Inside AmaWaterway’s New Ship, “AmaViola”
Santa Barbara Travel’s Marketing Manager Tells All
Too many river cruises to choose from? In the last 10 years, the river cruise business has expanded tremendously. River cruises can be experienced all around the world: Africa, Asia, India, Europe, to even the major rivers in the U.S. and Canada. Accommodations and amenities can range from premium to ultra-luxury. For my first experience on the river, I chose AmaWaterway’s 7-night “Romantic Danube” cruise, departing from Vilshofen, Germany to Budapest, Hungary, on one of their newer ships, AmaViola.
Being that it was my first trip to Slovakia and Hungary, I could not wait to board our cruise which departed at the end of May. We anticipated cooler weather than the 75-88 degrees we actually had – it was lovely. One of my favorite parts of the cruise was traveling through all of the locks on the river. I believe we traveled through 15 locks, an awe-inspiring experience when you witness how close the bridges are overhead as we pass under them (so close that all guests on the top deck are mandated to sit), and how narrow the locks are when transiting, the walls are within just a couple feet of the ship. Be sure to take the roundhouse tour to visit with the captain and see how he maneuvers the ship through narrow passages.
AmaViola is a beautiful new vessel, built in 2016, the 443 foot long ship accommodates no more than 160 guests or so. The public areas are spacious, the Main Lounge next to the reception area has comfortable seating that can accommodate all guests and boasts floor to ceiling glass. The staterooms were light, modern and well-appointed; I was able to take a peek at the different accommodations. Our 170 sq ft room had a French Balcony which is basically a full size sliding glass door that opens to the outside with a waist high railing. However, most of the ship featured twin balconies staterooms – combination of an outside balcony and French Balcony. I personally don’t think you will use an outside balcony that much as you are out and about during the day, but these rooms, including the bathrooms, are more spacious in square footage. Each room is equipped with an Apple Computer/TV and complimentary WiFi (WiFi can be accessed throughout the ship). Laundry service is available and at reasonable rates (dry cleaning is not available). The Main Restaurant, decorated in simple elegance, offers open seating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Late-risers in the morning or those that enjoy tapas can grab a bite in the Main Lounge. Regional wines, beer and soft drinks are poured complimentary at lunch and dinner. Bottled water, specialty coffees and teas (hot or cold) are free and available throughout the day.
The dining experience was wonderful, you can choose to dine alone or join a booth sitting 4 guests or a larger table of 6 or more. My husband and I did a little of each. AmaWaterways is a member of the exclusive La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, a prestigious International association of gastronomy. Every dinner was a multi-course presentation; you can choose from regional or western entrees. Each menu featured a chef recommendation – usually a regional dish taken to the highest level. My suggestion is go with the recommended selections. The onboard specialty restaurant, Chef’s Table is an intimate venue accommodating no more than 30 guests, the set tasting menu, some may think a little on the exotic side, serves 3 appetizers, 3 main courses, and 3 desserts. Each course is paired with pre-selected wines. Preparation of the meal can be seen through the nearby glass enclosed kitchen. Reservations are required, but don’t worry about day of the week, as the same menu is served throughout the entire cruise. Staff on the AmaViola will ensure that each guest experience the Chef’s Table restaurant at least once on the cruise. A memorable culinary delight and should not be missed.
The service was excellent throughout the ship. However, we did have a favorite waiter in the Main Restaurant, Vladimir. He always made sure that we were well taken care of, and by our second day, he knew what we liked to drink for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The staff was always smiling and ready to assist with dietary, sightseeing or personal needs. Our cruise manager, Sebastian, was top-notch. His dedication was commendable. He made it a point to pop-in on most of the tours on a daily basis and see how the group was doing and most importantly if the tour guide was performing at the highest level. The onboard cruise manager can help arrange optional private tours if you desire, as well as recommend restaurants and attractions in ports where one may have some free time. We decided to skip dinner on the ship, and enjoy Vienna. We stopped in at the Sacher Hotel, across from the Opera House, and snacked on cappuccinos and their world-famous Sacher Torte. For dinner we wanted schnitzel, per Sebastian’s recommendation, dined at Figlmüller for the largest schnitzel we have ever seen; the popular restaurant was established in 1905!
A big difference between river cruises and most ocean cruises is shore excursions being included in your cruise fare. AmaWaterways offers a multitude of tours in every port, designed to accommodate different experiences and different activity levels, from “gentle” walkers to active cycling and hiking. Each tour member is equipped with their own headset that tunes into your guide’s microphone, so you can move and look at each attraction at your own pace. I have to say that we had outstanding guides on all of our tours, their extensive knowledge of the region and history was impressive, plus their command of English was excellent -some were ex-pats married to locals. Here are some of our highlights: A day trip offered out of Linz to Český Krumlov – a quaint medieval town, UNESCO World Heritage Site, in southern Bohemia, Czech Republic. Set in a forest, bordered by the Vltava River, the elevated castle is surrounded by small shops, restaurants and a zig-zag of cobblestone streets. Definitely a destination I would like to return to and try river rafting. Cooking Class in Bratislava, Slovakia, where we learned how to make a savory sheep cheese soup and sweet dessert dumplings. An optional guided tour of the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcasing the lifestyle and riches of the Habsburg family – this tour had an additional cost but was offered complimentary to guests that booked with Santa Barbara Travel. The architecture, furnishings and paintings are impressive capturing key points in royal history, the expansive outdoor gardens breath-taking, and the carriage house showcased the Imperial Family’s fanciest mode of transportation, plus treasured garments.
Why we liked this river cruise – you stop in small towns you would probably bypass on a land tour or if touring on your own. My husband and I have traveled to Germany several times, and never would have visited Linz, hometown of Adolf Hitler and where he gave his famous 1938 speech announcing the union of Germany and Austria. Nor would we have visited the three-river city of Passau and St. Stephen’s Cathedral housing the largest Catholic Church organ in the world and Europe´s biggest organ with over 17,500 pipes and 233 stops. We enjoyed the vineyard views from the ship as we entered the Wachau Valley, and were impressed with the massive Benedictine Abbey in Melk. We became fascinated with Richard the Lionheart when we heard the tale of his capture in Dürnstein. And we couldn’t stop laughing with our wine host Trinka as we sampled wine in Weissenkirchen. Our last evening onboard was topped with the stunning “Illuminations Cruise” in Budapest. AmaViola would cruise up and down the Danube so we could see this beautiful city lit up from the shore to the hillside, bridges, castles and government building shimmering reflections in the sky and water, so brilliant and so memorable!
In Part 3, I will write about Budapest.