We truly enjoyed our time in Provence and on AmaDagio! AMA delivers a great cruise, starting with the design of their ships [which proved itself in the 2013 flooding and again in this year’s low-water on the Danube] and carrying through ... Read More
We truly enjoyed our time in Provence and on AmaDagio! AMA delivers a great cruise, starting with the design of their ships [which proved itself in the 2013 flooding and again in this year’s low-water on the Danube] and carrying through with the food and drink, entertainment and shore excursions, and the staff and crew. Almost everything is top notch, and if it isn’t they will bend over backward to make it right. And as noted below the level of inclusiveness fits our needs just fine.
[B]Food[/B]: AMA is known for their food [the Berlitz guide to River Cruising in Europe says they spend more per passenger on food than any other river cruise line] and it showed on this cruise.
The daily line-up of food offerings went like this:
• Early Risers’ Pastries in the Lounge
• Breakfast (buffet, omelet station plus menu for Eggs Benedict, waffles, etc.)
• Late Risers’ Pastries in the Lounge
• Lunch (buffet plus menu with different items each day)
• Light Lunch in the Lounge
• Afternoon Tea in the Lounge
• Dinner (served, many menu choices)
• Late night snacks in the Lounge
• 24-hour self-service coffee/tea in the Lounge
There were also four special theme-meals:
• Welcome Dinner
• Lyonnais Delight Lunch
• Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Dinner
• Farewell Dinner
Plus each passenger had one opportunity [at no extra cost] to dine at the Chef’s Table restaurant.
[B]Drink[/B]: AMA is not all-inclusive, but I was never tempted to spend my own money for drinks outside the complementary fare so the bartender got no work from me. Here’s what’s included:
• bottled water in cabin (replenished faster than you could drink it)
• breakfast: sparkling wine
• lunch: wine (same red and white all cruise), beer, soft drinks
• dinner: wine (different red and white each night, or they will serve any night’s selection that you like better), beer, soft drinks
• Welcome Cocktail on first evening before dinner
• Past Passengers’ Reception
• Chef’s Table pre-dinner reception
• Farewell Cocktail
[B]Laundry[/B]: Some cruise lines offer laundry machines [who wants to take time for that on a cruise?], but AMA has a laundry service that is very fast and reasonably priced.
[B]Gratuities[/B]: This is a bone of contention for some Cruise Critic posters, but with our history of mass-market cruises we are used to it and follow the cruise line’s guidelines. And this time it didn’t feel like it cost us anything, because our TA had given us enough OBC to cover the gratuities with some left over to cover our laundry bills. We left the ship with an onboard charge of 0 [zero, nada, nil, zilch] – can’t ask for better than that.
[B]Entertainment[/B]: two afternoons [a silk painting and printing presentation; and a wine tasting], and five evenings [a French chanteuse; a music quiz; a classical trio; choice of Viviers Ghost Walk or Limited Edition Boulangerie Experience; sail-by the lights of Avignon followed by a pianist/singer with dancing. No hairy legs or wet t-shirt contests, but no adult should complain about a lack of activity on this cruise!
[B]Shore Excursions[/B]: We enjoyed this cruise tremendously in all aspects, but I have to give AMA extra top marks for the shore excursions because every option on this cruise was complementary and many are the same excursions that I have read about on other cruise lines as extra cost. Also everyone was accommodated for every one of their choices: gentle walkers [every day], bicycle tours [two, plus free use of bicycles any other time you want], hike [one – we took this], wine tastings [in Beaujolais, onboard while we sailed to Tournon, and the two options in Tournon], Pont du Gard [as an alternative to Avignon, after the general morning tour to a truffle farm and the village of Grignan], Carrières de Lumières [along with the Van Gogh asylum in Saint-Rémy, as an alternative to Les Baux and an olive oil farm, before the general walking tour of Arles].
I think the brochure overstates the amount of bus time, although the return trips were always "nap time" so maybe I undercounted? Anyway, they seem to mention two hours of bus rides on many days, but it never felt that long. For one thing almost all the tours included two stops, so the ride was split into three sections. Also AMA never fills the coaches, so there's plenty of room to spread out. Each guide had 15-20 people [this will vary because AMA lets you sign up based on gentle walkers, regular, fast-paced, and the occasional bike or late risers tour]. This cruise also involved more daytime sailing than our Rhine cruise: often we would wake up somewhere, do a tour and return to the ship for lunch during which it would sail somewhere else where we would have an afternoon tour. The overall experience was one fully-packed day after another. [I was very glad for the opportunity to nap while driving to Marseille after the cruise!]
