EARLY SUMMER ON THE RHINE WITH AMAWATERWAYS
Switzerland, France, Germany and The Netherlands
Summer came early this year in the heart of Europe and we were there with AmaWaterways to enjoy it. The landscape was green, the flowers were in bloom, and the sun was shining … a lot. Mid-May, slightly prior to peak season meant the crowds were small, the streets of the towns and villages were easy to navigate, and the cafés and restaurants had room to accommodate tourists like Denis and me eager to enjoy the local flavor.
We boarded the AmaSonata in Basel after a delightful stay in this charming Swiss city where the international art fair, Art Basel, was born. We transferred from our old historic hotel, the Hotel Krafft, situated along the Rhine River to our river cruise ship, and prepared for our journey northward down the Rhine into France, through Germany and finally into the Netherlands.
The Rhine is indisputably one of the most historically influential rivers in Europe and we were looking forward to a memorable journey into the Rhineland which had held such a powerful influence on 19th century romanticism. After all, authors such as Goethe, Victor Hugo, and Mark Twain and artists like William Turner as well as composers such as Wagner all were known to have drawn inspiration from the fabulous historic tales and stunning natural beauty of this region of the world.
The elegant AmaSonata provided the perfect home base for enjoyment and relaxation. Not only are the luxurious AmaWaterways ships designed for maximum comfort but the employees aboard are clearly well-trained to provide top-notch service with warm smiles. Plus, they are delightfully passionate about what they do. Hotel Manager on board the AmaSonata, David Calvo, led the way with his friendliness, charm and eagerness to assist the passengers.
Launched in 2014, the AmaSonata features a host of outstanding features. Apart from the special stateroom features, some of our favorite spots on board the ship are the intimate not-to-be-missed Chef’s Table with its gourmet tasting menu, open kitchen and spectacular sunset views, the small but very adequate fitness center and spa, the Al Fresco dining terrace off the Observation Lounge, and the Sun Deck with its many lounge chairs protected by umbrellas and, most especially, its heated swimming pool with its fabulous swim-up bar with underwater stools … definitely the best spot on board ship in warm weather for viewing the passing scenery while enjoying a chilled glass of wine!
Of course, we also enjoyed the meals in the ship’s main dining room, the Main Restaurant, which features dishes made from fresh local ingredients as well as some local specialties. I loved the Roasted Suckling Pig impressively cooked by the chef to perfection, and could have devoured a side of Käsespätzle … flour dumplings with cheese … every day! Plus, I should mention that we bonded early on with our favorite waiter Yani and felt as if we had our own private butler. No special request was too much, and he very quickly learned to anticipate all our needs. Devoted service indeed.
As for as the veritable panoply of food on board ship, from time to time after a long afternoon of touring we couldn’t resist indulging in a spot of afternoon tea served daily in the Main Lounge and Bar after. Hint — afternoon tea is where I loved to enjoy the regional dessert specialties, such as Black Forest Cake.
The staterooms on board the AmaSonata, like those on the other new AmaWaterways ships, are thoughtfully designed and have many outstanding features, the most exceptional of which is the AmaWaterways exclusive “twin balconies”, available in most staterooms. This feature includes a traditional outdoor balcony experience with chairs & a table for relaxing and viewing as well as an indoor French alcove viewing experience with chairs for ideal viewing from inside the cabin with the sliding glass doors open or closed to suit the weather. We enjoyed both these “balconies” regularly, as they provided ideal viewing experiences any time of day, no matter the weather, from the privacy of our room.
What else did I particularly appreciate about the staterooms? Lots of TLC went into the design of the principal features. Recessed lighting, designed for comfort and ambiance, provides a choice … direct or indirect, romantic or nightlight convenience. Then there is the closet which offers plenty of room for both hanging and folded clothing as well as a large safe for valuables. Plus, it automatically illuminates when the closet door is opened — a feature I adore. As for the large desk/dressing table– it not only serves to house a mini-fridge and extra storage space below the granite top, but it also wisely provides lots of space for plugging in electronics which is a must for us. While we always travel with our own hotspots, we were also impressed by the fact that the stateroom TV provides internet access.
