Written By: Tom and Joanie Ogg CTC MCC – Travel Professional NEWS
Joanie and I were invited to cruise on the AmaLea Christening cruise and accepted the invitation. It was a delight to rekindle an old friendship with Rudi and Kristin, the co-owners of AmaWaterways.
We always fly in at least a day early on every cruise and we were glad that we had on this occasion. We flew Air Canada from San Diego to Toronto, Canada and then connected on Air Canada’s Rouge airline. Upon arrival in Budapest we waited for our luggage which did not appear. After filing a missing luggage claim with a completely inept agent we grabbed a taxi to our hotel.
We stayed at the Budapest Marriott Hotel which proved to be a wonderful choice both for its location and its amenities. It is located on the Danube River just a short distance away from where the river boats dock. With their excellent evening hospitality suite with superb hors d’ oeuvres and wine and a full breakfast buffet included in our room category, I wouldn’t stay anywhere else in Budapest. There is also a Starbucks in the hotel for those looking for a familiar coffee brand.
Since Joanie had been to Budapest several times, we decided to simply explore the city itself and forgo many of the tourist attractions. Budapest is a fascinating city with so much to offer. It is stunning. It is a very walkable city and even climbing the stairs to Buda Castle is not as challenging as one would think. Of course, most people take the funicular but the climb up to the castle offers tremendous views of the Danube and the Parliament in the distance.
We had a wonderful lunch at one of the many restaurants on the Danube and then headed back to our hotel to hopefully find our lost luggage. Unfortunately, it had not shown up. We logged onto the Air Canada lost luggage site to see that it appeared that the luggage was indeed lost. Of course, Joanie was excited at the idea of shopping for new clothes in case the luggage didn’t show and we were then advised by the front desk that all of the stores in Budapest would be closed for the next two days because of a religious holiday. We waited for the last minute to check out of the hotel, which is where the luggage was going to be delivered and headed to the AmaLea to board the ship.
Check in was a breeze and we were assigned a category BA cabin which had a “twin balcony”. Once in our cabin we went to the cruise manager and let him know of our luggage situation. He followed the same process and concluded that it probably wouldn’t make it. We had been invited to have dinner in the Wine Room with the Amalea’s Godmother, Filomena Andre.
Joanie and I explored the AmaLea from top to bottom and were completely impressed with its design, decor and obvious attention to every detail. Since dinner time was rapidly approaching we headed back to our cabin to freshen up. There was a knock at our cabin door with someone saying “luggage delivery.” and all of a sudden, our luggage caught up with us. Totally relieved, we hurried to get ready for dinner very happy to have fresh clothes on. The dinner and conversation were completely enjoyable.
When we finished dinner it was time for the AmaLea to cruise from her existing dock through Budapest to a new location. Cruising the Danube in Budapest at night is simply something everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. The city lights up and is impressively beautiful. We eventually docked close to the Budapest Marriott with all of the other river cruises. We enjoyed listening to the piano music and enjoying some wine before turning in for the night.
There are two cappuccino machines, one in front of the lounge and the other was located in the Captain’s Table Restaurant which was convenient to our cabin. The coffee drinks it produced were excellent and Joanie started every day with a cappuccino that I would get for her. It was truly one of the highlights of the cruise. We got ready for the day and had a very enjoyable breakfast in the main restaurant. The selection of fruit was superb and there was something for everyone. I found the local dried apricots to be exceptionally delicious.
We decided to simply walk to Buda Castle and hike up to it and just enjoy the day. The castle offers stupendous views of all of Budapest and is well worth the visit. We found a local market on the return trip to the AmaLea and tried some of the local dishes. We were back on the ship in plenty of time for the 5pm departure. Cruising out of Budapest is the highlight of the cruise. We had been to dinner at the Captain’s Table with the Godmother of the AmaLea, Filomena Andre. We dined with some wonderful people and thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at the Captain’s Table. This is a “must do” for anyone sailing on the AmaLea.
We woke up docked in Bratislava, Slovakia. After a wonderful breakfast we decided to explore Bratislava on foot. Bratislava is a wonderful city with the perfect blend of old and new The main square is the focal point of shopping streets loaded with high quality fashion and other unique boutiques, shops and stores. It is sparkling clean and very enjoyable to explore. Arriving at the main square is breath taking and after shopping we stopped to sample the Slovakian beer, which was ice cold and excellent. Since the AmaLea was departing at 1pm for Vienna, Austria we made our way back to the ship in plenty of time for a special BBQ on the Sun Deck. Cruising in the afternoon up the Danube was simply wonderful and relaxing.
