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CruiseReportAmaWaterways AmaReina4A cruise review of AmaWaterways AmaReina in Europe
 
 
by C. Dikmen and
R. Richardson
 
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  AmaReina   Editorial
 
AmaWaterways AmaReina Review
 
December 2014
 
Reviewer Rates This Cruise
 
Itinerary: Basel, Breisach/Freiburg, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Rudesheim/Koblenz, Cologne, Amsterdam

For years, Rickee and I have been wanting to take a Christmas Markets cruise. The opportunity finally came this year with a seven-night sailing aboard AmaWaterways' AmaReina. This was our first sailing aboard AmaWaterways. The cruise line has 15 ships sailing the rivers of Europe and AmaReina is the newest having been launched in 2014. You can find more information about AmaWaterways fleet at www.AmaWaterways.com.

BEFORE THE CRUISE

We arrived in Basel,
Switzerland after a less than enjoyable train ride from Nuremberg, Germany. It was already dark by the time we made our way to Hotel Basel. In fact, in December, it gets dark very early in the day (about 4:30pm) compared to Texas where we live. Hotel Basel is located just off the Marketplatz in Basel, an excellent location for shopping and dining. After we checked in and dropped our luggage in our room, we were able to walk about three blocks to the Christmas market in Basel. It could not have been more convenient. You can read our review of HoEditors' Choice Awards 2014tel Basel here.

Update Jan 31, 2015 - AmaWat
erways was recognized in CruiseReport's 2014 Editors' Choice Awards with BEST Food and Dining in the river cruise line category. You can read all of our Editors' Choice Awards by clicking on the logo to the right.

EMBARKATION

The cruise line arranged for a taxi to pick us up at our hotel at noon, even though embarkation was not scheduled until 3pm. We arrived alongside AmaReina around 12:30 and were told that rooms would not be ready until 3pm, but that we could relax in the Lounge on Deck 3. There was really nothing to see in the immediate area where the ship was docked, so it might have been better to stay at the hotel longer and take a later taxi ride. Nevertheless, the Lounge was set up with a nice selection of finger sandwiches, soup and desserts for those of us who arrived early. The ship was decked out in her Christmas finery and a festive atmosphere prevailed. Later in the cruise, guests would be invited to decorate several Christmas trees that were situated throughout the ship.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
AmaReina docked in Cologne

At 2:30, an announcement was made that our rooms were ready and guests were invited to stop by Reception and obtain their room key. We surrendered our passports (which were returned the next day), received our room keys, and were escorted by one of the stewards to our stateroom (204) where we were pleased to see a beautiful Christmas wreath affixed to our stateroom door.

Ama Waterways Review
Stewards line up to escort guests to their staterooms

THE SHIP

As previously mentioned, AmaReina is the newest ship in the AmaWaterways fleet. She is plenty big at 443 feet long and 38 feet wide. She can carry up to 164 guests and has a crew of 49. The deck layout is a very common design. The Sun Deck is the topmost deck and, other than some deck chairs covered by awnings, is mostly exposed to the elements. There is a quite large hot tub/heated swimming pool, something you don't often see on a river ship.

AmaReina Pool
Pool

AmaWaterways also offers complimentary use of bicycles when in port and these can be seen stowed away on the Sun Deck.

With temperatures dipping into the 30s during the day, the Sun Deck did not see a lot of action on our cruise. However, there were a few brave souls who could be seen making the trek up to the top to enjoy the scenery as we sailed through the Rhine valley. Deck 3 is where Reception is located, just aft of the Lounge. The Lounge is the hub of activity on any river ship and this is certainly the case on AmaReina. Guests walk past a small coffee bar to get into the Lounge. The coffee bar has an automated coffee/hot chocolate machine, very common on river cruise ships. There are three small tables, one of which made a perfect early morning blogging station for me each day. The cookie "tree" was situated in this area and was kept stocked with a variety of cookies available for the taking.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
Coffee bar

Across from the coffee bar is a very nice gift shop, probably the nicest we have seen on a river cruise ship. The little shop was well stocked with jewelry, clothing, scarves and knick-knacks. We bought a small wooden Christmas ornament with the ship's name printed on it.

