After 13 years of Ocean cruises I decided to take my first River cruise.
I had been thinking about it for quite a few years but never booked one.
Last year I finally made the decision and realized I really wanted to do it. My sister has been on both Ocean and River cruises and I know she enjoys both. I also know my TA and she and her husband love River Cruising too so I had at least 2 individuals who love them and both have sailed AMA and recommended them to me very highly.
I was not disappointed
I have always wanted to go to the Netherlands and when I saw the "Tulip Time" itinerary I knew that is the one I was going to choose.
I booked this cruise back in the summer of 2015 (very end of July) and so there was a lot of time to wait......(with a Caribbean cruise in between) back in November.
........for a bit about me.....I am 58 and I sail solo. I had done a lot of research and knew this would be very different than an ocean cruise and that was the case for sure. I would say it is 180 degrees different.
The Ambiance, food, ship, everything..........totally different.
We had (from what I was told) 114 passengers on board on a ship that holds 158. So it was very easy to meet other folks, passengers as well at the staff
AMA is a privately owned company and I felt VERY welcomed.....brand new ship. I originally thought this was the Inaugural sailing but it was not...it was the 3rd cruise.....although I would have never known anyone was on board before me. It was spotless...beautifully appointed and in my opinion, she has a warm and welcoming feel to her. That includes the staff and crew and as the Capt stated, a ship can be beautiful but the people are the soul of her and they have a fabulous crew.
Backing up a bit........I arrived in Amsterdam a day early and stayed at "The Banks Mansion" hotel. It is a lovely property. A big flower market on one side, with a canal on the other, it is sort of a cross between a B&B and a hotel. The lobby is like a living room with a fire place and complimentary juices/coffees/teas/booze (yes liquors are included).
The large breakfast room is downstairs and is also included in the price.
The staff (reception) are very warm and welcoming.....and helpful too.
My flight actually arrived in Amsterdam 45 minutes early and finding my luggage and a cab was very quick. It cost 60 euros from AMS to Banks Mansion. There were probably cheaper forms of transportation but this worked out fine for me.
I got to the hotel about 8:30am and of course there were no rooms ready. I really wanted to shower and change clothes from what I flew in all night but that was not possible. The gals at the front desk were really nice but they were sold out the previous night so nothing much they could do....I had a couple of cups of tea and sat for awhile.......then I walked to Flower Market for about an hour and there are lots of shops/cafes/cheeses and strolled around there until about 11 and then felt myself getting tired again. I went back to the hotel but there were still no rooms ready. Then about 12:15 the gal said they had a room...I wanted to give her a hug!.....I took a hot shower...it was fabulous and changed my clothes.
I had done research on different tours/excursions in Amsterdam for my one day and found a company called "HUNGRY BIRDS". It is a culinary tour and sounded like a lot of fun and it was......
It started at 2:00pm (the other big reason I wanted to shower and change) who wants to tour in clothing they slept in all night on the plane...........I had a map of where to meet the tour and found it pretty easily. The guides were 2 gals and we had about 9 others so I think we had 11 of us.....and there were 9 stops....different restaurants/cheese shops/etc.
It was an international group.....me, a couple from the UK, a couple from Israel and 4 folks from Germany. Everyone seemed to have a good time. The downside was it rained all afternoon. And by the time we reached stop 7 I had lost all my energy. There were 2 stops after that but I could not continue and it was about 4:30 by then.......you know, 2nd wind is gone and you feel like you cannot do anything more.......I wish I could have stayed but it was just not possible. One of the gals walked with me to the corner and I got a cab back to the hotel. It was about 6.5 euros from where we were so not too far away. I gave the girls (tour guides) a nice tip and the minute my head hit my pillow I fell asleep. I slept for about 4 hours and woke up (thinking it was the next morning LOL.)......
