REVIEW:  Danube River cruise on Ama Waterways AmaSerena

Last month, I sailed on AMA Waterways for the first time, and it will certainly not be the last time!  It was absolutely fabulous.

I sailed the 164-passenger AMA Serena, built in 2015.  We sailed from Budapest to Nurenburg on a Christmas Market cruise.

The benefits of river cruising on AMA are:

–Docking close to city centers, so no long bus rides from port into town.

–AMA ships are built differently with a shallow draft, so they are still sailing even when the river waters run low.

–All dining is included, even the 6-course Chef’s Table at no additional cost.

–Fine wines and beer, including some terrific local wines, are included at lunch and dinner.

–Shore excursions included in every port, and sometimes multiple excursions such as in Vienna.  You can also choose if you want to do an “active” ie more walking tour or a “gentle” tour.

–Bike touring is even possible,  as AMA carries a fleet of bikes and offers guided bike tours.

–AMA’s staterooms are also some of the largest size rooms on the rivers.  Our room (Category AA, not a suite, but with a veranda and a French Balcony) was 235 sq feet.    Their smallest rooms are 160 sq feet (compared to competitors at 110 sq ft!).

–AMA offers themed sailings such as the Christmas Market cruises, Wine Cruises, Craft Beer cruises and has ships sailing some exotic itineraries such as the Mekong (Vietnam & Cambodia), the Irawaddy (Myanmar) and even the Zambezi River in Africa, which is combined with a land safari.

AMA also has  a few very distinctive differentiators from its’ competitors.  It has a whirlpool or heated pool on the sundeck, with a swim-up bar!  It has a putting green on the sun deck, and also has a fitness room, which many river cruise ships don’t; offer.

So our 7 night/8 day itinerary started in Budapest, then went to Vienna, Salzburg, Melk, Regensburg and finally Nurenburg, which has the granddaddy of all Christmas markets.  The evening we embarked in Budapest, we sailed up and down the Danube to see all Budapest’s illuminated lights along the river.  It was quite windy and cold, but the AMA staff were there with blankets and schnapps!  Not a bad way to start:)2016-11-27 001 002 2016-11-27 001 004

The ship itself is done in contemporary décor with warm colors, and since it was Christmas season there was a lighted wreath on every stateroom door and plenty of tasteful holiday decorations around the ship including a Christmas tree.  It s a spacious ship, there are never lines for anything. There is a large lounge with large windows, where light lunch, afternoon tea and evening snacks are served.  The bar is there as well, and a small dance floor and area for entertainment, which mainly consisted of a keyboard pianist. Any communal gathering, including cruise director briefings about the next days activities, are conducted in the lounge.  Its a very comfy area.   It’s also the site for some onboard fun, like the Christmas tree decorating party, a gelato party one afternoon when we were day sailing, a gingerbread house making workshop, and even a visit form Santa Claus one night, complete with a small gift ornament for everyone on board.  These are the little touches that I believe sets AMA apart.

My stateroom was a Category AA, which has twin balconies:  an outside veranda with 2 chairs and a table, and a French balcony.  Because it was late Nov/early Dec, I can tell you there was no sitting outside but it was nice to be able to open the doors of the French balcony to let in some fresh air.

The bathroom was  all marble and while compact, had space for your toiletries.  The shower was very large, with fantastic water pressure throughout the cruise.  Our room was kept scrupulously clean the entire time–twice daily housekeeping and nightly turndown service.  I have to say, the entire ship is kept clean as a whistle.

And I really appreciated the big Apple TV in every room, loaded with on-demand entertainment and satellite radio, and the ability to use as a computer (free Wi-Fi).   It was fun to watch The Sound of Music and eat Mozart kugel (thoughtfully provided by Ama, another little touch) as we sailed into Salzburg.

Here are a couple of room pics:

The food on board was outstanding–and I am a tough critic.  The breakfast had an array of cold and hot items, including cooked to order and a la carte.  I liked that every morning they had a “vitamin” shot of the day, basically a shot glass of fresh juice or a mini yogurt smoothie.  They also had a daily “detox” flavored water of the day at the bar in the lounge–cucumber water, lemon water, berries and lime, etc.  Nice idea.

The 24/7 self-service, high-tech espresso/cappuccino/latte/coffee/tea/hot cocoa machine was a thing of beauty, if you are (like me) a serious, serial coffee drinker.  SO nice not to have to pay extra to get your beverage of choice whenever you wish.

Lunch was either a three course a la carte menu in the dining room, or a light lunch served in the lounge, help-yourself style.  I stuck to the light lunch every day, because it always included a soup–I can eat soup every day of the year–and the soups were always delicious (parsnip, cream of mushroom, asparagus, tomato, etc).   There would also be some small finger sandwiches, a small salad bar, at least one hot entrée in a chafing dish, assorted bread and rolls, and a dessert.  More than enough, especially if you are eating a three course dinner every night too!

