Before getting into the Food & Wine and travel experiences,
I thought I would go through a number of first impressions and observations concerning things that I, or others, did
not think of…or at least did not think through…before starting our river cruise on the AmaCerto. They will give context to the articles that follow. (Answering them up front may
well enhance your river cruise or, at least, your decision as to whether a
river cruise is right for you.)
1. Rivers? We are traveling from Amsterdam to Budapest,
but the vast majority of people on this cruise really had no idea what rivers
we were traveling on or how or when we change rivers. We are sailing on the Rhine, Main and Danube
rivers. We travel upstream (against the
current) all the way to the Main River (pronounced “Mine”) where we will eventually
pass the Continental Divide and then be going downstream as we will be on the Danube.
|The Rhine River at Sunset|
2. Countries? We are visiting Netherlands, Germany,
Austria, Slovakia and Hungary including the capitals of Amsterdam, Vienna, Bratislava
and Budapest. I am quite confident many
people on this cruise don’t realize Slovakia is on this busy itinerary.
Lots of them. Sixty eight (68) of
them. The lazy curves in the river they
show you on the brochures are there, but there are plenty of concrete walls you
can reach out and touch as our ship traverses lock after lock (especially on
the Main River) raising or lowering the ship 10+ feet at a time. (And there are industrial parts of the rivers
which are passed through as well.) Between the process of pumping water in or out and waiting for other ships, it takes a good bit of time that isn’t always scheduled as the locks work on a first come-first served basis.
|The locks are this close. |
Notice how high the water will go
|The gates are closed but the water is filling up the lock.|
|The gates open and we are on our way. |
Just one of 68 times we do this!
4. Docks? Unlike ocean cruises, there times when you
dock you are going to be tied up to other ships where you (or they) will walk
through their lobby or over their sun deck.
It sounds strange, but it works quite seamlessly. What else does this mean? It means you may want to keep your stateroom curtains
closed as the neighboring ship is literally right in your face! Also, because the river height varies greatly,
when the river is lower you may be tied up to a bulkhead (wall) so you will not
have any view. But, of course, other
times you do have a beautiful scenic view.
What you will not experience is much in the way of cruise terminals or
security lines. (Even your boarding card is literally a cardboard card.)
|No terminal, just a big wall and a pontoon to dock at.|
5. Speed? As the AmaCerto gets underway I immediately
notice one thing I did not expect…and, thinking back, I have no idea why not: The ship moves much faster than I thought it
would. Visions of virtually drifting
down the river are crushed, as the AmaCerto goes upstream fighting against a current
increasing to about 6 knots. And then
there is the other thing that strikes me:
We are traveling a long distance and it takes a lot of time and speed to
get there. Not to worry, there is plenty of lazy cruising too!
6. Time in port?
While there are ports where you will spend the
better part of the day, usually you spend only a few hours in port…sometimes
only in the evening. We are traveling
1,811 kilometers (1,125 miles) in essentially 12 days so we really do need to
keep moving. While many of the ports are
small walkable towns, there are only a few times that long leisurely lunches or
hours of shopping are going to happen.
But, it is quite doable (as I will write later). I have noticed that the timing of the ships
in port are well manages, so that the small villages might have two ships in
port so as not to overwhelm them.
The vast majority of tours are included in
your cruise fare. There are a few that
are “limited edition” tours which simply means they are capacity
controlled. And there are a few that are
extra cost. While it is early days, the
overall the AmaWaterways guides are friendly, professional and knowledgeable. This is a huge help when you are taking a
brief tour as you come away feeling like you learned something without rapid
fire facts being shot at you or you are told nothing. And they are focused on getting you back in time for the next meal, so those luncheons off the ship aren’t going to happen too often unless you make them happen.
So now, let’s talk about the onboard food and wine
Onboard an AmaWaterways river cruise is a culinary
experience, but with a focus on its overall market; not necessarily the foodie
or wine buff, though efforts are made to keep them happy too. What do I mean by this?