I went back to sleep and then woke up about midnight...watched tv in the room, and fell back asleep about 4am and finally woke up again about 9am (this was finally sail day)! So I did end up sleeping but there were a few hours in the middle night of tv watching........I felt much better after finally getting up about 9am
Next up would be sail day.....I woke up about 9am and took another hot shower and proceeded to head downstairs of the hotel for breakfast. They had all sorts of meats/cheeses/fruits and breads, along with cereals and an omelette man who was making whatever you like......omelettes or just scrambled eggs with all sorts of fixings.....mushrooms, cheese, ham, etc....and they had sausage and bacon too. This was included in the price. For anyone interested, I paid for this directly through the hotel. It was 249 euros.....in US $ my total came to 291.00. This is a bit more than I usually spend on hotels but I decided to "go for it" and in my opinion, it was worth it. As I mentioned earlier, I would stay here again.
The hotel called a cab for me and the driver comes inside to pick you up. It was about 11 Euros to the ship and yes, the driver knew where to drop me off. If you are sailing on AMA, the birth is listed in your cruise documents. I gave the driver 15 euros and told him to keep the change. I arrived about noon at the ship and there are AMA staff waiting at the curbside for you.....they take your bags and walk with you to the ship.
Next up......the ship...etc…..
Oh wait, before I get to the ship I want to make sure for those of you who have yet to visit Amsterdam or if it has been many years since your last visit.......one MAJOR tip......PLEASE watch out for the bicycles.
Seriously, they own the roads and do not care who else is there...cars, buses, PEOPLE......it seems bike riders have the right of way over anyone else and I heard a joke (I think it is a joke) that every person owns 4 bikes.....that is why some places have so many And the weather, it was cold, windy and rainy. Not that it affects anyone. Everyone just dresses accordingly and goes about their business. But the weather got better for the entire cruise (more on this later).
So, Thursday morning I wake up, shower, have breakfast, check out of the hotel and wait for the cab. From the time the hotel called one, he was there within about 10 minutes.
So, the staff takes my bags and we walk up to the ship (nice start)....The reception area is right there as you board the ship and they take your bags and let you know there is coffee/tea/etc in the main lounge area. Rooms are not ready till about 3:00 but that is ok. There were already folks on board and I met 2 couples and started chatting with them a bit.
The main lounge on this ship is very comfortable with a welcoming feeling to it. This is in place to hang out before/after dinner and also, during the day, if you don't want to eat breakfast/lunch in the dining room, they have "lighter fare" here.
There is a bar with about 12 stools (I think it was about 12) and the rest of the lounge is couches and chairs and of course windows with lovely views. And if you are not getting off the ship for a tour, you would definitely sit in the lounge (if not your cabin).
Speaking of cabins, AMA offers cabins for the solo cruiser where they waive the Single Supplement in this particular category. It was on deck 1 and was fine for me. Double bed and 2 windows. Complimentary internet in your cabin too. The bathroom was small but fine for me too. Actually it was a nice bathroom with a great shower......doors, not a curtain and the counter top was granite.....really lovely. The cabin comes with a Duvet but I after the first night I had them remove it (too hot for me). I just used a top sheet and there is an additional blanket supplied if needed.
Your tv in the cabin is also your computer. I only used it a few times to check my mail and I posted on here a couple of times. Other than that,I didn't have much desire to use it. I do sleep with the tv on though.....it is a sedative for me.
More about the ship.....it may be a boat that sails on a River but the apt calls it a ship so I will too
Speaking of the Captain, he was always visible and outgoing. I was up on the sundeck after boarding to see what was up there and he was in the Bridge Area. The door was open so I looked inside and introduced myself and shook his hand. Very classy guy. He would be at the doors as folks left for tours and as they returned from them too.
The ship has 2 restaurants.......the main dining room and there is a Specialty Restaurant on deck 3, all the way Aft. The meal held in here is called "The Chef's Table" and each person was given the opportunity to eat here once during the cruise. As good as the meals in the main dining room were, this had to be one of the best dinners I have ever eaten, land or sea. The presentation was outstanding as well. This was what would be considered a tasting menu....you did not order anything. They brought it to you, course by course and wine was part of it too. No extra charge for this meal.......and if there was? I would have paid for it......it was FANTASTIC.
Food is always a subjective topic so I am guessing it will be here too. I found everything to be good to excellent....food came out hot and cooked as ordered. Since this is such a small forum, there will probably not be anyone to give you another opinion (as on the Celebrity forum, for example). I really enjoyed all my meals.....trying to think back if there was something I didn't like but nothing is coming into my memory bank.
