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My AmaWaterways Experience

To close up this chapter of the River Cruising, I thought I’d share with you what I experienced on board AmaWaterways, AmaPrima while cruising the Danube on the Christmas Time Cruise.

With 23 other Travel Agents from Canada and the USA, I was offered the opportunity to travel as a “regular passenger” on board to experience what the average traveler experiences.  We had training sessions on board, but other than that, we did and experienced everything the other 140 passenger did.

So what was my experience?

I flew from Vancouver to Amsterdam with KLM and stayed overnight in the Amsterdam Swissotel.  First, KLM has excellent service, especially welcome when you have an 9 hour flight.  Of course, you can’t tell what the weather is going to do, and despite a very beautiful sunrise from the air, coming into Amsterdam was not so serene. We flew in through a storm and our plane got hit by a lightning bolt!  Well, that certainly is an experience!  Not for the faint of heart, for sure…but a large plane is built to handle such strikes and so began the holiday.

The hotel in Amsterdam was excellent!  Perfectly located downtown so we could easily walk to everywhere we wanted to get to.  Anne Frank House was high on our list and it has VERY long lines that you will need to endure – but the Museum is a sober reminder of the reality of war.  The weather really didn’t cooperate at all, but still this beautiful city of canals is something special.  You need about 3 days here to see and experience everything this beautiful city has to offer.

The flight from Amsterdam to Budapest was a quick 2 hour hop and we included our arrival transfer from airport to ship.  We were met immediately after collecting our baggage by very helpful AMA staff that quickly gathered our bags, loaded the “bus” and drove us the quick 20 minute drive to the ship.  One thing I thought was lacking here was any commentary along the way.

When we arrived at the ship, we left our bags behind as they were brought to our cabins for us and were welcomed on board the lightly Christmas decorated AmaPrima. We were immediately directed to our cabins and then given a quick tour of the ship.  Trust me, you just can’t get lost…three decks…long ship…nice!  A  note here – because we included the transfers we were able to board the ship before others that did not purchase transfers with AMA…..what a nice bonus!

We had a bottom deck cabin with 2 beds and high windows.  The cabins are small, but they do have everything you  need to make your stay comfortable, and other than changing and sleeping, we really didn’t spend much time in the cabin.  I was traveling with a fellow Nexion Canada agent so our space seemed smaller than the agent that was traveling with her spouse in a queen bed room.  The room came equipped with all you needed including a hair dryer, robes, shampoo, etc  and lots of outlets….(remember to bring your adapters!)  There were 2 chairs, and a small table.  Included was a good size safe, 2 night tables and some counter space.  There is limited storage space, but we had enough, so real complaints here.  We did have the opportunity to see other cabin types before other passengers boarded the ship.  Certainly on summer cruises, I would upgrade to a balcony or suite – more room and there’s nothing like floor to ceiling windows to watch the world float by!

After being checked in, we scooted out and did our own sightseeing around Budapest.  This is truly an amazing, beautiful city.  A must to visit!  After our little adventure, we went back to the ship for our Welcome Dinner and a real highlight for me – the Illuminations Cruise on the river to see Budapest all lit up – this is an AMA treat…other cruise lines do not have this little extra touch.  We spent the night on board then the next day headed out for our included City Tour.  I love that all our tours were guided by English speaking locals that really know their city!

We sailed through the night to reach Vienna, our next stop.  But along the way went through our first of many locks on the Danube River.  It’s quite the experience to see the Captain maneuver the ship into the locks, watch the ship rise silently and then move out….so very cool.  Reminded me of my trip through the Panama Canal.  Vienna is, well, beautiful!  Again, we experienced an amazing guided City Tour and stop in at the first of our Christmas Markets.   They are very addictive and very inviting!  I took two additional tours here – the Schonbrunn Palace tour and the Mozart and Strauss Concert.  The palace is breathtaking and I lost myself in the concert….  That night we had 3 performers on board – 2 violinists and a guitarist sharing their musical talents.  Nothing like sipping a glass of champagne and listening to classical music.  After their performance, Pavlin, our very talented pianist took over and had us humming and some were even dancing!

Our next stop was Melk (in 3 inches of snow!).  Here, we visited the Benedictine Abbey.  A real joy here was that the children being taught there just happen to be on a break and were hanging out the windows calling to us and waiving to us!  So fun!  The Abbey will take your breath away.  Our tour conductor here was a young women who was well versed in the history of the Abbey and the history of the Habsburg family.  So informative.

