Amsterdam to Budapest River Cruising - part 1

Words and photography by Peter Thorpe

Our ship - the MS AmaBella - part of the APT Travel Group

We’re in Amsterdam, the boarding point for our 14-day cruise with APT, down the River Rhine to Budapest. We arrive a couple of days early and check into a hotel in Amsterdam to get over our jet-lag and explore this fabulous city. To read all about our Amsterdam stay, click here…

On the day of our departure, we board the vessel that’s going to be our home for the next two weeks, the MS AmaBella. The crew welcome us aboard and help us to our cabin. We’ve booked a balcony cabin and it’s quite roomy with its own bathroom. The balcony is divided into two sections, one inside and one outside –  which means we can enjoy the scenery, no matter what the weather.
If you’re going river cruising, I’d recommend you only ever book a balcony cabin. The deck below us only has portholes so, to enjoy the view, you need to go to the lounge or the upper deck. It’s well worth spending the extra dollars on your own balcony, if the budget will stand it. Nothing nicer than sitting on your balcony, enjoying a long cool drink and the spectacular scenery drifting by. Butler – I’ll have another one of these thanks! Yes, we’ve actually got a butler. Well, to be honest, we get to share the butler with three other rooms but he/she is only as far away as the telephone. And a warning, when you order a Baileys, they bring you a whole large bottle, so take it easy.

AmaBella twin balconies, one inside and one outside - (photo APT)

Once we’re settled in, we adjourn to the lounge for a cocktail party, to meet the Captain and our fellow passengers. The ship has 81 cabins and holds around 150 passengers and it’s pretty well full, but it doesn’t feel crowded and there’s plenty of room to move around. If you’ve never been on a river cruise of this type, you might like a bit of background information on what to expect so, here goes:

The passengers
By far the majority of our fellow passengers are Aussies and they are generally a fun-loving lot and easy to get along with. Most of them are seasoned travellers, in the 50-plus age group but there’s also a good mix of people in their forties and a handful even younger. There’s even a couple of teenagers with their parents but no toddlers or screaming babies in sight, thank goodness. Sorry about that – I’m not really sorry – we have plenty of grandkids of our own and we love them dearly, but we do enjoy the peace and quiet of adults only travelling. Ah, the tranquillity!

What to wear
This is always a quandary and obviously, there really is a limit to how many clothes you can fit into a suitcase – please tell my wife, will you? The dress code is generally ‘casual and comfortable’ by day and ‘smart casual’ for dinner. Passengers are not allowed to wear swimwear in the restaurant or lounges, and you will need your big boy’s pants for dinner (no shorts). There is one captain’s night per cruise, where you will need simply a shirt and jacket, for men (ties not needed) and dresses or smart slacks and tops for ladies. The most important things to pack are comfortable shoes (I lived in my Sketchers) and sneakers, for the shore excursions, as you will often be walking along cobbled streets. Always bring a hat and sunglasses and depending upon the time of year, a jacket and a light raincoat. Umbrellas are provided onboard so no need to pack those.

The food on board is great and there's a wide variety of dishes

The food
Meals on board are served in one of three dining rooms and the menu is excellent and the food is almost too good. Glad I bought my trousers with the stretchy waistband! Food at dinner is generally served to your table (not the ubiquitous cruise buffet) and there is a choice of at least two items for every course. A nice touch is, they serve local wines from the countries you are cruising through along the way. Generally, these are wine growing areas, so the wines are of very good quality. Breakfast and lunch is a more casual affair and most of your lunches are served on tour on your daily shore excursions.

Entertainment
The main lounge is the central meeting place on the ship, along with the upper deck, when weather permits. The lounge has a small dance floor and there is entertainment every night but this is limited most nights to a singing piano player. Don’t expect the type of lavish entertainment extravaganzas you might find on a large ocean-going cruise ship. For starters, they don’t have the room. The entertainment is regularly supplemented by local artists along the route and some of these are really good. Like the Abba impersonators in Germany or the gypsy trio with dancers in Hungary. The bar is open until late and all drinks (except the really top end spirits) are included along with 24×7 room service (in our package anyway).

Local artists entertain us - like this gypsy band and dancers

The daily routine
Generally, you spend a full day in each port along the way and you cruise at night. Some nights, you go to sleep in one country and wake up in another. There are also times when you cruise through the day time and this is when you get time to take in the majestic surrounds of the river. Along the banks you see endless fairy tale castles and cute little cottages, along with the locals swimming, fishing and boating and generally enjoying the river surrounds.
Each evening we meet in the main lounge for pre-dinner drinks and a brief of the next day’s events from our Cruise Director. Each day there is a tour of our latest location. The tours are usually divided into groups, the slow group (which includes some less-mobile people on walking sticks or frames) and another group for the rest. There’s actually a third group for the really fit ones, who get to ride bicycles to the next destination along the river. And, for those who just want to relax, there’s no pressure to join any of the tour groups. You are quite welcome to stay on board and this group too, are well catered for. In each port, there is some sort of onboard activity, with local experts coming onboard for everything from learning how to cook local dishes to wine tastings and learning  traditional folk dancing.

The scenery along the river never ceases to amaze...

Generally, the tours involve a short walk to the township of the port of call but sometimes they include a coach ride to a nearby attraction. Each group is accompanied by a local tour guide and participants are fitted with wireless  headphones, so it’s easy to hear the guides. The standard of knowledge of the guides is excellent and their command of English is generally very good.

OK, now you have an idea of the general routine, let’s move on to the actual trip itself. Welcome aboard!

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