Danube River Cruise on the AMA Waterways Amalyra
5/30/09 to 6/11/09
Due to the length of the review, it is in four parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of the page.
Page 1 - Budapest, Hungary and ship information
Page 2 - Ship/Entertainment; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria
Page 3 - Durnstein, Austria; Melk, Austria; Salzburg, Austria; Passau, Germany; Regensburg, Germany
Page 4 - Nuremberg, Germany; Prague, Czech Republic
We have thoroughly enjoyed twenty ocean cruises over the last fifteen years. But, a major frustration with ocean cruises is that they can only visit ports that are on the oceans. Since we have always wanted to visit Budapest and Prague, the best way to do that would be on a Danube River cruise. This would also give us a chance to visit several other wonderful cities and get to experience our first European river cruise. We decided to travel with AMA Waterways on their brand new ship, the Amalyra. We had heard very good reports about AMA, and the itinerary we chose allowed us to have a one week river cruise with a two night pre-cruise stay in Budapest and a 3 night post-cruise stay in Prague.
Pre-Cruise in Budapest, Hungary
When we got our airline schedule from AMA, I was thrilled. We would be arriving in Budapest at 9:20 AM, so it would give us a full day of seeing the sights; however we only had 75 minutes between connecting flights. On our drive down to Miami, we ran into torrential rains, and I began to get concerned about flight delays. When we arrived at the gate, there was no plane and the arrival time kept getting moved back. We ended up being delayed 40 minutes and never made up the time. On a positive note, the service on Lufthansa was great, and the food was very good. Free drinks also helped.
After running through the Frankfurt airport and begging people to let us move up in the immigration and security lines, we arrived just as the plane left at 7:50 AM. Very disheartening! We were told that there was another flight at 9:20 AM, then one at 1:00 PM. They confirmed us for 1:00 PM since the 9:20 AM was already full. We decided to go to the gate and see if we could stand by for the 9:20 AM flight. While there, we found out that our original flight that we missed had to turn back to the gate due to mechanical difficulties. So all of those passengers now had to be accommodated on the 9:20 and 1:00 flights. Although Lufthansa sent for a larger plane for the 9:20 AM flight, it still couldn’t handle all the people, nor could the 1:00 PM flight. So, by being late we actually got on an earlier flight than we might have if we had originally arrived at the gate on time.
The flight to Budapest finally left at 1:30 PM. As we were taxing to the runway, a passenger started to freak out because she was scared and wanted to get off the plane. She got out of her seat heading for the door; but the flight attendant did an excellent job of controlling the situation. We really didn’t need any additional delays. The girl’s mother gave her a pill and all was well after that.
We finally landed in Budapest at 3:30 PM. The first order of business was to get some Hungarian Florints from an ATM. In our rush to get down to baggage claim, I passed the ATM on the main level where we had arrived. After we picked up our luggage and met the AMA agent for the transfers to the hotel, I went back upstairs to find the ATM. We were very pleased to find ATM’s in every city we traveled to on this trip.
We got to the hotel at 4:30 PM after a 30 minute bus ride from the airport. It was overcast and started to drizzle a little. The first day of the trip was not going well; but at least we were in Budapest at last.
As we checked into our hotel we met our Cruise Director for the next twelve days, Bori Gulyas from Budapest. She was very helpful and seemed quite pleasant despite the numerous requests she was addressing. Bori did an outstanding job during the entire trip and we could not have been happier with her. She worked very hard at keeping everything under control and making our trip as enjoyable as possible. She couldn’t do enough for the guests and was always trying to help. We really lucked out having Bori as our CD. She was great!
AMA had put us up in a very nice hotel, The Kempinski Hotel Corvinus (http://kempinski-budapest.com/ ). We had read good comments about the hotel and it lived up to our expectations.
We didn’t have a great view but the room was large and very comfortable.
Carol was quite pleased to see a large tub in the bathroom.
We had booked reservations through our hotel for dinner at a very popular and highly recommended restaurant, Café Kor. The restaurant was only a couple of blocks from the hotel. We made the reservation for 6:00 PM since we knew we would be tired from traveling all day. Since we would only be in Budapest on Saturday and Sunday nights and Café Kor is closed on Sunday, I had been concerned that we might miss our only opportunity to eat there had the flight been delayed any longer. The restaurant was smaller than I expected it to be, so I was really glad we had reservations.
