Danube River Cruise on the AMA Waterways Amalyra - Page 2

5/30/09 to 6/11/09

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 had cabin 330, which was the next to last cabin on the top passenger deck; just in front of the Aft Lounge and Beauty Salon.  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 every morning; it was a tight squeeze to get by them.


The cabin was 170 sq. ft, which is not bad for a riverboat.  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.




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, because it would be easy to be injured by the sides of the lock, since the ship gets so close to them.


The cabin had two chairs by the balcony, that were comfortable to use, and one of them also served as a chair for the small desk area.  A nice flat panel TV that had many entertainment options was a nice touch.  The main thing I used it for was to watch the camera at the front of the ship to see what was coming up.  I did watch the CNN channel a few times, but never looked to see what movies were offered, since we just didn’t have time to watch a movie.  The TV also has a keyboard attached to it and is used as a monitor for the free Internet connection that is accessed through the TV system.  It worked rather well, so I didn’t need to use my laptop other than for downloading and viewing photos. 


The bed was firmer than we are used to; but it was comfortable enough.  We had the two beds pushed together, but there were still two separate duvet covers, which was a nice way to do it.  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.

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, but it was not noticeable enough to be considered a negative.

The bathroom was a nice surprise.  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.  It was a very nice feature.  Although the triangular shaped shower didn’t appear that large, it was quite adequate for my oversized body; and having a door rather than a curtain is always nicer.


We really enjoyed this cabin due to its location.  Carol used the Aft Lounge while putting together a jigsaw puzzle, and we both appreciated having the 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.


One day I was able to get a few photos of one of the suites.  It was very roomy.




The dress for the cruise is casual, with smart casual for evening dinners.  Jeans were the most popular attire during the daytime, since the temperature was normally in the 50’s-60’s and only got over 70 a few times.  Still, some people did wear shorts.  I would have liked to a few days, but with the weather forecast normally being for cloudy or rainy weather, we never used our shorts.  Fortunately, we had very little rain while on the cruise despite the forecast. 

I had decided against bringing a sport coat, since smart casual would not require one.  However, I was in a minority for the two Captain’s Receptions where most men wore a jacket.  On those nights a few women even wore simple cocktail dresses; but most just wore a dress or a dressier slacks outfit.


Food (menus)

Having been on many ocean cruises, we had lowered our expectations of the food quality for this cruise, even though we had read some good reviews.  We found the food to be as good as many of the ocean cruises we had been on, and better than some.  The presentation was superb.  The service was very good and the attitude of the whole dining staff was amazing. 

Carol fell in love with the maître d', Jozsef Vagany from Budapest.  He had a wonderful personality and was always upbeat and smiling.  His personality must have been contagious, since we were surprised at how all of the restaurant/bar staff really seemed to enjoy their jobs.  They seemed genuinely happy to serve us and kidded regularly with each other and the guests.  It really made for such a pleasant dining experience.  The staffing is quite tight on these ships and they had to work very hard; but they helped each other in a team effort and it just worked wonderfully.



For breakfast there was a very nice buffet with all the standard items; and as mentioned earlier, items such as Eggs Benedict, oatmeal or other items that might not be on the buffet could be ordered.  Jozsef was the egg/omelet maker.  He did a great job of taking care of all the passengers while providing entertainment during the wait for the eggs to cook.  There was never a long line, since he was very good at what he did.  Coffee and pastries were also available in the Main Lounge before and after the breakfast times for those who woke up early, late, or just didn’t want a full breakfast.


For lunch the salads, appetizers, desserts and lighter items were provided on the buffet.  The main courses and soups were chosen from the menu.  It 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 as 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 on an ocean cruise. There was 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, a nice feature for wine drinkers.  Different ones were offered each night.  Since we don’t care that much for wine, I can’t comment on the quality of the wines; but most people seemed to enjoy them.  I instead enjoyed the free beer at dinner; and Carol enjoyed the free Coke/Sprite.  Although they were included with dinner, there were charges for these drinks at lunch and at other times during the day.

On the right side of the dinner menu were three choices for appetizers / salad, two for soups, three entrees and two desserts.  With all meals there was a nice selection of cheeses, crackers 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.  The three main entrée choices were a fish meal, a meat/poultry meal and a vegetarian meal.  We chose the meat selection every night and were quite pleased with it.  We were very surprised at the variety and quality of food on such a small ship.


At lunch and dinner, we could not believe how good the soups were.  Even the consommé ones were extremely good.  The only area we were not satisfied with was the salad dressings.  Many of them did not taste like what we were expecting.  For lunch there was always a selection of three different ice creams with all the toppings.  They were also quite good.

