AmaKristina - Basel to Amsterdam.
Sunday 9th September.
After an early morning flight from Newcastle (via Amsterdam) we arrived in Basel early afternoon. Basel airport is only 6 kilometres from Basel although as it is on the French border you must remember to exit baggage collection through the relevant gate. Not wishing to enter France we followed the directions for Switzerland and, after meeting our pre-booked taxi driver, twenty minutes later we were checking in to our hotel The Wettstein for a 1-night pre-cruise stay. Already there to meet us were our friends, Val & Ken, who had flown in direct from London. For anybody staying in Basel the hotel Wettstein is the perfect choice, a small modern three-star hotel located close to the banks of the river Rhine and just a ten minute stroll from the centre of town. One great feature is the hotels’ tranquil garden area where breakfast can also be taken.
The weather was exceptional with temperatures of over 32 degrees! And as we walked across the bridge into Basel for dinner we suddenly noticed there were literally hundreds of people floating in the Rhine. As you can imagine this was an amazing sight. It turns out that in Switzerland letting the current of the river carry you along is a very popular pastime. People strap coloured inflatable bags around their waist, into which they place a towel, a change of clothes and wallets/purses, they then enter the Rhine and allow the quick moving current to simply transport them down river. After several miles they float ashore beside a good selection of bars and restaurants, dry themselves down, put on fresh clothes and go for a few drinks and a bite to eat. On a very hot Sunday evening this seemed a perfectly natural and inviting thing to do. Though not sure it is going to catch on in the river Tyne!
Monday 10th September.
Basel, like all of Switzerland, is expensive so for breakfast we decided to try out one of the many local cafes where a superb coffee and fresh croissants, sitting in the sun, was a perfect start to the day and a very reasonably priced one too.
Having time to kill we checked out but left our luggage at the hotel and as we had not seen much of Basel the night before, took a one-hour sightseeing tour on the hop-on, hop-off city bus. A great way to spend an hour with one advantage being that one stop was directly in front of the AmaKristina, which was going to be our home for the next seven nights. After a light lunch in the city centre we collected our luggage and took a short taxi ride to the river where we boarded the AmaKristina. Cabins are available from 3pm but passengers can board at any time and the crew will look after their luggage until the staterooms are available, delivering the guests luggage directly to their room. Passengers can then either go back ashore and explore Basel or enjoy the ships facilities with tea, coffee and light snacks available in the lounge. We had noticed that there was a small bar right next to the ship and decided to sit there enjoying a drink as we watched our fellow passengers embark. Just to give an indication of how expensive Basel can be, in this bar (which appeared to have been built out of an unused shipping container) two glasses of wine and two beers cost 39 Swiss Francs (approximately 31 British Pounds!).
The AmaKristina is rated in the latest Berlitz River Cruising in Europe guide as the number one vessel, out of over 320, currently sailing in Europe. Viewing the ships facilities and then entering our stateroom it is easy to understand why. The ship is beautifully appointed and our stateroom, with both an outside balcony and a French balcony, was furnished to an extremely high standard. At 6pm all passengers are invited to the lounge for a welcome cocktail with the Captain and Hotel Manager, followed by the mandatory safety and information briefing from the Cruise Manager.
One great new introduction for 2018 from AmaWaterways is the ‘Sip and Sail’ cocktail hour. Every evening for one hour before dinner they serve a selection of complimentary wine, beer, spirits and cocktails in the lounge. A brilliant idea and a great way to meet your fellow passengers.
Food onboard AmaWaterways is of a very high standard and the dinner is the highlight of everyday. The restaurant is a stunning room and offers free-seating with tables ranging in size from 4-8 and two semi-private rooms seating 10, perfect for larger groups. Dinner is waiter service with a choice of appetisers, soups, main courses and desserts. All beautifully prepared and presented. Unlimited complimentary red and white wines are served with every lunch and dinner with a choice of at least four different wines with each evening meal, many paired to either the meal or the region you are sailing through. If there is nothing on the evening menu that appeals, the chef is always happy to prepare a sirloin steak, a salmon fillet or a chicken breast.
Tuesday 11th September.
Entering the restaurant this morning we discovered the ship had already docked in Breisach. Breakfast on board offers a vast choice of hot and cold dishes, a chef’s station offering fried eggs and omelettes cooked to order as well as a table menu offering poached eggs, eggs benedict and, I suspect for the Americans, the A-list breakfast which included steak, eggs, mushrooms, hash browns etc. In addition, if you want to start the day with a bit of fizz, there is also prosecco on offer each day.
Excursions are included within the price and there is always a choice at each destination. Today we had chosen to visit Riquewihr, so after breakfast we boarded our coach for the 1-hour journey to Riquewihr. Officially one of the most beautiful villages in France and located in the heart of Alsace. Largely escaping damage during World War II, the village appears to have remained unchanged over the centuries with many houses and streets dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. After a very informative guided tour there was time to enjoy a beer in the sunshine before the coach journey back to the AmaKristina.