We had a very helpful and friendly waiter; and we sure needed help to understand the menu. They had an English version, but the food and its description was quite different from what we are used to.
I ordered steamed veal with vegetable sauce on pasta, and Carol had a shish kebab with medallion potatoes and Greek salad. Both dinners were just incredibly delicious. We finished off the meal by sharing a type of apple pie with probably the best vanilla ice cream ever. Café Kor had been a great choice for our first Hungarian meal.
On our way back to the hotel we passed the beautiful St. Stephen's Basilica and the lovely Danubius Fountain in the park across from the hotel.
The fountain is a tribute to the Danube River. The three women on the fountain represent the three rivers that merge into the Danube.
On our drive to the hotel and our first walk, it was quite apparent that Budapest was a beautiful city. I couldn’t wait to see more, so after taking Carol back to the hotel, I decided to walk around town a bit to get a preview of the sights. I headed down to the famous Chain Bridge. From there I could get a view of the Buda Castle and the Parliament building.
There were statues and other sights everywhere I walked. I was tired from the full day’s travel, but I was still so excited that I walked around for about an hour before returning to the hotel for a great night’s sleep.
Budapest – Day 2
When we woke up, we were glad to see that it was not raining; the forecast had shown rain for the next two days. It had rained during the night, but hopefully the rain would stay away, because our city tour was planned for 9:00 AM till 1:00 PM.
We were very pleased with the buffet breakfast that was included at the hotel. While Carol was organizing our room, I walked over to the main shopping area, Vaci Utca Street. It was just a block from the hotel, so I knew it was going to be a frequently visited area for us. The hotel was really convenient to everything. I always enjoy walking around towns in the morning before the crowds arrive.
Since the Danube was only a couple of blocks away, I had to check it out, too. I had another great view of Buda Castle, and I could see a sister ship of our Amalyra, the Amadagio, across the river.
When I returned to the hotel, I showed Carol the way to the shopping area, since there was still a half hour before the tour. She got a kick out of the portable elephant statues that were all around the area. Some were used for advertising, and some were just decorated.
After returning to the hotel for the tour, Bori organized everyone into the proper groupings for each bus. We were in the Yellow group with tour guide Agnes. She was easy to understand and provided a very good narrative for us. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of all the tour guides AMA used at all the stops during the entire trip.
Agnes told us that due to the Pentecost Holiday, which is a National Holiday in Hungary, we would not be able to go to Hero’s Square; and would instead go to Gellert Hill. Apparently many roads are closed for special activities during the holiday, which prevents the bus from getting to Hero’s Square. On top of Gellert Hill are the Citadel, the Statue of Liberation and a great panoramic view looking down on Budapest. It was unfortunate that it was a cloudy day for photos; but it was a very nice place to visit in person.
Our next stop was at the Buda Castle, where we just walked around to get a view of the castle from the grounds and another view looking down into town. Since we didn’t get to go inside the castle, the main attraction there was another restroom stop.
Without visiting the inside of the palace, there isn’t much of a reason to stop there. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time in Budapest to return later on our own.
The last stop on the tour was Fisherman’s Bastion. It is a lovely area with a street leading to the Bastion with various shops. Unfortunately, while there, the rains began and were on and off for the rest of the day. The structure of the Bastion is a large wall with a walkway on top. The towers at various points give it a mystical look and it is just a lovely place to visit.
Once again there was a very good view of the city from the wall; and it is right across the river from the Parliament building. We were looking forward to a tour we had booked on our own to visit the inside of the Parliament building the next day before we boarded the Amalyra. I was particularly impressed with the large equestrian statue of King St. Stephen in the center of the Bastion walls.
The wall is also adjacent to the Matthias Church. It is an interesting church in part due to the colorful glazed tile roof. I had planned on visiting it while there; but it didn’t open until 1:00 PM; which was when our tour was to end. I was disappointed; but I knew there would be many opportunities on this trip to see many more churches. Were there ever! The Matthias Church was going through a renovation project, so there was a lot of scaffolding covering the outside. All during the trip it was surprising to see how many historical structures were being renovated. It is good that they are being protected; but unfortunate that it is being done during the tourist season.