AmaWaterways is very good about offering local fare and
wines while also offering a menu that both the common North American palate and
vegetarian palate can also enjoy. So, for
example, while cruising in Netherlands Dutch meatballs were offered and while
cruising in Germany pork schnitzel and spaetzle (thin pan fried breaded meat
and small flour dumplings), marinated beef with pickled red cabbage and Reuben
sandwiches, among other German fare, are offered. Fish is a regular offering, along with a vegetarian option, with steaks, salmon and the like (as well as really good potato wedges!) always availoable. Usually, but not always, at
least one of the wines offered with the meal is from the region but it always pairs well with the menu.
Other things that AmaWaterways does well on the culinary side of things:
There is always having gluten-free options both
in the Restaurant and for light breakfast, snack and light lunches in the
There are always a really good selection of cheeses and
breads available at meals…and I mean really good on both counts!
The soups are almost uniformly excellent with no
flour fillers; and when it says “cream” it usually doesn’t mean milk cream but creamed
vegetables and/or a foam of cream.
|AmaWaterways does bread right. |
Quite an impressive daily spread….and delicious too!
There are regular “surprises” late morning such as Rudesheimer coffee on the way to Rudesheim and German Fruhschoppen (beer, three kinds of sausages, bretzels, potato salad and more) on our way to Bamburg.
AmaWaterways’ wines are generally quite acceptable and
inoffensive (which is good), but it also creates a bit of an unusual phenomenon. As close to 99% of the guests are quite
satisfied with the wines offered complimentary at lunch and dinner, there is
almost zero demand for some pretty wonderful extra-cost wines. While I know they exist because I made some
selections for my Food & Wine Tasting onboard later in the cruise, getting
a wine list was a bit of a challenge.
And when ordering one it sort of surprises the staff as, with limited
space onboard, the wines are essentially stored in a separate area.
What is interesting is that it is AmaWaterways policy that your wine glass be truly filled at lunch and dinner. AmaWaterways wants you to feel like complimentary is, in fact, a compliment and not a point of frustration.
A criticism: Other drinks are paid for and are by a carefully measured shot. So for me to have a “normal” Glenfiddich the 6.50 Euro price is actually 13 Euros, or about $16.50 per drink. That is a bit steep. But the bartender is nice and is as accommodating as he can be.
There are also complimentary wine tastings offered both as a
tour and as an evening tasting. In
Kitzingen an evening wine tasting in one of Germany’s oldest cellars is
offered, which most everyone found as a fun hour or, led by a costumed “leader” and the wine princess of the neighboring town. It was a cute introduction to the various wines of the region (if not the best).
|AmaWaterway’s evening Wine Tasting in Kitzingen, Germany|
Just outside of Wertheim a “curious” tasting at Johannes Deppisch
Winery was offered as a tour (and it was the day after the Goldring Travel Private Riesling
Tasting which I will write about in the next article). Because it was a “limited edition” tour I expected more of a true tasting, but it definitely focused on the majority of those
who took the tour – who loved it, but for me it was painful. We arrived at Deppisch Winery and are greeted by the owner, who is
wearing lederhosen and a wooden bow tie holding a tray of a Josecco Pink trocken
(dry) sparkling wine (which sucked about any moisture I had out of my mouth and
sells for about 4 euros a bottle).
|Lederhosen and a Wooden Bow Tie|
Clear warning signs…or the sign of a good time?
From there we were led through the gift shop into the
tasting room where we were served a Dornfelder trocken red wine accompanied by “bacon
cake” a/k/a bacon quiche….thankfully (and ‘nuf said). Anyone who does even semi-serious wine
tastings knows that you (a) never serve a red wine first and (b) never serve a
fatty strong flavored smoked or fried food (bacon is “all of the above”) if you
are going to be following with lighter wines. It was downhill from there.
From this, however, comes the reality of wine tasting,
cruising and people: The vast majority
of the AmaWaterways guests loved the wine tasting and loved the
lederhosen/wooden bow-tied gentleman. Maybe I was spoiled from the day before. Maybe I am a bit of a wine snob. Maybe I just didn’t get it. Maybe I did get it.
The point is when it comes to food and wine AmaWaterways
does a very good job of offering something that appeals to everyone.