My niece and I were so excited to take our first ever cruise and to go on a river cruise was a great way to experience Europe in a way we never thought we would. Especially during the holiday season and visiting the Christmas Markets.
We flew from Toronto to Budapest (with KLM) with a connection in Amsterdam. On the way home we flew from Nuremberg to Toronto (with KLM) also with a connection in Amsterdam. Surprisingly there were quite a few storms within Europe so we were glad we decided to fly a day earlier since you never know what could happen!
We spent one night at the Hilton Budapest City, which is centrally located, close to the train station, restaurants and shops as well as above West End City Centre Shopping Centre.
The rooms are large and clean. All rooms, the lounge and restaurants have complimentary WiFi. Modern fitness facility available. Upon check in we purchased a package that included buffet breakfast. Buffet had a wide selection of items i.e. cereal, croissants, Danishes, sausages, cold cuts and fruits. Coffee, tea and juices readily available.
Front desk and hotel staff were friendly and efficient and they all spoke English.
The cab ride from the airport to the hotel took about 35 mins and cost approximately EUR40. The cab ride from the hotel to the dock was approximately 15 mins drive cost EUR25.
Finally the day arrived and we travel by cab to the dock to board AMA Serena which will be our home for the next 8 days!
The AMA Serena is a beautiful vessel and is a glow with decorations to celebrate the Christmas season. From the minute we stepped on board we were greeted by the extremely friendly staff and crew. We were given a glass of champagne and warm towels and were seated comfortably waiting to be checked in. Everything went very smoothly. There is no line up or waiting at the registration desk. I strongly believe all check in procedures should be like this!
As a part of the check in procedure we each had a photo taken which is attached on their reservation/registration system to our room key fob. Security and safety is key so whenever you are leaving the ship for any reason (i.e. Shore excursions) you must have your key fob scanned. This helps the crew to know who is on board the ship at any given time (no one gets left behind! J).
There are 4 decks – the Sun deck with the heated pool, walking track, navigation bridge, bicycles, sun deck and lower sun deck, the Violin deck which has the reception, main lounge and piano bar and gift shop, 32 staterooms which includes 3 suites, the massage and hair salon, the Chef’s Table Restaurant, Fitness room, the Cello Deck with 33 staterooms, elevator down to the main dining room and the Piano Deck (our deck for our voyage) with 16 suites.
Each Stateroom had twin beds (in most cases) an en-suite bathroom, flat screen TV and keyboard (featuring various news and movie channels as well as a ship safety channel), 2 wardrobes, safe, telephone, coffee table and 2 chairs, 2 robes, hairdryer, a 110V socket as well a few more 220V sockets, and a bar fridge which is stocked with water (replenished daily). Although the beds were small they were very comfortable. Staterooms on the Violin and Cello decks have French balconies.
Staterooms on the Piano deck (our deck for the trip) do not have French balcony but have porthole windows.
All decks are easily accessible. There is an elevator which runs from the Violin to Cello deck as well as to the Main dining room.
In the lounge you will find a bar with a piano and very comfortable couches, chairs and coffee tables throughout. Most of us loved sitting in the lounge to mingle, read a book, while having a few drinks and looking out at the beautiful scenery. All entertainment on board takes place in the lounge. In the lounge daily there is a light lunch at 12 noon should you not want to eat in the dining room, tea time with tea, coffee and cakes between 4 and 5pm and at 10:30pm a light snack.
Off of the lounge there is a small library with daily news from the US and Canada depending on the guests nationality. There were 4 Canadians (including us) and of course 2 Jamaicans (my niece and I) but no Jamaican news?!?!? J
There is also a 24 hour hot beverage area with seating off of the lounge and across from the gift shop. Here you are able to sit and have coffee, an assortment of teas, hot chocolate, lattes, cappuccinos etc. or make a hot drink and take it to the lounge.
Whether you are seated in the lounge, library or the hot beverage area, you are able to see the various cities while cruising.
The entertainment on board consisted mostly of our pianist – Peter who was also a very good singer, or depending on the city we are visiting we had various entertainers i.e. an acapella group from Regensburg.
All meals and dessert on board were exquisite. Breakfast and lunch were usually buffet style however you were able to order off of a menu.
The crew were very helpful and accommodating and by the 2nd day they knew each guests likes and dislikes. They had very long hours but you would never know that they were tired as they were always full of energy and with a genuine smile.
I do feel that Riverboat cruising is quite suitable for a small group but during our cruise there was a group of American Real Estate Agents and it did tend to get quite loud in the lounge at night.
As this was my first cruise and being on a small ship made me think that this is the only way to cruise. There is a smaller number of guests and so friendships among the guests and crew are formed very quickly.
