I recently returned from the Tulip Time cruise with AMAWaterways and the Enchanting Danube with Uniworld. There are some very interesting differences between the lines, so I wanted to give you a quick overview and comparison.
AMAWaterways: AMACello—April 23-30, 2011
I had stateroom 111, which is category E on deck 1. These cabins have a curved rectangle shaped window, just above the water line. However, when standing in the cabin, the window started slightly above my eye level, so about 4 ft 8 in or so from floor. I could hear the water sloshing and frequently saw the water sloshing up on the window while sailing. Other than that it was fine. There was room to walk around the bed on each side, as well as a full size chair on the window side of the room, and never felt cramped.
There is a short (length) and very narrow (depth) dressing table which has to accommodate the Quietvox bases, phone and keyboard, so very little room for personal items. There is a flat screen (TV/computer) that is attached to the wall and slightly adjustable side to side for easier viewing. The drawers are under this dressing table, but did not pull out all the way and were not very deep...no room for anything as large as a shirt.
The closet had several shelves to put anything that didn't need to be hung up. There was also plenty of room in the closet to hang my clothes and store my suite cases. Complimentary umbrellas in each room were also provided for use during the cruise. The bed was very comfortable with wonderful linens and some odd pillow choices.
The bathroom was decent size, but the shower was shaped like a long, lop-sided triangle, rendering a good portion of space useless. I was bumping my elbows on the glass door constantly. I did like the water spray options. You could select the non adjustable rain shower or hand held spray with 2 settings, which could be combined with a mid-back level spray.
Something else to note: there is a narrow winding staircase to get down to the cabins section of deck 1, which has a few passenger staterooms and most of the crew quarters. The restaurant is also on deck 1, but not accessible from the staterooms on same deck. I had to go up the stairs to deck 2 and back down stairs to the restaurant. There is a tiny elevator that does go between decks 3 to deck 1 (restaurant side only), but that's it. The elevator does not reach the sun deck or stateroom side of deck 1. Another oddity on this ship: the reception/lounge is betweendecks 2 & 3, so you have to take a few stairs to get to/from the staterooms on these decks.
I did have the opportunity to see a category A stateroom on deck 3. The cabin is the same size, with same bathroom and dressing table areas. The difference is these have the French balconies.
What I really liked about this cruise line is the TV/internet in cabin. Internet is complimentary, so it was fabulous having access to it 24/7, and the connection was always clear and decent speed. The monitor is actually the TV screen, so everything works together nicely. They also had a variety of on-demand TV shows and movies.
There were complimentary shore excursions daily, and in some ports multiple options. During this 7-day voyage there were only 2 optional excursions that were additional cost.
The ship has about 30 bicycles for use on select active shore excursions, as well as complimentary use for individuals wanting to wander on their own. My only complaint about this is that the bikes are currently not adjustable enough for short people yet. I am 5'1" and was just barely able to touch my toes to the peddles while seated. I had to get off the seat to touch the ground, which made quick stopping a hazard in some cases. The bike excursions were very popular during this voyage since the terrain is mostly flat, although on the excursion I went on from Volendam to Edam there were quite a few cobbled and gravel pathways, so a bit bumpy in places, and we had to carry our bikes up a short flight of stairs while still in town. I'm not sure if that part is normal, as there was a massive crowd of pedestrians in Volendam that (holiday) day, so our guide took us on an alternative route while in town.
Breakfast and lunch were offered buffet style, although for lunch you could also order off the menu. Breakfast offered fruits, various breads and cereals, a variety of hot foods included eggs, bacon, sausages, tomatoes, potato of some kind which varied each day, and what looked like white beans in a light red sauce, sort of English style. There was also a cook-to-order omelet station. Lunch buffet was widely varied from day to day from simple to exotic. I loved it the first day, but opted for the lunch menu the rest of the trip. Dinners were wonderful and comparable with other upscale cruise lines.
Destination: Holland and Belgium
This is a destination with cities, farm land, mostly flat terrain and lots of canals. In fact, most of our cruising was on canals, not rivers. I would say this Tulip Time cruise is a sprint, with not a lot of leisure cruising time. Most of our cruising was at night and we docked in 1-2 ports during the days. One day we visited 3 ports in one day, so lots to see in this smaller region of Europe. We started in Amsterdam with a canal cruise through the city, and then continued onto Volendam and Edam. We visited the battle fields in/around Arnhem, a war museum and cemetery, continuing on to Nijmegen. In Belgium we visited Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges. Back in Holland we visited the quaint town of Willemstad and continued on to Kinderdijk to see the large array of 18th century windmills. The next day we had some scenic cruising along the Amsterdam-Rhine canal to Utrecht. The highlight of the trip for me was the visit to Keukenhof Gardens. This stunning display of flower gardens, sculptures, ponds, greenhouses and a huge windmill is open about 8 weeks a year from late March/early May each year. While we were on the Keukenhof tour, our ship had continued sailing, so we met back up with the ship in Amsterdam.
Uniworld: River Beatrice, May 1-8, 2011
I had stateroom 314, which is a category 2 located on Danube deck, directly across from the crew stairs to a lower deck; there was rarely any noise from it, though. The "French balcony" does not go all the way to the floor; the sliding door sits on a small ledge that starts about ankle high.
These cabins are noticeably smaller in floor space, with very little room between bed-wall/bed-dresser/bed-French balcony or window. What floor space there was between bed-window was taken up with a small table and 2 Victorian type chairs.
The dresser covered the full width of the sleeping area, with ample surface/counter space for the Quietvox bases, personal items, and much more. There were several wide drawers that pulled nearly all the way out, so plenty of room for the small stuff. The closet had several shelves and plenty of hanging space, lotsof hangers and room for my luggage. The bed was quite comfy, with lots of pillows and the linens were wonderful.
