In November, 2009 my husband and I headed out on the most unique and wonderful cruise we have ever experienced - a wine tasting river cruise with AmaWaterways on the AmaLego through the wine region of the Mosel River in Germany. We have been on a number of ocean cruises with a variety of cruise lines, but we had never experienced anything quite as exciting, entertaining, relaxing and culturally informative as this cruise. I am a travel writer so I was particularly interested in experiencing a river cruise for the first time, since we are avid ocean cruisers. We are now also avid river cruisers, especially if it means cruising with AmaWaterways!
The AmaLegro began cruising in 2007, so it is one of the newest, state-of-the-art ships that AmaWaterways offers. All river cruise ships in Europe are the same size since they have to pass under beautiful, ancient bridges and through locks, but the design and the amenities of the AmaLegro are what makes it different. We boarded the ship in Amsterdam in the late fall afternoon, so it was dusky dark and the golden lights of the ship were gleaming and welcoming. It was mid-November, so Christmas decorations were festooned everywhere and a Christmas tree brightened the lobby as we stepped aboard.
Never had it been so busy to board a ship before! Just walk up a small gangplank and you are there! The crew was very welcoming and helped us settle into our lovely stateroom. Beautifully decorated and comfortable, there was white-on-white plush bedding, and a cozy sitting area with a French balcony that ran from floor to ceiling, where we spent a lot of time watching the scenery roll by. All staterooms and junior suites are outside and over 80% include a French balcony so you never have to worry about missing the view! Staterooms include a hair dryer, safe, terry bathrobes, individually controlled air-conditioning and plenty of closet space. One of the coolest things about the AmaWaterways ships is their unique Infotainment Systems. Every stateroom is equipped with monitor, keyboard with Internet access, English language TV stations, a large movie selection and numerous music programs. We had our own laptops, but we took advantage of the free wi-fi and were very pleased with this amenity. Especially since we had always paid for it on all our other cruises! They also have a satellite telephone system that lets you to call home for a nominal fee. We peeked in the open doors of one of the junior suites and were impressed at the size. They are 255 square feet and have a comfortable sitting area with a sofa and two chairs, floor-to-ceiling windows with French balconies and large bathrooms with bathtubs and showers. A bathtub was the only thing I missed on our cruise, so maybe next time we'll book a suite!
Then it was time to explore the ship - something we always do when we come onboard. This one was pretty easy to explore since it was nothing like the huge ocean liners, but we came to love the cozy and intimate feel of the AmaLegro. This was the first time in all our years of cruising that we actually made friends that we kept up with after the cruise. We headed out of our stateroom and explored the Wellness area in the after part of the ship. It has a small, glassed-in exercise room with a few pieces of equipment, a massage area and beauty salon, and a nice lounge area with wicker furniture, French doors to enjoy the fresh air and a bar area with an ice machine.
We also noticed an elevator onboard, which is unusual on river cruise ships. Next, we headed through the lobby and into the large and comfortable lounge at the bow of the ship. Furnished with overstuffed love seats and comfortable chairs, this ended up being the place where most of the passengers congregated. There was a bar and a nice little buffet area set up with free coffee, tea and hot chocolate. They also usually had some sort of snacks and even offered a light late breakfast every morning and a light lunch as well. In the evenings, there was live music in the lounge area and local entertainment was brought on at many of the ports. This was also where we had our port talks which were very interesting and informative.
Soon enough, it was time to head down to the dining room for dinner. Surrounded by windows so you were never deprived of a view, served by genuinely kind and friendly servers, and partaking of wonderfully prepared local specialties at every meal, the dining room soon became our favorite place. Because the atmosphere of the ship was so congenial and the group of passengers quite small compared to the behemoth ocean cruisers, we soon made friends with two other couples and had every meal with them. The food on the AmaLegro was truly one of the best things about the trip. Since this was also a wine-tasting trip, we had a variety of wines with lunch and dinner and often had wine experts talking to us and extolling the virtues of the particular wines we were sipping. At each of the ports, we watched as the loaded on fresh produce, local meats and cheeses so we were not surprised that each meal was better than the last.
When we returned to our stateroom, it has been cleaned and the bed turned down for us. What a nice way to finish a lovely evening! During the entire cruise, our room was kept immaculate and the service was excellent.
In the morning, we had the first of our delicious breakfasts. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style, but you were also able to order from a menu for breakfast if you preferred. For lunch, you ordered part of your meal and the rest, such as salad and dessert, was served buffet-style. Dinner was more formal and everything was ordered from a menu. They always had a variety of choices, including a vegetarian entree and, if you did not see something you liked on the menu, they would prepare whatever you wanted. All meals are included in your cruise, but unlike ocean cruising, wine and beer are also included with dinner at no extra charge.
