This was our second river cruise, the first being the Danube River with Amadeus or AMA as they are called now, three years ago. We loved them both. I know people often ask which cruise line is the best, but comparing Amadeus and Uniworld, they are about the same quality. I read a lot of reviews for Amadeus and Uniworld before booking and I never read one bad review. Here is a list of the little extras we appreciated on our Uniworld cruise:
Free wine with dinner we got pop or juice as we don't drink wine
Bottled water in cabin
Glass containers of filtered water to use in cabin or fill plastic bottles for tours
Filtered water faucet in common area, along with coffee, tea, hot chocolate and tangerines
Dish of wrapped candy at the front desk
Chocolates on pillow at night but on Easter they put a small wicker basket full of Lindt chocolates and another night there was a small box of chocolate covered raisins
Bicycles to use on shore
Juice and hot hand towels when we returned from shore excursions. I loved the peach juice
DVD movies played in room
Quietvox portable lightweight audio headset system for tour leader use on shore excursions. This meant that we did not miss a word of what the tour leader said. I could run around and take pictures and still hear the tour leader talking. I even got separated from the tour and couldn't see them, but I could hear the tour leader.
A variety of German sausages, pretzels, beer, pop served on the top deck at 10:30 AM as we cruised by the castle region. A full description and stories of every castle was given by the tour director.
Optional dinner served on the top deck a couple nights if you wanted.
A private car from Lucerne (we bought the 3 day optional post-cruise tour) to Basal airport. There were 26 people leaving at 6:15 AM for the airport by bus as they had early flights. But we were the only two who had a noon flight and they rented a private car to take us to the airport, so we got to leave at 9:30 AM. They could have had us take the bus and we would have had a long wait at the airport, but they went to the extra expense of renting a private driver.
Lights out in the dining room and all waiters came to sing happy birthday to my husband with a small cake and candle. The accompaniment was an accordion played by the man who was providing the special entertainment that evening. We had to turn our passports in for the first night and that is how they knew it was his birthday.
We spent three days in Amsterdam pre-cruise and three in Lucerne post-cruise.
We were on the River Ambassador which went in service in 1996 and refurbished in 2006. Our Amadeus ship was only one year old and I was thinking that the River Ambassador would seem old. But it did not seem old, in fact it seemed new. The decor was very classy with white and beige colors, the carpet looked new and the dining room was very elegant. All the cabins are the same size on the River Ambassador. Yes, they are small but very well laid out, lots of storage space and our suitcases and carry-ons fit under the bed. I'd say about the same size as an inside cabin on an ocean cruise ship. We never mind the size of the cabins as we are not in our cabins that much just getting ready for the day and changing clothes. A hint: I always travel with a couple over-the-door hangers and used two of them for our coats, and to hang the clothes we were wearing that day. They just help expand the closet space.
The food, for the most part, was very good. I am a bit fussy about eating some things, so may not be the best person to ask. My husband, on the other hand, is very adventurous and he ate a lot of different things and enjoyed them all. Breakfast was almost the same each morning and I heard one person complain about that, but the food was good. There was a to-order omelette station, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, pastries and fruit. Lunch was a buffet salad bar, soup, hot dishes, a pasta station a couple days & dessert. One day the chef gave a demo on how to make apple strudel and we had that for lunch dessert. Their ice cream was very good. Dinner was a set menu with a couple choices. I usually got the fish offering and it was very good. There was also a beef and chicken breast alternative offering every night if you didn't want what was offered. I had the chicken breast one night and it was delicious. The portions at dinner are small but I heard one person say that was a good thing as then they did not have that heavy, full feeling going to bed. I was full and satisfied because although the servings are small, we had four courses, so that was plenty. The only thing I would have liked to have changed is more vegetables at dinner. I am a veggie eater and there were either none or very few. We did put that on our survey sheet at the end of the cruise that we'd like more veggies at dinner. We suggested a bowl of veggies for the table. I'm sure I could have asked for some veggies at dinner, and I do on ocean cruises.
We stayed in the new Citizen M hotel at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. It is brand new and a destination in itself. Very modern, high tech and economical. www.citizenm.com It is a 10 minute walk from the airport mostly under a covered walkway. We paid $100/night. The train station is in the airport, so it was convenient to take the train in to Amsterdam. There is shopping and restaurants and grocery stores in the airport terminal. Citizen M has just opened their second hotel in downtown Amsterdam, so if you haven't booked your hotel, check them out. There are good reviews on www.tripadviser.com.
First day: We rode the train into Amsterdam and walked and walked from the Central Station to the Leidseplein area with dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.
