Staff Travel Diaries: AmaWaterways along the Rhine
Hi there, I’m Melanie Charnley and I’m a Cruise Consultant here at Barrhead Travel. Recently I decided to book myself and my mum our very first river cruise . I choose the Enchanting Rhine itinerary from AMA Waterways, which is seven days and took me from Basel to Amsterdam. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised by the luxury surroundings and the fascinating excursions. This is what I got up to during those seven days.
Day 1 – Embarkation and welcome party
We flew with KLM from Manchester to Basel, via Amsterdam arriving early evening. After collecting our luggage we went to find our transfer to take us to our river boat. Not really knowing what to expect, my mum and myself were surprised to spot a pristine looking gentleman holding our names and ready to privately escort us to the AmaKristina, our home for the week.
We were the last to arrive and board the ship. Unfortunately we missed the majority of the welcome reception, but we were soon filled in on the important information we needed to know. We were escorted to our cabin that was on the lower deck. Our cabin was number 110. It was very comfortable with twin beds, a table and 2 chairs, a good size bathroom with walk-in shower, wardrobe and a desk with a mini fridge and TV. There were 2 large windows (shoulder height) that let in plenty light and were good for taking in the great views.
After settling into our cabin, we were then invited up to the lounge to catch the end of the welcome party where we were given a glass of bubbly, and then onto the welcome dinner in the restaurant. After tucking into an array of culinary delights (which didn’t disappoint), we then had a wander up to the sun deck and watched as the ship set sail. We then retreated to the lounge for a nightcap and listened to the talents of the ship’s pianist Nikola, who was superb, before heading back to our room for what was going to be a fantastic night sleep with not one disruption of noise or motion considering we were sailing (after we had eaten the chocolate left on our pillow!).
Day 2 - Exploring the vineyards of Riquewihr
This morning we woke up in Breisach. Excited for the day ahead and still undecided on which excursion to choose, we went to breakfast to fuel up on the wonderful choices of fresh fruit, cereals, yoghurts, cooked breakfast and omelette, not to mention the options available to order on the menu, and the pastries.
We had another look at the daily cruise newsletter which explained both trips available for us to do. We could either go to Riquewihr, which is a little Alsatian town surrounded by miles of vineyards, or we could go to Freiburg which is a trade town between the Danube and Rhine, calling at the Freiburg cathedral. We opted for the Riquewihr trip with regular walking (you could choose gentle, regular, or active).
The drive to Riquewihr was lovely with loads to see along the way. We were soon surrounded by miles of vineyards in which Riquewihr is situated in the middle of. The tour guide we had was very friendly and knowledgeable and the whole trip was very well organised.
She led us through the medieval hamlet, untouched since the 16th century. We walked up the cobbled street with the running commentary through our Quietvox box in our ears explaining the history of the hamlet and certain buildings. When we arrived at the Dolder gate, we were let loose for some free time before returning to the coach to go back to the ship for lunch. It was the perfect amount of free time to sit outside a bar and sample a glass of local wine.
When we arrived back at the AmaKristina, it was lovely to be greeted by the crew handing out warm flannels and a glass of ice tea to freshen up. Intrigued by what was available for lunch we went straight to the restaurant. Salads and pasta were available on the buffet today, along with the made to order menu that consisted of soup, steak sandwiches and chicken ciabattas. Spaghetti Olio was a firm favourite for me that day!
We set sail at 2pm up river towards Strasbourg and, as the weather was glorious, the only suitable thing to do was sit in the hot tub on the Sundeck with a Rose wine. The perfect relaxing afternoon.
It was my mum’s birthday that day, and she made me promise not to tell anyone as she doesn't like to be the centre of attention. That evening it was taken out of my hands as a familiar birthday celebration song came over the speakers. To then see the Cruise Manager David and restaurant staff approaching our table… it was soon apparent it was all for mum’s benefit and a lovely fuss was made with lots of well wishes from crew and guests alike - along with a birthday cake for her! Promising my mum I hadn’t told anyone it was her birthday, David said they have our dates of births and there was no hiding from being made a fuss of!
After a fun-filled day, we went to the lounge for a few vinos, before retreating to the cabin to recharge ready for the next day! (After eating another chocolate left on our pillow). It was lovely going back to our stateroom when the fabulous housekeeping team have been looking after it all day as well as turning down your beds ready for your night’s sleep. The cabins were very well looked after and kept spotlessly clean and stocked with toiletries and drinking water!
Day 3 – Strasbourg City Tour
After another nutritious breakfast and vitamin shot, we once again had left it until last minute to decide what excursion we wanted to do. We looked at the daily cruise planner and we could either do a guided city tour of Strasbourg, or a bike tour. We opted for the city tour where we were guaranteed to see a number of sights.
At 9am we met at reception and were guided to our coach. The coach tour took us around Strasbourg where the sights we could see included the Place de la Republique, the European Parliament, with all its flags up on display, and the Orangerie which is the town’s oldest park which houses a zoo and a palace.