After a light lunch we relaxed on the sun deck as the AmaKristina left Breisach and headed towards Strasbourg. After changing for dinner we relaxed in the main lounge listening to the ships resident entertainer playing a wide selection of music whilst we enjoyed our complimentary ‘Sip and Sail’ drinks.
After another impressive dinner and several glasses of equally impressive wine the AmaKristina docked in Strasbourg where she would remain for the night. The ship docks a little way outside the town so it’s not really possible to walk into Strasbourg after dinner however this evening an amazing local entertainer, called Enrico Novi, came onboard to give a performance. Enrico is a professional guitarist, singer, and music producer offering a unique musical experience. Even though there is only Enrico on stage you will hear an entire band because in addition to live guitar and vocals, Enrico is accompanied by himself! The background track for each song is recorded, produced, and edited by Enrico in his studio. Every sound – drums, base, guitars, percussion, and back-up vocals – is him. His tribute to Dire Straits was amazing.
Wednesday 12th September.
Waking in Strasbourg we decided to have a light breakfast so ordered double poached eggs which arrived perfectly cooked with a beautiful runny yolk. To be fair that was enough for Joanie but I did have a couple of croissants just to finish off.
After breakfast we joined our coach for a city tour of Strasbourg visiting all of the European Government buildings, including the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Court of Human Rights before a fascinating walking tour of the Petite France district. With free time after the tour ended we decided to have lunch in this pretty, medieval area, sitting outside and enjoying people watching whilst savouring mussels in white wine and pasta.
Arriving back on board ship late afternoon we enjoyed a pleasant two hours simply chilling on deck before changing and meeting with Val and Ken for complimentary pre-dinner drinks and another superb evening meal.
After dinner guests were invited into the lounge for live entertainment provided by a singer and an accordion player. To be fair this did not encourage us to rush away from the dinner table (and complimentary wine) however we did and were so glad we had. The female singer was amazing covering classic songs from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s – many by Édith Piaf– and accompanied by a superb accordion player.
Thursday 13th September.
Today AmaKristina is in Speyer and the excursion we had chosen was Heidelberg so after our ‘light’ breakfast we boarded our coach for the 40-minute drive to this historic town. Heidelberg is the oldest University City in Germany, founded in 1386, and the town is dominated by its historical castle. As we learnt from our guide the castle was the site of the first performance in Europe of a play by William Shakespeare. After a walking tour of the castle, we took a short funicular ride down to the town centre where we enjoyed a coffee in the sunshine in the main square. Back on board at 1 o’clock, the AmaKristina sailed towards Rüdesheim whilst we enjoyed lunch as journeyed down the Rhine.
‘Sip and Sail’ started at 5.30pm today (but we still made it!) as dinner was also early tonight (starting at 6.30pm). The reason for an early meal was that this evening there were excursions after dinner. Departing by Choo Choo train, tour A visited Siegfried’s Music Cabinet Museum, whilst tour B went for a Rüdesheimer coffee. A Rüdesheimer coffee is made with brandy so you can probably guess which excursion the four of us selected (hint: it wasn’t A!).
Friday 14th September.
AmaKristina had overnighted in Rüdesheim and after a breakfast of fried eggs, cooked to order, sausage, crispy bacon, and croissants we again boarded the Choo Choo train for our morning excursion. The choice this morning was a 15-mile guided bike tour, a 6-mile Ehrenfels Castle hike, or a scenic gondola ride and wine tasting. Probably no need to tell you which one we selected! Just to say the gondola ride over the vineyards, with amazing views down to the Rhine, followed by an hour’s wine tasting, was brilliant. Instead of taking the train we decided to walk back to the ship (three times in 24 hours was sufficient).
Wandering through the picturesque narrow streets, we stopped outside a restaurant to look at the menu where upon a local lady approached us and said we should really go in to try the local delicacy which was a glass of wine served with onion cake! Not wanting to appear rude, and bearing in mind it had been a good fifteen minutes since our last glass of wine, we went in and took a seat in a pretty little courtyard. The lady we had spoken to was already in there with a group of friends and indicated on the menu what we should order. It turns out that new wine is the latest press and so appears very cloudy in the glass and it is this that is served with the onion cake. Seeing this Ken and I ordered large beers whilst Joan and Val opted for the wine and cake. Ten minutes later they received their large glasses of very strong and very cloudy wine with a huge portion of hot onion cake. Delicious but not exactly a light snack!!
Arriving back on board we discovered that as it was another glorious day the chef had decided to organise a BBQ on the sun deck with a choice of steak, burgers, sausages, chicken and a huge selection of accompaniments all washed down with complimentary wine and beer. At quarter to two the AmaKristina set sail for Lahnstein and one of the highlights of the cruise, sailing through the Rhine Gorge. With the Cruise Manager giving a running commentary we sailed past thirty-four castles and the Loreley Rock, sitting on deck soaking up the sun and the sights.
