Sailing the Rhine River to view castles perched atop hills and quaint riverside villages is a lovely way to see the heart of Europe. Better yet? It's doing so on a spacious, comfortable river vessel.
In December, Travel Agent sailed the Rhine roundtrip between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland on AmaWaterways’ 156-passenger AmaStella.
Now, here's our review of AmaStella's public spaces, accommodations and service. Check out the slide show above for 40+ original photos.
A Ship-Shape Vessel
Overall, AmaStella, launched in 2016, retains a fresh interior feel. That assessment covers everything from floors to carpeting, furniture, linens and draperies, as well as walls, hand rails, stairways and equipment.
Simply put, hardware-wise, the ship felt new.
In addition, public spaces were spacious including the soaring two-level Atrium, adjacent Lounge & Bar and Main Dining Room, two levels below.
The atrium's centerpiece is a glass elevator with curved, open-air staircases wrapped around either side. I used the elevator daily and it worked well throughout the cruise, except on one afternoon when kids played with the elevator buttons (but that issue was fixed quickly).
Feeling Like Family
On Violin Deck, adjacent to the elevator, are the cruise director’s desk and the hotel manager’s desk. I really liked that these weren't offices hidden away behind closed doors.
Many suppliers say "the guest is the priority" but, on this ship, it's a focus lived each and every day by the crew. Adile Wirth, hotel manager, her team, and two cruise directors (one each on our back-to-back sailings), Sara Koscevic, and Jeanette Schallenberger, strived daily to put that philosophy into action.
Without exception, they greeted guests warmly, handled issues with empathy and speed, answered questions and worked to change pre-scheduled arrangements when guests opted for something different.
The Purser's Desk, bartenders, dining room crew members and housekeeping crew also were friendly and greeted guests by name. It was clear that they liked their jobs. Most treated guests as if they were family members.
Coffee Bar & Library
Two intimate spaces I liked on the ship were on opposite sides of the vessel, just around the corner from the Purser's Desk (both accessed while walking toward the Lounge & Bar).
Port-side, The Library is home to comfortable couches and chairs, plus two electric fireplaces that create a cozy space. Advise clients that it's a lovely spot to curl up with a good book.
On several shelves is an eclectic array of books that guests can borrow. Cruisers will find everything from romance novels to historical travel books, classic novels, modern travel guidebooks, nature volumes and more. I borrowed a book about the best quaint villages in Italy.
The Library also has board games, and several families with children enjoyed playing the games here. While the Library is open to the Lounge & Bar, a slatted room divider helps separate the spaces.
On the ship's starboard side is a small Gift Shop and one of the most popular spots on the ship, a cafe-like area. It offers three tables and seating for 12.
The big draw? It's a high-tech, self-service coffee machine that can adeptly and quickly make cappucino, cafe latte, regular coffee, hot chocolate and many more concoctions to get guests ready for a big day ashore.
It also provided hot water for tea, and AmaWaterways had a nice selection of teas in a box on the counter.
Across from the cafe space, the Gift Shop sells ladies' scarves, home-made crafts and gifts from places along the route, maps and guidebooks, jackets, sundries and other items.
The hot spot for guests on AmaStella is the spacious Lounge & Bar, which has stellar river views through floor-to-ceiling glass windows.
It's the heartbeat of the ship -- a gathering place, relaxation zone, cocktail lounge, entertainment focal point and the best place to meet and converse with fellow guests.
Comfortable seating areas (see photo above) with couches, chairs and glass coffee tables break up the room -- creating intimate spaces for small groups of guests to gather and chat.
Guests can also sit at the lounge's semi-circular black bar with high-top bar stools. A nice touch? Glass jars on the bar are filled with gluten free cookies, as well as regular cookies, crackers or biscotti; using tongs, guests help themselves.
Bar staff/mixologists on our cruises were exceptionally friendly and circulated throughout the room to take drink orders. They also had an uncanny ability to remember exactly what guests enjoyed to drink after just one day.
As for drink charges, AmaWaterways' pampering, upscale product offers a good balance between inclusiveness and price appeal. Some of the line's guests like alcoholic drinks, but others don't and don't wish to pay for that in their cruise fare.
So, the line's approach is to offer complimentary wine and beer with lunch and dinner, and "Sip and Sail” – an hour-long happy hour of sorts, with complimentary pre-dinner cocktails, wine or beer – in the Lounge. Hors d'ouevres are also served.
Complimentary glasses of champagne, gluewine or special cocktails are also served at times, depending on the occasion or season.
Alcoholic drinks ordered at other times (not within the above parameters) are at an added charge.
Far forward in the Lounge is an Observation area and a door that leads to the al fresco terrace.
At various times of the day, the Lounge had live piano and guitar music, presented by an excellent musician sailing throughout the cruise. In addition, on many nights, guest entertainers and local performers, such as La Strada or a husband-and-wife singing duo, perform an evening "set."
