Walking on the River Cruise Vacation - Review and Tips

Walking and Touring on an AmaWaterways River Cruise Vacation

AmaDolce Docked at Kitzigen, Germany
AmaDolce Docked at Kitzigen, Germany. Wendy Bumgardner ©

River cruise vacations can be a great way to explore destinations around the world. In port each day you can join in guided walking tours with local guides. What can you expect of those tours?

We researched itineraries and consulted with our Cruises guide and reviewed her AmaWaterways river cruise experience. I loved the sound of the walking tours each day, which included both "active walkers" and "gentle walkers" groups and often a "late risers" group. My husband wanted assurances he wouldn't have to do any walking if he didn't feel like it. AmaWaterways doesn't require that you leave the ship at all. You can stay holed up in your cabin if you want to.

Reasons for River Cruising

1. Luggage: Touring Europe by train can take a toll on your knees, hips and back. Toting luggage onto and off of the train is unpleasant as you age. On a cruise, you only unpack and repack once.

2. Watching the Scenery Go By: Cruising the Rhine and Mosel is perfect for watching the castles and villages go by from the cabin, on the sun deck or in the lounge. Most cabins have a full wall of windows that open to a French balcony to enjoy both the views and the breeze, not limited to a porthole view.

3. Docking at Quaint Villages: A river cruise itinerary visits some larger cities, but also includes more small towns than an ocean cruise would visit.

4. Guided Walking Tours or Independent Strolling: You have the choice at each port of going with a group and listening to the local guide, breaking off from a group and meeting them at stated times, exploring on your own from the dock, or staying on the ship.

Guided Group Walking Tours on am AmaWaterways River Cruise

Guided Walking Tour - Reichsburg Castle, Cochem, Germany
Guided Walking Tour - Reichsburg Castle, Cochem, Germany. Wendy Bumgardner ©

While it's great to watch the scenery go by on a river cruise, I love exploring onshore (and wearing off some of the cuisine calories). On an AmaWaterways cruise, guided walking tours were included each day, and bike tours were also offered on some days.

Depending on the docking location, the tour walked from the dock or we were taken by bus into the nearby town. Sometimes the ship continued to sail and we met it at the next docking location.

Maps: The ship provided a colorful map of the town we would be walking in each day. It included the docking location, numbered sights in the town, streets, ATM machine locations, and the Tourist Info office location. This allowed you navigate back to the ship if you took off on your own. That is highly appreciated when you don't have your mobile phone GPS to rely on in a foreign country due to the high data charges.

What to Expect: We had a good run-down of the walks both from the pre-cruise daily itinerary booklet and the Daily Cruiser newsletter we got each evening for the next day. These included the duration of the shore excursion, duration of the bus ride (if any), duration of the walking tour, and the degree of difficulty of the walking tour. The itinerary described what sights we would see and tour. We also had a pocket-sized destination guide with more details about sights and more maps.

Water: AmaWaterways stocks your cabin with bottled water each day, so we always had that available to take with us on the walking tours.

Umbrellas: We had two umbrellas provided in our cabin closet, and the cruise director reminded us to bring them as "lucky charms" if rain was in the forecast. As walkers know, if you carry an umbrella, it won't rain! There were more umbrellas, seat canes, and trekking poles available to take with you as you left the ship.

More: What to Wear for European Town Walking Tours: Prepare for cobblestones!

Walking Groups

We could choose between three walking groups:

  • Regular Walkers: This group got a standard walking tour, usually at a distance of two miles or less at a leisurely pace with many stops to listen to the guide discuss the sights.
  • Active Walkers: This group walked the same route as the Regular Walkers, but at a little faster pace. The pace was still quite leisurely, nowhere near a brisk walking pace. But we usually had an extra half hour to an hour to amble independently before reboarding the ship or bus.
  • Gentle Walkers: This group had a shorter and easier route.
  • No Group: You were free to explore independently and meet the bus or ship back at designated times.

Each group was no larger than 30 people and had its own local guide, identified by a stick "lollipop" with a colored circle and name of the ship.

Audio System: The ship provided Whisper System audio devices so the guide's instructions and commentary could be heard by walkers who were 100 yards or more away, through earpieces. This allowed us to fan out, straggle, take photos, etc. without losing out on the commentary.

A local guide from each town does the commentary, with varying styles. Many were boosters, encouraging us to return to their town on our next vacation. We learned about local history, including the stolperstein memorial "stumbling stones" set into the sidewalks in front of the last residences of those deported from that town by the Nazis.

Walk Difficulty: The walking tours were usually non-strenuous. Where there was a significant hill to climb to a site, a bus or shuttle took us up the hill, or it was suggested as an optional activity during our free time at the end of the guided tour.

Walk Duration: The walking tours were usually between one and two hours long, with the longer tours spending more time within a sight such as a castle, museum, cathedral, etc. Often there was free time built into the tour so you could shop or sample the local food and beverages. We also enjoyed fun extras included, such as a mug of rauchbier in Bamberg and a wine tasting in an ancient wine cellar in Kitzingen.

