My wife and I were on the AMA Prima for the Magnificent River cruise starting May 8th, 2013 in Amsterdam and ending in Budapest May 22nd. Because the ports and tours are covered in many other reviews, my review will concentrate on the ship, crew and the experience. This was our first river cruise and only our second cruise overall with our first being on the Windstar from Costa Rica through the Panama Canal to Barbados on a repositioning cruise. We love the small ship experience and were not disappointed.
Embarkation could not have been easier. We used frequent flyer miles for our flights and came 4 days early to tour around Holland so we did not use AMA travel or transfers. However, we knew where the ship was located by using an IPhone App called Marine Traffic which tracks all ships, including cruise ships. It is kind of fun seeing where your ship is before/after/during your cruise. We also used it to keep track of the other cruise ships that we were tag-teaming along the same route. If you are not as tech savvy, as AMA suggests, just call the ship the day before to confirm the exact docking location.
We took a taxi from the Marriott Amsterdam to the ship and it was about 20 Euros. The taxi stopped right in front of the gangway and there were AMA Prima staff there to take the luggage to our room and we just walked on board. We got there about 12:30 and our room was already made up so they gave us our key cards and we went straight to our room. We did have to leave our passports at the front desk so they could make copies for immigration purposes. They asked that you pick them up any time before you disembark. They also ask for your credit card if you plan to settle your on-board account with that card.
To unlock your room door, all you need to do is hold the card next to the door lock and it unlocks. This is slightly different than most hotel cards in that you do not need to put it in a slot etc. This is great because I could keep it in my wallet and just hold my wallet up to the door and it unlocked. The card also activates the exterior doors to the lobby when coming back on board and from the Sun Deck. ALWAYS remember to take your key. At least once I went up to the Sun Deck and forgot my key and had to knock to get someone to open the door from the inside. ïSh
It seemed as if you could arrive at the ship as early as you like even though the official time is normally 3:00 pm. You can use the common areas and can partake of the food/drink in the lounge. On our disembarkation day, we saw folks arrive as early as 8:00 am. Some just left their luggage and went into town to sightsee but some stayed in the lounge until their cabins were ready.
We were greeted in our room by a big bowl of fresh fruit and a bottle of champagne which was a great way to start our cruise. I do not know if the champagne was from AMA or our TA but was a great surprise.
The Room (303)
The AMA Prima was brand new (only been in service for 5 previous 1 week cruises) so the rooms and public areas were immaculate. We booked a suite which was about 350 square feet. My only small criticism here is that the pictures and floor plan on the website did not match the room so it seemed a little smaller than I thought it was going to be. That being said, the room was spacious and our outside balcony was big enough for two chairs, a small table and two ottomans. The suite balconies were 2-3 feet deeper and wider than those of the AA etc. categories. We probably did not use the balcony as much as we would have if the sailing had been in the summer but it was still nice to have for those evening times to enjoy the sights before bed. Our room also had a small 2 chair sitting area with a small table.
The bed was comfortable but on the hard side. There is a box on casters under one of the beds to put your luggage in. It was very handy and we were able to put one large and one carry-on size suitcase in the compartment. It was a little hard to get it in and out because it was as long as the bed so we had to move the bed out a little to allow it to roll past the bedside tables. This allows room under the other half of the bed for additional luggage. There were small nightstands on either side of the bed both with a drawer and lamp. There were small LED lamps for reading and not bothering your mate. There was a small alarm travel clock for your use.
Our suite had two TVs in the room, one above the desk and one on the wall opposite the end of the bed. (Most rooms only have one TV.) The one above the desk is connected to a mouse and keyboard and worked really well as a PC but can be used as a television. The television offerings were good with regular TV being CNN International, Sky News, BBC 1 as English stations. They also had Discovery and Nat Geo but were from a Dutch feed so if the program was in English, it was broadcast in English with Dutch subtitles. They also had Netherlands channels 1-4 and a generic International News channel in 4 different languages. They also had a channel that showed the camera feed from the front of the ship. Made for great viewing, especially through the 68 locks!! They also offered movies on-demand with 10-15 newer movies as well as a handful of classics. They also had music available through the TV.
