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February 10, 2016

A Writers Diary of the Magical Experience of an Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Spending Christmas on a new ship

Plus: All About Amras Cruises, Azamara Cruises
and Celebrity Cruises... and the
2016 Family Friendly Cruise Travel Planner

Amadeus Silver II Cruise: Spending Christmas on a new ship

(Story excerpt and photos courtesy of AllThingsCruise Writer Jackie Sheckler Finch.  To see the entire diary, please click here.) 

Whenever I travel in Europe, I realize how young America really is. What is old to Americans is just a newbie in the grand annals of European history.

I’m usually home for the holidays but this year I will be cruising on the new Amadeus Silver II through France and Germany. Since it is such a long flight to Europe, I am combining two back-to-back Amras cruises for an 11-day cruise.

The first five-day cruise is called Advent on the Rhine. The second six-day cruise is Christmas on the Rhine. We will visit quite a few Christmas Markets in beautiful towns along the Rhine River. We will also take numerous excursions to learn more about the fascinating history of the places we are visiting.

One thing I really like about river cruises is the ship’s ability to dock so close to towns along the way. Often, passengers can just walk off the ship and take a short stroll to the heart of the town. Also river ships don’t carry as many passengers as big ocean liners so it is easier to embark and disembark as well as to get to know each other.

Silver II Holiday Itinerary

Our cruise will start in Basel on the French side and end up in Cologne in Germany. In France, we will be visiting Strasbourg. In Germany, it will be Kehl, Mannheim, Speyer, Heidelberg, Rudesheim, Koblenz, Mainz and Siebengebirge.

I am excited about seeing the new Silver II. Little seems to have been written about her yet or about the cruises offered by Amras on the Lüftner fleet of river ships.

Launched in 2015, the Silver II is the 12th in the Amadeus fleet and the Silver III is already under construction with launch scheduled for spring 2016.

It may sound a bit confusing but the Amadeus fleet of ships is owned and operated by Lüftner, an Austrian-based company. Amras is a tour company with a marketing office in Chicago specializing in the North American market. Amras was named for a tiny Austrian village located on the outskirts of Innsbruck. The quintessential charming Austrian village, Amras epitomizes the best of Austrian hospitality and the joys that make international travel such a pleasure.

The Amras philosophy is to include as much as possible into a cruise and a cruise price so English-speaking travelers can cruise worry free.

For example, all shore excursions, WiFi and gratuities are built into the basic Amras cruise fee. Beer, wine and soft drinks also are complimentary during lunch and dinner. This is what Amras has arranged for its guests on the Silver II but other tour companies may have other arrangements on the ship. So it will be interesting to discover what is what as far as the cruise offerings go.

Silver II has Musical Heritage

I have seen photos of the Silver II and the ship looks quite lovely and comfortable. The ship has four decks and can carry 168 passengers. As a nod to its Amadeus heritage, the decks are named Mozart, Strauss and Haydn. Cabins have individual temperature controls, flat screen TVs and walk-in showers.

Suites have a private walk-out balcony and outdoor seating while staterooms on the Mozart and Strauss decks feature French balcony views. I will be in a stateroom on the third deck. My room will not have a walk-out balcony but will have a French balcony which I’ve never seen before. According to the brochure, with the push of a button I can lower the upper half of the floor-to-ceiling window in my cabin to create a balcony effect.

The Silver II has one restaurant, a large Panorama Bar where most activities take place, a small corner Café Vienna for quiet coffee breaks, a larger Amadeus Club room with a small library and coffee machine, and a glass-enclosed River Terrace that offers wonderful views of the river. The ship also has an elevator, fitness room, hairdresser, massage room and small gift shop.

Learning more about this mysterious lady, the Silver II, could be quite an adventure. Hope you’ll come along for the journey.

To see the entire diary, please click here.

Learn more about Amras Cruises:

Presenting a Premier Collection of European River Cruises on the award-winning Amadeus Fleet.

