We decided we wanted to go away to celebrate Christmas. My teenage daughter and I had done a Viking River cruise over the summer as part of our European trip. Viking was geared much more to the over 60 crowd and never, even if you book a suite, allows 3 people in a room. We are a family of 3 and Viking wanted us to book 2 rooms so 1 person would be alone. Not my idea of a family vacation. It would be different if we had 4 people but it was just another reason I'll never sail Viking again.
So we looked elsewhere and chose to go on AMA Waterways aboard the AMA Stella. We booked a suite which had a sitting room with balcony, an adjoining room that was separated by a wall with a large TV that could be turned to face either room. The bedroom had a French balcony and one wall was all storage and closet space. The living room area has a couch that makes into a bed, which was quite comfortable according to my daughter. It also had 2 chairs, a coffee table and a built in desk where they had a computer for our use. The mini fridge was stocked with champagne, beer, and soda and juice which was replenished daily. The balcony had 2 chairs and a small table and one afternoon of sailing was warm enough to sit out there and enjoy it! The bathroom had a toilet that closed off with a pocket door so someone else could be using 1 of the 2 sinks, the shower or bathtub. Toiletry items were replenished daily as was the fruit bowl in the sitting room.
We embarked in Budapest and after dinner cruised between Buda and Pest to see the beautiful lights of the buildings. We did a tour of Buda and Pest with a local guide and went to the Christmas market which had some very nice Hungarian made items for sale as well as different food stalls. The next day, the Stella usually stops in Bratslavia, Slovakia but since it was Christmas Day, everything was closed so that stop was skipped and we went on to Vienna. We went to another Christmas market in the afternoon. The ship stopped at all the other scheduled stops and at each one we went on the activity we had chosen for that day. AMA Waterways does not only cater to the over 60 crowd. They offer many options for activity. For the very active they have bike tours which ranged from 6 miles to over 20 miles depending on the port. They also offered hikes, usually to the castle or abbey that most people took the bus to. For the "regular" active person, walking tours were at a normal pace. For the less active, or those with mobility issues, they had a gentle group. On tours, the people in this group were brought closer to the attraction by tram or minivans. Much of Austria is now handicapped accessible due to a law requiring it. There were only a few stops that some people could not do because of many stairs or walks inaccessible by vehicles.
Each evening after dinner they offered some kind of local entertainment. They had excellent musicians, dancers or you could opt to walk into town and walk around. Meals were scheduled daily, not always the same time to accommodate an excursion or entertainment. Breakfast and lunch were served in the dining room over a 2 hour period of time. Each day there was a buffet and also a small menu for a couple specials of that day. You could order eggs Benedict or whatever was on the menu that day, and go to the buffet for fruits, breads, cold cereal or yogurts. Lunch was served the same way. You could also choose to have a continental style breakfast or light lunch in the lounge. Dinner was served to you. Dinner always had 4-5 choices for entrees and 2 for soup, 3 for appetizer, 3-4 desserts. Then there were 5 dishes that were always available if nothing on the daily menu appealed to you. You could sit at any table you wanted with most tables seating 6 people. This made for a great way to meet many people.
We ended up sitting in the same general area because we found a waiter who we really liked. He was very attentive and a jokester, we really enjoyed talking to him. Everyon was very friendly except for one man who served at the bar in the lounge. He seemed cranky every time we saw him. The other bartender, Silvijo was great. He also served the drinks at dinner and after a couple of days, automatically brought my daughter a coke and a small bit of wine for her to try. All the staff, Frederico was our cruise manager/director and was very informative. The cruise managers change with each cruise. The captain was a very young (29years old) and very friendly man who invited my daughter to the bridge when we were leaving a port. She has a boating license that is higher then one would get for a recreational boat so he showed her around the bridge and how it can collapse down if needed to get under a low bridge. Our caibin stewardess Mariya was very sweet and kept our cabin very clean. Our butler Dimitri aka Micko brought us coffee (and anything else we wanted) at a time determined the day before. He was so sweet as he put his fingers to his lips meaning quiet so as not to wake my daughter who was asleep as he carried in the tray.
When my daughter and I did a Viking cruise in July, we did not receive the same attention to detail or the friendliness of all the staff like on AMA. Yes, there were a few people who were great and did a great job but beside 5 or so people, they just were not as good. And the cruise on the Stella was the last cruise for the season and the staff would be going home for 2.5 months. Yet despite this, their attention to the guests did not show it. Their attention was on their work, they were happy and friendly and I would never had known that it was the last cruise of the maiden season of the ship had I not been told. After being in service since last March, the ship was clean and still had a new look to it.
Another great thing about the Stella is the sun deck pool. Yes, it was open the last week of December! My daughter and I went for a midnight swim one night. You just told someone at reception that you wanted to use the pool and a crew member would fold back the cover which was like a heavy duty solar cover used on home pools. During the warmer months, there is a bar set up and the pool has stools in it. There is also a large chess set, a walking track and a couple sitting areas on the sun deck.
On the Stella, they have a second dining room that guests can make a reservation for one time while on the cruise. It's called the Chefs Table and seats about 30 people. The menu is set and they ask about any food allergies. Since I'm allergic to aspartame, when dessert came, one of the 3 items on my plate was different than that of my husband and daughters because the other contained aspartame. The dinner in this restaurant was small portions of many different things and was wonderful!!!
This ship also has a small gym with 2 treadmills, 2 bikes and weights on the bottom deck and a spa where you could have your hair done or have a massage. I didn't have time to squeeze in a massage but a woman I spoke with had one when she opted out of a tour and said it was very good, better than expected. The price of a massage was less than having one at home.
Because it was Christmas AMA did a special Austrian tradition of putting a shoe out for Father Christmas. If you had been bad, you would get a stick in your shoe and if good you received a gift. My husband did not want to participate so when he fell asleep, my daughter and I put one of his shoes out with ours. The next morning each shoe had a gift and the guests 18 or younger got a gift and a beautiful chocolate Santa.
So having experienced 2 different cruise lines within 6 months, I have to say that AMA Waterways is a much better line than Viking. They do many little things that make you feel special. All the female passengers were each given a nice scarf in a box. It is a nice scarf with the company name only on the tag. The little things do make a difference. AMA carries bikes on ship to offer biking to its guests. They have you fill out what excursions you want to do over the week and at what level-active, regular or gentle. On Viking the included tours were a ride around on a bus for the most part, never into an exhibit that cost admission. On AMA you went to see a place and saw it, inside and out and they didn't charge extra for the admission.
AMA Waterways Stella was a wonderful place to spend Christmas and the cruise all around was so great that we put down a deposit for our next cruise! A $200 deposit per person to be used in the next 2 years. Oh, where to go? Somewhere on AMA Waterways for sure!
Spacious for 3 of us. Room had filled mini fridge, replenished daily. Safe in room. Tons of storage space. Desk with a laptop for our use. Large TV with many channels and on demand movies. Large bathroom with toilet in a space with pocket door. 2 sinks, a raining shower or change option to regular. Large deep bathtub separate from shower. All toiletries replenished daily. Blow dryer and a magnified mirror. Wall above vanity and sinks is a large mirror. Full length mirror outside the bathroom.
Bus tour of the city both Buda and Pest. Went to the Christmas market
Bus tour showing the highIights of the city
Beautiful Palace with Christmas market still open on grounds.
Great local tour guide showed us the highlights of this cute place with lots of history.
Beautiful!View All 112 St. Stephen's Cathedral Reviews
Great local guide showed uss areas of interestView All 218 Walking Tour Reviews
This port was omitted due to it being Christmmas Day and nothing would be open. Will visit another time.