Europe’s Rivers & Castles on the AmaWaterways Amalegro - Part 2

8/20/11 to 9/4/11

 

Page 1 -  Pre-cruise in Paris, France

Page 2  - Luxembourg; The Ship; Trier, Germany; Bernkastel, Germany

Page 3  -  Cochem, Germany; Koblenz, Germany; Rudesheim, Germany; Mainz, Germany; Heidelberg, Germany; Miltenberg, Germany; Wertheim, Germany;

Page 4  -  Wurzburg, Germany; Rothenburg, Germany; Bamberg, Germany; Nuremberg, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic

 

Embarkation – Paris to Remich

AMA had a very nice way to get the luggage for the transfer to the boat.  We left the luggage we wanted to be picked up, inside our room next to the door rather than having to leave it out in the hallway.  This was very nice in that it greatly reduced the risk of theft.  We identified our luggage downstairs and it was loaded onto a truck for the long ride to the boat.  While our luggage was being driven by road to the dock in Remich, Luxembourg, we were all taking a bus to the Paris train station to catch a bullet train to Metz, France.

The sleek trains travel at speeds up to 200 miles per hour.  It was a very smooth ride and very exciting to watch the world fly by, especially since we didn't have to worry with heavy luggage.  It took a little over an hour to travel the 190 miles to Metz.  We were given a quick description of what was in town and recommendations of where we could go for lunch.  Since we were in the Lorraine area of France, we decided to have the dish that is named after it, Quiche Lorraine.

After lunch I took a quick walk around town.  It was a nice little town, but after Paris, most cities would look rather plain.  The most noteworthy building was the train station.

    

Once again we boarded the bus; this time we drove to Luxembourg for a tour of the city before heading for the Amalegro.  When we arrived in Luxembourg, we had our first daytime rain of the trip.  It was just a light drizzle.   Our first stop was to the Notre Dame Cathedral.  It was a lovely church with beautiful stained glass. 

    

   

After leaving the church we took a walking tour.  The rain had let up so we were able to enjoy the architecture and statues in the lovely city. 

    

   

We stopped at a government building that I seem to recall is where the Duke and Duchess of Luxembourg lived. 

    

We continued our walk till we got to the edge of the city where there was a deep drop off to the river and the old walls of the city could be seen.  Unfortunately we had to enjoy it in the rain that had started again. 

    

Also down below was a lush garden.

 

 Above this beautiful scene was a small obelisk monument with a gold statue on top.

    

The bus picked us up and took us to the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial.  It was an honor to be able to visit the hallowed ground.  The monuments to the brave American soldiers buried there were quite moving.

   

I was surprised to learn from our guide that the cemetery was the final resting place of General George S. Patton.

 

The rows of graves leave a lasting impression.

    

I’m glad that the cemetery was on the tour.  It was so nice to see that our soldiers were being honored and well taken care of.

    

We got on our bus and were finally heading to the Amalegro, which was waiting for us at Remich, Luxembourg.  We were ready to begin the river cruise portion of our vacation.  After a full day’s traveling and touring, we arrived at the Amalegro at 4:30 PM.  It was nice to see it there at the bank of the river just waiting for us to board. 

    

When we boarded we were pleased to find some sandwiches, snacks and cold beer waiting for us.  The cruise had begun.

  

Ship

When we cruised on the AmaWaterways Amalyra two years ago, that ship was only two months old.  We really enjoyed cruising on a brand new ship.  I had been a little concerned when we booked the Amalegro, that it would be a five year old river boat, which might not be quite as nice.  My concerns quickly subsided as we walked around and realized that the Amalegro looked as good as any new ship.  It had been well maintained.  I actually thought that it was a prettier boat and had nicer decorations than the Amalyra.

Since I had gone into a lot of detail in our Danube review regarding the features of the Amalyra, which are basically the same as the Amalegro, I won’t go into as much detail in this review; but will use some of the same verbiage, where appropriate, for those who haven’t looked at the Danube review.

There are five public rooms on the ship.  The way the ship is constructed the two largest of those rooms, the Main Lounge and the Restaurant, are in the front of the ship and actually take up one and a half levels each to provide higher ceilings in the rooms.