AmaReina
Gift Shop

The Lounge is large and includes the ship's bar at the back of the room, and a piano and small dance floor in the center of the room. A permanent buffet-style island is built around a stairway leading down to the ship's galley. This buffet is used to serve an early-riser breakfast, light lunch and afternoon tea service. The furnishings in the Lounge, while comfortable, are a bit haphazardly placed around the perimeter of the Lounge. The furniture fabrics can best be described as 'classical'. The decor evokes the feeling that you are sitting in your grandmother's living room. It certainly does not feel like a cruise ship, but more like someone's home.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
Furnishings in the Lounge

There are three stateroom decks (1,2,3). There is a small staircase leading from Reception up to Deck 3 and another down to Deck 2. In reality, the Lounge and Reception are on Deck 2 1/2, sort of between Decks 3 and 2. There is a glass elevator across from Reception that will take guests from Deck 3 all the way to Deck 1. However, the elevator will not take guests to the Sun Deck. This is really not possible on a river ship because the structure required for an elevator on the Sun Deck would make it impossible for the boat to navigate under low bridges.

AmaReina Lobby
Elevator and Reception Desk

Aft on Deck 3 you will find a nicely-equipped, albeit small, Fitness Center with treadmills, stationary bicycles and some weights. Across from the fitness room is a small massage room and beauty salon. At the very back of Deck 3 is The Chef's Table restaurant. This alternate dining venue is available by reservation only and seats 28 guests. More about this in the Food and Dining section.

AmaReina Fitness Center
Fitness Center

There is also a small room located next to Reception, port side, that was never advertised. The room has several small tables, and at at first, appears to be a small library. However, there is a tapas menu board in the room listing some tasty-sounding items. We never heard anyone mention this room during our cruise, nor did we see anyone use the room. One of the Reception employees told me that it is open until 10pm and guests can order from the tapas menu except during lunch and dinner hours.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Our Cat. BB stateroom on Deck 2 (#204) was just a few steps from Reception. At 210 sq. ft., it was one of the largest staterooms we have had on a river cruise and the layout of the room was one of the best we have experienced. The queen-size bed and oversized pillows were very comfortable and there was room under the bed to store our large duffel bags. The long narrow desk across from the bed provided ample work space for my laptop. There is a mini-fridge, which is not stocked, but can be used to hold soft drinks, wine, or bottled water. Staterooms are stocked with six bottles of water (complimentary) and the water is replenished daily. The television is actually a 27" iMac computer with software that allows it to be used as an information center, television or Internet station. The closet has an upper and lower hanging bar, the latter of which prevents anything long from being hung  on the upper bar. We discovered that you can remove the lower bar altogether, which we did. Even with that bar removed, we had ample closet space after our cabin stewardess brought us some more hangers. A large AmaWaterways umbrella was stowed in the closet.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
The queen-size bed

There is a second small closet with a few shelves and an electronic safe. Our safe was a bit finicky and was very difficult to open. After entering the code, you had to give the door a firm jerk to get it to open. We reported this to Reception and were told that someone would come to look at it. However, to our knowledge, nobody every came to check the safe.

The highlight of the stateroom is the two balconies, one French step-out balcony and one full balcony. The French balcony is basically nothing more than a sliding glass door. It does allow you to get some fresh air, or stick your head out to shoot a photo. The outside balcony is more traditional and furnished with two chairs and a small table.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
The full balcony as seen from the French balcony

In our opinion, the two balconies are the best feature of this stateroom. It may sound like a gimmick, but you find yourself using both the French and the full balconies. For example, I was able to lean out the French balcony to take the photo of Rickee (above) as she stood on the full balcony.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
Rickee uses the French balcony

The bathroom was also quite roomy for a river ship stateroom. A nice-sized, marble shower stall offered a choice of a rain shower head, or the more traditional handheld shower wand. A selection of Hydro bathroom amenities were provided including shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion. Each cabin has a hair dryer and Rickee usually plugged it in and used it in the bathroom. A magnifying makeup mirror was attached to the wall in the bathroom, but its location under the towel rack made it tricky to use. Still, it was nice to have it. Vanity space was limited but two narrow shelves could be used to hold your bathroom "stuff" and there were two shelves in a cabinet under the sink, one of which held the hair dryer.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
Bathroom