As for internet access, you need to keep in mind the technology for ground level moving vehicles can be challenging. This means there were many times when there were obstructions to our south where the satellites are that prevented internet access and TV reception. This was especially true in locks and when going under bridges. Additionally, the wi-fi seemed to work better in the lounge and the restaurant than in our room. And in our room, it seemed to work better closer to the front of the ship than the back. Again, having appropriate expectations is the key. If you absolutely have to have access, your best bet is to make sure you have your own hot spot or some other arrangement. Otherwise, if you are a casual user that just checks e-mail and the weather etc, what they have is fine. Frankly, we were able to use our iPhones to access the web at some point almost every day. Just remember to set up your calling plan so you can make/receive calls/texts overseas and turn off cellular data on your phone. If you are a casual user, you really shouldnt need a separate international data plan because you can use the ships wi-fi. Not turning your cellular data off and not having a data plan is where you could cost yourself hundreds of dollars in fees that you will not see until you get your next bill.
The bathroom in our suite was beautiful with granite and marble everywhere but the shower is a little small. It did have both a rain shower head and a regular European shower head that you can take off the hook. It had two sinks and good counter/storage space. It has a big bathtub and since we are not bath folks, we did not use it except to clean clothes. I looked into a bathroom in an AA room and the shower looked bigger. Granted, there was only one sink and no tub. The toilet is actually like one on a plane. It flushes mostly using air compression. Also, the venting seemed to work real well so smells dissipated quickly. The amenities were first-class and always quickly restocked with shampoo, conditioner, body gel, lotion, soap, bath salts, shower caps, nail files, Q-tips and cotton etc. There was a hair dryer but it is not very powerful so after the first day, my wife mostly let her hair dry naturally.
The room is tended to at least 2 times a day with fresh towels, bed made, cleaning and bottled water replenished. There is a mini-fridge in the room that is for your use. We hardly ever saw our cabin stewards in our room as he almost magically knew when you had left our room for breakfast and dinner and we always came back to a clean room. They also are masters at the art of folding towels into animals and other things. It was always fun to see what new creature would be in our room on our return!! The hotel staff was incredible and did everything you asked and were always friendly.
Just some additional notes about the room. There was plenty of closet space with three floor to ceiling closets with doors. The safe is a standard hotel type safe where you type in a four digit code. It is big enough for your jewelry and several laptops etc. The desk was a good size to work on and had an outlet for recharging items. Of course, remember to bring your adapters and converters if you need one. There were also several plugs near the bed and in the bathroom. The room comes with two large umbrellas, two robes and two sets of slippers. The laundry service is reasonably priced and we used it quite a bit. Depending on the when you get the laundry in, you will either get it back the same day or the next day. You just bag it up, fill out the form and leave it in your room so the steward can see it. They will take care of the rest.
AMA Prima Common Areas
The lobby is very nice and the desk is staffed 24 hours a day. There is an elevator that goes from the Violin (300 Level) Deck, passed the Cello (200 Level) Deck to the restaurant. It does not go to the Piano (100 Level) deck and this is because the elevator shaft cannot go from the waterline to the roof, in case of flooding. Just forward of the lobby on the port (left) side of the ship is a small library area with books & magazines as well as games. On the starboard (right) side of the ship is the small shop. It has some AMA logo items as well as gift items from the areas that you are traveling through. The inventory changed throughout the cruise as we sailed through different areas. They stocked some generic toiletry items as well as batteries, memory cards etc. They had a small selection of over-the-counter medicines for minor allergy/cold issues. However, the product descriptions were mostly in other languages so you may want to make sure you bring what you need, especially if you allergies. The staff can usually help translate, however.
As you continue forward, you see a push button coffee machine that makes great coffee drinks and is available 24/7. Tee and hot chocolate are also available. There is a full bar as well and is usually staffed after noon until well into the evening. You do have to pay for all drinks, including soft drinks, at times other than lunch and dinner. At the very front of the ship, there is a small sitting area that is fronted by glass that is great for viewing in the outdoors.
