Luxury River Cruising with AMA WATERWAYS through
Text and photos by Pat Middleton and Rich Middleton. © Great River Publishing, Stoddard, Wis.
May not be used in any format without permission of Great River Publishing.
For nearly twenty years, steamboating on America's Rivers, and learning about the heritage and natural history of our Mississippi River towns have entirely captivated me …. BUT with our cruising steamboats inexcusably shut down for the moment, the European waterways have been teasing me to come explore a few more of the world's most renown rivers.
My first cruise of the German rivers occurred during the last week of May, traveling with AMA Waterways for seven days on the Amacello from Trier to Nuremberg, Germany on the Mosel, Main, and Rhine Rivers. River buffs will enjoy experiencing locks, watching buoys and barges, and dipping into the history of flooding along the hardest working river in the world. Travel buffs will relish the incredible ease of riverboat travel, and the rich heritage of the German villages along these rivers. 11th century, 14th century, 16th century… even Roman and Celt. It’s all right there along these rivers.
AMA WATERWAYS "EUROPE'S HEARTLAND" CRUISE MAP
A map of our cruise with AMA WATERWAYS begins in TRIER, Germany, on the Mosel River. We wafted along the Mosel northeast to Koblenz and then entered the hard-working Rhine River to Mainz where we began our cruise along the Main (pronounced "mine") River from Wurzburg to Bamberg. At Bamberg we began "lock jumping" in the Main-Danube canal to Nuremberg, or as close as we could get, given that we had some 22 barges up ahead of us. As in the US, passenger boats have a right of way over the commercial barges, but the lockmasters have the final word about who goes next.
The Main-Danube Canal provides river access from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Completed in 1992, the canal is the culmination of a vision birthed by Charlemagne and King Ludwig the 1st in the Middle Ages!
We were amazed by the number of barges working the Rhine River, and amazed to see the high river bluffs almost completely cross-hatched into individual terraced vineyards… some tiny plots were obviously medieval, others enlarged and improved for modern-day equipment.
FOR THE RIVER CRUISE BUFFS
Those who have have cruised the Mississippi River with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company will love cruising with AMA WATERWAYS on the rivers of Europe. Our boat, the Amacello was new in 2008, but it is not the newest in this expanding fleet. There were two more this year! As quickly as we lost our 4 cruising steamboats on American rivers in 2009, the European fleet is multiplying on all fronts.
And rightfully so.
The Amacello, offered personal service from the entire crew, both navigation and hotel staff, that was reminiscent of the 1990s on the Delta Queen boats. The mostly Romanian staff on our boat were justifiably proud of their sparkling boat, the exquisitely presented meals, and the free flowing dinner wine. The vessel was designed especially for the rivers of Europe… most notably its retractable pilot house that made it possible for the boat to slip under even Medieval bridges.
Locks along the rivers will offer many points of comparison to the Mississippi River. Capt. Vlad, our Romanian-born Captain, had exterior navigation stations on either side of the pilot house for “locking thru”. We were told there was about one foot of clearance for the boat on either side, but it sure looked like inches!! In all, we passed through nine locks on the Mosel River, and another dozen or more on the final two days of our trip between Bamberg and Nuremberg on the Main-Danube Canal. The largest locks, built since 1992, measured approximately 975' x 40', and provided lifts of 9 to 19 feet.
The familiar buoys, red and green, are used on the rivers to mark the channel, while the locks themselves operate not only by gravity but also with pumps.
Stories of river flooding through the centuries abounded in the river towns and villages we visited along the way. We saw photos and frequently notations about how high various floods were chiseled into the rock of the centuries old buildings.
“We allow the river to flow THROUGH these ancient buildings,” one of the residents told us. “When the river is coming, we move everything upstairs and throw open the doors and windows on the ground floor. If we didn’t, these old cross-timbered houses would simply pop up and float away like fishing bobbers!”
Many of the buildings had high water marks chiseled into the doorways.
The amenities of the Amacello were first rate, with a fitness room, relaxation area, dry sauna, and free wi-fi access at both the stern and in the comfortable viewing salon at the forward end of the boat. A sundeck, Jacuzzi hot tub, and jogging track went mostly unused during our damp May voyage, but it will be the place to be in fine weather!
Each evening we received a new copy of “The Daily Cruiser” which provided a detailed schedule for the next day and a brief overview of historical and cultural highlights for the day. A “daily newspaper” was also available with American, Canadian, and Australian editions for the three largest nationalities represented among the passengers on our cruise. Our Cruise Director providing daily briefings on events of the next day just before we went to dinner and in depth historical information daily at her station.
Espresso coffees, were available throughout the day with cookies, the ship’s bar was always open, and local wines were included with the open seating dinner. We found all food displays (pastry at breakfast, luncheons in the viewing saloon, dessert tables and buffets in the dining room) to be sumptuous day after day. The presentation of salads, desserts and main meals were artful as well as unfailingly delicious. The soups in particular were not to be missed!! Table dressings honorably show cased the presentation of the meals.
