Our New 2018-19 Europe River Cruise Comparisons

 

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

As many of you know, we have one of the best, in-depth, Europe River Cruise Comparisons available anywhere on our website.  We have updated our 2016 version to provide even more accurate information on the ever changing Europe river cruise scene.

We want to emphasize all of these river cruise lines are good values and special trips.  Many have won awards and there is really no official ranking system to provide you a valid comparison method. 

To help overcome the lack of an official ranking system, we have found that The Berlitz River Cruising in Europe & the USA Guide to be as fair an evaluation as presently available to the public.  This book evaluates individual ships in its rating system instead of entire companies, so we have decided to compare the best rivership from each company to determine a ranking system as our method of comparison.

We have also provided our own personal rankings of each line with comments.

So, let’s explore these ranking together, or if you like, just go directly to our full PDF presentation at this link:

READ OUR COMPLETE 86 SLIDE PRESENTATION

What Cruise Lines are We Comparing?

There are 8 major river cruise lines that market to US consumers.  The 8 lines we are comparing are: AmaWaterways, Avalon, Crystal River Cruises, Emerald Waterways, Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld and Viking.  We provide a good look at the advantages and disadvantages of each company, so you can determine if they might be a good match for your vacation.

Here are some of our photos of the actual riverships in action or in port:

AmaWaterways
AmaWaterways AmaCerto
Avalon
Avalon Impression
Emerald
Emerald Sun
Tauck
Tauck Treasures
U by Uniworld
The A–U by Uniworld
Uniworld
Uniworld River Royale
Viking
Viking Jarl

Why Should You Trust Our Comparisons?

Our ratings are based on sailing on 15 Europe river cruises, selling river cruises on most river cruise lines, personal research and earning specialty designations from almost all major river cruise lines.  We have tried to present the best factual information possible and if the data is our personal opinion, clearly state this. 

What are the Biggest Changes from the 2016 to 2018-19 Comparisons?

There are several changes to our previous 73 slide PowerPoint presentation. 

The first change is the addition of our photos of all the river cruise lines except Crystal.  We feel the reason this is significant, is that it gives you proof we have actually sailed on or seen these cruise lines in action.

The second change is to add rankings to the scores form the Berlitz guide.  This should help you quickly distinguish the differences between lines instead of having to compare the number scores. 

The third change is enhanced information on Crystal River Cruises.  In our original guide, there was only one river cruise ship, the Mozart, a double wide rivership.  Now Crystal has 5 ships sailing in Europe with the addition of 4 longships.  We have updated all our information on Crystal.

The forth change was to provide information about U by Uniworld—their new 2 boat venture that is radically different than others approach to Europe river cruising.

The last major change is to delete the pricing information chart, as the 2016 chart was a snapshot, not a real comparison.  Also, some lines do not publish their fares—you must directly contact the company to get accurate pricing.  Another factor is the air add-ons and other special incentives that many lines are offering.

Berlitz Overall Ratings

From the book, River Cruising in Europe & the USA, we selected the best rated rivership of each company to create this comparison chart.  Here are their rankings using this methodology:

Ward Ratings

Our Overall Ratings

Here are our rankings of the 8 cruise lines:

My Ratings

My Final Thoughts

Please share this information with anyone who might want to learn more about Europe River cruising or have them call us—we will be delighted to help!

Getting unbiased information about the various river cruise companies is difficult.  There is no one company that is right for everyone.  We do believe we know enough to guide you to the right river cruise company that matches your travel style.  We can provide comparisons that will provide you significant information to make sound travel decisions about which company to use for your river cruise vacation.

We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent
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Giants on the Danube River

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

Starting in May 2019, there will be 2 double size river cruise ships on the Danube.  The Crystal Mozart is already sailing and the AmaMagna will debut in May 2019.

For many seasoned river cruisers, this may be the next step in luxury river cruising.  For others, this may be an unnecessary use of space and extra costs.

With full disclosure, this blog is based on research only (I have never sailed on either ship), and I will try to tackle this new concept so you can be updated on news of these two unique offerings for river cruise guests.

Some Basics About these Giants

Traditional river cruise ships have been constrained by lock size—the max size is about 38 ft wide and 443 feet long.  The main rivers of Europe can handle these longships, but a portion of the Danube before the Main-Danube Canal can handle wider ships.  Two companies have used this area to build river cruise ships that are twice as wide as ordinary river cruise ships.

Schonbuhl Castle Watermarked
Schonbuhl Castle–the Watchman of the Wachau–one sight you will see on either ship

The Crystal Mozart was originally constructed in 1987.  Crystal acquired the ship, stripped it down to its hull and rebuilt the entire ship.  It entered service in 2016.

The AmaMagna has been built as a new river ship.  It will start sailing with guests in May of 2019.

With more space due to the doubled width of the ship, each of the giants of the Danube are designed to offer its guest more choices on a bigger river ship.  It clearly is aimed for luxury guests who like more space and expect more venues onboard.

The AmaMagna

The AmaMagna will still be 443 feet long but 72 feet wide—double the width of most longships.  It will hold 196 passengers in 98 staterooms.  By comparison, other AmaWaterways longships have 78 staterooms for 156 passengers.

Ship_37_AmaMagna_Exterior_rend_04_FULL
AmaMagna Photo AmaWaterways

The two key changes to the AmaMagna are larger staterooms and the addition of a Wine Bar/Restaurant.  There also will be an Al Fresco Dining area on the bow (front) of the ship.  It still will retain the normal features of AmaWaterways ships— a main lounge, fitness room, hair salon, massage rooms (there are two on the AmaMagna compared to one on the other longships in the AmaWaterways fleet), main restaurant, a reception area and the hugely successful feature, The Chef’s Table Restaurant.

So let’s talk stateroom size—here is the rundown: There will be one suite at 710 square feet with a full balcony; 6 suites at 474 square feet with full balcony; 46 suites at 355 square feet with a full balcony; 34 staterooms at 252 square feet with full balcony and 11 staterooms at 205 square feet with fixed windows—I affectionately call this area the swan deck, as part of the room is at the waterline and the swans often swim by for a unique view of them above and below the waterline from the window.

Ship_37_stateroom_4_gallery
355 sq. ft. suite on the AmaMagna. Photo AmaWaterways

The AmaMagna will sail two 7 day itineraries on the Danube.  They are the Romantic Danube (Vilshofen to Budapest) and the Melodies of the Danube (Budapest to Vilshofen).  For those of us who have sailed the upper Danube before, the ports are similar to previous AmaWaterways itineraries with some minor adjustments.

The Crystal Mozart

Mozart_Night-400x200
The Crystal Mozart in Budapest. Photo Crystal River Cruises

The Crystal Mozart is 395 feet long and 75 feet wide.  It holds 154 guests in 79 staterooms according to the brochure, but I keep coming up with a passenger count of 158 based on two to a stateroom (79 x 2)—some publications list the passenger count as 160.  41 cabins have fixed windows on the first deck, which is known as the Harmony deck.  They are all 219 square feet. 

Mozart_Suite_Fixed_Window-300x200
Fixed Window Suite on the Crystal Mozart. Photo Crystal River Cruises

The remaining cabins are on the Seahorse deck, on deck 2.  On this deck there are 24 French balcony cabins—23 are 219 square feet and one is 209 square feet. The 14 remaining cabins are considered penthouses.  There are two 883 square foot suites with 2 beds; and 12 staterooms of 330 square feet.  None have outside balconies—there are only French balconies on the Mozart.  The twelve 330 square feet staterooms have bathtubs, but the two larger stateroom only have showers—seems odd to me, as a bathtub is often a desired luxury feature. 

Mozart_Penthouse-1-300x200
330 sq. ft. Penthouse Suite on the Crystal Mozart. Photo Crystal River Cruise

Each stateroom on the Mozart has a butler; a stocked mini-refrigerator and a welcome bottle of champagne and two bottles of wine in suite. 