Second day: We took the train to Haarlem, Netherlands, a charming city. Our purpose was to visit Corrie ten Boom's house. In WWII, Corrie, her sister and her father who were Christians, hid Jewish people in their upstairs home which was over their watch shop. They were reported to the German officers by a man they were helping, arrested and sent to concentration camps. The Germans never found the people hiding in a secret place behind a fake wall, but the ten Boom's were arrested for having too many ration cards, which had been obtained by an official person to help feed all the people in the house. Father and sister died in the camp, but Corrie lived to tell about her two years in the camp. She wrote a book, The Hiding Place and it was made into a movie. We got the DVD at our Library to watch before we left for the trip. The house and the operating watch shop is still there and an hour tour of the house is offered free including a small museum. www.corrietenboom.com. We got off the train on our way back at Central Station and walked over to Anne Frank House. The line was too long so we ate dinner and went back. The best time to go is when they open or about 7:00 pm. They stay open until 9:00 pm. This also was very touching and we got to tour the whole house.
Third day: We rode a bus to Kukenhof Gardens the very famous tulip garden. It was so beautiful. We took almost 200 pictures and spent five hours there. They had a number of restaurants so we had lunch there. They are only open from March to May.
Fourth day: We headed to the castle at Dam Square, but it was not open. There is also a church, but it also was not open. We had lunch and headed back to the hotel, gathered our luggage and went to the airport to connect with the Uniworld rep and transfer to the ship. There are a lot of museums to visit and Beethoven's house is there, plus you can also take a canal ride (we had done the canal ride when we stopped in Amsterdam on an ocean cruise years before).
We ate at The Pancake Bakery - Prinsengracht, 191, a short walk from the Anne Frank house. The food was wonderful. They had lunch, dinner and dessert pancakes. We shared the Indonesian Pancake for dinner and shared the Brazilian Pancake for dessert. I wish we would have had time to go back, it was that good. We also ate at the De Bisenkorf (Bee Hive) department store. They had a buffet starting at noon. There were lots of choices and even made-to-order items. I think it was on the fifth floor. This store is very near Dam Square.
Cologne: Wonderful cathedral and walking tour. Very quaint city where my husband enjoyed browsing the sidewalk flea market and I really enjoyed the Lindt Chocolate Factory!
Rudesheim: There is a funicular and those that went said it was nice. Tourist area with stores. We had about two or three hours on our own and then we were bused to a winery. It was called a castle, but the tour director said he'd call it a palace and I'd call it a chateau. It was gorgeous! We had a tour to a number of rooms and you could slip into other rooms on the way to take pictures, along with a talk about wine making. We were there about two hours. We don't drink wine so they gave us water instead. In the evening there was an optional dinner in Rudesheim but we did not go.
Speyer: A really quaint, scenic town. We had a morning walking tour and then went back to the ship to depart for our optional tour to Heidelberg. We had lunch in Heidelberg, included in the tour, and a two hour walking tour. After lunch we had about two hours to explore Heidelberg. I was impressed with the castle. Although it was a ruin, it was still in pretty good shape and the city is trying to renovate it. Heidelberg is very scenic, especially with the hugh castle sitting on the hill overlooking the town. When we got back to the ship I wanted to go back into Speyer before dinner, but it had started raining which dampened our desire to go back. I think the Heidelberg tour was about 80 Eu per person.
Strasbourg: Wow! A really big (comparatively) and scenic town! We loved it. The morning started out with an hour or so covered canal boat ride with commentary. It was raining and foggy, so we couldn't take pictures or have the top off the boat. After the boat ride we had a short walking tour and then we were on our own for the rest of the day. There was a bus shuttle back to the ship, so we explored Petite France for an hour or so and then took the shuttle back to the ship for lunch and after lunch we shuttled back to Strasbourg until about 4:30. Fortunately, after our canal boat ride, the rain stopped and the fog cleared up so we were able to get wonderful pictures.
What was our favorite port? I just loved them all, but I think the favorite would be the day long bus trip in the Alsace region of France. We stopped in three charming villages but the bus went through many more and I just kept snapping pictures the whole way. We had lunch on our own in Riquewihr which was our second stop on the Alsace, France all-day bus tour. We had a couple hours for lunch and shopping after the walking tour. Be sure to try the macaroon cookies and caramel glazed almonds and peanuts. For lunch we had La Tarte Flambee which was like a pizza but with a much thinner crust and no tomato sauce but was tasty. The name of the restaurant where we had lunch in Riquewihr - d'Brendelstub - 48, Rue Du General De Gaulle - on the main tourist street.
The optional tours we took: At the Koblenz port we took the optional tour to Marksburg Castle which cost 90 Eu for two people and included a guided tour of the castle and free time in the city and also an apple tart and drink at a local historic restaurant. Our other optional tour was to Heidelberg at the port of Speyer. Lunch was included along with a guided tour of the city and castle and the bus transportation. The cost for two people was 138 Eu.
