Passau, Germany is one of the most picturesque towns along the Danube.
Passau, Germany is one of the most picturesque towns along the Danube.

There were smiling faces and appreciative applause when the champagne bottle smashed against the hull of the vessel and the AmaSerena was officially christened last August. The new and well-crafted rivership had some months earlier been added to AmaWaterways’ fleet and had just concluded a 7-day cruise on the Danube River from Budapest, Hungary to Vilshofen, Germany. Another rivership’s christening may not be fascinating news, but it underscores the growing market in river cruising both in itineraries and potential first-time river cruise clients.

According to Rudi Schreiner, AmaWaterways’ president and co-owner, the Danube River cruise offers one of the best experiences for the first-time river cruiser because it features interesting small towns and villages in addition to well-known European cities such as Vienna and Budapest. Schreiner makes a good point. The balanced mix of villages, towns and major cities, plus the various options to explore them, is a major highlight. Rhine and Rhone rivers are also viable recommendations for an initial river cruise, he adds.

Schreiner feels that besides the destinations, the amenities of the rivership, creative culinary offerings and personalized service give travel agents an attractive package to sell “first-timers” and retain clients.

the itinerary
Embarking from Budapest after a day-and-a-half of exploring that fascinating Hungarian city—the castle grounds alone are enough to make one weak in the knees for their tremendous beauty—the christening cruise’s first stop was Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, with its Gothic churches and monasteries, Baroque and Rococo palaces, and serene parks. Then it’s on to Vienna, probably one of Europe’s most interesting and memorable destinations—a perfect blend of the present and the past. Architectural wonders of palaces, churches, government buildings and historical sites abound. And, after a day of sightseeing awe, what could be more memorable of both Vienna and the Danube than an evening concert featuring the music of Mozart and Strauss.

Next stop is a morning visit to Durnstein. It’s a small Austrian town worthy of a leisurely stroll through its tranquil streets or a visit to the ruins of Durnstein Castle, which once held England’s Richard the Lionheart as its prisoner. Nestled in the country’s Wachau Valley—a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for producing some of Austria’s renowned white wines—Durnstein was the starting point for approximately two dozen cycling enthusiast passengers, who hopped on the two-wheelers for a 3-hour bike ride to Melk, where they met the ship that same afternoon. The availability of bikes for tours is part of river cruising sightseeing flexibility. In addition to cycling, there are bus tours in the larger cities, walking tours with knowledgeable guides, or leisure walks for those who want to venture on their own.

Melk itself harbors an impressive and breathtaking Benedictine abbey dating back almost a thousand years. Originally a palace, it’s located on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube River and is a feast for the eyes. Still operational, it houses a school, a unique and stunning library that plays a role in Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose” (one of the protagonists is named “Adso of Melk” as a tribute to the abbey and its famous library), and numerous rooms for visitors to view the grandeur of yesteryear—Empress Maria Theresa slept here.

The next morning, the AmaSerena arrives in Linz. It’s Austria’s third largest city, and passengers can opt for a 90-minute walking tour or choose to take an excursion to Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart and the location for the filming of “The Sound of Music” (the boutique shops in Salzburg are worth a detour).

After a leisure evening cruise, it’s time to take in the sights at Passau, Germany, home to approximately 50,000 inhabitants and 52 churches, including St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and, according to sources, the world’s largest pipe organ—emitting sounds that
are electrifying and spellbinding. The
sailing concludes in Vilshofen, where
during our cruise the AmaSerena was christened and where we disembarked the following morning.

culinary comments
When you ask cruisers about their shipboard experience, the topic of food always seems to take precedence. If the dining aboard the AmaSerena is any example, one can reason why—the culinary options are well-crafted. Throughout the cruise, menu items are created to reflect the geography of the region: Hungarian goulash when in Budapest, Wiener schnitzel in Vienna; or a bayrische schlachtplatte in Germany. Of course, there is always a choice of other selections to accommodate any palate or diet, including roast Barbary duck breast, marinated beef carpaccio, chicken and shrimp teriyaki, tandoori chicken curry, and herb-crusted lamb medallions, along with a variety of soups and salads. Available daily for those who abstain from “exotic” dishes is grilled steak, chicken breast or salmon filet. Desserts border on the obscene: Black Forest gateau, assorted pastries, creme brulee, cherry jubilee, cheeses, ice cream in many flavors, and on and on; for those watching calories, fresh fruit. Wines from Austria, Hungary, France and Germany complement the meals, and the dining options also featured a “Healthy Corner” where in addition to special healthy choices one could obtain a fresh fruit shake. Gluten free menus are also available. The mornings come with a breakfast buffet that features everything from A-Z: cereals, eggs, a variety of cured meats, jellies, jams, fruits
and pastries.

Schreiner proudly points to the fact that fresh fruits, vegetables and other products from the destinations along the Danube are brought aboard the ship almost daily.

the ship and its amenities
Twin balconies, French and outside, are featured in most of AmaSerena’s 82 comfortable staterooms, which include a number of connecting cabins for families or groups traveling together. The ship hosts about 164 passengers. In-room Internet and TV, a top deck with a heated pool, salon services, laundry service and other features round out the ship amenities. Most importantly, the personalized service and attention to guests’ needs are very evident. According to Schreiner, that is the hallmark of their operational philosophy. “Give the customer the best possible product, resolve an issue in a generous way and make sure the customer is happy and comes back,”
he asserts.

AmaSerena sails an 11-day Romantic Danube itinerary, which includes three days in Prague, Czech Republic, plus a stop in Regensburg, Germany, before cruising from Vilshofen to Budapest. Rates start at $3,399 cruise only and $4,179, cruise/land. AmaSerena sails on a variety of other itineraries, including the 22-day Grand Danube Cruise, which includes three nights in Prague, followed by a 14-night cruise from Vilshofen to Rousse, spending one night in Bulgaria and three nights in Istanbul. Departures in 2016 are June 1; June 14; Aug. 10; and Aug. 23; rates start at $6,698, cruise-only and $8,478 cruise/land.

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