A large dance floor awaits, too. During our time onboard, this was a place of pure joy with ladies dancing as a group, couples of all ages dancing together, and even children dancing with their parents. It was refreshing to see.
The Lounge has a long, buffet console with ice water, lemonade and iced tea, plus, during certain times of the day, light cuisine. Early Risers' Pastries are available typically from 6 a.m. or 6:30 a.m. for about an hour, or even earlier on disembarkation day.
Also available in the Lounge are Late Risers' Breakfast, a light lunch, tea time in late afternoon and the Sip and Sail hors d'ouevres pre-dinner. Plus, there's a late night snack here. Guests definitely won't go hungry.
Main Dining Room
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Main Dining Room has tables on either side close to the windows. In between, guests will discover comfortable booths (see photo below) and a large dining buffet area.
What's nice? Guests can sit where, when (within the eatery's regular hours) and with whom they like.
Tables and booths typically seat four, five or six people. Guests on our cruise, though, often took one of the tables for four as a table for two.
Perfect for family or a larger group are also two intimate dining rooms on either side of the entry.
Breakfast and lunch are both buffet style, but there are also menu items that guests can order off the menu at both meals. The buffet itself was an amazing array of freshly baked breads, fresh appetizers, regional cheeses, meats, fresh salad fare, hot entrees and breads, as well as hot, made-to-order specialties, varying from day to day.
One day on our cruise that was fresh gnocchi with the guest's choice of sauce (marinara or pesto, for example).
On another day, the specialty was Vietnamese Pho Soup, with guests choosing their meats and veggies before the chef placed those in the broth and noodles; when the dish was completed, guests then chose from a variety of spices.
The dessert buffet was among the most popular features, not surprisingly with three kinds of ice cream/gelato, with the appropriate toppings and sauces (caramel and chocolate). Cakes, pudding and other sweet treats were also offered.
For dinner, guests only order off the menu, which had robust choices for appetizers, soups, evening specials, and entrees. Dinner entrees on our cruise included pan-fried sea bass filet, slow roasted pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon or slice of slow-roasted beef ribeye steak, among many other options.
In addition, menus offer healthy choices; "always available" dishes including salmon, strip steak or chicken; and vegetarian entrees.
One evening during the cruise is the Chaines des Rotisseurs Dinner; AmaWaterways' co-owner Rudi Shreiner is a member of this famed culinary organization. Plus, there is a Captain's Farewell Dinner.
Creative Chef’s Table
Not to be missed is the alternative Chef’s Table restaurant. An intimate eatery, located aft, it features a wall of glass, providing dramatic views outside when the ship is navigating a lock or sailing by a quaint village or bustling city.
Early in our cruise, the eatery's maitre d' was proactively asking guests whether they'd like to sign up for this experience. Clearly, he was trying to get people in the door early in the sailing.
That's good advice for clients, as this complimentary gourmet tasting experience gets increasingly popular as the cruise progresses.
Prepared within the restaurant's own glass-walled galley, the food is tasty and creatively presented. Guests also enjoy a high level of service. Here's a look at the menu on our two Rhine sailings:
- Freshly baked bread with butter and condiments
- Chef's Welcome - feta cheese pana cotta, matcha-dill sauce, cucumber and brioche (see photo in slide show)
- Appetizer - scallop, tiger prawns, giorgia beef, Tahiti hums, avocado, sepia Ink
- Key lime daiquiri sorbet
- Soup - Choice between three: Asian Tom Ka coconut soup (see photo in slide show) or sea bream with Chardonnay foam, or hickory salmon with Yakitori sauce
- Blueberry sorbet
- Main Course - Choice between: braised beef, Porcini sauce and short ribs, prune sauce (see photo in slide show), or golden beets, green asparagus, pumpkin mash, potato and pumpkin gratin
- Dessert: Choice between: nougat gateau, green apple sorbet with almond chocolate pearl, or a fresh fruit platter, or a European cheese selection with biscuits
Be sure to talk with the maître d’ if you have any special requirements or needs, or are celebrating a special birthday or anniversary. A table for six in the center of the room is perfect for a large family group or groups of couples traveling together and celebrating an anniversary.
As a solo traveler I was assigned to a table with another solo traveler and a couple, and it was a delightful experience. A family of five next to us had their own table, as did a couple who preferred to dine by themselves.
Complimentary wines served with the dinner above include white and red European and California vintages. I particularly enjoyed the Sandgrube 13 Gruner Veltliner, a white wine that's bright, yellow colored, with a taste of garden herbs and a nice finish.
Spa & Fitness
On AmaStella's lowest Piano Deck, home to a few guest cabins and the crew cabins, guests walk down a half-stairway (the elevator does not go to this deck) to reach a small Fitness Center.
Pleasant, well-lighted and open to the outside corridor, this fitness room offers four state-of-the-art machines, fitness equipment and towels.