On deck 3, the Crystal deck, Crystal Ocean cruisers will recognize many of the venue names.  Venues include the Blue Bar and Grill, Connoisseur Club, Palm Court, the Cove Piano Bar, the Vintage Room, the Waterside Restaurant and the Bistro Mozart.  The deck has a wrap-around Promenade.

Mozart_Palm_Court-1-300x200
Palm Court on the Crystal Mozart. Photo Crystal River Cruises

The Crystal Mozart has 4 itineraries for 2018.  These include the Treasures of the Danube, a 10 day loop that starts and ends in Vienna (fares start at $4078 per person); the Danube Serenade a 7 day eastbound starting in Vienna and first sails west through Austria and then sails east to Budapest (fares start at $2,803); another 7 day Danube Serenade that sails west from Budapest to Melk and then loops back to Vienna (again the fare starts at $2,803); and finally a 11 day Eastern Danube Discovery that sails from Vienna eastward to Belgrade and then back to Vienna (fares start at $5,525).  For 2019 they have added a trip called Danube Dreams and Discovery for 7 days, which is a modified loop from Vienna (fares start at $2,805).  It also will sail a special Christmas cruise, one time only, starting on 20 December for 13 days (fares start at $5,415)—it is available for 2018 and 2019. 

Media Coverage

While almost all the press lauds the Crystal Mozart as a true luxury ship, there are just some nagging coverage items.  Some note the king size beds limit space in some cabins, negating the extra space of the double wide boat.  The Mozart does not have an elevator.  The Vintage Dining Room is an additional cost and depending upon the wines selected runs from about $300 up to $2000 per person.  Some have complained there is a run on this room and all passengers do not have access.  For an all-inclusive line, there sure seems to be a lot of extras to spend your money on—optional tours, watercraft, Michelin Star dining on shore are not included.

With a ship yet to launch, it is really unfair to make comparisons with the Crystal Mozart.  There are some differences, however, that leap out at me.  Here they are:

  • No elevator on the Mozart; there is one on the AmaMagna.
  • No outside balconies on the Mozart; many outside balconies on the AmaMagna.
  • Extra charge for the Vintage Dining Room on the Crystal Mozart (as I noted earlier $300—$2,000 depending on the wines selected per person); Jimmy’s Wine Bar is included on the AmaMagna.
  • A one hour limit on Wi-Fi on the Mozart (there is an extra charge for more than one hour); unlimited on the AmaMagna.
  • The Mozart is all-inclusive and has butler service; the AmaMagna has included wine, beer and beverages with meals and a one hour Sip and Sail free cocktail hour but has no butler service.
  • Both have unique water sports boats and extras. At present the AmaMagna items are free; there sometimes is an extra charge for items on the Crystal Mozart.

I will be very interested in the 3rd Edition of the Berlitz River Cruising in Europe that is due out in early July 2018—I will report and update this blog once I can get the new edition.  The author, Douglas Ward,  is about as impartial as it comes when reviewing river cruising in Europe, so I try to use him when possible to help my evaluations.

My Final Thoughts

Giants on the Danube—it is a way to get an ocean cruise sized cabin on a rivership.  Are the limitations in size and extra offerings of these giant riverships worth it?  I’m really not sure yet—both carry an extra price tag that seems pretty steep to me. 

On the AmaMagna, a swan deck cabin starts at $3799 per person and main and upper deck cabins are an additional $1799 (raises the price to $5,598 per person) to $9,999 (raises the price to $13,798 per person) depending upon the cabin selected.  By comparison, you can book a lower category French balcony cabin for about $4200 per person on an AmaWaterways longship—that’s a difference of $1,398 per person ($5,598-$4,200=$1,398).

On the Crystal Mozart, it is really hard to get an exact fare without calling the company for a quote.  The brochure only lists starting fares (I listed them earlier in this blog); AmaWaterways is upfront about the stateroom costs.  On one booking site (Affordable tours), I found some crossed out prices for a June 30—July 10, 2018 sailing on the Treasures of the Danube by category for the Mozart (the brochure states the fares start from $4,070 but it includes prices for 3 possible Crystal river ships), so here goes:  Fixed window stateroom $7,290–&7,655 per person; a French Balcony was $9,250 per person; the Penthouse suite was $16, 235 per person and the 2 room Suite was $37,305 per person.  The website claims these are brochure rates, per person in US dollars, but I have no way to verify if these are accurate.

There is a market for this type of river cruise—those who want more personal space and are willing to pay for it.  It answers the one problem some river cruise clients’ voice—they want a bigger stateroom, similar to the staterooms they have experienced on an ocean cruise liner.  For folks who love Crystal Ocean cruises and expect the same level of service and amenities, they should also be good matches for a Crystal River Cruise.

My guess is that when the AmaMagna starts sailing, the press will call it a draw when comparing the Crystal Mozart and the AmaMagna.  It will be interesting to see if I’m correct on this prediction.

Should you go one of these giants?  It will be right for some, but do not fear–we are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts who can guide you through these decisions and help you determine if the increased space and amenities are worth the extra cost.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

We Make People Happy!

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

We have done a lot of traveling lately and had many clients traveling in the first six months of this year.  It started me thinking about our purpose as travel advisors.  Why are we in business?  What is our purpose?  What should we provide to our clients?

There are many ways to look at these 3 questions—in my MBA classes, we studied economists and business advisors and their thoughts on businesses.  Perhaps the two most famous, Milton Friedman and Peter Drucker, have their definitions of the purpose of a business.  Friedman states the purpose of a business is profit maximization.  Drucker states the purpose is to create and keep a customer.  While I think there are merits in their definitions of the purpose of a business, I believe there has to be more.  Here is our business purpose–we want to improve your standard of living by helping you experience different places–we want to help you have happy travels!

So, let’s explore this together and see if we make people happy when they travel.

What Our Mission Statement Means to You

In our mission statement, we state we are “certified travel advisors who specialize in cruises, Europe river cruises, and European vacations for discriminating travelers.”  We further state “we provide customers with highest quality, expertly planned leisure travel.”

These are lofty words, but what do they mean to you?  Maybe a shorter way to say this is “we make people happy when they travel.”  I think we try to do this in two ways.  First, we want the planning experience to be pleasant—no stress, no worries—only solutions to your travel desires.  Second, we use the right vendors that will provide you great experiences—happy travel is the result.  It is our combination of experience planning travel and dealing with people in the right way that results in happy travel experiences. 

Put another way, we have tried to create a company that we would want to do business with and use over and over again.

Happiness is Vital in our Business

Happiness for me is an emotional state of well-being.  It is living a good life, one with positive emotions, finding pleasure in living, satisfaction and joy.

No one wants hassles in their lives but we still have them—it is just part of life.  Since there are always obstacles to happiness in our lives, we are determined not to be an obstacle—we want our dealings with you to be easy and fun.  We want to improve your emotional state of well-being—in short, make you happy.  When we make your travels happy, all else falls in place.

It is our golden rule—we treat you like we would like to be treated!

How Travel Creates Happiness

I think there are 3 main reasons travel creates happiness.  They are 1) experiencing different cultures and places, 2) enjoying the food and wine when dining on a trip, and 3) to connect or reconnect with friends and loved ones.

71 River Cruise
Friends and loved ones on an AmaWaterways river cruise 2015

One of our goals when planning your travel is to create happiness by helping you achieve these 3 factors on your vacation.  Travel planning is both an art and a science.  To get the best experiences and memorable dining, we must know our products completely—this is the science of travel planning.  While that is important, we also have to match these to your expectations—this is the art of travel planning.

If we do it right, we are certain to create happy travel results and this is both your and our goal.

Our Business Interactions with you—Happy Experiences are our Goal!

We want to become or continue to be your trusted travel advisors of choice for discriminating travelers who want a good value for their travel budgets.  We are really aware that our clients use us because they know us, hopefully like us, and most importantly, trust us.

I think there is one other aspect—we always treat you with kindness and fairness.  Basically, we want to make you happy you decided to conduct business with us and we made your trip a happy experience.

