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AmaWaterways Christmas on the Rhine

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Dec 20th, 2015, 06:44 AM
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AmaWaterways Christmas on the Rhine

For several years I have wanted to return to the Christmas Markets in Germany, having previously visited in December 1986. I had seen ads for Christmas market river cruises but the Christmas markets were not Mr. Wonderful’s cup of tea. Cousin Bunny however was more than willing to join me on this adventure. After doing some research online we visited Bunny’s travel agent and chose AmaWaterways Christmas on the Rhine cruise over a similar itinerary from Viking. Ama offered a tour of Amsterdam while Viking visited a site with windmills. Since neither of us had been to Amsterdam this appealed.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 06:46 AM
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More please!
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Dec 20th, 2015, 06:47 AM
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Friday November 27, 2015

We flew Air France from LAX to Paris then a connection to Basel Switzerland. We will board an AmaWaterways cruise boat on the Rhine on Monday which will sail along France and Germany to Amsterdam. I have visited only one port on this itinerary and this was something that appealed about this particular cruise. We are planning a three night stay in Paris after the cruise.

We splurged on “Premium Economy” which was worth every centime. We arrived in Basel after dark on Saturday and took a taxi to the Hotel Spalentor which our travel agent had booked for us. Bunny reserved with the driver to return on Monday afternoon to drive us to the dock. I later saw his business card and he had a very Greek name so I was curious to talk with him the next time as my grandfather was born in Greece. The hotel staff were very pleasant and helpful, our room comfortable and once we were a little settled in we set out on foot to find dinner. Not far away was the Restaurant Zur Harmonie with a friendly owner. He asked if we had a reservation (no) but he squeezed us into a small table between other parties who turned out to be very friendly. Good meal to cap off a long travel day.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 07:41 AM
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on for the ride
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Dec 20th, 2015, 08:00 AM
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Signing on.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 08:13 AM
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Sunday November 29

We slept through the night—I usually wake up at 3am my first night in Europe due to jet lag but was glad that didn’t happen this time. Breakfast at the hotel got us off to a good start and we set off for the center of town. We wandered taking lots of photos, stopped for tea and a snack at a museum cafe, and strolled through the Christmas market. I bought a hand painted Christmas tree ornament in metal from the Kathe Wohlfahrt chalet. That night we went to a gospel concert at the Munster. We arrived 30 minutes early but there was a long line and we were lucky to get a seat on the side where we could not see the choir. We learned the choir was made up of local young people and they sang American gospel, some contemporary Christian songs and even Bridge Over Troubled Water. It was a good start to our Christmas tour.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 09:03 AM
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Looking forward to hearing how you liked AMA Waterways…thinking of using them rather than Viking for a future river cruise.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 02:17 PM
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We arrived 30 minutes early but there was a long line and we were lucky to get a seat on the side where we could not see the choir.>>

as someone who sings in a choir I'm not sure that I like the idea of its being an advantage not to be able to see us, but i think I understand what you mean!

anyway, I'm jumping on board too - I've thought about taking my mum on a trip like this so I'm very interested in what you thought about it.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 02:55 PM
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I am enjoying reading this. My husband and I are just back from the Christmas Markets on the Rhine cruise through Grand Circle travel. We traveled from Amsterdam to Basel, ending December 16. A thoroughly enjoyable trip.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 03:05 PM
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Annhig--I meant that we were lucky to get a seat at all. We wanted to see the choir and sneaked forward a time or two for a glimpse of them.

I should say that my cousin and I are in our early 60s and mobile. There were two young women in their 20s but most of the passengers were 40s and up with a lot around our age. Excursions were offered for different levels of ability and we always took the mid-range that most passengers chose. Ama did announce when a particular excursion was strenuous like the Philosopher's hike in Heidelberg and offered gentle walking options. They also offered umbrellas, walking sticks and walking sticks with a small fold out seat if you needed them.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 04:49 PM
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Monday November 30

This morning we took the tram downtown to meet friends at the Café Schiesser. The tea was wonderful and so were the croissants in an old world room. Our friends had just left the AmaCerto which we will be boarding in the afternoon. It was great to see them, hear about the cruise and get a few tips about dining and excursions. They recommended dinner in the special dining room and warned us the beds were “firm”. Finally it was time for them to catch a train and we walked across the river and took more photos before taking the tram back to the Hotel Spalentor. We had checked out in the morning and left our luggage then returned to meet our cab driver. He and I had a nice chat about the paths our families took out of Greece. Coincidentally his father and my grandfather were both named Constantinos. I should have asked him if his father went by “Gus”.

