AmaWaterways AmaLea: Our Impressions

I’ll be honest, I had no idea what to expect going in to this cruise. It’s nothing like a mass-market experience, and frankly a part of me had bought in to the perception that river cruises were more the older crowd, that things would be slower, and that we might even be a little bored. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, we had so much going on with excursions that I completely lost track of days pretty early on. I have no hesitation in saying this was one of the best cruises I’ve ever been on.

Before I go any further I should take a step back and add a little disclaimer here: I recognize that being a chartered sailing, things were sightly different from what we’d encounter on a normal one. That said, the excursions were the same, most of the crew are the same ones working on the ship with the guests that got on after us, so while some things are different, much of what we saw out of AmaWaterways is I would expect to encounter on a regular sailing.

Starting with the ship itself, it’s gorgeous inside and out. Three decks of cabins, with ours being a category AA located on Deck 3. The room was comfortable, is one of the few triples onboard, and had a pretty nice bathroom for a ship. We also had a normal balcony and a French balcony, but due to the amount of stuff we had in the room because there were three of us, we never really used the French balcony, that area became a holding area for some of Bayley’s stuff and a few of the larger trinkets we bought. Here you can take a 360 degree look around the room when not in triple configuration, as well as a look at the bathroom.

If you’d like to see what it looks like when is configured for the 3rd passenger, head on over here and move around the image.

Outside of the cabins, the ship also has the following areas available, as shown in the deck plan:

  • Deck 4 – Sun Deck: heated pool, lounge chairs, large chess board, bridge, forward sun deck, walking/running track
  • Deck 3 – Violin Deck: Chef’s Table (aft), Cruise & Hotel Manager desks (mid), guest services & gift shop (mid), main lounge & bar (forward), terrace & observation lounge (fwd)
  • Deck 2 – Cello Deck: main restaurant (forward)
  • Deck 1 – Piano Deck: massage/hair salon and fitness room (mid-ish)

Unlike the large ships, you can see everything this has to offer within 10 minutes of boarding, so after a quick walk to get the lay of the land, you can go hang out in the lounge and have a drink if your room isn’t ready. Frankly, I’m a little disappointed in myself for not getting enough video for a walk through, so I’ll send you over to another channel to check out the ship. This video (not shot during our sailing) is narrated by Kristin Karst, co-founder of AmaWaterways, who sailed with us all week, which was a very nice touch. She’s very friendly, down to earth, and was always willing to sit and talk!

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet, our itinerary. We were sailing Ama’s Melodies of the Danube journey, with a slight change halfway through. Instead of docking in Weissenkirchen on the 19th, we docked in Dürnstein, and while on our excursions, the ship headed to Ybbs, where we were bussed to later in the day to meet up with it. Once we were all back on, the ship then headed to Grein for an evening at Castle Greinburg, complete with an introduction from the owner himself, Prince Hubertus, The Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg und Gotha!

In addition to those changes, the morning we were docking in Linz we also made an early stop at a shipyard to tour AmaWaterways newest ship, the AmaMagna. No pictures from that however, you’ll just have to take my word that she’s beautiful. We’d sail that ship in a heartbeat, and I honestly hope we do in the near future! Huge thank you to AmaWaterways for setting that up and allowing us to see her before she’s finished, and a special thank you to our captain for being our tour guide!

That same night in Linz, we were also been set up with dinner aboard one of Crystal Cruises ships to get a feel for the Crystal experience. We were split between two of their ships, the Mahler and Ravel, with us eating on the Ravel. I’ll do a piece on that one later, but suffice it to say that they were excellent hosts, and had some really good food and drink ready for us!

Back to the ship, we never did really use the sun deck, other than when we sailed past the Iron Curtain, when Martina gave us a history of this border location as we passed. I meant to hop in the pool one day, as the water was heated, but time just wasn’t on my side with all of our activities!

We also never used the gym or spa, but spent plenty of time in the main lounge enjoying a drink and meeting new people, having fun at a party, or even attending one of our conference sessions with the suppliers who attended.