This evening Joanie and Val put on their smartest outfits and we met in the lounge at 6.30 for ‘Sip and Sail’ hour. This evening we could linger in the lounge slightly longer than usual as tonight we were eating in the Chef’s Table Speciality Restaurant and dinner was due to start at 7.45 pm. Located at the rear of the ship, the Chef’s Table Speciality Restaurant offers a unique culinary experience and offers seating for a mere 24 guests. With an open kitchen, guests are able to watch the chefs as they prepare a multi-course tasting menu. With panoramic windows this intimate venue is perfect if you are enjoying a special occasion during your cruise and all passengers are allowed to eat in this restaurant once during the sailing (at no extra cost). On this sailing the menu at The Chef’s Table Restaurant was as follows;
Feta Cheese Pana Cotta, Matcha-Dill Sauce, Cucumber, Brioche.
Scallop, Tiger Prawns, Giogia Beet, Tahini-Humus, Avocado, Sepia Ink.
Key Lime Daiquiri Sorbet.
Asian Tom Ka Coconut Soup.
Sea Bream, Chardonnay Foam.
Hickory Salmon, Yakitori Sauce.
Braised Beef with Porcini Sauce and Short Ribs with Prune Sauce.
Golden Beets, Green Asparagus, Pumpkin Mash, Potato and Pumpkin Gratin.
Nougat Gateau, Green Apple Sorbet, and Almond Chocolate Pearl.
European Cheese selection, Biscuits.
Fresh Fruit Platter.
To accompany the meal we enjoyed a Gruner Veltliner (Austrian white wine), a Blauer Zweigelt (Austrian red), a Californian Chardonnay and a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. Simply an amazing experience!!
Saturday 15th September.
Breakfast today was taken as the AmaKristina sailed towards Cologne. After breakfast we relaxed on the sun deck and enjoyed the scenery. At 10.30 all guests were invited into the lounge to sample a selection of German sausages and beer. You may find this hard to believe but this was just too early, even for us!
After lunch in the restaurant we stood on deck as AmaKristina docked right in the centre of Cologne where we then disembarked for a 1-hour walking tour of the city followed by Kolsch beer tasting and potato cakes (not too early now!)
Where the ship docks is only a 10 minute walk from the city centre so we all decided to enjoy a leisurely walk back to the ship, stopping at a pleasant Irish bar that just so happened to be showing the Newcastle vs Arsenal match.
The AmaKristina set sail for Amsterdam at 5.45pm and we all met in the lounge for the Captain’s farewell cocktail party where the Captain and Cruise Manager introduced us to the entire crew. Cocktails were followed by an amazing Captain’s Farewell Gala Dinner. Following dinner we headed into the lounge where another brilliant live group had come onboard to entertain us.
Sunday 16th September.
Having stayed up late and enjoyed the late night snacks in the lounge, this morning we decided to skip breakfast and instead simply sit on our balcony and enjoy the views as we sailed into Amsterdam. The river leading into the city is very picturesque with tree-lined walkways and attractive houses. On a beautiful Sunday morning there were lots of joggers and walkers about, all of whom were very happy to exchange waves as we sailed past.
Arriving in Amsterdam at 1.45 in the afternoon there was a choice of three excursions however as we knew Amsterdam very well we decided to simply explore the city independently. The AmaKristina docks just past the main railway station so it is only a 10 minute walk to Dam Square. After a very pleasant three hours in warm sunshine, we strolled back to the ship in time to change for our final ‘Sip and Sail’ hour in the lounge.
Settling your bill at the end of the cruise is very simple and efficient, during the course of the week you register a credit card at reception and overnight, on your last evening, your final bill is slipped under the door of your stateroom. Providing you agree with the charge there is nothing else you need to do and your card will be charged automatically.
Monday 17th September.
On your final morning you are requested to vacate your stateroom by 09.00 am, however you are then free, if you wish, to stay onboard until your onward transfer. We were actually staying on in Amsterdam for two nights and had organised a taxi to our hotel through the Cruise Manager. Again this was very efficient and we simply enjoyed a coffee in the lounge until the announcement was made that our taxi was now waiting for us. We then said our goodbyes, disembarked, identified our luggage, and climbed into our waiting taxi.
Berlitz rate all AmaWaterways ships extremely highly and having sailed on the number one rated vessel it is easy to see why. It is difficult to pick any faults with this ship, the crew or the facilities on board. Meals are exceptional and the ‘Sip and Sail’ hour a brilliant idea.
AmaWaterways is a premium product and there are much cheaper river cruise operators out there, however the consensus of opinion of everyone we spoke to was that they are exceptionally good value for money. If you want to enjoy Europe in luxury and style AmaWaterways is the perfect choice.