The Christmas cruise on board Amacello visiting Christmas markets along the Rhine was my first river cruise and I could not fault it. The standard was incredibly high compared to ocean cruises I have done and I will certainly travel with Ama again.
It is an English speaking ship. Travelling single I did not want to find myself unable to communicate easily with everyone or it might have been a lonely Christmas, and I wanted to get the most from my excursions. Michelle at Bluewater had travelled with Ama, she highly recommended the company and she was right.
Very well planned, we sailed through the more industrial stretches of the Rhine during the night and the scenic parts with their steep banks and beautiful castles in daylight. Every day we stopped at a different port of call with a choice of excursions and the option of taking a bike or just doing your own thing.The Christmas markets were in full swing, enhancing the already beautiful towns and villages. The local guides were very knowledgeable and we had headsets and earpieces so it wasn't necessary to hang onto their coat tails walking around. We were small groups of under 20 giving time to ask questions and advice, and always with free time before we had to return to the ship.
Cabin: Luxurious, modern with sliding doors to a french balcony giving great views and making it very light. Plenty of storage, the case fitted under the bed, flat screen tv with free internet. Compact modern bathroom and shower with body jets etc and quality toiletries. Robes, slippers and even umbrellas provided. Excellent unobtrusive cabin service. Very quiet, I don't know if I had quiet neighbours or the insulation was great but whatever, it worked.
Where to start! I could not praise the food highly enough, it was top quality, beautifully presented and the open seating meant you could join friends on tables seating from 2 to 8.
Breakfast offered the full buffet experience with the best variety I have ever seen. From champagne, smoked salmon and bagels to a full English and a vast array of breads, rolls
and pastries all cooked freshly on board. Not to mention cereals, fruit, cheese etc. Lunch and dinner were waiter service multi course affairs with a wide choice of menu reflecting the food of the area you were passing through. However, there were always alternatives of grilled salmon, chicken or entrecote steak. At dinner decent quality wine was included and your glass was constantly topped up, they were generous. At lunch, an alternative was to eat in the lounge where a selection of soup, salads, pasta, cheese and biscuits and a dessert were available for self service. Fruit and biscuits were always available in baskets in the lounge beside the tea and coffee station which was always open. Then there was mid morning snacks, afternoon tea with delicious gateaux and an evening buffet at 10.30! One person I met was coeliac and they always brought her a menu indicating gluten free items. It's a blessing I went on shore to walk some of it off.
Customer service is paramount, nothing fazes them. My cruise itinerary had to be amended at the last minute because the Rhine was flooding and we were not allowed to sail as planned and had to divert half way through. This meant that on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Rolf, our cruise manager, was faced with having to find a fleet of coaches and local guides to take us on our excursions instead of us sailing there. He had very little notice so it must have been really challenging, but he did it and they were excellent. On top of which some passengers, faced with an hour's coach trip, changed their minds about which excursions they wanted to do. Reception staff handled all of this with smiles, no tension or irritation visible at all. That can do attitude was prevalent throughout the ship, nothing was too much trouble and it made for very relaxed and happy passengers. We were even given 20 euros each to buy our lunch as well as a picnic bag because it was too long a journey to bring us back to the ship for lunch. Oh, and following every shore excursion we were welcomed back to the ship with glasses of gluhwein and it was much better quality than at the markets!
122 passengers were onboard, a small enough number to make it really friendly. There is a quiet lounge at the back but it was rarely used, most people gathered in the forward loinge and there was plenty of comfortable seating. Entertainment was provided by a resident pianist who played in the afternoon and evening until about 10 when he livened things up and people danced. A classical trio came on board one afternoon, they were very good. Apart from that we helped decorate the Christmas trees, there was a 60's night and an 80's night, Santa bought us all presents, but it was quite informal and low key. A world away from the floor shows of some ocean cruises and all the better for it.
I travelled solo and it suited me ideally. There were 10-12 of us and we usually ate together in the evenings. I made some good friends and we plan to meet up and maybe do another trip together. Because of the small number of passengers and everyone getting together in the lounge it is really friendly and I would certainly recommend it. Except for the thorny issue of single supplements (which were waived because I booked very late when there was an offer on).
Dress is informal and casual though most of us brought something a bit smarter for the gala dinner and Christmas.
Whilst it wasn't a cheap holiday the value for money was tremendous with 5 star dining including quality wines, teas, coffees and bottled water,my choice of shore excursions, all included. I found I didn't actually need much money on holiday as it was all paid up front. I had a few drinks from the bar in the evenings and their prices were ok and measures generous. I think Bellinis were 4.20 and cuba libre 5.50 euros.
One great thing about river cruises is the lack of movement in the ship, no fear of seasickness here! And always something to look at on one bank or the other. Take binoculars, plenty of memory cards for the camera and a guide book to identify the
castles and other landmarks coming up on the river.