If you purchased the three day extension in Lucerne, you will have a contracted tour guide in Lucerne; ours was named Marc. He took us on a two hour walking tour and then an hour boat ride on the lake. He suggested restaurants and we ate at two, Rossini and La Venice. Very good Italian food. Marc offered two optional tours for day two. One to Mt. Pilatus in the morning and a dinner at a Swiss restaurant with entertainment that evening. Those that went said the entertainment was audience participation with a drinking contest, yodeling contest, horn blowing contest, etc. They said the food was good and lots of fun. I can't remember the exact cost but think around 60 Eu per person and it needs to be paid in cash. I had located a map and walking tour on the Internet, so we did the walking tour and walked the city Tower Wall and went up into one of the towers. It was fun to just walk around especially across the wooden bridge into the older part of the city. We came across scenic squares, monuments and unique buildings. I love the way they do paintings on the outside of the buildings. Stores seemed to close around 6:30 and are not open on Sunday. Shopping is very expensive but a more moderate department store is H & M which I just discovered at a mall in Strongsville, Ohio. I went in and asked if they were a European company and sure enough they were and new to the US. I've seen H & M in a number of cities in Europe.
On day two we boarded the boat, a ten minute walk from the hotel, at Pier 1, for Vitznau. Got off there and looked around the little town and then boarded the cog railway to the top of Mt. Rigi, had lunch in the hotel cafeteria, hiked around for about an hour, took tons of spectacular pictures, then took the cog to Rigi-Kaltbad where we got off and boarded the cable car down to the city of Weggis. It was a ten or fifteen minute scenic walk down to the pier where we got on the boat back to Lucerne. Wonderful scenic day. You can get one ticket for all the above for 100 Eu per person. Looking at some of the prices, it seemed we saved money over buying each ticket separately.
On day three we took the train to Engleberg, Switzerland, an hour south of Lucerne. It was a very scenic ride with the rolling green meadows, the snow capped mountains and we even traveled through a forest. We found the tourist office and the two hikes we wanted to take were not available because of too much snow that hadn't melted yet. The Rep suggested we walk to a falls and it was very scenic through town, woods and all walking towards Mt. Titlus. The train was 30 something Eu per person.
The hotel Monopol was across the street from the train station and very conveniently located. The train station had lots of stores grocery, clothing and cafes and stayed open until 9:00 PM. Marc helped others who wanted to go to Bern and Interlaken for the day.
We had no problem with the water levels. Steamboats (a cruisecritic member who lives in Germany) had advised us on the board before we left that the Rhine does not have as much problem with high water as does the Danube.
It could be chilly on the top deck and I needed to wear lots of layers. When we cruised the castle area, the sun was shining but it looked a lot warmer than it was. We all bundled up because we would not have wanted to miss even one castle along the route. The River Ambassador had a covered sitting area which shielded us from the wind, but you could still see the scenery. Here is what I packed to use if necessary for layering. Short sleeved tops, two long-sleeved knit tops, a cotton short jacket and a corduroy short jacket (these were not outdoor jackets, but ones that you wear indoors) a thin windbreaker, a pull-over sweater and a thigh length spring coat. On the coldest days I had on the long-sleeved knit top, pull-over sweater, cotton jacket, windbreaker and then my spring jacket. I took those little knit gloves and also a knit scarf.
Those departing from the boat left at different times depending on their flight schedule. Our bus to Lucerne left at 9:00 AM and there were still lots of people left on the ship. The luggage is put out in the morning and they have a scheduled time for each cabin depending on the time you are leaving. They didn't want all the luggage out at the same time so guests would not trip over it. You have to get out of your cabin by 8:30 and then you can wait in the lounge until you are called for your bus to the airport.
River cruising is quite different than ocean cruising. No big ship, no high entertainment, no casino. But the trade-off is that you get to see towns that the ocean cruise ships can't get to. It's an easy way to tour, rather than renting a car and doing it on your own. This is stress-free and they take very good care of you and do everything they can to make your vacation wonderful. We did have a couple nights of entertainment a family, mother, father, daughter mother sang (she had a beautiful opera voice, but also sang all other types of music) father on keyboard and daughter on sax. Another night was an accordion player. All other nights was a man on keyboard singing and playing dance music. They played a game with us one other night incorporating the crew. Some nights you are still docked after dinner and could walk into town if you wanted and one port had an optional dinner. I think you are going to enjoy this as long as you don't expect it to be like an ocean cruise. We love both ocean and river cruising as each has lots to offer.