Cruise Edition 2018: Sail like royalty
Over the years, I have traversed the world by plane, train, automobile and bike, yet deliberately avoided boats, as my one experience had us sailing directly into Hurricane Rita with plunging 30-foot waves. Thus, when the opportunity arose to sail the Rhine River aboard AmaWaterways’ new ship, the AmaKristina, I packed SeaBands, Dramamine and ginger pills and dubiously set sail.
It turns out no seasickness remedies are needed, as the Rhine is calmer than rush hour traffic in Denver. River cruising is cozy, as leisurely or fast-paced as you want it to be, and covers more ground than most explorers can trek on their own (in style, no less). One week of sailing from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam, Netherlands, took us more than 525 miles, through four countries and past sights nearly impossible to see by any other mode of transport.
With AmaKristina, the ship itself is a highlight of the journey.
“This is the first time ship design is not only about functionality, but about architectural design, inspired by the Italian Riva boats,” said Rudi Schreiner, president and co-owner of AmaWaterways. The bold colors—burnt orange, deep red and teal within stripes, solids, crushed velvet and patterns of fruits and leaves—appear throughout the ship and in large dining and lounge spaces.
“In its simplest form, color makes you happy,” Schreiner said.
Elegant coral wall sconces and gold-hued Gustav Klimt artwork line the corridors leading to 78 staterooms, many of which have twin balconies (one outside and one French), as we had on our 210 square-foot stateroom on the Violin Deck. We appreciated the plentiful storage space, with closets, drawers and shelves, the large shower, and frosted bathroom glass switch for added privacy (or to watch cable news from the loo). While the ship, with its high-end furnishings and finishes, is beautifully elegant, there is a comfort here, both with the environment and its guests. Thankfully, there are no black-tie or formal nights and no ship-board photographer; the atmosphere and dress are relaxed and smartly casual.
One of the design focal points (and a first for any AmaWaterways ship), is a large circular glass elevator that descends to the lowest floor, the Piano Deck, where you’ll find staterooms, fitness center, massage studio, and salon. The Main Dining room incorporates inviting booths to divide the room and make it more intimate, with smaller sections that evolve into conversation spaces. A wave-patterned ceiling is more than a lovely design touch; it’s a smart sound absorption device that creates warmth and buffers lively conversations that flow as guests discuss the days’ excursions.
Passengers aboard an AmaWaterways cruise along the Rhine can ride bikes along the many trails, whether the easy trails along the river or those that take you to castles and vistas. Courtesy of AmaWaterways
Every afternoon brings a relaxed Tea Time in the lounge with live music, leading into Port Talks with the cruise manager for insight into what’s ahead with the next day’s excursions and details about terrain we may have crossed or will be discovering.
We glided into “Sip & Sail,” a complimentary evening happy hour on all AmaWaterways ships, before descending the staircase to dinner, which generally begins at 7 p.m., depending on the day’s excursions. Happily, there are no formal, pre-set seating times or table reservations, which encourages guests to table-hop nightly with new friends they make during the week. Surprisingly (or not), guests bond quickly on these cruises, most often with conversations surrounding travel, cuisine and shore excursions.
Lest you think river cruises are for old fuddy-duddies, AmaWaterways reportedly has the youngest age group (mid-50’s) of all Rhine cruises (even younger with its individually themed Wine, Disney and Backroads bike tours), and has ingeniously created three shore excursion activity levels, making it easy for multi-generational families to explore different terrain at various paces and come together at lunch and dinner to discuss their days.
Architecture is among the more memorable attractions of an AmaWaterways cruise along the Rhine. Courtesy of AmaWaterways
Cleverly divided into Gentle, Regular, and Active paces, excursions are varied; on the AmaKristina, 21 guided tours were included in the cruise fare. As “active” as we thought we were, the race-walking pace of the Strasbourg tour left us lagging behind snapping photos and chuckling at our own misguided interpretation of “active.” These excursions, which include vigorous hikes up steep terrain and fast-paced bicycle tours along the Rhine, are designed for athletes who want to keep their heart rates up and log miles, not necessarily for exploring a city’s highlights. In my experience, the average traveler will enjoy the Regular excursion pace for its excellent tour guides, rich European history, stops to taste local wine or cheeses, and glimpses into everyday life in picturesque medieval towns such as Riquewihr, France and Rüdesheim am Rhine, Germany. These tours give you time to stop and smell the grapes; however, should you want to set out on your own, Ama has a fleet of complimentary bicycles on board every ship and recently rolled out a new Wellness Program (yoga, core strengthening and morning stretching classes) on select itineraries.
If you consider yourself a foodie, gourmand, or connoisseur of well-crafted cuisine, the AmaKristina is your Nirvana. Breakfast and lunch buffets are expansive, and the latter can be your favorite part of the day. As the ship passed through multiple countries, Executive Chef Jozsef Lado incorporated local culinary delicacies to the menu. Sure, we spied die-hard fitness buffs that stuck to the fresh salad bar, and normally that would be enticing with the abundance of flavorful local vegetables, but as we sailed through France, Germany, Switzerland, and The Netherlands, we indulged in some of the most mouthwatering local cuisine that included escargot in herb butter, Elsässer Flamkuchen, grilled filet of Corvina in a shrimp butter sauce and fresh white asparagus. When we saw the chefs hop off the ship at port and head to the local markets, we knew we would be in for a treat later that day.
