Diane Czeczot, Manager of our Greenfield office, recently celebrated her 35th wedding anniversary by visiting European Christmas Markets on the AMA Bella river cruise. Hear about her trip here:December 2014Upon arrival in Budapest, a private car was waiting for us. We were greeted by a young, handsome, English speaking driver holding a sign with our name and escorted us to our Mercedes Sedan.Thirty five minutes later we arrived at the Marriott Budapest–a 4 star modern hotel on the Pest side, in a great location. A nicely appointed room with a king bed facing the Danube and great breakfast was included. The Marriott had a huge patio in the front where you could people watch or enjoy the views of the Danube. It was a Friday night and many guests remained in the lobby /reception area listening to the piano player. We checked out the patisserie counter, and enjoyed traditional Hungarian Goulash at Peppers’ Mediterranean Grill. Afterwards, we stopped at the AQVA Lounge Bar where we relaxed and enjoyed cool vibes and music.Saturday was embarkation day. This was a Christmas Market cruise from Budapest to Nuremberg on the AMA BELLA. The dock was less than 4 blocks from our hotel but we took a taxi rather than drag our luggage.There were two AMA ships parked side by side. We left our luggage outside and the purser welcomed us onboard. Our cabin was not ready so we were invited to stay and enjoy lunch. Instead, we walked 2 short blocks to the famous Great Market Hall. This covered multi story market is the most beautiful in Europe according to CNN. The selection ranges from fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, spices and gifts. Hungary uses Forints as their currency and the rest of the time we used EURO.The ship did not sail that evening. However I always recommend going in a day or two earlier. Budapest is the city of cultural diversity, festivals, medicinal and thermal waters, and the fantastic Danube panorama so one could easily spend several nights there.The AMA Bella was built in 2010. It holds 168 passengers but this sailing only had 138 guests. We had an AMAzing time. Our crew members received outstanding training and they spoke very good English. They were mostly from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, except the captain and Cruise Director who were both Dutch. There is only one main dining room, but the AMA BELLA has a Chef’s Table Restaurant located in the aft that holds 24 passengers. Each passenger was allowed at least one meal in that restaurant, and a second one if available.All cabins included an infotainment system which is your TV and computer. Movies, music, cable TV, and free WIFI were included. Unfortunately, the WIFI was unreliable and frequently stopped working. The cabin also included an AUDIO VOX unit. This enabled the passengers to hear their tour guide without standing 2 feet away from them. We just had to remember to bring it along for the included tours.The dress code onboard was casual. Shorts and tee shirts were not allowed in the dining room at dinner time. Men generally wore polo shirts, sweaters, or sport coats. Women wore slacks or skirts, while a few wore dresses. Every evening our cruise director gave a brief talk about the next day’s agenda. Afterwards, everyone headed to their respective dining rooms.That evening in Budapest, our ship sailed under the Chain and Elizabeth Bridge and past the stunning and illuminated Parliament building. The air was quite chilly. The crew members passed out blankets, Schnapps, and hot cocoa to the hearty souls who choose to remain on deck outside. In our winter gear we danced on the sun deck to various songs, including Johann Strauss’ the BLUE DANUBE WALTZ. It was magical!!!!A daily tour was included. There were optional tours for an additional cost. AMA divided their tours among five groups. It ranged from the gentle walkers all the way to the fast group. They had four motor coaches with very knowledgeable guides in each city.We had our resident musician Peter–the Jay Leno look alike who sang and played the piano very well. One night after dinner we had a fun evening decorating Christmas trees and drinking Gluhwein while Peter played Christmas music. It was very festive. Two other nights we had additional musicians come onboard. This included La Strada, an amazing classical trio, and Valerie May, a very talented performer who sang popular songs in five different languages.———————————————————————————————————————Itinerary:Sunday in BudapestThis morning we had a 4.5 hour included tour of Budapest, the capital city with Buda on the right bank and Pest on the left bank. These two merged back in 1873 and became a single city. We sailed the week of Thanksgiving and the Christmas Market in Budapest was not open yet. We enjoyed views from the Buda Castle, a visit to the Fisherman’s Bastion and a panoramic tour of the Royal Palace. While the ship sailed up the Danube to Esztergom, we caught up to it via motor coach.Monday in Vienna:With our included city tour we saw the Vienna Opera House, St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the city’s historic center, rich in architectural marvels, Baroque castles and lush gardens. We enjoyed two Christmas Markets and the majestic Ringstrasse, Vienna’s famed ring road.In the afternoon the optional tour was Schonbrunn Palace–the most famous and beautiful palace in Vienna. It once served as the summer palace of the Habsburgs who ruled much of Europe for over 600 years. The most influential ruler to have lived there was Maria Theresa who spends her late years in seclusion after the death of her husband.That evening we went to the Optional Mozart and Strauss Concert presented by the Resident Orchestra. It was a classical concert held in one of the truly great formal concert houses of Imperial Vienna. We enjoyed a mixture of the most popular compositions of Vienna’s favorite composers–Mozart and Johann Strauss II. Not only was the concert fabulous but seeing Vienna all decorated and the illuminated monuments and grand buildings was absolutely delightful.Tuesday in Melk.
