This was our first river cruise and our first time to central Europe.
We did Prague 'on our own' and opted out of the pre-cruise through AMA. I initially booked the pre-cruise portion through AMA but after reading lots of not only cruise critic reviews but other sites as well decided we could do it on our own and I'm glad we made that decision.
We flew Chicago-JFK- Prague in Delta's business elite. Since we were flying overnight & the new lie flat beds were a God send. My husband managed about 5 hours of sleep and I managed about 3, which is good for me on a plane. The business elite section was great, good food & wine, nice amenities. My only real complaint was the water in both lavs ran out prior to breakfast but I always carry handi wipes so for us it was a non-issue.
One comment about business elite, I shopped and shopped as we don't have the luxury of frequent flyer miles. I found a fantastic rate at the 345 days out and grabbed it. Yes, it was pricey ($1850 ea roundtrip vs. $700 in coach) but as it turned out it was the best decision I made regarding this trip.
Arrived in Prague and went through customs which was painless. We were anticipating a car that we booked through our hotel. No one was waiting so we waited, we waited and we waited. After 45 minutes we called the hotel and the man answering the phone said he would handle it and to call back in 5 minutes. After the 5 minutes was up I called back and he assured us the driver was on his way and would arrive in less than 30 minutes.
After about 15 minutes the driver showed up, apologizing profusely and helped us along with our luggage out to his car.
Nice drive into Prague and the views took our breath away. We arrived at The Archibald at the Charles Bridge Hotel and after more apologizing from the front desk about the car we were in our room for a quick freshen up.
I won't go into great detail about Prague since we were on our own but I will say that if you have ANY travel experience, you can do it MUCH cheaper and in MHO better on your own. We bought the transfer to the ship in Nuremburg through AMA and we met the group Tuesday AM at the Intercontinental for the bus ride first to Karlovy Vary and then on to the ship. While the Intercontinental was a nice hotel, to us it was just another big western style hotel. I'm glad we chose a spot with a lot more charm and character. Prague is a lovely city with fabulous hidden gems. It's very walkable, we did however use public transport a lot, which as super easy, inexpensive and convenient.
The transfer to the ship via Karlovy Vary was a bus trip, nothing more or less. While the buses were quite nice and not full, our guide was a little too chatty for my taste. Karlovy Vary is lovely however and we enjoyed our short visit there.
After what seemed a very long time we were at the AMALyra docked outside Nuremburg.
Our first impressions of the ship and the crew were fantastic. We were asked to wait for our cabin number to be called in the forward lounge. The bar was open and it was nice to off the bus and enjoy the lovely lounge with a drink while waiting. We only waited about 10 minutes before our cabin (212) was called. Our cabin was on the cello deck one level down from reception. We were shown to our cabin by a lovely girl who showed us around and explained how things operated. Then we had a little free time to unpack and get settled before a mandatory meeting in the lounge prior to dinner.
I won't do a day by day review but I will tell you that in our opinion AMA waterways and the AMALyra exceeded our expectations in almost every way.
The crew was friendly and helpful. They were always very efficient. I do think that perhaps there is a cultural disconnect with some staff members being very businesslike and perhaps not overly 'warm' but we never felt they were rude. I just think that they aren't overly demonstrative with their emotions. Again, we never felt that this distracted from our enjoyment on board. Plus, these people work HARD! Everyone does everything, they certainly seem a cohesive group.
We liked the cabin and bathroom. We felt there more than enough space and what space there was well designed. Personally , I would like to see better lighting around the mirror area in the cabin since this is where I would do my hair & makeup. The French balcony was very nice and it was nice to open it and see the world go by while getting ready for dinner on the nights we weren't docked. It did seem that our side was tied up to other boats at almost every port (except Vienna) so we did have to keep our drapes closed but we were rarely in our room when we were in port so again, another non-issue for us.
The ships public areas were very nice and very tastefully decorated. Even though the AMALyra is a older ship (2009?) everything was ship shape (no pun intended) and looked new. We enjoyed the back game room nightly after dinner to play backgammon.
We also enjoyed the front and top decks where you could sit outside and enjoy the views.
Which were spectacular. My husband has bad knees and the hot tub was a blessing but it was usually too hot or too cold but the engineer was very good natured about adjusting it for us.
The onboard entertainment most nights was Peter on the piano and he was very good. They brought on entertainment in Nuremburg, Vienna and Budapest. All were very entertaining. We always enjoyed a few after dinner cocktails in the bar each night. Not too many on our cruise stayed up after dinner but those who did had a enjoyable time.
The itinerary and guides were great. The 'quiet boxes' are the best- they enabled you to hear the guides without being on top of them. They made for easy picture taking while still listening to the tour. Make sure you remember to tip the guides if you think they did a good job.
At most ports when we were docked until late or overnight we went ashore and enjoyed local food and drink instead of eating on the ship. If we had to choose one low point I guess the food on board would be it. There was a lot of food and it was fine but IMHO pretty uninspired. It was just food, nothing knocked our socks off. We really enjoyed the regional stuff they did offer-sausages in Germany at cocktail hour but it was only once.
After the 7 days we were pretty tired of the menu and we were glad we chose to eat ashore when we could. A lovely beer garden in Linz was a highlight as well as some outstanding schnitzel in Vienna and of course sausage in Passau. We also stopped by Hofbrau in Passau and had delicious Sauerbraten with great beer in a beer garden.
We would highly recommend eating ashore if your budget allows.
Disembarkation was easy and painless- we arranged for a taxi through the cruise director (Matyias) he set up a fixed rate at rush hour to the main train station for us, 15 euros.
We needed to get back to Prague for our return flight home. Since we got such a great deal on airfare we had to fly in and out of Prague. We took the train, which was supposed to be 6 hours but turned into 7.5 hours. While it was worth it to fly business class I wouldn't choose this mode of travel again. I have traveled in Europe using high speed rail before and this experience was NOTHING like those experiences. Not horrible, the train was clean and nothing bad happened but it was LONG and the scenery was lacking. This was my error. I thought this would be a fantastic way to travel, but in reality, not so much.
Took the airport express from train station to Prague airport and stayed overnight at the Courtyard by Marriott right outside terminal 2. Had a good night's sleep but we both woke up with colds. At that moment the idea of flying seemed pretty unappealing but with along travel day ahead we were once again glad we chose business class. We were able to rest/ sleep the whole way home.
One thing I'll mention in closing, there was a large group (40) on board. While this didn't detract from our good time aboard, it certainly raised the average age to 80 I'd say. We picked AMA because it had the youngest demographic, we are 55 & 62. Like I mentioned before most folks were in bed after dinner and there was a fair amount of cliques. They were very unfriendly to others on board, saving seats in the lounge, expecting tables together at meals. I know that AMA cannot control this and like I said it didn't damper our fun but I think it would have been a better cruise without such a large group of folks.
We really enjoyed our cruise and booked a deposit on a future cruise our return. Our travel agent was able to call AMA and get the 'on board' deal for us. We hope to cruise the Rhine in 2015.