We arrived in Vienna and docked late in the evening and spent the night dockside. Joanie had signed up for a bike tour so I decided to take the Hop On Hop Off bus into Vienna on my own. The HoHo bus stops right in the middle of the river cruise docking area so it was an easy decision to make. While there were tours I could have taken I always like to take off on my own to see what I can find. I explored an older area of Vienna and then decided to make it back to the ship to greet Joanie as she returned from the bike tour. It worked out great. After a wonderful lunch onboard, Joanie and I took the first shuttle into Vienna and really enjoyed the city and its shopping and culture. We had decided not to do the Opera and elected to simply stay on the ship for the evening. Vienna is such a rich place with history and cultural events it would take weeks to really explore all it has to offer. We departed Vienna around midnight for our next port.
Weissenkirchen to Grein, Austria
We arrived at Weissenkirchen, Austria around 9am. This port is really just a drop off place for the various tours and activities offered on the ship. Joanie and I had signed up for a 21-mile bike tour of the famous Wachau Valley. I would highly suggest this tour for anyone as it awards its members with astonishing views and a unique experience. The ride meanders through small villages, grape vineyards, apricot groves and every kind of flora known to man. It follows the Danube for most of its route and we kept seeing the AmaLea as she worked her way up river. All in all, it was an exceptional experience. The bike tour terminated in the village of Melk where there was free time to shop and have a glass of wine, or two. We then boarded a motor coach and made our way through the countryside to the village of Ybbs where the AmaLea was waiting for us. We departed Ybbs and cruised to Grein for a short stay.
Since we had already visited Salzburg, Joanie and I elected to take the tour into the Czech Republic and a village named Cesky Krumlov. While the motor coach ride was lengthy, the scenery was stunning. We crossed the border and made our way to Cesky Krunlov, circled the village and then parked a distance from the park that conceals the walled entrance into the old city. Cesky Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is easy to see why it is. We enjoyed exploring the village and also got some grand daughter shopping accomplished. We found a quaint little restaurant and had a very enjoyable meal with wine. Finally we all met in the main square and returned to the motor coach and Linz. We had another wonderful evening and slept like babies.
We arrived in Passau right after breakfast and Joanie and I decided to simply explore Passau on our own. Joanie was familiar with Passau and knew right where the best shopping was so off we went. Passau is a wonderful port with high quality shopping and quaint sidewalk restaurants. There is a lot to see and do in Passau, but with our limited time we focused on doing some final shopping for our grand daughters. We grabbed a beer and a snack before heading back to the ship for our departure to Vilshofen and the Christening Ceremony.
As we approached the dock in Vilshofen you could hear the band playing and see tents waiting for the AmaLea to arrive…..and what an arrival it was! The band was playing celebratory music and at the end of the gangway there were tents and decorations galore. Captain Jan de Bruijn, Rudi Schreiner, President and Co-Owner and Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner of AmaWaterways greeted each and every passenger on the gangway as they debarked the ship for the christening ceremony. The local community was there in force and were serving local specialties to the guests. One booth was serving local donuts that were being cooked on the spot and were simply delicious. One of the coolest things that was going on was the raising of a huge May Pole that was designed and built specifically to celebrate the christening of the AmaLea. The telephone pole sized May Pole was lifted by a group of men using nothing more than their strength and some braces that they moved up the pole as they lifted it each time. There was another local band playing German music and the festivities really set the stage for the christening.
The formal christening ceremony started with the introducing of several dignitaries who all praised AmaWaterways and the new AmaLea. A Priest then officially blessed the AmaLea and those in attendance by sprinkling holy water on the guests and the ship Rudi Schreiner, President and Co-Owner of AmaWaterways spoke to the gathering in both German and English. Rudi was followed by Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner of AmaWaterways. Kristin introduced AmaLea Godmother, Filomena Andre who spoke about the travel industry and AmaWaterways. Filomena has a rich history in the travel industry and is currently the Vice President for AAA Travel Products & Services. Kristin also translated Filomena’s speech into German for the audience. Following the speeches the Godmother, Rudi, Kristin and others made their way ship side and the awaiting bottle of Champagne dangling from the ship’s davit. Filomena’s first attempt to break the bottle glanced off the bow, however the second attempt produced a very satisfying sound with champagne flying everywhere. And, the AmaLea was now a blessed and christened ship.
The AmaLea lounge was packed with people and the mood was very festive. Our final dinner on board was extremely satisfying and was followed by a sound sleep preparing for our early morning transfer to the Munich airport. AmaWaterways even provided a tour guide on the transfer and assistance in getting to the appropriate check-in counter. Before we knew it we were in the air heading to San Francisco, California to connect with our flight to San Diego.
With wonderful memories of our christening cruise on the AmaLea and the old and new friends that we touched, we had a very excellent experience and want to thank AmaWaterways for making the trip a reality.