On Site: Exploring Ashore From AmaWaterways' AmaMagna

From the beauty of Austria’s Lake District to the beer, pretzels and music of Bavaria, AmaWaterways’ new 196-passenger AmaMagna takes cruisers to quaint villages and storied cities along the Danube River.

Last week, Travel Agent's first article about this new ship – twice as wide as many river cruise vessels – covered insights about accommodations, dining and public spaces. This article gives a snapshot look at shoreside components of an AmaWaterways voyage -- hiking and biking, regular and gentle walking tours and a special Bavarian event in Vilshofen, Germany.

Biking & Hiking Along the Danube

Today's river cruisers are much more "active" than their counterparts in past decades. So, what options do active travelers have to keep in shape and continue their fitness regiment onboard? How can they weave that into the destination experience?

In addition to offering guests a fitness center, onboard fitness/wellness classes and a walking/jogging track,  AmaWaterways carries a fleet of bicycles and helmets for guest use ashore.

See the photo below of “the bike fleet” on the Sun Deck, awaiting use in the next port.

Many active guests in their 40s, 50s and 60s headed out on the bicycles in port, as did some adult family groups. For example, guests could enjoy a nine-mile Vienna Bike Tour to see major historic and cultural sites including the Vienna Opera House, the former Imperial Palace of the Hapsburgs and St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Another bike tour set out from Melk, Austria, and covered 14 miles on both sides of the river; the vessel sailed along the river and docked to pick the bikers up in Poklarn. 

Many guests told us they felt “invigorated” from their bike excursions and appreciated being able to keep active on vacation. Most really loved the bike tours.

Guests sign up in advance with the cruise manager. It's a good idea, though, to ask the details about pace and distance. Keep in mind, the bikes carried are regular bikes, not e-bikes. 

One older man told his wife he'd just been a bit unrealistic about his own fitness level, and after returning from one bike tour (a bit too much for him), said he'd opt out of the second bike tour he'd planned and instead do a walking tour.

Active travelers on our cruise also opted for hiking/climbing tours, also complimentary. Among them was a climb to the fortress above Durnstein, Austria.

Two other hikes, described as "strenuous" by the line, offered hiking up to Passau Castle and Bratislava Castle, at distances of 1.8 miles and three miles, respectively.

Another bit less challenging option in the great outdoors? On AmaMagna, the line has also introduced an exclusive Concierge Golf Program 

Walking Tours – Regular & Gentle

Along the Danube, AmaMagna docks in small villages, towns and cities and guests who so desire can often just walk out to explore independently. The line also provides complimentary walking tours that have active, regular and gentle paces. 

For example, in Austria’s scenic Wachau Valley, during the “Durnstein Walking Tour, Wine Tasting and Apricots Tasting,” guests are transported by motorcoach to Durnstein, a quaint village with stunning architecture. The tour will highlight the top sites and guests will taste local apricots and sample Wachau Valley wines.

In Bratislava, Slovakia, AmaWaterways' guests can opt for either a regular or gentle “Coronation Walking Tour.” Gentle walkers do the trip on a small train, while the regular tour walks through town.

One nice feature on AmaWaterways’ tours is use of the QuietVox technology (a portable receiver that's worn around the guest’s neck, with a light earpiece for one ear); two of these are found in a charger along with the ear pieces in onboard accommodations. Guests take them out during the day and bring them back for charging after the tour is over. 

Just prior to starting our Vienna Walking Tour, for example, our tour guide activated the "pairing" of her device with those of everyone in our group. Presto, we could walk along, listen to her expert commentary in a clear fashion but also stray a bit –  so we didn't need to stand right next to her to hear what was being said. 

We loved being able to peer into a craft shop, watch what’s happening in a local square, or check out home-made, sweet treats at a bakery, even if our guide and many in the group were 35 feet or more away. We could still hear all the commentary but also feel a bit more connected to the destination. 

Specialty Shore Experiences

In addition to the hiking, biking and active tours, as well as the gentle tours and the regular walking tours, the line also fields some special interest tours including “Tastes of Slovakia,” essentially a microbrewery visit for beer and snacks.

When river vessels call at Linz, which has its own appealing diversions including Lentos Kunstmuseum (the Museum of Modern Art) and a historic core that survived World War II, many guests still opt for one of three popular special interest tours -- to Salzburg with its “Sound of Music” sites, the fairytale-like Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic or the Austrian Lake District.

Travel Agent chose to head out on the Austrian Lake District tour from Linz. We boarded a deluxe motorcoach with only eight other guests and appreciated that even without a full group signed up, the line didn't cancel the tour.

Instead they operated it and satisfied guests who were eager to take this tour. We also could spread out onboard.

Along the drive to the lake district -- about two hours -- the guide related tidbits about the region's history, culture, eco-sites, the Alps and the Lake District, a popular summer (for water play) and winter (for skiing) vacation destination for Austrians. 

Our first stop was the lovely town of Mondsee on a lake of the same name, one of 76 such lakes in Austria's Salzkammergut region.

As we walked from the coach parking lot (which had restrooms) about five blocks, I loved seeing Mondsee’s lovely architectures, the flowers in porchboxes and along the route.

Towering above the town was our ultimate goal -- the Basilica St. Michael (See photo at right), a cultural and spiritual center in the region. 

With stunning, interior Baroque-style architecture, it's not surprising that the basilica is a wedding magnet. Some 400 weddings a year take place here.

But for North American visitors, it’s the movie connection that's a big draw. The wedding scenes from the 1960s movie, “The Sound of Music,” were filmed here.

Passing through a gift shop, visitors can buy religious items and, yes, plenty of Sound of Music mementos.