In the 1970s, a small, family-owned travel company hailing from the village of Amras, Austria, launched a new and different kind of European travel experience, featuring cruises on chartered ships sailing the Rhine, Main, and Danube Rivers. Not only was theirs the first travel company to offer chartered cruises along the waterways of Europe, they virtually invented modern river cruising with the launch of their first ship, the award-winning MS Amadeus. Today, with 10 ships in their prized Amadeus fleet, Amras Cruises Worldwide is proud to offer their premier collection of river cruises designed exclusively for English-speaking travelers through Amras Cruises.

Designed with an eye to creating spacious comfort and ease, and manned with a staff and crew trained to the highest levels of traditional Austrian hospitality, the Amadeus fleet is perfect for the demanding traveler. The company prides itself in delivering authentic, culturally engaging cruise and land products by tapping into decades of destination knowledge and long-standing supplier relationships.

Amras Cruises is uniquely situated to provide the North American market with maximum value and flexibility, along with first-class service. Operations are based in Europe, close to the design and delivery of Amras' exclusive products and superior onboard experience, while the Sales and Marketing office is based in Chicago, Illinois, ensuring top quality customer service utilizing state-of-the-art online booking technology and friendly, knowledgeable expertise.

The philosophy is to include as much as possible into the cruise and land price, so the Amras traveler can travel worry free. No need to think about gratuities, or which shore excursion to buy, or whether or not to have that afternoon Viennese coffee. It's all included. At your service.

MS Amadeus Diamond
MS Amadeus Elegant
MS Amadeus Princess
MS Amadeus Silver
MS Amadeus Silver II
MS Amadeus Silver III
MS Amadeus Symphony

Learn more about Azamara Club Cruises:

Azamara Journey Image Courtesy of Azamara Club CruisesAzamara is unique among cruise lines in that it was created to offer luxury and destination-rich itineraries at a price point lower than those of competitors, as well as access to less-traveled ports. The line's ports of call are carefully selected, to include culturally rich cities and exceptional natural wonders.

Azamara Club Cruises has been described as a "sophisticated yet relaxed" luxury line with an immersion in destination cultures and traditions. The line's two 694-guest ships feature European hotel ambiance and provide outstanding service, fine cuisine and wines, and wellness programs.

Because of their smaller size, the Azamara ships travel to destinations that larger ships can't reach, in Europe, Asia, South America, Panama Canal and the less-traveled islands of the Caribbean. They also offer more overnight and late-night stays than large ships. Whenever possible, itineraries are planned around popular events – for example, visiting London for the Chelsea Garden Show or Monaco during the Monte Carlo Grand Prix.
Azamara is constantly adding new ports and new itineraries. For example, the 2015 program included a total of 203 ports in 62 countries, with 16 maiden port calls.

Both ships were built in 2000, with the Quest entering service with Azamara in 2007, the Journey, slightly later. Both ships have had extensive multi-million-dollar refits; the Quest was upgraded in 2012, the Journey, in 2013. Azamara Club Cruises consistently rank high in customer satisfaction, winning 35 out of a possible 40 Cruise Critic Cruisers' Choice awards. The reasons for this popularity relate to the total cruise experience offered by Azamara.

Azamara Club Cruises is best for:

Seasoned, sophisticated travelers, who are destination-oriented and are looking for a small ship, boutique-type of experience;
Those seeking a floating country club experience with upscale surroundings and amenities and a relaxed atmosphere.

The atmosphere and experience onboard Azamara Club Cruises:

The ships have the feel of small boutique hotels, with an international staff focused on service. The dining fare is eclectic regional and American cuisine, and room service is available 24/7 (the breakfast menu is far more elaborate than those on other room-service menus).

Azamara's higher-than-average number of overnight port stays allows passengers to enjoy the nightlife in the cities the ships visit. The company's philosophy is "Destination Immersion," so that guests may more fully enjoy the rich historical and cultural experiences in less-explored regions.