Then we left the ship to tour Amsterdam, our first port where we had been berthed for the night, before we headed out on our cruise. One of the things many people don't realize about river cruising is that all your shore excursions are included in the price. This is an incredible savings, since shore excursions on an ocean cruise can add up very quickly. We immediately appreciated the QuietVox audio system that AmaLegro uses for its shore excursions. At the beginning of the cruise, you are given a set of headphones and, as you leave the ship, you pick up a small, rectangular box into which you plug the headphones. Then you can hear everything the tour guide is saying - what a fabulous idea! We boarded one of the ubiquitous canal boats and spent several hours touring beautiful Amsterdam, and then did a little bit of walking through the flower market. We headed back to the ship for lunch which we ate as the AmaLegro slipped out of the harbor and headed down the river. After lunch, we had the easiest safety drill I have ever experienced - since we are in sight of land during the entire cruise, most of us could just swim to shore!
Cologne: After cruising all night, we arose to a beautiful view of the river, another fabulous breakfast and an invitation to visit the wheelhouse anytime we wanted. We were fascinated to see the Captain casually piloting the ship and welcoming passengers in to visit anytime! Before we landed in Cologne, were treated to a presentation by Burt Wolf from PBS who was onboard the AmaLegro filming a special about river cruising. He talked at length about the gorgeous architecture we would see on our cruise and he was proven right on our walking tour of Cologne. We walked around and then took a tour of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral. Our small group finished up the day with a tour of the Lindt Chocolate Factory, which I recommend if you like free chocolate samples!
Rudesheim: Today was "castles day" on the AmaLegro and, as we cruised down the Rhine towards Rudesheim, we saw beautiful castle after beautiful castle. It was incredible! We also passed dozens of vineyards, many of which sloped so deeply, it was amazing to think they could gather the grapes at that angle! We embarked in Rudesheim and it was just so easy! One of the nicest things about this river cruise was that you could almost literally step from the ship onto the main street of town. So much easier than the long lines to embark from an ocean liner! In Rudesheim, we visited Siegrfried's Musical Cabinet Museum, which was fascinating with all the music boxes, ranging from very tiny to room-size! In the evening, we were transported in a wee train to a castle where we had dinner. It was such a treat to have an interesting meal in town - and have it all included in the price of our cruise!
Koblenz: We docked in Koblenz very early and were offered the opportunity to take a walking tour, but we opted to sleep in and make our own way about the town. This is always an option; you never have to go on the tours if you choose to do something else. One of the most interesting things about the AmaWaterways ships is that they have a bunch of bicycles onboard - not 2-3 like most of the river cruise ships, but around 30. This was a great way to explore the small river towns and, if you want, you can even ride the bikes along the river and meet the ship at the next port. We thought about biking around but it was pretty chilly, so we just strolled around town. Then we headed back to the ship to get ready for the Captain's Gala dinner - a chance to really dress up!
Cochem: This was truly one of our favorite stops, because we got to tour a real castle! With gorgeous views and beautiful cathedrals, this town was special in its own right but the tour of the castle really made it wonderful.
Bernkastel: My husband decided to spend the day lazing about on the ship, so I decided this was the perfect opportunity for a shopping day! Every one of the lovely little river towns had interesting shops. There were bakeries and local chocolatiers, shops that sold locally bottled wine, plenty of shops with fashions, and even more with souvenirs. Loaded down with beautiful scarves, lovely handmade table linens, and a few souvenirs, we headed back to our home away from home.
Trier and Luxembourg: Our lovely little ship docked for the last time in Trier where our luggage was speedily loaded on a comfortable bus and we headed to Luxembourg for our last walking tour. Luxembourg is an ancient city and we were thrilled to walk around, taking pictures and marveling at the Archduke's beautiful palace. Then it was on to Paris for the extra time some of us had added on to our cruise package.
Paris: AmaWaterways made sure she were comfortably situated in our hotel and, for the first time, we found ourselves on our own. We spent some time walking around Paris but also decided to sign up for the optional tours of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. These are not included in your cruise package but are well worth your time. It was so much quicker and easier to get into the Eiffel Tower with our group and the Seine River cruise was fascinating!
We were sorry that our river cruise on the AmaLegro had to come to an end - we could have easily done another week! Every single thing on the cruise was perfect. The service, the food, the entertainment, the shore excursions, and our beautiful stateroom. If you are thinking about a river cruise, I strongly recommend AmaWaterways. If you have more questions, I'll be happy to answer them; just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.