By Clarissa Ojeda-Winchester and Jennifer Hardy, Cruise Planners
For Spring Break 2022, we decided to take our first-ever wine cruise down the Rhine River in Europe. This trip was special for so many reasons. Just like in “The Sound of Music,” we compiled a list of a few of our favorite things!
- Itineraries: So many itineraries, Oh My! AMA offers cruises in Africa, Europe, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Columbia. So how did we pick our itinerary? Jennifer had always wanted to do a wine cruise, and I (Clarissa), remembered wanting to see the Windmills and tulips of Holland since I was in kindergarten when our teacher showed us photos. This led us to the Captivating Rhine Wine itinerary with stops in Netherlands, Germany, France, and Switzerland.
- Pre and Post Cruise Options: This component was so fab! We could fly in a few days early, stay at the hotel with the rest of the cruise passengers, get to know them, all while touring Amsterdam and surrounding areas. There was even an AMA Waterways specialty desk in the lobby just for us, as well as a Welcome reception. Our cruise manager, a Hungarian beauty, named Agnes, was a wonderful host from the minute that we arrived at the hotel. She helped Jennifer with her Euros, and she helped me find a reputable massage in town because the spa had already closed for the day. An overnight flight can be a little tough on the back! (*Travel Advisor Tip: Select air with the most leg room as you can afford and consider booking a spa appointment on day 1 of your trip to help you unwind.) We stayed at the Grand Krasnapolsky, complete with included breakfast, yum! For two days we toured the canal city and surrounding areas. Our included guides did a wonderful job which included stops to Rembrandt’s house and UNESCO canals. We stood in awe of the wooden slanted houses still standing after hundreds of years. After our tour, Jenn and I scoped out the Anne-Frank house, and the famous Red Light District! We also took our AMA bus to Keukenhof Park and Gardens. Keukenhof is home to 7 million tulips, a mock old-fashioned Holland village, windmills, and demonstrations! We watched cheese and clog making demonstrations and climbed two-story windmills. We were having so much fun by day two and we hadn’t even boarded yet! We have 6 kids between the two of us, so we weren’t able to stay for the post-cruise option when we got to Switzerland, boo!
- Accommodations: The river cruise ship was elegant, yet small and quaint. We stayed on the lower deck which meant we only had windows at the top of our room. We could still see the locks, but not like our buddies with the balcony rooms. (*Travel Advisor Tip: Book Balcony rooms so you can watch the locks up VERY close!). We are both SOLD on river cruising! Unpack once but enjoy excursions galore! River cruising is about what to do OFF the ship, whereas ocean cruising is about what to do ON the ship. With this said, the ship had everything we needed but no “bells and whistles” other than our spa/ hair salon, Chef’s Table specialty restaurant, life size Chess and heated pool on Sun Deck, Piano Lounge, and Exercise Room. Our Cruise Manager, Agnes, even joked that “Unfortunately, there was no rock-climbing wall onboard!” We didn’t need “bells and whistles” because our view cruising down the Rhine consisted of castles, castles, castles! (* Travel agent tip: This tour makes for a great photography enthusiasts trip!) Our accommodations were very upscale and cozy. We had luxurious beds and got to witness 12 locks from our Sun Deck. VERY cool! Our ship entertainment consisted of local musicians brought onboard for an evening at a time. AMA paid our musicians to record their music during the pandemic cruise industry pause so they would have income and we all received vouchers for a complimentary download.
- Castles, Fortress Ruins, and Views: The Rhine was bigger than we thought, more scenic and more quaint. No wonder so many fairy tales take place in these parts! Everywhere we looked from our ship, we witnessed peaceful wine vineyards, local villagers, and majestic castles and fortress ruins. There was so much to see in the way of castles that Jennifer and I faced opposite directions to make sure we didn’t miss anything! Even when we went to lunch, we sat next to the window (all dining tables are), and just sat amazed at our views as we sailed by eating some delicious local food. More on that later!