Then there was the marble bathroom. Sizable, roomy, with its storage for all our toiletry paraphernalia thanks to the long wall-to-wall shelf above the sink and the roomy cabinet space below the sink. Plus, I think the natural light option is an awesome feature — with the flick of a switch I could convert the glass window along the bathroom wall opposite the mirror and giving onto the bedroom from an “opaque” to “transparent” state. In so doing, the natural sunlight pouring into the bedroom when the curtains are open also illuminates the bathroom. And I love natural lighting in a bathroom for putting on makeup! Flick again, and I could simply convert that transparent window back to “opaque” for privacy. Cleverly designed and very much appreciated.
Last but not least as I think of our stateroom, was our super Stateroom Attendant. Perfect service, going the extra mile, always with a smile.
Lifestyle on board the AmaSonata was friendly and relaxing, and while we gravitated towards the food experiences, we also enjoyed the entertainment on board ship in the evening. There was always some form of cultural experience, from a classical concert to local musicians playing German folk music, to dancing in the Main Lounge & Bar. And then there was the piano player … making sure the ambiance in the Main Lounge & Bar always created the perfect mood to enjoy the good life on board!
My favorite evening was spent off ship in the extremely charming town of Rüdesheimer. I loved the entire experience, from start to finish. We left the ship by foot and boarded an open-air mini-train called Winzerexpress which took us into town where we walked for a few moments to the Schloss Rüdesheimer. There we sat down with some friendly Italians from our ship and were served what else? – but Rüdesheimer Coffee … a delicious hot drink of coffee flambéed with brandy and sugar cubes and garnished with whip cream. The evening flew by as we sipped our coffee, chatted with our new friends, and enjoyed the live German folk music which engendered a sing-along from time-to-time.
AmaWaterways offers an excellent choice of excursions on this absolutely “enchanting” Rhine River cruise — from “gentle” to “moderate”, to biking and hiking. An excursion for all ages, and an ideal range of choices for inter-generational family traveling. Plus, the convenience of a 9am departure.
Moreover, AmaWaterways is justifiably proud of its fleet of bikes for passengers to enjoy on their own or on guided bike tours. We saw many passengers return from an excursion, and then depart again almost immediately for a scenic bike ride around the town.
As for us, we tended to favor the moderate excursions and simply stayed in town after finishing a tour to go walking hand-in-hand and discover places we had not seen on the tour, or return to places to which the tour guide had introduced us, such as a museum, for more in-depth exploration.
Each port of call on this Rhine River cruise has its own specific charm. My fondest memories come from three experiences in particular, Riquewihr, Rüdesheim and our afternoon cruising through the Rhine gorge and by the Rhine castles and ruins …
Once our extremely knowledgeable guide completed her walking tour in the extraordinarily picturesque historic town of Riquewihr in the French province of Alsace, we set out on our own to explore this town designated as one of the”Plus Beaux Villages de France”. After sampling some divine artisanal French jams in a shop – with my favorites being Petales de roses (“Rose Petal”) and Asperge d’Alsace (“Alsatian Asparagus”) –, we visited local art galleries, walked around the town for more photo ops, and finally sat down outside at a local restaurant. There we indulged ourselves with a light and delicious Tourte Flamande accompanied by a crisp, well-chilled local French Riesling. A superb morning.
I highly recommend the gondola ride over the vineyards in Rüdesheim. The views are simply stunning, and the tour at the top in Niederwald landscape park provides an excellent lesson in German history, with a focus on the Niederwalddenkmal, a huge monument inaugurated in 1883 to commemorate the unification of Germany.
Finally, cruising through the Rhine gorge is indisputably la crème de la crème of this cruise. We sat up on the sun deck in comfy lounge chairs underneath a large umbrella to protect us from the hot afternoon sun, and listened to a splendid narration of castle after castle, Schloss after Schloss, as we followed along on our info sheet and sipped one of the myriad of cocktails offered, not to mention the delicious Rüdesheimer Coffee also available. Denis kept jumping up and down to grab the perfect photo. I just had to turn my head from side to side. Fairly tale memories of 20+ castles situated in the heart of the romantic Rhineland between Rüdesheim and Koblenz.
Thank you AmaWaterways for hosting us on this magnificent, inspirational and most memorable journey. Your warm hospitality and eagerness to ensure our comfort and happiness made our trip that much more enjoyable.
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