Entertainment is provided nightly. The format varies and includes everything from a joke-filled PowerPoint presentation from the witty cruise director on how Gutenberg basically brought down the Holy Roman Empire and an entertaining evening port stroll (also led by the cruise director) to performances from talented regional music groups (La Strada, two violins and a guitar, was a standout) and the very well-received crew talent show. We watched room stewards and waitstaff blow off steam by way of sock puppets performing Carmen. There's also typically some sort of trivia game -- in our case, the "nasty questionnaire," a set of 20 logic questions.
The cruise director explained to us that AMA generally avoids folkloric performances, due to the potential kitsch factor. And, true to form, there was but one: a very schmaltzy Dutch dancing choir telling us that "We are farmers, and we clap hands and dance when it is time to make the harvest" then proceeding to dance and clap hands.
Depending on the cruise director, the daily briefing on upcoming ports and general commentary was certainly a form of entertainment ... and our Australian director, Peter Whitehead, kept passengers laughing, even while going over the most mundane items on the administrative agenda (proper use of in-cabin remote controls, embarkation details, etc.). In the Rhine Gorge in particular, Whitehead's commentary seemed effortless, quite a contrast to the howling wind ripping through us as we cruised. After he told the obligatory tale of Lorelei, the river maiden who led many a navigator to his death -- prior to taming the river by way of canal, this was an extremely dangerous pass -- he flipped a switch, and a song version of the famous Heinrich Heine poem sprang forth from the speakers. It was a memorable afternoon of myth, bluster and epic song.
Shore excursions in each port are included in the fare and come in both walking tour and motor coach tour varieties -- or a combination of the two -- focusing on panoramic sites. Frankly, as is the case across the world, the quality of the tour is almost entirely dependent on the guide. In Frankfurt, a city better suited to the panoramic coach tour, our guide proved narcolepsy was contagious by efficiently providing the name, architect and date of construction as we drove by building after building after building. In Cochem and Koblenz (Koblenz tour led by our cruise director), the walking tours were excellent, with guides providing anecdotes and odd factoids to paint a more nuanced picture.
On days when the included excursion is a walking tour, such as the one offered in the half-timbered medieval town of Bernkastel, there's a gentle walking option -- best for those with mobility issues or, more euphemistically, for those who "like to take a lot of photos."
There are no additional tours offered through the ship.
In response to constructive feedback, all passengers on walking tours now get something called a Quietvox. The guide speaks into a microphone, and the audio is beamed via witchery to the wireless Quietvox apparatus and into your earphones. The system worked quite well overall and was especially nice in crowded Trier, where we lost site of the guide yet still were able to listen to her commentary.
AmaCello Public Rooms
AmaCello has two lounges. The main lounge has the ship's lone bar, 24-hour coffee and pastries, plenty of chairs and couches, and floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. There's also a small dance floor. This indoor social hub can accommodate everyone onboard, and the room is used for just about everything, including port talks, evening entertainment, more causal meals, catching up on reading and peaceful nod-offs between lunch and tea.
In the cozy aft lounge, you can watch the disappearing landscape through floor-to-ceiling windows or enjoy a puzzle or game (selection: Rummikub, Yahtze, Jenga, Scrabble, Cluedo [the U.K. game from which the U.S.' Clue was derived], the U.K. version of Trivial Pursuit, chess, checkers, etc.). Dry-mouthed passengers can order bar beverages over the phone. The "Easy Dining" option also takes place there.
Free Wi-Fi is available in the main and aft lounges, a great touch that's somewhat unusual for the river cruise industry.
When the weather's pleasant, the blue AstroTurf sun deck bustles with activity. The sun deck setup is very basic: plastic-frame sun beds with blue fabric slings, a small "running track" (16 laps equal a mile), a jumbo turf chess board and a collapsible wheelhouse. There are also a few canopies that can be set up to provide shade, which they weren't during our cruise. By the wheelhouse, there are a few nice wooden tables. Nearly everyone comes out to recline on a lounger, walk the track or sit at a wooden table to watch it all -- castle to church spire, cargo ship to power plant -- pass him by.
At the ship's main entrance, you'll find the reception desk, a small gift shop with maps, books, gift items and colorful enamel jewelry from Frey Wille. There's also a small library with a smattering of magazines, fiction by Stephen King and Dean Koontz and a few travel and history titles.
Editor's Note: Commentary is only piped in through public areas (a few things go right into your stateroom -- "sorry to disturb you in your cabin, folks"), so it makes sense to be out and about if you're passing through the castle-covered Rhine Gorge, where anecdotes and information are dispatched furiously.
AmaCello Spa & Fitness
There's a very small room with a treadmill, bike, rowing machine and some light free weights (25-pound weights, tops). The fitness closet also contains a somewhat impractical Pilates ball and mat. (There's just not really much room for that, unless you were to pile the machines into a corner.) Within the room, there's also a small sauna and a shower.
Adjacent to the fitness room is a single treatment room, offering massages, haircuts, eyebrow and eyelash dying and the like. A sixty-minute massage will cost you 60 euro; a 30-minute back and shoulders rub is 30 euro. Ladies' haircuts are 25 euro; it's 22 euro for the gentlemen to get a wash, cut and blowdry.
The sun deck has a gray AstroTurf jogging/walking track. A lap equals 100 meters, so it's 16 laps to the mile. Very few passengers used the track, but with something to see in every direction, it was quite a pleasant sensation going 'round and 'round on the top deck.
AmaCello carries roughly 20 decent leisure bikes that can be taken out while in port -- or if you're so inclined, you can actually ride to the next port and meet the ship. Talk to the cruise director regarding this second option; he'll direct you to the proper folks that can help plan a route. (He won't try to convince you not to do anything.) I can't stress enough the importance of planning a route and knowing your limits. Bikes are free to use. The front desk prefers advance notice if you decide to take one out.
On our cruise, we decided (stupidly) to bike from Dusseldorf and meet the ship in Cologne, some 50 miles downriver, where our ship would reposition later in the day. Along the way, we'd cross the river by car ferry, stop in the medieval town of Zon Staat for lunch and a look at the castle and windmill, then fly down the river and through towns on Germany's renowned bike paths. (Bikers are given great respect in Germany, with huge paths and lanes set aside just for riders.) Sounded like an adventure, yes? Assuming no "detours," the "biking" distance was some 70 kilometers or about 43.5 miles. While the distance caused a momentary pause, I figured we had almost eight hours from the time the ship left Dusseldorf at 11 a.m. -- it was scheduled to depart Cologne at roughly 7 p.m. We reached the boat with about 45 minutes to spare, after having ridden for almost seven hours. For our foolish act, we became minor celebrities onboard.
The cruise director told us that Danube river itineraries have a few ports where the distances are more in the neighborhood of 20 miles -- much better suited for an intraport bike trip.
Next: AmaCello Family
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