AmaWaterways is the only major river cruise line to be part of the Chaine Des Rotisseurs, a culinary society, so we expected the food to be better than average. Indeed, it was superb. All meals are open seating within specified meal times (quite generous, allowing for the schedules of all types of passengers, including those who skipped tours and lazed around onboard). Breakfast generally is served from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., lunch from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner at 7 p.m. Most tables were sized for groups of four or more (just a few two-tops), and a handful of booths were always quickly occupied.
Menus typically reflect the region in which the ship is traveling. In our case, on a Danube cruise from Budapest to Vilshofen, items included Hungarian goulash, Bavarian sausages and Viennese schnitzel, along with comfort foods like steak, salmon, chicken and salad.
Breakfast consisted of buffet service with a station for freshly prepared omelets and other egg dishes; it was substantial. There was plenty of healthy fare, such as yogurt and fresh fruit, as well as European-style breakfast options like cold cuts and cheese. Each morning, a menu also featured a handful of daily specials. Think Eggs Benedict and cinnamon pancakes.
Lunch -- which includes free-flowing wine, beer and soda -- consists of menu options and a buffet. Salads are plentiful, and usually there are several choices of soups, regional entrees and desserts. Burgers, fries and other American staples are also available. Dinner is the most formal meal in the main dining room, offering several choices of starters, salads and soups, entrees and desserts, and, of course, plenty of wine. Special needs, from vegetarian to low salt, were pleasantly accommodated (though it helps to give the kitchen advance notice). Always-available choices include steak, chicken and fish.
Other dining options: Erlebnis is a Chef's Table-style eatery with an almost-open kitchen that allows you to watch the chefs work. The set menu (with two choices for the entree), starts with an amuse bouche, then features four courses. The menu is repeated most nights. With just 24 seats (mostly tables for four with a few larger ones), reservations are recommended; in fact, book your seats the first day because demand is typically quite high for the experience. A wine steward is on hand to explain the choices for the evening. The ambience is as lovely as the dining (and sipping); Erlebnis is located all the way aft and features walls of windows around three sides. There is no additional fee to dine at Erlebnis.
The ship occasionally features special themed meals. On our Danube River cruise, it was a Bavarian-style lunch, complete with pretzels, German beer and waiters dressed in traditional costume.
For light fare, the lounge features pastries in the morning and salad, soup and sandwiches at lunch. There's also afternoon tea. Otherwise, cookies are set out for snacks. This was the least appealing option for dining, as the food choices were less than inspired, and the lounge, which has cocktail-height tables, wasn't all that comfortable of a place to dine.
Coffee, tea and water are available around the clock. There is no room service, although special requests (particularly if you're under the weather) will be accommodated.
Like most riverboats, the hub of onboard life on AmaPrima takes place in the sprawling lounge. There's a semi-circular bar, a small library nook with a faux fireplace, a handful of tables at perfect height for writing letters or checking email, and a vast array of deep and comfortable couches and armchairs. There's also a closet-sized gift shop.
The beautiful lobby area, which spans two decks, is home to the cruise director's desk (he arranges onboard and in-port activities), a reception desk and an elevator that travels between the restaurant and the lounge decks. Because of marine regulations, elevators can't travel below the water line or to the sun deck. (That means cabins on the lowest deck, Piano Deck, are only accessible via the stairs.)
On riverboats, the top-most level -- the sun deck -- is, essentially, an extension of its lounge area, and AmaPrima's Sun Deck is one of the most beautiful and comfortable in the industry. There are plenty of tables and chairs for playing games, writing letters and eating, and there's a gorgeous sitting area with deep wicker-like sofas just forward of the bridge. The Sun Deck also has canopied areas for shade, with plenty of mesh-covered loungers.
Many riverboats offer cabins with modified "French" balconies (floor-to-ceiling windows that open from side to side but don't allow passengers to step out) and a few others offer real verandahs you can sit on, but AmaPrima goes further. Ranging from 210 to 235 square feet, A and B categories offer living areas with French balconies and, off the bedrooms, two-seater verandahs. Roughly half of all cabins onboard have the dual scenario. In these cabins, the living areas feature easy chairs and desk/vanity combinations.
The marble shower-only bathrooms are unusually spacious for a riverboat and have funky windows that look out into the cabin. Fortunately the windows have privacy switches that transform them into opaque, frosted glass. A window at the end of the balcony shines extra light into the living area.
One tip: Cabins on Deck 2 are more centrally located while those on Deck 3 might have slightly better views in port when the ship butts up against other vessels or docks.
AmaPrima has two suites onboard. Measuring 350 square feet, each of these is essentially one large room with a spacious seating area, a larger-than-usual balcony (about two to three feet deeper than the others) with room for ottomans, and the only onboard bathrooms with tubs.
A handful of more traditional-style cabins, at 170 square feet, have French verandahs. And on the lowest level, the Piano Deck, 160-square-foot cabins have high windows. These have small desks, adequate closet space and easy chairs.