After the coach tour, we were dropped off in the centre of Strasburg on the ‘Island’. This area of Strasbourg is called ‘Petit France’. It is an area of medieval half-timbered houses and sandstone buildings, situated on the Grand Ile (the main island). It is surrounded by canals which come from the River Ile. The entire town centre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tour continued on foot at this point, we walked along the canal, again with the running commentary through our Quietvox box, whilst taking in the scenery of the beautiful old houses and shops.
Our tour ended at the Notre Dame Cathedral where the main attraction is not only the size and the Gothic architecture but also houses the Astronomical clock. At 12:30pm every day there is a film played explaining how it was made and you can watch the clock chimes and witness all the elements of the clock in action. After some free time, we were picked up by our coach and taken back to the AmaKristina for an Alsatian-style lunch.
Boarding the ship we were again greeted by the wonderful smiles of the crew handing us a refreshing drink and flannel to freshen up. We soon realised this was going to be the norm on our return every day and personally I felt so overwhelmed with how personal and intimate this cruise was going to be. Not like any other holiday I have been on; I felt like a respected person board and not just a number amongst hundreds of guests in a hotel.
We chilled out in the lounge this afternoon but there were shuttle buses provided to take you back into Strasburg if you wanted to go.
When I thought the cruise couldn’t get any better, we walked into our spotlessly tidy cabin after the housekeeper George had been in to get ready for the evening, there was a gift box placed on each of our beds. Thinking it was a box of chocolates, we opened it to find a limited edition scarf along with a note from the president of the company, Rudi Schreiner, welcoming us on board and wishing us a marvellous stay.
The evening meal yet again didn’t disappoint: plenty to choose from and if you didn’t like the chef's choice there was always chicken, steak and salmon to order. After the meal we went to the lounge for a while and watched the evening entertainment which was ‘Armand and Muriel’, performing French songs and music. We set sail at midnight tonight and made our way up to Mannheim.
Day 4 - Mannheim
We docked at Mannheim at around 8am. The second largest river port in Europe. As the daily cruise newsletter is left in your cabin the evening before by the housekeeping team, we had already looked and decided to go on the Heidelberg excursion. The alternative choices were Medieval Speyer, Philosophers Path Hike or a guided bike tour.
After breakfast, we travelled by coach to Heidelberg, one of Germany’s oldest university towns. We had an escorted tour around Heidelberg Castle that is situated on a hillside 300 feet above the old downtown, overlooking the Necker Valley, the Old Stone bridge and Heidelberg below. Whilst we were at the castle, we were able to visit ‘The Great Vat’, a wine cask that can house 49,000 gallons of wine from the 18th century. It even had a dance floor on top!
Our tour guide was able to explain the history and stories behind the castle and its stone carvings, and even its link to the British Monarchy and the visit Prince William and Kate had made a few weeks before. After the castle tour, we were taken downhill by cable cart. We had a walk around the town centre and were left with some free time to discover the town at our own leisure.
Our coach picked us up and took us back to the ship for lunch on board. We sailed at 2pm that afternoon up river towards Rudesheim. That afternoon called for another dip in the hot tub with an obligatory rosé wine while watching the fabulous views pass by.
Every day there was a briefing in the lounge with the Cruise Manager David where he explained the following day's program and, on this occasion, what was in store for this evening when we arrived in Rudesheim.
At the end of our evening meal, we docked in Rudesheim. Shortly afterwards we all met at reception ready to be picked up by the ‘Choo choo train’ to take us up into the town. We stopped at the Siegfrieds Music Cabinet Museum, where our group split in two. Some of us went there and the remainder of us went to the Schloss Rudesheimer to sample the local Rudesheimer coffee. The bar had a fantastic atmosphere with live music playing, and the girls working there were dressed in traditional attire.
We watched as the Rudesheimer coffee was prepared. Asbach brandy is the special key ingredient, which was set alight and stirred, then mixed with coffee, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles! Our tour group were soon up dancing and having a fantastic time. Our Cruise Manager David escorted us along this trip and made sure everyone was having a fantastic evening. When our time at the Schloss Rudesheimer was over, we walked back up the cobbled street with bars either side, to meet the ‘Choo Choo Train’ to take us back to the AmaKristina. We went past the AmaSonata which was also in port this evening. Fantastic day!
Day 5 – Rudesheim and Castle Cruising
Catching the ‘Choo Choo train’ again to take us into Rudesheim, we met the Gondola which took us uphill over acres of vineyards. When we arrived at the top, we went to the great Niederwalddenkmal statue overlooking the entrance of the Rhine Gorge. Next stop was back on the Gondola downhill to partake in wine tasking with Adolf Stozel – a local wine expert. We sampled 3 different wines and in-between each taste we had a pretzel to clear our palette. It took place in a traditional old style wine cellar.
After the wine tasting, we had some free time to explore before the railway picked us up to take us back to the ship for lunch. There was a traditional German lunch on board that day, along with the standard buffet and made to order menu, followed by an ice-cream party in the lounge before departure.
