|In Ghent, Belgium: The second largest city in Belgium is filled with medieval history, and canals.|
We sailed recently on AMA Waterways’ new vessel, the AMA Prima, launched just this year. Our itinerary was the Tulip Time Cruise, sailing roundtrip from Amsterdam, visiting sites in the Netherlands and Belgium. This was our foray into river cruising and we loved how easy it was to embark and disembark from our vessel. We were always docked right in town, which meant that after a morning of touring, we could return for a lovely lunch in the dining room and then run back out to easily explore on our own.
Best part? AMA Prima holds just 164 people, so there’s never really a crowd.
Life on Board: Fine wine anyone? Wines are included at lunch and dinner. We loved that AMA tries to source them locally as much as possible and because of the small size of the vessels they’re able to stock up interesting vintages while meandering through the waterways. We were absolutely taken with several of the Rieslings served during our cruise. Wines are changed daily, but if you have a favorite from a previous day it doesn’t seem to be a problem to find a bottle or two. Beer and soda are also complimentary. Champagne is available for breakfast (just ask) as is salmon.
Dining: Because galleys on AMA vessels are also small, fresh supplies have to be brought in daily and hence are sourced locally. This means fresh fish all the time or, for example, desserts such as caramel eclairs from a local patisserie are always an option.
There’s no mystery as to which seating you’re up for; there’s one seating at 7:30 p.m. and it’s best to show up when the dining room opens. Nice Touch: The dining room is located forward, not aft, where the engines are.
Breakfast and lunch are buffets but menu options are also provided. For lunch, three-course meals plus dessert are available, with fresh fish, chicken and pasta always on hand. More than one healthy choice course is available at all meal times and cheeseburger and fries are a staple too. Local specialties are regularly featured, such as Schnitzel Vienna Style topped off with an almond peach tart.
Service: Gratuities are not automatically charged to your bill. AMA reports that its staff is paid well and that tipping is discretionary. We found service on our cruise to be delivered in a natural and fun way. The team remembered our likes and dislikes and pampered us as much as they could without being intrusive.
Accommodations: We were in Category AA, which are staterooms—215 square feet in size with double balconies. This means one French balcony and one step-out balcony. The beauty of this configuration was that it provided an entire wall of windows looking out at the passing world. Big, thick terry robes, in-room safes and umbrellas for use on shore rounded out the amenities.
Entertainment: AMA spent €200,000 last year on an “infotainment” center for in-room, flat-screen TVs, which provide local channels (interesting to watch as it gets you better accustomed and more receptive to the destinations you’re enjoying) as well as international TV via satellite. First-run films and music channels covering all genres are another plus. There’s also a keyboard to use the 24/7 Internet access on TV, though we preferred using the free Wi-Fi on our own laptop. Throughout the cruise, we had a strong, uninterrupted connection; AMA had updated its Internet systems so guests will enjoy G3 or satellite strength connectivity.
|The Category AA Staterooms come with double balconies, leaving an entire wall of windows looking at the passing world.|
More fun stuff: AMA provides postcards in staterooms; write out the card and slap an address on it and they will stamp and mail it out for you. In the evenings, aside from turn-down chocolates, we were treated to recipe cards that detailed how to make some of the unique items served that day, including one for a “Hungarian Sauerkraut Soup.”
More Amenities: There’s a great sundeck up top, ideal to sip a glass of wine and watch the land go by, as well as a swimming pool and whirlpool. The specialty Erlebnis Restaurant, provides a chef’s table atmosphere; be sure to reserve ahead.
On Land: Most shore excursions are complimentary and don’t require advance sign-up. “Just come!” says the excursion itinerary directive. New this year, and also inclusive in price, are “Explorer Tours,” which have biking trips or culinary excursions where it’s good to know the number of people in attendance, sign-up is requested. Several of the excursions that required a fair amount of walking were divided into groups—“gentle walkers,” for those who want to stride at a more leisurely pace than others or photographers who want to linger a little longer; and “active walkers,” who may actually wrap up a tour a bit more quickly and thus have more free time to explore independently.
Nice Touch: AMA provides free bottled water throughout the cruise, in staterooms and also on hand for shore excursions.
Bikes Available: AMA provides a fleet of bikes at every stop; these are available for a ride into town or for scheduled touring excursions.
Sailing: Our itinerary was the Tulip Time Cruise sailing roundtrip from Amsterdam, visiting sites in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Here are just some of the highlights of our cruise:
|Hoorn is a stunning residential town on a harbor that shows off the elegant simplicity of Dutch architecture.|
In Amsterdam, we selected the included “Canal Cruise and City Tour,” which took us on a comfortable canal ride through the city. The vessel was enclosed and had a good guide and comfortable restroom facilities to boot. Other options included a walking tour of the city’s upscale Jordaan district, known for its cafés, shops and galleries.
Later that day, we sailed to Hoorn—a stunning residential town on a harbor that shows off the elegant simplicity of Dutch architecture. We wandered through the historical city center (we were tempted to stay here for a few days at least) and after a brief motorcoach ride, wandered through Edam—where we sampled some Edam cheese before exploring the old city center. Other options included a bike tour of North Holland.
In Arnhem, Holland, we visited the Arnhem Airborne Museum, the site of the famous Battle of Arnhem, a top campaign of World War II (think of the film, “A Bridge Too Far”). The museum relays the tragic battle that ensued when the British landed in this very scenic town and eventually lost a grueling fight to the Germans. Other options included an excursion to the Het Loo Palace, which is now a national museum dedicated to the House of Orange-Nassau, a major component of the history of the Netherlands. A bike tour of Arnhem, which is also a thriving student city, was also an option.
On the next day, we visited Antwerp—a flourishing contemporary and historic city that we can’t recommend highly enough. A bustling city center and college town, it’s also replete with cultural historic sites such as Rubens House, former home of the great Flemish Baroque master Rubens to whom AMA dedicates an entire walking tour. For more on Rubens, we visited Antwerp Cathedral, which holds more of the painter’s classics. The excursion provided us with plenty of exposure to the city’s main squares. Another choice included a “Belgian Chocolate, Waffles and Beer” tour, which won raves from other guests, as was a bike tour of Antwerp. A trip to Brussels was also available for an additional fee.
In Ghent, Belgium, we opted for a city tour, where we witnessed the stunning effect sunlight has on this city’s colorful painted buildings and canals; it’s easy to understand why so many masters painted the scenery here. As the sun reached its peak at noon, we found ourselves sunning in the city square, having a cappuccino as locals and travelers ambled around the area surrounded by belfries, churches and cathedrals. Note: A trip from Ghent to Bruges is also an option for an additional fee.
Alas, time constraints caused us to end our cruise in Ghent, but the others went out through Holland to experience the glory of the blooming tulips in Keukenhof Gardens.
We found the Tulip Time Cruise to be ideal for one who has been to Europe in the past and really wants to get up close with towns and villages in areas of the world they’ve always been curious about but would not have ventured off to on their own. Seeing the simplicity of life in Holland and then in Belgium, was a real treat. The awe of visiting great cities like Amsterdam, Antwerp and Brussels, coupled with idyllic stops such as Hoorn and Arnhem, had us talking for weeks about the advantages of traveling through Europe on a river cruise.
More to come: AMA launches the AMA Reina and AMA Sonata next year, sister ships to the AMA Prima.