Exploring River Cruising – What we liked, what not so much

Lately, when talking about travel, I hear a lot of people say “I want to go on a river cruise!” It has become a popular bucket list item. All the Viking River Cruise ads on Downton Abbey have put the idea of a river cruise into all of our heads. So, I thought, I have never been on a river cruise. I am a travel planner. It’s time to see what the hype is all about.

I recruited my friend Deb to go with me and then we booked a river cruise called The Black Sea Voyage, with AmaWaterways on the Ama Prima. Deb has never been to Europe before, I have many times, so I picked this because of the adventurous places it offered, not realizing until later that traveling to Eastern Europe wasn’t really going to give Deb that “Imperial European Cities” first impression. She said twice though “this exceeded my expectations” when we returned, so I guess I’ll believe her.

Anyway, I digress. We flew into Bucharest, Romania and then went to the port city of Rousse. First day we explored Bucharest. Then we moved up the Danube to the countries of Bulgaria, through the “Iron Gates” to Serbia, Croatia, and ended in Budapest. (The full Black Sea Voyage started in Istanbul and ended in Vienna with land portions you could add on. We just did the river part.) The drawbacks to visiting these less traveled places was that we had to take a motor coach to get to the cities for excursions. On river cruises visiting Western European cities you often just get off the ship and the city is right there. We experienced that in Budapest and it was really quite lovely. I can imagine how wonderful it is to see Vienna, Paris, Amsterdam, etc. that way.

Here is our cruise map:

I’ll start with first impressions. Having mainly experienced large ship cruising, this was VERY different. When we are trained to sell river cruises we are told, big ocean ships, you sell for the ship, river cruises you sell for the destination. The ship is small and intimate. The staterooms are small but well appointed. The Ama Prima was luxurious! Very beautifully decorated. It is more like being in a five star hotel than being on a cruise ship. It’s wonderful, you get to sail up the river in your five star hotel, never have to pack and repack, and you can see many wonderful sites and cities.




We were welcomed onboard like we were regular customers. The staff showed us around, brought us to our room, introduced us to our housekeeper and then left us to get situated. There was a welcome reception in the lounge where you met the crew and Captain, your cruise director, drank champagne and learned what to expect, how meals, etc. were organized, how to prepare for excursions and of course safety. It was quite humorous sitting in a beautiful salon, sipping champagne and watching the crew demonstrate the life saving equipment. Big change from thousands of people lined up on deck waiting for announcements and instructions!

A typical day…

  1. Breakfast, a huge buffet, separate grill for eggs, specialty items, unbelievable pastries, champagne, mimosas. then grab your travel card and head for the buses.
  2. Go on the excursion you chose (all included by the way!) then return. The crew greets you with a warm cloth to wipe your face and a drink.
  3. Lunch, Deb called it the mystery menu.