I joined the AmaDagio after 10 days in Europe during which I broke my shoulder and hand - I am young enough (50), but was feeling fragile. When I saw the crew waiting at the train station to welcome me I nearly cried with relief. They took my bags and my arm and I knew right then they would take good care of me and make this week a dream. And that they did.
I travelled solo during this portion of my trip and the small, intimate environment made sure I met nearly all of my sailing mates. There were family groups of siblings, girl's get-away groups, couples, a few singles and three wine clubs (this was a wine themed cruise). There are usually no children on this type of sailing but I did see one grandmother with her daughter and two teen granddaughters. They seemed to enjoy themselves and were well behaved. It was a wonderful mix of people and all were courteous, well educated and well traveled. Many owned their own businesses or were enjoying early retirement. This was NOT a bunch of elderly folks or people out for a cheap vaca and freebies cramming 4-6 into a cabin! No spring breakers or wild partiers, either. Most people were in the 40-60 age range.
If you want a Water park, casino and disco, this is not for you. If you want family fun, this is not for you. I compare it like Vegas to Vienna. If you want culture, sophistication and class, this is for you. The wine lectures, the history and unique excursions are second to none.
From the moment I stepped on board I was treated like a valued member of the family. The cabin was spacious, although not as large as my Med ocean cruise, but completely adequate. The bed was soft and had a fluffy duvet. There were plenty of pillows and the bathroom amenities and towels were excellent. There was an in-room entertainment system for watching movies and TV or using the internet. I had my own laptop and had no problem logging on each night and uploading pictures for friends. I was in the cabin one day when the housekeeper came to clean. I invited her to do so and was amazed by how thorough she was. She literally scrubbed the bath from top to bottom - floor, walls, glass, and fixtures until they shone. If they do that every day you could eat off those surfaces!!
The French balcony was not as nice as a full one, but by sitting in the lounge chair next to the railing, it was an acceptable substitute. I really did not miss that at all. It is all about smelling the fresh air and being able to lean out over the water.
The excursions. Wow. These were all included and the best I could have imagined. We visited a truffle farm - my favorite - and saw a little dog, Aimee, search for and retrieve the precious nuggets. Afterwards we tasted the truffle oil and had wine. We had a market tour and cooking lesson that was world class ( and the instructor was de-lish!! :) ). We toured an olive farm and tasted the fresh oil and some tapenade. And there was the chocolate and wine pairing!! Need I say more? We saw villages where time has stood still, views beyond compare from hills over the river, and all of this done with the best guides ever. And I would be remiss for not calling out our Tour Manager, Elke. She was so kind and knew everyone of us by name. When a couple of us who were less mobile wanted to go on a market trip, she took us personally by taxi so we could skip the walking portion. Now that is customer service!!
And speaking of service and thoughtfulness.I was on a trip over the Easter holiday. On Sunday we found an Easter Basket on the bed with a Godiva chocolate bunny. Later in the week it was a beautiful woven scarf thanking us for being their guest and inviting us to their new cruises on the Mekong - which I WILL be doing!! I will say the service was above and beyond anything I have experienced on an ocean cruise. I will be a river cruiser from now on! I am a fan of AMA!
Entertainment. We had wonderful classical (a string trio that brought tears to my eyes) and regional (think Parisian cabaret singer) entertainment on board. There were also some silly fun things like a comic and a theme night with 60's music.
Food. I cannot say enough about the wonderful food and wine. I never did get up early enough to enjoy the breakfast - I was on holiday!! - However, the other meals were divine. The lounge was always open with drinks and snacks. The wine was not complimentary in the lounge, but that was a choice for a more relaxed setting. A buffet style offering of some of the choices in the main dining area was set up in the lounge for those who preferred it.
It was always possible to sit on the outdoor deck with a snack or drink any time of day. And the rooftop deck was also a site for gatherings and groups with bottles of wine and snacks.
But the dining room.oh the wondrous things that they had there! I made it a point to go to the main dining room for every lunch and dinner. This is not my usual practice on the bigger ocean ships since I feel uncomfortable as a solo traveler with all the couples and the assigned seating. This was different. The tables were set up in twos, fours, sixes, eights and more and you could sit anywhere. Oftentimes people I had met during the day asked me to join them. Other times I sat at a small table by myself and read or chatted with others at adjoining ones. I felt very welcome and not at all alone. On the big ships I only dined in my room because the dining room was too formal and cold. This was so much nicer.
So, the FOOD. Wow. The bread basket and daily assortment of spreads alone would have been worth the price. Sometimes it was flavored butters and sometimes a cheese spread or tapenade. All were excellent and there were always three different kinds. First course choices included a soup - always a broth for the weight conscious and a cream soup for those who were not. I had soups flavored with a variety of veggies, mushrooms and herbs. They often came with a dollop of cream and a breadstick artfully placed atop the bowl. Appetizers ranged from a simple salad (as if you could call the beautiful presentation simple) to a wonderful regional treat like marinated mozzarella pearls with tomato coulis and basil cream. The entrees were so special it was hard to choose. Often there was a fish dish or pasta. The choices reflected the area we were in. There was always an option for a steak, burger or vegetarian meal. Every single thing I tried was delicious and better that the finest Michelin restaurant in service. The "wine boys" kept the beverages flowing and made the meals fun with their smiling personalities.
There was always a cheese board and variety of crackers and breads on a table in the center of the room. There was often a fruit plate as well. Lunch was less formal and could be served at your table or by visiting a spread in the center of the room. One thing I loved about the river cruising was that the scenery was right outside our window 24/7. During dinner, swans would swim up to the windows and castles would glide by. Amazing. We were never more than a few feet from shore.
The intimacy of the ship and the ease in which it glided into the center of towns was perfect. You can get off and walk mere steps to the town centers. No lines, no big groups, no hassles getting on and off the ship. In fact, we were always welcomed "Home" with a beverage that suited the day. A fresh lemonade on a hot one or warm cider on a cold, blustery morning.
This experience has changed my perspective on cruising forever. I will only be on river cruises from now on.