Daily shore excursions, often more than one, are included in the fare. These include the river cruise staples of town and city walking tours, often usefully divided in gentle, regular and active walking paces, and coach tours to places of interest. All passengers have personal earpieces and receivers in their cabins, which enable them to hear the guide clearly without having to huddle around, and because different shore excursions are on offer they invariably involve small groups and never feel over crowded.
Each cruise also features extra special "Signature" and "Royal Signature" experiences, usually three of each on a 14-night itinerary and all included in the fare. On our trip, the former included a guided tour, treasure hunt and food tastings in the charming half-timbered town of Miltenberg and lunch and a falconry display at the baroque Chateau Jemniste in the Czech Republic. "Royal Signature" experiences included a private rail journey on the magnificent Majestic Impersonator train in Austria and a banquet and classical piano recital at Namedy Castle, hosted by Princess Heide von Hohenzollern, in the German town of Andernach.
Every time passengers leave the ship they have to swipe in and out with their personalised keycard, which includes the telephone numbers of both the ship and cruise director.
Complimentary bottled water is provided on shore excursions.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
River cruise entertainment is always pretty low-key, with the main focus being on the destinations visited and passing scenery. However, AmaBella has a talented onboard pianist, singer and DJ who plays the piano in the lounge during lunch, afternoon tea and in the evening. One night he hosted a party night with balloons, hats and masks for dressing up. Members of the crew also joined in, which was fun. There was notably more visiting evening entertainment than on other ships, including a Rat Pack-style crooner and singer who got everyone dancing. Typical visiting entertainment might also include a Bavarian band or folk dancers. One morning a Bavarian glass-blower came aboard to give a fiery demonstration of his craft.
The cruise director gives an informative daily pre-dinner port talk in the lounge and a commentary when the ship is sailing through notable places of interest, such as the castle-lined Rhine Gorge with its famous Lorelei Rock. The Daily Cruiser programme left in the cabin each night provides historical notes on the destinations being visited.
Observation Lounge (Deck 3): The main lounge and bar is situated forward on the Piano Deck. The bar, with six high stools, is located at the entrance and stays open until the last passengers turn in. Virtually all drinks, including still and sparkling wine, spirits, cocktails, nonalcoholic "mocktails" and soft drinks, are included in the fare. A small list of premium brands, wines and Champagne are chargeable. Prices range from 6.60 euros for a Johnny Walker Black Label and 8 euros for glass of German sparkling wine to 16.50 euros for a glass of Veuve Cliquot Champagne. Bottles of wine range from 16.90 euros for pinot grigio to 80 euros for Veuve Cliquot Champagne.
The lounge has a mixture of settees, armchairs and stools, set around coffee tables, and is large enough to accommodate all the passengers. With a cream, black and gold colour scheme, and dark wood features, the furnishings include an eclectic mix of floral, checked, striped and plain patterns, alongside giant vases, which add interest. There are floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows, so it is an ideal spot for watching the world float past and relaxing. The section at the front, behind the curved glass window, is a prime lookout spot. This area also has a large-screen TV and can be used for small gatherings. At night, the lounge is the meeting point for pre- and post-dinner drinks and nightly entertainment. Oddly enough, given the party nights and quite lively after-dinner scene, it doesn't have a dance floor. But this didn't deter passengers who danced on the carpet in one of the larger gaps between tables and chairs.
As there is only one entrance to the lounge there can be a bit of a log jam getting down to the restaurant at mealtimes.
Teak Front Deck (Deck 3): Situated directly in front of the lounge, and accessed by an automatic door at one side, this is a sheltered alfresco area with four tables, each with two chairs. It's a lovely spot, and a great place to sit when AmaBella is going through locks and the sailors are busy working on the deck in front of the terrace. From here, stairs lead up to the sun deck.
