Last week, I began writing about my six favorite river cruises of 2015. In that post, I covered 1) paddling the Loire River on CroisiEurope’s Loire Princesse; 2) doing the Danube on Scenic Jasper; and 3) experiencing the high style of Uniworld’s S.S. Maria Theresa.
Those three river cruises took me through mid-year. In June and July, I hosted my own barge cruise on CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie and “toured” the Danube with Tauck. In November, I boarded AmaWaterways’ AmaSerena to cruise with co-owner Kristin Karst.
What impressed me, and by extension what might impress you, about each of these six trips? To find out, let’s continue with my six favorite river cruises for 2015.
4. Cruising The Camargue On CroisiEurope’s Anne-MarieI was new both to France’s Camargue region and hosting a cruise of any sort when in June I traveled to Arles, France, to board CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie.
Of the Camargue, I can only say, Who knew there were cowboys in France? They may not wear the broad-brimmed Stetsons that top the heads of North American cowboys. Nor do the French cowboys (known as guardians) amble along bow-legged from spending hours in the saddle. Nonetheless, they do share something in common with their brethren in the American West: They both herd cattle. We saw cowboys at work and a lot more in the Camargue, a region that I now know is among the most beautiful in Europe.Of CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, my lasting impression was this: what a great experience delivered on a beautiful, newly built barge with a capable chef and crew — and lots of complimentary French wines and bubbly — on a small barge that took us along the canals in of France’s most intriguing regions. The Languedoc-Roussillon region, where the Camargue is situated, extends from Provence to the Pyrenees Mountains. During each of our ten days of traveling from Arles (think Vincent Van Gogh) to Sete (the Venice of the South of France), I knew there would be moments that I would remember long after I returned home: an exquisite lunch in Chateauneuf du Pape; marveling at the Roman arena in Arles; a hay ride through olive groves — I could go on. For a recap of our trip, see Barging In The South Of France: CroisiEurope’s Anne-Marie, Wrapping Up.
Barging on Anne-Marie is an all-inclusive, intimate experience (total guest capacity is 24) that will create a lifetime of memories — for prices that don’t leave you questioning the value of the experience.
5. River ‘Touring’ With TauckIn July, I landed in Prague and checked into the InterContinental to begin my Danube Reflections cruisetour. I call it a cruisetour because with Tauck, touring is central to the travel experience. With 90 years of experience in leading guided land tours, Tauck’s excursions were executed flawlessly, with some of the best local guides I have encountered, and three wonderful Tour Directors who traveled with us from start to finish.
I particularly enjoyed our tour to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Cesky Krumlov and a gala dinner at a Viennese palace where we were hosted by a princess. It was also nice to have time to cycle on my own and with other another guest along the banks of the Danube using the complimentary bicycles on Tauck’s ms Savor.On board the 130-guest ship, there was a Tauck Cruise Director in addition to the three Tauck Directors who traveled with us from Prague to Vienna. All excursions, all gratuities, meals at unique dining venues ashore, airport transfers and more were included in Tauck’s prices. Likewise, all beverages were included once we were on ms Savor.
Aside from the excursions and events, I also enjoyed my category 3 Loft cabin. If you haven’t seen the video of this extraordinary 225-square-foot stateroom, you can check it out here.From my first night in Prague, Tauck had impressed me by exceeding my expectations. Late because of a flight delay, I missed the welcome dinner. Not to worry. Tauck had graciously provided me with a voucher, not just for a standard dinner at the InterContinental Prague, but for a feast on the terrace overlooking the city. In fact, I was unable to spend the entire value of the voucher.
That was to be an metaphor of things to come. At every turn, Tauck’s Tour Directors would go a few steps beyond what was expected (or in the case of dinner, what was totally unexpected but generously given) to offer an unforgettable river “tour” experience.
6. A Study of AmaWaterways On AmaSerenaIn November, I cruised on AmaWaterways’ AmaSerena with top-producing travel agents and a handful of my journalistic colleagues. We were there to learn more about what makes AmaWaterways tick as we sailed from Basel to Amsterdam.
Our host was Kristin Karst, co-owner and executive vice president of AmaWaterways. I’ve known Kristin for more than a dozen years, and what I appreciate about her both personally and professionally is that she is engaged (with guests as well as her industry colleagues), caring and kind.
On ships, she can be seen making the rounds in the lounges and in the dining rooms, meeting guests who may be taking the trip of a lifetime and making sure that her company is delivering above and beyond. It’s apparent to anyone who sees her in action that she cares deeply about her guests and their experiences on board AmaWaterways.
I was impressed by a number of things related to the AmaWaterways’ product. I wrote about how AmaSerena dared to go where few – if any – dared to go: up a shallow stretch of the Rhine, where low water thwarted navigation for the scheduled sailings of most, if not all, other river cruisers. See Is AmaWaterways The Champion Of Low Water? Going Where There Were No Others On The Rhine and AmaWaterways’ Low Water Guarantee
I was equally impressed by the availability of blazingly fast internet on board AmaSerena. During our cruise, uploads and downloads nearly mimicked WiFi at home. That’s because AmaWaterways invests heavily in its internet infrastructure. See The Future Of The Internet On River Cruises: Here Already On AmaWaterways
AmaWaterways frequently uses Vilshofen, Germany, for christenings, as well as for embarkation and disembarkation for its Danube cruises. The city appreciates AmaWaterways so much that is puts on a “Miniature Munich Octoberfest” for guests who are beginning or ending their cruises in the city. It’s little un-trumpeted touches like these that differentiate AmaWaterways from its competitors.
Clearly, AmaWaterways cares deeply about guest experiences, having thought the entire experience through — from the way the company handles extreme water levels to the way it assures that guests can get online using internet that is functional and fast (by river cruise standards) to treating guests to special experiences like those in Vilshofen.
“We have always taken a different approach of ‘under-promising and over-delivering,” Kristin told me. “It has always worked well for us and has created quite some loyalty among our customers.” Add to that fine cuisine, high standards of service, beautiful ships and an emphasis on active river cruises, and AmaWaterways may be just what you’re looking for in your next river cruise.
That’s a wrap on my six favorite cruises in 2015. Wishing you a healthy and prosperous 2016 – and many ports of call along the beautiful rivers of Europe. Me? I’m leaving for another river cruise. Stay tuned to find out where.