As our trip began with flights out of the Midwest, Arthur Frommer’s warning rang in my ears… “Why risk missing your boat?? When cruising, plan to arrive the day before your departure!”
Well, after flying all winter, we hardly imagined a spring flight delay from the Midwest … but thunderstorms from Chicago to Minneapolis delayed our flight possibilities for exactly 24 hours… enough to mean we would be a day late on our cruise, and miss some of the Mosel River section! A train connection from the Frankfurt airport made it relatively easy to catch our boat a day later in Zell, but we were sorry to miss that first day! Email made it easy for us to stay in touch with the boat and pinpoint the Amacello’s location for when we finally did arrive.
As it was, we could not have arrived to find our boat at a more delightful village than Zell… we arrived at dusk, just before dinner was served on the Amacello… the ship’s lights were aglow and our first shore excursion after dinner included a local polka band, two free wine vouchers for the local Schwartz Katz wine. What a leisurely evening in our first medieval village! We took in the show-cased Hummel figurines, the watch towers, the local mosel wines, the village band. There would be many more villages, many more local events, but this first was memorable, and we were finally “home” at our floating hotel for the next week.
We found that many of our fellow passengers were experiencing their FIRST river cruise experience and they shared our delight in the quiet luxury of river boat travel. One couple had been on several cruises, and had brought their parents along to introduce them to river cruising.
"There is no such thing as rough water in a river boat, and with free wines and shore excursions, the value is unbeatable!! We're just doing our best to let people know!"
Our next day was a cruising day, first on the Mosel to Koblenz, then through the Rhine Gorge and its scenic 30-some castles and ruins. The bluffs along the Mosel are cross-hatched with some 2600 individual vineyards! This northern portion of Bavaria is considered to be at the northernmost latitude for growing wine Grapes. Vineyards were started by Romans in the 4th century with Riesling grapes being most prominent along the Mosel. The Mosel enters the Rhine at Koblenz, after 341 miles meandering from the Vosges Mountains in France, through Luxembourg, and Germany. The city name, Koblenz, is a variation of the Celtic and German words for "confluence."
Cabins on the Amacello were roomy, and each had wide balcony windows which we threw open each morning to listen to birds and watch the sun rise. There is a charge for in-room internet, but access in the stern and the forward lounges were free. Be sure to bring converters from European electrical plugs to American. I recommend you bring at least two converters. We had camera batteries and netbook to charge, curling iron, etc. So two converters will almost constantly in use.
There are very few “surprise” expenses while riding AMA WATERWAYS. Dinner wines are included, shore excursions are included, and more often than not special community events were included via vouchers.
Shore excursions from the Amacello were memorable.. Professionally trained Heritage Guides were available at every shore stop, where we self-divided into easy or active walking groups. Special audio equipment with individual ear buds made hearing the lectures easy and made it unnecessary to try to stay clustered around our guide.
Whereas in the USA, we might often skip a shore cruise to simply enjoy the boat, here, as enjoyable as a day on the boat would have been, the shore trips proved to be something you wouldn’t WANT to miss.
Several shore trips were to UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES, including the old city of BAMBERG, and the “Residenz” of the former Prince Bishops in Wurzburg... The Gutenberg Museum in Mainz is not to be missed and camera’s must be at the ready during the afternoon cruise of the RHINE RIVER GORGE with its 30 castles! Side trips to the Heidelberg Castle on the Neckar River, to the Terezin Labor Camp near Prague, and to the village of Rothenberg were among several optional tours offered to passengers.
One of our favorite tours, because it was so unusual, was the mechanical instruments museum in the village of Ruedesheim. What started out as a hobby became a miracle as a a retired social worker collected and reassembled the magnificent early mechanical "juke boxes" which played up to 16 different instruments mechanically, and all without electricity!!
The big surprise for us was that many of these “medieval villages” and old city centers we enjoyed visiting were 70% reconstructed after the wars! Locals made a conscious decision that their communities would be rebuilt to closely resemble the pre-war years.
Most nights there was also on-board entertainment… Karl-Heinz Ittig demonstrated Glass Blowing, Miltenberg provided talented local entertainers, while another evening offered a lecture on Bavarian beers with a beer tasting opportunity. As with every other offering on board, each of the events was entertaining and taught us a bit more about the cultures we were visiting.
The last evening on board the Amacello, the Daily Cruiser threw out a tantalizing teaser…
“Where would you like to go next… Serbia, Croatia, or Romania on the Danube? Holland or Belgium in the Spring? Paris to Barcelona on the Mediterranean Sea? Or perhaps St. Petersburg to Moscow? Or the Mekong River? And all on the newest river boats in Europe!”
AMA Waterways (originally Amadeus) now offers six premier river boats… The MS Amadagio (2006), the MS Amalegro (2007), the MS Amacello and the Amadante (2008) and the Amalyra and Amadolce (2009).
Any one of those journeys, on any one of the AMA boats would count as one of the most relaxing and fascinating trips of a traveling life time!!
Visit www.AMAWATERWAYS.com to pick out your next river cruise.
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