AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review

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AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review - View of Budapest from Castle Hill.
View of Budapest from Castle Hill. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

The writer was hosted.

It was a warm, sunny day in September and I had just finished a guided walking tour in Bratislava, Slovakia. This charming waterfront city was our second port stop on a seven-night AmaWaterways Melodies of the Danube River cruise onboard AmaSonata. After the tour, my sights were set on a dip in the swimming pool on the ship’s sundeck. The pool became my go-to place after each excursion that week. Amazingly, few people took advantage of the pool so I usually had it to myself. But the pool was just one of many amenities and services that made this AmaWaterways river cruise an enjoyable one.

The Melodies of the Danube itinerary began in Budapest (Hungary) and traveled to Bratislava (Slovakia), Austria (Vienna, Weissenkirchen – Ybbs – Grein, and Linz); and Germany (Passau to Vilshofen). Pre-cruise land options in Budapest and post-cruise extensions to Prague can be added to the cruise for an additional fee.

Read More: Budapest, Hungary: Best Things to Do in 72 Hours

About AmaWaterways

Rudi Schreiner, AmaWaterways’ co-founder and president, Kristin Karst, the line’s co-founder and executive vice president, and the late Jimmy Murphy launched the cruise line in 2002.  After years of working at other existing river cruise companies, Schreiner and Karst leaned into their own European background, passion for good food, wine, wellness programs, and the idea of freedom of choice to introduce innovative features for the family-owned and operated AmaWaterways. Their goal was to offer a well-rounded healthy and active river cruise experience that included hiking and biking excursions.

“They wanted to have a river cruise that incorporates all these things,” said Brenda Kyllo, the godmother of AmaSonata.

On my cruise, I had the pleasure of sailing with Brenda, who said that Rudi and Kristin spend 50 percent of their time sailing on the ships, interacting with and getting feedback from guests and crew.

The result? Healthy food and active excursions have attracted a younger crowd, lowering the average age of their guests to about 55 to 65 (about 10 years younger than previously). In addition, with a minimum age of 4 years for sailing with AmaWaterways in Europe, the cruise line is seeing more young people and multi-generational families on their river cruises.

AmaWaterways’ Itineraries

AmaWaterways has over two dozen luxury ships that sail the rivers of Europe, Asia, Africa, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Themed cruises include iconic Christmas markets, Blue Danube Discovery, Gems of Southeast Europe, and Grand Danube Cruise. Wine connoisseurs can discover the Taste of Bordeaux, and the Flavors of Burgundy (debuting in 2024), two of several river cruises in France.

Read More: Castles, River, and Delicious Italian Food in Germany

AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review - AmaSonata pool with a swim-up bar.
AmaSonata pool with a swim-up bar. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Sailing on AmaSonata

Built in 2014, the cruise ship has 82 outside cabins and cozy public spaces. There’s an elegant Panoramic Lounge for entertainment and programs, a comfortable library, three dining options, a sundeck with a heated pool and swim-up bar, a fitness center, and a spa and hair salon. In the reception lobby guests check in and out for excursions. There’s also a small gift shop.

AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review - Twin balcony stateroom on AmaSonata.
Twin balcony stateroom on AmaSonata. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

AmaSonata Stateroom

I smiled as I walked into my spacious stateroom and saw that I had a private balcony and a sitting area by a French balcony (the doors open for fresh air). I also appreciated the large marble bathroom, a wardrobe with a full-length mirror, and a bed with luxurious linen and pillows. Amenities include a mini fridge, a hair dryer, free wifi, a desk, and a flat-screen TV (not that I needed it with the beautiful passing scenery).

Excursions

River cruises offer an excellent opportunity to visit not only Europe’s majestic capitals of the Danube but also small medieval cities and towns. Each day there are several shore excursions to choose from. All are included in the cruise fare. And most are half-day so there’s time to discover port towns on your own or relax on the ship. And I loved that I could change my mind at the last minute and switch excursions.

I enjoyed chatting with Cesario Santos, the cruise manager, who was always available to offer tips for choosing excursions and planning our day in ports.  “We try to come up with options for people. We’re very flexible,” he told me.

The front desk in reception was also helpful. When we were docked in Budapest, there was downtime in the afternoon and I was interested in visiting a thermal bathhouse. There were two within walking distance. The young woman in reception suggested the Ruda bathhouse (where locals go). I took her advice and spent two glorious hours soaking in pools in the bathhouse that dates back over 450 years.

AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review - AmaSonata on the Danube River.
AmaSonata on the Danube River. Photo credit: AmaWaterways

Budapest

Hungary’s capital (dubbed Queen of the Danube) is an exciting city to visit. It was my first visit to Budapest so I joined the guided city tour. We drove through the historic city center, stopped in Heroes’ Square, and later walked up numerous steps to Castle Hill. It was worth the climb to see Matthias Church (Coronation church of Buda) and Fisherman’s Bastion. From there, we had panoramic views of Budapest. I also did some souvenir shopping in the shops.