Our third stop was Passau.  The pretty little town on the confluence of two rivers is picturesque.  I scooted off for the excursion to Salzburg and saw many sites where the Sound of Music was filmed and again, an amazing Christmas Market with all the sounds and sights and scents of Europe!  Our Broadway Singer Lindsay Hamilton performed so many amazing songs, including “Don’t Cry for Me Agentina”  – WOW!

The included walking tour of UNESCO protected Regensburg opened the door to the destructive power of WWI and WWII and how powerful the human spirit is.  Again, our local guide took us to off the beaten path areas and pointed out so many interesting parts of this city:  St Peter’s Cathedral,  Old Town, and the Old Stone Bridge.

Despite the terrible weather, our day visit in Nuremberg was a real highlight for me.  Our local tour guide was a soon to be history graduate, and she was amazing!  She carefully explained to us how the people of Nuremberg are ashamed of their WWII history involvement and all they are doing to try to keep some of historical sites open for tourists so that we will never forget.  Very moving city.  Put that against the modern Nuremberg – wow!  This was my favourite Christmas Market and sadly marked the end of our 7 day cruise.

Disembarkation is a little confusing, but once you’ve identified you baggage – no problem.  It’s a long transfer to beautiful Prague and much is spent on the highway, so rolling hills and small towns, each with their own church dot the landscape.  Envision the Christmas Village you have in your home with the church in middle surrounded by houses, shops and children….yup, that’s it!  Looks just like it!

So, we did run into problems on our transfer to Prague.  So how did AMA do dealing with them.  Firstly, our original driver suffered (we think) a stroke after he dropped us off at the Christmas Market in Nuremberg.  So, unknown to us, AMA was frantically seeking a new driver.  Took them about 45 minutes.  When that new driver picked us up – off we went…needless to say there was a lot of conversation taking place between our AMA rep and the driver trying to get us back on track.  But the problem was not over yet.  In Europe, bus drivers are not permitted to drive for longer than 4 hours at a time without taking a 30 minute break.  Our driver had exceeded that time limit, so we had to stop again.  Our AMA rep continually kept us informed as to what was going on, so at no time did we feel “out of the loop”.  On our second break he bought all of us a lovely chocolate treat!  Nice touch.  With the stops, we arrived 2 hours late into Prague.  The buses ahead of us had already arrived and they had arranged by phone for them to be guided by the local Prague guide for the orientation tour.  Our AMA rep took us for our tour when we finally did arrive in Prague.  Unfortunately, it was pouring rain there, so not to many pictures from me!  But, I must admit the the Prague Old Town Square is about the prettiest thing I’ve seen!  Check it out online!

Our included overnight hotel in Prague was the Hilton Prague Old Town.  Perfectly located, very comfortable beds and excellent service…highly recommend this hotel!  My arranged taxi the next day to the airport for my flight from Prague to Paris was a private vehicle transfer!  Wow!  My arrival into Paris was something else!  I just happen to be there the same time all the world leaders were there!  Talk about increased security – my goodness – armed police with rifles everywhere….quite something.  By the way, Charles de Gaulle airport is crazy!  Make sure you have 3 hours if you are transferring here!

So, a couple of small personal notes:

I am very allergic to hazelnuts and pecans.  On board I was exposed to one of those nuts somewhere by someone.   I must say thank you to the staff of AMA for the excellent care I received.  That picture of me enjoying Cherries Jubilee was just the first of a couple of specially prepared deserts just for me!  The executive chef himself made sure my menu was prepared just for me – thanks! The Head Purser , the Head Maitre’d, the Hotel Manager and even the receptionist who offered me a coat while I went outside to get a breath of fresh air, all reached out and took care of me.  Now, that personal service!

I loved decorating our own Christmas trees  – really nice touch!  Santa came – St. Nicholas came – We all hunted for the “Christmas Pickle ” – I found it and got a gift!  Every time we came back on the ship from an excursion – I loved how the staff had decorated the ship a little more!

As a side note – We did have a chance to see some Viking River cruise ships.  There was three of them in Budapest that could not sail due to lower water levels.  The AMA ships have a special hull design that allows them to sail in lower water levels….something to consider!

So, how do I rate AmaWaterways – 9.5/10.  There’s a couple of little things I could see needing improvements, but their true desire to have you experience a trip of lifetime is honest and real.  Every member from the deck hands to the Captain is invested in that and it really shines.

Considering a River Cruise?  Look past the glitter and grab the gold!  Ama truly cares about your river cruise experience.

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