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I went on a European river cruise with AmaWaterways and here is what I found

AmaWaterways cruise ship on Main river

Last November I had the pleasure of participating in a European river cruise with AmaWaterways. While the trip was firmly off-season it was overall a good albeit not perfect experience.

A day in Munich

Our cruise started with a pre-cruise night in the Bavarian capital Munich, a city I had not explored before. Unfortunately the day we were there was a Monday, which is when many of the museums and shops are closed. (This is true for much of Central Europe). Making the best of it, I visited the one museum that was open, The Residenz, the former royal palace of the Wittelsbach monarchs of Bavaria. It is the largest city palace in Germany and has some splendid architecture, room decorations, and displays from the royal collections.

Weltenburg Abbey alter piece

Abercrombie & Kent - a mixed experience

After spending the night at the luxurious Rocco Forte The Charles Hotel, we were picked up by a local guide from Abercrombie & Kent. While she made some unfortunate remarks about gay people and omitted the internment of Jewish people at the Dachau concentration camp, other guides we had that day made up for her comments.

We were shown the Weltenburg Abbey (Kloster Weltenburg), a Benedictine monastery founded in about 617AD. While all of the buildings were built much more recently, the Baroque interior of the monastery church was one of the most beautiful I have seen anywhere. The main altar showing St George spearing the dragon is quite something else.

After seeing the church we tasted some local specialties in the monastery's restaurant, along with a flight of locally brewed beers. Weltenburg Abbey's brewery is by some reckonings the oldest monastic brewery in the world, having been in operation since 1050.

cabin interior amawaterways

The cabin

On to Nuremberg (Nürnberg), where our guides had some trouble getting us to the ship, as it wasn't docked in the most obvious location. Eventually we made it and we were in our cabins just before dinner. First impression of the cabin - very comfortable and well-designed, albeit it cozy. I had one of the top-deck cabins with a balcony, which in summer would be a great place to sit, have a glass of wine, and watch the world go by.

cabin interior amawaterways river cruise

The food

Dinner was served on-board. The service was good throughout the cruise with some key staff going the extra mile. Overall the food on board was good but the quality varied from day to day. A definite low was an unpalatable eggs benedict, while the pho served at a soup station was the best I have had. Portions were always just enough and there was a selection of wines, again of varying quality. I am told meals on-board Viking river cruises are generally better. Viking however doesn't generally offer active excursions, and it is those that sets AmaWaterways apart from their competitors.

The trouble with locks

After dinner our group of travel agents congregated in the lounge, a great place to chat, have a drink or dance. Sleep that night was occasionally interrupted; I was somewhat surprised by the noise produced by the engines, as my cabin was about midway the ship. The main reason for it was that that night we were sailing down the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal and had to negotiate several locks. As cruise ships are only slightly less wide than the locks, entering a lock requires a fair amount of revving of the engines and produces some bouncing off the side of the lock. I am a light sleeper and luckily I had brought earplugs, so in the end it didn't bother me too much. And while locks are very common in this part of Germany, they are far less prevalent on other rivers. This in turns means that revving engines and bouncing off the side of a lock doesn't happen very often.

bamberg bike tour

Cycling Bamberg

Day 2 saw us arrive in Bamberg, a must-see sight in Bavaria, where the well-preserved Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Bisected by rivers and canals, the town made for a great location for our first bike ride. These rides cannot be pre booked; the crew wants to make sure you are able to do them (they average 30-40 kms) and outings are of course weather dependent. It means that the moment you board, you sign up for as many cycling excursions as possible before others beat you to it. And on the morning of the tour, be sure to arrive early so you get the right size bike. I learned the hard way and had to wrangle my 6'5" frame on to a medium bike the first day.

After completing the bike tour, lunch was served on-board and we spent the afternoon sailing down the Main, negotiating some of the 42 locks on this stretch of the cruise.

Romantic Rothenburg

church rothenburg ob der tauber

Day 3 had us arrive in Würzburg, a scenic town on the Main, known for its art and architecture. Some of us opted for a hike to the castle, but I had booked a bus tour to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, another perfectly preserved town, situated along the famous Romantic Road. Truth be told, guided coach tours are not my thing. But we happened to have a very engaging and knowledgeable guide who made the hour-long drive very pleasant.