Dinner was  a three course affair, and you always have a choice of appetizer, main course and dessert.  There was always a vegetarian option as well.  They source all their produce locally at each port stop, and the daily menus tend to reflect the city you have been, i.e. Hungarian Goulash and dumplings leaving Budapest.  Ama is VERY generous with their complimentary alcohol, generously pouring beer and wine (several types to choose from) at lunch and dinner.  They also served schnapps, brandy or hot mulled wine when we returned to the ship at the end of the day.

I really like that everyone on board gets a chance to eat at The Chefs Table at least once during a sailing–and at no extra charge.  It’s a six course menu served in its own intimate dining room with a dedicated staff.  Some pics:

I was impressed with our local guides in every port:  they spoke beautiful English, lived in the city they were guiding, and they all were very social and extremely knowledgeable.  We always had a morning city tour that included entrance to landmark churches or museums.  Wolfgang, our guide in Vienna, was a star!  We were glad to have him for both our Vienna day tour and our evening after-hours tour of Schonbrunn Palace (the only paid optional tour).

And now about the Christmas markets–one was better than the next!  We had the least time in Budapest, which also had the smallest market.  But we saw 4 markets in one day and night in Vienna (the one at Schonbrunn is terrific!) , and two in Regensburg.  Regensburg had my favorite Christmas market, the one on the  grounds at the Thurn and Taxis Palace.  It requires paid admission (AMA supplied us with our tickets) but it is spectacular.  It’s a Do Not Miss if you go on one of these Christmas Market sailings.  The palace setting, going through the gates with lit torches lining the path, is just stunning especially as we arrived in late afternoon twilight.  The quality of the goods there was very high, and there were many craftspeople in period costume plying their trade.

It’s so fun to soak up the atmosphere of each market, they are all a bit different.  And of course, there’s different food specialties in each place.  It’s a streetfood lovers dream!   Don’t miss the langosh in Budapest (fried bread spread with fresh garlic and topped with cheese and sourcream) and some gluhwein–or a beer– to wash it down with.

Every market in every country has its own specially-designed gluhwein mug, so its a nice souvenir to bring home.  I started a collection by bringing back six!  Although truth be told, I did have to buy a small suitcase to cart all my stuff back home.

For lovers of everything Christmas, there is no better way to celebrate the season than with a Christmas Market river cruise!

Yes, it’s cold outside but the bad weather hasn’t settled in yet between Thanksgiving and Christmas and the trade off is a feeling of warmth and coziness, what the Dutch call “gezellig”  that you just can’t beat.  Coupled with all the different Christmas decorations on board and in the markets, it can’t help but put you in a  wonderful mood for your entire trip.

SUMMARY:

I loved river cruising!  And the Danube is an especially scenic river to cruise.  I love that the ship is docked right in each city, so there is no having to drive an hour to and from your port.  Sometimes you can walk right off the ship and  into town, just depends on the city.  There is very little nickel and diming–at least one  daily excursion  is included in every port city, and you also get independent time as well.  And you get to choose your excursions (gentle, active, bike, etc).  And with the passenger berth at only 164 people, there’s never any lines to do anything.

And I need to dispel a myth about river cruise clientele:  My fellow passengers ranged in age from 30 to 70, so definitely NOT something  for the scooter/walker set!  In fact, it’s more active than you may expect with all the walking that you can do.  Onboard passengers  were well-informed, curious and a very well-traveled bunch.

It’s a totally different experience than ocean cruising, and one I will be repeating!

Here are pictures from Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Melk, Regensburg and Nurenburg’s various Christmas markets, churches, city scenes that we visited:

  • Budapest

  • Langosh & Gluhwein in Budapest

  • Budapest

  • Mattias Church, Budapest

  • Rathouse Xmas Market, Vienna

  • Rathouse Christmas Market, Vienna

  • Vienna

  • Vienna

  • Vienna Eats

  • Schonbrunn Palace

  • Schonbrunn Palace Christmas Market

  • Ornaments at Schonbrunn Xmas Market

  • Hipster coffee haus

  • Apple Strudel, Vienna

  • Melk Abbey

  • Staircase, Melk Abbey

  • View of Melk Abbey from the Danube

  • View of the Wachau Valley

  • Mozart’s house, Salzburg

    Salzburg
  • A lock of Mozart’s hair--suposedly

  • Regensburg

  • Regensburg Cathedral

  • Regensburg

  • Regensburg’s Master Hat Maker

  • Regensburg Xmas Market

  • Gluhwein

  • Thurn & Taxis Palace Chrismas Market

  • Thurn & Taxis Palace market

  • regensburg
  • Regensburg
  • Thurn & Taxis Palace Xmas Market by night

    regensburg
  • Nurenburg, the grandaddy of Christmas markets

    Nurenburg Christmas Market
  • The famous Nurnberger lebkuchen

  • Nurenburg Xmas MArket
  • Nurenburg
  • Eat like a German!

    Nurenburg Xmas MArket
  • Nurenburg’s famous Ring Fountain

  • Durer’s creepy rabbit

  • Durer’s House

  • Carousel at KinderMarkt

  • Christmas chocolates

  • THIS is a real German meal!

  • Part of Nurenburg castle

  • auf Wiedersehen Nurenburg!