The bathroom was set up weird. The shower was curved, so no bumping my elbows, but the toilet was tightly wedge between shower and wall. Toilet paper and trash bag were in the cabinet beneath the sink, so the trash bag took up all the visible shelf space under the sink. That shelf was pretty deep, so anything set in there got pushed to the back where it was not easily visible when opening the cabinet door.
There are no computers in the rooms, so the TV screen is mounted high in the corner of the bedroom. They had a movie of the day which ran 4-5 times a day. There were also a few global TV channels available like CNN, BBC, etc.
I had to opportunity to see one of the suites on Rhine deck. They are lovely, much more room and had larger chairs. The bathrooms were slightly larger as well. I also peeked in on a category 4 stateroom on Moselle deck. The long, narrow rectangle window is high in the room, starting at my forehead (I'm 5'1"). The rest of the room was set up just like my category 2 room.
The small elevator did reach between all the passenger stateroom decks, but did not reach the sun deck. The sun deck is reachable via stairs from the lobby and the Captain’s lounge. There are 2 public computers located in the library section of the Captain's lounge. There is also Wi-Fi access in the rooms and the lounge, however many people said they couldn't get a good signal in their rooms so ended up in the lounge. While the internet is free, the connection was very sporadic and often very slow when we could get it; very frustrating for all who attempted usage.
Breakfast and lunch were offered buffet style with LOTS of selections, and the food was great! They had a separate bar for fruits, yogurts, cereals, cold meats, cheeses, boiled eggs, etc. There was also a separate bar with hot dishes, including separate pans of floppy andcrispy bacon, ham and regional sausages. They had the eggs, beans, tomatoes, potatoes which varied from day to day, breads and toaster area, as well as a cook-to-order omelet station. Lunch buffet was another culinary experiment which widely varied from day to day from simple to regional to exotic. They did not offer the option to order off a menu; however it really was not necessary because there were so many wonderful selections each day. They also had separate tables set up with regional and popular cheeses and wonderful cracker selections, and another for sodas and other drinks. Dinners were fabulous, definitely comparable with the upscale/luxury cruise line cuisine.
This particular voyage was one of their Epicurean themed voyages, so there was a special dinner with a set menu and wine-pairings. It included all regional foods and wines and was such a delight.
Complimentary shore excursions were included at each port. Something they were trying new on our voyage (and a few other select itineraries) is secondary optional included excursions that were very different from their regular excursions. This was to appeal to guests who have sailed with them previously or visited these port towns and cities previously and want something different. We were told that if you have never been here, to take the regular tour. If you had been here, consider the optional excursions. To give you an idea, in Vienna the regular tour was a city tour with a few stops along the way; while the secondary was "Vienna as the Viennese Do," a more personal walking tour visiting coffee houses and other popular local haunts. Those I spoke with who took it absolutely loved it. I think Uniworld is onto something!! They also had a few optional excursions for very a reasonable extra cost.
There were about 10 bicycles onboard for complimentary individual guest use; no planned excursions were offered using them. Again, they were standard size for taller guests and not adjustable enough for us shorter guests.
Another delightful service offered by this cruise line was they allowed me to board the ship in Passau at 11am and enjoy a light lunch in the main lounge. There were other guests onboard as well and we visited until our rooms were ready at 3pm. At that time one of the front desk attendants came in to advise us our rooms were ready and our checked bags were already in our rooms. This was also available at the end of the cruise for those of us who had later departures. We were invited to stay onboard until 2pm if needed, although we had to be out of our rooms by 8am. Once again the main lounge was set up with continental fare in the morning, and later a light lunch spread was served, very similar to the arrival lunch we had a week earlier.
It was very relaxing and the crew treated us stragglers with the same grace and special attention as they did the new guests arriving early. I was very impressed with the overall experience.
Destination: Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary.
We started out in the Bavarian region of Germany, over-nighting in the quaint town of Passau, with a walking tour the next morning. We continued south along the Danube, stopping at Linz for an included trip to Salzburg. The next day we visited Melk, sailed during the day through the very scenic Wachau Valley, stopped at Durnstein and continued on to Vienna. We had another day of scenic cruising as we arrived in the beautiful city of Budapest. There are so many contrasts to this city it really has something for everyone.
In case you're not familiar with river cruising, the ships rarely park end to end. In nearly all cases they park side by side by side, so getting to the dock can be as simple as exiting through the lobby, or as challenging as navigating several ships. In some cases we were required to go up to our sun deck, cross over to the other ship on a gap ramp and down the stairs of the next ship to exit out their lobby to another ships lobby, etc. In one case we were able to exit through the lobby of the ship closest to the dock in the morning, however when we returned in the afternoon we had to enter on the sun deck and cross over to our sun deck because the water level had lowered so much the lobby was no longer accessible. It was very interesting and rarely the same experience from one port to the next. I would suggest this is not the type of trip for people with mobility challenges.
Most of the guests were in their 50s-70s. There were some younger and older, but they were active, healthy older. This was evident on both cruises. There is no party life on these cruises at night, so if guests want action this is not the venue for them. There was piano music and local performers of all varieties: musicians, folk dancers, opera singers, etc....certainly no big show productions or gambling.
I loved it all....with aspects of busy, beauty, relaxing and history. The Tulip cruise kept us so busy, with so many excursion options. The Danube cruise was so much about scenic beauty, very old history, longer drive times for the extended excursions like Salzburg, and a much slower pace with some daytime cruising.
For more information about river cruises, call 800-300-4567 or click HERE
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