I just came off AMA Waterways Romantic Danube Cruise. I stayed in Budapest instead of Prague because of office scheduling. I met some people who did the Prague extension. They did all the included excursions, including the Nazi camp, Terezin. They said it was very, very moving. It was in-depth and they saw where people were shot; if they survived that, they saw where they were hung. Just so you know.
When I arrived in Munich, there was an AMA representative in baggage claim waiting. We had a large coach bus so we could see the countryside on the way to Vilshofen (this was about an hour and a half). When you check-in, they will give you phone contacts for the ship. Carry them with you all the time (some lady got separated from her sister and was lost), and make your specialty dinner reservations as soon as you can. Every time you get off and on the ship, you need to pick up boarding passes from the front desk. They don’t care when you do it; I always did it early to avoid the congestion at the desk. You return them when you get back on. They also color code excursions, especially the walking tours. You go by color on how fast you want to walk. The active walkers really get on it; they do see the most, though. They give you a color card and then when you get off the ship, you go to the tour guide with the matching color stick. Please return the color cards upon return as well.
On the first night they set up an Oktoberfest tent a few steps from the gangway. They give you German beer and pretzels as well as having a local “Oom Pa Pa “ band and the guys who snap whips. I have seen this before as I was in Germany years ago, but it still cracks me up and I loved it! I am a creature of love for foreign culture, you know….
AMA offers three times for breakfast, early in the lounge, main dining and late in the lounge. There is much more offered in the main lounge as there is an omelet chef and you can also order from the menu. I am an early riser and I just loved the coffee machines that were available 24/7. You can get coffee, lattes, cappuccinos, hot chocolate and teas. I grabbed my latte every day and went up top to look around. Lunch is served in the main dining and the lounge as well. The lounge is a buffet and main dining has buffet as well as a menu. Dinner is always in the main dining room at a set time. Keep in mind that the food, wine and beer is regional, however, there are staples such as steak and salmon that you can order instead. I am an adventurous foodie, so I always had the chef’s recommendations (never disappointed). I made reservations for the specialty restaurant for the last night on ship. It only sat 20, so make sure and get your reservations in quick! You either sat looking out over the water (beautiful) or facing the chef. I faced the chef and watched him prepare dinner; I thoroughly enjoyed it! They do offer late night snacks in the lounge as well as cookies all day (I was all up in those cookies). At breakfast they had complimentary champagne (too early for me), regional wine and beer at both lunch and dinner. They continually keep your glass full unless you tell them not to, and are happy to fill you up on your way out. I emailed the office during the journey and told them free wine was bad; they thought I meant quality but what I meant was quantity; so watch out!
You are just a few steps from Vilshofen so you have the option to walk around the same day you get there. It is very charming. I walked it the next morning before heading to Passau. As it was Sunday morning, the town was mostly closed but had a lot of interesting architecture and statues.
Just so you know, you will travel through ten locks on this itinerary. I had never done that before and the first and second was very exciting to me and I went up and watched. Then, not so much. I rode on the top of the ship to see Passau before we docked. In Passau, I took the walking tour (pre-booked of the three you can) that did the cathedral, wine tasting and marzipan candy making. Just so you know, the candy making becomes a competition where they give you a block of marzipan and a picture of a head. Then you have to create the head from your block. Guess who one? Yep, that was me! Our guide was great and I had a lot of fun. Then I just walked around and took it in. That is beautiful as well; more so than Vilshofen. That evening they brought in local musicians to play some classical pieces. We all fit comfortably into the lounge, and the entertainment was top notch.
Linz was not pretty from the water to me. It was pretty angular. However, there was a lot of bombing there during the war and the reconstruction was hurried and plain. I took the bus trip into the Alps/Lake District. They stop for a little bit in a harbor town before going all the way up. Then you see the Cathedral, St. Wolfgang (I thought it was fascinating – it was oddly dark – almost a little creepy). Then you head back a different way and hit another cathedral and small town. I found this very informative; they tell you a lot of history of the salt trade as well. It was overcast when we were there but very beautiful. They also give you a lot of information about the Von Trapp family. On the bus on the way back, the guide did a sing a long and had made her own lyrics to “My Favorite Things”. This all had to do with being old……
Another agent on the trip went to the Czech town of Cesky Krumlov, she enjoyed that as well. She shopped, had lunch and indulged in the local beer with her daughter.