Main Lounge – This is a large room at the front of the ship where all the entertainment, meetings and activities are done.  There is also a small dance floor.  During the day many people sat there and read or just relaxed and watched the scenery go by as we cruised along the river.  This room was also used for light meals if you wanted to skip the main restaurant.  For breakfast there were breads and rolls.  For lunch and supper, soup, salads and other light items were offered.

    

   

At the back of the Main Lounge is a small bar that used heavily during meals with the beer and wine being free at dinner; but much less at other times.

Just in front of and accessed through the main lounge is a very nice protected sitting area.  This was very nice when it was cooler or there was a slight drizzle.

   

Restaurant – All meals are served there.  For breakfast a normal buffet breakfast is served in addition to an egg/omelet station.  Also, special items can be ordered from a menu such as Eggs Benedict, Oatmeal, etc.  For lunch, there is a buffet for the salads and lighter foods.  The main course is then ordered from the menu.  For dinner all items are ordered off of the menu.  All dinner menus and some food photos are at this link.

 

Aft Lounge – This is primarily a card/game room at the back of the ship on the third level that can be used for many individual or small group activities.  It is also a nice place to just sit and watch what is going on behind the ship. 

    

Lobby – The Lobby is where the main reception/business desk is located.  There is also a tiny souvenir shop located to the left of the desk. 

    

We had hoped to pick up a couple of souvenirs in the shop, but found that almost all of the souvenirs were mainly for cruises for Amsterdam and the Danube ports.  When we asked about this, they told us that on the last cruise, the guests bought almost all of the souvenirs they had in inventory, and they had to put out what they had even though it was for other itineraries.  They had hoped to get some fresh supplies during the week; but it never happened. 

 

The Lobby is also where the stairs to the Main Lounge and Restaurant are located; as well as the doors to the outside of the ship and stairs to the Sundeck can be accessed.  It is a hub of activity, especially when port tours start and end.  There is also a very small library located in front of the lobby on deck three as well as the cruise director's desk.

    

An elevator can be accessed in the Lobby.  It only goes from the lobby up to deck three or down to deck two.  This means that a handicapped person would have to walk the eight steps down to the restaurant from the lowest level the elevator descends to.  River boat construction requirements do not allow an elevator to go all the way down to the lowest level of a ship.  This rule is to prevent drowning in the event of an accident where the lower level is flooded. 

 

 

Fitness Room – This is a very small workout room that is adjacent to and also joins the Aft Lounge.  The equipment was nice, but limited.  The main use of this room for us was to get to the sundeck.  Since our cabin was only two doors down from the room, the stair access just outside the gym was a very easy way to quickly get to the sundeck.

    

The Sundeck is not a public room, but is the best place on the ship to watch the world go by.  The most prominent part of the sundeck is the wheel house where the captain normally controls the ship. It can be lowered to allow the ship to pass under low bridges.  When this is done, the captain can stick his head through a hole in the top of the wheel house to see where he is going.  The sundeck is also where the lifejackets and bicycles are stored.

    

 

There are areas for sitting or lounging, some covered.  The chairs were quite comfortable.  There is also a hot tub near the front of the ship.  It was used much more on this cruise than on our Danube cruise because the weather was warmer.  Carol and I even used it to soothe our aching feet one afternoon.

    

A walking track is marked around the outside of the deck and was used quite a bit.  There was also a large chess set for use; but I never saw anyone playing with it.

    

Unlike on the Amalyra, the Amalegro did not have a small life boat in the front of the ship, just a bell.  They explained in a group meeting prior to the Captain’s Reception the first evening that there is no need for lifeboats on a river boat since a captain can move close to the shore in case of an emergency, or the passengers can move to the upper deck, since the boat is higher than the river is deep.  All of the life jackets are kept in compartments on the sundeck, which is logical, since that is where one would go if there was a problem.  A plus with this setup is that no room is taken up in the cabin for life jackets.

 

AMA ships provide free Wi-Fi.  The antenna is on the sundeck next to the wheelhouse.  It is moved to get the best reception.  There were frequent times when there was no reception due to the antennae having to be lowered to go under bridges and on other occasions.  To use the Wi-Fi, you have to get a password from the reception desk.  I used it mostly for my iPhone. 

