by Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
If you love to look at European Castles, there is no better place than the Rhine River Gorge. The stretch from Mainz to Koblenz is magical—there are at least 25 awesome castles, some on the Rhine River steep slopes, but a couple are right on the river banks or on an island in the Rhine. Even after making the turn on the Mosel, there are more castles. For me, it never gets old, as I am transformed to a time long past. So, let’s learn more about AmaWaterways, the AmaLyra and the Europe’s Rivers & Castles sailing route.
AmaWaterways is a family-owned and operated company that started in 2002. Rudi Schreiner (President) is recognized by the river cruise community as the godfather of river cruising, as he worked for both Viking and Uniworld prior to starting AmaWaterways with Kristen Karst, Jimmy Brandon (former president of Brandon tours, sadly now deceased) and Gary Murphy.
We feel AmaWaterways is the best overall river cruise value for Europe river cruisers. Now you might feel we are a little biased, since we have taken 11 AmaWaterways cruises—perhaps; but we are not alone in this opinion. Berlitz, in its guide River Cruising in Europe, reviewed 280 river cruise vessels based on accommodations, dining, service and other onboard features and Ama ships took the top 11 spots! The author, Douglas Ward, stated “AmaWaterways has help to redefine European river cruising.” When we have discussed river cruising among other travel professionals, most have told us that AmaWaterways has the most repeat river cruisers than other lines among their clients. Our river cruise clients feel the same way–almost all have taken 2 or more AMA cruises
To us, it is the food & wine and crew that stand out–along with well thought-out staterooms and excellent tours.
The AmaLyra is a 360 foot riverboat that was built in 2009. We have sailed on the AmaLyra 3 times (our very first river cruise was on this ship in 2009) and we really like it. It is well designed, has received some excellent upgrades since our first cruise and quickly will make you feel right at home. As with almost all European River Cruise Boats, it has 4 decks: Sun Deck, Violin Deck (top deck), Cello Deck (middle deck), and Piano Deck (river line deck or as we call it, the Swan deck). She is 360 feet long and holds 146 passengers in 74 staterooms. Facilities on board include the main lounge, a reception area, a massage & Hair Salon, the Chef’s Table restaurant, a fitness room and the main restaurant.
The main dining room serves most of the meals you will eat on board this river ship. There is a selection of both buffet and menu items during breakfast and lunch. Most days I select the Eggs Benedict along with complimentary unlimited sparkling wine and fresh juices to start my day. All breads are freshly baked every day and they even make homemade ice cream for dessert at lunch. There is unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks served during lunch and dinner–it is included in your cruise fare. The wines are hand-picked, regional wines and change daily–most are excellent and have really expanded our knowledge of good wine. The dinner meals are multi-course offerings and very high quality. They often are regional dishes that are specialties of the area of Europe you are sailing in. On each cruise, there is a Chaine des Rotisseurs dinner–AmaWaterways is the only river cruise line inducted into the oldest and largest food and wine society in the world. If you want good food and wine on a river cruise, go on AmaWaterways.
Hank ready for some wine on our 2009 sailing
There are 2 other dining options on the AmaLyra. In the main lounge there is light dining option for breakfast and lunch served buffet style. Later in the day, there are tapas and cakes and sandwiches for tea time. The Chef’s Table is a dining experience that is awesome! Included in the cruise fare, this small 28 guest venue, features a chef who will create your special, set menu, multi-course meal right in front of you.
The Chef’s Table on our 2015 Cruise
Our stateroom was 170 square feet. an adequate size for a river cruise ship. It had a very comfortable bed, a TV/infotainment system (computer & TV screen) and a well thought-out bathroom with a shower with 6 shower heads. Our cabin had a french balcony (sliding glass door). We liked our stateroom very much–you can see it below:
Europe’s Rivers & Castles 7 Night Cruise
All AmaWaterways voyages have included tours. There are usually 2 to 3 different tours, but some optional tours may cost extra. Tours are grouped so each guest can select the pace desired for the tour–gentle, regular and active. They even offer a late-risers tour at some stops–really cool idea. A special feature are the Limited Edition Tours (no extra charge)–a way to experience local culture in a unique way. On the Europe’s Rivers & Castles, there were 2 great Limited Edition Tours–you could hand knot a brezel (German for pretzel) in Wertheim or participate in the bratwurst and beer tasting at a brewery in Nuremberg (I am enjoying the brats & brew below).
Depending on the direction you are sailing, the trip begins in either Trier or Nuremberg. I am describing the cruise starting from Trier. The only difference in sailing from Nuremberg to Trier is that docking times and days are different–you still get to see the same sights.
