If you are contemplating a Rhine River cruise soon, this video which was created by Ama Waterways on their brand new ship, the AmaKristina, is a fantastic look on what you will be seeing, life onboard and so much more! Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave a comment once you’ve watched it. Thanks, Linda
I recently returned from cruising on the almost brand new Viking Sea sailing out of San Juan Puerto Rico. It was so impressive the way that Viking took all of the wonderful attributes of river cruising and copied them onto their ocean cruises. Plus since the ship carries just over 900 passengers, is considered a small ship which allows them to visit ports not available to the larger ships. Here we were docked right in the heart of the city in Willemstad, Curacao
Like river cruising, there are many inclusions like a shore excursion included in every port, beer/wine with lunch and dinner, specialty coffees, teas & bottled water and of course the biggest perk for me as I was still working, was the free WiFi. Most people that I talked to onboard said it was so nice to have all the inclusions and not to be nickle & dimed to death which tends to happen on many mainstream cruise lines. Also included are two specialty restaurants, one is The Chef’s Table which is a multi-course tasting dinner paired with select wines and the other is Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant serving freshly prepared pastas and antipasto accompanied by fresh seafood or special of the day. Not sure which one was my favorite as they both had amazing food.
One difference from their river cruises (which still offer cabins on lower decks that only have a window) is that all the cabins on the Viking Sea have a spacious private balcony. Another great option for those who love to eat outdoors (which includes me) is the restaurant at the back of the ship near the pool where you can enjoy breakfast or lunch on the patio.
Like river cruising, the Viking Ocean itineraries tend to be city/port intensive which allow you to really get immersed in the destinations visited. In fact, many of the passengers had taken a river cruise first and then decided to try out their Ocean cruises and were very impressed. So whichever one you choose to try first, you’ll be pleased with either!
For more information, see VIKING CRUISES
It seems as though the river cruise companies (or most cruise companies for that matter) always showcase their largest suite category cabins in their ads but in reality, most passengers end up in their regular cabins.
Every time I take a new river cruise, I try to capture some video or pictures of the cabins to share with you for size perspectives.
The one below is the AmaCerto built in 2012 by Ama Waterways which is 445ft long and holds 162 passengers
The cabins sizes shown in the video are
300 sq ft – Suite Category
210 sq ft – Twin Balcony Category BA
170 sq ft – French Balcony Category C
160 sq ft – Window Category D
Here is the deck plan of the AmaCerto
Here is the video tour of the ship
I went on a Tulip Time river cruise this spring with Ama Waterways thinking that it would be all about flowers but nothing could be further from the truth!
Don’t get me wrong, we did see Tulips but we also visited a fabulous museum, learned how to make Belgian chocolate, biked through Antwerp viewing their incredible architectural buildings, strolled peacefully through the windmills in Kinderdijk and maneuvered the canals in Amsterdam.
The Tulip Time cruise started in Amsterdam and I took the ship picture to show you how close they dock to the main train station in Amsterdam (its the building in the background) and then the next picture is in front of the station which is stunning in itself.
We did a morning bus tour of the city before heading out in the afternoon to a Hoorn Tulip and Bulb field where we all became Tulip Specialists after getting a tour of their greenhouses to see all the different phases of growth (the process was very interesting and we learned quite a bit!) Once the bus dropped us off near the town trolley, we walked around the Hoorn harbor which was full of unique monuments and packing warehouses.
The next days tour decision was a tough one as you had to choose between the Arnhem Bridge & Airborne Museum (renowned for its role during WWII’s Operation Market Garden) or the Kroller Muller Museum (which boasts the 2nd largest Van Gogh collection in the world). So our small group split up and some did choice A and some did choice B and when we gathered back on the ship in lounge for a pre-dinner drink, all agreed that both were great tours. (read between the lines as this meant that each group thought their tour was better)
When we arrived in Antwerp, we opted for the bike tour through the charming streets of this Belgium major city. Our guide managed to steer us effortlessly through traffic and the drivers were so polite, always stopping for us when we were crossing the streets (that never happens back home!) It was a great way to see such a large area of the city in such a short time and our stop at the Antwerp train station was saved until the end because the beauty of the building just can’t be missed.
