I joined AmaWaterways on the AmaMagna sailing from Bucharest to Budapest in April. AmaMagna is a newer ship and is larger than most river cruise vessels---it holds a maximum of 196 guests. The staterooms are larger and most have full balconies which is something not available on all ships. I admire Sammantha Brown, the travel journalist, and she is the godmother of this ship. Not exactly a reason to choose a river cruise, but I found it a nice coincidence :)
I chose this sailing for the itinerary. I had wanted to sail through the Iron Gates since I saw photos of the area probably 20 years ago. I also liked that the ports of call were smaller and places I had not visited before (although I had been to both Bucharest and Budapest before this sailing). This sailing we stopped in Rousse (Bulgaria), Vidin (Bulgaria), Golubac (Serbia), Belgrade (Serbia), Novi Sad (Serbia), Ilok (Croatia) and Mohács (Hungary).
As you can see, the AmaMagna is a beautiful ship with many amenities. AmaWaterways includes all of your dining in the price of the cruise and wine, beer and soft drinks are included with lunch and dinner. There is a self serve coffee and tea area available 24/7 and bottled water (in glass) in replenished each day in your stateroom. One shore excursion per port is also included in the price of the cruise. The guides I had in each port were phenomenal! For me, the guides were one of the highlights. They were all local and had many personal experiences to share.
I enjoyed each port and I tried different styles of excursions---I did a cooking class in Vidin (we made banitsa in a local home), a bike tour in Novi Sad, wine tasting in Bulgaria and a "hiking" excursion in Belgrade (hiking mostly just meant walking up a lot of stairs to the fort instead of taking the bus). The wellness staff on board also offered activities after the main ones ended---like a run through a city or walking on the sun deck after dinner while we sailed to the next port. There were plenty of options to keep busy if you wanted to be doing something all day....as well as half day tours in many ports in case you wanted some downtime on your own or simply relaxing on board.
Even when you are not in port, there is often beautiful scenery to admire as the ship sails. I enjoyed sitting out on the balcony with a cup of tea watching the world go by. This itinerary had more daytime sailing than some other river sailings which I liked---I like to be able to see the scenery as we sail.
Please message me if you are interested in a river cruise. The itinerary options grow each year and there are sailings to meet your needs. There are river sailings in Africa, Asia, Egypt, Europe, India and in the U.S and many sailings have a theme---from beer or wine cruises to wildlife viewing and plenty of topics in between.
The name of the tulip from Keukenhof pretty much sums it up...I love the joy of Spring and it is a great time to visit Europe. I did have some chilly weather, but I also had some gorgeous days. I visited 9 countries in just over 3 weeks and the pace was a bit fast, but my mission was mostly to check out new hotels, new guides and new destinations to help me plan better trips for you (my clients).
This was also my chance to check out Delta One for the first time. I flew first class from Phoenix to JFK and Delta One from JFK to Dublin. The cabins are a bit dated, but the seats in Delta One lie flat and you are given a full size pillow and blanket. I can attest to the comfort of Delta One---I fell asleep much easier and stayed asleep during the relatively quick 6 hour or so flight. I also flew Delta One back from Dublin to Atlanta and had a couple of extra hours to appreciate my comfort. The service and food were obviously better, but one of the parts I liked best was being able to board first and get comfortable without anyone disturbing you to get to their seat. I was also allowed to sleep longer as breakfast doesn't take as long to serve---breakfast was served with less than an hour to go before landing. Overall, I enjoyed the experience and will be flying Delta One again. Flying on a route that uses older vs newer planes keeps the pricing lower---while not inexpensive, I think Delta One was a great value. Being first off the plane is also a nice perk---fewer lines at immigration.
My first stop was Dublin---a city I had not visited before. Trinity College Library and the Book of Kells were my main reasons for visiting and I was not disappointed. That library is AMAZING! After my visit, I walked around the city and saw St. Stephens Green, Temple Bar, several of the famous bridges over the river and really enjoyed just wandering. Dublin is a very walkable city. I also did a day trip to the Wicklow Mountains and Kilkenny. It was a nice day trip if you only have a day to explore and can't get to some of the more famous areas of Ireland.
Next stop was Berlin. I'd been to Berlin a couple of times before, but it had been about 10 years, so it was time to visit again. I love the feeling of Berlin. It has a smaller town feel than Munich or Frankfurt and I love the architecture and history. I stayed at the beautiful Ritz Carlton Berlin and the location can't be beat. You are walking distance to much of the city and when you need to take public transportation, you are literally right next to Potsdamer Platz and all of the connections you need. The staff at the Ritz Carlton can arrange anything you would like to do and even offer great touches like running groups through the park with some of the staff and personalized check-in for kids (complete with steps so the kids can reach the front desk). Berlin is also a very international city and I had some of the best Syrian food I've ever had here (there are all kinds of great food options in Berlin).
Next stop was Bordeaux, France. I used this as a gateway to check out the Cognac region which is still a bit off the beaten path for most travelers. I loved the drive (about 1.5 hours) and once there I enjoyed the smaller town feel. There are many Cognac houses where you can learn about how Cognac is made and have a taste. The area is also great for exploring as the ocean is only an hour or so away and there are many other under the radar destinations a short journey away. I stayed at the beautiful Hotel Chais Monnet which is located in an old distillery. Parts of the property have retained the history and other parts are very modern. They have a Michelin starred restaurant on-site as well as a bar that has more than 200 cognacs on offer. It is a true 5 star property with an indoor/outdoor pool, wonderful French spa and warm and welcoming staff.
Amsterdam was next on my itinerary. I have been to the city a couple of times, but never during tulip season. I like flowers as much as the next person, but I never quite understood the appeal of going to Europe with Keukenhof as the main attraction. I made my reservation and sort of figured I'd walk around for an hour or so and be done.....well, Keukenhof proved me wrong :) I was there a bit early for peak bloom, but there were still thousands of tulips (and other flowers) in bloom. There are the outdoor gardens as well as some spectacular displays indoors. I left nearly four hours later pleasantly surprised. Back in the city, Amsterdam is a nice city to explore. There is something for everyone---from canal cruises and art museums, to the red light district and the infamous "coffee shops" offering marijuana. Amsterdam is a great place to fly into and spend a few days and then take advantage of the huge train and plane networks to continue your European journey. For me, that meant a non-stop flight to Bucharest, Romania to join a river cruise (more on that to come....)
I will continue on with the rest of the trip in another blog post. Unraveled Travel has exclusive perks to offer, such as complimentary breakfast and a resort credit at both the Ritz Carlton Berlin and Hotel Chais Monnet (along with many other hotels). Please message me when you are ready to start planning your trip!
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent (thanks to the recent visit to Antarctica!