We were soon at the AmaCerto and able to board and have refreshments in the lounge. This room at the front of the ship had large windows, lots of comfy couches and coffee tables in conversation areas. As we took seats I noticed there was piped in music and I swear the first song lyric I heard was “Merry F**king Christmas! I really wouldn’t think the passengers on this cruise would be fans of such music.

When we were able to get in our room we found it compact and comfortable. We had a balcony but didn’t expect to use it much in December. We also found the strange window to the bathroom that our friends had warned us about. We put tape over the light switch to keep it in place so the window remained frosted and not transparent during our stay. This poor design lights up the room if one of us uses the bathroom in the night. What does this window add? At least the bathroom and cabins were well sound-proofed. We got everything unpacked and put away, stored the suitcases under one bed, grabbed cat naps then got dressed for dinner. When we checked in we had been offered a reservation for dinner at the more intimate chef’s table dining room so we dressed a little nicer this night. All the passengers met in the lounge at 6pm for champagne and to meet some of the crew. We heard about meals, safety and a little about tomorrow’s port and choice of excursions. I am looking forward to visiting Riquewihr tomorrow.

Our dinner companions were a couple from San Diego, one of whom is a lawyer as is Bunny so there was a lot of conversation for Bunny. Turns out they are also fond of traveling to Europe so we all had a lot to talk about. The food was very good, especially the salmon and trio of desserts. With food like this we’re going to need to do a lot of walking this week.

After dinner we watched a little of “The Sound of Music” on the entertainment system in our room. There is a nice variety of movies but I doubt we’ll have much time to watch. The wifi worked very well so I could Skype Mr. Wonderful every evening.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 08:03 PM
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Tuesday December 1

The beds are beyond firm as our friend described them; they are uncomfortable. Bunny spoke to another passenger this morning who told her we could request mattress pads so she did. I followed up when I came to the lounge for tea and it sounds as though housekeeping will provide them today. This is the one place AmaWaterways has fallen down. I think the mattress in my college dorm room was more comfortable. Wish I had taken a photo of how thin it was and of the slats underneath. Sadly this will keep me from taking another AmaWaterways cruise.

We had instruction about today’s excursion while relaxing in the lounge in the morning: always carry your passport, pick up a boarding pass and colored tour card from reception, remember what tour you signed up for and gather in the lounge about 15 minutes before departure time.

Here are the options for the coming week:
Tuesday—Afternoon excursion to the French town of Riquewihr or a walking tour of Breisach and Freiburg in Germany
Wednesday—Strasbourg
Thursday—Tours of Speyer or Heidelberg
Friday—Docked in Rudesheim with options for a mechanical music museum, gondola to the unification memorial or liquored up coffee tasting; afternoon sail the Rhine gorge. Docking in Koblenz with opportunity for an evening stroll.
Saturday—Cologne with options for bicycling, touring the city and cathedral
Sunday—Amsterdam with options for a canal cruise, tour of Jewish heritage sites and another options which escapes me.

After lunch Bunny and I boarded one of the busses to Riquewihr. It was about a 45 minute drive, then an hour walking tour and finally time on our own. It was a charming town with half-timbered houses surrounded by vineyards. The afternoon allowed us time to take lots of photos, do a little shopping and have time for a hot drink in a café. Along with a Christmas market and one of the ubiquitous Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas shops, we found a small shop with lots of handmade ceramic items. I bought a couple of small pieces and would have liked to buy some larger ones if I thought I could get them home safely.
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Dec 20th, 2015, 10:41 PM
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Enjoying your report.
Never thought of one but
Who knows maybe a river cruise will be in my future
...sounds like a relaxing way to travel and not be on a large cruise ship which doesn't really appeal to me.
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Dec 21st, 2015, 06:33 AM
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Fab France--This was my first cruise as Mr. Wonderful and I have not been interested in large cruise ships either. The river cruise was very relaxing and I can see us taking another as we get older. If we are willing to give up some control there are advantages to letting someone else take care of all the details.
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Dec 21st, 2015, 06:51 AM
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Wednesday December 2

I was awakened about 5am by the maneuverings of the boat. We later learned that there was a problem with one of the locks which delayed our boat. Instead of a 9am departure time to Strasbourg the busses left at 11am. We were actually docked on the German side of the river and would pass through border security to France. There was minimal delay although the cruise director told us one of their busses had been boarded last week and passengers had to show their passports to enter France.

We enjoyed a driving tour and then a walking tour of about 1 hour each. At this point we could return to the boat for lunch and come back to Strasbourg in the afternoon or stay in town and have lunch on our own. We elected to stay in Strasbourg and went to lunch at a beautiful tea room called Patisserie Christian that the guide had pointed out on our walking tour. Lunch was delicious and we shared a pastry for dessert. We also climbed the spiral staircase to take advantage of the restroom having learned on many previous trips never to pass up an opportunity to use the facilities for free.