Our included tour today to The Melk Abbey is one of the most famous and visited cultural sights in Austria and one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture of all of Europe. It became a Benedictine monastery in 1089 and for over 900 years monks have lived and worked in the abbey following the rules laid down by St. Benedict. After the tour we walked back to the ship and explored the picturesque village of Melk.
Wednesday in Passau:
Today we had 3 choices:
- Passau Walking Tour–city of Three Rivers. The Danube is joined at Passau by the Inn from the south and Ilz from the north. The town has many Baroque building and cobblestone streets. The Christmas Markets were very authentic and one of the favorites of the entire cruise.
- Guided Bike Ride along the Inn River (no one participated)
- Salzburg Excursion. This full day tour had an additional cost but well worth it. Our drive was over 2 hours in each direction. Highlights of the tour include a visit to Mirabell Gardens, the colorful St. Peter’s Cemetery, Salzburg Cathedral where Mozart once served as court organist and composed numerous works of sacred music and Mozart’s Birthplace. Salzburg had its own beautiful Christmas Market which had local handicrafts so we were able to spend some time and enjoy Gluhwein (mulled wine).
Thursday in RegensburgLimited Edition Tour AUDI DISCOVERY PRODUCTION TOUR This was a car enthusiast dream. We travelled to the Audi Factory in Ingolstadt and enjoyed a guided tour of the production line. They use state-of-the-art technology. Their welding robots performed a fascinating ballet. We really appreciated the precision workmanship that goes into building an AUDI.Friday in NurembergThis morning we were sailing through the Main-Danube Canal which links the North Sea to the Black Sea through a series of 16 locks. This engineering marvel makes it possible for ships such as the AMA BELLA to cruise all the way from the Netherlands to Romania! In fact, on this trip we sailed through a total of 25 locks.Nuremberg (Bavaria’s second largest city) we explored medieval Nuremberg. We stopped at the “big balcony” for an amazing view of the old city. We learned about the legend of the Beautiful Fountain, the centerpiece of Market Square. This was the largest Christmas Market with over 100 booths.This evening the locals were celebrating the opening of the Christ Kindles Market Festival. This annual event is held each year on Friday before the first Sunday in Advent. We were there among the locals that were overflowing with people. The Christmas Angel’s opening prologue began at 5.30 pm. After the prologue was read, the children’s choir sang Silent Night. Despite the crowd, an atmosphere of reverential silence filled the market as onlookers anticipated the solemn event. It was magical!!!!!—————————————————————————————————————————This was a wonderful trip and my second river cruise. The first time I traveled from Paris to Normandy with Uniworld. I was fortunate to experience two luxury products. Both companies had excellent tour guides, great food and service. The staff always smiled and greeted you and the ships were spotless. Uniworld includes drinks and gratuities where AMA includes unlimited beer, wine and soda with lunch and dinner. I thought my cabin was slightly larger this time on AMA and I loved the main lounge on the AMA Bella. It was my favorite place onboard to enjoy the scenery, relax or chat with fellow cruisers.For more information on Europe Vacations or River Cruising, please visit us online at www.foxworldtravel.com and follow us for more of our first hand travel experiences and photos.