We both fell in love with a drink attendant from Budapest named Tina.  She was able to serve drinks, fill up water glasses and share her sparkling personality with everyone in the restaurant/lounge.  Both Tina and Jozsef really made this cruise quite special for us.




We did not expect much from the entertainment, since it was a small ship and you can only do so much with limited space.  However, it was better than I expected and rather enjoyable after very full touring days.  The entertainers, other than the one night they had a crew talent show, were locals from the towns we were visiting.

The first entertainers, from Bratislava, were called Aphrodite.  They were five girls who played piano, violins, cello, and flute.  They played mostly songs from movies and were quite talented.


While in Melk, we had the crew talent show.  Of course, it was a bit corny; but we expected that.  Since we knew most of the crew by then, we had fun watching them have fun.  Even Captain Bruijn got into the spirit.  Unlike on the big ships, here you feel like part of the family.  It was quite an enjoyable evening.



While in Passau, we had the highlight of the week’s entertainment with a three person group that had a guitar player and two exceptional violinists.  The melding of the sounds in mostly classical type music was just amazing.  They were outstanding and brought the crowd to standing ovations.  I now wish that I had bought their CD that was offered.  They were that good.


In Regensburg, we had the Bavarian Humpa Humpa Oberpfalz Duo.  How’s that for a name that just flows off your tongue?  They were two local musicians named Hans and Helmut who played the accordion and guitar.  It was definitely a taste of local flavor and amusing.


Every day in the lounge there was a pianist named Peter who played a varied selection of music at various times during the day.  At night, some danced to his music.



Media and Events

The Daily Cruiser flyer was put out every night in the cabin giving the next day’s activities.  It was very nice and informative.  It provided the daily schedules and helpful port information.  Unlike ocean cruises, it wasn’t filled with lots of advertisements and sales because the boat wasn’t selling anything.  Unlike the ocean ships, you are never prodded to go to particular stores onshore, nor are you confronted with constant ads.  That was so nice!

There were various information briefings in the Main Lounge during the week.  The first day’s meeting was an information and safety briefing to get you acquainted with the ship and to meet the staff.  There was another one to discuss what we would see in Bratislava and to make people aware of the optional tours in Vienna and for Salzburg.  There was also a disembarkation briefing.  One day we had a guest speaker discussing Bavaria.  He was most informative and his talk was well attended.


Ports of Call

Our main reason for taking this river cruise was to be able to experience Eastern Europe’s interior cities that cannot be visited while on an ocean cruise.  We could not have been happier with the many ports since all of them were new to us.  Each one was quite special and most enjoyable.

Bratislava, Slovakia

After our first night on the ship we were looking forward to a morning of river cruising before our arrival in Bratislava at 1:00 PM.  Everyone was anticipating going through our first lock at around 9:30 AM, the Gabcikovo Lock.  Bori narrated what was happening from the wheelhouse.  The sundeck speaker system works very well and could be easily heard.  This was one of the larger locks we would go through, since it allowed two river boats to be side by side.  We shared it with the Viking Pride and some barges. 



Each ship was attached to floating moorings to keep it from moving around in the lock.  The waters rushing in could create movement that could cause a lot of damage.  The Captain used the side controls to line up within the lock.  Whereas a captain on an ocean cruise has a large staff to do many of the functions, Captain Jan de Bruijn puts in a full day’s work and is very busy actually running the ship.  He does have a second captain who works at night.


Filling up the lock took about twenty minutes and then we were on our way.  The terrain in that part of the cruise is relatively flat with not many people living on the river, so there wasn’t as much to look at as there would be later in the cruise. 


Close to 1:00 PM we arrived at Bratislava.  There was a very unusual bridge over the river in front of us.  It has a restaurant on top.  In front of a lovely building, we could also see the busses at the dock waiting to take us on a tour. 


AMA has a very nice way of doing tours using vox audio devices.  Each person on the ship was given their own behind the ear headset to use throughout the cruise.  The earphones attached to a small cell phone size receiver that picked up the guide’s conversation.  It was the same color as the tour group you were assigned to.  There was a pink group for people that wanted to take a very slow tour, a red group for those interested in a faster tour; and blue, green and yellow tours for everyone in between. 

It was so nice to have relatively small groups and to be able to hear the tour guide when I couldn’t get close to her, or if I was away from the group taking photos.  At the end of the tour the receivers were turned back in to be recharged overnight for the next day’s tour.  It’s a great system.  For this tour, we were in a group with Ludmila as our guide.  She was a real character and very informative.  As soon as we met her we knew it was going to be a nice tour. 


We took a short walk from the boat passing a patriotic statue that honored Hungary’s assistance to Slovenia during its quest for independence. 