 

Cabin

Once again we had cabin 330, which was the next to last cabin on the top deck; just in front of the Aft Lounge and Beauty Salon.  We had enjoyed this cabin so much on the Amalyra, we chose it again for this cruise.  The hallways to the cabins were very nice with attractive carpeting, textured wallpaper and nice pictures.  They were wide enough under normal circumstances, but when the room attendants had their carts in the hallway; it was a tight squeeze to get by them.

The cabin was 170 sq. ft, which is very good for a river boat.  It was arranged so that there was plenty of room to move around, especially at the end of the bed where the closet was located.  This makes a big difference, since this is normally a problem area in many ocean cruise line cabins.  In addition to a nice sized closet, there was a side closet with shelves and safe.

   

We had a French Balcony, which is a sliding glass door with a railing outside of the door.  This is really all that is needed.  As long as I can put my head outside to look around and feel the temperature, I am happy.  With the sundeck being so close, I wouldn’t have used a full balcony if I had one.  One of the warnings that are given is to make sure that the ship is not entering a lock before sticking your head out of your balcony, since it would be easy to be injured by the sides of the lock with the ship getting so close to them.

The cabin had two chairs by the balcony, with one of them being used as a chair for the small desk area.  A nice flat panel TV that had many entertainment options was a nice touch.  Other than to watch the news on CNN a few times, we never turned it on.  The TV is also used as a monitor for the free internet connection that is accessed through the TV system, and has a keyboard attached to it.  We never used it because we could access the web through the free Wi-Fi on our iPhones.  Additionally, with this cruise being so port intensive, we really had very little time to watch TV.  One difference we noted this time was that the VOX communication devices that were used during the tours were actually in the room and sitting in a charger rather than at the lobby desk.  This did make the process easier for tours, but also took up valuable desk space in our cabin.  However, I did prefer this method, since I knew my device was working and fully charged for the tours.

    

The bed was firmer than we are used to; but it was comfortable.  It also had a duvet cover, which we were pleased to learn could be replaced with a sheet and blanket.  There was a note on our bed telling us that we could make that change; which we thought was a very nice touch.  The air conditioning system in the cabin worked very well, so we were able to keep the cabin nice and cool all night for good sleeping.

Under the bed is a large container that slides out where you can store things, like luggage.  Since we weren’t using the duvet covers, the housekeeper had put them in the container.  Had we needed the space, she would have taken them from the cabin for us. We found that the bed was high enough off the floor, that we were able to put three of our suitcases under one side of the bed; which worked out great.

 

One of the concerns that people have with cabins that are close to the back of the ship is vibration.  The vibration we experienced was very minor.  It was more noticeable when slowing down or accelerating around locks and obviously when docking.  However, after the first day you don’t even notice it.  We also never smelled any fumes in the cabin.

The bathroom was very nice.  Like the cabin it was well laid out.  The shower had three heads:  the rain type at the top of the shower, a handheld type and a moveable head in the middle of the shower.  The controls allowed various selections of different heads and type of sprays.  The waterfall setting was a very nice feature.  Although the triangular shaped shower didn’t appear that large, it was quite adequate for my oversized body.

            

Once again, we really enjoyed this cabin due to its location.  It was so nice to have the quick access to the sundeck only two doors away.  Most people used the stairs in the lobby which had more steps due to its location on deck 2.

 

We were very pleased to find out that AMA now included free bottles of water in the cabin.  Each day the attendant would restock our cabin. During the cruise we did use the laundry service a few times and were pleased with the service.  I have included a 2011 price list below.

 

Dress

The dress code for the cruise was casual, with smart casual for evening dinners.   As with the Danube cruise, I had decided not to bring a jacket, since smart casual would not require one.  Both Carol and I felt comfortable in our smart casual dress on this cruise, even during the two Captain’s Receptions.