The dining room has booths and tables and I sat with different people for dinners, although some were the same a couple of nights. They had 3 entree choices AND they also had 3 other "every night items".....if you did not like what the choices were you could order a steak, chicken or salmon that was on the "every night offerings". The presentation of everything was beautiful. And the wait staff was just that, wait staff. They did the food portion and the beverage staff did just that....your beverages. Really superior service. Oh, yes, there were appetizers, soups and salads too......full menu and the desserts? YUM......and those presentations were always lovely too. I was very impressed with food and service throughout the week.
Breakfast and lunch.....same dining room but you could order off the menu or get the buffet or both! They offered quite a few choices and also, they had lighter fare set up in the main lounge if you wanted to eat up there. The food up there was good too...different soup every day, small wraps/sandwiches, different cookies/pastries too
Nick was our Cruise Manager and he has worked for AMA for 6 years. This position is quite different than a CD on an Ocean Cruise. He is very approachable and also is the person who handles EVERYTHING....from your tour to how you are getting to the airport on disembarkation day. If you have a chance to sail with him? Do it. He also gives talks about the places you are going to visit. Sort of like a lecture but not boring and he is very knowledgeable. He sat with me and 2 other ladies for dinner on the first night of the cruise. He was always projecting a very positive attitude and really encouraged people to interact with one another throughout the cruise. Not in a fake way either......he has a great personality and it was a pleasure meeting him.
Coming up........ports and tours......which of course as most of you regular River cruisers already know....this is what a River Cruise is all about.
I know I said ports were coming...they are LOL but I want to say they did have some evening entertainment too. There was a pianist in the lounge who played each night and on 2 other evenings there were others as well. One night there was a trio called "La Strada"....2 Violinists and a guitarist who played classical music but it was very different and very good. And the other evening they had a singer named Rolf who did Broadway tunes. He was also very good and I really enjoyed both.
Dress code...during the day it was cold, we were lucky and had sunshine throughout the week but long sleeves and jackets were the attire of day....along with jeans. As for dinner, it was casual. I changed for dinner each night (that is just me).....after being out all day, I wanted to take a shower and change. Now, I did not "dress up" but did bring about 4 different pairs of pants for evenings....most of them black or in the black family......with different tops of course.....you could have worn what you had on during the day and I am guessing some folks did. I chose to change. I felt totally fine in my clothing choices. Oh, I did wear my jeans multiple times during the week....I brought 3 pairs......2 blue and 1 black. But I always wore a new top each day.
I also used the ship's laundry service about 1/2 way through the cruise. Everything came back fine and I thought the prices were reasonable. And how good is this......I sent 2 knit tops out.....they washed them but did not put them in the dryer and Head of Housekeeping explained they were hanging them to dry and would have them back to me later in the day....she delivered me everything else folded in a nice plastic bag.
Here we go......so, each day they offered multiple choices in the tour area. You could sign up for whatever was appealing. Normally the morning tours started at 9am. Oh, back up again.....they had audio devices (small) for the tours so when your guide spoke you were connected with earpieces. Kind of neat really....you had a card that had different colors/numbers on it and you were given a color for your tour group. You wore the device around your neck (like a lanyard) and put the earbuds in your ears and the guide would not have to yell...they spoke into a microphone and you were connected to them.....sounds a bit strange but it works I would say my tours had no more than 25 people..and that would be a high number. Some of the tours I went on only had 6 or 7 people on them.
The audio devices I mentioned above.....well, they looked like a rectangular shape. Not heavy at all. The device and earpieces connected to the tour guide......hope that made some sense.
If you are cruising with AMA you will see them in person.
Anyway, we stayed in Amsterdam overnight before sailing....I boarded on Thursday and Friday morning I did a canal boat tour and when we got off the boat we walked around an area of Amsterdam.....very good tourguide on that one.
We sailed in the afternoon and docked in a town called Hoorn......they had 3 different tours offered and I chose to just walk around Hoorn.... ended up with only 5 others and a tour guide.......loved it...quaint city.....