While the stateroom was comfortable and well laid out, it was not without its flaws. There was virtually no drawer space to be found, just some shelves under the desk and in the closet. The nightstands on either side of the bed had two small, shallow drawers. The iMac/television in our stateroom would not hold its position when the screen was adjusted; it would just flop forward, making it nearly impossible to see from the bed. We mentioned this to the Hotel Manager who said he would have someone come to check on it. They never showed up. We ended up stuffing a bath towel under the screen to hold it up and this "prop" remained there the entire cruise.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
We used a towel to hold the screen up

The bathroom door has a retracting mechanism that squeaks like your Grandma's backporch screen door every time it is opened. This can be very annoying when one person gets up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. And, if the squeaky door does not wake you, the light coming from the window between the bathroom and stateroom will. This electro-luminescent opaque window allows light from the bathroom to illuminate the entire stateroom whenever the bathroom light is turned on. A switch in the bathroom allows you to turn off the opaqueness making the glass transparent. It is a gimmick that adds nothing to the stateroom comfort but, in fact, has the opposite effect.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
This retracting mechanism on the bathroom door should be replaced

There are also not enough electrical outlets in the stateroom to accommodate all of the electronics people travel with today. There is a single 110-volt (US Style) outlet behind the iMac on the desk and a 220-volt on the far side of the desk by the phone. Fortunately, we were able to use the USB ports on the iMac to charge our camera, cell phone and iPad.


Ama Waterways AmaReina
A single 110 outlet on the desk is just not enough

In spite of the little nit-picky shortcomings, I would still rate the stateroom 4 out of 5 for comfort.


FOOD & DINING

One area where AmaReina really excels is in their food and dining experience. I felt like the food was as good, and often better, than what we have had on most river cruise ships. The only real critique would be the slow service during dinner. It seemed to take a long time between courses. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in The Restaurant on Deck 2, just down the stairs (or elevator) from the Reception desk. In a departure from traditional cruise ship design, AmaReina has extensive booth seating in addition to table seating. I am not sure we have ever seen booths on a cruise ship, but, I like it! The booths were very comfortable and spacious; however, booths do present logistical issues for food servers who must reach in front of and over guests to serve dishes to guests sitting on the inside of the booths.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
Booths in The Restaurant

The restaurant serves meals buffet-style at breakfast and lunch and suffers from traffic jams at the two-sided buffet serving stations, a common issue on river cruise ships. In the evenings, guests enjoy full-service menu dining with menus that change each evening. Menu choices were varied and there was a selection of "always available" dishes. As previously mentioned, there could be a considerable wait between courses. A complimentary red and white wine are offered with each meal and there were different wines offered each evening. Wine service during meals was very good.

Ama Waterways AmaReina

One of the featured evening meals was the Chaine des Rotisseurs dinner which truly did show off the culinary talent of Executive Chef Garteh Gradwell and his brigade. The preparation and presentation of the dishes were as good as you will find anywhere. AmaReina guests can enjoy the same high level of presentation at The Chef's Table restaurant on Deck 3 aft. While there is no charge to dine at The Chef's Table, reservations are required. A sailing on AmaReina is not complete without a visit to this 28-seat restaurant. The service in The Chef's Table was spectacular. Chef de Rang, Ricardo, made sure every need was met. The Chef's Table is a small, intimate dining space with a very upscale feeling. The presentation of the degustation menu is 5-star quality. Unfortunately, on our visit to The Chef's Table, the restaurant was dominated by a large group of 24 people sailing together and, during the meal, they each stood up and re-introduced themselves to the group, which disrupted the romance of the dining experience and delayed the delivery of our meal.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
Dessert presentation in The Chef's Table

In addition to the buffet lunch served in the Restaurant, a "light lunch" is offered in the Lounge with soup, sandwiches, a vegetarian dish (usually pasta) and dessert. The "light lunch" is a very convenient option, and much less crowded than lunch in the Restaurant. However, the Lounge is really not set up for dining, with low coffee tables that make it difficult to eat there. A better option would be to take your food into the small tapas room next to Reception where there are tables and chairs better suited for dining.

Standout items throughout the cruise were the soups, which were all good. The pastas at lunch were also very good. And, the pastries were perhaps the best we have ever had on any cruise ship, ocean or river. Kudos to the pastry chef. The cakes were moist and light, not dry and dense like you normally get in Europe. Even the doughnuts served each morning on the Early Riser's breakfast were delicious.