Our first evening was an Illuminating cruise on the Danube of Budapest’s Riverfront. Budapest at night is quite beautiful. We cruised along the banks and saw many illuminated buildings such as the Chain bridge, Buda Castle, Hungarian Parliament Building and Fisherman’s Bastion to name a few. We docked for the night in Budapest. On the second day we were taken by motor coach on a city tour of Buda as well as Pest. We visited Heroes Square, Mathias Church, Fisherman’s Bastion, the opera house and various highlights of Buda City. We also visited the Pest side where we saw St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its spectacular views of Pest and Buda. Our tour ended with our first Christmas Market visit. That night we set sail for Austria. Our first city to visit….Vienna.
We sailed all night and woke up in Vienna, Austria. The day began with a motor coach tour to Vienna where we drove by the opera House, the former Imperial house of the Hapsburg Emperors, Parliament, Town Hall and Vienna University. Our tour ended in Vienna’s historic city centre where we were given a walking tour of the city, visiting St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and other historic city landmarks. At the end of our city tour we visited the Christmas Markets of Schönbrunn and Karlsplatz Schwedenplatz, Maria-Theresian-Platz and Rathausplatz. After a long day we had a delightful dinner on board and sailed on to Melk.
On this day we arrive in Melk and were taken again by motor coach to Melk Benedictine Abbey were we are given a walking tour.
The abbey sits perched on a rocky hill above the quaint little village of Melk. The abbey is still to this day a functioning abbey with approximately 7 monks and schools approximately 900 co-ed students. We were not able to take photos of the interior. The Abbey is quite spectacular with gold frescoed ceilings and columns as well as one of the largest libraries in the world. The view from the Abbey is quite spectacular as you are overlooking the River Danube and the village of Melk.
Passau & Salzburg, Austria
We sail overnight to Passau where we are taken on a 2 hour motor coach ride to Salzburg, the home of The Sound of Music, my favourite movie J! And also of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Enroute our tour guide gave us a little history of Salzburg and of course the movie. For example at the end of the movie when the Von Trap family escapes the Germans over the mountain to Switzerland? Well on the other side of that mountain…… is Germany! J
We arrived in Salzburg where we went on a walking tour through the historic town to the Christmas Market. On the tour we pass Mozart’s birthplace, Mirabell Gardens (you know the place where Do Rei Me was filmed! J) and get a glimpse of Hohensalburg Fortress which overlooks the town.
Regensburg & Thurn and Taxis Christmas Market, Germany
We sailed overnight and arrive in Regensburg, our first Bavarian city. Regensburg is well known for its High Gothic Cathedral and very quaint and charming cobblestone street, where we go on another walking tour of the city. Close to the dock and next to the Stone Bridge is the oldest restaurant in Germany, Wurstkuchl (Sausage Kitchen), famous for its delicious Bavarian sausages. Unfortunately the line-up was really long so we did not get a chance to partake is this delicious feast.
After lunch on board the ship, we are taken by motor coach (approximately 5 – 10 min drive) to the Thurn and Taxis Christmas Market. This market is located on the grounds of the Palace Emmeram where Emperor Franz I family still resides. The matriarch (Princess Gloria) has preserved the castle and all its surroundings and still runs the family business. She is a collector of modern art and thus has assembled a large array of local artists and craftsmen for this very unique Christmas Market.
This was our second to last evening on board AMA Serena and so the staff and crew serenade us to say goodbye at the Captain’s Farewell Cocktail. We were also visited by Santa Claus who has presents for all on board.
Roth & Nuremburg, Germany
The sailing from Regensburg to Nuremburg (with a technical stop in Roth) is mostly done during the morning. The cruise enters the Main-Danube Canal (the European Panama Canal). When we arrived in Nuremburg we were taken by motor coach on a city tour. The city is famous for the Nuremburg Trials which was of a series of military tribunals held by the Allied forces under international and also laws of war after World War II. Nuremburg was also known for its location of the Annual Nazi Rally’s. This was by far the coldest day on our trip and actually seeing the site and where Hitler stood making his speeches had us all thinking back to what it could have been like during his reign of terror.
At the end of our tour we are taken to the largest Christmas Market in the world which is in Nuremburg. There is so much to see and so many people!
On this evening we are able to get a reservation to have dinner at the Chef’s Table Restaurant. The meal consists of a delicious tasting menu accompanied by various wines. Each course is described by the maître d’, and served by 2 waiters with a specific wine pairing. Not only was the presentation beautiful but the meal and wine delicious.
Contributed by Kathy Gooden
Vision Travel, a Direct Travel Company