That afternoon took us to the Floralia Spring Flower show at Kasteel van Groot-Bijgaarden which had 14 hectares of brilliantly colored tulips, daffodils and many other spring flowers. The garden area surrounds the castle where the almost 1 million bulbs are still planted by hand each year ! (loved the Peacock)
Then we headed for the beauty of Bruges which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that included medieval buildings, winding canals and statuesque churches. I could have taken pictures there all day and this one was at the famous corner that is used many times when displaying Bruges.
After leaving Belgium, we headed back towards the Netherlands stopping in Rotterdam where excursions could be taken to visit the bustling city or a bit farther took in the charming city of Delft (known for the hand-painted blue and white pottery) with a stop in The Hague before travelling back to the ship. In the afternoon, we sailed peacefully into Kinderdijk to see hundreds of windmills dotting the horizon. With the sun shining brightly, it made for a wonderful stroll or bike ride through the area.
Our last full day was a full one with the morning touring the spectacular Keukenhof Gardens, a 70 acre park that probably had the most flowers I’ve ever seen. It was so colorful and I’m sure the pictures don’t do it justice.
Then onto Amsterdam where we finished up with a great canal cruise through the city (where you find out why they call it “Venice of the North” )
Now that I’ve taken you through my trip, I realize that I haven’t even talked about all the wonderful food (and drinks) we had onboard Ama Waterways! The staff were really friendly and our Cruise Director Rachel was one of the best ones I’ve ever experienced. She delivered her port talks with humor, personal stories and kept everyone interested, on track and on time.
I was in a French Balcony cabin and since the weather was great, enjoyed sitting in the stateroom with the breeze flowing in on many occasions.
I would highly recommend a Tulip Time river cruise to anyone !
Ever since Ama Waterways brought out their Africa Safari and Wildlife cruise brochure, I dreamed of going on it and even had the cover pinned up on my wall.
Well my dream finally became a reality recently and it was even more amazing than I could have ever imagined. My pictures were almost the same as they had portrayed in the brochure as we were able to get so close to the animals on the river (and on the land Safari in Kruger) and I was also able to get some fantastic videos of them in their own environment that you can view at the end.
Their Stars of South Africa itinerary starts in picturesque Cape Town, where one could easily spend a week touring around the area as there is so much to see. We did a full day Cape tour which starts out going to Boulders Beach to see the African Penguins (could have watched them all day) then onto the famous Cape of Good Hope sign and Chapman Peak Drive.
Since we had gone in a day early, we were also able to visit Table Bay Mountain, Robben Island and the Cape Winelands area and we still didn’t see it all !
Then onto Botswana for the most incredible river safari where I couldn’t stop taking video of the Elephants (by day 3, my husband said, you have enough footage of the elephants!!)
We got to see them playing in the water, spraying themselves as it was so dry and watching the babies learn from their mommas. Of course we also saw Giraffes, Impalas, Hippos, Cape Buffalos, Lions, Warthogs and many beautiful African birds too. We also visited a local village which was very humbling. These are just a few of many pictures I took:
Then it was onto to Victoria Falls to see one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World where the sound is so loud that the African name for the falls translates to “the smoke that thunders” The Victoria Falls hotel is filled with old world charm that feels like you’ve been transported back in time where you can peruse its history filled walls.
A quick plane ride to Johannesburg brought us to the big city where we overnighted before doing a full day tour of the city and Soweto (SouthWest Townships) that was very interesting (and sad at the same time as we saw some new townhomes that had been built to replace the tin shacks that still sit empty)
Another quick flight took us to Kruger Park to do our land safari where we were lucky enough to come across so many lions (that again – I just took way too many videos of!)
Within one day, we were fortunate to view the Big Five that everyone aspires to see – so amazing. Kruger was experiencing a major drought when we visited which was not good for the animals but great for viewing. We had morning (6am to 9am) and afternoon (4pm to 7pm) safaris which gives you an opportunity to see different animals who are more active at different times. It was so hard to narrow down the pictures to just a few and I will post some more again soon.
If you dream about Africa and its on your bucket-list, my advice is to make that dream become a reality and you will never regret it for a minute !