We continued into the church to admire the extravagant altars collaboratively created by Meinrad Guggenbichler and Matthais Wichlhamer. 

The church's Gothic vaulted ceiling sports its original light pink color discovered during a restoration. Cruisers in our group just sat in the pews and gazed quietly at its beauty.

On my flight home a few days later, I pulled up "The Sound of Music" on demand, and smiled when I spotted that lovely church interior during the wedding scenes.  

From Mondsee, we reboarded the coach and traveled to the next lakeside village, St. Wolfgang. Along the route of about 45 minutes or so, we admired the gorgeous natural beauty out the motorcoach windows.

We spotted lovely mountain homes with Austrian décor and floral window boxes, a castle-like mansion,  families picnicking and camping along lakes, and people walking or biking in the Lake District.

We almost totally circled Lake Wolfgang (Wolfgangsee), with stunning turquoise waters, shadowed by low-rise mountains and ringed by resort homes and lakeside cottages.

Respite at St. Wolfgang

Arriving in St. Wolfgang, our guide began to lead our small group down a grade into the village. A kind person and excellent at her job, she explained to me and another couple (all gentle walkers) that if we wanted to avoid a fairly steep grade down and back up, we could simply enjoy the lakeside terrace of lovely traditional Austrian hotel prior to the descent. 

I opted for that choice, and discovered that the hotel is home to the outdoor Paul der Wirt restaurant on the back terrace; it has superb lake views. 

We’d highly recommend this for a lunch or snack stop. On the gorgeous day of our visit, we soaked in views of the turquoise lake waters, the Pilgrimage Church's bell tower and people enjoying watersports.

Sipping a glass of Austrian wine, we sampled a plate of olives, cheeses, tomatoes and proscuitto, and for our main course, we ordered traditional Weiner Schnitzel, available in both pork and veal (I opted for the veal). 

It was just the right contrast of crispy coating and succulent meat, which I dressed with fresh lemon juice. It was also served with a yummy cranberry sauce. 

After lunch was over, I spotted my fellow tour goers at a table on the other side of the terrace. The man stopped to say: "This was absolutely the best experience. What a great idea this was." .

I'd have to agree. Those who wanted to accompany the guide around town could do so, but we just enjoyed our relaxation break with the scenic views, savory cuisine and a light breeze off the lake even during the hot summer period.

I thanked the guide for suggesting it. Back on the motorcoach, it was on to a third lakeside village, Ebensee, along Lake Traun (Traunsee), which is Austria's deepest lake.

At Ebensee, the guide offered a 20-minute walking tour for those who desired that and others headed for a nearby ice cream shop, and soon we were heading by motorcoach back to Linz. 

I would highly recommend this tour for guests who desire to enjoy scenic beauty including turquoise lakes and mountains, along with traditional Austrian hillside homes with floral displays, and a chance to either walk through small village/towns or sit and enjoy a snack or meal while perusing the lake action. 

Exclusive Ocktoberfest Event

As AmaMagna docked at the final port on our Budapest to Vilshofen itinerary, we ventured ashore prior to dinner for an exclusive Ocktoberfest event. It's offered once on every sailing. 

Right at the dock, guests exiting the gangway walked only a few steps to the entrance of a large white tent. Waiting for them are local residents offering mugs of beer and fresh soft pretzels.

Long tables and bench seating awaited guests, who sat down, conversed and listened to a "live" Bavarian band playing what I call, "oomp-pah" tunes.

It was a fun way to enjoy traditional culture. Band members invited guests to sing along with some songs, and then we even heard a bit of yodeling.

Pretty soon, and after a brew or two, the crowd was singing along to the strains of the “Roll out the Barrel” song (The band members were singing in German but we sang along in English).

Also, several band members and a young woman with a sash (apparently, a local contest winner) took to the floor – beckoning guests to learn local traditional dances, which many guests did – laughing through their performances.

Check out the photo above of Candie Steinman, franchise owner, Dream Vacations in Fort Myers, FL, and her sister-in-law Belkys Colter in traditional costumes, which they purchased on Amazon for this Bavarian event.) 

For guests who didn't bring a traditional Bavarian costume along for the event, there was the opportunity to purchase one at AmaMagna's onboard shop. But that was simply an option; most guests showed up in regular clothes and still enjoy the festivities.

On another evening during our cruise, guests were also treated to another exclusive event, a lovely reception at the castle above Grein, AustriaSteinman loved that event, calling it a "fairtytale like" experience. 

River Cruise App

AmaWaterways offers guests an interactive River Cruise App, available on all of the line's cruises in Europe and Asia, available for both Smartphones and tablets.

Downloading the app prior to sailing means that guests will have Live Itinerary Tracking (following their journey along the route); a Personal Cruise Album for photo sharing with friends and relatives back home; information about ports and shore excursions; Daily Cruiser, a digital version of the daily newsletter for guests; and email postcards with photos to be sent to those back home. 

AmaMagna in 2020

A new, seven-night "Magna on the Danube" itinerary designed for AmaMagna will debut in 2020. Among the highlights? The ship will cruise through the Danube Bend and guests will enjoy an included excursion at Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens and an exclusive wine festival in Spitz, Austria.

In addition, AmaMagna will operate four departures to the lower Danube River between Budapest, Hungary and Giurgiu, Romania; that itinerary will also include the option for a land program extension to Bucharest and Istanbul.

Those who sail on this new vessel will discover a more spacious onboard experience -- given AmaMagna's width (almost twice as wide as other Danube river vessels) that allows for larger public spaces, more alternative dining venues, a bigger exercise/spa treatment area, a larger top deck with a large pool and more. Check out Part 1 of our review here to learn much more about the vessel itself. 

For more information, visit www.amawaterways.com

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