The Sun Deck can be accessed through stairs on either side of the lobby or stairs on the starboard side of the outdoor sitting area in front of the lounge. At the very front is a sitting area with great outdoor couches, chairs and tables. This area is low enough that even if the rest of the Sun Deck is closed due to low bridges, it is open. Just aft of this sitting area is the captains bridge which raises and lowers as needed. They did several tours where the captain showed how the ship works which was fun. Right behind the captains bridge is the pool. It is small but has several fun extras. There are stools to sit on, kind of like a swim-up bar. There is also a jetted system that can be used to swim laps against a current. The entire rest of the Sun Deck is devoted to lounge chairs, a walking track and a large chess board game for those so inclined. Some of the chairs are covered by overhangs to keep you out of the sun if you prefer. Finally, the back portion of the Sun Deck is the smoking area and has some tables and chairs. This is the only smoking area on the ship. On our cruise, most of the Sun Deck was unavailable for about 5 days or so as we were on the Rheine/Main canal, the Main River, and the Main/Danube canal. This was not because of high water, it is just that the bridges and locks are lower than on the Rhine and Danube. Finally, as our room was on the deck just below the Sun Deck, there was some noise when folks were walking over our room. The staff tries to discourage use of the area by passengers between 10:00 pm and 8:00 am but it can be used by staff if they are helping doc the boat and in locks so just know that ear plugs can be a good thing. It is not bad but for a light sleeper, ear plugs are always your friend!!
The exercise room has a stepper, treadmill and a universal machine as well as some other items. We did not use it because we were getting plenty of exercise on the included tours. We did not use the beauty shop or the message either but we did talk to some folks that did and they seemed to like the results.
Suffice it to say you will NOT go hungry. I cant say enough good things about the kitchen and wait staff. The sense I got was you could basically order anything and they would try to accommodate you, regardless of the menu. The dress is casual as some dress up a little for dinner but we also saw jeans and they did not seem out of place. The only two meals where folks dressed-up more was the Captains Dinner toward the end of the cruise and our nights at the Erlebnis Restaurant. Overall, the food was excellent and there are almost too many choices at every meal. In the main dining room, for all meals, seating is open and there is a range of times when you can come down. Breakfast was usually 7:30 9:30, lunch usually started around 1:00 and dinner was normally at 7:00. The dining room has many different seating options with 2 semi-enclosed small rooms at the front that can seat 10-12 each. In the main dining room, there are booths (4 persons), round tables (6 people), booth/table combos (4 persons) and a large table near the front that seated 10-12. There is a captains table (4 persons) but it is really for the captain and senior staff to eat. The last night the captain did use one of the big tables and I assume the guests were returning AMA guests.
For breakfast there is a large self-serve buffet with scrambled eggs, omelet bar, several different breakfast meats, cereals, fruit, yogurt etc. They also have a traditional European breakfast of lunch meats, cheeses and a huge bread and pastry table. The bread is baked freshly on the ship. There is also a menu you can order from that was the same throughout the cruise and had things like eggs benedict, waffles etc. The funny thing was that there were passengers that did not know that there was a menu for breakfast until well into the cruise because the buffet was so good!!
For lunch, again there was an extensive buffet of salads and small lunch items but dont fill up on this because it is only the first course. There is a more extensive menu for lunch that includes 2-3 soup choices, 2-3 regional entree choices as well as offering hamburgers, cheeseburgers, and another specialty burger every day. Beer and wine are free at lunch and they will keep pouring wine, often when you are not looking so beware of the bottomless glass!!
For dinner in the main ding room, it is an all menu affair with a 4 course meal. Again, you will have 2-3 choices of hors doeuvres, salad/soup, main course and dessert which changes daily. They also have steak, chicken and fish every day as well as a Cesar salad option and a dinner salad option that changes. Cheese and crackers are also available. Again, beer and wine (both red and white) is free at dinner and the wine selection changes daily as they try and bring different wines in based on the region they are sailing through. We did not have a bad wine the entire cruise.
On our ship, the also have a second option for dinner at the Erlebnis Restaurant which is on the Violin Deck at the rear of the ship. This is a glass enclosed area that can seat about 20-30 folks. Most tables are 4 people with one big 10-12 person table. For our cruise, you could sign up once per week. I would highly recommend reviewing your detailed itinerary and try and select evenings when the ship is sailing. It makes for a great view. I would also recommend you sign up as soon as you can because times fill up fast!! Like the main dining room, the menu is a four/five course meal that is fixed except you usually have 2 choices for the main course. The menu is the same every night of the week so on our cruise, we had one menu the first week and another one the second week.
Finally, the lounge serves food throughout the day. They have an early-risers continental breakfast buffet usually starting at 6:30. They also serve what they call a light lunch buffet that has many of the same things as the restaurant, just not as much variety. The rest of the day, the lounge has iced tea, water, and an assortment of cookies. These are all at no extra cost and are in addition to the coffee/tea available 24/7.