Video clips of the trip can be seen below:
I now see why the new Bordeaux region river cruises are becoming a fast favorite – it was wonderful (and not just because of wine tasting at 10am !)
There are a couple of different ways to get to the region, one being a pre-cruise stay in Paris and then taking the 3 hour train ride to Bordeaux or flying straight into BDX which is the airport in the region. Since I had previously been to Paris, chose to fly straight in and the representative from Scenic Cruises was there to meet us for the 20 minute transfer to the ship (one of their complimentary inclusions, even if you don’t book your airfare with them)
After settling in our cabin, enjoyed a welcome buffet dinner but due to some jet lag, many turned in early that night.
The next morning we sailed to Bourg and once we were docked, we headed off for our first excursion which was a Saint Emilion city tour where we got our first glimpse of the stunning chateaus that fill the wine region.
On our way back after the tour, we stopped at Chateau Soutard for a “sundowner” drink which was very nice. It is one of the oldest estates in the area dating back to 1513 !Then we met up with the ship in Libourne.
Our next day gave us a choice of three different excursions and I chose to do the wine tasting at Chateau Franc Mayne (we were in Bordeaux after all 🙂 )
The Chateau is not only a vineyard but also a charming little hotel that has a total of 10 rooms, each of them different with a specific theme. Right in the middle of their vineyard, they even have a tree house that you can stay in.
Back to the ship again for a scrumptious lunch and then we did a leisurely sail along the river heading towards Pauillac enjoying the scenery along the way. We also had great talk about “Understanding the Gironde Estuary” from Captain Jeremy followed by a port talk from the cruise director on what to expect for the next day. Then the Captain rejoined us for a his welcome reception before we headed off to dinner.
Another day, another wine tasting ! This time we had a guided tour of the Medoc area and passed so many stunning chateaux, especially on such a beautiful sunny day. Our tasting was at Chateau Lagrange and since we were such a small group, hardly needed to use our “Tailormades” (which are Scenic’s GPS locator guides connected to personal headphones that allow you to wander around while still being able to hear your guide without having to stand right next to them, plus they are also useful when walking around on your own or sitting up on deck listening to the diverse selection of topics)
After lunch we had a free afternoon so took the bikes out for a spin around the Paulliac area, such a nice leisurely way to see the town. The Scenic bikes are so easy to use and don’t like to admit but the power assist boost sure made it easy to go up any hills. For dinner that night, we were treated to a meal off the ship at the famous estate of Chateau du Tertre and it was so special, we felt like royalty.
It was nice to have a leisurely morning the following day as we sailed back to Bordeaux. Since we enjoyed the bikes so much the day before, signed up for the Bordeaux City tour by bike and although there was more traffic, was still a very enjoyable way to see the sights.
I haven’t even talked about the food yet which is another wonderful part of river cruising, you certainly never go hungry ! Dinner every night is served at 7pm in the dining room but there are two other choices available. One is a separate dining area on the ship called L’Amour which is a separate smaller venue that you can make a reservation for. The other one is exclusive for Diamond deck guests and they are treated to a special six course degustation menu dinner called Table La Rive with sommelier paired wines. Only ten guests per evening partake in this so it makes for a more intimate dining experience.
There was a multitude of excursions to choose from the next day which were 1) Hiking tour through Loupiac (which we chose) 2) Walking tour of Cadillac 3) Excursion to Roquetaillade or 4) Excursion to Saint-Macaire.
We were lucky to have another beautiful day for our hike and with our quirky local guide leading us, felt very immersed in the area and had some wonderful views of the river from the ruins of the castle that we hiked to.
That evening because we were still in Bordeaux, took advantage of going for a walk after dinner and we found out why its nicknamed, Breathtaking Bordeaux as the lights that lit up the buildings were just that. We were docked right in the heart of the city and could walk around easily.
Whew, the next day we were back to wine tasting – this time in the Sauternes region with a visit to Chateau de Myrat – run by the Pontac family who have been winemakers for over 400 years !
After dinner, a local guitarist, Jeremy Dupouy came onboard and had most of the crowd singing along with him for an evening of fun.