The AmaLea is a beautiful ship, nothing like what we’re used to on the contemporary cruise lines, and I’m very glad we had the chance to finally experience something like this!

Next up on page 2, the food and service!

A Night in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel – Part 1

Read about our stay at the Snowhotel in Kirkenes Norway, starting with our dog sledding excursion!

As mentioned in my Norway kickoff post, our first real stop on this adventure was in Kirkenes for some dog sledding and a night at the Snowhotel. We’d gone back and forth on the latter part, as it’s not cheap to stay there, but in the end decided that it was a once in a lifetime that we just had to do while we were there. We couldn’t have been happier with that decision :).

After flying up to Kirkenes from Oslo, we grabbed a cab from the airport to the hotel at a cost of around 250NOK. On arrival to the Snowhotel, we checked in to the main building, dropped our luggage, and were given a quick tour of the place by one of the hostesses. She did a really solid job of explaining how everything was going to work, walked us over to the actual snow hotel building, pointed out the heated cabins for those who don’t want to sleep in an ice cave, gave us a quick tour of the main area where dinner would be served, and where the private lounge for snow hotel guests was. Some shots from the walk:

We were also told that we were the only ones staying in a family-sized room, and as a result we’d have our choice of rooms in that category, so we should check them all out and let them know which we wanted. After walking through each of the family rooms, Bayley easily made the call, we were staying in the Frozen-themed room, which you can take a 360-degree tour of!

The artists who carve these rooms do amazing work, even down to a thinner ceiling to allow natural light in, visible in the above photo.

With that out of the way, we had some time before our dog sledding excursion began, so we walked over to the Gabba Restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat, as we hadn’t had lunch yet. Just grabbing a snack, I had a reindeer sausage, Jen had a salmon sandwich, and Bayley had a piece of cake. Not exactly a full meal, but enough to tide us over for the dog sledding, and delicious to boot!

When it came time for the excursion, we stepped out of Gabba to find the group already assembling. The dogs are all onsite, so we basically were leaving on the sleds from just a few feet outside of the restaurant. The guides were busy getting the dogs all sorted out, so after putting on the insulated overalls and balaclavas they provide, we headed over and waited by our assigned sleds. Jen and Bayley were in the lead, with me in the second one. After getting everything sorted and meeting our guides, we were off, sort of. Jen and Bayley’s dogs weren’t too keen on working with each other, so we did have a couple of early stops shortly after leaving to get that sorted, but they got it taken care of pretty quick.

I have to say, this is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done, and gave us some amazing views of the snow-covered landscape. Just check out some of this video!

At one point, we had the option to drive the sled (as shown in one of the pics above), and I jumped at it. I actually got to drive for two stints, since I was the only passenger on mine, and had a blast the entire time. I even managed to keep the sled upright :). Shortly after I gave the controls back, however, that changed. Right before the half-way point, we hit a corner faster than expected and took a tumble. I wasn’t expecting the shift in the sled, so I totally forgot to lean against it, which I’m sure didn’t help. Falling out into a bunch of light and fluffy snow meant no injuries, but the dogs were still running, sled in tow. Fortunately, the driver of the sled ahead of us was able to stop our sled as it raced by.

That was about the point where we were stopping for a break anyway, so the guides locked down the sleds, handed out some yummy warm juice, and set up a fire for us to warm up next to for a bit. It also gave us a chance to give the dogs some love, which we were all to happy to do:

After the stop ended, we continued on through the snowy tundra through the back half of the course, with scenery just as beautiful as the first half. Upon our arrival back at the hotel, all of the dogs who were left behind welcomed us (or their fellow pups) back rather loudly, as well!

After arriving back, we returned our cold weather gear, and went to rest for a bit before our Snowhotel stay really began. The trip was a ton of fun, and we were all really glad we spent the money. I highly recommend trying this if you get the chance!

Next up, I cover our actual stay in the Snowhotel, complete with dinner, drinks at the Ice Bar, and sleeping on a large block of ice!

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