Some Examples of Happy Travel from 2017 & 2018

Often it is the voices of others that really tell the story.  Do we really make people happy?  Here are two communications from our trusted clients:

“I wanted to express my appreciation for you organizing and delivering one of the most wonderful travel experiences of my life! The AMA Waterways “Danube Cruise” was a truly amazing and educational trip! This was my first river cruise and I must say that working with Dream Destinations throughout the travel planning process made my trip come together flawlessly! Your professionalism and expertise earned my TRUST and I can’t wait for you guys to plan my next adventure on one of the many rivers of the world! I love you guys and the way you go about your business!!!”

Jeff Rock 2018

Jeff and Hank
Friends for over 47 years–Jeff Rock, my West Point Classmate, and Hank

Thanks, Jeff—sounds pretty happy to me!

“Hank and Anne at Dream Destinations are truly the best, bar none! My wife Denise and I first met them on an Ama Waterways Rhone River cruise back in 2013. Their knowledge and passion for all things Europe is truly infectious and the reason why we have booked travel with them every year since. Some of our favorite places to visit are Paris, Prague, Bruges, Nuremberg, Strasbourg, and Lucerne. From river cruises to rail passes, accommodations and restaurant recommendations, they are our “ambassadors to Europe” and our first choice in travel agents.  These two travel professionals will thrill you with their ingenuity and exceed your every expectation by designing a one-of-a-kind trip tailored to your dreams and desires.”

Mark Thomas 2017

Mark and glasses
Mark Thomas and crew preparing for wine tasting on an AmaWaterways River Cruise 2014

Thanks Mark and Denise—we are proud to help you have several happy trips!

My Final Thoughts

Happy Travels!  And Happy first day of summer 2018!

We are in the business of making people happy when they travel.  Sure, we would like to also make a profit, but our focus has always been on making your trip a great experience that brings you joy.  You can’t imagine how good it makes us feel when we succeed—it makes us happy!

When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.  And, we want you to be happy during the planning process and on the trip.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

Our 2018 AmaWaterways Christmas Markets Cruise

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination Specialist & Europe River Cruise Expert

We are proud to announce we will be leading a Christmas Market on the Rhine cruise on the new AmaKristina from December 17 thru December 24, 2018. 

Please come join us on the AmaKristina for the most festive time in Europe—the Christmas Markets.  To learn about this wonderful opportunity, let’s explore what Christmas Markets are, find out about the AmaKristina, and see more about the exciting ports we will visit if you come and join us.

What are Christmas Markets?

In Europe, many squares are used for various street markets.  At Christmas time, these squares are transformed into one unique blaze of color, goods and foods from small vendors.  It is a social gathering where hot mulled wine, beer and street food are served and all seem to get along as they browse the various vendors.

Christmas markets date back to 1300 or so and started in Germany, Austria and the eastern portion of France.  The season usually starts about 25 November and lasts until 23 or 24 December, roughly following the Advent 4 week season.  Even for a person like me who does not really like shopping, this is so much fun that everyone should try this at least once.  Unlike American malls, this is not combat shopping and crowds of hassled folks; this is a gathering of folks socializing with food and drink, music, and buying gifts at a much gentler pace. 

Basel 1
A unique Christmas Market booth in Basel, Switzerland. Weihnachtstube translates to Christmas Room. It was a great place to get a hot drink.

Seeing the decorations alone is worth the trip but an added value is the fact that many booths have handmade items that are unique and priceless.  Most sell only on cash, so make sure you have enough local currency to get your purchases.  And, as we have learned though our own mistakes, if you see something you like, buy it or you will often miss out.  Most markets open around 10:00 AM and close around 9:00 PM, but it varies a lot and it is not uncommon for booths to close down for short periods to take a break or get something to eat or an owner to take a day off and not open their booth.

As long as you dress warmly, these markets offer a cultural experience second to none—it is an experience not to be missed!

Overview of our Cruise

You will get to sail with us to 4 countries (Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands) and experience the magic of Christmas in Europe.  As described above, the markets on this cruise are usually in the historic medieval squares of the towns and village we will stop to visit.  It is the best way to see six different, unique, and interesting squares and experience the thrill of a great Europe tradition—the Christmas Markets of Europe. 

The hustle and bustle of the season, the stunning decorations and street food, and the glühwein (hot spiced wine), will be an adventure you will never forget!  Along with these sights and wonderful smells and sounds, you will sail in luxury, eat awesome food and drink superb wine, and have fun on the beautiful AmaKristina, with a great crew, for an experience unmatched in Europe river cruising.  We have done several Christmas market cruises and can’t wait to go again–we hope you will join us.  The following PDF PowerPoint details the cruise ship, a day-by-day summary of the ports and explains why you should chose us as your cruise leaders:

Learn More

The AmaKristina

AmaKristina
AmaKristina Photo AmaWaterways

The AmaKristina was put into service in 2017.  It is a 135 meter longship and carries 156 passengers.  AmaWaterways does European river cruising expertly and we have no doubt they will deliver again on our 15th Europe river cruise.  Her Godmother, Kristin Karst, is a co-owner of AmaWaterways, so you can be assured this vessel is their top of the line rivership in the 135 meter class.  There are staterooms on 3 decks of the ship and they range from fixed windows on the first deck near the river line, to French balconies, twin balconies (a French balcony and an outside balcony) and staterooms with 350 square foot suites (it has two rooms and a bath tub).  All staterooms are well designed, with comfortable beds, a small seating area (the suites have a much larger seating area), and good bathroom facilities. 

Twin Balcony
Twin Balcony Stateroom. Photo AmaWaterways

These compact ships have well designed facilities that will enhance your 7 day journey.  Once you experience an AmaWaterways cruise, you will agree with us that you will be on a luxury trip where almost all is included in the price of the fare.  You will get to go on a floating luxury hotel, with great food, free-flowing wine and beer at meals , and the newly added Sip and Sail cocktail hour before dinner with complimentary wine, beer and spirits and see sights that will dazzle you.  It is a great value!

Our Voyage

We will begin in Basel, Switzerland.  We will visit Christmas markets at every one of the 6 ports on this trip.  First, we will port in Breisach to visit the Christmas Markets of either Freiburg or Riquewihr.  Here is a photo of the Freiburg Christmas Markets:

Freiberg
Freiberg Christmas Market in 2012

Next, we will visit Strasbourg and its’ famous Christmas markets—the oldest in France.  Here is a photo:

Strasbourg
Strasbourg Christmas Market 2016

When we port in Mannheim, you will have a choice of visiting the college town of Heidelberg or the medieval town of Speyer.  Here is a photo of Heidelberg:

Heidelberg 1
Heidelberg Christmas Market

In Rüdesheim, more markets, a wine tasting and a chance to sample the famous Rüdesheim coffee (it’s like Irish coffee but better).  Here is a photo:

Rudesheimer coffee
Rudesheimer Coffee

After Rüdesheim, we sail the Rhine River Gorge.  This is the most scenic section of the Rhine, as you are transformed into a fairy tale land of great castles—there are more than 30 to see.

marksburg_z_550[1]
Marksburg Castle on the Rhine River Gorge
We next arrive in Cologne, and visit its famous cathedral and the 3 Christmas Markets centered on the old town area.  Here is a great photo of these markets:

Cologne
Cologne Christmas Markets 2016

We finish our cruise in Amsterdam and get to experience the canal-ringed city with a canal boat cruise and a city tour.

Amsterdam
Amsterdam roof lines seen from a canal cruise

Wow—what a trip!

Our Special Price for this Sailing

On this 7 day cruise, there is a special price—hurry to get $500 off per person if you book with us before March 31, 2018.  Please contact us to find out the cost of the stateroom you desire for this trip—we can discuss in detail which will fit your needs best.