We had a longer bus ride the next day as headed all the way to the coast to Arcachon where we did a really interesting hike up and down Europe’s tallest sand dune. It is called Dune du Pilat and when we got to the top, (felt like I cheated go up the stairs so walked back down the dune ) had a great time watching this fellow try to paraglide but there wasn’t quite enough wind so he just couldn’t get going.
Stopped for a great lunch (included) before heading back to the ship where we were joined by some amazing musicians called Les Veneurs d’Epernon. They play what is classified as Trunk Hunting which belongs to the family of natural brass and its origin was a church instrument for liturgical songs and concerts.
When we sailed to Blaye/Bourg the next day, we were feeling very brave and signed up for the 30km/18.6m guided bike tour and it turned out to be one of our most favorite ones. The scenery was spectacular, the weather was wonderful and felt better knowing that I was burning off some of those delicious meals!. Scenic even presented all the bike riders with a certificate at the end for our accomplishment.
As we head into our final day, I should mention that Scenic is the only company (currently) who offers Bordeaux as a 11 day itinerary which is why we were able to fit so much touring in, while most others usually do it as an 8 day sailing with pre-nights in Paris or post nights in Amboise/Loire Valley to create a longer trip.
Speaking of our last day, it was also a pretty special one as headed up to Cognac where we had a picturesque walking tour through the town before continuing on to visit the Remy Martin estate and sample a few tastings. The toughest decision was deciding on which bottle to bring home as a souvenir ! (the kind of souvenir that doesn’t sit on your shelf gathering dust 🙂
As we sailed back to Bordeaux, that evening we were treated to a beautiful illumination cruise up to the Pont de Pierre bridge to help create more memories of this breathtaking river cruise.
Which river cruise company should you choose ?
Many times, it just comes down to a monetary choice, a personal choice or a recommended choice from a friend/family or cruise agent.
Sometimes it may come down to which cruise might be available at the time you are looking as many of the itineraries book up so far in advance, your 2nd or 3rd choice might be the one you end up on.
For a very quick comparison overview of AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Emerald Waterways, Scenic Cruises, Tauck River Cruises, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises and Viking River Cruises, here is a snapshot below and if you would like to view it on your own computer as a pdf for better viewing, click HERE to view as PDF.
Whichever one you choose, it will be a great river cruise and you’re going to love it !
After doing a Rhine River cruise, I can see why it is one of the most popular choices for travelers. It takes in everything – from the canal lined city of Amsterdam, the historical city of Cologne, the picturesque city of Rüdesheim, the imperial city of Speyer to one of my favorites which was the contrasting city of Strasbourg with its French and German culture.
Of course the many benefits of river cruising also factor in:
- unpack once
- docking near the heart of the cities & towns
- your ‘hotel’ cruises along the river while the mesmerizing scenery floats by
- the almost all inclusive value
- flexible sightseeing – you can go on the tours or off on your own
- fewer passengers onboard so can get to know fellow travelers
This list goes on and you will understand once you have taken a river cruise as you’ll be hooked and want to do them all and I haven’t even mentioned the food and wine yet!
We had wonderful meals onboard Ama Waterways and the wine flowed freely at lunch and dinner. They also have a 24 hour coffee/tea station in their lounge area so if you happen to be up at odd hours, could always find a nice hot cup of something plus various pieces of fruit and those darn good cookies that I kept saying I didn’t need.
The staff onboard were also very friendly and it didn’t take long after a day of touring off the ship to feel like you were coming home as you were welcomed back onboard.
I’ve made a short video of the trip, hope you enjoy and may it lure you to journey down the Rhine !
Without a doubt, the most asked question I get is “which company should I book my river cruise with ?”
So I thought I would pick out three companies and do a comparison (there are many river cruise lines out there but to keep this article from going overboard in length, keeping it at three)
They are Viking River Cruises, Ama Waterways and Tauck River Cruises.