Every Azamara voyage (except transatlantic) includes a complimentary AzAmazing Evening, a memorable "Wow" event relating to the destination visited. Some examples: a D-Day Liberation Party on the Shores of Normandy, a party at Francis Ford Coppola's winery in California, a Greek wedding in Chania, Greece.

Also included in the ticket price: self-service laundry; complimentary shuttles in many ports; gratuities; selected spirits, house wines, beer, soft drinks, specialty coffees and bottled water. Suite passengers have English butler service.

Both ships have a small but full-service Astral Spa and a small but well-equipped fitness center.

Dressing up is at a minimum, with most passengers adhering to a "resort casual" or "elegant casual" style. Though there are no formal black-tie events, occasionally the diamonds and designer clothes occasionally come out to shine.

The destinations served by Azamara Club Cruises:
  • Asia
  • Northern and Western Europe
  • Mediterranean and Black Sea
  • South America (and Antarctic Sound)
  • Transatlantic
  • West Indies
  • Australia (2015)
The clientele of Azamara Club Cruises:

Azamara attracts an international clientele, though the majority of passengers are Americans, followed by Canadians and citizens of the U.K. Though a large number of (relatively active) seniors are to be expected on any given cruise, Azamara gives their age demographic as between 55 and 57 years of age – probably due to the younger families with children (from babies to teens). As the line offers port-intensive itineraries (with the ships sailing mainly at night), it attracts those who value destination-immersion over an oceangoing experience.

Regarding children onboard Azamara Club Cruises:While Azamara does welcome guests of all ages, there are no formal children's programs or facilities. Minimum age requirement to sail Azamara is 6 months; on transoceanic cruises, as well as other select cruises/cruise tours, children must be at least 1 year old.  

Azamara Club Cruises Specials

Azamara Club Cruises Shore Excursions
Azamara Club Cruises Reviews
Azamara Club Cruises Deck Plans  

Azamara Journey
Azamara Quest

Read Travel Diaries:

Marcia Raffel Lefin’s Diary of South American cruise aboard the Azamara Quest

Gerry Barker’s Diary of Caribbean cruise on the Azamara Quest

Judy Zimmerman’s Diary of Antarctic cruise aboard the Azamara Quest


Learn more about Celebrity Cruises:

The stylish ships of Celebrity Cruises feature high-end decor, modern technology, excellent enrichment programs, superior dining options and outstanding spas.

The Solstice Class ships have larger staterooms than those on previous classes; 80% have verandas. Highlights of these ships are: the Lawn Club (with a half-acre of manicured lawn), multiple dining venues, a multi-million-dollar art collection, a large theater and the spa-inspired AquaClass suites and the AquaClass signature restaurant, Blu.

Celebrity is the first cruise line in the world to offer SPE-certified dishes in their main restaurant on the Reflection (but likely to follow on other ships). This newest designation means that culinary experts have vetted the dishes and certified that they are not only nutritious, but also delicious.

On the newer ships, passengers can seek a little privacy by booking a fee-based "Alcove," where they'll have chilled towels, fresh fruit and use of a pre-loaded iPad. An Alcove Butler can arrange spa treatments, food and other services.

Many of the line's Millennium Class ships have been "solsticized," meaning that they have received Solstice Class upgrades.

The line sails in Alaska, Bermuda, California, Canada/New England, Europe, the Pacific Coast, Panama Canal, South America, Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands (the small Celebrity Xpedition sails luxury expeditions to the Galapagos).

The line offers Cruisetours, land-based extensions of their cruises to Alaska, Canada, Europe and South America.

Celebrity Cruises is best for:

Families with young children;
Families with teen-agers;
Family reunions, multi-generational;
Young adults looking for soft adventure and sports activities;
Boomers looking for a cruise with lots of enrichment at sea;
Spa lovers;
Travelers who want a taste of luxury at a premium cruise price.