While walking around, we saw many little red train-like vehicles driving sightseers around.  The people in the Pink group were picked up in these; which must have made for an easier tour. 


The first major building we came to was the Slovak Philharmonic concert hall.  A very pretty building indeed!


Just down the block was the equally attractive Slovak National Theater. 


Bratislava has some unusual statues around town.  They do get a lot of attention.  You have to be careful that you don’t trip over “Man at Work” because it is in the sidewalk.  I still don’t know why there is one of Andy Warhol; and the Napoleon one is kind of strange.  But, they are all a light hearted touch to the city and provide funny photo ops.




We saw Michael’s Gate which is the only remaining part of the old town’s original fortification that was built around 1300. 


Bratislava seemed like a nice town and it did have some interesting sights.




When the tour was ended, I walked over to St. Martin’s Cathedral while Carol did some shopping before returning to the ship.  It was not as spectacular as many of the other churches I had seen or would see, but it did have some lovely stained glass.





After walking around a bit more, I returned to the ship also.  When I got to the dock,  I saw that a Viking ship was on the other side of the Amalyra.  This is how river boats maximize dock space.  To get to the dock the Viking passengers walked through the Amalyra lobby.


 The next day promised to be a very long, tour intensive day, and we couldn’t wait.  We would be going to one of the cities on our "must see" list.


Vienna, Austria 

Vienna is one of the cities we have always wanted to visit.  In addition to the four hour city tour that was included with the cruise from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM, we had also booked an optional four hour tour to the Schoenbrunn Palace from 1:00 PM till 5:00 PM.  To add to our day, we had also booked the optional Mozart & Strauss Concert from 7:15 PM till 10:30 PM.  It was going to be one very full day.  And based on the lovely church close to the dock, it looked like it was going to be great sightseeing day.


Our city tour was with Martina.  We loaded onto the busses and headed for the majestic Ringstrasse or Ring Street.  The avenue circles the old town and contains some of the most beautiful buildings in Vienna and possibly the world.  On our way to town we got our first view of one of Vienna’s landmarks, the massive Prater’s Wheel.  It is a 200 ft tall Ferris wheel that was built in 1897, and is still operational.  We would pass by it many more times during the day. 


We were riding by some incredibly beautiful buildings.  I couldn’t wait to get out of the bus to get better views of them.  Since we were on the Ringstrasse, we were going around the outside of them.  When we started walking, we would get to see the real beauty close up.  The more we drove, the more oohing and aahing could be heard in the bus.  Vienna was some gorgeous city.






When we finally were dropped off, our first stop was at St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  There were a lot of St. Stephen’s Cathedral’s in the different towns on the trip.  This was one massive cathedral and quite beautiful. 



I was very impressed with this 700 year old church. I couldn't get over how large it was.  From the front of the church, it was difficult to even see the very large organ in the back of the church.  The ornate Pilgrim's Pulpit, like so much of this church, was quite beautiful.




There were so many gorgeous buildings and statues all around Vienna. 


The Column of the Plague was just amazing.  It was erected in celebration and thanksgiving for the ending of a plague that had devastated Vienna in 1687.


St. Peter’s Cathedral looked small compared to buildings around it.


The Imperial Palace is called simply the Hofburg.  It is actually a compound comprised of 18 semi-independent buildings and 19 courtyards.  It was the winter home of the Hapsburg Dynasty for 700 years.  The monarchs believed it bad luck to occupy the rooms of their immediate predecessors, so they would just build another one.  The whole compound is gorgeous, and I took way too many photos there as well as in most of Vienna. 



Michael in St. Michael's Square                                                           


While walking over to Joseph Square and the National Library, we got to see the world famous Lipizzaner Stallions.  They were being moved from their stables to the Spanish Riding School where the horses and riders are trained, which is also part of the Hofburg. Martina told us that we could get tickets to see them practicing during our free time in Vienna after the tour.  Since Carol has always wanted to see them, she planned on doing just that.


The reason we were in Joseph Square, which is part of the Hofburg, was to go to what is considered one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, the Austrian National Library. 


Equestrian statue of Emperor Joseph II

We had to climb a lot of steps to get up to the library, but oh my was it worth it!  It was just breathtaking.  I was walking around with my mouth open gawking at the beauty and snapping photos from every angle.  It is so sad that photos can’t accurately reproduce the beauty of the room.  You can get an idea, but it pales in comparison to the real thing.




The Austrian National Library has over 7.4 million items in its collection.  The part we were touring called Prunksaal, or Splendour Hall, lives up to its name.  Two million volumes are contained here alone.  There are two major rooms in the Prunksaal.  The room shown below is the smaller one, but only in size, not beauty.



