I have just returned home from the most wonderful two weeks on MS AMAdante on an APT arranged cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest. Our Cruise Director, the amazing Kata, often spoke of APT's goal "to exceed expectations" and I can honestly say this trip surpassed all mine easily. I have made many independent trips to Europe but this time went with my elderly parents and I was a little unsure of whether this would be as good as it was advertised. It was. I loved it.
There is so much I loved about this trip that I will just try to highlight some things that stand out for me: The ship was immaculate, beautifully furnished, confortable, and staff went way above duty to offer service. My cabin was perfectly sized and the bathroom was much roomier than I imagined. Unlimited fluffy towels changed twice a day is a pure indulgence for me, as we live in a place with water restrictions! Whenever there was a little problem ( such as my sliding door getting stuck once) the Pursers would actually come down to my cabin immediately and then arrange the right person to solve the problem.
Food was great- and I am a real foodie! Breakfast was fantastic, I cannot think of a single addition I would make. The dining room staff knew that I liked a poached egg, just one, on unbuttered toast, and delivered one every morning without me even asking! I loved the flexibility of lunch- each day we ate in the lounge, where there were a range of "light"options, but I would often sneak down to the Dining Room too if there was a salad I wanted. The glass of wine was something I could get used to . Dinner was varied every night and of course some dishes were better than others but all were at least good. Some fabulous restaurant quality. My parents and I sat alone most nights- just our choice, and it was fine: no pressure at all to join another table, although we were happy to do so sometimes. I loved the little unexpected foodie touches: the demonstration of making apple strudel by the Pastry Chef, different cakes designed to fit the itinerary, an onion tart for morning tea one day as we floated into Austria.
Coffee...well, not bad, from a Nespresso type machine. I realised after two further weeks in Europe that pretty much EVERY cup of coffee in Europe is made from a push button expresso machine, so given that, the ship coffee wasn't any different. I did enjoy getting back to my local barista with home roasted and ground single-origin ristretto though. My only suggestion to AMA would be....add on more tea and coffee stations! It was awfully crowded at "peak" times such as just after a shore excursion returned.
Best aspect of all was our Tour Director, Kata, and her unbelievable energy and commitment to making sure every one was happy and satisfied. I really enjoyed both her daily written bulletins, thoughtfully placed on our pillows during dinner so that we had time to look in detail the night before. But she added to this with 15 or 20 minute little "talks" just before dinner , outlining the practicalities of the following day: when and where each excursion would be going, something about the various choices, and importantly for my parents, some comment about "for those with walking difficulties". She was also available from 7 am to midnight for any questions. She was an amazing resource of information about each place but if she did not know, she was very ready to add that too, so that I always felt she was giving an accurate profile of each place.
The itinerary was excellent- only a couple of places I would leave out if I was designing it myself. I felt Cologne was just too rushed: I had spent a few days there previously, and really we only got to see the Cathedral. I felt that we needed at least a day and a half in the "bigger cities", as we had in Vienna and Budapest. The smaller towns were more ideally suited for the short stays and walking excursions: Rothenburg, Wurzberg, Regensburg, Passua, Melk, Durstein- all gorgeous in their own way, and I felt we had time to really enjoy them and see quite a lot. Bamburg I hated: we were moored miles away, it was raining, and it seemed to be jam packed with tourists ( it was a Sunday). Even though we were also moored well out in Vienna, there were regular shuttle buses and we were there long enough to make it worthwhile. The evening concert in Vienna was a real highlight! Much better quality music than I had expected. But Budapest has to be top of my list: sailing down through a misty morning, seeing those fabulous buildings lining each side of the river, will stay in my mind forever. The local guides were all good apart from one( Bamberg....) and some were superb : we may have been lucky, but they were mostly knowledgeable and helpful. The trip is really busy: if you took up every option, as I did, the days were spent mostly off the ship, but I did enjoy returning every afternoon , quite tired!
Now anyone reading this who was on this trip will guess who I am when I mention....the bikes. Having the bikes on board was one of the highlights of the trip for me . There were four 30 km accompanied rides- I did three of them and they were fantastic. It really does give you a different perspective of the river and landscape to pedal along the canal paths. Riding from Melk to Durstein was absolutely fantastic: we wound our way in and out of several little villages along the way and through acres of orchards and vines, catching glances of the river as we rode. I insisted on "photo stops" very often!! In addition to the organised rides, the "boys" ( the deck hands) were very happy to get out the bikes any time the boat stopped, and after the first few days, automatically got me out a bike as soon as we docked, so I rode on my own most days as well. The Pursers got very interested in "researching" the best direction and bank for me to ride. The bikes are quite upright mountain bike style- good for looking around and very comfy, although a bit heavy at times. My bell didn't always work- an essential on the river bike paths which are very busy and shared with earnest looking German hikers who really don't like a random Aussie cyclist careering into their walking sticks. Still, that is the only negative comment I have! If you are on a APT ship, I strongly suggest you have a go at riding independently - it was very, very easy and added another dimension to the trip. In some little towns I rode in to the town and sat in the sunshine sipping a coffee, feeling like a real traveller for a few moments. And I will admit I did enjoy getting away on my own each day for just a little while( I think at 50 I was definitely the youngest on our trip...)
Having read through the forums before I went, I have noticed quite a few questions about dress code. Maybe it is an Australian casual attitude ( 85% of passengers on our trip were Aussies) but honestly, no one cared at all what anyone else was wearing. It just is not an issue. Most people wore casual and comfy clothes suitable for walking. At night we all tended to add on another layer, but apart from the Captain's dinner, there was no trend of getting dressed up. Some nights I did dress up a little because I felt like it, other times I stayed in pants and a top! I think people were more interested in how your day was and how much you had enjoyed the excursions than what you were wearing. So pack light and enjoy!
So were there any downsides? I would have liked a few more hours in a few more ports- for me, I would have liked the same itinerary over three weeks, not two. Not sure if my bank balance would allow for this. And the Internet was patchy. My cabin Internet hardly worked at all- but my personal laptop had intermittent connectivity, very good in bigger ports and non existent most sailing days. Did I miss it? Not really. A couple of times I really wanted to get some information prior to getting to a port ( such as whether the Spanish Riding School was open on the day of our visit) and the wonderful Kata just rang on her mobile for me, and even booked tickets. I used text messages to stay in touch with my children and had coverage at all times.
I hope this whets the appetite of those of you planning or dreaming of this trip. I know this is not in the league of Mike Preismann's account and those fabulous photos of his which honestly sold me on the whole idea originally- thanks Mike! I am sure there is much, much more I could write, but I would be very happy to answer any questions you have.
I cannot recommend APT ( AMA) highly enough and would do this trip again with this company in a flash.