The atmosphere and experience onboard Celebrity Cruises:

Celebrity is an upscale line that offers some of the small luxuries (like welcome champagne and mimosas) associated with the luxury lines. The ships have elegant public areas featuring high-end artwork, sophisticated modern decor, spacious staterooms and multiple dining choices.

There is no shortage of onboard activities and entertainment. During the day passengers can choose culinary classes/events, language classes, yoga classes, cultural enrichment by distinguished lecturers – or lighter fare, like dance classes, games and competitions. At night, expect Vegas-style revues, comedians, talent shows, etc.

As is the case on some mid-size mainstream ships, there is a dress code. Shorts, flip-flops are fine during the day, but not in the evening. Swimsuits, tank tops, bare feet, etc. are not allowed in the restaurants. Smart-casual prevails for dinner; formal wear (suits, tuxedos, cocktail dresses and gowns) is recommended during formal nights.

The destinations served by Celebrity Cruises:

  • Alaska
  • Asia
  • Australia/New Zealand
  • Bahamas
  • Bermuda
  • Canada/New England
  • Caribbean
  • Europe
  • Galapagos
  • Hawaii
  • Pacific Coastal
  • Panama Canal
  • South America
  • Transatlantic
  • Transpacific

The clientele of Celebrity Cruises:

Generally moderately affluent and well-educated adults with an average age of 50+. The line also attracts families, especially during school holidays. On European cruises, the passenger mix is more international. Most are experienced travelers who are looking for an above-average mainstream cruise line experience.

Regarding children onboard Celebrity Cruises: Infants sailing on a cruise must be at least 6 months old as of the first day of the cruise/Cruisetour. However, for Transatlantic, Transpacific, select South American cruises/Cruisetours and other select cruises/Cruisetours, the infant must be at least 12 months old (as of the first day of the cruise/Cruisetour). For the purposes of this policy, any cruise that has 3 or more consecutive days at sea will require infants to be 12 months old on the first day of the cruise/Cruisetour. Children's programs and babysitting are available on board.

Celebrity Cruises Specials
Celebrity Cruises Shore Excursions
Celebrity Cruises Reviews
Celebrity Cruises Deck Plans

Celebrity Constellation
Celebrity Eclipse
Celebrity Equinox
Celebrity Infinity
Celebrity Millennium
Celebrity Reflection
Celebrity Silhouette
Celebrity Solstice
Celebrity Summit
Celebrity Xpedition

Read Travel Diaries:

Cynthia Boal Janssens’ Diary of Transatlantic cruise aboard the Celebrity Equinox

David Molyneaux’s Diary of Australian and New Zealand cruise aboard the Celebrity Century


2016 Family Friendly Cruise Travel Planner [PDF] or Online book

While there is a perfect cruise vacation for everyone, not every cruise line is the ideal match for every family. Some lines have minimum age requirements for children (and pregnancy policies for expectant parents!), and others don't permit children to sail at all. In addition, while a line may allow children to sail, it’s not a given that the line has specially designed children’s programs in place. 

With these things in mind, determining the best cruise line for your family takes careful research, preparation and planning. The travel experts at CruiseCompete have composed the “2016 Family-Friendly Cruise Travel Planner,” which details every aspect of the family cruise vacation experience.

The “2016 Family-Friendly Cruise Travel Planner” is designed to kick-start your cruise vacation planning, and covers the entire spectrum of options with information on mainstream lines like Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line, as well as unique alternatives like luxury, river and small ship excursion companies.

All information has been compiled in an easy-to-read format, with brief “at-a-glance” summaries to see if the cruise line fits your basic requirements, followed by more detailed information about the atmosphere on board, the destinations you can travel to and the specific programs available for children.

Take a look!  2016 Family Friendly Cruise Travel Planner [PDF] or Online book

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