Holiday Sailing on AMA Waterways

The idyllic picture of a river cruise down the romantic Danube encompasses a leisurely spring-like cruise through romantic little towns and villages, historical cities and bike rides down pathways amongst flowery trees with Disney-like birds singing in the background.

So what’s it like in late December and early January? Believe it or not, just about the same plus double-digit Fahrenheit drops and okay, maybe the birds are a little less enthusiastic—hypothermia will do that to a bird—but the romantic towns and villages are still there and while it may be a bit crisp—okay, it’s a lot crisper—walking through the historical cities, it actually adds to the excitement and fun of the cruise.

Recommend recently enjoyed a Christmas Time Cruise aboard one of AMAWaterways’ newest ships—the 148-passenger ms Amacello—launched in the spring of 2008 (along with its sister ship, the ms Amadante), sailing from Budapest to Nuremburg with port calls in some of the most fascinating cities in Europe, including Bratislava in Slovakia, the timeless city of Vienna and a trio of some of Bavarian Germany’s best—Passau, Regensburg and Nuremburg.

Of course, “new ship” is a relative term with this 6-year-old river cruise company whose fleet has been growing with a force that’s truly phenomenal. Already offering nine ships cruising the rivers of Europe and Russia, two more new ships, the ms Amadolce andms Amalyra, will debut in 2009 and two more ships are scheduled for 2010.

Another thing about a cruise at this time of year, it gives a sense of awareness about what river cruising is about and it’s as simple as this—the ship is as much a part of the experience as the fascinating ports where it makes its calls. It’s not just a place to come back to after a day in the city—it’s a place to look forward to after a day in the city.

accommodations Let’s start with the state rooms. With the ship itself running 360 ft. long with a 38-ft. beam, there are four jr. suites forward on the violin deck boasting a generous 255 sq. ft. of spacious and roomy comfort with French balconies. The majority of the rest of the cabins throughout the ship run 170 sq. ft. with French balconies on the violin and cello deck in categories A, B, and C, with an additional 26 single cabins on the cello deck at 140 sq. ft. that also include French balconies, plus 11 cabins on the piano deck at 170 sq. ft. with fixed windows.

White-on-white, hotel-style beds, set off by an elegant wood headboard contrasting with earth-toned draperies and spreads, beige walls with corniced ceilings and a clever use of mirrored areas, make for an inviting combination with—and this is important with airline luggage restrictions forcing people to lug oversized suitcases—plenty of room under the bed for luggage storage, no more huffing, puffing and squeezing like a fat lady trying to cram into a girdle. A spacious desk holds a complete infotainment center with monitor, Internet access, English-language TV stations, movie selections and numerous music programs. The baths are spacious with plenty of room to store toiletries, and showers are uniquely designed in a v-shape so if you drop the soap, there’s plenty of room to bend over and pick it up without smashing your head against the shower door. There are also terry cloth robes, hair dryers, a safe and coffee maker.

A wellness area includes massage services—the massage therapist doubles as a hair stylist—as well as a cozy little workout room with treadmill and exercise equipment. Complimentary bicycles are also on board for those who want explore the bike pathways.

Home base for most passengers is the main lounge—a kind of giant living room with an assortment of comfy couches and chairs arranged in clever little sections that invite interaction among guests, a number of tables that are convenient for an impromptu card game or a convenient place to plop your laptop or spread out a city map in anticipation of an independent tour adventure, and a spacious bar and a beverage area with free coffee, tea, espresso and cappuccino. In addition, pastries, snacks and soups are available during the day as are light lunch offerings for those who don’t want to take on the whole menu in the dining room. One favorite area is the aft lounge with a small bar, wicker chairs and couches, wraparound windows and French doors that didn’t see much use on this cruise.