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Meandering Trail Media is a multimedia company focusing on world-wide travel photography and publishing. PJ Adams, Meandering Trail Media's primary author, is a psychotherapist and best selling author who splits her time between California and Europe. Follow her on Twitter @PJAdams10Facebook, and YouTube.

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    « Seine River Cruise + Champagne and Loire | Main | Brit Bite #3: Adventures in Wonderful & Weird England »

    AMA Waterways Christmas Cruise 2017

    The waves rippled gently against the bow of our elegant ship as we sailed from Hungary to Germany along the azure Danube. From my French-balconied AMA Serena cabin, Rachmaninoff played softly in the background. I couldn’t resist snapping image after image of the romantic countryside on this magical Danube voyage over seven days this November.

    I felt like I had entered a fantasy novel. In reality, I was sailing along in the flesh, feeling the wind on my face and a Christmas song in my heart! 

    AMA Waterways, my host for a week just before Christmas, is one of the premiere river cruise purveyors. Their routes across the globe include France, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Africa, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Africa. For our journey, AMA delighted 19 of us from my local town in California who boarded the AMA Serena along with 100 or so others for a Christmas Markets cruise up the Danube. We added some extra excursions to pretty Budapest and grand Prague at either end of the cruise.

    We were all primarily English speakers. That is except for a delightful Puerto Rican group of 30 or so who were escaping hurricane devastation. Their spirited camaraderie contributed substantially to the festive spirit onboard.  

    If you haven’t taken a river cruise, you might be amazed at the lyrical way a floating hotel can provide the best in elegant cuisine, exhilarating off-boat excursions, and quirky on-board entertainment. But there’s a lot of work happening behind the scenes to make all this merriment a reality. 

    I discovered there are three key entities aboard a cruise ship that make a voyage like this possible. First is the Cruise Director. He or she manages all on-board and off-board activities for passengers.

    Our AMA Serena Cruise Director was a gregarious Brit named John Riley. He made sure our days and nights were filled with nightly entertainment and daily excursions to legendary locales like Budapest (goulash central), Vienna (home to Mozart and fine waltzes), and Salzburg (of Sound of Music fame). A fine master of ceremonies, John even orchestrated an on-board Christmas extravaganza that featured tree decorating, holiday entertainment by the crew, and a visit from Father Christmas himself.

    Observing John coordinate multiple walking guides in a half dozen towns for us guests who chose to participate, as well as oversee all aspects of the cruise from guest fly in to fly out, was truly amazing. I found AMA Waterways to be particularly accommodating to the needs of passengers who chose less activity for a variety of reasons, including disability or the simple desire to stay on board and enjoy the AMA Serena’s offerings.

    A second critical onboard group is helmed by the Hotel Manager. We were lucky to have Zoran Gajanovic, formerly of Viking and Disney cruises, who oversaw the accommodations, food and beverage service, and general hotel staff who provided impeccable service and delicious food and drink to us in several venues. 

    It is no small task to manage a cruise ship of this size. The AMA Serena herself is a spacious vessel, modeled on a classic ocean yacht. She has 84 suites and staterooms accommodating 160+ passengers. We had the run of the ship, which included the upper Sun Deck complete with heated pool and canopied loungers offering us unfettered views of the beautiful countryside. With the Sun Deck’s walking track and heated swimming pool, a fitness room, and a fleet of onboard bicycles to use on our own or on one of the many guided bike tours, we had everything we needed to work off those extra Christmas pounds. Some of us also took advantage of the massages, hair salon, and the onboard gift shop opportunities as well. 

    The third and perhaps most important element of the AMA Serena staff was Captain Henk Klos and his burly crew who guided us expertly from Hungary to Germany.

    Captain Henk, who told me he was actually born on a vessel in his native Amsterdam, helmed our ship from Budapest to Nuremberg in true nautical style. I was fascinated by the AMA Serena’s progress up the Danube and managed to take videos of the crew showing how they helm the ship as she progresses through a series of locks along the winding river. 

    But I haven’t mentioned food yet! The AMA Serena offered a variety of choices for our dining pleasure. These included La-Chaîne-des- Rôtisseurs-level international cuisine in the general dining areas, a multi-course Chef’s Table tasting menu at the rear of the ship, and continuous food and beverage service in the handsome main lounge areas.

    But I can’t forget about the Christmas Markets! The cruise featured a holiday theme centered around Christmas Markets enticing us across four countries. In Hungary, we sampled tasty Hungarian goulash and Gluhwein (mulled wine) that Budapest is famous for, as well as loaded up on pretty ornaments, knitwear, and holiday treats available at the markets. 

    In Salzburg, home to all things Sound of Music, and Vienna, the heartland of waltz, we enjoyed dozens of Christmas Markets with specialty foods including Vienna sausages, strudel, schnitzel, sauerkraut, and bake goods and cookies unique to the areas. During our stops in various German locales including Regensberg and Nuremberg, we enjoyed German nibbles like Würstchen (sausages), fondue, and Christmas Punch.

    Our final stop was Prague in the Czech Republic. This old/new city has sophisticated people, bustling commerce, and fascinating cuisine. It delighted us with its ancient enclaves, Jewish Quarter, palace, lovely Vltava River, and sophisticated shopping streets that rival the Champs Élysée in Paris.

    But we couldn’t stay on board forever—although many of us would have liked to. Our Christmas cruise drew to a close on a fine holiday note with Christmas songs sung by the crew, a festive Captain’s Gala, and even a visit from you-know-who who brought every last one of us a present (and a hug)! 

    Thus if you find yourself fantasizing about a river cruise somewhere on this big blue marble we live on—no matter what time of year it is—I can highly recommend AMA Waterways at https://www.amawaterways.com. They have a way of making dreams—and fantasies—come true.

    Happy Holidays! For videos of our cruise, click on the following links:

    AMA Waterways Budapest Illuminations Cruise 2017

    AMA Serena Navigates the Misty Danube

    AMA Serena in Lock @Hilpoltstein Germany

    AMA Serena Crew Sings Jingle Bells

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