Federweißer mit warmen Zwiebelkuchen

Once we got to Rothenburg, we had a short introductory walk and as rain started to fall, I found myself a local cafe where a sign stated they served Fränkisher Federweißer mit warmen Zwiebelkuchen. Ja! My limited German failed me somewhat, although I could understand they had warm onion pie. But Franconian FeatherWhite? I asked the café's owner and he waxed lyrical about it - how the grape harvest had just started and how the juice was freshly pressed and allowed to ferment for only a few days. The result? A sparkling, slightly alcoholic, cloudy and sweet, yet lovely refreshing beverage. I had come just in time to taste this regional specialty!

A pause

Back on board we continued down the Main to dock the next morning near Wertheim. As always, several excursions were offered, some sightseeing and some active. I opted for the bike trip along the river to Miltenberg. The two towns are not mentioned in any guidebooks, which is perhaps not surprising as there isn't much to them. But due to the strict sailing schedule (which is determined by the times we were booked to go through the locks), this was the area we found ourselves in.

Biking the Main

bike trip with amawaterways along the main

The bike trip was a nice way to see some of the pleasant riverine landscapes around here, although one of the highlights of the trip came the next morning, when just after sunrise we entered the Rhine. After sailing for several days along a river that was only marginally wider than the ship, entering the Rhine opposite of the splendid skyline of the city of Mainz was something to behold.

vineyard hike rudesheim germany

Hiking the vineyards

A quick coach transfer to the touristy town of Rüdesheim am Rhein allowed us to spend the morning hiking through the vineyards on the east bank of the Rhine. They were in full autumn colours, which painted the hillsides a splendid golden hue. The hike was pleasant albeit a little shorter than planned as it had started later than expected due to a scheduling error.

Castles of the Rhine

After a quick bite in town, we boarded the ship and travelled through a section of the Rhine famous for its many castles. This was our second rainy day, but the ship has a few areas on deck where you can stay dry and watch the world go by. Sailing past the Lorelei brought back memories of a bike trip I took from Austria to Holland at the ripe-old age of 15.

That evening we had an exclusive tour of one of the castles along the Rhein, Burg Lahneck. Lit by candles, the stronghold made for a romantic outing, before we sailed overnight to Cologne.

interior cologne cathedral

Cologne - beer and cathedral

The bike ride in Cologne was cancelled because of the weather, which suited me as I had been unable to make up my mind about which excursion to do. Luckily the alternative, Kölsch beer tasting, was still on. It was led by a young German woman of Iranian descent who gelled very well with our group as she took us to two different traditional pubs.

After the tour she took us to the famous dom, which had been the destination of another optional excursion. This cathedral was on my travel bucket list and it did not disappoint. Soaring pillars and Gothic arches held up an incredibly high ceiling. As I walked in, the choir started singing a beautiful hymn, adding to the overall sacred atmosphere.

amsterdam canal

Zipping through The Netherlands

Overnight we entered the country of my birth, The Netherlands, and I had looked forward to seeing it from a new vantage point. Alas, by the time the sun came up we were three quarters of the way through the country, had left the river and were about to enter the Amsterdam-Rhine canal. Still, sailing the remainder of the morning through a country I know so well was another highlight, as was entering the harbour in Amsterdam; I could almost imagine myself sailing in on a 16th century merchant ship!

In Amsterdam I joined a walking tour of the Jordaan area, a part of town known for its canal-lined houses, boutiques and pubs. Our guide was very informative and treated us at the end to coffee and apple pie. .

And is there a better way to end a river cruise than lingering in a cafe with newfound friends over apple pie and coffee?

The skinny

People have asked me if I would do another river cruise. The answer is yes, but not yet. I have too many hikes, treks and bike rides I want to do while I can, and lots of more exotic locations to visit.

River cruises will appeal to people who do not want to pack and unpack several times during a trip and to those who want to get an overview of a larger area but do not feel the need to take a deep dive into a location. (That can always be done on a subsequent trip). AmaWaterways specifically is great for those travellers who want to do some light to moderate activities while travelling.

The particular cruise I did (Nurenberg to Amsterdam) spends more than half the time on the Main, a narrow river with pretty towns, but without well-known highlights. If you are a first time river cruiser I would recommend you do the Danube cruise as it offers more variety: small towns and castles, along with gorgeous riverine landscapes and the imperial cities of Vienna and Budapest.

I travelled with AmaWaterways on an award trip for best travel agents in North America. The cruise was courtesy of the cruise line and Direct Travel. Neither AmaWaterways nor Direct Travel had editorial control over this review.

in cologne by the dom cathedral


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