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!

Hotel Review – Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter

Our daughter finished her freshman year at Eckerd College a couple of weeks ago, and since we were headed down there to move her out of her dorm anyway, we decided to tack a week at Disney on to the trip. Originally we’d booked a 7-night stay at Disney’s All-Star Movies resort, but a week or so before driving down we found that we could move over to the Port Orleans French Quarter for a little bit more money, and jumped on it. That’s one thing about Disney’s online reservation system (restaurants included), always keep checking the site leading up to your trip, you never know what you might find or what might open up.

Upon arrival, we saw what many of the reviews I’d read about this place were talking about, in that it’s smaller than the average Disney hotel. I’ve gotta say, that was one of our favorite things about the place. We felt All-Star was way too big the last time we stayed there, as we had quite a hike to get from the room to the main building every day, and that was never an issue at French Quarter. We had a ground floor river view room in building 6 (specifically room 6145), which is out on one edge of the property, but the walk to the main building was only a couple of minutes each way. The place really had a small resort feel, which we absolutely loved. A few shots from around the property:

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The room itself was pretty standard, and being one of their moderate hotels, had two queen beds as opposed to the doubles that the All-Star rooms come with. Definitely a welcome upgrade. The room was tastefully decorated, no complaints there. There was something in the room I was allergic to, however, and I never did figure out what it was. Usually I have issues with down pillows, which I don’t know if we had here, but Bayley had a pillow with her that wasn’t, which I used all week and still had issues, so I don’t think it was the pillows. Oh well, some Claratin took care of it. Really, the only room-related complaint we had is that we didn’t get either of the requests my wife asked for. She’d asked for a high floor (the buildings here are 3 floors high) and a corner room, and we got neither. No biggie though, we had no issues related to room location. We also had a 4th guest, as Bayley’s boyfriend was with us for the week, and were able to fit a twin air mattress in the room with little issue. Additionally, the privacy curtain between the sinks and the room were really nice, as was the double sink setup so two people could be getting ready at once. Some pics of the room itself:

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Note that the fridge was actually fairly roomy. I ordered an 8″ cake from Disney Dining for my wife’s birthday, and the full-sized cake box fit in the fridge without issue, along with quite a few bottles of water and some other random stuff. The safe, on the other hand, was tiny. Small little wall safe that used keys. All this technology in the parks and hotel, and we can’t use a magic band to access our safe?

Some additional benefits of this property:

  • They have a water taxi that will take you to Port Orleans Riverside, or Downtown Disney. We used this a few times, and while most trips were fine, our last attempt to take it over to Downtown Disney exposed a big issue. Riverside is a much bigger resort than French Quarter, and water taxis to Downtown Disney originate there. This means that during peak times, the boat arriving to pick you up can be pretty full. On our last day, we got to the boat ramp right as one was leaving, and waited 20 minutes for the next one out in the hot sun at the end of a line of about 15 people (the previous taxi didn’t have enough room to accommodate everyone in line). When it arrived, it only had room for 13. With 4 in our party, and being at the end of the line, that meant we were out of luck, and were pretty rudely told by the captain we had to wait another minutes for the next one. We were already overheated, having to wait in the sun, so we headed to the bus stop and grabbed a bus over there. On a busy Saturday when the hotel is 100% full (like it was that Saturday on Memorial Day weekend), they really should have the boats running more often, and maybe even have one or two dedicated to French Quarter as demand dictates. Additionally, more shade, and/or misters while waiting in line. Outside of that one time, we never had an issue with the water taxis, taking them to Downtown Disney twice, and over to Riverside once. Definitely a better way to get there versus fighting traffic at Downtown Disney. Some water taxi shots:

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  • In typical Disney fashion, there are plenty of things for the kids to do. We used the pool a couple of times, and in both cases, saw dance parties and hula hoop competitions going on. Additionally, they show Disney movies each night in the little park between buildings 5 & 6 at 9pm, and host a marshmallow-roasting campfire on property each evening too.
  • For a fee, up to 4 people can take a ride around the property in a horse and buggy. Looked pretty cool, but we never did it.
  • Bus service was good. We never waited long for a bus, and never missed one due to overcrowding. The Magic Kingdom bus from French Quarter doesn’t stop anywhere else, but the others do. The Hollywood Studios bus, for example, makes 4 stops at Riverside after picking up at French Quarter (that should tell you how big Riverside is). On our first Saturday there, I took the bus from the Magic Kingdom to the hotel a little after 9pm and back to the Magic Kingdom after resting in the room for about 10 minutes, and the round trip time was roughly 50-55 minutes. We took the bus to various parks about half the time we were there and never had any complaints.
  • The crew over at luggage storage was great. That cake I mentioned earlier that we’d stored in our room fridge? Yea, it was big. We’d only eaten about half by the time we left, so we kept it at luggage storage the day we checked out, as they had a fridge they could hold it in. We didn’t want to waste it, but not having anywhere to store it while we were at parks that final day didn’t leave us much choice.