 

Food (menus)

Our expectations for food had been set pretty high from our Amalyra experience.  Once again we were very pleased with the selection, quality, taste and presentation.  It is quite an accomplishment, in my opinion, to be able to provide this level of food quality with the tiny kitchen and limited staff.  During one of the group meetings, we were told that the kitchen is only half the size of the dance floor in the main lounge.  Now that is small.  No galley tours are offered, probably because it is too small, so I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to get a photo.  However, when we returned from one of the late tours, I was able to get a photo from outside of the boat through a window.  It isn’t a great photo, but it does show the size of the kitchen.

 

The maître d on a river cruise is a very important and busy person.  It is definitely a working supervisory position.  Luis Marques from Portugal was a very good one.  He was very professional, competent and friendly.  He constantly walked around the room during the meals looking for ways he could help.  He even helped serve the plates.  These "above and beyond" traits were also reflected in the wonderful dining staff.  On our Danube cruise, we were able to single out a couple of people in the dining room that really made our cruise very special.  On this trip we couldn’t because they were all very good at what they did.  The entire dining staff was very efficient, with pleasant personalities; so I have to say that they all made our cruise special.

 

For breakfast there was a very nice buffet offered.  Coffee and pastries were also available in the Main Lounge before and after the breakfast times for those that woke up early, late or just didn’t want a full breakfast.

    

For lunch the soups, appetizers, desserts and lighter items were provided on the buffet.  The main courses were chosen from the menu.  This was a very efficient way of serving lunch, since it allowed those that just wanted a lighter lunch to be able to eat quickly and leave if they wanted to.  Hamburgers and cheeseburgers were also available.  There was also a lighter lunch offered in the Main Lounge with some of the same items on the buffet for those that didn’t want to go to the restaurant.  I don’t believe that anyone went hungry on this cruise.

    

As would be expected, the dinner menus had fewer options than an ocean cruises. There is a chef’s recommendation on the left side of the menu that showed the various items that he thought were the best choices; as well as several alternative selections that were available every night.  Also on the left side are the free wines that would be offered for dinner.  Since we were travelling through the Rhine and Mosel wine regions of Germany, the local wines were quite good.  Free beer is also served at dinner.  Carol enjoyed the free Coke and Sprite.  There were charges for these drinks at other times during the day. 

On the right side of the dinner menu were three choices for appetizers, two for soups, one salad, three entrees and two desserts.  With all meals there was a nice selection of cheeses and fruits that you could walk up to and take as much as you wanted.  Since I am a cheese lover, this was a great feature.  Early in the cruise I discovered a French Walnut Cheese and a German Pepper Cheese that I couldn’t get enough of.  They were so good.  The other cheese selections were also very good; but I had to have some control so that it wouldn’t fill me up prior to the meal.

The three main entrée choices were a fish, a meat/poultry dish and a vegetarian  entrée.   We usually chose the meat dishes, which were quite good.  Our various table mates also raved about the fish dishes.  On a couple of meals there were some different vegetable items that we didn’t care for; but that would be expected, since everyone doesn’t like the same things.  One thing that everyone raved about was the soups.  At lunch and dinner the soups that were offered were just so delicious.  I don’t know how AMA comes up with such wonderful soups; but they are the best we have ever had on any cruise, ocean or river.  The other always outstanding item was the ice cream.  Just too tasty!  I couldn’t believe that they actually made it on board. 

  

Entertainment

Regularly during the day and evening the pianist, Kris, was playing in the Main Lounge. 

 

During the week we had three separate groups come on board to entertain us during the evening.  I was very excited that the string trio La Strada was going to be performing, since Carol had missed them when we did our Danube cruise and I had enjoyed them so much.  I told all of our new friends not to miss their concert.

    

I was surprised when we went to the performance that they weren’t the same people that I had seen two years earlier.  I was told that there are now actually four separate groups with La Strada that performed on the various river cruises.  I guess they had to expand because they were so popular.  I was concerned that the experience might not be as good because they weren’t the originals.  I was nervous because I had told everyone how great they were, but I soon realized that this group also offered a high quality presentation which everyone enjoyed.

On another night we had a group called Pitchwork perform.  They didn’t appeal to my taste, in part probably because I was tired from the full touring schedule and needed to rest rather than be entertained.

 

On the last night of the cruise we had a very good singer, Valerie.  She was quite talented and well received by the audience.