Across from that fitness center is the Hair Salon room and the separate Massage Treatment Room.
I booked a hair appointment, and was pleased both with the haircut and the stylist's pleasant, professional service. My comments about that one night at dinner influenced another guest to book a haircut the following day.
She thanked me later, as she liked her cut and she also enjoyed a relaxing massage treatment in the adjacent room.
Atop the Ship
The ship's Sun Deck has extensive seating areas with table and chairs, plus a canopy for sun shading. See photo below.
AmaStella also has a walking track, a humongous chess board and a swimming pool, which is quite large given that it's on a river vessel.
We were sailing in winter, so the pool – heated to 65 degrees – was covered. But in the captain's welcome remarks/safety talk, guests learned to just request use of the pool and the crew would uncover it.
And so they did for a 10-year-old, who despite the 40ish outdoor temperatures, was eager to swim. She did, despite the cool weather, and her father (bundled up in a warm jacket) watched over her.
In the summer, this pool would provide a more refreshing dip. It also has a swim-up bar.
One tip for clients? For security’s sake, once any guest or crew member goes outside, the door behind them automatically locks – preventing unauthorized people from boarding and entering the vessel.
So, advise guests to make sure they have their stateroom key card when heading outside; they can just swipe it at the door to get back inside.
Deluxe Balcony Stateroom
My Deluxe Balcony Stateroom was #312, on the upper Violin Deck; it's one of AmaWaterways' signature dual-balcony staterooms.
I liked the flexibility this stateroom type provided. Guests have access to both an exterior, open-air balcony with two chairs, accessible via sliding glass doors, plus an interior, small French Balcony area (with doors that slide open) with laminate floor, small glass table and a wide couch-like seat that unfolds into a single bed/third berth.
The room's queen-sized bed (convertible to two twins) was comfortable, with fine linens and pillows. Lighting at the bed was very good, with two adjustable reading lights above and two bedside tables with lamps, plus the ceiling lighting if desired.
Space between the bed and the wall was a tad narrow, though. That said, there was sizable space in front of the bed, so overall, the stateroom felt spacious.
The bed faced a large writing desk/entertainment console area with a small refrigerator -- nicely stocked by the line with bottled water; this desk/console had several drawers (one with two glasses and a cork screw) and cabinet area with two shelves.
The desk had a nice holder for the guest services book, plus free postcards of European scenes; guests can just turn any postcards they've written into the purser's desk and they'll be mailed for free. More postcards, if needed, can be obtained on a table adjacent to the purser's desk.
The desk/entertainment console was home to large flat-screen infotainment system. We liked its simple menu, keyboard and mouse -- which guests use to surf the Internet via free Wi-Fi (code provided at check-in with the key card).
The system had a good selection of movies, TV series and documentaries, as well as views from the ship's forward camera and more. Entertainment was complimentary.
Wardrobe space in this stateroom was very good, with plenty of hanging space, plus open shelves. AmaWaterways provides slippers and bath robes for guest use.
The light-and-bright bathroom had a singular sink, toilet and shower. Guests can choose whether to enjoy a rainforest shower or use the regular shower mechanism (which also was nicely able to be used as a hand-held spray). See photo at right.
On the counter were complimentary toiletries provided by the line. I found this bathroom also had adequate counter space and a few small shelves in one corner.
I particularly liked the window between the bathroom and the stateroom. However, some guests just didn't "get it" as to why this was needed, per a discussion I had with others at lunch one day.
That said, I loved it. This window could be set as "see through" so a guest fixing hair or putting on make-up could still see clearly into the stateroom -- perhaps to keep an eye on their child or not to miss passing river sites outside.
But for privacy, guests just press a button in the bathroom to create a frost window (with no visibility through it). I thought the concept versatile, and when lighted in the frost mode, it also made a great night light.
Could Be Improved
Typically for any reviews, I list three or four "could be improved" items, but I have to say, that list is a very short one for this ship.
My sole "could be improved" tip involves the shoreside "gentle walking" tours. Several guests (myself included) or their relatives felt that those gentle tours in certain destinations were either too long, too fast-paced or led by tour guides who didn't "get" what gentle walkers needed. I'll share specifics with the line in the hope of benefitting future travelers.
That said, AmaWaterways offers excellent active adventures ashore (having won many awards for those), including hikes and biking trips. Guests on our cruise also seemed to like both those and the regular walking tours.
Overall, AmaStella was in great shape hardware-wise. It provided a luxurious, guest-friendly river cruise experience. Cuisine was excellent night after night. Stateroom cleaning was prompt and well-executed.
The ship's onboard programming and entertainment was eclectic and nicely regional focused. My experiences at the hair salon and Chef's Table were both positive.
But the main reason I'd return. That's simple. It's the crew, who from my first day onboard on AmaStella, treated me "like family."
For more information, visit www.amawaterways.com.