Diners can follow the passing medieval towns and modern industry through windows on both sides of AmaCello's main restaurant, which accommodates all 148 passengers during single-seating meals. Somewhat uncommon on river ships, a number of two-tops (about 10) are available alongside tables for four, six and eight. While tables are first-come, first-served -- no reservations are allowed -- we never had trouble getting a table for two.
Editor's Note: While the rule is "no reservations," special exceptions can be made for groups, such as the large, non-English-speaking Turkish contingent onboard our sailing.
Dinner is the ship's primary social event and usually begins at 7 p.m., but times can vary a touch due to port schedules. The line's printed material asks that passengers arrive within 15 minutes of the restaurant's opening. (In a second service oddity, we were actually snapped at for entering the dining room a few minutes early.)
Meals are multi-hour affairs, featuring four courses: appetizer (three choices), soup (two), entrees (three) and dessert (three). Overall food was uneven -- there was a richness to everything that came from too much salting, too much buttering or extra ingredients that didn't belong. The filet wrapped in bacon was buttery soft and was a standout, but only after I scraped off the confusing slice of goose liver pate plopped on top. The gazpacho was tangy and refreshing, but its accompanying jumbo shrimp was tough and chewy. A roasted trout ordered one night was so boney it was inedible. I couldn't think of any good reason why you need five sauces with your tiny crabcake (balsamic, pesto, tomato, cream, lemon vinaigrette). Appetizers were more consistent, with the vegetarian spring rolls and beef Carpaccio worthy of seconds. If you like buttery soups, you'll love those served on AmaCello. No vegetable was spared from creaming -- in a week, we had cream of corn, asparagus, potato, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprout (topped with whipped cream, no less), spinach, carrot and pumpkin.
There's almost always a vegetarian option in each category -- such as an entree of baked potatoes with vegetable stuffing or a cheese omelet for dinner or a vegetable cream soup and mixed green salads for appetizers. There were a few of what were considered "healthy" selections -- grilled and baked dishes mostly involving seafood (grilled tiger prawns one night, baked trout another).
In addition to the changing nightly choices, there's also a "standing order" menu, which features shoarma (lamb, lettuce, tzatziki and chili flakes in a pita), roast chicken, salmon, steak, French fries and Caesar salad. Both "standing only" dishes I tried were more than adequate. The chicken, salmon and shoarma are also considered healthy options, though a nutritionist might think otherwise of the lamb, which was oily and smothered with tzatziki.
There is also a cheese table, focusing mostly on soft cheeses, available throughout dinner.
Criticism aside, if the Three Mushroom Ragout in Philo Basquet with Basil-Potato Dumplings and Shredded Parmesan fails to please the palette, you can always order another entree, a welcomed policy borrowed from big-ship dining rooms.
In a nice touch, "free-flowing" wine (choice of a regionally selected red and white) and beer are included with dinner. On one night, our options were the River Vintage Fass Nr. 1, a red from Germany's Pfalz region, and a nice, young white wine with a dry finish from Heinrich Vollmer, one of the most well-known, traditional German wineries. Oddly, on some nights, refills were few and far between, while on others our glasses were refilled after what seemed like every sip. If the gratis wine choices are not to your liking, you can always order from the wine list, which focuses on German, French and Italian wines. A la carte choices are priced from 17 to 30 euro per bottle. Another option: Bring your own bottle -- especially if you're cruising through the vineyard-covered Mosel valley, known for its Rieslings. There is never a corkage fee, unlike in the dining rooms on big, mainstream cruise ships.
For those seeking a more casual evening meal, there's an "Easy Dinner" option available on some nights of the cruise in the small aft lounge. (Scheduling prevents this option from being available every night.) Choices are limited, however. One night, it was turkey and mushroom in a cream sauce and deep-fried bread pieces, shaped like torpedoes. Realistically, very few passengers choose to miss the main event in the restaurant. On an up-note, those choosing the easy dinner option won't have to forgo the free drinks with dinner. There's a table with beer and wine for the taking.
Lunch is served mostly buffet-style; you order your soup and your entree off the menu and then select the rest of your meal from a buffet of salads, fruit, honey, hot and cold appetizers, desserts and cheeses. Entrees include Malaysian noodle stir-fry with papaya, deep-fried perch with peas and carrots, and sauteed chicken in white-wine cream sauce. Soups typically include a cream of something-or-other and another option like sweet and sour or three-bean. In the buffet portion, there are salads of the garden, sausage, cucumber and coleslaw variety; cold cuts; fruit; and hot and cold appetizers like nachos, marinated mussels and toasted steak sandwiches on baguettes. There are also some special lunchtime touches. During one midday meal, a chef was doling out tasty slices of the soft parts of a roasted pig.
The standing order lunch items are hamburgers, cheeseburgers and fries. The international cheese table -- a comforting presence never absent from the restaurant -- is there for lunch, as well. Passengers are expected to arrive within 30 minutes of the restaurant's opening. Again, there are several options for vegetarians, including a quiche Lorraine one day and an Asian stir-fry with mango another.
There's a more casual buffet-lunch served in the main lounge, all the way forward. This versatile space -- with a bar, dance floor, plenty of comfortable couches and big windows on three sides -- is used for everything from the morning port talks, daytime reading and chatting to scenic cruising, afternoon tea and evening entertainment. For lunch, the lounge hosts a scaled-down version (about half) of what's on offer in the restaurant, served in the main lounge. There, you'll find a selection of salads, sandwiches (minute steak on baguettes or ham, turkey and Swiss on Texas toast), a hot entree and soup (cream of leek, potato or broccoli), as well as cakes and pastries. So why eat there? With its panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows -- which afford far better views than those in the restaurant -- it's a great indoor spot for scenic cruising/munching.
Breakfast comes in three options. Starting at 6 a.m., early risers can get coffee and pastries in the main lounge. Late-risers can do the same from 9 to 10 a.m. (There are, in fact, always cookies, cakes and the like available in the lounge.) Sandwiched between, breakfast is served in the restaurant from 7 to 9 a.m. The European-style smorgasbord features cold cuts, cheeses, fruits (canned and fresh), a large bread and pastry table, a smoked salmon setup with obligatory accouterments (cream cheese, capers, onions, etc.), as well as hot offerings like scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon (U.S. strip variety), hash browns, beans and fried tomatoes. There are also made-to-order selections that include omelets, oatmeal, waffles and eggs cooked any way. The eggs Benedict with just the right touch of Tabasco was perfect energy food -- I tried it on day three and ordered it each morning thereafter.
In addition to the three squares, there's a daily soup offering at around 11 a.m., a tea with sweets and savories at 4 p.m. and a late-night snack, which usually consists of finger sandwiches (basil, tomato and cheese on buttered bread or salmon mouse with cucumber on buttered crackers).
The culinary highlight for me was the Fruhschoppen, an itinerary-specific meal served before lunch as we cruised Germany's Main River. The pre-lunch repast of beer, brats and coleslaw was the tastiest I had onboard. Naturally, all that sausage and beer ruined my appetite for lunch, which immediately followed. The cruise director explained Fruhschoppen thus: There are beer fests everywhere in Germany, and although a massive amount of beer is consumed, there's inevitably a lot left over when the festivals end -- so it's a great excuse to drink beer before noon.
Coffee, tea and pastries are always available in the lounge. There's an excellent machine that'll make you a specialty coffee drink (espresso, cafe creme) with the push of a button.
Arles, Avignon, Avignon, Tournon-sur-Rhone, Lyon, Lyon
Arles, Avignon, Avignon, Tournon-sur-Rhone, Lyon, Lyon