I cannot heap enough praise on AmaWaterways and the beautiful ms AmaLea. Combined with a delightful host of interesting ports-of-call and a wonderful group of travellers, we experienced a beautiful and unforgettable voyage on the legendary Danube River.
It was wonderful to start our journey with three hotel nights in Prague, one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. The city was spared bombing in WWII, so buildings were left intact, the architecture quite spectacular. Lovely cobblestone sidewalks boast an endless array of patterns, most constructed painstakingly, one by one, with tiny three inch squares. We watched men replacing a sidewalk outside a church and were fascinated as each stone was examined for just the right matching colour.
A tour of the city took us on a walk across the wide and busy Charles Bridge over the Vltava River. It connects the Old Town to the Lesser Town. The bridge is of stone Gothic construction and it is said that egg yolks were mixed into the mortar to strengthen the bridge’s construction!
We visited the imposing Prague Castle, set on a hill and visible from the town below and St. Vitus Cathedral which is connected to the castle. The Cathedral has many beautiful stone sculptures and it is difficult to imagine how these were created and how long it must have taken the sculptors. The stained glass windows are spectacular!
Our hotel, the Grand Majestic Plaza was an excellent choice, centrally located in the Old Town, just a five-minute walk from shops, restaurants and activity. We had a full day on our own to enjoy Prague and pursue individual interests and this was certainly appreciated.
What a fun, “welcome” evening we had, with delicious dinner and Czech entertainment at a local venue, putting everyone in the mood for the start of our voyage on ms AmaLea.
The town of Vilshofen was the embarkation point for our seven night dream cruise on the brown (not blue!) Danube. Embarkation is such an easy, enjoyable experience with AmaWaterways. Immediately we felt so welcomed and relaxed. This was my third voyage with Ama and they never disappoint. Before we knew it, we were settled in, unpacked and ready to get this voyage started! Welcome cocktails on board were followed by an Oktoberfest party at Schweiklberg Abbey a few minutes coach ride away, complete with charming children performing traditional dances and of course beer and pretzels.
Ports visited included the charming town of Passau, Germany, a lively town due to the 10,000 students attending the university here. And imagine…there are 52 churches, with a population of only 50,000 inhabitants. The imposing St. Stephen’s Cathedral has the world’s largest pipe organ, a very impressive site to see.
Each day and each new port offered a choice of shore excursions. In Linz, for example, we could spend the day in the beautiful city of Salzburg on a full or half day tour. Or, you could choose a tour of the Lake District travelling through the spectacular Alps and past gorgeous lakes and valleys. Or, like me, you could explore the small central European town of Cesky Krumlov, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town dates to the Middle Ages and most of its historic buildings remain intact. It is charming, an unexpected delight and so well worth the visit! Fascinating little shops and restaurants line the very narrow cobblestone streets. I could have easily spent a few days here.
A relaxing morning had us enjoying the picturesque landscapes of the Wachau Valley. It was a rainy morning, but it was a mystical feeling standing on deck with our umbrellas taking in the stunning sites as we passed by. Steeply terraced vineyards, medieval villages, a train whose tracks ran alongside the river, stopping at tiny towns along the way; it was beautiful and peaceful and very special.
In Melk, we visited the very impressive Melk Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, once the residence of the wealthy Babenberg family. The abbey was founded in 1089 and extensive restorations on the stunning Baroque buildings have taken place since 1978. The abbey is not to be missed given the opportunity for a visit.
Everyone should visit the elegant city of Vienna at least once in their lifetime. The city is filled with charm and romance, beautiful architecture, fabulous food (like the best schnitzel and tortes dripping with whipped cream and chocolate) plus an endless array of concerts, operas and art. A city tour is just a taste of the city. One needs to get out and walk to really get the feel of this wonderful place. We attended a fabulous Mozart and Strauss evening concert and enjoyed every minute of it!
A morning cruise between Austria and Slovakia brought us to the charming city of Bratislava. We arrived early because the Danube was high and the strong current pushed us quickly along. Bratislava is sometimes called “beauty on the Danube” and for good reason. Almost the entire city centre is a pedestrian zone having many narrow, cobblestone and paved streets, charming painted houses and buildings which have been restored and painted after the fall of Communism. Comical bronze statues have been placed throughout the historic city centre and are a great hit with tourists. One such statue is a man seeming to be sticking his head out of a manhole on the street. Apparently discussions have taken place as to what this man is doing. Is he simply resting or looking up women’s skirts?! The debate continues and it’s all in good fun.
After busy days, evenings on board for some, were quiet, many quite happy to retire to their comfortable and cozy cabins to settle down for the night. For those of us wanting some evening activity, there was always something happening in the ship's lounge. A local folkloric show, opera entertainment, dancing, as the DJ played tunes designed to get everyone up on the floor. There were always opportunities to relax in the lounge to chat with friends or to make new ones.
One evening, my husband and I were invited to dine with the Captain. Much of the time onboard a cruise, the Captain is not visible to passengers, as he is manning the ship, instructing his officers and carrying out many other duties to ensure that everyone is safe, taken care of and having the time of their lives. To have a chance to sit down and speak with him on a personal level, is a very special treat. We heard about his family; his children ages 18 years and 2 years….both with the same woman, he pointed out! We learned that he is Romanian and has been sailing since he was 17 years old. It was fascinating to hear stories of his sailing adventures and his love of the seas and rivers.
Our last port of call was the beautiful city of Budapest, Hungary. A city tour took us to both sides of the Danube, the Buda and the Pest sides. We visited the Great Market Hall, the oldest market in Budapest. It is filled with stall after stall of Hungarian paprikas and other spices, sausages, handicrafts and other Hungarian treasures. Our coach climbed up to Fisherman’s Bastion and castle, set high on a hill overlooking the city and the ever winding Danube. Construction began in 1895 and consists of a series of buildings and towers built to celebrate the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian State. St. Matthias Church, a beautiful medieval structure, is part of the complex and beautiful to explore. In the evening, after dusk, a magical treat was in store. The ship cruised past the spectacular parliament buildings which were covered in golden lights, making for the most magical, beautiful spectacle! It was truly a magnificent way to end this special voyage! But alas, I was not ready for the magic to end.