Among the many river cruise lines vying for your attention on the Danube, one stands out as a true innovator in an increasingly competitive area: AmaWaterways. Their new ship AmaMagna has taken a quantum leap forward in luxury cruising, not by splitting hairs over who has the most personal service (it is excellent, by the way) but by virtually doubling the width of the ship. At a stroke, here is a ship that offers more space, more full balcony accommodation, more sundeck on which to relax (and a lift to get there), more dining options – including top-notch speciality restaurants – and still has only 196 passengers on board.
So, what’s it like to travel on this innovative ship? My journey begins at Vilshofen, Germany on the River Danube. On the quayside, a marquee has been erected for a traditional ‘Bavarian Oktoberfest’ specially arranged for the ship’s passengers, even though it’s November. It’s a wonderful way to be welcomed to Bavaria and AmaMagna.
On board the ship, Cabin 214 on deck two boasts a very generous 355 sq ft and facilities that any home would be proud of. A large walk-in shower unit comes with multi-jet shower heads – traditional or rain forest-style. Frosted glass doors separate bathroom and toilet areas from the spacious and well-thought-out main cabin. Two wardrobes and generous drawer space swallow up clothes. Under powerful reading spotlights you’ll find two USB charging ports so there’s no problem keeping phones and tablets topped up, and there’s an Apple Mac computer and iPad to hand as well. The large TV facing the bed offers a good selection of films and tv channels; there’s a safe and mini-fridge and bottled water is replenished daily. Add to this a balcony that is large enough to accommodate table and chairs with space to spare and you have accommodation that few ships can match.
Soon it’s time for the Captain’s Welcome Reception before dinner in Jimmy’s Wine Bar and Restaurant, one of the three speciality dining venues where food, wine and service get five out of five.
Next day, we are sailing along the Danube for Passau passing villages, churches, castles, and camp sites, before berthing in the town centre on the Inn River. This city with a population of about 50,000, over 10,000 of which are said to be students, has a traceable history going back several thousand years. The main town, dominated by St Stephen’s Cathedral, stands out against the sky, its white exterior and towers topped by large green domes reflecting in the sunlight. The current cathedral, built between 1668 and 1693, houses the world’s largest church organ with no fewer than 17,774 pipes. Returning to the ship, we divert up a short walkway, and enter a small doorway leading into St. Michael’s Church built by the Jesuits between 1665 and 1678. The doorway maybe small, but the interior is breath-taking: white walls, black marble pillars, pulpit, and side chapel all decorated with gold; it’s an unforgettable sight.
The following morning, we arrive in Linz, Austria’s third largest city, and a 2-hour coach journey takes us to the beautiful city of Salzburg, birth place of Mozart, travelling through the area where much of ‘The Sound of Music’ was filmed. En route, we stop with a view of Lake Mondsee: towering mountains, peaks shrouded in mist, chalets on the lower slopes and the clear, still, lake water acting as a mirror. We soon arrive in Salzburg. This old city has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996 and it’s considered one of the best-preserved cities in Austria, home to 27 churches and three universities with a history stretching back to the 5th century. Horse-drawn carriages offer tours of the city, trundling slowly through old streets where shops that have stood for generations mix with those sporting the latest designer names. ‘Christmas’ shops here are busy with shoppers, only changing their merchandise for Easter and then returning to the Christmas theme. Others produce handmade chocolates with more fillings than most can imagine, then there’s a Christmas Market getting under way, an open-air ice rink where parents and children alike glide across its surface. There’s just time for coffee at the popular ‘Mozart’ coffee shop before boarding our coach for the journey back to AmaMagna.
Dining tonight is at ‘Chef’s Table’. I’m eager to sample its 7-course gastronomic delight menu and that is exactly what it is:
Heirloom Tomato Carpaccio • Eggplant Caviar
Lemon Pepper Salmon • Turnip-Cucumber Tartare • Vegetable Vinaigrette • Chick Pea Mousseline
Carrot-Ginger Soup • Tabbouleh-Crème Fraiche • Cumin Ciabatta
Skin Grilled Pike Perch • Citrus Sauce • Celery Mash • Beluga Lentil Ragout
Sorbet of Vineyard Peach in Sparkling White Wine
Nebraska Beef • Green Pea Velouté • Wild Broccoli • Guacamole • Beetroot
Rum-Raison Crumble • Apple Tartelette • Vanilla Ice Cream
Yes, it was a delicious culinary delight, all washed down with paired wines.
Day 4 sees us cruising the Danube, winding through the charming Wachau Valley, and passing the villages of Spitz and Dürnstein, the ruins of Aggstein Castle and the 12th century Schonbuhel Castle standing guard on the riverbanks. Lunchtime announces our arrival in Melk. From here, we visit the beautiful Basilica Maria Taferl – journey’s end every year for the pilgrims who travel from all over Europe, a tradition going back to the 16th century. Our next stop is Melk Abbey, founded in 1089 and operated by Benedictine Monks. Building began on the current abbey in 1702 taking 34 years to complete. Join a guided tour of the buildings, through the monastic library, shelves lined with time-honoured books and scrolls, to rooms where vestments embroidered in gold thread and other regalia date back through the centuries. Monks still live here so there are parts of the abbey that are off-limits but the last stopping-point on the tour is the church of the abbey. Suddenly all the churches previously visited feel less dramatic; ‘stunning’ is an understatement.
We return for our last night on board, and the ship has transformed into a winter wonderland with Father Christmas at tits entrance even though Christmas is still 5 weeks away. Cabin doors have been adorned with holly wreaths and reindeer, sparkling silver lights twinkle from balustrades and staircases, Christmas trees mark the entrance to restaurants and passageways, and small, working Christmas-themed models are displayed. It feels as though Christmas has just arrived.
It’s time to reflect on this beautiful ship. Large, spacious well-equipped cabins; dining areas and food that are up there with the best; and staff that take time to make sure all is well for you and see to your every need. Though on a ship so well appointed and spacious as this, with so much included in the fare, your needs are likely to be very few.
All AmaWaterways cruises include full board, wine, beer and soft drinks with meals, a choice of excursions and unlimited WiFi. Prices are subject to availability and correct at time of issue.
For more information on AmaWaterways visit amawaterways.co.uk or call 0800 320 2336 or visit your local travel agent.
Alan was a guest of AmaWaterways.