Courtesy of AmaWaterways
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Courtesy of AmaWaterways
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Courtesy of AmaWaterways
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Our Ship Review
Deal Expert / Travel Blogger

Cruising along the Danube River ranks high on many travelers’ wish lists and AmaSonata provides a refined yet unpretentious floating base from which to explore some of Eastern Europe’s most alluring capitals. Launched in 2014, the 162-guest ship — sister ship to AmaReina, AmaCerto, and AmaPrima, as well as one of the 29 river vessels currently California-based in AmaWaterways’ fleet — offers almost a dozen itineraries that visit cities in Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany during five-to-seven-night sailings. 

AmaWaterways, founded in 2002 by river cruise veterans Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst, is known for mixing casual elegance with regionally-inspired cuisine and active shore experiences. This means that AmaWaterways attracts a slightly younger demographic (as well as some fitter senior travelers) than its competitors. The cruise line also welcomes guests of all ages, with a suggested minimum age of six, allowing multi-generational families to cruise together.

While the décor on some other river cruise lines is either ornately frilly or sleek but identical from ship to ship, AmaWaterways’ vessels are subtly inspired by the region each ship sails, much the way a homey boutique hotel is. On AmaSonata, the panoramic Lounge is decorated in a mix of plush fabrics (a peacock feather pattern, a jewel-toned stripe, and a subtle tweed) and the adjacent library features cozy salmon-pink sofas and comfy armchairs. The ship’s 170-square-foot French Balcony cabins and 210-to-235-square-foot Twin Balcony cabins feature a pale blue and deep pink palette with floral embroidery on bed linens. Décor is similar in the smallest staterooms, the 160-square-foot Fixed Window cabins, which have highly-placed windows because they are at the water line. The ship’s priciest accommodations, the around 300-square-foot Twin Balcony Suites, are the airiest, with pale blue and gold décor.

The welcoming crew of around 50 provides service that’s warm, efficient, and never intrusive. The ship also features a Wellness Host who leads complimentary morning and afternoon fitness classes (yoga, stretching, and resistance band training) as well as biking excursions. Guests can work out individually in the small onboard gym, play pickleball on the Sun Deck, or book (at an extra cost) a massage in the spa room. 

A cruise aboard AmaSonata is practically all-inclusive. A choice of several shore excursions (gentle or regular pacing is available), Wi-Fi (quite fast in most areas of the ship), all food (which is exceptionally delicious), and most beverages (served with meals and during cocktail hour) are all included in the cruise fare. Just don’t forget your European two-prong adapter plug, since the onboard current is 220 volts — but if you do forget, AmaSonata has a stash at the reception desk.

What We Love

Terrific Upper Danube Itineraries: AmaSonata cruises the Danube from March through December. Itineraries include seven-night sailings between Budapest, Hungary, and Vilshofen, Germany (“Melodies of the Danube”), and vice versa (“Romantic Danube”). Other options are seven-night “Legendary Danube” sailings from Nuremberg, Germany, to Budapest and vice versa (“Blue Danube”). The ship’s seven-night “Christmas Markets on the Danube” itinerary cruises between Budapest and Nuremberg and vice versa (“Iconic Christmas Markets”) in November and December, visiting the region’s festive holiday squares. Shorter five-night “Majestic Capitals of the Danube” itineraries cruise both ways between Budapest and Vienna, Austria, with Christmas market sailings in November and December. Pre- and post-cruise stays in Budapest; Prague, Czech Republic; and Krakow, Poland, are also offered at an added cost.

Sun Deck Swimming Pool: Not all river ships feature a swimming pool, but AmaSonata and most other AmaWaterways vessels do. Located on the Sun Deck, it’s a welcome oasis after a day of touring Budapest, Vienna, or Bratislava in the thick of summer. The seasonally heated pool, which has underwater barstools and an unmanned bar (you can request drinks from a server who visits from time to time), is a great spot to soothe fatigued muscles after a day of walking, hiking, or cycling.

A La Carte Dining vs. Buffet: The culinary program onboard AmaWaterways’ ships offers three complimentary meals daily — and all are served a la carte. While this is typical for dinner on almost all river cruise lines, being able to select your breakfast and lunch from a menu vs. a self-service buffet is an elevated touch. Top breakfast options include omelets made with the ingredients of your choice, smoked trout, eggs Benedict, avocado tartine, and freshly made waffles with a berry ragout. For those who prefer a quicker, buffet-style breakfast, scrambled eggs, assorted pastries, yogurt, coffee, and juice are available in the Lounge.

Lunches always begin with a quartet of appetizers served family-style followed by a selection of two or three entrées — many themed to the locale, such as sausages and sauerkraut for a taste of Bavaria after a visit to Passau, Germany — but classic and vegetarian selections are always available. Bistro Lunch selections, including a locally-inspired option, margarita pizza, and salads, can also be enjoyed in the Lounge or at tables on a small aft terrace.