- Local Wines and Beers: As we continued to sail, we could see on our itinerary that Rudesheim Coffees, Kolsch Beer, and Riquewihr, Alsatian, and Rheingau Wines awaited us down the Rhine! Wines were included with dinner and lunch, but there was a wine bar in the Piano Lounge for after and in between. This sailing is definitely a must for wine enthusiasts. We had a wine connoisseur on board the whole trip from California who gave multiple engaging presentations and wine tastings. We had a special wine-pairing dinner that was pretty elaborate with the domestic wines from back home, and we toured local European places so we could learn about those wines and beers from the foreign locals who often made or served them.
- Fellow Ama Passengers: Due to the size of the ships, you can be as social or as private as you would like on this cruise. We noticed couples that kept to themselves as well as new friendships being made around every corner! Ama Cruise Line did a great job of designing the ship so the vibe was either social or private. There were long couches, but individual swivel chairs facing each other as well.
- The App/ Daily Cruiser/ Postcards: The “My AMA Cruise” App was really nifty. The itinerary is a click away, and you can share photo updates with friends back home by sending them a “stamped” email postcard, or uploading to social media. You can even make your own cruise album to share online. Jen liked the app, but if you prefer paper copies like me, there is a Daily Cruiser available in the lobby each day and beautiful photography paper postcards too. Jennifer made sure to send postcards to her kids back home every single day! I saved mine to frame for my travel display at local area shows back home! We even had very nice local maps given to us each day for the day’s port of call.
- The Cruise Manager: This REALLY is a huge selling point to this cruise. A guided host for the duration of the entire trip? Yes, please! I don’t think it matters how well traveled a guest is, this is a NICE feature! It really helps promote a sense of relaxation for the guests. Travel agents never get to relax, so this was a welcomed feature! Agnes was enthusiastic about our trip and narrated with stories as we sailed down the Rhine. Her narration was broadcast on the ship as well as in the staterooms on Channel 1. She hosted regular “in the know” talks in the lounge. On our last night, Agnes performed a Hungarian dance in her grandmother’s apron! She even shared with us that her kids are so skilled at Hungarian dance that they won a local contest equivalent to “Hungary’s Got Talent.” The cruise was exciting yet intimate as we got to know our wonderful host!
- Food: The food was wonderful on this trip. Jennifer is Jewish so she was able to eat Kosher all week and I was able to appreciate the local infusion of the meals. We had local fish and lastly, local berries infused with our breakfasts, and desserts. Our last night at the Chef’s Table, we enjoyed a multi course meal and toasted to a wonderful vacation with new friends. My favorite meal onboard was the Char Fillet and Bavarian cream and Ice Coupe Bavaria in Germany!
- Included Excursions: We wanted to talk a bit more about this since the excursions were truly the “meat and potatoes” of the trip. Check out some snippets from our travel diaries!
Day 6: Cologne, Germany: We toured Cologne, Germany this afternoon with our Ama Waterways guide and stopped at a pub for some awesome beer, traditional potato pancakes, and applesauce. The weather was windy, cold and snowy, but it warmed up before the day was over. We had time to go find some souvenirs. Since Holly graduates her dance academy this Spring, I got her director an actual German Nutcracker ornament so she will always remember the traveling Winchesters! Essentially, the city of Cologne (Koln) is the 4th largest city in Germany. It is known for a few things:
-90% of the city structures were lost in WWII bombings
-Museums! Art, perfume, chocolate, and more!
-The Cologne Cathedral, UNESCO site, built in 1320 (original burned in 1248) but not completed until 1880! World pilmigrage site due to the shrine of the Three Kings inside.
-Pubs, young people, university
-Artifacts always found here; ancient Roman or WWII. Just yesterday, an area had to be evacuated because they found an undetonated bomb from WWII. They also recently discovered a Jewish bath in the area where they were expanding City Hall. It is being restored and being developed into a Jewish museum instead.
-The home of Eau de Cologne, thus the fragrance museum, oldest intact perfume factory in the world
(*Travel Agent tip: While we personally did not tour any museums today, make sure if you visit, that you get with your travel agent about tours because there is too much here to miss out!)
