
Other stops included Melk, where we explored the quaint town center as we had previously visited the abbey, and Linz, where we did a DIY day in Salzburg, which was sunny and pretty. In the evening, we walked through Passau on our way back to the boat. This is a lovely town and we would have preferred more time there than stopping in Durnstein, which caters primarily to tourists.
At the end of our cruise, we headed to Prague on our own, using a private transfer with Prague Airport Transfers. That was the only disastrous part of the entire trip, as they sent a vehicle very much under sized for our group, even though I specifically advised them of the exact number of people and bags. We were forced to sit with luggage around and on top of us, which was not only unsafe but also far less than comfortable. This was compounded by the first snow storm of the season and a highway accident that resulted in a three hour delay where we sat still on the highway in the snow. Next time I will go with my instincts and stick with DB public bus, as we would have had much more room as well as a bathroom, a necessity when you are driving for almost 8 hours.
In Prague we stayed at the lovely Barcelo Old Town Praha, a small hotel ideally located. Rooms and staff were both very good and we would definitely stay here again, much preferring it to the Hilton Prague where we stayed previously.
In Prague, we had an excellent day with Andrea ReznÃckovï¿½ [Andrejka2002@seznam.cz] and the afternoon with Jana. I highly recommend this for Prague, as there is so much beneath the surface to understand.
We had two great dinners in Prague; one at Ambiente Pasta Fresca and the other at Cszenka, a sister restaurant. Our meal at Vino il Vino was disappointing and quite average.
All in all, this was one of best trips ever and the wonderful staff and crew of AmaCerto had a lot to do with this. This cruise will be a tough act to follow.