All cabins include comfortable beds that convert from twins to queen-size. There's a mini-bar stocked with complimentary bottled water, and generous amounts of closet space and under-the-bed storage, especially in higher-end staterooms. The bathrooms have both rain showerheads and regular showerheads. (Hot water was plentiful, though the water pressure was a bit on the weak side.)
Each cabin features a flat-screen television with somewhat skimpy programming, including a handful of movie picks and news channels beamed in via satellite. There's also in-cabin Internet access; most passengers we met brought their own devices. A nice touch: Each cabin is outfitted with European- and American-style plugs and comes with a pair of umbrellas. Amenities include robes, slippers and individual-sized bath products like soap, lotion, shampoo and conditioner.
If you want to learn more about the ports you're visiting on an AmaPrima cruise, it generally won't happen onboard the ship. There's little programming -- such as lectures or food demonstrations -- beyond a handful of folk-style performances. The library, which is rather small, doesn't stock a great collection of guides or other informational tomes.
Where you will pick up excellent insights is on tour; Ama's shore excursions, most of which are included in cruise fares, stray beyond the usual staple of guided city tours. Particularly intriguing on our Danube River trip was a culinary tour of Vienna, a communist-era look at Bratislava and a trip to Austria's lake district. Via the ship's fleet of bicycles, there were numerous opportunities to tour ports like Durnstein and Linz on two wheels. Walking tours were offered at a variety of paces. Wireless transmitters, so passengers can hear guides without being right on top of them, are provided. Worth noting: Because of the good variety of offerings, tours rarely were too crowded.
Onboard, a pianist plays a variety of music before and after dinner, and quite a few passengers on our sailing had enough energy later to dance. On some nights, local entertainment plays in the lounge.
The cruise director's nightly talks, mostly focusing on the events of the following day, are humorous and enjoyable, as well as informative.
AmaWaterways has carved out a niche for itself in the river cruise arena with its emphasis on wine and food amid comfortably stylish surrounds. AmaPrima, the line's newest ship, carries on that tradition.
Unique to AmaPrima (and sisters AmaCerto, AmaBella and AmaVerde) is that the majority of staterooms feature double-balcony configurations. One side is a French verandah, with floor-to-ceiling doors that open wide, and the other is an actual balcony, with comfortable chairs. Notable, too: These spacious staterooms aren't limited to a lucky few. On the top two cabin decks, they're plentiful.
Other delightful features on AmaPrima make it such a welcoming ship. On the sun deck, a splash pool (with swim-up bar) and its deep, comfy wicker-like sofas are popular gathering spots. The small gym is well stocked with state-of-the-art equipment, and the sprawling lounge features a library nook with a faux fireplace.
It's important to note, though, that the ship's gorgeous decor and creature comforts are a backdrop to the experience you'll have on land. AmaWaterways features a nice range of possibilities in each port (most of which come in the complimentary category) that target a variety of travel styles. Highlights include standard tours, themed experiences geared toward interests in areas like art, food and wine, and recreationally oriented expeditions on the bicycles.
AmaWaterways offers terrific value-for-money extras on its cruises; these include free and unlimited Wi-Fi (with an unusually fast connection for a cruise ship) and complimentary beer, wine and sodas at lunch and dinner.
Rounding out a superb cruise experience, the crew on AmaPrima were outstanding. Warm, efficient and personable, the tone was set on the first night onboard, when a couple, having traveled all day, arrived well after mealtime. They and plaintively asked the bartender if there were snacks available. Instead, she went down to the kitchen and assembled them a full meal.
AmaPrima has no special facilities for children, though several were onboard.
AmaWaterways generally appeals to well-traveled, 50-plus passengers with a strong interest in culinary arts and active exploration. Geographically, passengers are strongly drawn from North America, but the cruise line attracts a solid representation from the U.K. and Australia, where its partner, APT Touring, also markets the line.
Day and night, the prevailing dress code is country club casual, except for the once-a-cruise Captain's Dinner, when male passengers don jackets and ties, and women wear cocktail garb.
Recommended gratuity is 3 euros per passenger, per day, for the ship's cruise manager and 12 euros per passenger, per day, for the crew. This can be paid for with cash or credit card. It's good form to tip tour guides 1 to 2 euros for half-day tours and 5 euros or more for full-day outings.
|Fitness and Recreation|
AmaPrima's gym, with a handful of machines (treadmill, Technogym weight machine and two stationary bikes), is thoughtfully equipped, complete with television screens for entertainment. Water is provided. The ship also offers salon services, such as massages and hairstyling.
There's also a walking track on the Sun Deck.
One of AmaPrima's highlights is its fleet of two dozen bicycles. These are free to use in port; towpaths run alongside the Danube offering generally flat terrain.
One of the ship's more unique features is its small, heated pool; it's not big enough for "real" swimming, but it's a lovely place to cool off on hot days.
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