Chris Mosler and her husband Huw embark on their first river cruise on board luxury new ship AmaKristina
We’re drinking Prosecco in the swimming pool on board AmaKristina with our new friends, the sun beating down as we watch our beautiful ship being expertly steered through gigantic locks with only millimetres to spare.
Our week-long Rhine river cruise has been full of moments like this, an absolute joy from the moment we stepped on board, via eight towns and cities, across four countries and ending with this moment of total relaxation.
We joined AmaKristina, the gleaming new addition to the AmaWaterways fleet, in Amsterdam, dropping our luggage off and grabbing a bowl of delicious soup in the beautifully appointed lounge with its eclectic collection of colourful and extremely comfortable chairs and sofas. A river cruise brings you right into the heart of the towns and villages en route, so it was easy to wander into the city. Amsterdam was bustling with bicycles and throbbing with life, and we spent a few happy hours exploring the canals before rejoining the ship and acquainting ourselves with our home for the next few days.
AmaKristina is the epitome of understated, relaxed luxury. Our stateroom was elegant and modern, with an Apple Mac computer and widescreen TV. It was very hard not to just dive into bed and avail ourselves of the huge selection of movies on offer, but there waiting for us was an invitation to eat at the Captain’s Table that evening. We washed away the travel dust in our roomy dual head shower, smartened up a little and headed to the lounge where every passenger was greeted with a cocktail and each lady was presented with a long-stemmed red rose. An evening with Captain Jan, his dry sense of humour and his cheeky smile was a great way to kick off this adventure.
We were welcomed on board with such warmth that we felt like we were joining a family – a feeling which lasted for the duration of our trip.
Next day, having already explored Amsterdam, we opted to visit the Keukenhof Gardens for our first guided excursion. We had arrived in the Netherlands at peak tulip time so this was a treat not to be missed.
While we tiptoed through the tulips (yes, I made my husband take photos of me doing just that), AmaKristina sailed on to meet us; then it was time to glide gently through the Dutch countryside and out on to the Rhine.
As we cruised from the Netherlands into Germany that evening we were serenaded in the lounge by a talented classical music trio, La Strada, made up of three nationalities all playing beautifully together.
This was our first river cruise and I was pleasantly surprised at the scale of the ship; with a capacity of only 158 it was small enough to be intimate but large enough to be comfortable – and it wasn’t long before we were greeting fellow passengers like old friends.
All the excursions on AmaKristina are included and every night saw me poring over the programme for the following day, trying to decide which one I absolutely couldn’t miss – it was very difficult. Each guided excursion is available at an active pace or a gentle one, which means everyone gets the most out of each stopover. Every visit has free time planned, so we could wander off together and explore the bits we were most interested in – hoorah.
Our first port of call was Cologne, where I was fascinated by the three tonnes of love locks on the bridge spanning the river – that’s a lot of love. We then meandered on to Koblenz for an evening stroll before spending the next morning sailing along the most famous stretch of the Rhine, passing 30 castles and the infamous Lorelei Rock. Light rain and low clouds only added to the romantic atmosphere, while a glass of utterly delicious, brandy-spiked, cream-topped Rüdesheimer coffee, served to all on board, certainly kept us warm.
The halfway point on this journey through the heart of Europe proved to be one of our favourites, with a visit to Rüdesheim. AmaKristina moored up and we hopped on board a cute little land train for the short trip into town. Many of our fellow passengers opted for a wine tasting afternoon in Riesling country, while the rest of us went over the vineyards and up to the Niederwald Monument and its fabulous view.
After dinner on board we returned to Rüdesheim for a visit to Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Museum. A huge collection of automatic musical instruments, spanning three centuries, is housed in a 15th-century knight’s manor house – it was totally mad and totally wonderful.
From gigantic wooden orchestrions, with dolls and creatures playing all the instruments of an orchestra, to tiny musical boxes with singing birds – it was a delight. My favourite was a wonderful piece which played a piano and six violins – although it did sound a bit like music practice used to in my house with four children and my husband all at it at the same time.
Huw and I chose to wander back along the river together, past a pair of geese with their goslings settling down for the night, listening to the gentle sounds of the river lapping against the bank, and on to AmaKristina, lights glowing, ready to welcome us home at the end of a perfect day. Throwing back the curtains of our double balcony in the morning revealed syrupy smooth waters and early morning hazy sunshine – for me, this was what river cruising was all about. It was just glorious. We spent a very leisurely morning on the sundeck watching the world drift by before visiting Heidelberg and its romantic castle in the afternoon. I climbed to the top of the biggest wine vat you ever did see and had a little jig on the dance floor installed on top of it.
One of the most fabulous features of an AmaWaterways cruise are the onboard bicycles. When they are not out on scheduled tours, passengers are free to borrow them and pedal off to explore. A brilliant idea.
We signed up for a bike tour exploring Strasbourg and it really was the highlight of our trip. A 14-mile ride saw us crossing from Germany into France, cycling around the backstreets and suburbs of the city before reaching the cathedral in the centre. Here we dismounted for a look inside and a chance to see the famous astronomical clock.
The cycle tour meant that we got to get up close and personal with all the bits you only glimpse from a bus window, while our guide made regular stops to point out particular areas of interest; I was very excited to be standing in the middle of the footbridge that spans the Rhine with one of my feet in France and the other in Germany. Nothing could dampen my spirits as we whizzed back to the ship, not even the rain that resulted in the odd phenomenon of frothy knees as excess detergent was washed out of my jeans. Maybe this is why so many cyclists wear Lycra.
Dining on board AmaKristina was easy. All meals are included, while at lunch and dinner all drinks are available on an unlimited and complimentary basis. Dinner is a multi-course affair, which always includes a vegetarian option.
Eduard, the maître d’, made sure that we were well looked after by all his staff, assuring us that, if something was not to our taste, we should just ask and he would have something created specially for us. We felt carefully but unobtrusively looked after. For a special treat we booked a table with friends at the Chef’s Table Restaurant. Situated at the stern of the ship, it has wonderful panoramic views, and we enjoyed a fine dining experience while watching the sun set.
Our final day with AmaWaterways was spent exploring the chocolate box town of Riquewihr in the Alsace region of France, a beautiful medieval town nestling among acres of vineyards at the foot of the Vosges mountains. Many of the houses date back to the 16th and 17th centuries and are painted in a glorious rainbow of colours. When we visited they were decorated for spring. I would love to return in Advent when they don their Christmas finery.
I rounded off my wonderful week with another dip in the pool, enjoying the swim-up bar and the company of friends while Huw chatted about all things boat with Captain Jan.
That evening we sailed into Switzerland and the following morning we said our goodbyes. From the beginning of our trip to our departure for home, we were looked after with care and good humour by all on board, and our meandering journey though the heart of Europe made memories we will treasure for a long time to come.
GETTING THERE: A seven-night Christmas Markets on the Rhine sailing from Basel to Amsterdam on 16 December 2017 starts from £1,744pp (two sharing). Price is based on an early booking saving until July 31 2017 and is subject to availability. For details call 0800 320 2335 or visit amawaterways.co.uk.