ENTERTAINMENT

Each evening, you could find Peter playing the piano in the Lounge. On several evenings, local entertainers were invited on board to entertain. Of special note was the classical trio, La Strada, who performed one evening. They were amazing.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
La Strada


EXCURSIONS

The centerpiece of any river cruise is the excursions. Having included local tours is one of the great benefits of a river cruise. AmaWaterways is unique in that they offered, at no additional cost, a choice of local tours in many of the cities and towns we visited on this cruise. If you wanted a more leisurely pace, you could sign up for the "gentle walkers" group. We saw the crew bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of some of the guests by doing things such as arranging for a taxi to transport them to the top of a hill where an excursion was to begin. On this cruise, virtually every tour included free time to explore the local Christmas markets. As with every river cruise company, AmaWaterways uses local tour guides to conduct the excursions. We found all of the guides to be very competent with good English.

Ama Waterways AmaReina
Local tour guide in Cologne, Germany

AmaWaterways utilizes the QuietVox sound receivers which allow guests to hear the tour guide's narrative when on a walking tour. Each stateroom has two QuietVox units and guests must remember to take them on each excursion and, upon return to the ship, put them back into the charging units. As I mentioned earlier, there is an umbrella found in the closet that can be used when on an excursion. There was only one umbrella in our stateroom, so I am not sure if one was missing, or if Ama expected us to share a single umbrella. Fortunately, we never needed an umbrella, so it was not an issue.

Christmas Markets
Christmas market in Cologne, Germany

On our last day in Amsterdam, we signed up for a walking tour which turned out to be a very small group of only nine guests. For some reason, the local guide decided not to use the QuietVox system, even though we all brought them along as instructed. This was a bit of a disappointment as Rickee and I like to lag behind the group to take photos or shoot video and, with the QuietVoxes, we don't miss out on any of the guide's narrative. When we did lag behind on this tour, the guide would wait for us to catch up before continuing her narrative which was somewhat disruptive to the others who had to wait.

It should be noted that no bottled water was made available in the lobby for those departing on an excursion, nor was any available on the motor coaches. Therefore, guests should remember to take bottled water from their stateroom before departing for an excursion. There is also a table of bottled water in the fitness center.

For details on the excursions, check out our daily blog below.

STAFF AND CREW

The staff and crew of AmaReina were very nice. Of special note was our room stewardess, Lucia. Lucia was very accommodating during the few days when I was confined to the stateroom with a fever. Even when we left the stateroom late in the morning, we would return an hour later to a clean and made-up stateroom. Cruise Director, Csaba Tamas, was very helpful when I needed to contact British Airways regarding our return flight. He allowed me to use his phone to call the airline. However, there were a few slip-ups. We reported problems with the safe in our room to the Reception desk and were told someone would come by to fix it. They never showed up. Also, when we told the Hotel Manager about the problem with our iMac/TV, he said he would take care of it. That was never addressed either. I can only assume that this might be because it was his first week aboard AmaReina and he was trying to get acclimated.

All of the bar and dining room staff were very friendly and offered good service.

ITINERARY AND BLOG
You can enjoy the details of our Christmas Markets cruise aboard Viking Hlin by reflecting on our daily cruise blog that we posted LIVE from the ship!

View the cruise blog here


SUMMARY

AmaWaterways has already established a loyal following. We met several other guests who had sailed with AmaWaterways several times and have no desire to sail on any other river cruise. That speaks volumes for a cruise line that is competing in one of the fastest-growing segments in the travel industry. We found AmaReina to have a very comfortable "family" feeling. The only issues we encountered were minor and could be easily corrected. We are confident that they will be. And, there was nothing that would stand in the way of an excellent vacation. The Christmas Markets cruise is one that any river cruise aficionado should consider. The European cities we visited take on a completely different atmosphere at this time of year. This was our first sailing with AmaWaterways and we hope it is not our last.


It is common in the travel industry for journalists to be provided with complimentary cruise accommodations, and in some cases, hotel accommodations, for the purpose of a review. While it has not influenced this review, CruiseReport.com adheres to a strict policy of full disclosure to all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, please refer to our Ethics Guidelines
 
 
 
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http://cruisereport.com/cruisereview.aspx?id=2773   |  6/29/2017 5:41:53 AM