Our Last Thoughts

Europe river cruising is constantly changing and in most cases, the winners are the cruisers.  This cruise allows you to experience a specialized tour of the Christmas Markets which blends the wonderful tradition of this festive time in Europe with a cruise of a lifetime.  The usual benefits of unpack once, seeing multiple sights, all meals provided and interesting things to do and see, combined with the Christmas markets, and have taken Europe river cruising to a new level.

As always we want to help you with your travel dreams, whatever they may be, and hope some of you will want to take part of this unique experience on our Europe river cruise.  Please call Hank (713-397-0188) or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you: Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

 

Europe River Cruise Partnerships Will Enhance Your Travel Options

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination Specialist & Europe River Cruise Expert

One way Europe River Cruising is changing is the trend of some companies to partner with other companies or individuals to enhance the options for more specialized experiences for their guests.  To me, it is no surprise that our two favorite river cruise lines, AmaWaterways and Scenic, are at the forefront of this trend.  A word of warning—these cruises sell out quickly (many are already gone for the 2018 season), so if you are interested, do not hesitate to contact us to get your cruise. 

So, let’s explore these new partnerships and how they can enhance your river cruise vacation.

3 Great AmaWaterways Partnerships

AmaWaterways has partnered with Adventures by Disney, Backroads and a celebrity chef, Joanne Weir.

Adventures by Disney 2018 & 2019

These awesome companies have partnered together to provide some unique river cruise trips on the two most popular river cruise routes in Europe—the Danube and the Rhine.  Most sailings are during the summer months, but there is also a special Christmas sailing on the Danube departing on December 23, 2018.  The 2018 sailings are now available for booking and we are happy to help you send your family on an adventure they will never forget.

Adventures by Disney will offer eight Danube sailings aboard the AmaViola.  Four of these sailings are already sold out! The route is from Vishofen, Germany to Budapest, Hungary, or the reverse.  Along with the chance to visit 4 countries (Austria, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia), the cruise sails through the Wachau Valley, one of the most picturesque parts of the Danube River.

Schonbuhl Castle
Schonbuhl Castle on the Danube River at the entrance of the Wachau Valley

On the Rhine, they will sail eight special Beauty and the Beast” itineraries aboard the AmaKristina in 2018.  One of these eight sailings is already sold out.  This cruise sails from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands (we sailed this route in December 2016) and also visits France and Germany—4 great Europe countries on one trip.  It also sails in the reverse direction.  The “Beauty and the Beast” theme will dominate the cruise with a special film screening and activities, but the highlight may well be a visit to Riquewihr, the inspiration for Belle’s hometown in the animated film.  

A special feature of both of these Ama ships is connecting cabins.

For these family oriented cruises, there are only 140 spaces per sailing—Disney extra guides take up some cabins—instead of the normal 156 passengers.

There is a big advantage with the pairing of Disney and Ama—both provide wonderful experiences: Disney on land and sea and now both on the great rivers of Europe.  And with the Disney touches, it isn’t hard to imagine that any Disney aficionado would enjoy these themed cruises.

Adventures by Disney in 2019

In 2019, a new route will be added.  The cruise will be on the Seine.  According to Travel Market Report, “The new itinerary will include two summer 2019 departures and two adults-only epicurean sailings in the fall, which will offer a wide range of special food and wine-themed experiences.”  It sounds like another great addition to the lineup to us.

Disney for Adults

There are also an increased number of adult only adventures.  These special cruises were inspired by the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival.  The special events on these sailings include culinary experiences both onboard and onshore, wine tastings, culinary walking tours and a French patisserie class.  There are 2 sailing on the Rhine (September and October) and one special Octoberfest sailing on the Danube departing on September 30, 2018—you guessed it, it will feature beer!

Bookings for these cruises must be done directly with Adventures by Disney.  Here is the link:  https://www.adventuresbydisney.com/trip-selector/river-cruise/  Please when booking these trips, include us as your travel consultants. 

Backroads

AmaWaterways also has partnered for some awesome bike tours with Backroads.  Backroads has been in partnership with AmaWaterways since 2015 and it has been quite a success story.  According to an interview I read in Travel Professional News, Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner of AmaWaterways, is quite proud of this partnership.  Here is what she had to say in 2017: “Providing best-in-class service and authentic upscale travel experiences, we’re bringing more active adventure biking, walking and hiking journeys to the world’s most renowned European river cruise destinations.  We’ve expanded our 2017 line-up of active river cruise departures in partnership with Backroads – the world’s #1 active travel company –by offering more the 50 sailings along the Danube, Douro, Rhine or Seine rivers.”

On our AmaWaterways Tulip Time Cruise
Anne and Hank with Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President and Co-Owner of AmaWaterways

The company has taken over entire boats on the Danube in 2017 and plans to do so again in 2018 and 2019.  And an AmaWaterways vessel will be exclusively reserved for roughly 100 Backroads cruisers on the Douro River in Portugal in 2019.

They also offer smaller group tours.  Typically on these special tours only 20 to 30 of the 156 passengers are part of a regular cruise.  Currently the two most popular routes are on the upper Danube and along the Rhine.  These tours feature specialized titanium bikes provided by Backroads.  Currently there are 58 tours scheduled for 2018, including a chartered Danube sailing for Backroads guests only.

I reached out to Backroads and Liz Einbinder, their PR director, provided me some great information about this partnership.  Among the items she pointed out to me were how good the bikes that Backroads uses for their tours.  Here is her description “On all our active river cruise trips we use Backroads state of the art custom titanium bikes.  Our bikes are best in class, lightweight, comfortable and designed for a day of cycling.”  She also told me how folks can book these tours—here is their contact information—“People who want to book one of our active river cruises book directly through Backroads (not through Ama).Call 800-462-2848 or +1-510-527-1555 or www.Backroads.com.”  Please just remember to include us as your travel consultants when making the booking.

Celebrity Chef Joanne Weir

AmaWaterways also has partnered with celebrity chef, Joanne Weir.  Weir has written 18 cookbooks and in 2017 recorded 2 cooking demonstrations onboard an AmaWaterways ship.  These will be featured on her PBS show “Plates and Places with Joanne Weir.”  The collaboration will continue with a special theme cruise on July 26, 2018. The seven-night Taste of Bordeaux – Culinary Cruise Hosted by Joanne Weir on the AmaDolce will traverse the Bordeaux region along the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.  We sailed on the AmaDolce in November of 2017 on this route and it was an excellent wine and food experience, so this extra addition will make it even more special.

On this sailing, guests will have the opportunity to interact with Chef Weir on the ship and during shore excursions, especial on tours that feature local foods and wines.  Chef Weir will also be on hand for culinary presentations available to all passengers.

Again, AmaWaterways just continues to add more and more value to their cruise lineups.

Scenic

Scenic Opal
TV Area on the Scenic Opal from our 2015 Cruise

Scenic has partnered with National Geographic to provide more in-depth excursions on some of their voyages.  According to their November 2, 2017 Press Release, here is an overview of the partnership:

 “National Geographic Expeditions and award-winning operator Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours have teamed up to launch a new line of National Geographic River Cruises.  These new offerings will combine Scenic’s truly all-inclusive luxury river cruise experience with National Geographic’s 129-year legacy of science, conservation and exploration to create an unforgettable experience for travelers.

Scenic already had great tours and this is only going to enhance the options for guests.  On each of these special cruises, there will be lecturer and photographer from National Geographic.  The concept is to provide a more in-depth understanding of the area and to enhance your knowledge of how to capture your experiences by learning better photography techniques.

Here are the 5 different sailings options in Europe for 2018:  Beautiful Bordeaux on August 26 and September 15; Rhine Highlights on July 30 and September 26; Gems of the Danube on July 19 and October 11; the 15 day Jewels of Europe (sails from Amsterdam to Budapest) on July 19 and October 16; and a Danube Christmas Markets sailing on December 2.  It is quite a good line up and should be a great partnership.

We have sailed on Scenic and it is an awesome river cruise line—we enjoyed it and so did the guests we helped experience this good river cruise company.

