AmaWaterways’ AmaSonata & AmaPrima

I have had the good fortune to (so far) sail onboard two of AmaWaterways’ newer twin balcony ships with another, the AmaStella slated for 2018.  Initially, I decided to try Ama because of the twin balcony cabins but I have since learned, that there are many other reasons to give them a try.  They are top rated by travel and cruise experts such as Berlitz, Cruise Critic, Travel Weekly and many others.  In our experience they have a consistently outstanding crew, with everyone from the Captain and Cruise Director to the dining staff and cabin stewards, always providing professional and friendly service. Another area where they shine is onboard dining.  Ama is a member of the Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, a prestigious culinary society that is by invitation only,  it shows in the quality of the onboard dining.  I am still missing their eggs benedict for breakfast!  One other great thing I should mention, is that the Ama ships have a shallow draft and sleek profile. This may not seem so great, but it allows them to continue sailing much longer than some of the other river cruise lines, when there are issues with river water levels.  That can be a very big deal if you want to lessen the chance of your dream river cruise becoming a bus trip.

The overall feel of the ships is clean and elegant, both I have sailed have been very well kept, they sparkled like new inside and out.

When you step aboard, you enter on deck three, otherwise known as the Violin deck.  Upon entering you will be in the airy and bright reception lobby, that in addition to the reception desk, boasts an elevator to  take you down to the two decks below.  The elevator is flanked by a spiral staircase for you to use if you would prefer to burn some of your overindulgences off.

Continuing our tour we will walk towards the front of the ship and to the starboard side of the reception desk.  We pass between the gift shop and the beverage center, which includes a few cafe tables to sit and enjoy your coffee or tea.

From here we see the bar on our left and the main lounge ahead of us, this is where you will spend a lot of your time onboard.  The lounge has a buffet area in the center of the room, where snacks and beverages are provided throughout the day, it is also the staging area for continental breakfast items for the early risers as well as more substantial offerings around lunch and dinner.  Comfortable groups of sofas and chairs are positioned around the perimeter of the lounge as well as along the front.  There are floor to ceiling windows along both sides and looking out over an outdoor dining area and the bow of the ship.

We now head back along the port side of the ship toward the stern which brings us by the bar and the library before returning us to the reception lobby.  From there we take the stairs to the Violin deck cabins (they are offset from the public areas of the deck.)

AmaSonata_library

*Library photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

Once we make our way up to the Violin deck cabin area we find ourselves at the Cruise Director and Hotel Manager’s desks.  On our two cruises the Cruise Director was the awesome Rachel!

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From here we continue heading towards the rear of the ship passing through the hallway of the deck three cabin area.  There are five cabin types on this deck, including our AA twin balcony cabin 305.  You will first pass the one AA+ twin balcony and three suites, followed by the AA twin balconies and then the BA twin balconies, with the Category C French balconies at the end of the hallway.

AA Cabin 305

For information and photos on the other AmaSonata cabins (AmaPrima would be the same save colors)

From here we proceed to the aft of the ship on deck three, where the Chef’s Table restaurant is located.  You may have dinner here one night of the cruise and it is complimentary.  I do recommend on itineraries including Budapest, to choose your night there, the views are spectacular!

Leaving the Chef’s Table, just forward of it’s entrance,  you will see the entrances to the Gym on one side and the massage room/hair salon on the other.

*Salon Photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

From here we will take the aft staircase down to deck two, the Cello deck.  The section of deck two aft of the elevator and main staircase is only made up of cabins, starting with Category C French balconies farthest aft, followed by BB twin balconies, category AB twin balconies and finally finishing with a few more BB’s at the farthest position forward.  I am including a photo of our BB cabin from the AmaPrima, you can see the link above for photos of the other cabin types.

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So we find ourselves now back at the elevator and main staircase,on the deck two cabin area landing.  From here we take the stairs down to the deck two forward area, where the main restaurant is located, breakfast, lunch and dinner are served here daily, have I mentioned their eggs benedict??