Highlight for me was seeing an actual Roman road, a piece of Roman sewer, mural and wall, thousands of years old. Whoa!!! ~CW
Day 7: Rudesheim, Germany: morning Rudesheim Wine Tasting and evening Rudesheim Coffee Tasting transportation via the WinzerExpress city trolly.
Our Riesling tasting at Adolf Storzel winery – a family business since 1647. They own 25 acres of vines, each vine lasting 35-45 years before production reduces to 30%. They irrigate solely by rainfall, so their wines taste different from one year to the next based upon the weather. All wineries in this area are individually owned and are not part of cooperatives, so they have full control over the grapes used to create their wines. And the cool thing they mentioned is that the leftover wine from tastings is passed on to a local distillery and is used to make schnapps! After our tasting, Clarissa and I toured on our own. We felt at home because it really felt like we were just wandering around Epcot as we both have done many times before (we are both former Cast Members). The buildings and cobblestone streets were absolutely gorgeous! -JH
Day 8: Ludwigshafen, Germany: We participated in the “Romantic Heidelburg” escape. We toured Heidelberg Castle, which was in ruin from war and multiple lightning strikes. The castle dates back to the 1200’s and was revamped by MANY princes/leaders, so today it is a hodge-podge of hundreds of years and multiple styles. The last revamp caused such an uproar that it was not done in the same style that the work was discontinued. Today, it is home to a summer festival, performances, and celebrations. Heidelberg is also known for its’ University and contributions to science! Even a jawbone was found by a local in 1907. Determined by scientists to be “200k” years old. This is the story of the “Heidelberg Man”! (*Travel Agent Tip: make sure to stop at Brier Brezel and get an oven baked pretzel!) -CW
Day 9: Strasbourg, France: “Gem of the Alsace” Tour & Alsatian Wine Tasting. We toured the city with our guide who pointed out the storks, the history of the famed orange trees, and the political significance of the city, France looked exactly like I thought it would; Beautiful, delicate, historical! Between the ivy walls, pigeons, gardens, gates, and curb roof styles, it was just like Belle from Beauty and the Beast . Today we toured Strasbourg. I recognized this name from German history, but not so much French. Raphaelia was our tour guide today and she did a great job. She taught us :
-This area is known for storks! They are loud!
– We went to the European Union Parliament for pics! Way cool. I believe they started session today, but Russia was removed recently from the council for human rights violations. Everything here translated into all 24 official languages.
-All Jewish synagogues always manned by police.
– We saw a famous statue representing a mother who lost two sons to war; one fighting for Germany, one fighting for France. They do not have uniforms on as they are her sons before they are soldiers. They hold hands because they are United in death.
-Homeschooling is legal in France but heavily monitored with in person visits.
-Kids in French schools are not allowed to bring lunch from home as this is not lunch equality. Some might have more lunch than others.
-Taxes pay for students to attend college, but not quite enough so students often live in borderline poverty. Student housing is hard to find in the city.
-70k people a DAY commute to Germany to work because of all the manufacturing, etc, more jobs
-Many things are less expensive across the German border; cigarettes, diapers, make-up, but bottled water is less expensive in France.
There was so much on this tour, no way I could write it all, but Strasbourg has a a LOT of history because of its location, dating back to the Romans, so definitely worth reading about and visiting!
-Easter is a big deal here. Kids get two weeks off from school and that’s why there are little carnivals set up everywhere!
Ok, so who knew bologna could taste so good? I did not! -CW
Day 10: Breisach, Germany: Black Forest Hike: Since Jen and I are both former Walt Disney World Cast Members, we were eager to see the Black Forest, setting of Beauty and the Beast. It’s actually why we decided to take this hike. It did not disappoint. It was one of the most spiritual experiences I have ever had in my travels and I am someone who hikes!
We hope that you enjoyed our Review! If you are in the market for a floating field trip, call us at the numbers below!
Jennifer Hardy Franchise -253-852-4452
Clarissa Winchester Franchise-205-873-8621