As you might expect, because of the small size of the ship, all of the entertainment is basically in the lounge area. They have an on-board piano player/singer who did a great job of entertaining us in the afternoons and evenings. AMA also brought on several local entertainers about 6-7 times during our cruise. We are not night owls so we missed most of the festivities but the folks we talked to thought the entertainment was very good and there were a handful of couples that danced the night away almost every night.
Daily, usually before dinner, the Cruise Manager will host a briefing in the lounge to inform the passengers on the next days port and any other important information. I am a pretty good researcher and thought I probably did not need to go to these but really found them useful for planning what we would do the next day. It also gave us a great excuse to come to the lounge and have a pre-dinner drink with some of our new friends. Also, every evening when they make up your room during dinner, they leave on your bed the next days schedule with contact information as well as information about the ports/towns/tours. You should take this with you as it has all the pertinent phone numbers just in case you need to contact the ship.
As I indicated earlier, I will not specifically review the individual tours. However, I do want to let you know about the process and comments in general. Suffice it to say, you will have plenty to do and your toughest decision may be to not do all of it!! Overall, the tours were informative and educational. It really depended on the tour guide. In your cabin are two audio devices that will be used on almost every tour. It is a 4 inch by 6 inch by Â½ inch thick and has an earpiece for one ear. It has a cord to put over your neck but also fits easily into a front shirt pocket. It is up to you to bring the device and to plug it back into the charger after the tours to get recharged.
Daily, you will go to the reception desk and be assigned a group and they will give you a corresponding colored card. This card corresponds to the group you will be with and helps determine which bus or walking group you should be with. Also, every time you leave the ship, you should get your boarding cards from the reception desk that has your cabin number. It is very important to take your boarding cards out when you leave and return them when you come back to the ship because it helps the staff know that everyone is back on board. There were several times where the Cruise Director announced over the PA if cabin so-in-so was aboard because they wanted to leave the port and had not yet received all of the cards.
When you are with your group, the tour guide will turn on their transmitter and it should automatically sync with your receiver. You need to stand as close to the guide as possible otherwise you may get synced to another groups receiver. They have a range of 100 or so feet so once you are synced, you should be fine. However, there was one time when our guide needed to go get some tickets for a tour and we somehow got hooked to a Viking tour on the same frequency and did not realize it for several minutes. And yes, most of the other companies use the same technology so it can happen but there are many frequencies so it seemed rare.
For almost all town tours you had a slow walkers group, several normal walkers groups and a quick walkers group. Several times we started off on the tour and found something we liked and left the tour. It is best that you let the tour guide know you are doing this, especially if the tour is ending with a bus ride back to the ship, so they do not think they lost somebody. Just know that if you do go off on your own, know when you need to be back to the ship.
AMA also offers Culturally Curios, Culinary Delights and Bike Tours. These tours are capacity controlled and you can actually sign up on-line on the AMA website under the Already Booked menu and select Explorer Tours. You will need your booking number and are only allowed to pre-sign up for 3 tours per person. (You and your traveling partner can do separate ones.) On-board, however, you can sign up for others. AMA is very accommodating and if they have a large number of folks on the wait list, they will try to make the group bigger or get a second tour guide. Also, it is no problem to change at the last minute if you decide you don't want to bike in the rain etc. The Cruise Director just asks that as soon as you know, let him/her know so they can offer your spot to those on the wait list. We did several of the Culturally Curios/Culinary Delights tours and they were great. We did not do the bike tours because they tended to be for more experienced bike riders. The bikes are also available to use at ports by yourself if they are not being used by a tour.
On our cruise, they did have several optional tours that were extra cost. We did several, like a concert in Vienna. As with their other tours, AMA does a great job of coordinating these so if you are so inclined, I would not hesitate to spend the extra money. Just know that 90-95% of your tours are included in the price you paid.
As for docking, about 80% of the time we docked directly next to the dock either using the ships gangway or a gangway on the dock. Only 3 times did we dock next to another ship that we had to go through/over. This will probably only get worse as more and more river ships are launched but it was not that big a deal. Just follow the Cruise Manager's advice and that is when you open your curtains in the morning, you might want to be a little modest because even though you started the night with a great view, you could have a neighbor only inches away the next morning. About 2/3 of the time we docked close enough to town to be able to walk to the main part of town. However, there were several times where we docked a ways a way and they always offered some motorized transportation to get us to the start of the tour and then back to the ship.
