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What more fitting place to be: Sailing up the Rhine River on a Christmas Markets cruise tucked into an elegantly cozy cabin aboard the 156-guest AmaKristina, where, on checking my e-mails, I  learn that AmaWaterways captured not only the Gold award for “Best River Cruise” in the Recommend Readers’ Choice Awards,” but also “Best in Cruise Cuisine.” Our readers are blessed with excellent taste.

Indeed, AmaKristina is a visual delight: Not your usual muted nautical blues and beiges, but a warmly elegant melange of Art Nouveau styling and a flower-garden-like palette of color, accented with smartly placed reproductions of Gustav Klimt artworks. The season’s Christmas decorations that decked the ship’s halls were as artistic as NYC’s Saks Fifth Avenue windows. One evening, guests trimmed the uber-tree with ornaments of gingerbread, like those we would find among the dazzling Christmas markets ahead: Cologne; Heidelberg; Strasbourg. Tree trimming was just one of the onboard activities designed to, under the magic wand of cruise director Mariana Lopez, turn 132 guests from a dozen countries and five continents—unusual for a river cruise—into one big festive family.

Stateroom on board the AmaKristina.
Stateroom on board the AmaKristina.

The core of passenger activities and accommodations revolves around three decks, connected by marble staircases and a handsome glass elevator. My spiffy stateroom (210 sq. ft.) came with a big comfy bed, good reading lights, complimentary WiFi, infotainment system and flat-panel TV. The well-lit marble bathroom, meanwhile, featured fluffy towels and a square-shaped shower that gave plenty of room to scrub up under the multi-jet shower head. As in most staterooms, the signature amenity is “twin balconies,” a step-out balcony adjacent to an interior French balcony. While there’s not much stepping out on a December Rhine cruise, these balconies combine into a glass wall of nonstop panoramas. Well, not quite nonstop—with the dramatic increase in river cruisers, there’s a matching decrease in overnight parking spaces, resulting in vessels tying up for the night side-by-side, two or three deep. Yes, dockside you often keep your drapes closed.

To meet the growing demands of the family market, this generation of AmaWaterways ships offers a newly designed rooming configuration featuring connecting cabins and triple-occupancy staterooms. Other ship specials include a heated pool with swim-up bar on the spacious Sun Deck encircled by a perimeter walking track, a substantial fleet of bicycles for guided touring and solo use, a library and game room, winter-cozy with a faux fireplace, fitness center, intimate spa, and beauty salon.

Christmas market along the Rhine. (Carla Hunt)
Christmas market along the Rhine. (Carla Hunt)

Pride of place goes to dining deliciously, with vegetarians accommodated at every meal, in a choice of venues. In the main dining room, smartly laid out in a mix of tables for two or six and booths, buffet breakfast comes with a made-to-order omelet station, followed by a buffet-style lunch that also includes an a la carte menu. Dinner is waiter-served and, along with lunch, includes complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks. We guests could well appreciate why AmaWaterways is the only river cruise line member of the fabled Chaine des Rotisseurs culinary association. The second venue is the intimate Chef’s Table restaurant, treating just 28 guests to a special tasting menu, prepared right before their eyes in a glass kitchen and served with special wine pairings supervised by the ship’s sommelier. Reservations required, but all guests have at least one chance to dine here. The main lounge is the place to go for light lunches, early-bird and late-riser pastries and coffee, all-day snacks and sandwiches, and canapes at cocktail time.

Tradition leaves the best to the last, and that would be AmaKristina’s kind and friendly crew, who deliver the luxury of professional and caring service at virtually every level of the ship’s operation. They just don’t miss a beat.

View from the Bridge
AmaKristina made her debut last May, named after the company’s leading lady, executive v.p. and co-owner Kristin Karst, who told Recommend that “as a young girl growing up in Dresden on the banks of the Elbe River, I never dreamed that one day I would have a ship named after me. While I cherish every new ship we christen, AmaKristina will always be special.” Karst points out that her namesake cruiser marks the 20th ship of the family-owned company’s 15 years on the great rivers of Europe, Southeast Asia’s Mekong and Africa’s Chobe.

AmaKristina joins the AmaViola as the second of a new generation of river cruise ships boasting the most advanced design of any river cruise vessel currently in operation; come May, this branch of the AmaWaterways cruiser family will welcome a new arrival, AmaLea, sailing on the Danube, followed in 2019 by the AmaMora, which will cruise on the Rhine. All ships this year will offer guests a complimentary “Sip and Sail” cocktail hour; the new Wellness program is now available on six ships; and the roster of cruises includes Wine Cruise departures.

Come 2019, the company’s big news will be the launch of AmaMagna, which will measure almost twice the width of traditional European river cruise ships. Sailing the Danube, this game-changing vessel will welcome 196 guests, enjoying luxurious living spaces: a majority of staterooms 355 sq. ft. or larger, multiple dining options including an alfresco restaurant, more onboard activities and enhanced evening entertainment.

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