Cruising the AmaKristina in December 2018
By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
As I began to write this, I’m on the AmaKristina on the Rhine. It is our first trip on this river ship, but it already feels like home—we have sailed on 16 Europe river cruises and this is our 15th cruise with AmaWaterways (we are leading a small group on this same route this summer on the AmaSerna—there is still limited space available if you would like to join us—give me a call).
Much has changed since 2009 in river cruising—when we first started river cruising in Europe—and almost all is for the better.
This was a themed cruise—Christmas Markets along the Rhine. It is the most festive season in Europe and that is saying a lot, since Europeans walk and enjoy the public spaces their cities almost every day of their lives. It seems most everyone living near these markets has visited these special stalls and enjoyed shopping, and eating Christmas delights, and imbibing in the hot Glühwein.
So, I thought I’d write about AmaWaterways and the Rhine River—one of the two most popular routes for river cruisers in Europe.
A Ship Tour
The AmaKristina has won at least 4 major travel awards as the best Europe river cruise ship in the last 2 years: 2017 Porthole Cruise Reader’s Choice Award; 2018 Travel Age West Best New Rivership; 2018 Travvy Award Best River Cruise Ship; and two 2018 Magellan Awards for Luxury Ship Design. It is also the highest rated ship by the Berlitz River Cruising in Europe & the USA—the guide we feel is the most objective ratings of river cruise ships and since the author, Douglas Ward, has rated over 300+ river cruise ships, it is the most comprehensive river cruise ship ratings that are available today.
Let’s tour this outstanding rivership together, from these photos (first some of the shared areas of the AmaKristina):
Our stateroom twin balcony cabin was always clean and efficient. I find the cabins well designed, (ours was 235 sq. feet) luxurious, and perfectly adequate. Although some would prefer a larger cabin, the constraints of the river lock system have limited cabin size on most river cruise ships. Don’t despair—larger cabins are coming to AmaWaterways in 2019 with the AmaMagna (a double wide river cruise ship and most balcony cabins on the upper 2 decks are over 335 sq. feet)—I have written a blog about the two large river cruise ships on the Danube.
Our cruise started in Basel, Switzerland and ended in Amsterdam, Netherlands. We have sailed this direction downstream twice. The amazing scenery has not changed much—the Rhine River Gorge and its’ over 30 castles is probably the best stretch of sights in all of Europe on any European River. The gorge is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so there are no bridges to interrupt the views. On the Rhine River Gorge, with castles dotting almost every hill, and it is like turning back the hands of time to the age of land barons, defending their turf and collecting tolls for passage.
But I managed to get ahead of myself—this cruise will port in 4 different countries. We started in Basel and there were at least 3 Christmas Markets in Basel that were easily accessible to the guests on our sailing.
Then we were off to France—Strasbourg and Riquewihr were sightseeing options.
In Germany, Speyer, Rüdesheim, Mannheim, sailing the Rhine River Gorge and Cologne. We ended in Amsterdam.
All were great stops.
What is New Onboard?
While much remains the same, there are two great new features on AmaWaterways in 2018 that will continue to 2019. They are the new wellness program and the Sip ‘n’ Sail cocktail hour just before dinner. Both are real hits in our opinion.
While most who know me well, would say my favorite change is the new included Sip ‘n’ Sail free cocktail hour, but, I was most impressed with the wellness program (I got to learn first-hand about this program on our summer cruise on the AmaCerto). The wellness program was on 6 ships for the 2018 season and was not on the AmaKristina during our Christmas voyage, but I understand it will be on all the AmaWaterways river cruise vessels for 2019.
The wellness person will conduct stretching classes, yoga, core strengthening classes and lead bike rides. Based on what I saw this summer, what impressed me most that it was all age appropriate, scientifically sound, and the response on board the 6 roll out vessels has been very good. As a former nationally certified physical fitness instructor in college and for sports teams, it was interesting to see how well the programs were conducted and how the cruisers enjoyed adding a little fitness to their daily routine last summer.
Another big change was the Sip ‘n’ Sail program. Free (included) drinks prior to dinner is a great idea and well received by guests on both our 2018 cruises. Wine, beer and a good selection of well drinks—even martinis are included. Great improvement—glad it is being continued in 2019!
What remains the Same?
Anne always reminds me that consistency is the key to great travel. On AmaWaterways, the good things remain the same or are slightly better than past cruises.
Food and service is excellent—always well planned meals.
Breakfast and lunch are buffet style with options to order off the menu. Here is a sample lunch menu (quite an impressive selection in my opinion):
There is even a tea time at 4 PM. Here is a sample of the wonderful items—they bake everything on board—it is amazingly good!
Every evening on the dinner menu (a 4 course affair of an appetizer, a soup course, a main course and dessert) there are 3 Entrée’s choices—usually a meat dish, a fish dish and a vegetarian option.—all are excellent!
There is an Always Available Menu that features a steak, a grilled chicken breast, and a vegetarian or pasta option. The meal features a white and red wine from the region you are sailing thru and they change daily (not every river cruise lines changes wines every day or offers included wine and beer). One item of note—portions are slightly smaller and for the baby boomers of our generation, this is a smart move. You can always have more food, but even for big eaters like me, the portions were properly sized.
I do have to point out that on the Always Available Menu, the steak was large, and very tasty—notable by all in our group as better than they had remembered on past cruises.
Each year, the included (yes, no extra charge) Chef’s Table menu changes. I liked the meal this year, and the wonderful view from the stern of our river ship. It is the little extras that make the difference—the Chef’s Table remains a hit.
Bar service is outstanding and the wines were particularly good with meals. It still amazes me how generous the pours are by the bar staff—the idea is to give you enough and not too much.
I can’t say enough about the crew—they work 18 hour days, and every detail is about making your vacation better.
Our Cruise Experience
We were traveling with our good friends the Thomas clan (better known as Mark and Denise, but both do have significant Scottish heritage)
They love food, wine (Mark is a trained Sommelier), Europe, and Christmas Markets.
Somehow between us, we hauled home about 30 different Glühwein decorative mugs (not an easy task keeping them from getting broken, not to mention the packing space required in our luggage—we bought a new suitcase!)
They plan to sail again with AmaWaterways. Not a real surprise to me—almost all who go on a river cruise we planned go again.
My Final Thoughts
When folks find out we have sailed this route before, they want to know why—wouldn’t it be boring?
Our response —it never is! You can’t see it all on the first trip and when you consider the different seasons, it changes. Spring brings new life, summer is full of flowers and green trees, autumn is ablaze with color and Christmas is a festival not to be missed.
These are wonderful places to visit and we hope one day you will let us plan a trip to one or all of these great places.
When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip. You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience. And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process. We think we have all these qualities.
Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you! We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel. Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at email@example.com. We want to help you: Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 46 years. He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years. He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees. His other Certifications:
AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
Viking River Cruise Specialist
Scenic River Cruise Specialist
Emerald Waterways Specialist
Avalon Waterways Specialist