Carriage in Palais Liechtenstien, Vienna
Carriage on display in Palais Liechtenstien, Vienna on our enrich Scenic tour classical concert

Some Limited Partnerships

While AmaWaterways and Scenic seem to be the leaders in the partnership trend, other cruise lines are making smaller partnerships that deserve mention.

Emerald has partnered with one of the region’s top chefs, Fabien Morreale.  He will come onboard the Emerald Liberté one night to cook a special meal featuring his favorite and most famous dishes during a three-course serving.  This partnership will happen on their Sensations of Southern France river cruise, aboard the newest Star-Ship, the Emerald Liberté, where guests will sail the Rhône River.  We have sailed the Rhône River several times and it is a great vacation option.  We also have spent time on an Emerald Star ship and we really liked their product, so this partnership will enhance their vacation experience for guests, in our opinion. 

Pont du Gard
Pont du Gard–one of the sights you might see on a Rhône River Cruise

Our Last Thoughts

Europe river cruising is constantly changing and in most cases, the winners are the cruisers.  These new programs have brought the wonders of Europe together in a way that is much more appealing to kids and still allows the entire family to have a wonderful vacation or allows you to experience a specialized tour.  The usual benefits of unpack once, see multiple sights, all meals provided and interesting things to do and see, are now more tailored to your specific interests, and have taken Europe river cruising to a new level.  As always we want to help you with your travel dreams, whatever they may be, and hope some of you will want to take part of these partnership on Europe river cruises.  Please call Hank (713-397-0188) or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you: Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

AmaWaterways in 2018

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

Good things keep happening at AmaWaterways, our favorite Europe River Cruise Line.  We have been sailing on this family owned and operated line since 2009—this November we made our 14th voyage with AmaWaterways.  For 15 years (they started their business in 2002), this company has provided what we think is the best value in Europe river cruises. 

In 2018, AmaWaterways will add 6 new itineraries in Europe, a new rivership and enhance its emphasis on wellness during their cruises.  Before we explore these new features, a quick reminder of what you can expect on a 7 day river cruise from AmaWaterways will help us better understand how these new enhancements will improve your vacation experience.  I will also tell you about some of my favorite features of an AmaWaterways river cruise.  So, let’s explore these topics together.

What to Expect on an AmaWaterways Cruise—3 Thoughts from our Clients

We just had a new client sail for the first time on AmaWaterways.  Completely new to river cruising in Europe, he just couldn’t stop talking about how good the experience was.  The meals, the accommodations (staterooms), the service, and the included tours exceeded all of his expectations.  But, he was most impressed with the tours and the guides.  He was especially impressed with the Cruise Manager, Camille.  As an Air Force Academy graduate, who is a military history buff, he was astounded at the level of knowledge of the guides.  Since this cruise was on the Seine and covered the D Day sights, I think it is high praise indeed.  So one really positive feature of AmaWaterways (as seen through the eyes of one clients)–the tours.

One of our other clients is the former general manager of a California winery. He also is a foodie.  He is the most knowledgeable guy I personally know about wines.  He can go toe to toe with any wine host on AmaWaterways or a vineyard owner, either as a technical expert or just a down to earth guy who describes the characteristics of a wine to help you discover what wines you might like best.  His winery actually hosted an AmaWaterways wine cruise in 2014–this guy is the real deal!  His thoughts are—the included regional wines are of very high quality.  They change each day, but if you really liked the previous days offering, they are glad to serve it, if you ask and any still remains on the ship.  He just sailed on his 6th AmaWaterways cruise this month—when clients do repeated voyages on the same line, you know it has good products, especially a guy with his knowledge of food and wine. His lovely wife also agrees with their choice of river cruise lines.  They are great traveling companions, and a lot of fun.  So, another positive feature—complimentary high quality regional wines.

Mark and glasses.JPG
Mark (in the red shirt) and crew prepare for a wine tasting in 2014

Another long term client couple, love food and wine.  They really like the variety and quality of meals served on the AmaWaterways ships.  The emphasis on fresh, regional cuisine paired with the two quality wines of the day, is one reason they love to river cruise on AmaWaterways.  However, their favorite dining experience is the Chef’s Table in the stern of the vessel.  This specialty restaurant features a tasting menu that is perfectly paired with some high quality wines.  The 32 seat venue, included in your cruise fare, is a memorable experience and just one other reason why AmaWaterways is different.  So a third reason, the included Chef’s Table.

Chef's Table 2016
John & Linda (middle seats) loved the Chef’s Table on our 2016 cruise

Instead of listening to my thoughts, their impressions of their vacation experience, says volumes—it is an exceptional vacation that is safe, fun, luxurious, and life changing.

A New Ship—the AmaLea

In 2018, AmaWaterways will christen their 20th vessel in Europe.  It will start on the Tulip Time (Netherlands) in the spring and then move to the Danube, sailing from Vilshofen to Budapest or the reverse.  It is a 135 meter ship (443 ft) with 78 staterooms and has a capacity of 156 passengers with a crew of 51.  In my opinion, AmaWaterways has expanded in a smart fashion—they bring on one or two new ships in Europe each year, make sure they are properly staffed and maintain their exacting standards.  Having sailed on 14 different AmaWaterways cruises, the standards never change—it is a consistent brand. 

6 New Itineraries in Europe

4 of the new itineraries will be on the Rhine. 3 are on the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.  One is on the Rhine and one of its tributaries the Main.  Here are the new sailings:

Rhine & Mosel Splendors is sailed by the AmaDante from Luxembourg to Basel.

Rhine & Mosel Delights Basel to Amsterdam is sailed by the AmaPrima.

Rhine & Mosel Fairytales, is sailed on the AmaPrima from Amsterdam to Basel.

Medieval Treasures is sailed by the AmaDante from to Basel to Nuremburg or reverse.

There are 2 new itineraries on the Danube.  They are:

Danube Serenade, is sailed by 3 Ama ships—the AmaCerto, the AmaSerena and the AmaSonata on the Danube River from Nuremburg to Vienna or reverse.

Magical Christmas Markets is sailed by the AmaCerto, the AmaSerena and the AmaSonata from Nuremberg to Vienna or reverse.

An Enhanced Emphasis on Health and Wellness

In keeping with the theme of this blog, I thought I’d like to share some comments from another client about the enhanced wellness offering onboard the AmaLyra.  He is on his 5th river cruise with AmaWaterways.  His wife and he are very active and like the bike offerings and exercise opportunities on AmaWaterways.  Here are his thoughts:

“They had a pilot program with a fitness instructor (Selina).  She provided stretching, core workout, exercise band, hiking, etc. classed and events.  It was great.  She will implement this on another six boats for next year, hiring and training the new personnel.  It is a great addition to the AMA activities.”

AmaWaterways Bike Ride
Our Clients Jane & Len Ready for a bike ride near Cochem, Germany

My Favorite Changes

Although AmaWaterways does not include unlimited alcohol beverages in the fare, they are starting a new program called Sip & Sail Daily.  It is a cocktail hour just before dinner with complimentary wine, beer and spirits.  This is a great addition and will reduce clients’ onboard bills, as most folks really enjoy a cocktail prior to dinner and used to pay for it—now it is free!

Another feature I like is the continued emphasis on Exclusive Special Interest Tours.  Usually free, they may be capacity controlled to 20 guests, as most places they tour or eat at often just can’t handle more folks.  For cruisers who have previously visited some of the ports on the cruise, this adds options to enhance your cruise experience.

Finally, the continued emphasis on wine themed cruises just improves the vacation experience for many guests.  They are up to 50 now a year—a lot of good choices all throughout Europe.  The wine cruises include a wine host.  These folks are wine industry experts who want to share their knowledge and passion for wine both onboard the vessel and at the local wineries during the cruise.  The best part—there is no additional charge for their services—another free enhancement for you to enjoy.

