By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination and River Cruise Expert
After 10 rivers cruises since 2009, Anne and I find it very hard to find any trip experience that matches a river cruise. Wonderful food and wine, unmatched chances to explore Europe in a floating hotel, attended by a staff that enhances your trip, are all part of this vacation. Small ship sailing on a river is so unique that one friend\client told me you cannot truly understand the differences until you try one—they are that good. We just could not find one experience that summed it all up, so we decided to provide you 16 experiences that have made memories for us that will last a lifetime. Here is a slide show of these experiences Our 16 Best River Cruise Experiences
1. Leading my West Point Classmates and other West Point Graduates on 3 Different River Cruises. Almost 45 years ago, after 47 months of training and studies, 729 of my classmates graduated from West Point. Prior to beginning my training as an Army Officer, I took my first trip to Europe. 43 years later I took several of my classmates on 3 different river cruises. What an experience—Anne & I help introduce these wonderful guys and their wives and some of their family members and friends to the joys of river cruising. We laughed, shared stories of West Point and had so much fun that many decided to take a river cruise with us again in 2016 or 2017. Here is the bottom line—it is such a good experience, we just couldn’t wait to experience again with each other and we are going in 2016 with a different classmate who wanted to share this second adventure on the river with his friends..
2. Discovering Brugge after a Tulip Time Cruise. A town lost in time; laced with canals, gold timed buildings and churches, combined with seafood, the best frites (French fries) you have ever eaten and over 1000 beer choices, make Brugge our first or second favorite city in all Europe. We owe all to our Tulip Time cruise—we had only just begun exploring the Netherlands and Belgium and had read about how good the city was, but after the finish of our wonderful 7 day adventure, we got to spend 3 days in this magical place. Since then, we have been back 3 other times, in all seasons and have sent clients to Brugge to explore this fascinating city. Sharing a great discovery makes it better—we will continue to send others.
3. Meeting an ex-AMAWaterways bar server again in Budapest. In 2015, I was in Budapest with a West Point classmate getting a beer to take back to our room. Suddenly I heard “Hank; Hank”—someone was calling my name. It was Tomas, one of waiters from a Provence river cruise we took in 2014. After bear hugs and a fist bump, and he told me he was working in Budapest now (girlfriend missed him too much sailing the river boats). I was stunned—I do not know a single person in Budapest. But here is the best part—when I told him we were sailing in a day on an AMA riverboat, he texted his friend, the on-board maitre’d and told him we were sailing on his ship and to take care of us! Amazing—he no longer worked for them but he cared what happened to us—the crew really becomes your family.
4. The illumination cruise of Budapest. The two best night time cruises in all Europe are on the Danube sailing into Budapest and the Seine into Paris. We have done two in Budapest and sailed with a ferry-type boat in Paris in 1989—amazing is the only word to describe this experience. Another great night cruise is the Rhine in Flames—a fireworks spectacular that takes place on the most scenic stretches of the middle Rhine every year between May and September.
5. Visiting Regensburg—Hats, Wursts and a Christmas Market Gem. The former walled city, a medieval bridge, Roman ruins, a Christmas Market in a castle and der hutkoening –the hat king, a world famous hat maker and the oldest wurst house in Germany–this is one of our favorite stops on the Danube. Anne has purchased 3 hats—they are wonderful! This is the only Christmas market I know that charges an entrance fee, but AMAWaterways provided us tickets as part of the voyage. The markets surround the castle—there are fires burning, great booths with all sorts of merchandise and food and drinks—it is an atmosphere unlike the many Christmas markets we had been to—unique and memorable.
6. The Rhine River Gorge. I first sailed the most scenic part of any river in all Europe in 1971 on a KD ferry—long before the advent of the modern day river cruise boat. It is still magical—30 castles dot the steep banks for views that are unmatched! It never gets old—can’t wait to sail it again!
7. Sailing the Iron Gates on the Danube. When the Danube narrows as it runs through the South Carpathian Mountains, the narrows are known as the Iron Gates. The granite walls of the mountains combined with a fjord-type cruise experience, easily makes this one of the top 3 most scenic stretches you will ever experience on a river cruise in Europe.
8. Food & Wine Galore. Exquisite multi-course dinners served with great regional wines, a unique Chef’s table experience and a selection of both buffet and menu items at breakfast and lunch insure you will have the finest dining available on your AMA cruise—all 9 we have been on always exceeded our expectations. Scenic also had a great seafood buffet and a selection of 12 different wines. This is a true highlight of a river cruise trip.
9. Visiting Cesky Krumlov. A fairy tale city at a horseshoe bend of the Vitava River, this Czech city is cool beyond words. A dominate castle tower decorated in spectacular colors, called the round tower and the huge castle frame the river and its charming town. Although it lacks the complete walls of Rothenberg, it has an old gate and has retained its charm of ages past. A true gem and well worth the hour or so bus ride from the Danube to visit—I am glad our Scenic cruise included this option.
10. The Rhone Ledson River Cruise. Wine makers themed cruises are special and when you put a top winery like Ledson on-board, it will enhance the already great trip and make into something special. The best part, however, was when we met the general manager and his wife and now we travel together—they are clients but most of all, great friends.
11. Scenic Sundowner Party in Durnstein. Durnstein is a small picturesque village of around 600 on the Danube and is often a favorite stop of many. It has an old Abbey, a famous castle ruin, great wine shops and apricot brandy stores. On our 3rd visit to this charming village on our scenic Opal cruise, we experienced a party in a wienstubbe to celebrate the setting of the sun—a small band, cheese, cold cuts, fresh bread, and wine and beer—a perfect way to end the day in the beautiful Wachau Valley on the Danube River.
12. Meeting Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst—2 of the 3 co-owners of AMAWaterways. Meeting the owners explains a lot—they love good things and are proud to share their creation. Their hand-on approach insures each detail is right—their mission is to provide the best travel experiences on a riverboat and land packages. From our viewpoint, they have overwhelmingly succeeded!
13. Working with the AMA sales and support staff. The staff at AMA is professional and they have helped us learn the river cruise business inside out. They are so good at what they do that it makes our job easier. Even more importantly, they watch out for the best interest of our clients and always strive to get them the best possible value on their river cruise.
14. Seeing crew members on different cruises and watching them progress in their careers. We always seem to run into past crew, and often seek them out when more than 2 AMA ships are docked together. They always remember us, are smiling and fun. But the best part is to come back and learn they have been promoted to more responsible positions. We have even met some of their families—what a treat!
15. On-board Celebrations. We have seen significant anniversary and birthday celebrations and even a proposal—folks using a great trip to mark the key events of their lives. We have been honored to share their joy.
16. Listening to the Experiences of our river cruise clients. Almost all of our river cruise clients have chosen to use us again to plan another trip and most pick a river cruise—some 3 or more and still planning more. Nothing makes us happier—convincing them the value and experience of a 7 or more day river cruise and having them return raving about their trip.
Perhaps someday we can help you go on a river cruise. Please reach out to Hank at 713-397-0188 or e-mail him at email@example.com—we would love to help you–
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By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination and River Cruise Expert