This was AmaWaterways' first cruise in their Christmas markets season, and the decorations throughout the ship, along with the themed activities, soon put us all in the festive spirit.
The ship is beautifully appointed, with a contemporary style in the cabins and a cosy feel to the main lounge. As with all of AmaWaterways' newer ships, there is the option for a "twin balcony" cabin which has the French window as found on most river vessels, but with the added bonus of a separate veranda where you can sit out to watch the world go by. The majority of the staff are European, and service was unobtrusive but of a very high standard. Our cruise director Helene was always on hand at her 'Happy Desk' to offer advice about the destination and excursions on offer.
We began the cruise in Amsterdam and spent the first morning with a hilarious local guide, who treated us to the history of the city as well as her own personal anecdotes about life in the Netherlands. Ama had booked several canal boats for private use, so the groups were small and we could all have a window seat to observe the picturesque canal-side houses. This was followed by free time to do some shopping at the famous floating flower market, or enjoy some traditional pancakes, before joining a panoramic coach tour of the city.
In the afternoon we began sailing through the main canal towards the Rhine itself, and arrived the following afternoon in Cologne. With another excellent local guide, we visited the renowned cathedral and the old town, finishing in the Christmas market for traditional German music, crafts, snacks and of course glühwein! The following day was the highlight of the itinerary, travelling through the Rhine Gorge, which is flanked by vineyards and castles and looks equally lovely in the sunshine or an atmospheric autumn mist. AmaWaterways went to great effort to celebrate the local culture, serving a traditional Rudesheimer coffee as we sailed past the Lorelei statue, and offering a full-on German banquet for lunch - suckling pig, various types of sausages, pretzels and local beer.
Throughout the whole trip, the ship excelled with the dining. As someone who is used to ocean ships, at first I found it a little unexciting to have only one choice of restaurant, bar and entertainment lounge, but the quality in all of these locations was wonderful. In fact, Ama do have a small speciality restaurant called the Chef's Table, in which we enjoyed a creative and delicious seven-course tasting menu. After dinner there was entertainment in the form of a classical folk trio, a pianist or a jazz singer, and on some evenings there were special excursions into town.
A river cruise really is different to ocean - despite my preconception that we would be shuttled between various sightseeing tours, there was in fact lots of time to explore the ports independently, to go off for walks or cycle rides, and to enjoy the scenery at leisure. The ship really did act as a 'floating hotel', providing a comfortable base, excellent food and friendly staff to guide visitors through the destination.
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