 

Management

On a river cruise, you get to know the ships management team.  I find it to be a real plus, especially if you have a good team.  The main people were the Captain, Andreas Balint from Hungary ; the Hotel Manager, Arthur Carvalheiro from Portugal; and the Cruise Manager, Csaba Tamas from Hungary.

         

We had been a little less enthusiastic about the captain when he gave us his welcome speech at the first group meeting.  He talked very slowly and didn’t seem to have much of a personality.  However, we discovered that we were so very, very wrong.  After spending more time with him at the first dinner when we were invited to the Captain’s Table, we found that he was very pleasant and gracious.  The reason that the first impression was different was that he was still in the process of learning English and had to speak very slowly and carefully.  We found him to be a very nice person and looked forward to his friendly smile when we returned from our daily excursions.

 

The Hotel Manager, Art, on the other hand was extremely outgoing and a real character.  He was very entertaining and humorous.  He was always talking with the passengers and spending time with everyone.  He was very concerned that everyone needed to be satisfied with the service they were receiving.  One afternoon we saw him walking around with a flashlight looking down at the floor.  We asked him what he was doing and he told us a passenger had lost a diamond out of her ring and he was trying to find it for her.  Now that is customer service.  Art was always smiling.  His personality spread to the rest of the crew.  We were always greeted with smiling faces from all of the housekeeping, front desk and other staff.  The whole crew was very professional and friendly.  I am sure it is the result of Art’s care for the ship and passengers.  If AMA ever changes the name of the Amalegro, they might consider calling it the ARTalegro.

 

We had met the Cruise Director, Csaba (pronounced Jaba), during our stay in Paris.  He had been very helpful while there and was very good at coordinating the activities.  Csaba had a great personality and it was always a pleasure to spend time with him.  He was very concerned about the passengers and went out of the way to make sure that everyone was OK. On this trip we did have a few passengers with health issues.  He attended to the problems quickly and solved their issues. 

 

The Daily Cruiser flyer that is put out every night in the cabin for the next day’s activities is very nice and informative.  Unlike ocean cruises, it isn’t filled with lots of advertisements and sales because they aren’t selling anything.  It provides the daily schedules and helpful port information.

There were various information briefings in the Main Lounge during the week to discuss the upcoming ports and the various optional tours that were offered.  The one on the first day was an information and safety briefing before the Captain’s Reception to get us acquainted with the ship and to meet the staff

 

Ports of Call

To say that this trip was port intensive is an understatement.  In addition to Paris, Metz and Luxembourg that we had already visited, we would have tours in thirteen more cities over the next nine days.  This is my kind of vacation!  Some people prefer to relax when on vacation.  Since we live in South Florida, I feel like I am always on vacation and can relax very nicely at home.  When I’m on a trip, I want to see the world; and this itinerary would certainly do that.

 

Trier, Germany to Bernkastel

Our first port stop on the cruise was to be at the oldest city in Germany, Trier.  It was founded before 16 BC, so it was old.  We had visited there thirteen years ago when one of our sons was stationed at an army base not far from Trier.  For today’s tour, we had a feisty little red headed guide named Susan.  As with all of the guides we had during this trip, she was very good and informative.  We were very lucky, since tour guides can be hit or miss.

 

After driving around a few of the sights in Trier, we stopped at the ruins of the old Roman Imperial Baths.   They were quite impressive, but we had to look at them through a gate; which meant that we couldn’t see the actual baths that were in the ground.

 

Our next stop was to the Electoral Palace.  This beautiful ornate pink building was enhanced by the lovely gardens in front of it.

    

   

The decorations were very nice, but I did get amused by an unusual looking statue.

 

We then walked over to the Basilica of Constantine.  It was hard to believe that most of the building is the original 1700 year old structure, probably because it was built with red bricks.  Apparently it was originally covered with plaster and marble panels, but now you can see the ancient bricks.

 

On our walk through town we passed some lovely buildings and churches.

        

The most unusual thing we saw was a statue of a Roman war ship.  The people manning the oars didn’t seem to be enjoying their work.

We walked further into town toward the main square.  There was a brightly colored large fountain in the center.