SheBuysTravel Tip: While docked in Budapest, be sure to shop for souvenirs and regional food items at the historic Great Market Hall.

AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review - “Man in the street” statue in Bratislava.
“Man in the street” statue in Bratislava. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Bratislava, Slovakia

Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, is a pretty, waterfront city that’s walking distance from the ship. I took the guided tour and then explored on my own, stopping for a gelato on my way back to the ship. Public art includes a quirky “man in the street” statue.

AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review - View of Salzburg, Austria from Hohensalzburg Fortress.
View of Salzburg, Austria from Hohensalzburg Fortress. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Austria

Vienna

Although there was a city bike tour available, I opted for the bus and walking tour that brought us to Vienna’s historic town. It’s a fun place to spend a few hours shopping and enjoying sausages stuffed with cheese. While there, Cesario rode up on his bike with a bag of Mozart (Mozartkugel) chocolates for us! I found a store that sells them and bought a bag of yummy chocolates to bring home.

Dürnstein, Wachau Valley. Photo credit: AmaWaterways

Wachau Valley

The Wachau Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with vineyards, apricot orchards, a little town, and castles. It’s also home to the Melk Abbey. I chose the excursion to the medieval town of Dürnstein on the banks of the Danube River. Narrow cobblestone streets are lined with boutiques, chocolate shops, and eateries. I bought a pair of earrings made with stones from the Danube River from a local merchant who said she makes all the jewelry in her shop.

At a small winery, we sat at long tables decorated with softly glowing candles for wine tasting, and later, apricot tasting.

Some guests opted for a hike to the Dürnstein fortress while others took a guided bike tour and pedaled about 15 miles along the romantic Danube River.

Salzburg

While docked in Linz, we had a choice to join a local walking tour or take a full-day tour of either Salzburg or Cesky Krumlov, in the Czech Republic. It was a difficult decision but I was excited to see Salzburg. Our first stop was in the small town of Mondsee, situated on the shores of Lake Mondsee. Our guide Julia told us that St. Michael’s Church was the site for the wedding in The Sound of Music.

After Mondsee, we left for Salzburg (the name means salt castle or city), Mozart’s hometown. We visited Mirabell Gardens, Old Town, Hohensalzburg Fortress (I rode the funicular to the top), and other top sites. Along the way, Julia pointed out locations where “The Sound of Music” was filmed. (I was surprised to learn that Austrians aren’t familiar with the movie title. Rather, it’s known as “The Trapp Family.”)

That evening we took in a Mozart & Strauss concert presented by the Hofburg Orchestra at the Hofburg Palace concert hall. It was a lovely way to cap off an enchanting stay in Austria.

AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review - Colored stones (originally painted for a festival) lead to artists’ workshops.
Colored stones (originally painted for a festival) lead to artists’ workshops. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Passau, Germany

This beautiful baroque city is surrounded by the Danube, Ilz, and Inn rivers. Known as the City of Three Rivers, Passau is a fun Bavarian city to explore. And since the ship is docked at the waterfront, Passau is easily accessible.

A group of us took a guided walking tour with Daniel, a Passau native and high school teacher. We walked along narrow cobblestone streets lined with cafes and bicycles (this is a university town, after all) to Old Town where St. Stephen’s Cathedral houses the largest organ in Europe.

AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review - Sausage salad.
Sausage salad. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Dining on AmaSonata

The cuisine was excellent and reflected each region we visited. For example, in Budapest, the chef prepared tasty goulash. Austrian and German dishes featured a variety of sausages, sauerkraut and potatoes. All the food is fresh – baked or made onboard. There is no processed food onboard and more grains are integrated into breakfast bowls.

We usually ate in the Main Restaurant, where guests dine together at large tables. But the restaurant also has cozy alcoves for small groups. In the Panoramic Lounge, a bistro breakfast and bistro lunch are available for a quick bite (especially handy in the mornings before excursions). An all-day tapas menu and afternoon tea are also available here. The Chef’s Table (at no additional charge) is a delight with a fixed menu. Guests can reserve the Chef’s Table upon boarding the cruise ship.

AmaWaterways Danube River Cruise Review - Onboard entertainment by Hungarian dancers and musicians.
Onboard entertainment by Hungarian dancers and musicians. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Onboard Entertainment

After dinner, we gathered in the Panoramic Lounge for port talks and entertainment. Some evenings featured Petar, the onboard musician, and other times regional performers. While in Budapest, the Hungarian Folklore Show featured local performers who came on board.

What’s Next for AmaWaterways

After the successful launch of the larger AmaMagna ship in 2019, AmaWaterways plans to increase its presence on Europe’s Danube, Douro, and Rhine rivers by 20 percent in the next two years. The company plans to introduce the AmaMagdalena and AmaMelodia on Colombia’s Magdalena River, and AmaLilia on Egypt’s Nile River.

To book an AmaWaterways cruise contact your travel advisor or visit AmaWaterways.com


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