On-shore excursions on the AmaWaterways cruise of the Rhine includes walk-off access to markets in the heart of ancient cities along the river. Courtesy of AmaWaterways
A not-to-miss culinary highlight is the Chef’s Table dinner in a private, glass-walled room at the ship’s aft, and the only venue of its kind on the river. Hosting up to 28 guests, chefs create a multi-course tasting menu from locally sourced ingredients, using the exhibition kitchen as the focal point for their extraordinary gastronomic artistry. Attentive waiters poured fine Austrian wines with each course, and offered details about the 18 different flavors created by the symphony of ingredients that comprised this exquisite and memorable gourmet experience. Extraordinarily, The Chef’s Table is complimentary and offered to every guest to reserve at least once, or more, if available.
Seasonal, destination-inspired cuisine, fine wines, and shore excursions that incorporate both are always on the agenda on the AmaWaterways ships, reflecting its owners’ passion for understanding and immersing oneself in European history and the journey of discovery. It’s not surprising then, that it is one of the only cruise lines inducted into the La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, a prestigious international gastronomic society founded in Paris in 1950. Though we read about this, we didn’t expect the chefs to create a special Chaîne dinner one evening, which added to the culinary bragging rights aboard the AmaKristina.
Vineyard tours on day two of an AmaWaterways cruise of the Rhine include the choice of either 16th-century Riquewihr or Freiburg, founded in 1120. Courtesy of AmaWaterways
As an added touch, recipes of each evening’s gourmet meal were placed nightly on our pillows, prompting us to evaluate our kitchen accoutrements and our own abilities to recreate the culinary magic experienced on board.
With breakfast, lunch, dinner, an all-day tapas menu and late-night bites presented in the lounge every evening at 10:30 p.m. (a wonderful pairing to the rotating live music, often from musicians that step on board at local ports of call, and one night, a raucous ABBA tribute band), there is no time to be hungry.
For seven nights, we ate like kings aboard a ship that prides itself on gourmet dining experiences with chefs that create visually stunning dishes. Like royalty, we never needed to ask for more local wines; they simply appeared, uncorked every day for lunch and dinner. We walked in historic footsteps of medieval towns with knowledgeable guides, and traversed steep vineyards by gondola.
Luxury river cruising might be habit-forming.
Ask the Experts
What can a travel agent do that most people cannot do for themselves? EnCompass asked AAA Colorado Travel Agent Diane McCormack that question, and she remembered a recent example.
A couple paid for a European river cruise with Uniworld to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, and now, six weeks later, and just days from departure, they wanted to visit Great Britain, too. That meant changing flight times, which would involve a $250 penalty, and lots of other last-minute tweaks. McCormack got the couple’s approval, seamlessly meshing the British tour with the river cruise. They expressed their appreciation with a bouquet.
In meeting the expectations of AAA Colorado members, McCormack knows which travel partners will serve them well, and which won’t. For example, McCormack works only with Hertz, a AAA partner, because of the company’s reliability. Other car rental companies have disappointed her clients.
McCormack can also help AAA Colorado members navigate cruise options. Uniworld, for example, is more opulent and all-inclusive—a good fit for milestone anniversaries. Viking, on the other hand, emphasizes affordability. AmaWaterways (its catalog is pictured above) is neither as opulent and or all-inclusive as Uniworld nor as basic as Viking, with slightly younger, more active travelers.
For cruise travel expertise, visit with, email, or call your personal AAA Colorado Travel Agent.
Persuading a friend to cruise
Dawn Lange is a motivated cruise traveler, having cruised six times. On one of those cruises, Lange and her husband traveled with friends who had been hesitant to cruise.
“They’re very active,” Lange said, “and they often do their own thing—paragliding, hiking—and they didn’t necessarily want to go with a group to the beach.”
What persuaded them to give cruise travel a try?
“On a cruise, you can be active—rent mopeds, go snorkeling, or diving,” Lange said. “And the price was a good value for trying something new.”
Lange and her husband enjoy snorkeling and diving. Their friends joined them, and became hooked. They’ve cruised three times since then.
As a AAA Travel Agent in the Southwest Metro retail store in Littleton, Lange helps AAA members book trips that exceed their expectations. Cruise travel has surprised more than just her friends.
“Whether it’s big ship or river ships, all kinds of people—families and couples—enjoy unpacking one time and seeing different places,” Lange said.
It helps to book a cruise through an agent like Lange, because the agent can adjust flights and other connections.
“If you book through an app or website, or through a third party, it may be difficult to reach anyone who can help you when things go wrong,” Lange said. “AAA travel agents are available to help when you need it.”
For more cruise travel expertise, visit with, email, or call your personal AAA Travel Agent.