If we leave and return to the elevator and stairs we can either go down to level one, the Piano deck, here we will only find a cabin corridor, this corridor is first occupied by Category D fixed window cabins, with Category E fixed window cabins farther aft.  Instead, we will go up to deck three reception lobby, from here we can step outside through large sliding glass doors on either side of the ship.  Here we will find stairs leading to the Sun deck, which is the large outdoor deck on the top of the ship.  The sun deck is home to a decently sized, heated outdoor pool with swim up bar.  There are also comfortable seating areas, a walking track, large outdoor chess game and the wheelhouse.  I imagine this will be a great place to hang out in the warmer months, like my July 2018 cruise!  So far I have only sailed the Christmas market itineraries, which are just magical but brrrrrrrrrrr……….

*Pool photo courtesy of AmaWaterways

Cruising on  one of the AmaWaterways’ twin balcony ships is a great way to see Europe.   I cannot wait for my next cruise, right now it seems so far away!  Oh, and did I mention how much I love their eggs benedict?  Stay tuned and I will do a writeup on AmaWaterways’ dining.

 

 

If Vienna during the Christmas holidays is not on your bucket list, it should be.

It is HOT, HOT, HOT here in Florida so I’m thinking, how about some Christmas in July?  Let’s make it one of my favorite cities at Christmastime, Vienna!  I just can’t even describe how incredibly beautiful the Christmas lights in Vienna are, how awe inspiring it is to walk along the Graben towards Stephansplatz under the giant, sparkling chandeliers while gazing around to all the varying light displays adorning the other streets we pass.  It is the most beautiful and festive display I believe I have ever witnessed.  A great way to visit Vienna and other cities along the Danube with festive markets, is on a river cruise, we visited with AmaWaterways, our favorite river cruise line.

 

 

In addition to the gorgeous Christmas lights on display there are multiple unique Christmas markets to visit.  I have not visited them all but I have visited several, each having it’s own distinctive feel, unique crafts and charm.

I’ll start with the largest, the Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt, located in front of Vienna town hall, it is a large and at night a very crowded market with row upon row of booths selling everything from gluhwein and authentic handicrafts to Chinese made, mass market trinkets  (although they have cut down on the amount of stands hocking these wares.)  This market has quite a presence with the town hall lit in the background and the large Christmas light displays adorning the entrance.

 

 

A new market for me visiting this past Christmas and perhaps my favorite so far in Vienna, was the Karlsplatz Art Advent Christmas market.  It is a smaller and less crowded market with the beautiful Karlskirche as a backdrop. They had a stage set up for live music and many vendors selling delicious treats including raclette, which is a personal favorite of mine.  The quality of the items for sale here is very good overall, a lot of really nice and unique handicrafts.

 

 

The last two markets that I have visited are the market at Schonbrunn palace and the market at Maria Theresien-Platz, these are both smaller markets again with beautiful landmarks as the backdrop.  The Maria Theresien-Platz market also had a cool projection light show to add to the festive feel.

 

                            Schonbrunn Market

 

                            Maria Theresien-Platz

 

These are only the ones I have been fortunate enough to visit, there are others in this great city that I am sure are very worth the visit if you have time.

There are so many other wonderful things about Vienna, it is such a charming city.  I cannot imagine any better place to spend some time during the Christmas holiday season.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Szentendre, worth a visit if you have time.

Embarkation day for our cruise had arrived but we had a few plans, with our guide Gabriella, to take care of first.  We planned to make a half day visit to Szentendre with a stop at the Roman ruins of aquincum on the way.

The drive to Szentendre took us over the Danube to the Buda side and through parts of Budapest we otherwise might never have seen,  areas developed under the rule of communism with sprawling utilitarian housing blocks alongside modern department stores and with a spattering of some much, much older construction, the remnants of Roman occupation.  Gabriella explained some of the hardships of living in the sprawling communist structures, such as having very small living quarters and a centralized heating system, that was turned on and off by the government and of which you had no control over whatsoever.

The scattered Roman ruins we passed were once part of Aquincum, the capital of Roman occupied Hungary, which at the time was called Pannonia.  Hungary was under Roman rule from the 1st century BC to the 5th century AD.  Aquincum was a town of about 15,000 people and the main excavation site can be visited along with a museum, I was disappointed that it was not open the day we were there but we did stop to look at the excavated ruins from the street.

Once we were past Aquincum things started to get a bit more rural, we were leaving Budapest and the remaining drive to Szentendre was short, which makes it a great option for a half day trip.