I am going to use the analogy of an airplane going overseas that has three classes of service – economy, premium economy and business class. All three sections are going to the same destination but as you move up, you’ll get a bigger seat, better amenities and more inclusions (and a higher price of course)
I will be comparing a similar seven night Danube River itinerary in Europe for July 2016 departing from Budapest in a French Balcony category cabin (they all offer lower window categories and higher suite categories but will just be comparing the French Balcony)
On an airplane, economy class has the most seats for passengers then fewer in premium and even less in business.
For the river cruise ships, have listed the number of ships each company operates in Europe, the number of guests each ship carries and lastly, the square footage of their French balcony cabin category.
Viking has 58 ships
Ama has 16 ships
Tauck has 9 ships
Viking carries 190 guests*
Ama carries 164 guests**
Tauck carries 130 guests***
Viking cabin is 135 sq feet
Ama cabin is 170 sq feet
Tauck cabin is 225 sq feet
Just like what is included in each section of the airplane, each of the cruise companies offer more inclusions as the price increases.
Viking provides wine/beer/soft drinks with lunch and dinner, using the same wine throughout the cruise. They include most excursions with four optional tours (excursion group size is up to 20 guests) Gratuities and transfers are extra.
Ama Waterways also provides wine/beer/soft drinks with lunch and dinner but they use different wines from each of the regions they are travelling through. They include almost all excursions with two optional tours. (excursion group size is up to 12 guests) Some of their excursions are divided into Gentle Walkers, Active Walkers and even a Late Starter group for those who prefer to sleep in. They also offer bicycles onboard that you can do a tour with or sign out on your own. Gratuities and transfers are extra.
Tauck provides unlimited complimentary beverages onboard which includes regional wine, beer, soft drinks and premium spirits. They include all excursions, all gratuities to staff, cruise/tour directors (noting that most companies have one onboard but they have three) and even local guides. They often have private exclusive shore excursions such as an evening in Vienna inclusive of dinner and a private performance in a palace. They also have bicycles onboard and include airport transfers to and from the ship (even when you don’t book your flight with them)
For the compared itinerary, here is the per person price (based on two sharing) that each company has:
Viking River $3655usd
Ama Waterways $4198usd
Tauck River $5440usd
Just like many travelers who are unable to splurge on the luxury of business class, the higher price of the Tauck River cruise puts it out of reach for many but once you factor in their larger size cabins, fewer people onboard and everything that is included, you can understand why they are at the top of the market.
Although Viking has the lowest price, you will still have a enjoyable experience with them. Their new Longships feature a very contemporary Scandinavian design with several dining venues including the Aquavit Terrace which functions as an indoor/outdoor restaurant for Alfresco dining. They also purchased quite a few of their own docks in Europe so receive priority docking in some places.
Instead of building just one new ship a year like most companies, they went on a building frenzy recently which provided them with a lot of buying power plus they can keep costs lower since they have more people on each ship. They are the largest and most well-known because of their huge advertising budget with ads on shows like Downton Abbey, plus have a very aggressive print campaign (if you ever get on their mailing list, I swear you receive a brochure a week!)
Due to their middle of the market price range, Ama Waterways has been gaining popularity and fast becoming a guest favorite. Since they are family owned, it creates a very friendly atmosphere that resonates throughout the ship when you’re onboard. They have also introduced a new dining concept onboard with an intimate chef’s table restaurant that features a tasting menu.
So back to the question of “which company should I book my river cruise with?” As you see, just like when you are offered choices of where to sit on an airplane, there are many choices for river cruising too. All you have to decide is how much you want to have included within your budget, pick the best one for you and then relax with the comfort of realizing that all of the choices will have you floating past spectacular the scenery!
*Viking Atla July 10th sailing/ **AmaSerena July 10th sailing/ ***Tauck Savor July 9th (all three ships compared are 445 feet long and 38 feet wide)
As we all get older (which seems to bring on more trips to the bathroom), I have found this great night light that I’ve been taking on all my river and ocean cruises lately (also works great for hotel rooms too) so thought I would share a quick video with you on this handy little device.
I brought it with my on my last trip and my roommate commented on what a smart idea it was and enjoyed the soft glow it projects rather than the typical blinding bathroom light in the middle of the night.
You should be able to find it at any hardware or drug store selling night lights and this flat style one seems to work the best. Then the only thing you need to remember is to pack it with you when you go!