Back in early November we decided that we wanted to take a trip somewhere in Europe over the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday since the majority of Alan’s co-workers would be off with their families celebrating and he’d have some downtime from work. We looked into a number of options (one of which would have put us in Brussels during the manhunt so thank goodness we didn’t go that route), and finally settled on the Christmas Market Cruise with Amawaterways, sailing down the Danube River aboard the MS AmaSonata for seven nights, departing out of Budapest, Hungary, and arriving in Nuremberg, Germany a week later.
We extended our trip a couple of days by flying to Budapest a day early, and out of Nuremberg a day late, so overall our trip was nine nights. In Budapest we stayed at the Prestige Hotel Budapest, which was terrific. In Nuremberg, we stayed at the Le Meridien Grand Hotel, another beautiful historic property. Both hotels upgraded us to suites for no extra charge and both were quite luxurious. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend either hotel for anyone visiting these two cities. The Prestige Hotel Budapest is part of a smaller group of boutique hotels in Budapest, while the Grand Hotel Nuremberg is part of Starwood’s Preferred Guest program.
This was our overall itinerary (independent travel portion denoted by *i*)
Day 1 – Budapest (*i*)
Day 2 – Budapest – Embarkation
Day 3 – Budapest
Day 4 – Vienna
Day 5 – Melk
Day 6 – Passau or Salzburg (we chose the optional Salzburg excursion)
Day 7 – Regensburg
Day 8 – Nuremberg
Day 9 – Nuremberg – Disembarkation
Day 10 – Nuremberg (*i*)
As the point of the cruise was to visit the Christmas markets, most of our on-shore excursions focused on that, but Amawaterways did a good job of balancing that with educational walking tours that typically lasted 1.5 hours in each location we visited. The exception to this was in Melk where our half-day visit was centered entirely on touring the benedictine abbey with the rest of that day spent on the boat as we cruised several miles down (up?) river to reach Passau for the following morning’s activities.
We aren’t what you’d call experienced cruisers so we weren’t sure at all what to expect (in fact, the only other cruise we’ve ever done was on an even smaller boat through Alaska’s coves and inlets) out of a river cruise, much less one that was so focused on one singular theme. I can’t say for sure what the experience would be like with other companies, but we were very pleased with Amawaterways and our time on the boat. There are some things I would have changed about some of the walking tours, but that’s feedback that I was lucky enough to be able to share with a fellow passenger we befriended who it turned out worked for the company.
Would I recommend Ama? Absolutely. I’m considering scheduling another cruise with them for France, visiting the chateau and wineries in Bordeaux.
Would I recommend a Christmas Market river cruise? That’s where I’m torn. You see, I *love* Christmas markets, and I’m a nut for Christmas. Like, it’s really my absolute favorite time of the year. Given all of that, there were times when even I was kind of over the markets. That’s not the fault of Amawaterways, or any of the river cruise companies, but rather is more about the quality – or lack thereof – and diversity of the merchandise you could find at each market. We saw a number of the same items in every city, and only a few of the markets had anything that was specialized to that particular region. That’s not to say that some charming, handmade items weren’t to be found. They were, you just had to really look and that wasn’t always easy between the crowds and some really surly shop owners. I’ll talk more about this in each of the follow up posts I do about each location we visited.
In the meantime, enjoy these snapshots that give a sampling of the entirety of our trip.