Library (Deck 3): On AmaBella the aft area used as a secondary lounge on many ships is given over to the Chef's Table restaurant. Instead there is a library immediately inside the entrance to the main lounge, which extends across the back of the bar. A standout feature is the faux fireplace that gives the impression of flickering flames. There are comfortable settees and armchairs, plus a higher table with six chairs that is good for playing cards and games. Decorated in rich red and gold tones, one side of the room is made up of a large shelving unit with a small selection of novels, nonfiction books and games that can be borrowed during the cruise. Here passengers can also pick up puzzle sheets and copies of condensed daily newspapers for Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. It is a really nice space on the ship but unless a lot of passengers are out on shore excursions it's not that peaceful, particularly in the late afternoon and evening, due to its proximity to the bar and main lounge.
The sun deck runs the length of the ship and is divided into two levels, with a flight of four steps between the upper and lower sections. Located on the upper section is the pool, and although it isn't big enough for a proper swim, it is a great place to cool off on hot days. There are plenty of reclining chairs, small tables and mesh-covered loungers, plus sun shades. Many passengers stretch their legs and take in the fresh air by strolling around the walking track on the sun deck. It should be noted that during high water periods, when the ship has to pass under low bridges, the sun deck is closed to passengers.
The main doors on the split-level upper Violin Deck lead into the bright lobby and 24-hour reception area topped by a glittering chandelier. Level with the doors is the reception desk where passengers can book excursions and pick up maps and information on the day's port of call. They can also book hair and massage appointments and make reservations for the Chef's Table restaurant.
Next to the reception desk, at the entrance to the lounge, is a small shop selling everyday essentials, souvenirs, jewellery, accessories, gifts and APT-branded logowear.
A short flight of stairs -- one on each side -- leads from the back of the reception to an area housing the cruise director's desk and an L-shaped settee and two tables, where passengers can help themselves to sweets from a large bowl.
If not included in the cabin category, reasonably prices cleaning and pressing services are available for an additional fee. Prices for pressing range from 30 cents for a handkerchief to 3 euros for a dress. Washing is priced from 1.20 euros for small items such as underwear and T-shirts to 2.50 euros for a dress. Washing and ironing ranges from 90 cents for a handkerchief and 1.20 euros for a woman's T-shirt to 5.50 euros for a dress. Items are returned within 48 hours. Dry cleaning is not available.
The ship has an elevator serving four levels -- the restaurant, middle Cello Deck cabins, reception and lounge and upper Violin Deck cabins. It does not go to the lower Piano Deck cabins or the sun deck, both of which have to be accessed by stairs.
There is a free onboard printer that passengers can use to print out boarding passes and other items. These can be sent direct to the printer from the cabin computer, which is part of the TV and "infotainment" system, or from personal Wi-Fi enabled devices.
Smoking is only allowed on the sun deck and forward open deck in front of the lounge.
AmaBella has more facilities than many ships, with massage and hairdressing services. The combined massage room and hair salon is located in an attractively decorated room at the back of the upper Violin Deck. There is a massage table, with some Asian-inspired surrounding decor, and a wash station and mirror for hair services. Massages are priced at 30 euros for a 30-minute foot or back and shoulder massage, 60 euros for a 60-minute head-to-toe massage and 70 euros for a 60-minute aromatherapy oil massage. Hairdressing prices range from 16 euros for a ladies' or men's dry cut to 50 euros for a women's shampoo, cut, set or blow dry for long hair. Appointments are booked at the reception desk.
There is a small gym opposite the hair and massage room, which is open 24/7. Equipped with two exercise bikes and a treadmill, it is a nice light room as there is a floor-to-ceiling window running down one side. There are also free weights, exercise mats and a Swiss ball. Towels and water are provided and the room also has a TV. Unusually for a river ship, there is also a sauna accessed directly from the gym, along with a shower cubicle and unisex toilet.
The vessel carries 24 bicycles, available on a complimentary first-come, first-served basis, which guests can use to explore independently. Helmets are provided.
APT's culture-rich river cruises are unlikely to interest young children. The ship is not geared up for youngsters and has no special facilities or activities. Cruises might suit older children and teens who are interested in sights such as castles, and river cruises are suitable for multigenerational groups.