My Final Thoughts

We are river cruise experts.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We can tell you the advantage and disadvantages of each of the 8 cruise lines that market to the US consumers.  For most individuals, AmaWaterways is usually the best choice and value for their vacation dollars.  This doesn’t mean the others are not good—on the contrary, they all provide good vacations.  But there are subtle differences and after all our experience and personal study, AmaWaterways is often the best choice.  From this blog, you can see that 4 different clients found 4 different aspects of the AmaWaterways experience that was their favorite. 

When you are spending around $10,000 or more for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  It is especially true for a Europe river cruise vacation. 

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

High Performing Organizations—AmaWaterways River Cruise Company

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

2 weeks ago I attended a lunch sponsor by the West Point Society of Greater Houston.  The speaker, Col (ret) Tim Kopra, a NASA Space Station Commander, talked about NASA and how so many different people and agencies performed at a high level and how as a group they became better.  It was a great talk and he made very salient points about teams working and training together. 

His talk inspired this blog—my association with high performing units.

I have been directly associated with what I consider high performing organizations at least 3 times in my work life.  So, I’d like to tell about these three organizations and why they were so high performing.  The three organizations are the 2/23 Infantry Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord CA; the 2001 Bellevue Wolverine High School Football Team from Bellevue WA; and AmaWaterways River Cruise Company.

Characteristics of a High Performing Unit or Organization

While some may differ on what makes a great organization, I believe there are 6 or 7 characteristics that allow an organization to be a high performing unit.  They are 1) a proper organizational design, 2) sufficient structure to allow all to contribute to the mission, 3) processes in place to maximize the talents of all members of the organization, 4) appropriate use of technology, 5) good leadership, 6) skilled and willing people who want to do their best, and 7) a culture that promotes the organizations values.  In the right environment, an organization who excels in these tasks will outperform other similar organizations.  So, using these factors, let’s learn why these organizations were so high performing.

The 2/23 Infantry Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord CA

Anne & Hank at Fort Ord
Anne and Hank at Fort Ord in 1986

Being an ex-military guy, the best infantry unit I was ever assigned to in my 20 year military career was 2/23 Infantry.  I guess it goes without saying there was a strong structure and a well-designed organization of this 560 man unit.  The training was tough, realistic and we quickly became a well-honed unit.  We were experts at using our equipment and weapons.  Over 10 % were Ranger Qualified—this is the most grueling training in the US Army.  The officers (leaders) were demanding yet really cared about the men and their welfare.  The Battalion Commander was a great soldier—he had a vision and could clearly express his vision of what he expected—we call it in military jargon, the Commander’s Intent.  We always understood the Commander’s Intent—there were clear, concise orders that allow us to know what to do in the absence of orders.  But the fundamental difference was how all executed the Commander’s Intent—everyone seem to understand the mission and get the job done right, often with little or no supervision.  It was amazing, from the highest ranking officer to the newest private, all worked at top efficiency, often in worst weather conditions, tough terrain and with little sleep.  We were the Army’s first Light Infantry Battalion in the Light Divisions concept and, for my money, the best.  Seems to me, 2/23 Infantry was the definition of a high performing organization.

The 2001 Bellevue Wolverine High School Football Team from Bellevue WA

bellevue-football-team-2001
Bellevue WA 2001 State Champs Football Team

The 2001 Bellevue Wolverines were the best high school team in the state of Washington in 2001—they won the state championship, were 13-0 and 55 guys who had one mission—win a state championship.  Not only were they undefeated, they beat the defending state championship team twice on the way to winning it all.  The culture of the team was right—there were high expectations, and all wanted to improve, both players and coaches.  But maybe the single biggest factor was how the coaches managed to get the best out of each player—all contributed to our success.  The players had sufficient athletic talent but it was their willingness to do their best and push their limits that really set them apart.  They were no excuses, no finger pointing when things went wrong, they just rose to the new challenge.  These were high character kids—10 years after the won it all, all 55 had graduated from college.  Can you see the 7 characteristics of a high performing organization in this team?—I clearly can!

Coach Schrader
Coach Schrader teaches his defensive players in preparation for the 3A Championship Game in 2001

AmaWaterways

Chef's Table Staff 2016
Chef’s Table Staff 2016 on the AmaDagio
Crew Caroling 2015
Crew Caroling 2015

So now to my favorite river cruise company, AmaWaterways.  This is what river cruising should be–It is just the right blend of great tour options, wonderful food and wine, comfortable staterooms and a staff only too willing to please.  Their ships are rated as the best of all river cruise ships by Berlitz.  It is a company that uses great technology but it never detracts from the vacation.  Almost every serious travel industry writer about river cruising, rates Ama very high—they often agree with our assessment that it is the best value for the price.  This is a family owned company and they strive to treat their guests as valued family.  Since 2009, after our first river cruise with Ama (we have been on 13 and are taking # 14 later this year), we have watched them grow better each year—there is a constant effort to enhance the guest experience. 

The Ama Ice Cream Lady
Homemade Ice Cream is served at Lunch–what a treat!

Clearly, the three owners of the company are hands on, innovative and inspire all of the company members to perform at max levels.  The quality of the vacations they offer, coupled with superb food and wine, served by waiters who become your friends, sets them apart in my opinion.  All the pictures are of the staff–the stars of the cruise who make your vacation special.  Look at the 7 characteristics list again—do you think they meet the mark of a high performing organization?  I wholeheartedly do!

 

2014 Reception
Key Crew of the AmaDagio 2014. In front from left to right Cruise Director Kris, Hotel Manager Andras, and Captain Danny. In the background, bartenders Tomas and Peter.

My Final Thoughts

I think most folks want to be part of a high performing organization.  You can be part of one, if you select AmaWaterways as the company to provide you your river cruise vacation.  Please, reach out to us with your river cruise ideas!  Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

River Cruise Seminar: AmaWaterways and Visit Dream Destinations, LLC.

by Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination Specialist & Europe River Cruise Expert

On Tuesday May 9, 2017, we co-hosted a wine tasting and river cruise seminar at French Country Wines, with our AmaWaterways Business Development Manager for Texas and LA, Shelia Bielich.  It was a lot of fun, with delightful wine and we had two really good presentations about French Wine Cruises available on AmaWaterways.  Since, many of you live outside the Houston area or may not have been able to attend, I thought I’d give you a recap of an awesome evening.

Our Venue

French Country Wines specializes in small wineries from France.  Many of their wines are imported from the Rhone River valley and the area around Bordeaux.  The store is wonderfully decorated with some very good pictures of the key wine regions of France.  The two owners, Tim and Phyllis, have been in business for 10 years and have a good selection of French wines.  We provided our guests with an excellent selection of 3 French wines.  They were a Pouilly Fuisse (white), a Blanquette (sparkling) and Jourdan (red).  Along with the wine, we provided a cheese and charcuterie tray and fresh breads.   All of our guests told us they really enjoyed the food and wine.  The wine must have been good since several bought wine from the shop to take home.

Welcome Board 5-9-17
Our Welcome Board at French Country Wines

Our Guests and Anne’s Surprise Gift to All

My clever wife, who adds sparkle to any event, provided our guests with a great photo gift.  She found a wireless device made by HP called a Sprocket.  This device is about the size of a cell phone and takes photos from your phone and prints out a small pictures that you can add titles to describe the picture with a caption.  She then attached them to an embossed card she designed.  To say this was a total hit was an understatement–all present wanted to see how it worked and were delighted about this special touch.  As usual, way to go Anne–great idea, better execution–you added class to our event!

Frankie Group
A photo of 4 guests from the Sprocket with the title added–Thanks for coming!

The first presentation–the Rhone River

After a short socializing half an hour, I provided a presentation about our 3 trips on the Rhone River on AmaWaterways.  My presentation covered 3 areas of this great river cruise.  They are 1) To learn about AmaWaterways and the 110 m AmaDagio; 2) Why you should take this cruise; and 3) to learn about this route on the Rhone River.