Szentendre has been settled since Roman times but was destroyed in the Mongol and Ottoman invasions in the 15th and 16th centuries.  It was rebuilt in the 17th century so most of the historic buildings are in the Baroque style and it is really very pretty.   When we arrived we were dropped on the outskirts and walked to the main square, it was a leisurely stroll through the winding cobblestone streets with so many photo opportunities.

Once you get closer to the main square there are many interesting shops with local artists and Hungarian made goods.  We would explore this area but first we made the climb up to the Saint Janos church to take in it’s lofty views, on the way back down we met a couple of friendly and furry locals.

We made our way back to the town square for a look around and more importantly shopping and eating!  We hit the small Christmas market first and I decided to try a Hungarian pizza called Langallo, it was so good!  After that we spent the rest of our  limited time shopping and ended up with a pottery sculpture, a Hungarian leather handbag and Christmas ornaments made from handpainted eggs.

It was time to head back to Budapest, we had a ship to catch!  We walked down to the waterfront.  Szentendre lies on the Danube and the promenade along the river reminds you of somewhere in the south of France, which come to think of it a lot of the town reminded me of Southern France.

If you have a couple of days in Budapest and want to see something different, I highly recommend a trip to Szentendre.  I do hear that it gets very crowded in the summer with locals and tourists alike flocking there.

Ahhhhh Budapest… the city that positively glows! (part 1)

e20161204_071911Photo taken on our first morning in Budapest from our room at the Intercontinental.

We had arranged well in advance for two tours with Gabriella of Private tours Budapest, the first was a full day in Budapest with a van, the second (which I will elaborate on in another post) was a half day to the lovely town of Szentendre the morning of our embarkation on the AmaSonata.  The Budapest tour with Gabriella was to cover mainly things we would not see with Ama’s tour, that I will discuss in a later post.

I feel that I was too ambitious with my list of sites to visit, Budapest offers so much that you either need to spend a few days there or just pick a handful, of what you feel are the most important things, to see.  Gabriella was a terrific guide and did her best to accommodate our wishes but we ended up really seeing only the surface of things with not much detail, again this was my fault for being too ambitious…oh well, I guess this just means I will have to make another visit!

e20161204_083708You cannot beat this view!

After a somewhat expensive (but delicious!) breakfast at the hotel, we were met by Gabriella in the lobby of the Intercontinental and shown to the  van that would escort us around the city today.  From there we proceeded to our first stop, a visit one of the thermal baths that Budapest is so famous for, the Szechenyi thermal baths.  The drive through the Pest side of the city to reach Szechenyi took us past many beautiful buildings and structures such as Heroes Square.  We only took a look inside the baths and did not actually buy admission and go for a swim. We had initially planned to do this on our own but our time was so limited due to the flight delay and missing a half day that it just didn’t happen.  I also wanted to do the outdoor baths and maybe fear of going out in that kind of cold in a swimsuit played a part in the decision to save the baths for the next trip.

After visiting the thermal bath (next time I will get in!) we walked to Castle Vajdahunyad, a 19th century castle built for the Millennial exhibition to showcase Hungarian architecture of different historical periods, the grounds are very beautiful and it is here that you can find the statue Anonymous.  An added bonus was seeing the large outdoor skating rink that is it’s neighbor.

It was still morning and we had a very long list so once we were back onboard the van, we headed next to the House of Terror museum, which showcases the plight of the Hungarian people while under communist leadership and the atrocities that were bestowed upon them.  This is another of the stops where we merely scratched the surface as we did not have time to do the full admission tour of the museum. One thing I did learn at the House of Terror museum, besides the fact that people regularly disappeared in the middle of the night sometimes never to be seen again,  is that my birthday is a national holiday in Hungary (National Day) commemorating an uprising against the communists in 1956 and Hungary becoming a free republic in 1989.

Onward to our next stop,  did I mention that we had a lot of ground to cover?  We headed over the Danube to Buda (Budapest is actually one city formed from two, Buda and Pest) to visit Buda castle, try some Hungarian strudel (one of our group was brave enough to try the poppy seed strudel which, to be honest,  looked like mud) and watch the changing of the guards.  As with most of the landmarks on the Buda side, it came with stunning panoramic views over the Danube and Pest.

This seems like a good stopping point, I will pick up on the remainder of our day with Gabriella with my next blog post.  Stay Tuned!