Next to the church there was another tall statue and others along the street on the way back to the bus.
Most of the group waited under a bridge for the bus to pick us up. With the rain and the wind, it was getting a bit uncomfortable and we were looking for any protection possible from the elements. After we returned to the hotel, we walked over to the famous Café Gerbeaud, which was a block away. It had a reputation for wonderful desserts and sandwiches. After our club sandwiches, we passed on dessert to keep from overeating, again.
After lunch, Carol decided to go shopping down the Vaci Utca, while I began a walking tour of several places I had planned on visiting from my pre-cruise research. The first stop was to the Opera House, where they have English tours at 3:00 PM and 4:00 PM. Agnes told us that they frequently cancel the 4:00 PM tour due to setting up for an evening show, so I bought 3:00 PM tickets.
I arrived early to make sure I didn’t miss getting a ticket. I had seen the outside of the building from the bus during our tour in the morning, so it was easy to find again. The outside is quite impressive; but the inside just blew me away.
The waiting area to enter the auditorium was just beautiful. A side benefit of getting to the opera house early for tickets was that we could hear the end of the opera that was just finishing up.
As I entered the auditorium, it felt like stepping back in time 100 years. I guess it should, since the opera house is 125 years old. The room is so elegant that pictures just can’t do it justice.
When we left the auditorium, I thought the splendor would subside; but we kept going into other rooms and halls that were just too beautiful. This staircase and hallway led to the Emperor's box that was only to be used by him.
Emperor's Box used by Emperor Franz Joseph
As the tour continued, I kept expecting to see some plain rooms; but everything in the building was ornate. The 50 minute tour cost 2,800 Hungarian Florins or about $14 US. I very highly recommend this tour. Don’t miss it.
The next stop on my walking tour was to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It is a large building that can be seen from all over the city due to its twin steeples and large dome. It is just a beautiful church.
Throughout this trip we saw many beautiful churches. I can’t pass up going into a church, especially ornate ones, so I hope that I don’t overload you with too many church photos.
After leaving St. Stephens, I was getting tired; but I was determined to visit the Doheny Street Synagogue. It is also called the Great Synagogue. It is the largest active synagogue in Europe and has a very unique Byzantine-Moorish style architecture, so it was on my must see list. It was a pretty long walk and I would pay the price later; but I am glad I went. We had seen the outside of the building while on the bus in the morning and it was quite unique looking.
The inside was unlike any church or synagogue I have ever visited. It was very large and quite a beautiful building. I am glad I paid the extra cost to take photos, because I want to remember this lovely place.
As I dragged myself back to the hotel I passed some interesting buildings and statues. Budapest is a great city to walk around. It is very safe and the people are friendly. I was pleased that most people could speak some English. Thank goodness, since I certainly didn’t know any Hungarian.
Before going to the room, I asked our Cruise Director Bori, for a dinner recommendation. Since it was Sunday night, most of the restaurants that I had read about were closed. She recommended one that was a couple of blocks away at the river called Dunacorso (www.dunacorso.hu/). It was in a great location with a very nice view of the river.
Once again we had a very friendly and helpful waiter. We both ordered the Kolozsvári style Stuffed Cabbage. When it arrived, in addition to the stuffed cabbage and sauerkraut, there was also a sausage and a pork chop on the plate. This meal was so good, and Carol swears it was the best cabbage roll she had ever tasted. We were really liking Hungarian food!
After dinner we walked around a little bit and went back to the hotel to download the many photos I had taken. Since the hotel had free WIFI, I looked up the Dunacorso restaurant. I found some comments about the restaurant saying that it was close to a well known statue I had been looking for called the Little Princess. I would have to go back in the morning to see if I could find the statue.
I had a voice mail to call the front desk. They told me that I had gotten a message that our Parliament Building tour had been cancelled. I was very disappointed, since we had really been looking forward to visiting this most recognized of Budapest buildings. I don’t know why it was cancelled, probably due to the holiday; but we would still enjoy our last day in Budapest.
It is recommended that while in Budapest to visit several sites that are illuminated at night. So at 9:00 PM, I headed out again with my camera to check them out. My first stop was St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
I then headed to the Chain Bridge to see the Buda Castle.