This afternoon was one of the highlights of the cruise for me, the sun came out and we all hit the top deck for an afternoon of Castle Cruising up the Rhine Gorge. Captain Jan navigated us up the river, while David provided the commentary along the way as we sailed past each castle. The Rhine River is the only river famous for the number of castles along its banks. There is in excess of 30 castles to watch, along with the famous Lorelei Rock. The Rhine Gorge was added to the UNESCO list of world heritage sites in 2002. Halfway through the Castle cruise, we were served with a hot mug of Rudesheimer coffee.
We continued sailing this afternoon until we reached Koblenz, a town at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers.
We arrived at Koblenz early evening and were quick to leave the ship to have a short guided tour of the town with David before returning back to the ship for the evening meal.
Tonight’s entertainment was brilliant. We had a singer on board named Matt Williams who sang a variety of songs ranging from Elvis to Robbie. He certainly got everyone in a good mood and up dancing.
Day 6 – Cologne
We sailed from Koblenz at 7am upriver to Cologne, arriving at around 1300. After breakfast, we retreated to the lounge to relax and watch the sites as we sailed. We sailed past the collapsed bridge of Remagen. We had the commentary in the lounge explaining the bridge’s history and its collapse on the 17th March 1945.
At 1030 Fruhschoppen was served in the lounge. This is a traditional German 2nd breakfast consisting of sausages, pretzels and beer. An early lunch was then served before our arrival into Cologne, or Koln as it is called in Germany. Cologne is Germany’s fourth largest city with a population of just over 1 million.
We made our own arrangements today and walked into Cologne. Minutes away from the ship is the Central station, Theatre and Cathedral, it was very easy to navigate around. We stopped by the Cathedral and had a brief walk around and a coffee before returning to the ship to get ready for the Captain’s cocktail party and farewell gala dinner.
Tonight was an occasion to dress up. We made our way to the lounge and was greeted with a Cocktail and welcomed by David, the ship’s Cruise Manager, and Guido, the ship’s Hotel Manager. It really was a brilliant night, we met Captain Jan and were introduced to the entire crew of AmaKristina. Captain Jan gave a good overview of our sailing and long stretch we were about to sail that evening up to our final port in Amsterdam. Our glasses were constantly topped up and at the end of the cocktail party we made our way down to the lounge for the Gala Dinner.
Dinner was fabulous, probably the best yet and each evening you would think it couldn’t get any better. After our meal, we went up to the lounge for a few more drinks. Music was playing and guests were dancing, and then the evening mellowed down and the boat musician Nikola played and sang along with the Piano.
After an hour in the lounge, we went back to our cabin ready to wake up and make the most of our final day.
Day 6 – Amsterdam
We woke up in the Netherlands sailing through the Dutch waterways on route to Amsterdam. We went for breakfast and then relaxed in the lounge or on the sun deck taking in the views. It was a long stretch we sailed and the views were glorious.
We arrived in Amsterdam after lunch and got into our groups ready for our excursions. We opted for the city tour and canal cruise. We boarded our coach and drove through the city seeing iconic sites along the way. When the couch tour came to an end, we then had the canal cruise, which was fantastic, cruising through what is described as the Venice of the North. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out all the houseboats, tilted houses and other points of interest including Anne Frank’s house.
We had some free time in Amsterdam to browse the markets, canals, and museums before we met the tour guide to take us back to the boat. On our way to meet the coach, he took us through Begijnhof – one of Amsterdam’s hidden courtyards occupied by only women and he explained the history behind the convent.
When we got back to the boat, we got ready for our final evening meal on board. The dining experience on board was fantastic. The Maitre’D Daniel, the chef and restaurant crew were superb in making sure your evening meal was served efficiently, cooked to your liking and your wine/drinks glass was always topped up, all served with happy smiles and conversation throughout the evening. All of the meals on board were skillfully prepared and requests were duly noted and carried out where possible.
The evening entertainment tonight was a classical concert with La Strada. It was relaxing and easy listening to the guitarist and violinist playing in unison exquisite classical music. It was a lovely wind down from an amazing holiday.
Day 8 – Home Time
We had to vacate our staterooms by 9am this morning, which was ample time to get ready and close our cases. Breakfast is served until 9.30am and then pastries were always served in the lounge from 9.30 onwards so even if breakfast was missed, there was always a snack on offer to make sure you didn’t go hungry.
We vacated our room and then went to breakfast. Check out was very well organised, we were given luggage labels to pop on our cases and we had to leave these outside our room. The crew then collected our cases and then they were looked after until our transfer arrived. We were getting picked up at 12.30 and were welcome to stay on board and make the most of the hospitality until we left.
Everything was very well organised and the Cruise Manager was aware of everyone’s transfer when it arrived. Our luggage was then carried out by the crew and we were escorted to our transfer by David where well wishes and thanks were exchanged. It was very hard leaving as we had such a fantastic time, met some wonderful people (both staff and fellow guests).
My holidays have always been a typical beach holiday where I do very little. The river cruise has totally changed my perception on holidays and made me realise there is so much more of the world to see and how enjoyable a more active holiday can be. I didn’t know what to expect on board, but it really did go over and beyond my expectations. Now to plan my next river cruise…….