I pre-booked the bike tour along the Danube in Melk instead of the tour to the Benedictine Abbey. I wish I had done the Abbey. Where I did get some fresh air and exercise, it was not as scenic as I had hoped. I am also sorry I missed the Abbey; it was magnificent! The town itself was so quaint and charming; this is where I picked up a small painting. It was my favorite village.
You will then cruise the Wachau Valley to Krems. They will invite you up top to give you a narrated tour of the valley; it is beautiful. They will also serve local refreshments up there. The wine was a little sweet and they served a great onion tart. You pass a great deal of vineyards as well as having a history lesson. It is quite beautiful (I know I already said that, but the landscape is breathtaking). You will pass the castle ruins where King Richard the Lionhearted was held for ransom. I took the bus into Durnstein (had the option to climb up to the ruins but was too lazy). The town is really cute but no so much shopping except for apricot products and some souvenirs. The ice cream shop was great! That evening, they invited all the passengers to load up on buses and head to a winery and museum. The winery was a museum; I was hoping for an old school winery, but it is very high tech. We did tastings in different rooms and saw a 3D movie about wine. It was interesting; but not what I was looking for (I had been in a winery in Germany years back that had oak barrels as big as me in the basement and sat at a long table for tasting). You can buy as much wine as you like and the guide is dressed in native garb.
Vienna was just lovely! I paid for the optional tour to the Schonbrunn Palace, as well as the optional Mozart & Strauss concert. The concert was only for the AMA passengers. They were both wonderful and very informative; the bus ride also goes through what is to me a beautiful city. The concert was in an old concert hall which is just magnificent as well.
The ride to Bratislava was scenic as well. This is where I took the communist tour; I wish I had taken the walking tour instead. It highlights some buildings (from the bus) and stops at a cemetery and a castle. I walked into town from the castle (I let the guide know). I was hoping for more history but I didn’t get much. The town is pretty when you walk the historic district. There are many shops as well. There was a lot of damage from the war, so you will see a great deal of communist block buildings. They are as dismal as any picture you have ever seen; interesting none the less.
In Budapest, I pre-booked the goulash making class at the Sofitel. That was pretty funny. We all had to sign waivers because we were handling sharp objects. Then we all got chef’s hats and aprons and started to chop. They had the hotel’s top chef with us. After it was all together, we toured both kitchens and sat down to eat (he had pre-maid a batch as it simmers for several hours). Then they surprised us with the recipe and paprika; not a bad way to spend the morning! They then go to the indoor market for a few minutes; it is a ten minute walk to the ship so I stayed there. The market has fresh food, paprika and local crafts. I had a great time, but I also knew I was staying and could walk on my own. The walking tour is comprehensive and there really is a lot to see. It is quite beautiful and the locals are very friendly. They did bring on local musicians and Hungarian folk dancers. I know I keep saying this, but, I loved it! You have the option to stay in town or get back on the boat for a special “Illuminations Cruise”. You don’t want to miss that; the whole waterfront lights up and it really, really is a thing of beauty! It is also amazing at just how maneuverable the ships really are, you will note this in the locks and when they go up and down the waterfront as well!
Just so you know, the engines run very quietly. If I had not heard them start up (still not loud) I would not have noticed them at all. I am from the south and grew up on the water; the ride the entire way was as smooth as glass.
You can exchange dollars for Euro on the ship. Euros are not widely accepted in Budapest and you cannot get Fortins on the ship. There are change places on every block though, so you will be just fine.
Every day you get a newsletter delivered that has the day’s events as well as the weather forecast. I would suggest a light weight windbreaker as some days it can get windy, especially up top. Each evening, you come back to a clean room, a towel creature, and chocolate on your pillow. Don’t forget that most places you where you are touring, you have to pay for the restroom. I bought sodas in the Burger King in Budapest so I could use the restroom, but no, had to pay.