    

The German towns we had passed all seemed to have lovely buildings in them which they liked to decorate with flowers.  I am glad we were visiting Germany during the growing season.  I would think a lot of the floral charm of these cities would be lost if doing a Christmas Markets cruise.  But then again, the appeal of those cruises is the market not the flowers.

    

The main tourist attraction in Trier is Porta Nigra or the Black Gate.  It is the largest surviving Roman gate in the world.  It is 1800 years old and given its name due to the black color the sandstone turned from the years of pollution in the middle ages.

 

Most people were taking photos of the side of the gate facing the main square; but I decided to walk through the gate to see what the back side looked like.  I was so glad I did, since it is by far the prettier side, especially with all the flowers.  There were also some beautiful buildings on that side of the gate, some with statues.

 

   

While we were returning to the boat, Susan pointed out the birthplace of Karl Marx.  She said that it is a very popular sight for Russian and Chinese visitors to the area.

We returned to the ship and had lunch while the Amalegro cruised down the Mosel River toward our next port, Bernkastel.  This was a really pretty stretch of the river.  There were vineyards on both sides.  I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to work those vineyards, since they were so very steep in places.

    

Soon after lunch, we came to the first of some thirty locks that the boat would go through during the week.  Fortunately most of those would be passed through while we were on tour or at night while we were sleeping.  The boats are designed to be as wide as possible and still be able to fit into the narrowest locks.  Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to go very far down the river.  It is a precision operation to be able to maneuver a large boat through a lock and requires a lot of experience.  The captain comes out of the main wheel house and uses the controls on the side of the boat to steer it into the lock.

Once in the lock, the water is pumped out to bring the boat down or up to the water level on the other side of the lock and the large doors are opened.

 

We continued down the Mosel and the vineyards were even steeper than before the lock. It really made for a lovely ride down the river.

    

   

We came across a vineyard that had arranged its vines in one section in the shape of a heart, a very cute idea.  This was a most enjoyable stretch of river.  This is what river cruising is all about.

     

After the relaxing cruise down the Mosel, we stopped at the small town of Piersport, to let those off the boat that wanted to do a tour of Bernkastel.  We would get on a bus and meet the boat after it arrived in Bernkastel when our tour was finished.  Those that didn’t do the tour, stayed on the boat for more river cruising.  For this tour, we had a very nice young tour guide named Sebastian. 

We drove up into the hills and were able to look down to the Mosel River and the small towns along it.

    

We passed by a lock that the Amalegro would have to go through. 

 

At one point, we even met the Amalegro. But that would be the last time, since she had a lot of locks to go through which would slow her down.

 

While we were driving to town, Sebastian told us that they had a severe storm go through earlier in the day that caused a lot of damage in the area.  Golf ball and tennis ball size hail had torn up slate roofs, dented car roofs and broken every window in a greenhouse we passed.  It had been a bad one.  I asked if it had hurt anything in Koblenz where we were to go the next day.  He said it had, which made me concerned about the next day’s excursion.

When we arrived in Bernkastel, we began our city walking tour.  It was such a very pretty city. 

    

   

It was quite quaint and I just loved all the half-timbered houses.  There was no doubt we were in Germany.

    

The main destination in this town was the Mosel Wine Museum for some wine tasting.  The building was next to a church.  We had to walk across a bridge over the Mosel to get to the museum.

    

I have been to many wine tastings; but none quite like this one.  Upon entering we were given a glass with some wine.  We were then directed to go down into the wine cellar and try some others.  Normally, a wine tasting is a pretty controlled event, with the vineyard staff pouring each wine and discussing it.  Not this one!  We were able to walk around and sample from any of many bottles of wine that were sitting out or in coolers.  I would bet that there were people there that had been there for a couple of hours and were totally soused.  It was a nice way to do it, where you could try many kinds of wine; but it could lead to wine abuse by the visitors.  Not that that is a bad thing.

        

Leaving the museum, the view from the bridge was outstanding with the old town below and the ruins of a castle high on the hill; and the Amalegro awaiting our arrival.

    

   

This was a much nicer stop than I had expected.  After a very full day and a delicious dinner, we got to listen to the lovely music of La Strada.  It had been very good day.

 

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