This was our first cruise on AMA Waterways. Last year, we booked a riverboat cruise to Russia with Viking and decided to book with AMA this time primarily for the itinerary. The fact that AMA had bicycles on board for their passengers also was an attraction for my husband.
Essentially, we took two cruises back-to-back. The first cruise segment was called Magnificent Europe and the itinerary was from Amsterdam to Budapest for 14 days. The second segment was titled Black Sea Voyage and extended the voyage for another 7 nights from Budapest to Rousse, Bulgaria. We also booked the extension from Rousse, Bulgaria - overland by coach - to Istanbul, Turkey. The tour ended with three nights in Istanbul.
We flew to Europe a few days early, and recovered from jet-lag. We spend the time touring small towns and villages, walking a lot, and just enjoying the ambiance of being in Europe. We pack light, so hopping on and off the European rail system is a lot easier.
On September 17Th, we returned to Amsterdam and boarded the Amacello.
Riverboat cruising is quite different from cruising on the ocean going vessels.
-Staterooms are generally smaller, sometimes a lot smaller, than you typically find on an ocean going vessel. Riverboats have limitations due to the narrow locks in Europe and also the shallow waters and low bridges that have to be negotiated. Having said that, we had no problem with the amount of storage space in our cabin. I had lots of room to stow our belongings and store the luggage under the bed.
-Internet access is free on board the riverboats. There was an entertainment system in our cabin that had Internet access and a keyboard. We also could take our laptop to the Forward or Aft lounge for free WIFI. The Internet access is provided through a satellite system however, and it could be unreliable or intermittent. Service was interrupted by locks and bridges and was usually fairly reliable when we were docked and stationary. We were able to use the system for e-mail and for general information. However, it was impossible to download attachments with the system. People who need to keep in constant touch with the office should bear in mind that it may not be possible. Also, if you are addicted to playing Internet bridge for hours at a time, you are out of luck.
-Riverboats have no casinos and no children's facilities. Entertainment is limited to piano music in the lounge in the afternoon and evening, port talks every day, the occasional demonstration of pastry making, or glass blowing, and local entertainment that is brought on board most evenings. We were told the evening entertainment by local groups was quite good, although we rarely stayed up long enough to enjoy it. The entertainment varied and may involve a local singer, or dance troop. It is a long way from the big production shows of the large cruise ships. Evening entertainment really matters to some people but we don't care about it. We tend to get up very early, walk all day on tours or just exploring on our own, and fall into bed soon after dinner.
-Tours on the ocean going cruises are optional and an additional cost. Almost all tours on the riverboats are included in the price of your cruise. We had a tour at least once a day and sometimes more. Good walking shoes are a must. In addition to the scheduled, included tours, were a few optional tours which allowed you to tailor the cruise to your particular interests. We selected three of those and could not have fit in anything more.
-People with limited mobility would have an issue with a riverboat cruise. There was an elevator on our ship but it did not go to all floors. The stairs to the cabins on the lower floor were very narrow and winding. Anyone who has trouble with stairs should avoid those cabins. Also, some places that the ship docked, particularly in Eastern Europe, had uneven steps or a steep incline to navigate in order to get on or off the ship. The sailors from our ship were always on hand to help us over the unsteady bits but it could be an issue for some.
-The meals on board were excellent. There isn't the vast number of choices that are available on most of the very large ships. There is one seating for meals and meals are always open seating. It is nice to be able to chose a table for two one night, and a table for six on another. Our chef, Geno, and his staff did an amazing job. There were pastries, and cookies available in the lounge 24/7 along with an excellent coffee machine that dispensed fancy coffee and hot steamed milk at the touch of a button. There were always two or three selections of every course at dinner as well as a number of staples that were available on request every night. The staff would try their best to accommodate special requests. I can't imagine anyone starving on this cruise.
-There are no self service laundry facilities on a riverboat, but a clothes line is in the shower for hanging small items. Laundry bags are left in the room. You fill the bag with items for laundering, enclose an itemized list, and leave it for your room steward. Your laundry is returned the next day. The charge for the service is reasonable. Dry cleaning service is unavailable on board. I took a skirt hanger, washed out a few small items most evenings, and hung them from the skirt hanger clips, or from the clothes line in the shower. I sent out larger items for laundering. The charges are automatically added to your final bill on the cruise. I think the total charge I had for laundry was about 30 EUROS. That isn't bad considering we were on board for 3 weeks, traveling for almost 5 weeks, and I don't take a lot of clothing with me.
-The wine and beer at dinner was complimentary. The wines provided were different every night and showcased the wines of the region. The wine was poured very freely.
-There is no sense of motion on a riverboat. People who are troubled by motion sickness will have no problem on the river.