I think that about covers it. The bottom line is that all three of us agree that this is our new favorite hotel on property, as there was a lot to like. Enjoy a few more pictures from the French Quarter!

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Hotel Review – Doubletree Lower Manhattan

As mentioned in a previous post, I spent last week in NYC on business. With my client’s offices being in the financial district, I decided to stay at the same Doubletree a coworker of mine uses when he goes up. This is only my second stay at a Doubletree property, the other being the one in Blooomington, IL a few years ago. I used to travel there 3-4 times a year for business, normally staying at the local Courtyard, but was convinced to try the Doubletree on one of my last trips there based on the non-stop recommendations of others. I found that visit totally underwhelming compared to the build-up, and not worth losing out on Marriott points.

So how did they hold up on this visit? Well, things started out with a small issue, but overall it was good. After landing at LGA, I grabbed a car to the hotel, and upon arriving, was greeted by a friendly gentleman at the front desk who handed me my room keys, the warm cookie, and a bag containing two bottles of water. Check-in took all of 3min thanks to Doubletree allowing you to check-in online ahead of time, including selecting your room (nice touch, BTW). I chose 4310, a king deluxe room with a view of the Hudson river. After getting my keys, I headed up to 43 and tried to enter my room. I tried, really I did. I must have tried both keys a couple dozen times, but no go. Neither worked, so back down to the desk it was with all of my stuff in tow. The clerk apologized, set those same cards up for the room once again, and back up I went. They worked like a champ this time, so that little glitch was resolved. No harm no foul, I guess.

The room itself was fine, albeit the normal tiny NYC hotel room size (smaller than I expected for something labeled “deluxe”). The view was pretty good, looking out over Battery Park with a view of the river. Some shots of the room:

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Going in to the trip, I read the reviews on TripAdvisor and noticed one repeating issue that had me a little concerned, that some people found they had long waits for elevators in the morning. Being a business trip, the last thing I wanted to deal with was a long wait for an elevator each morning, but for the most part, it was never an issue, except for Wednesday afternoon. I’d finished the day’s meetings early, and headed back to the hotel around 3:45pm. Upon arriving, I went right up to the room to change so I could head up to Central Park. When I went to grab an elevator to head out, I encountered the wait those reviews mentioned. I waited 10 minutes until one arrived, only to find out it was being used by the staff to collect garbage from each floor, basically being used as a service elevator. No go, so I waited some more. And waited. And waited. After a total of 23 minutes, an empty elevator finally showed up, and I headed out. Was it the end of the world? No, but I’d hesitate to stay there in the future because of it. That, or stay much lower (without a view) just in case I need to take the stairs if the elevators are slow to arrive in cases where I’m strapped for time.

My only other issue, my last day there I went to lower the room temp and found that the AC unit wasn’t working. I’d lower the temp on the thermostat and the unit never kicked on. Since I was leaving the next morning and the window opened a few inches to allow for airflow, I didn’t report it until I checked out. Again, no biggie, the fresh air was cool enough. I have no doubt they’d have sent someone up to fix it had I called that night.

I can’t speak to the room service food or the attached restaurant, as I didn’t have food from either. My dinners were spent at tiny little hole in the wall places I found while I was out walking around, and lunches were spent eating with the client. I did eat breakfast over at the Andaz the last two mornings with one of my customer contacts (he’d flown in for this too), and loved their buffet. Pretty cool hotel, too, so I’ll probably give that a shot next time I go up there.

The location of this Doubletree was pretty good for my needs. The entrance is on Stone St, which isn’t too busy, and it was an easy walk to my customer’s office on Water St. There was also a subway station a very short walk from the hotel entrance, which allowed me to pick up the R train up to the midtown area the last couple of afternoons I was there. One other thing I saw in a couple reviews of this place is that since it’s on a less traveled street, people felt the need to walk over to the ferry terminal so they could get a cab upon checkout. Hogwash. Yes, the street is small and gets less traffic, but all you have to do is ask the bell staff standing there at the entrance and they’ll call you a cab. They had one for me in less than 5min Friday morning at 5:30am.

Overall it was a good stay in a clean hotel room with a view, but I still don’t get the hype around the brand. People swear by Doubletree, so maybe I just keep choosing the wrong ones. That, or the cookies are laced with something that makes you fall in love with the place :). Regardless, I’d stay there again if the situation warranted, but would like to try a couple others in the area first, including the Andaz I mentioned earlier.

Here are a few more shots from my various walks around Manhattan, including some of a protest I stumbled on near Central Park, along with a shot of the sunset from my plane on approach to LGA:

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