Five hundred miles, 15 locks and eight glorious days lay before us last summer as we boarded the AmaSonata in Budapest for a week-long river cruise to Nuremberg, down the famous Danube River.
The trip was unparallelled and highly recommended; it doesn’t matter which of the dozens of cruises you take on AmaWaterways for they all are run in the same excellent way. There is no substitute for their zeroed-in attention to detail or for perfection in staff training. AmaWaterways has managed to capture every nuance of a vacationer's needs and wants and woven them seamlessly into a pleasure filled trip of a lifetime.
Before you even depart from home, AmaWaterways sends a packet of information filled with every possible thing travelers want to know. They include maps of the route (and information on how to download their app to your phone so you can have day-to-day updates, city information, excursion options and much more) arrival procedures, how to find the boat, emergency information and extensive descriptions of the daily excursions, most of which are included in the cruise price (occasionally there are upgraded experiences like concerts available for a fee but everything is optional.) Once you step off the airplane, you will not have to worry about a thing. AmaWaterways meets you there, provides transportation to the ship and guides you to your departure airport’s doors.
Guests arrived throughout embarkation day, where the staff was already smiling, handing out room keys and pointing to the lobby where a gorgeous spread of snacks awaited.
During cocktail hour, where complimentary alcoholic beverages were served, a quick information meeting was held to acclimate the 150 guests to the staff and ship operations. We never wanted for an other thing for a week. AmaWaterways is all about comfort, ease, choice and pleasure. And boy, are they experts.
The rooms are lovely and well designed. Each has two balconies; one with chairs and a table and the other is for viewing while standing. Rich fabrics and thoughtful amenities are provided. Rooms have tray ceilings with soft lights. The bathrooms are marble with plenty of space. Even the closet has a row of tiny lights in the clothes rod so guests can find their clothing easily. High speed internet and WiFi is included along with a full complement of entertainment-on-board movies, TV programs and music. The ship is also lovely. In the main gathering room, there are many couches, chairs and gorgeous toss pillows. A large viewing deck is in front for enjoying the view. Upstairs has more viewing areas and the large, heated swimming pool and hot tub, along with a poolside bar.
Wow. In addition to daily specials, the menu has many favorites and local specialties. Guests may order whatever they like. Guests who miss the morning meal (don't!) in the dining room have a buffet in the main lounge along with a full coffee/tea/hot cocoa bar. Wine and beer is served with meals; alcohol is available for purchase during the rest of the day (each day there is a complimentary cocktail hour, again with special drinks of the day but a full bar is open during the hour as well.) During lunch, a fabulous buffet is served in the main gathering room or guests may eat in the dining room. Tea time in late afternoon offers homemade treats and appetizers, and many gluten-free options. Dinner is definitely the highlight of the day; wait staff take great pleasure in serving the magnificent meals prepared on board. The Chef’s Table specialty restaurant highlights its 5-star multi-course cuisine and is open for dinner at no charge with reservations.
At each port, several choices are offered, each with an activity level clearly identified. Are you up for a hike to the highest castle or do you prefer to wander around alone? Does moderate walking with a tour guide sound best? Those in the “gentle group” will find a small bus or other transportation to take them to see the sights too. In all cities, you have the choice. We found the tour guides to be vivacious, entertaining and smart. The ship provides personal audio devices in order for all to hear the guides perfectly. In Vienna, our cruise manager suddenly appeared on the street with a huge bag of Austrian chocolates for all of us. Thoughtful!
And when guests return to the ship, staff is waiting with cool towels and cold water and lemonade.
What to do with your week? Pilates on the sun deck, a massage at the spa, Zumba, swimming? Wellness walks, disco nights or peruse the gift shop? Board games, magazines, shelves full of books? Or how about nothing at all? All these and more are available but guests never feel pressure to participate. At each port, a line of free bicycles are waiting on dock for guests to use if they desire. Walking stick and folding cane seats are also available. Each night in the main lounge, free entertainment is provided. We particularly loved the live pianist who happily played during the cocktail hour and after dinner for guests to dance.
Our week on AmaSonata was superb. While there were a few families, AmaWaterways focuses on well heeled couples. Everyone wore “smart casual” and were friendly travelers. Overall, the most impactful aspect of the cruise was how thoughtful the staff was.
Just a few specific examples:
I had a massage during lunch one day and showed up in the main lounge just as dining was ending. I took a plate and sat on a couch to eat. The dining manager came over to me to ask if I wanted anything else before they put the food away. So impressed with his thoughtfulness.
I was walking back to the ship after a village tour when the guide hurried by me. She said a guest on another excursion had left their phone in the town. She went from shop to shop until she found it and then was literally running back to the ship to return it to the owner. Wow!
Our first night dancing after dinner, I made a suggestion and the pianist never forgot! All the evenings I came back, he would play another song by the same band I had suggested - impressed!
Near the end of the trip, the Danube River was low; there was a group meeting. Everyone was sitting on the edge of their seats, anxious about what would happen. The tour director absolutely knocked it out of the park with her gentle humor, calm demeanor and in the tense situation, with 150 people staring at her, she was calling guests by name!! "Yes, Mrs. Johnson, do you have a question?" "Yes, Mr. Williams, can I answer that for you?" - who can be that adept and graceful in such a situation? Amazing!
Family-owned and operated, AmaWaterways was founded in 2002. They sail in Europe, China, Africa, Asia and the Far East. They offer numerous packages and specials, often with business class airfare.
Year after year, more guests explore Europe with AmaWaterways. From Holland’s iconic windmills and tulip fields to Germany’s fairytale castles and the picturesque vineyards of Austria’s Wachau Valley, there’s no better way to discover the breathtaking scenery and timeless traditions along the Danube, Rhine, Main and Moselle rivers. If you resolved to travel more in 2019, now is the time to take action – because when you book select AmaWaterways departures by Jan. 31, you’ll fly to Europe on them. Just mention promo code FLYFREE-EB at the time of booking to get Free Air + Round trip Transfers from more than 60 US and Canada gateways! Book select 2019 sailings by March 31 and you’ll save a bonus $200 per stateroom – combinable with the free air offer through Jan. 31. Mention Wave19 at the time of booking. For complete information, visit AmaWaterways.com or call 1-800-626-0126.