Fisherman’s Bastion was also nicely illuminated. I walked across the bridge so I could walk toward the Parliament Building to get a better angle, but it started to rain a bit harder. I had to turn back before I could get closer to it.
On the way back to the hotel, I saw some other nicely illuminated buildings. My advice had been correct, Budapest is beautiful by night.
By the time I got back to the hotel, all of the days walking and climbing was taking its toll on me. I was very exhausted and ready for bed. The next day would be a relaxing day, since all we had planned was to board the ship at 2:45 PM.
Budapest – Day 3
After a very good night’s sleep, I was ready to head out to find the Little Princess statue and to see if I could see the Amalyra that was to have arrived in Budapest that morning. I walked to the Dunacorso and right next to it was the Little Princess. I couldn’t believe that I had looked all over for it, and we had eaten right next to it. It looks more like a Little Prince, but it is named the Little Princess. Everyone wants their picture taken with the bronze elf. You can see how shiny her legs are from people rubbing it and from children sitting on its lap for photos. Its a great place for photos since it is across the river from the castle
The highlight of the morning was looking right across the river and seeing our accommodations for the next seven days, the AMA Waterways Amalyra. I was anxious to get back to the hotel to bring Carol down to see my morning’s discoveries.
I also wanted to show her the Little Princess.
We had planned to just walk along the Vaci Utca and just enjoy our last few hours in Budapest, so this would be a good place to start.
We checked out various shops and took in the beautiful statues and building exteriors along the way.
While Carol was resting with a large Coke at a restaurant, I walked further down the street looking for a church that I had read about. While looking for it, I found a pretty, little church named St. Michael's, so I went inside.
When I finally found the church I was originally looking for, it was closed. Oh well, there would be plenty more to see. We stopped at a restaurant for lunch that had a lovely exterior. It was called Sorforra's. The food was good, but the portions were way too large and we left more than we ate.
We walked around some more, stopping at various shops. When we were on our way back to the hotel to catch the bus for the Amalyra, we passed Café Gerbaud. We decided to stop and share a dessert, since we hadn’t had one the last time we were there. We chose an ice cream dessert that was quite good. If we had had more time in Budapest, I would have tried several more of their treats. It was probably good for our waistlines that we were only there for two nights.
At last we were on the bus to board the Amalyra. To keep the check-in process less crowded, they gave us a 20 minute city tour along the river. That way some people could be checking in while others were touring. One of the sites that I had missed during yesterday’s tour was the Shoes on the Danube Promenade, where there were 120 iron shoes placed along the River.
It is a memorial to Jewish Hungarians who were slaughtered by the pro-Nazi Hungarian Arrow Cross Militiamen and then thrown into the Danube at that spot on the river. They were told to take off their shoes before they were killed. Now, sixty pairs of cast iron shoes, cast in the styles of the 40's, stand in remembrance of those people shot into the Danube during the Arrow Cross terror on January 8, 1945.
When the bus arrived at the Amalyra, it was a very easy embarkation process. We waited in the lounge for a few minutes until the crowd at the front desk lightened up. We then walked up to the desk, handed them our passports and we were given our key cards. Since we had put our luggage outside our room at the hotel at 10:00 AM for pick up, it had already been delivered to our cabin. A very easy no hassle process.
We left Budapest at 9:00 PM. This was a great time to leave since the buildings were already illuminated. The Amalyra had been headed in the right direction for the cruise; but as we left the dock, it turned around and started to head south rather than north. It was rather confusing at first, until we found out that Bori had asked the Captain to go south first so that she could share the beauty of more of her city at night with us. I was so glad, since I had not been able to walk to the southern parts of the city.
We got to go by the famous Gellert Hotel; as well as the Statue of Liberation we had seen on the city tour.
We also passed other places we had previously seen. Buda Castle was particularly lovely this night, as was the Chain Bridge and the view of the Fisherman's Bastion up on the hill.
The highlight was to see the Parliament Building. It was quite lovely; but it could use a bit more lighting in my opinion. As pretty as the building is, it should be shown off at night. We were really appreciative of the Captain’s going out of his way to provide this extra treat for the passengers. This attitude spread down throughout the ranks. The ship was very passenger oriented.