[B]Staff & Crew[/B]: Working on a river ship is no easier than ocean cruises, so I take my hat off to all the hard-working staff and crew of AmaDagio. Every seven days they have to say goodbye to one group of passengers, quickly clean and refit the ship, and welcome the next group – and there don’t seem to be any days off. We had very little to complain about over the entire week, and any complaints that we did make were quickly attended to. [I’m still amazed at the immediate acquisition of EVOO that enhanced our table’s dining experience.]
[B]Dress[/B]: River cruises are by nature informal, and the world seems to be getting more informal with each passing year. I brought a sport coat and never took it out of the closet. The dining room was cool, but dress was informal enough that I used a chamois shirt instead. DW says she wore black slacks and a fancy blouse for the Captain's dinner. The only skirt she packed was a print peasant skirt which she wore twice. We like to freshen up and change into nicer clothes for dinner, but she thought that dining attire on this cruise was more casual than on our 2013 AMA Rhine cruise [e.g. men wearing shorts to dinner, even though it wasn't really hot] and many people seemed to wear their sightseeing clothes to dinner.
[B]Planning[/B]: My planning bible for this trip, as usual, was Rick Steves. I think the France book is a high point even for his always-excellent series. Every hotel and restaurant recommendation proved worthy, the sightseeing selections are high on everyone’s list but Rick gives more depth to his inclusions including guided tours of the major churches and museums and walking tours of many towns and cities, and the planning sections [e.g. “Whirlwind Three-Week Tour of France by Car”] are an invaluable starting point. My only complaint about Rick’s coverage of France is that you need to buy at least three books to get everything [the Paris book is more comprehensive than the Paris chapter in the France book, and the Provence book is much more comprehensive than the France book for that area].
[B]The French[/B]: We had no problem at all with the famous French “attitude” – we always started with a Bonjour and tried our creaky French, sometimes the conversation could conclude that way and other times they would steer us into English, but almost everyone was very helpful. In Paris we got the brushoff a few times when asking for directions in the street, but that just felt like being home in NYC and it was probably either that the person didn't really know the neighborhood or was in a hurry – we can relate to that, so we weren't offended. In Marseille [also not known for its friendliness] a young man realized that his directions to the nearest gas station were quite complicated, so he jumped in his car and led us there!
Our guides were all properly ambivalent about the famous 28-hour work week and long vacations and holidays that sap French productivity [they after all are independent contractors who have to work hard for their income], but we never felt that anyone gave us less than good service and attention.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to me was how totally the Académie française has failed in its effort to keep the French language pure: le weekend, le parking, le camping. And at every intersection you see a red octagon-shaped sign with the letters “STOP,” not “arrêt” [although that is apparently not a recent trend: our guide said that her grandmother remembers such signs from her youth].
[B]DW’s Observations[/B]: The French (all ages) smoke like chimneys. Is it cultural? Are they just trying to stay skinny? I think they could exist on tobacco, wine and bread. I can understand the bread part! Their plumbing sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, especially the public toilets along the highway. Gross! (Needed my SheWee). It was only on the ship and in Giverny that we had a fully-enclosed shower and washcloths. (We always bring our own washcloths to Europe). If there is a toiletry or health-related product you really might need, bring it with you. (We couldn’t find Zicam or any zinc cold remedy in the many pharmacies; Vicks cough drops, yes.) Safes for personal belongings were rare to come by in lodgings. Traveling with Jazzbeau is like one of Caesar’s forced marches in the Gallic War or the Death March to Bataan – this is what I told him in the beginning of the trip – however, he did ease up as we progressed on our way through Brittany and actually eliminated sights from our punch list – Jazzbeau is flexible (who knew!)
[B]Conclusion[/B]: we loved every minute of this trip, and renewed our appreciation of France [after those tense moments of “freedom fries” and President Sarcastic]. Every province has its charms, and even with three weeks we could only scratch the surface. Paris especially demands a return visit(s).
And AMA will definitely be getting a return visit. We plan to book the Port Wine & Flamenco trip as soon as the 2017 schedules come out. The loyalty benefits are great: 5% discount for buying a Future Cruise Benefit, 5% early-booking discount, $100 per person discount starting with the second cruise [plus free airport transfers and 50% discount one-category upgrade starting with the third cruise – increasing to free one-category upgrade starting with the fourth]. But that would mean nothing to me if the product wasn’t also great. Thankfully it is.
We had a great time, loved France – and mirabile dictu – neither us of gained a pound, despite eating [and in my case, drinking] very well!
You can find a detailed blog of this cruise on the River Cruising forum:
http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=2264109 Read Less