Saturday we were in Arnhem and I decided to sleep in. I had planned to go to a Palace but changed my mind. I went with a group on a tour in the afternoon.....it was the only place I remember having to walk up a hill to get into the city center (HOPE I am remembering this right).... I was out of breath by the time we got to the top
Sunday....docked in Antwerp and in the morning I walked around on my own....in the afternoon I did a "Limited Edition Tour".....it was chocolate, waffles and beer. Had a good time with a nice group.
I am missing something so trying to think here a moment.......we docked close to a BIG Produce Market and my mind is trying to remember which place.....I walked around on my own and for the life of me I can't remember which port it was I have my daily's so will try to re-read them..I know I walked around on my own...no tour at all. (that was in the morning).......
I do know on Monday we went to Ghent and I took an all day tour to Bruges. If you have a chance to go there, I would definitely recommend it. Had a good day.....a great lunch and the weather was sunny all day. Very interesting place. This tour was extra $ but in my opinion, worth the money. All the other tours were included in the cruise.
Tuesday we were in Williamstead in the morning. It is very small town and I got off the ship for maybe an hour to walk around. In the afternoon we were in Kinderdijk and had a tour of windmills ( about 20 of us on this tour).
WEDNESDAY.......KEUKENHOF GARDENS.....YOU MUST GO.
I went on the 2 hour tour and in the afternoon we were back in Amsterdam and I went on another limited edition tour to the Jordaan area. The Gardens?....it would take more than 2 hours to see it all and you could have the option of staying longer. The flowers were truly magnificent. The colors and choices both……….
WED we were docked in Amsterdam and had buses take us to the Gardens. Not sure I posted that already. When we came back to the ship we had lunch and then did the Jordaan tour in the afternoon. A bus drove us from the ship to the area and we did more walking and the bus picked us up and took us back to the ship.
I would say there is ALOT of walking on a River cruise and to make sure you have good walking shoes. I don't do walking here at home (yes, I know I should)....but I got a pair of Merrell's and they were the best......wore them every day (with socks) and my feet felt fine.
I know I did not list everything/everywhere we walked but I know it was miles and miles....
When we went to Bruge (for example) the busses pulled up and I thought the area looked like a park...it was beautiful. It took a good while to get to the inside of the city....I was speaking with some other folks on the tour and we all thought we walked somewhere between 8-10 miles that day. Thankfully we did have "downtime"...I found a great place for lunch.....try the Mussells......they are delicious.
And I know most of you are photographers/picture takers....I am not. I do know you will find lots of flowers/statues/items to take pictures of though.
We had our last night on the ship and Thursday morning everyone was off....they had everyone in different colored tags, depending on what time you needed. Get this......it was me and 1 other couple...we had transfers included in our cruise. Well, for just the 3 of us they had regular sized bus.....yes, a big bus for just us lol.....they could have gotten an SUV......
We were on the bus at 8:15am....I gave Nick and the Capt big hugs and Thank you's.....and AMA had staff waiting at the airport for us as well!
Had a guy help me get checked in and everything......very classy.
Oh, when we got off the ship, they had staff who took our bags to that big bus.
I want to say you cannot really compare an Ocean cruise to a River Cruise. They are so totally different it is not a fair comparison (in my opinion anyway). I wish I could put one word on it but it is more than 1 thing....the whole experience is so opposite of a large ship. They do give you what is called a "Safety Card" and you need to take it with you everytime you leave the ship. It is up to you to remember to give it back each time you step back on the ship. There is no machine that you have to use to put said card in out and of.....(like the big ships have).
Also, they know you quite well after the first day and are good at remembering your cabin number too. Maybe "Intimate" would be part of it all.....an easy experience and they try to make the week easy for all of us.
Again, Kudos to Nick. He seemed to be the type of person who truly loves his job and it comes across that way. I am guessing the other Cruise Managers probably feel the same.
I forgot one other thing....at the end of the cruise there was a blue gift box on my bed.....(everyone got one)......AMA gave us beautiful blue scarf's.....I am not a scarf wearer but I was VERY impressed with it.....what a wonderful gesture.
I want to say I had such a fantastic time that I have already booked another cruise with AMA for May 2017.