I recently recently embarked on a fourteen-day river cruise with my husband to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and becoming empty nesters. My name is Taryn Weiss and I handle marketing for Stellar Travel. Read along as I share our experience and our favorites along the Grand Danube.
When our only daughter left for college the same year as our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, we had an opportunity to celebrate like never before. No longer tied to school schedules and extracurricular events, we planned a two-week European vacation. We were looking for an opportunity to see multiple cities throughout our trip in a time-efficient way and decided on a river cruise. We don’t particularly like large cruise ships, but we loved the idea of an intimate ship with few guests.
We selected AmaWaterways Grand Danube Cruise on the Amabella river ship, sailing along the Danube River for 14 days visiting Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia. We loved having the flexibility to stop in smaller inland towns because we were on a river rather than the larger ocean ports.
The Amabella was a beautiful ship, with an intimate lounge to grab a cocktail, an art-inspired reception area, a massage and hair salon, a fitness room, a specialty coffee station, a gift shop, and an expansive Sun Deck with a heated pool and a walking path on the ship’s top. Since the gym only allowed a few people to utilize it at once, we took advantage of the walking path each morning, taking in the gorgeous surroundings as we got our bodies moving.
There were three restaurants onboard: the Main Restaurant, The Chef’s Table, and the new “Café Bistro” in the main lounge. AmaWaterways adopts a farm-to-table, destination-focused dining experience like most river cruise lines. The culinary crew purchased food at each port, allowing us to try local flavors and regional specialties at their freshest point.
The food was fantastic, with lunch and dinner offering 4-course meals with wine options. The staff was great to accommodate my husband, who is a big eater—after the first day, they brought him two main entrees at each meal. They also learned on the first day that he doesn’t drink alcohol, so the bartender would find a non-alcoholic beer from the region and have it available for him at each stop. The attention to detail and personal touches were all first-class and a treat during our anniversary celebration!
The dining area is open seating, and with just 120 guests and 40 crew members, we quickly met new friends and often socialized throughout the trip. When we wanted a quiet meal together, we enjoyed a table for two. (The average age of our shipmates was 55 and older. Had we done this cruise for our 10th wedding anniversary, we might have had a more challenging time connecting with other guests because of the age difference.)
The onboard experience was refined and relaxed, with daily entertainment, including cooking classes, wine tastings, musicians, and short evening shows. We used the Amawaterways app each day to keep up with the schedule of events. The app was very user-friendly, allowing us to sign up for excursions daily (and even adjust and change until the day before). We especially enjoyed the option to upload photos throughout our trip and link our families’ email addresses. Our family was sent a daily postcard with information about our destination and the uploaded photo – which they loved receiving!
Like food and beverages, all excursions are included in the price of the cruise. We loved the biking tours and the option to keep the bikes after the tour ended while we explored independently. The bikes were in great shape and had a built-in locking system, so you just had to turn the key, and the wheels locked.
Our favorite excursion was during our time in Vidin, Bulgaria. We took a pastry cooking class in the home of a local and learned how to make Banista, a traditional Bulgarian pastry. We loved the authenticity of being in someone’s home, and she did a great job of welcoming guests and teaching us to make the pastry. It was an exceptional morning and gave us a true sense of the flavors and hospitality of the Vidin area.
Austria provided our two favorite stops on the cruise, Linz and Vienna. Linz is a city in Upper Austria, straddling the Danube River midway between Salzburg and Vienna. We took a morning bike tour, then continued on bikes to explore more before hiking to Pöstlingberg, Linz’s highest local mountain. There is an option to take the 20-minute historic Pöstlingbergbahn tram (the steepest adhesion railway in Europe), but we welcomed the challenge to hike, and the views were very much worth it!
While in Vienna, we enjoyed another morning bike tour and explored independently during the afternoon. We found the city easy to navigate, with many shopping and dining opportunities. We used the AmaWaterways app to book a last-minute Mozart concert in a beautiful theater. It was a memory we’ll never forget!
The cruise was a delight, providing a perfect blend of romance and adventure to celebrate our marriage. We plan to celebrate with AmaWaterways again for our next milestone, but this time, we’d prefer a seven-day cruise with a pre-cruise hotel stay. Cheers to the next twenty-five years!
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