The trip starts in Trier, the oldest city in Germany. It continues through the meandering Mosel River Valley, its steep hillsides covered with vineyards. The German villages of Bernkastel and Cochem, their castles and the Mosel River make this stretch memorable. Continuing up river, you’ll enter the Rhine River Gorge. Many fortresses and castle ruins are strategically placed on the steep hills. Once these castles served to defend, now they provide beautiful sights—it always makes the best river cruise lists of travel writers. Along the Main River, a tributary of the Rhine, the stops include medieval towns, often with the half-timbered homes that seem to untouched by time and important smaller cities that have unique palaces, churches and even the first printing press. The cruise ends after sailing through the Main-Danube Canal to historic Nuremberg.
Here are some highlights of this cruise. To start the cruise, there is a guided walking tour of Trier, Germany’s oldest city. Trier was an old Roman outpost. Important sights include the Roman Baths, Trier Cathedral, Basilica of Constantine and the Porta Nigra gate that dates back to 180 A.D.
The cruise continues on to Bernkastel, which is located in the middle of the Mosel wine-producing region. This area has been producing wine for over 500 years. A guided walking tour through the old town center and a winery visit to sample several different regional vintages are scheduled for this portion of your cruise.
On the next day, you will enjoy a guided tour of Cochem that takes you to the spectacular hilltop Reichsburg Castle (also known as Cochem Castle). It has fantastic views of the river valley below. Touring inside the castle is great!
As an alternative, you could take a walking tour of Koblenz and explore its charming town squares, unique monuments and quaint shops.
Later in the day, the cruise will take you along the most beautiful stretch of the Rhine (the Rhine River Gorge), with its castle ruins, fortresses and the legendary Lorelei Rock featured along the twisting river.
Katz (Cat) Castle on Rhine River George
Next up is Rüdesheim in the evening. A possible visit Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum could be fun or try a special Rüdesheim coffee, which is every bit as good as Irish coffee. This coffee is so good it requires a special cup (yes, we have some!).
Beautiful Mainz is the next stop. There is a guided walking tour which includes a visit to the Gutenberg Museum, where the world’s first printed Bible and centuries-old manuscripts are on display along with the old printing presses. Another highlight of Mainz is famous church with stunning Chagal windows.
Or you could travel by motor coach to Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town. The tour includes a visit to the ruins of the red-walled castle and its Great Vat (a 49,000-gallon 18th-century wine cask). The castle is perched on a hillside and has gorgeous views of the Neckar Valley and city below. It also has a wonderful gated bridge as you can see below:
Next up is Wertheim, a quaint German town. It known for its intricate glassworks (on some cruises, there has been a glass blowing demonstration on the ship) and charming medieval half-timbered architecture. There is a guided tour of the city followed by free time to explore on your own afterwards. Wertheim also offers a Limited Edition tour to make pretzels or a great bike ride escorted tour—both at no additional cost.
A guided tour of Würzburg’s major sights in the morning is your next chance to learn more about the river towns in southern Germany. Or you could chose to visit the Residenz Palace and gardens, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Europe’s best examples of Baroque architecture. The Residenz Palace was home to one of the seven Electors of the Holy Roman Emperors (you can see it below).
The afternoon brings two options. You could take an optional excursion to medieval Rothenburg, one of the best walled cities in all of Europe, for a walking tour and free time to explore on your own.
Or you could choose to remain on board as the ship cruises to Kitzingen. This evening, you will visit Germany’s oldest wine cellar to taste regional wines, escorted by the town’s Historic Court Council and honorary Wine Queen. On our cruise, we docked earlier at Kitzingen and we took the late-risers tour. It turned out to be 4 of us and was like a personal guided tour–we saw everything at a more relaxed pace–it was excellent!
Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is your next stop and you’ll have a guided walking tour of this medieval gem. The town’s cathedral, the Old Town Hall that straddles the river, and the serpentine streets lined with lovely houses and 18th-century mansions are sights you will remember long after the cruise is done. Included in this tour is a chance to sample some of Bamberg’s famous smoked beer.
Your last day is a guided tour of historic Nuremberg. You will see Gothic churches, the hill-topped castle in the old town walled city. Also the tour includes the zeppelin field where Hitler held his infamous Nazi Party Rallies, and maybe a visit to the Justice Palace courtroom where the War Crimes Tribunal sat in 1946 (it is still being used, so sometimes the courtroom is not available for inside tours). They also offer a great Limited Edition Tour here–we would recommend you participate in the bratwurst and beer tasting at a brewery in Nuremberg.
We led a group on this awesome cruise in late October 2015, but from the Nuremberg to Trier. It sure was fun and all who sailed with us signed up for a future cruise credit–a great way to get reduced cost on their next AMA cruise.
We hope this has helped understand what a great river cruise line AmaWaterways is. We also hope this will inspire you to try river cruising–we will be glad to help. Please give Hank a call at 713-397-0188 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can help you:
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