2015 Rhone & Saone Wine Regions - tan fade
Hank talked about the wine regions on the Rhone & Saone

First, I talked about the wonderful experience of an AmaWaterways cruise and the 110 m. AmaDagio.   Your floating luxury hotel docks right in the center of the historical towns–you will cruise in comfort and style.  The food (featuring regional specialties, using locally sourced, fresh ingredients), unlimited regional wine (that changes daily and is often from various vineyards along the route) served at lunch and dinner and service are all excellent and considered the best among the eight river cruise companies that market to the US cruisers.  I highlighted the tasting menu at Chef’s table (a separate specialty restaurant for 28 guests), a crew who always says” yes” and extras; like bikes. massage/hairdressers and the fitness area.

Hank - AMAWaterways Presentation 5-9-17
Hank talking about Cruise Features of an AmaWaterways River Cruise

Here were my key points about why you should take this cruise:

  • Cruise on the Saone & Rhone Rivers on the MS AmaDagio—first class all the way
  • Cruise legendary wine growing regions of Beaujolais & Cote du Rhone & enjoy wine tastings
  • Marvel at Roman ruins, shop for Provencal crafts
  • See historical Avignon & Arles.
Arles
Roman Amphitheater in Arles

I covered the route starting at Arles and ending in Lyon and gave a detailed description of each days tours.  I really emphasized the variety of included tours and after 3 cruises on the Rhone, we still had not taken all the tours offered.  And, of course, as you’ve read before, this cruise sails in the opposite direction.

Sunset Arles
Sunset at Arles
Pont du Gard
Pont du Gard
Old Town Lyon
Old Town Lyon

After the presentation, several folks came up to let me know they learned a lot, so I guess I did a good job!

A Taste of Bordeaux–Shelia’s Presentation

Shelia gave a wonderful presentation.  She started with an overview of the company and all the routes they sail.  She used a great handout map which described the rivers sailed by AmaWaterways and on the flip side was a photo of a 135 m ship, explaining the layout of their long ships with pictures of each area of the ship. She talked about the difference an AmaWaterways cruise provides their guests.  The key point she made, in my opinion, was how Berlitz rated AmaWaterways.  The Berlitz river cruise guide rated more than 280 river cruise vessels and Ama took the 11 top spots in their rankings—pretty impressive, to say the least!

 

Sheila - Bordeau presentation 5-9-17
Shelia talking about the A Taste of Bordeaux AmaWaterways River Cruise

 

Trip Map & Wine Regions on A Taste of Bordeaux

Having recently returned from the Taste of Bordeaux cruise, Shelia described the route and tours in detail.  The Bordeaux region consists of Dordogne, Garonne and Gironde (actually Europe’s largest estuary) and is in the southwestern part of France.    It is a round trip cruise out of Bordeaux and features wine tastings, châteaux and abundant vineyards along the Garonne and its tributaries.  She covered extensively the port cities of Cadillac, Pauillac, Bourg (a unique stop only offered by AmaWaterways) and Libourne that are included in this sailing. 

Blaye Citadel
Shelia talked about Blaye Citadel, a famous fortress built by military engineer Vauban

 

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Shelia also talked about Bourg sur Gironde a historic medieval walled city
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Shelia pointed out the main reasons to go on the Bordeaux route.  This is an important wine region of France and you will get experience tastings of some of the most distinguished wines of France including Sauternes, Medoc and Bordeaux wines.  If you like wine, cognac, oysters, truffles, châteaux and the grand buildings of Bordeaux and the castles and forts, this is the cruise for you.

Great presentation, Shelia—thanks for coming and sharing this with all of us!

Our Special AmaWaterways Sailings 

Special France Sailings

We are going this November 16-23 (2017) on the AmaWaterway’s, A Taste of Bordeaux cruise and would love for you to come with us!  In addition to our sailing this fall, we will have clients sailing in France with AmaWaterways on the Seine (October 26-November 2, 2017), and the Rhone (November 2-9, 2017).  All these cruise have special pricing and there is limited space available, so if you would like to go, please contact us quickly. 

Special Rhine Sailings

We also have one other special cruise with availability and special pricing in 2017–a wine cruise on the Enchanting Rhine cruise November 11-18, 2017. 

Looking forward to 2018, we have an April special on the Captivating Rhine April 1-8, 2018.
It was a great night.  If you live in the Houston area, we would really like you to come visit with us on our next seminar. 

Thanks to all who came!  If you are interested in any of these cruises, or any river cruise, please contact Hank at 713-397-0188 or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com. We love to help you travel to any destination worldwide and can’t wait to help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

My Opinion—the Best River Cruise Service is on AmaWaterways

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination and River Cruise Exper

River cruise travel is a matter of taste.  There is no right, universal answer as to the best travel experience.  The things we see and do on our vacations depend on our perception of value, our personal tastes and moods, the weather conditions, the crowds at the destination, and, perhaps, most often, our expectations.  Most river cruise companies basically sail the same routes and generally provide similar trips but how they deliver the vacation experience is quite different.  Cuisine, ship layout, excursions are among some of the differentiation factors between the competing river cruise companies.  There is, however, one factor that makes a huge difference—it is the service on board your river cruise ship.  How you are treated by the staff almost always enhances or detracts from your travel experience.

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You will be greeted with a champagne toast on the first day of your AmaWaterways cruise–our the captain, hotel director and cruise manager on the Tulip Time cruise  2013

Service Excellence

Service seems easy but it is hard to consistently deliver outstanding service all the time.  Anne constantly reminds me about what good service is—her buzz word is consistency—you should expect the same experience no matter how many times you go on a trip or visit a restaurant or a hotel or sail on a rivership.  It is about exceeding expectations, an intuitive service that anticipates guest needs.  So, let’s talk about our 11 sailing experiences on AmaWaterways, to learn about what they consider is service excellence and see how they consistently have provided us great service.

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Your cabin will always look great–this from our Danube River cruise 2013

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Baked Alaska paraded around the main restaurant

Berlitz River Cruising in Europe 2016—2017 Ratings on Service

Douglas Ward, the author of the Berlitz guide, rates AmaWaterways the best “in terms of customer care”.  Here is the rest of what he has to say AmaWaterways spends considerably more on hotel crew service training than other river cruise company.  The company is also known to offer the highest levels of customer care and friendliness in the river cruise industry.”  Many see Douglas Ward as an unbiased, leading authority on river cruising. 

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 Cruise director Kris, dressed up as Snow White for Halloween, greeting guests as they return from an excursion–she has become a great friend!  AmaLyra 2015

It is Difficult to Find Unbiased River Cruise Ratings Information

It is hard to find unbiased information on river cruise companies due the marketing efforts of individual river cruise companies and the confusion created by the large number of travel awards that a river cruise line could win—it seems to me that every river cruise line has won at least one or more award.  I have a very hard time distinguishing who is best and how reliable the “best” award to an individual river cruise might be.  I study and read all I can about river cruising and we are river cruise specialists for most river cruise companies (between Anne & I we are specialists for 6 of the 8 river cruise lines and 2 do not currently have specialist courses)—I just don’t see how an average consumer could distinguish between lines objectively.  We find Douglas Ward’s reviews to be quite accurate and unbiased, based on our experiences.  I am sure a lot of this confusion also is a result of how good river cruising is—all river cruise lines provide good trips, but some provide better experiences than others.  We have tried to provide an unbiased overall ratings of the eight major river cruise lines that market to US consumers—CLICK HERE TO READ OUR COMPARISONS

The AmaWaterways Family Concept of Service

The first thing that has always be clearly evident to me is that the crew considers each guest as part of the Ama family.  All the crew is well trained and friendly—despite their busy days, they always greet you with a smile and ask if there is anything they can do to make your trip better.  I’m not sure how many folks realize how hard the task is for the crew—it is at least 12 hours a day or more, they all have multiple responsibilities, and these ships run with military precision (I should know—I was an career Army officer serving for 20 years, so I know a thing or two about what it takes to mold effective teams).  The crew’s contracts cause them to be away from family and friends for long periods of time and to be honest, at times the work could become quite monotonous, so it could be easy to provide just good service.  Our experience with the crew is just the opposite—they just seem willing to go the extra mile and handle any problems that arise with dignity and professionalism.  It is luxury service that is friendly, not stuffy, and it always enhances our trip.

