When you envision your vacation, you rarely imagine it in the rain, but a brief downpour during our walking tour of Bruges, Belgium, didn't dampen our spirits. We had just finished exploring the city's architectural and historical gems when our local guide handed out over-sized AmaWaterways umbrellas, pointing out cafes on the main shopping street where our small group could escape the rain.
My husband and I stumbled into a cozy restaurant. Chatting with locals, we ordered what turned out to be the best mussels we had ever tasted – accompanied by Belgian beer, of course. Just as it was time to rejoin our group, the sun added a glimmer to the rooftops of the medieval buildings, cobblestone streets and winding canals that created the sensation of stepping into a fairy tale.
It was an unexpectedly charming day, but also perfectly befitting our seamless, eight-day voyage with AmaWaterways – an ideal balance of complementary guided activities and free time to seek out local experiences, and we never had to worry about a single detail. Our 164-passenger ship sailed smoothly as we slept and docked close to city centers and villages waiting to be explored. Though we gravitated toward active excursions, others expressed appreciation over small-group options that appealed to gentle walkers, as well as to “late-starters” who preferred to remain on board a little longer.
For us, a true highlight was the 80-acre Keukenhof gardens in the western Netherlands, where we meandered through the gardens and pavilions with seven million tulips and hyacinths in bloom. We especially enjoyed having access to AmaWaterways, collection of two dozen bicycles, which we used to traverse the historic Dutch town of Willemstad on our own.
As we mingled with other guests, we heard tales of other enchanting European river cruise excursions, from strolling the sloping hills and cobblestone streets of Budapest on a Danube cruise to sipping crisp Alsatian wines in the French village of Colmar on a Rhine cruise.
Indulgent bliss followed us back on board, where our chef made meals decadent and varied, and we could choose among multiple dining venues. At The Chef's Table restaurant, complimentary to guests, we watched the chef in dazzling action from our 24-seat table. He plated specialties such as marinated salmon accented with a lemon, pepper and mango salsa, followed by a perfectly grilled beef tenderloin and porcini potato, each course paired with an exquisite wine. We somehow manged to save room for a chocolate tart with a millefeuille of red currant and mascarpone.
Personal touches and memorable moments extended throughout our trip. Before dinner each evening, Rolf, our multilingual cruise manager, briefed us on the history , culture and customs of upcoming destinations. We felt taken care of – by him, the well-trained crew and the knowledgeable local guides – all of whom not only met our needs but also anticipated them. At breakfast, I even teased one server that she was spoiling my husband by bringing him oatmeal already topped with brown sugar.
Each evening, we retired to our twin-balconied stateroom that had all the amenities of a five-star hotel, including a marble bathroom with multijet shower-heads. Passing up the television shows and movies on the high-tech infotainment system, my husband spent every night glued to the closed-circuit bow camera so he didn't miss any of the picturesque view on shore.