Lured out of bed by the promise of a mug of piping hot coffee just down the hall, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes and yawned as I casually pulled back the curtains to let the sun stream in over our balcony.
With a start, I gasped and was suddenly wide awake as the panoramic windows revealed one of Europe’s most quintessential sights spread out in front of me: the town of Dürnstein, Austria, complete with its iconic blue and white Baroque church tower surrounded by the Wachau Valley vineyards and the ruins of a medieval castle perched on the hilltop.
Dürnstein is so photogenic that it’s often featured in ads for river cruises on the Danube, which is exactly how we’d found ourselves sailing past it during this ethereal morning with Ama Waterways.
Overnight, our sleek ship the AmaSonata silently glided along the tranquil river as we slept, revealing a brand new destination with the beginning of each day.
The opportunity to easily see so many different places is one of the advantages of a European river cruise, where guests only unpack once then get to enjoy the highlights of multiple countries throughout the week without lifting a finger (or suitcase).
On this voyage Melodies of the Danube we saw Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Czechia and Germany, often anchoring right in a capital city for easy access to all the best sights.
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Ama Waterways river cruises
Ama Waterways is an elevated small cruise ship experience, with a strong focus on cuisine and incredible attention to detail from the worldly staff.
The company has nearly two dozen ships exploring European rivers like the Duoro, Rhine and Moselle, while a handful of others navigate waterways in exotic locales including Egypt, Botswana, Colombia, Vietnam and Cambodia.
With such a variety of far flung itineraries it’s no wonder Ama has plenty of repeat guests: on our voyage, we met a Canadian couple who has sailed with them more than 50 times!
The relatively low guest count ensures attentive service (AmaSonata holds 162 passengers, and during our late-October cruise there were less than 70 guests–most sailings have an average of 156), and you don’t have to spend a dime on board.
All meals, beer and wine while dining and a nightly happy hour are included, as well as a variety of tours each day. The only exception is that some itineraries include an optional excursion, such as the classical concert in Vienna some people on our cruise opted to pay extra for.
There’s also free wi-fi, a shockingly affordable laundry service, nightly entertainment like opera singers and string trios, and the myAmaCruise app where guests get all of the information about the voyage at their fingertips.
For those up for a bit of adventure, Ama is also one of the best in class when it comes to wellness and active experiences with complimentary bike rentals, hiking and cycling tours and even a dedicated on-board trainer to lead complimentary fitness classes. Heck, the AmaMagna even has a full size pickleball court on the sun deck!
Ama Waterways ships
Forget those mega cruises AKA floating hotels–instead, Ama bills its ships as ‘floating sanctuaries’ for a more intimate experience.
Staterooms range from 155 to 350 square feet, and up to 710 sq ft on the wider AmaMagna.
While there isn’t as much storage space in the cabins as I’ve seen on similar ships from Viking and Windstar, the spacious bathroom, french balcony and full balcony (a normally rare occurrence) more than made up for it.
AmaSonata has two restaurants, a library, lounge and bar, along with massage rooms, a salon and well-equipped gym.
The top deck boasts a heated pool with a swim-up bar, and we often found ourselves gravitating to the cushy loungers which turned out to be the perfect place to curl up for a midday nap or admire landmarks like Devin Castle as we sailed out of Bratislava.
Tours on an Ama Waterways river cruise
Ama Waterways cruises are set up so you can be as busy–or relaxed–as you want.
Each day brings a new destination (sometimes two, as we experienced in Linz, Austria when we could also enjoy a day trip to Salzburg or Cesky Krumlov), and there are a variety of guided tours to choose from should you choose to head out and explore.
Each stop has some sort of city tour, and those who aren’t up for navigating cobblestone streets can join the more laid-back ‘gentle walker’ group or a food-focused excursion to sample local specialties.
Want to kick it up a notch?
In cities like Bratislava and Passau we eschewed bus rides in favour of hiking up to castles, and one of my absolute favourite days was the 16 mile bike ride through the Wachau Valley. We cycled along the Danube as soft light illuminated the vineyards where the scent of sweet grapes wafted over us, ending at the Benedictine Melk Abbey to admire its sunshine-yellow facade.
Some of the guides we had were absolutely stellar, like Pavol Krajcer in Bratislava who expertly wove historical details with personal stories about his own life and his family’s experience during the division of the former Czechoslovakia, often in comedic fashion.
Ama also offers pre or post cruise land packages where all the details are taken care of to extend your trip, from luxury hotels to transfers to activities.
Dining on an Ama Waterways Danube river cruise
One of the areas where Ama Waterways really shines is the food–truly some of the best cuisine I’ve ever experienced on a cruise ship.
With an emphasis on serving up regional dishes and wine pairings alongside comfort foods us North Americans are used to (yes, you can get a burger anytime), dining on board is sometimes an hours-long event.
Multi-course menus are prepared by expert chefs, and Ama’s European ships are members of the prestigious culinary society La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs.
We slurped up goulash in Hungary, tucked into warm apple strudels in Austria, and noshed on pretzels paired with beer in Germany during an Oktoberfest celebration. Prost!
Globe Guide tip: Sign up for one of the first Chef’s Table dinners when you board. This reservation-only experience is in a more intimate setting than the main restaurant, and it’s a great way to meet other passengers.
It’s also worth mentioning the nightly happy hour, which was a wonderful way to cap off a day of adventures and catch up with fellow guests ahead of dinner and the daily briefing from our cruise manager. Cocktails, wine, beer and champagne flow freely during that hour, and are all complimentary–yes, even the likes of old fashioneds, cosmos and martinis.
More to love about an Ama Waterways cruise
I was seriously impressed with how nimble Ama was at adapting when necessary: when we were scheduled to sail out of Budapest, unseasonably hot temperatures resulted in the Danube’s water levels being too low for river cruises. With just a couple days notice they ended up moving the ship to Komarno, Slovakia, arranged transport for the 90 minute drive, and still offered Budapest tours for anyone wanting to explore the city.
This actually worked out great as we’d already spent time in Hungary’s capital, so we got to see a new destination in Slovakia and also take part in the impromptu tour of Gyor, Hungary.
The crew was also monitoring conditions up to the minute, and rearranged our day in Bratislava to leave a few hours earlier so we’d be able to get to Vienna as planned (I heard a rumour that another cruise company kept to their original schedule, and the boat got stuck there for an extra day).
Another pleasant surprise was that there weren’t very many of those annoying announcements over the intercom system (if you’re a frequent cruiser, you know what I’m talking about).
On embarkation night, staff demonstrated the safety procedures while we remained comfortably seated in the lounge drinking champagne, instead of making us awkwardly muster outside like every other ship I’ve ever been on requires.
Overall, we had a fantastic time on the luxurious Ama Waterways Danube cruise onboard the AmaSonata, which is an excellent choice for those who enjoy active adventures, great food and seeing new destinations with almost no effort.
Globe Guide experienced this sailing as a guest of Ama Waterways. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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