Dinner onboard is served in the Restaurant, which features an assortment of table configurations (many seating six guests) and two enclosed Wine Rooms seating up to 10 people. All are available on a first-come basis. Menus rotate nightly, although steak, chicken breast, or salmon fillet are always available. Stand-out appetizers include baked coconut shrimp cake, beet and goat cheese salad, and herb-marinated tiger prawn lime risotto, while memorable entrees include pan-fried salmon fillet and authentic Wiener schnitzel. Desserts are photogenic works of art that showcase local flavors: chocolate, honey, apricot, and cherry. All guests are also invited to enjoy one seating at the Chef’s Table, an elegant 28-seat venue located at the ship’s aft, where a superb seven-course tasting menu is offered nightly. 

Sip & Sail Cocktail Hours: Each evening, usually from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., guests are invited to gather in the Lounge for a complimentary Sip & Sail Cocktail Hour. During this time, all beverages on the special Sip & Sail menu — which includes white, rosé, and red wines by the glass along with beer and a dozen popular drinks such as a Cosmopolitan, Manhattan, or Martini — are free of charge. Wine and beer served with lunch or dinner are also complimentary.

Best Known For

Twin Balcony Staterooms: AmaWaterways pioneered the concept of the twin-balcony stateroom — meaning there’s one French balcony with two inside chairs and one step-out balcony with two outside chairs — and almost two-thirds of the ship’s staterooms feature this. It allows in ample light and creates a comfortable and private spot to enjoy passing scenery no matter what the season or temperature. All staterooms also feature entertainment (movies, music, and English-language TV) on demand.

Wine Program & Wine Cruises: If you enjoy sampling local wines while on vacation, AmaWaterways offers a rotating selection of reds and whites during lunch and dinner on its sailings, all complimentary. On Danube cruises aboard AmaSonata, these include local German, Austrian, and Hungarian varietals such as Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, and Blauer Zweigelt, while a selection of regional and global wines are available at any time for an additional charge. 

AmaWaterways is also known for hosting Celebration of Wine River Cruises aboard its ships, each year offering dozens of sailings — 70 are scheduled in 2024, including a number aboard AmaSonata — with a focus on tastings, winery and cellar tours, and lessons on the nuances of Old World winemaking.

Active Excursion Options: On AmaSonata’s Danube itineraries, guests who prefer active excursions (hiking or biking) have multiple options. On the “Melody of the Danube” itinerary, for example, hikes to hilltop castles are offered in three ports (Budapest, Weissenkirchen, and Passau) and bike tours are possible in four (Vienna, Weissenkirchen, Linz, and Passau). 

Who It's Best For

Culture-Loving Couples: The cities along the Danube are rich in history, notably the intriguing Hapsburg dynasty, centuries-old castles and abbeys, and the tragedies of World War II. If peering back in time is your thing, guided tours provide plenty of context, but they could be a drag for guests who don’t enjoy a historic deep dive.

Travelers Who Love to Sightsee by Bike: AmaWaterways also provides options for those who prefer to see the sights in a more active way. Its ships have a number of bikes onboard and guided rides, typically about 15 miles along a scenic route, are offered in multiple ports. Guests can sign out bicycles for independent exploration as well. The cruise line also has a partnership with bike-tour company Backroads for more than 140 enhanced biking tours on select itineraries.

Don't Say We Didn't Warn You

Gratuities are Extra: The only extra cost while aboard AmaSonata, other than beverages ordered outside of lunch, dinner, and Sip & Sail Cocktail Hour, is the recommended crew gratuity: $100 per person for the crew and $25 per person for the Cruise Manager. 

Scenic Daytime Sailing is Rather Limited: If you’re looking for wow-factor scenery by day, Upper Danube itineraries might be a bit of a letdown, especially if you’ve cruised the Rhine. Traversing the locks between Budapest and Bratislava is interesting and Austria’s Wachau Valley is quite pretty, but you’ll need to stay onboard and skip excursions in picturesque Durnstein and Melk to enjoy most of it. The truly captivating scenery on a “Melodies of the Danube” itinerary is actually at night. Don’t miss the spectacular sail away from Budapest past the illuminated Hungarian Parliament Building. The next evening, both Bratislava Castle and the “UFO Bridge” with its sci-fi-looking elevated restaurant are also worth heading to the Sun Deck after dinner to see.

Nightlife is Relatively Quiet: While an onboard musician plays the piano and DJs in the Lounge nightly, the vibe after 9 p.m. is pretty sedate. There are also several after-dinner special performances, which range from a local folkloric dance show to a musical trio that blends classical and contemporary music in creative ways.

Donna Heiderstadt
Deal Expert / Travel Blogger
Cruise Expert