We walked around town taking pictures then worked our way back to a year-round Christmas shop we had seen and bought a few things there. We continued walking to the cathedral for a visit inside. The pink stone appeared more golden in the interior photos. After a few more shops and photos, including a stop for cookies at La Cure Gourmand, we were back at the meeting place for the return to the boat and dinner.

Tonight we ate in the main dining room. There are usually three items featured on the menu but you can always get a chicken, beef or salmon main course if the other menu items are not appealing. Seating is at tables for 4, 6 or 8 and we sat with many different people over the week. The food overall was pretty good but the bread was often disappointing and the brand of tea on board not very good. Wine is offered with every meal and I liked all of the white wines I had. (I don’t eat beef or drink red wine) All the soups we had were really good.

Breakfast and lunch were usually a combination of menu and buffet items. At breakfast we could order oatmeal or other hot dishes from the waiter or have an omelet made to order. There was a spread of fruit including delicious grapefruit with a little sugar bruleed on top and another table of breads and pastries. I usually stuck to grapefruit and oatmeal but treated myself to an omelet a couple of mornings. Lunch had some variety between pastas, sandwiches, fruit and salads. There was always ice cream for dessert and it was always good, better than some of the deserts at dinner.
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Dec 21st, 2015, 07:12 AM
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we did one of these a fair few years back, I remember that the stairs up from the cheap cabins were very steep and some of the older guests had a problem. We tended to hire bikes at each stop and go off to the vinyards, but late November must be a little dull?

We also had two deaths on our trip but I think that was from too much wine rather than the stairs. It felt like the ambulances were meeting us at every stop.
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Dec 21st, 2015, 10:09 AM
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We also had two deaths on our trip but I think that was from too much wine rather than the stairs. It felt like the ambulances were meeting us at every stop.>>

lol, bilbo - I wonder if this is a big problem on Saga tours which is the one I was thinking of for my mum, especially as I thought that there would be provision made for the elderly and less than mobile, as they are aimed at the over 55s.
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Dec 21st, 2015, 09:58 PM
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Oh my Bilbo, that would be rather distressing. Fortunately the worst that befell some of our tour mates were stomach upset and colds.
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Dec 21st, 2015, 10:08 PM
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Thursday December 3

Today we are docked in Mannheim and will visit Heidelberg. We boarded busses with our guide Andreas. Each bus has a different local guide and we stick with the same one during the excursion. In Mannheim we passed a huge John Deere factory and showroom on our way to the Autobahn. Bunny and I reminisced about our experience driving the Autobahn 3 decades earlier. She drove, I navigated and her sister was in the back when we calculated just how fast we were going. The amazing thing was the number of cars passing us.

Heidelberg was the one stop I had visited before. I loved the dramatic ruined castle and the view over the city and wanted to return. I was disappointed to find a Christmas market on the castle grounds which had not been there in 1986. All these white tents were sneaking into my photos. After touring the castle we drove down the hill to the town. Andreas walked us to the meeting place where we had time to stroll and shop on the long pedestrian street.

We walked along until we came to a church on a side street and I asked Bunny if she minded going in. As we entered we could hear the organ being played and sat for a while listening. Bunny thought she had recognized organist Diane Bish on our cruise and sure enough that is who was playing the organ. Bunny has seen her on TV in a music show where she also does some traveling to play organs. We saw her a day or two later in Rudesheim filming in front of the Kathe Wohlfahrt store—I wonder if this will appear on her TV show.

I bought some handmade soaps for my sisters at the castle Christmas market and we found a few nice shops on the pedestrian street. We stopped here for tea and apple strudel before heading to the bus stop.

I hadn’t been really cold on this trip until we waited for the bus to take us back to the boat in Mannheim. I had my tweed jacket but didn’t bring my coat. I didn’t really need the coat until we waited for the bus but the coat was back on the boat. I was so glad to see the bus arrive.

After dinner there was musical entertainment in the lounge. The duo was pretty good but I was very tired so after a few songs I went back to the room. Bunny stayed to listen a little longer.
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Dec 22nd, 2015, 08:09 AM
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Scootoir-My last couple of adventures have had a piece of "giving up the control" to someone else.
Once a language immersion course, and the most recent trip was my walking tour in Tuscany.
In my younger days of traveling I would never have done this.
But now...I find it kind of relaxing to give up the control. Both times I have book-end the trips with being on my own and doing all the planning which I enjoy.
Maybe its a sign of maturity with wisdom that I am able to give up the control-haha...only kidding.
Whatever it is-both times it was easy and relaxing to not have to think of every detail.
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