After leaving the library, we passed through one of the courtyards of the Hofburg, and saw a statue of Franz I in front of the Amelia Palace.


We then walked to the busses and drove past some more of the beautiful buildings and statues.  We passed City Hall and The National History Museum.


Vienna has so many beautiful places that these weren’t even listed in the book I got, so I don’t know what they are called.



We returned to the Amalyra via the Ringstrasse.  Once again there was another boat next to us.  It is interesting to be on the sun deck and look over to see another sun deck next to yours.


After a quick lunch we were ready for the 30 minute drive out to Schoenbrunn Palace and Gardens, the Hapsburgs’ summer residence.  Once again we had Martina for our guide.  We were lucky to have her, since she did do a very good job on the city tour.  Carol helped her by holding the sign while Martina got the entrance tickets. The palace itself is just huge.  It wasn’t as pretty on the outside as I had expected it to be; but the inside made up for that.


We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the palace, which was unfortunate; but needless to say, the interior was opulent and quite grand.  Here is a link to the Schoenbrunn Palace website’s 360 degree photos of some of the rooms (http://www.schoenbrunn.at/en/service/mediathek/360-panoramen.html).  This website will give an idea of what some of the rooms looked like; but they don’t have what I considered some of the prettier rooms we visited in this collection. 

We left the palace through the back door, which led to the gardens.  The back of the palace was almost a mirror image of the front.  It is very impressive.


The garden area is huge and quite lovely.  Thankfully, we were allowed to take photos in the gardens.



The highlight to me was the beautiful fountains.  The main fountain, the Neptune Fountain, was covered up due to there being some type of show going on that night. 


Martina had told us that the Obelisk Fountain was worth taking a walk to.  I started out in the direction of the Obelisk Fountain, passing the lovely Round Pond, with a Naiad Fountain at its centre.  I didn’t think it would take too long to get there, but I kept walking and walking.  I could see the fountain, but it must have been quite large because it looked like it was closer than it actually was.  When I finally got to it, I was most impressed and glad I had spent the time walking to it.  It was so beautiful with so many gorgeous marble statues.




The obelisk itself was sitting on four large gold turtles.  Quite impressive!  I really enjoyed this fountain.  It was just breathtaking.  I would have enjoyed spending more time at the fountain.  The longer I looked at it, the more beauty I would find in the various statues.


While I did this, Carol checked out the gardens on the west side of the palace.  She found a beautiful rose arbor which led to numerous pools, and shaded paths.  It was very peaceful since there were almost no tourists there.



After I took the long walk back to front of the palace, I met Carol who had been sitting in the shade chatting with some of the others from the tour.  This was probably the warmest day of the trip and all the walking took a bigger toll than normal.  It was in the low 70’s, but the bright sun was quite warm.  Once again we got on the bus and headed back to the boat.  And once again we went by way of the Ringstrasse. 


Once back on the boat, those who were going on the optional Mozart & Strauss Concert excursion had a special early dinner seating time at 5:30 PM, rather than the 6:45 PM for those that were staying on the boat.  Over 90 of the 127 people on the cruise went to the concert.  Once again, we had Martina to lead our group.  Once again we headed to the Ringstrasse to get to the Hofburg where the concert was being held. 

Earlier when we were touring the Schoenbrunn Palace, Martina had pointed out a large painting on one of the walls that showed Hofburg Palace's Redoutensaal Hall where we would be for the concert that night.  It was quite beautiful.  She said that in 1994 there had been a fire that damaged the room quite extensively and that the original frescoes were destroyed.  The hall had been restored; but a bit differently than the original look.  We were anxious to see how it had been remodeled since she had said that it was controversial. 

We couldn’t believe it when we walked into the large room in such a beautiful palace and saw the horrendous orange and red paintings all over the walls and ceiling.  How could this have been approved by the city leaders!  They did leave much of the elegance; but the new paintings just spoiled the look for us.  To us, the bright colors actually distracted our attention from the wonderful performance.


But, we were there for the music not to be architectural critics.  The symphony started out playing some lovely music.  Then for each piece a singer would come out and perform along with the orchestra.  There were three women and two men.  They were some very talented professional singers. 



There was even some comedy with one of the percussionists hamming it up with the conductor on a couple of pieces.  It was an excellent show and well worth the cost and time.  Before we came, I had been worried if it would be something I would enjoy; but I was quite glad I listened to the many recommendations to attend the concert.


Once again we headed back down the Ringstrasse for the sixth time that day.  This time it was a bit different, since it was night and it was called an illumination tour.  There were some nicely lit up buildings; but it wasn’t up to my expectations.  I thought there would be a lot more of the gorgeous buildings illuminated.  By the time we got to the boat, we were both very ready to go right to bed.



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