Just got back from the cruise. I've been on many ocean cruises, including a couple of times in the Mediterranean. But overall, this was the best. Even though river cruising and this particular cruise line caters to the retired "blue-hair" crowd, my 2 college age children agree this was their best cruise experience.
To be honest, even though I have been on a 3-day Yangtze River cruise exploring the 3 Gorges, this was really my first river cruise. So, as a river cruise neophyte, the comments I make may or may not reflect the typical European river cruise line. Please remember this important point as you read.
This cruise appeals to a leisurely-paced crowd interested in culture and history. If high energy cruises with Vegas shows,hairy-chest competitions, and drunk, obese nymphs stuffed into bikinis and gatoring on the dance floor is your shangri-lai ideal of a cruise, look elsewhere.
Original ports of call included Nuremberg, Bamberg, Wurzberg, Heidelberg, Rothenberg, Koblenz, Cochem, Bernkastle and Trier. Prague and Paris pre and post cruise excursions were available at additional cost.
Amalyra's personal service and attention were fantastic. I am a travel agent, and this particular cruise was marketed to attract a number of travel agents (about a dozen out of approx 120 passengers were agents). Although the president and VP of AMA were on board, I sensed the service we received from the crew was the norm. I definitely will travel AMA again and see if this is the case.
The cruise started in Nuremberg, Germany and was originally scheduled to end in Trier traveling the Main, Rhine and Mosel rivers. However, due to the high water level of the Mosel, the ship was forced to avoid Bernkastle (which I was most looking forward to due to the local wine country) and Trier. Instead, we went to Koln.
The food and port tours were the highlights of the cruise. The food for the most part was as good as many 5 star restaurants I've experienced with a couple of choices in each stage of the meal. I usually went with the "chef" recommendations in the evening. Dinner included free sodas and all u can drink wine. I expected the wine to rival "2 Buck Chuck" or "Yellowtail," but was surprised to find most of the wine selections from local regions quite good. Cocktails incurred a charge at all times, along with wine during the day.
Only one night was my food selection typical of the usual cruise mediocrity. Breakfast was a buffet. Lunch a combination of buffet and a couple of menu entree selections. All u can eat cheese selections accompanied each meal. Afternoon tea with sweets and hors-d'œuvres were served every afternoon. A coffee/cappucino/expresso/hot chocolate machine was available 24/7.
Since the ship was less than a year old, the cabins were top-notch. Clean & comfortable decorated in the IKEA motif. Although the square footage was only a little bigger than the standard ocean cruise ship cabin, the layout of the furniture allowed more room to manuever than any other ship on which I've traveled. Thus, my wife and I were able to avoid constantly stepping over each other as what usually happens.
The bathroom was larger than on other ships. The shower actually had a door (instead of a mere curtain) and actually had enough room to allow 2 people (not that we did that, mind you!)
TVs were LCD flat screens and contained free internet (albeit very slow and available only when the ship was stationed in port. While cruising, the antennae was removed to allow the ship to manuever under bridges.) Complimentary bottle water was in the room.
Since we received a complimentary room upgrade, our room had a "French" balcony. This is not a balcony in the true sense (since the ship must pass through locks with just a few inches maneuvering room on either side, real balconies would unwisely reduce the living area of the ship). Instead, "French" balconies are merely sliding glass doors that allow you to stick your head out the door for a 180 degree viewing. Protective bars prevent you from falling out.
The exercise room was practically non-existent. It had a few dumb bells and a couple of tread mills. AMA's market niche of retirees (think arthritic joints) along with the ship space limitation I assume are the likely reasons.
Tour guides and bus transportation were gratis at all ports. All guides were good except one. The one in Heidelberg was outstanding. In fact, she was key to my family's unanimous opinion that Heidelberg was our favorite city. She even provided us with locally made chocolate. Due to space, I won't elaborate on the actual sights of each port as they don't deviate from what you can learn about them from any guide book.
AMA usually offered each local port tour in 3 segments: fast, medium and slow paced. My family always selected the fast pace in order to pack more tourism into our time slot. Each person received ear phones and a radio transmitter to clearly hear the guide.
AMA sent us a small, multi-color guide book of the regions we visited 4 weeks prior to the cruise. Reminiscent of a Fodors or Frommers guide. Nice touch.
Details about the service.......on cruises, I'm used to being constantly accosted to buy stuff -- port tours, alcohol, souvenirs, pictures (a camera being shoved in my face at every turn), massages, beauty treatments, etc. Not so on AMA. What a relief! Of course, a river cruise is considerably more expensive on average than an ocean cruise. This reflects the fact of having 150 passengers as opposed to 3,000 -- more passengers allow more distribution of fixed costs, even with bigger, more expensive ships. Nonetheless, perhaps the profit margins of river cruising forego the necessity to harass passengers with additional purchases.
Our airline lost my daughter's suitcase. Upon boarding, my wife asked the ship's purser to make contact with US Airways to ascertain if they found the suitcase to deliver it at a future port of call. Though the suitcase never materialized, the next day the cruise director (whose name is Elke. She's from Belgium and deserves meritous recognition) offered us free laundry service. Please note, we did not request this. The ship merely volunteered to do this in light of our lost luggage, saving us over $200.
As I mentioned earlier, due to a rising river water level, the ship was diverted from the originally scheduled last 2 ports. No problem for my family, but it caused a minor level of hysteria for some of the older passengers set in their ways. They were disturbed about making their connections with flights, continuing with their holiday, etc.
Elke tracked me down to inquire of my plans at the cruise conclusion. I had reserved a car to drive from Trier at the cruise end to Frankfurt (MUCH less expensive and considerably more flexible than taking the train), where our flight departs the following day. Obviously, with the Amalyra no longer continuing to Trier placed my car reservation in jeopardy.
The next day, Elke informed me they had contacted my car rental company and rearranged my reservation to allow me to pickup my car in our final port of call at no additional cost. Moreover, since the car rental office was about 20 minutes away, AMA paid for the cost of the taxi.
Clearly, AMA bent over backwards to accommodate its passengers throughout the cruise -- even with the unexpected complications from Mother Nature. From the hallway comments I heard from the other passengers, they felt the same. And when you consider that AMA assisted 120 passengers or so in making alternate concluding cruise arrangements, that's a lot of work for the Amalyra crew 24 hours before the cruise ended. In the end, I heard no disgruntlement from any other passenger.
One final note. I do like good wine. And I was especially thrilled at the prospect of going through a German wine experience of visiting Riesling vineyards and wineshops. The unexpected change in the cruise itinerary prevented this opportunity. But as I stated earlier, I cannot blame AMA as this was due to rising river water levels. In the event, though, any AMA personnel reads this critique, I encourage you to incorporate such an experience in future cruises in a more pronounced way. I thoroughly enjoy historical and cultural sights and museums. But incorporating alternative visits, such as wineries or beerhalls which are so endemic to German lifestyle, to the standard sightseeing fare I believe provides a richer holiday experience.
BOTTOM LINE: Only superlative comments for AMA.