Again, this is very easy. The day before, there is a briefing that AMA asks to be attended by at least one person per cabin. They explain the disembarkation process including explaining the process for those with AMA transfers, those needing a cab, and those on their own. If you need a taxi, the Cruise Director will schedule it for you, including ordering a larger cab if several groups are going to the same place at the same time and don't mind traveling together. For this cruise, there was pre-set price for the taxis depending on whether you were going to the airport or a town hotel. The price was reasonable and the cabs were really hired cars so they were very clean and new. They try and space out the cabs so there is not a huge line waiting for cabs. This was managed very well, much like everything else on the cruise.
The day before disembarkation, you are given a summary to-date of your on-board charges. The bill is in Euros and you can pay either by cash or credit card. You are also given tip envelopes for the crew and Cruise Manager. Tips are not automatically added to your bill so you must put cash in the envelopes or fill out the credit card form of what you want to pay and it will be added to your final bill. The cruise line recommends 20 Euros (3 for the Cruise Director and 17 for the other crew members) per passenger per day and frankly, they are worth every penny. Obviously, everyone has their own tipping philosophy but for us, we could not have been more impressed with the service. We also gave an additional tip directly to the Cruise Manager and Cabin Steward for their special attention to detail. We also tipped our drink servers when we signed for our drink bills in the lounge. And a little suggestion, tip large the first drink order. They will remember you the rest of the trip which is especially good at dinner when they are trying to get to everyone with beer and wine!!
Depending on when you are leaving and how you are leaving, you are asked to pick up the appropriate corresponding colored luggage tags. They ask that you put your large luggage in the hallway an hour before you are to leave but no later than 9:00 am since you are supposed to be out of your room by then so they can clean the room for the next cruise. The do serve a normal breakfast and it is OK to stay later in the common areas as long as the boat is still in port.
When we first started looking for a river cruise, we knew nothing and depended on a TA that specializes in river cruises. We were leaning toward Viking because of their marketing. After listening to our wants and needs, our TA suggested AMA and we are very happy she did. It is often the little things that make the difference and this cruise was no exception. On almost any itinerary, you will be touring with and around the other major companies. (Viking, Tauck, Avalon, Uniworld, Golden Circle etc.) It seemed like the AMA tour groups were smaller allowing for better access to the guide. And a little story that speaks to the little things. We were in a town that specialized in smoky beer and part of the included town tour was to end at a pub/bar that served this smoky beer. You were given a coupon with the option of drinking the beer there or getting it to go along with a little goody bag of items about the town. We sat next to a group from another cruise company and asked if they had tried the beer. They said they were not big beer drinkers so would probably order something else. We asked, you get the beer for free so why not try it? After some back and forth, suffice it to say the other group was taken to the same place but were expected to pay for the beer etc. themselves. They were less than pleased. Again, it is the little things.
Overall, we could not be happier with AMA and highly recommend them to anyone. You could see from observing the other cruise lines that they offered a high value for the price. I also believe the AMA Prima is the best ship out there right now and if you add the service and attention to detail of the AMA staff, the combination is among the best, if not the best in the industry. Everyone will have different experiences but ours could not have been better and I would not hesitate to recommend the AMA Prima or any AMA ship.
I do want to add one additional note that demonstrates AMA's commitment to passenger service. Toward the end of our cruise, my wife developed a fairly serious medical condition. It took several days to diagnose and the first day a doctor could not be arranged to come on the ship so one of the multi-lingual crew accompanied us to a local hospital to make sure we were given the best care possible. We were given some medication but the condition worsened later that afternoon so the ship arranged for local EMT/Paramedics to come on board the ship and do an additional examination. After a rather sleepless night on the ship, at our next port, the Cruise Director arranged for an English speaking doctor trained in the US to come on board and do a further examination. All of this was done with very little prodding from us and was a great relief to know we were not going to have to navigate the medical systems in two different countries alone. They even brought meals to our room. I want to personally thank our Cruise Director and a member of the purser staff for their diligence, compassion and support. My wife is fine now and we traveled home safely but for those scary couple of days, AMA was there helping anyway they could.