Santa Barbara Travel Bureau Advisor, Nancy Herrmann, recently visited the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Hungary through a 7-Night voyage aboard the AmaBella. Beginning with three days in Prague, ending with three days in Budapest, with 7 days of stops along the Danube River on a river cruise by AmaWaterways. Below, Nancy shares her highlights of the trip, favorite cities, and tips to get the most out of cruise trips.
Three Days in Prague, the “City of Spires”
The AmaWaterways cruise started on the Danube River in Germany, but we chose to fly into Prague, Czech Republic to spend a few days in “The City of 100 Spires.” Any time you travel for a cruise, I highly recommend choosing a few destinations to explore at the beginning and/or end. If you are making the trip, make it a journey!
The historic center of Prague, a UNESCO World Heritage site, dates back well over 1000 years. In the 14th century it was the capital of the Holy Roman Empire and since has seen many upswings and falls of power throughout history. The most recent notable rise was in 1989 with the end of forty-one years of communist rule, yet the beauty and charm of the Old Town remains.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Pachtuv Palace for our three nights in Prague. Although our room showed definite signs of wear and tear, this hotel offers impeccable service, very large rooms and is walking distance to the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square.
From Prague, we boarded a bus for the transfer to our awaiting longship. After about two hours on the road, we stopped in Regensburg, Germany for a quick tour of the city and a lunch break. Beautiful, quiet town with an incredible waterway.
The Cruise with AmaWaterways
Did You Know? The word ‘Ama’ stems from the Latin “Amare,” meaning “to love.” In other words, AmaWaterways means “to love waterways” (not A.M.A. which could be confused..). That is what this river cruise line is all about: ensuring their customers love to travel on water as much as they do.
Cruise Theme: This particular cruise was a Wine Themed sailing with Aver Vineyards from Gilroy, CA on board and it required attendance at a special one hour Seminar on the River.
Service: The level of hospitality and attention to detail was remarkable. The crew was professional, attentive and charming, with a perpetual sense of good humor! Each day began with a genuine smile and cheery “good morning” from the housekeeper. Each stateroom was neat and clean, all day, every day. The bartenders and wait staff did everything they could to make us feel comfortable and well fed. We even struck up a rapport with a waiter on the first day who, much to his dismay I’m sure, ended up with us at his dinner table the entire cruise! Our table guests changed, but clearly, Aleksander enjoyed us as much as we did him.
Accommodations: For the next seven nights, we were housed in a Twin Balcony Stateroom that features both a French Balcony and a separate outside balcony, allowing incredible views right from our room throughout the journey. Talk about being on the water!
On Board Travel Tips: All inclusive pricing really helps you relax on vacation, and quite a few of your usual necessities are provided. All staterooms are equipped with a hairdryer, bathrobes, slippers and a safe. Your bathroom offers a magnifying mirror and spa-quality toiletries including soaps, body wash, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion that are replenished as needed. On European ships, a computer is provided in each stateroom that has high-speed Internet access and complimentary WiFi is available throughout the ship, albeit somewhat slow most of the time due to the fact that everyone uses it at the same time.
Meal Time: Meals are served in the main dining room three times a day, and as in usual cruising fashion, there are snacks available in the lounge throughout the day and late into the evenings. All drinks, including premium wines, beer and spirits are included with your meals. Coffees and hot chocolate from a dispenser, teas and water are available all day. Additional drinks can be bought in the lounge at very affordable prices; about $6 for a glass of wine and from $4-$15 for premium drinks.
First Highlight: Passau, Germany A typically quaint city on the Danube with some dubious history that includes tales about Hitler and Napoleon. The city floods often, most recently in 2013, where the water was so high, the town had to shut down!
Second Highlight: Salzburg, Austria Music fans ourselves, we chose to visit Salzburg, home of Mozart, ‘The Sound of Music’ and visited our first Christmas Market. The city has changed a bit since my last visit almost 30 years ago, but it is still charming. If you aren’t as enthralled with Mozart as we were, we recommend the day trip to the picturesque Cesky Kymlov in the Czech Republic.
Third Stop: Melk, Hungary Melk was one of our favorite stops, with its historic Abbey and fairytale town and began our favorite day.
Sailing the Wachau Valley: After a morning in Melk, the afternoon was spent sailing through the beautiful Wachau Valley, with incredible views past rolling hills, beautiful baroque churches, vineyards and ancient castles. Ruins of the 12th Century Durnstein Castle, atop the highest hill, was a great photo-op before floating into the striking town of Durnstein. History has it that King Richard the Lion-Hearted was imprisoned in the castle by Leopold V, the Duke of Austria, in 1192. That same evening, we did a special wine tasting at Castle Gobelsburg, then we set sail overnight to Vienna.
The Journey Continued in Budapest
The last day and night of the cruise was spent in Budapest. This beautiful city was indeed at the top of our list! Thankfully, we planned to spend an extra few nights here after the cruise, so we didn’t have to extend the trip– We loved it so much we would have!
Highlights of Budapest
- Cruising the river at night
- Hungarian goulash soup making at the Sofitel (we have the aprons and hats to prove it!)
- Strolling through the Christmas markets
- Best dinner of our entire vacation (during our own 2 night extension)!
- Lights, sights, bridges and so much more!
All in all, this was a fantastic trip! In my opinion, AmaWaterways is great for travelers who want to take it easy, have some good food and sit back and relax, with the average age for a European river cruise at 55+. Although there are some things for the younger set to do while off the ship, because these longships have limited public space, there is not much to do while on board. If that is not a concern, it’s a great way to discover some great places in Europe!