River vessels are designed to be very long (360 ft.) narrow boats so that they can travel through the many locks on the rivers. They are therefore, limited in size. The Amalyra can carry 148 passengers. We only had 127 on our cruise, but it was full for the next one. There are three levels with cabins; and a full sundeck on top. The lowest cabin level only has small windows on the upper part of the cabin, since the rest of the cabin is under water. The second and third deck cabins have what is called a French Balcony, which I will discuss later.
The Amalyra is constructed so that the front part of the boat is divided into only two decks, whereas the rest of the boat has three levels. There are basically five public rooms on the ship. The largest of these rooms are the Main Lounge and the Restaurant which are in the front of the ship occupying the area with two decks. This arrangement allows higher ceilings in those rooms.
<3 decks to the aft, and 2 decks forward>
Main Lounge – a large room at the front of the ship where all the entertainment, meetings and activities took place. It is of course also the bar, so there is activity there at all times. During the day many people would sit there and read or just relax and watch the scenery go by as we cruised along the river. The room is also used for light meals if you want to skip the main restaurant. For breakfast, breads and rolls are available there. For lunch and supper, soup, salads and other light items are offered. An afternoon tea is served in the lounge at 3:30 each day.
Restaurant – all of the main meals are served there. It is below the Main Lounge. In the mornings, a normal buffet breakfast is served with an egg/omelet station. In addition, special items can be ordered off the menu such as Eggs Benedict, oatmeal, etc. For lunch, there is a buffet for the salads and lighter foods. The main course is ordered from the menu. For dinner all items are ordered off of the menu. A cheese and cracker station is open at each meal. All dinner (a couple lunch) and bar menus; as well as, some food photos are at this link.
Aft Lounge – 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. Carol enjoyed working on the jigsaw puzzle that was provided. Since it is close to the ship’s exhaust system, it can get an odor of diesel fumes when the boat is not moving.
Lobby – where the main reception/business desk is located. There is also a tiny souvenir shop located to the left of the desk.
As tiny as it was, the shop did have some nice items; but a very limited selection and supply. For example, there was a nice Danube Cruise souvenir coffee mug. They only had two of them available for purchase on this cruise. If you see something you want, get it early. I was glad I got one when I could. Carol found a perfect light weight, fleece, zippered jacket.
The Lobby is also where the Main Lounge and stairs to the 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 adjacent to the lobby on deck three.
An elevator can be accessed in the Lobby. It only goes between the lobby and decks two and three. 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. New river boat construction requirements do not allow an elevator to go all the way down to the lowest level of a ship to prevent drowning in the event of an accident if the lower level is flooded.
Fitness Room – was a very small workout room that is adjacent to and also joins the Aft Lounge. The equipment was nice, but limited due to space. Since our cabin was only two doors down from the gym, the stair access just outside the room was a very easy way for us 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 wheelhouse where the captain normally controls the ship. The top section of 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 on the top of the wheelhouse to see where he is going.
The captain can also control and steer the ship from units on the side of the wheelhouse that are used when positioning the boat in some of the locks. From these positions, the captain can see how close they are to the lock walls.
There are areas for sitting or lounging, and some are covered. The chairs were quite comfortable. There is also a hot tub near the front of the ship. I only saw it used a couple of times, probably because it was cool when we were cruising; especially with the wind.
A walking track is marked around the outside of the deck and was used quite a bit when not in port. There was also a large chess set for use; but I never saw anyone playing with it.
At the very front of the sundeck were a couple of spare propellers; and a small lifeboat, that would only be used for the crew to handle unusual circumstances.
On the morning of our second day on the ship while traveling to Bratislava, we had a short muster drill on the sundeck. They had explained in a group meeting earlier, that there is no need for lifeboats on a riverboat, since a captain can quickly move close to the shore in case of an emergency. All of the life jackets are kept in compartments on the sundeck, which is logical, since that is where one would go if there were a problem. A plus with this setup is that no room is taken up in the cabin for life jackets.
AMA ships provide free WIFI. 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 antenna having to be lowered to go under bridges and other occasions. To use the WIFI, you have to get a password from the reception desk. I used it for my iPhone. Apparently it can only be used on one device, since I was unable to use it with my laptop. But that was OK, since it wasn’t the fastest connection anyway, and I didn’t have that much time to work online.
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