As far as my opinion on AMA, I definitely would recommend it and would love to do it again in a different region! The staff is friendly and helpful and it is about as far away from an ocean cruise as you can get. I loved being able to walk on and off at my leisure instead of worrying about tender schedules and lines, as well as being able to walk right into town. It is just a huge difference in product – it really is like being on your own private vessel, docking in smaller, more unusual ports and total destination immersion.
Budapest is interesting and beautiful on both sides of the Danube; easily walkable and a great deal of public transportation. I stayed an additional two nights at the Sofitel, which is centrally located for walking or taxis (on the Buda side with a river view).
After disembarkation, I went to the hotel early, left my bags and checked with the concierge about a walk. The architecture is fantastic! I do like the fact that most of the buildings are built in the keeping with the originals (they are not a fan of the new modern designs or the communist blocks, but you do come upon those as well). Fish pedicures are all the rage over there…..still on the fence about that one!
I took an evening Segway tour (booked this on my own) and I just want to say that they are amazing easy to handle and our guide, Tamas Kajtar, made sure we could not only handle the basics but go up and down the curbs as well before we set off. Tamas was a terrific guide and a very knowledgeable historian. For any of you reading this, I am not a young woman anymore and I had absolutely no problem!
We saw a lot of different areas and the ghetto. I did not realize they had the second biggest synagogue in the world or exactly what happened there. Inside the courtyard is a remnant of a Nazi firing area with portholes and barbed wire. They lost so many there that they built a tree out of wire with hundreds of leaves, each on bearing the name of one of the lost. You can also tell which buildings survived the bombings and which were rebuilt (even though they kept the original style).
You learn so many things in school about WWll and communism, but it doesn’t really hit home until you see it. They were liberated from the Nazis by the Russians, but then lived under communism for many, many years.
On a lighter note, we ended up outside of my hotel in a large square that was once called Roosevelt Terrace (it had a sign with a red line through it) – it was so funny as our guide was telling us who is was now named after and I asked him about that and he kept shaking his head saying “I just do not know”. Guess you had to be there!
Tamas was full of recommendations for dinner and I tried one on the way back. Ended up having a terrific light dinner and wine under the stars.
The next day, I walked across the bridge over to the Pest side to the Buda Castle. That was very beautiful and I was there in time to see the changing of the guard. That was interesting and then along the back they had some local vendors and cross bow shooting. They have funnel cakes that are shaped like funnels and baked on sticks in little vendor wooden houses. I will say, it was the best I have ever had anywhere and makes a fine, portable lunch! Crisp on the outside and tender on the inside – nothing remotely close to what you get here!
I kept walking and ended up at another cathedral. Some of them have roofs that look like individual colored tiles and are quite striking. They also had an outdoor café area with a string quartet. Then I walked back to the Pest side for a little shopping. They certainly have a great deal of what we have, but I loved looking at the local crafts. There are some beautiful embroidered linens and great leather products. I got tired out and gave up and had dinner at the Hard Rock Café. It was on a busy corner and you could see all kinds of interesting street performers as well as dining outdoors. The Sofitel includes a full breakfast daily with your room. I have to say that it was not only the biggest buffet/omelet station/eggs/meats I have ever seen, but the best. I enjoyed a huge breakfast before heading to the airport.
I flew Lufthansa on this trip, changing in Frankfurt in each direction. I had a little over an hour and a half to change gates. I hoofed it (it is a large airport) but still had about 25 minutes at the gate. I am a big fan of Lufthansa. They had monitors on the back of each headrest where you had a nice selection of movies, TV shows and news (everyone has complimentary headphones). They allowed on checked bag free (up to 50 pounds) and all the meals and all beverages were complimentary as well. They also brought hot towels up and down the aisles three times during the 7.15 hour flight. I don’t think you could be any more comfortable in economy class than with Lufthansa.