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Wine Service during the Evening Meal Rivers & Castles Rhine cruise 2009

Some of our unique service stories

Here are two great examples of the crew going the extra mile.  On our Rhone River cruise in 2014, we had the same cabin attendant as on a previous sailing.  As we boarded, she greeted us, and then ask Anne if she still wanted ice in the afternoon for her scotch—it was over a year from our last cruise and she remembered—we were stunned to say the least!

On a recent trip, while in the hotel in Budapest, the day before our cruise, I heard this loud “Hank, Hank!”  I turned to see one of our bar servers from a previous cruise—Tomas.  We hugged and then he explained he was working in Budapest now—he left Ama because he girlfriend just didn’t want him gone so long.  He told us where he was working and said he hoped to see us soon at his new waiter job.  Now for the great part, without us knowing, he texted the crew of our ship, told all about us and on boarding the next day, crew members greeted us and told us Tomas told them about how great we were and to take special care of us—he didn’t even work for Ama anymore and he reached out to make our trip special!

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Miro, Frank and Tomas (far right) from our Provence Cruise 2014.  Tomas is the former crew member who help make our 2015 cruise special by texting the crew.

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 AmaWaterways 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!

Our Salute to the Crew

Starting with the captain and his group of sailors, the wonderful cruise managers, the hotel staff with food service and room staff and all other members of the crew—all have added in some way to our great cruise experience.  They have truly made us part of the Ama family and our clients feel the same way and they often tell us so.  Thanks for caring so much—we can’t wait to sailing with you in the future!  We look forward to the personal touches, the consistency, and the intuitive service we know we will receive on all our future AmaWaterways cruises.  Here are some photos of these special people

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Captain Danny with us on the Provence Cruise 2014

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Lazlo with Anne on German Buffet at Lunch Blue Danube discovery 2013

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The crew of our 2015 Christmas market cruise getting ready to sing Christmas Carols

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 hschrader@dreamdestinations.com—we would love to help you–Savor Life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Riding the Rivers in Style—A Tour of the AmaCerto and the AmaPrima

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

One of the unique experiences of a Europe River Cruise is the design of the riverships.  While I truly believe that a Europe River cruise is destination experience, one of the huge differences between visiting these fascinating places, is the vendor you choose for your river cruise.  The difference between river cruise lines often is the onboard experience and the included tours.  So to help you understand why we recommend AmaWaterways as the best overall Europe River Cruise Company, let’s take a tour of the AmaCerto and its sister ship the AmaPrima—we have sailed on both and found both exceptional ships.

Overview.  The AmaCerto was built in 2012, is a 135 m ship (443 ft), and is 38 feet wide.  It has 82 staterooms, a capacity of 164 passengers and a crew of 51.  The length and width restrictions of the ship allow it to fit into the locks of the Main-Danube Canal and pass under the bridges—all items on the sun deck (top deck) can be lower to help it pass under low bridges.  This includes the navigation bridge—it is so cool to see how it can lower down to the sun deck level to pass under some low bridges.  The front of the ship has the two main public areas—the lounge and bar and directly under it is the main restaurant.  Staterooms are in the stern area of the ship, as well as some of the other on board facilities.  Here are some pictures of the AmaCerto

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The AmaPrima is almost identical to the AmaCerto.  It was built in 2013, is the same size as the AmaCerto and has identical facilities.  The only real difference is that the décor has changed but still as stunning as the AmaCerto.  The AmaPrima

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Atrium The ship’s lobby is beautiful and has a glass elevator.  Some folks have told me it has the look of a luxury yacht and I agree with them—the design and décor are really tasteful and elegant.  The reception area serves as a nerve center for the ship, as it is manned 24 hours a day to provide guests with all the information they might need to enhance their vacation.

Observation lounge/bar This is where most passengers spend their time while on board.  I think the design and décor is very good.  The bar is well designed, there is an awesome coffee machine, and this area serves a small buffet style breakfast, a lighter lunch option for guests who do not prefer the 3 course lunch in the main restaurant, and tapas and snacks for tea time.  This is the hang out—they serve drinks, you can see the river during day-time cruising and meeting interesting folks in the comfortable lounge is great and enhances your trip, in my opinion.  It also has a musician and is the area that the evening shows take place. This is the picture of the AmaCerto Observation lounge/bar area:

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Restaurants There are 2 restaurants on board.  The main restaurant has been redesigned and they have two separated larger tables that can seat 8 in the front of the main dining room.  These also serve as a wine storage area, so it’s like dining in a wine cellar.  There is plenty of seating for all guests with varying sized tables. The main restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Breakfast and lunch are usually buffet style meals with an order of the menu option.  The food is exceptional—they make everything fresh and even bake all their breads and pastries on board.  There is even complementary sparkling wine at breakfast along with fresh juices, as well as complimentary, unlimited wine and beer served at lunch and dinner.  At lunch, they even serve 3 flavors of homemade ice cream.  Dinner is a multi-course meal, served at your table and is locally-inspired fare of the region you are sailing past.  It is always paired with 2 great wines, usually from the region.  I just can’t say enough about how good the food is, how visually stunning the food is plated, and how much I enjoy the evening meal.   Here is the Main Restaurant:

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The second restaurant is a specialty restaurant.  It is called the chef’s table.  This area has seating for 28 guests, and is an included feature of the cruise fare.  The special menu is prepared right in front of you.  This unique menu is paired with carefully selected, fine wines.  It is truly a great experience.  AMA spends more than most other river cruise lines on the food and wines and it shows, especially in this unique dining venue.  We always go during our cruises and always arrange for the groups we led to dine together—it’s always a superb experience!  Here is what the Chef’s Table restaurant looks like:

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Chef’s Table Desserts–Awesome!

Other facilities The AmaCerto has a massage and hair salon, a fitness room and carries a fleet of bicycles.  The bikes provide guest an opportunity to go on guided bike tour (offered at no additional charge) or to go off on their own to explore the destinations during their cruise.  On the main deck, next to the reception area, there is a new lounge library area– a reading room complete with an electronic fireplace.

The Sun Deck The sun deck has seating so guests can observe the passing river.  It has enhanced pool topside, that includes a swim up bar.  It is a nice upgrade from the hot tub on earlier riverboats.  Here is the swim up bar on the AmaPrima and in the background you can see the navigation cabin that can be lower for low bridges:

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Staterooms The big change to these Ama riverships is that twin balconies have been added to some cabins—one is a French balcony with a sliding glass door and the other is an outside balcony to sit and watch the river glide by.  Both the AmaCerto and the AmaPrima have 3 decks with cabins.  On the Piano deck there are 17 staterooms with a fixed window only—safety regulations prohibit balconies near the river line.  The upper two decks all have some type of balcony.  On the Cello deck (middle deck) there are 8 French balcony cabins and 25 cabins with twin balconies.  On the Violin deck, there are 8 French balcony cabins, 20 twin balcony cabins and 4 suites.  The beds are very comfortable and the showers have rain shower faucets and also feature a hand held shower head.  Here are some of the complimentary in room amenities: flat screen internet/infotainment system (Wi-Fi is free ship wide), cabins have adjustable climate controls, bottled water is replenished daily or as needed, each cabin has a desk and sitting area, there is a safe and they use high quality linens and toiletries.  The twin balconies

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These ships are just awesome and I believe the live up to the description often used by Ama—it truly is “the luxury of more”.  When you combine the outstanding service, the exception food and wine and these well designed riverships, it is easy to understand why so many think Ama has the best river cruises in Europe.  You truly will cruise in style and comfort and visit some of Europe’s best destinations. 

These are just a few of the reasons we like AMA so much—they are constantly improving their product.  We hope this will inspire you to give us a call (Hank 713-397-0188) or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com) so we can help you visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations ! Your journey begins here!