AMA Waterways provided many little touches of service that made us feel like very valued guests. A bathrobe and slippers was in the room for our use. A complimentary tote bag turned out to be a very useful day bag for the trip. The bar staff served us cocktails up on the sun deck when we crossed the
Continental Divide. The evening cruise to admire the lights of Budapest was accompanied by sparkling wine, served on the upper decks as we glided silently by this magical city. Occasional small gifts were left in our rooms by courtesy of Dan, our intrepid cruise director. It was a package of spices from Hungary one evening, a small sample of perfume in Cologne on another evening.
Local guides were excellent almost without exception. We noticed that there was no obligatory shopping stop on any of the tours. We were usually given free time during or after the tour to shop, enjoy a drink, or just people watch. However, there was no taking us to a specific place just to get us in the door and spend money. Also, while we always tipped the guide a Euro or two after each tour, there was absolutely no solicitation of tips at any time during the tour. When we take tours off the ocean going vessels, we get the pitch for tips almost before the tour starts and that pitch gets repeated at least once along the way.
There was a small fitness room on board. My husband and I do a series of exercises with free weights every other day and we were delighted to discover that we could continue this on board. There was a treadmill, a weight bench, and two stationary bicycles. There were a couple of floor mats. There was a small sauna in the area as well as a shower. Water and towels were provided. We found that there was enough room for two people at a time to use the facility. We exercise early and never ran into anyone else there.
The ship was entirely non-smoking with the exception of a small area up on the sun deck. We really appreciated being able to enjoy any area of the ship without worrying about someone lighting up a cigarette nearby. I have asthma so that has always been a worry. It was wonderful to have a vacation and not ever give my asthma a thought.
We spent a lot of time in the forward lounge. There was a lovely 180 degree view of the river with lots of comfortable chairs. Information meetings took place here. It was a great place to enjoy coffee after dinner or a light lunch.
There was a small shop beside the front desk. It stocked a selection of souvenirs, batteries, jewelry and toiletries. Prices were very reasonable and purchases were tax free.
The front desk staff was always friendly and very helpful. I can't figure out how they learned all our names and room numbers so quickly.
Bars and restaurants in most of Europe now are non-smoking. My husband and I really love going in to have a beer in Germany or a lovely dinner in a restaurant. We can travel now so much more easily than just a few years ago.
The itinerary for this trip was wonderful. We enjoyed a canal boat cruise in Amsterdam, the garden show in Koblenz, charming villages and towns along the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, castles, cathedrals, and narrow cobblestone streets. We toured palaces and abbeys, and tried beer in several countries (no - we haven't decided which country makes the best beer). We were blessed with perfect weather.
The typical riverboat cruiser seems to be pretty well travelled. The passengers on our ship were a fairly even mix of people from The United States, Canada, England, Australia and New Zealand. The average age was probably in the 60's. We met wonderful people and made some great friends.
We found the riverboat experience is fairly strenuous. Of course, you always have the option of skipping a tour and striking off on your own - or just enjoying the river glide by as you nap intermittently on the upper deck. We never wanted to miss anything so our days were busy. Thankfully, we did have some time to just enjoy the ambiance of Europe and soak up an appreciation of the whole experience. By the end of the trip, we were starting to get very tired.
We heard complaints from passengers who wanted a more individualized tour in some places. I think the tour company did a great job of accommodating the needs of a variety of people. It was certainly possible to book your own tour at any point and have a car and driver at your disposal - and some passengers elected to do this. However, you do have to accept some limitations if you chose to do the group tours.
There were several places along the trip where group bicycle tours were organized. There were 20 bicycles available and passengers signed up for the tour a day or so ahead of time. Tours filled up quickly but if you were too late to get on to one tour, your name was put at the top of the list for the next one. It couldn't be fairer than that. Bike helmets were provided and tour guides insisted they be used. I heard one lady complain that the helmet would mess up her hairdo !!! The guide was unmoved. The tours would usually follow the lovely winding bike paths along the river with a stop or two for a cold drink. The tours were anywhere from 2 hours to 5 hours long, depending on location.
We booked the extension from Bulgaria to Istanbul. We found the level of service that the riverboat company provides is exceptional. At every stop along the way, luggage was handled for us. There were frequent stops at clean restrooms along the way and for meals or snacks at very nice restaurants. The local guides were knowledgeable. They gave us information on the history of their country, as well as the location of the most convenient ATM, or a great place to go for dinner on our own. They saved us time, aggravation and money. Transfers to and from the ship or to airports were handled smoothly. We handled our own transfers but our cruise staff made sure that we were alright and that everything went smoothly for us.
The hotels that were booked by AMA Waterways were very good and the Ritz-Carleton in Istanbul was outstanding. We were always made to feel that we were valued, and often pampered, guests. We could not have had a better experience.
My husband and I will certainly book another riverboat cruise with AMA Waterways and would not hesitate to recommend the company to anyone else.