Comfort Stops: The guides were good at providing restroom opportunities at regular intervals.

Bottom Line on the AmaWaterways Walking Tours

The distances we walked were minor for a fitness walker and the leisurely speed and numerous stops do not give an aerobic workout. The walking tours often weren't enough activity to help me meet my goal of 10,000 steps per day.To meet my goal, I had to take the opportunities for walking workouts onboard the ship. While we often had enough free time to go into museums, etc. on our own, sometimes we didn't and it was unsatisfying to miss it on this trip. That's a given on a group tour.

What to Wear on Your Walking Tours in European Towns

Cobblestone Street and Cushioned Shoe
Cobblestone Street and Cushioned Shoe. Wendy Bumgardner ©

"I forgot about the cobblestones," a fellow traveler said as we awaited the start of our walk up to Reichsburg Castle in Cochem, Germany. Choose footwear with enough cushioning when are going to spend an hour or more on the ubiquitous cobblestone streets and sidewalks in Europe. They are like walking on a rocky trail rather than smooth concrete.

Sandals: Flip flops are a bad choice if you are touring towns with hilly streets, as you will either slide out of them or the toe post will try to drill its way back to your ankle. Walking sandals with good cushioning and support and a heel strap are a better choice. However, cobblestones kept grabbing the toe of my sandals and I switched to my athletic shoes instead to prevent tripping.

Walking Shoes: Well-cushioned walking shoes are a great choice for walking tours. You will be doing as much standing as walking. Steer clear of thin-soled, non-supportive shoes or minimalist shoes. The best choices are comfort shoes, cushioned running/walking shoes, or lightweight trail shoes.

Gear Up: Be prepared for changes in weather. Dress in layers as you would for a long walk or hike. Start with a shirt that will wick away sweat and dry quickly, bring along a sweater, wool or fleece shirt if it may be cold, and always think of a windproof and/or waterproof light jacket. Convertible pants are a good choice in changeable weather conditions. It's smart to wear a walking hat to shade your scalp and eyes.

I carry a lightweight pack so I can bring along a bottle of water, stow my hat or other gear, and carry any purchases. I use the minimalist Rick Steves Civita Day Pack for walking tours. However, some museums and government buildings require you to check any packs.

Don't worry too much about trying to dress like a local to blend in. You are going to look like a tourist anyway when you are with a walking tour group. It's your choice as to whether you wear or don't wear clothes that fly your national flag or tout your local sports team.

For safety, leave your passport and most of your cash and cards in the safe in your room. I wore a RooSport magnetic pocket to carry cash and identification (and the passport fits into it, too).

Walking On the Ship on a River Cruise

Sun Deck Walking Path AmaDolce River Cruise in Cochem, Germany
Sun Deck Walking Path AmaDolce River Cruise in Cochem, Germany. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The walking tours on shore were usually only a mile or two long each day. I sometimes had only 5000 steps to show for my efforts and needed to make up the rest for my goal of 10,000 steps per day.

AmaWaterways ships have two options for exercising on board. The fitness room has exercise equipment including a treadmill, elliptical trainer or stationary cycle.

If the Sun Deck is open, you can use the marked walk/jog track. I walked the track as we cruised up the Mosel River. At a brisk walking pace, I made each circuit in about a minute. Watch the vineyards and villages go by as you circle the deck.

Although I am prone to motion sickness, I had no problem while the ship was sailing. I only felt movement when we were going through locks or docking.

The AmaDolce is 360 feet long. If you choose an aft cabin you will get a few more steps per day in the hallways.

Cruise Review: Europe's Rivers and Castles on the AmaWaterways AmaDolce

River Cruise in Cochem, Germany
River Cruise in Cochem, Germany. Wendy Bumgardner ©

The river cruise on the AmaDolce was my first cruise vacation. The small ship with a maximum of 140 passengers was a great choice. We had an excellent cruise vacation and would cruise with AmaWaterways again. I've reviewed the daily walking tours. Here is my experience on board.

Cabin: We chose the standard cabin with French balcony. It was small but very comfortable. There was lots of storage area in the closets and in the bathroom cabinet. Bathrobes and slippers were provided. The comfy seating area at the windows was perfect for privately watching the river and castles go by. You are allowed to bring your own drinks on board, so we bought Riesling in town to sip. The climate control worked perfectly in the very hot weather we encountered. When it wasn't as hot, we enjoyed opening up the full-length window to catch the breeze. I was amazed at how quiet the cabin was. We never heard the other passengers talking, showering, etc.

The infotainment system included a channel showing the bow camera and included audio from the main lounge. We could get the daily update and cultural lecture without leaving our cabin. The free Wi-Fi worked well, although there are areas in the river gorges and when going through locks when the connection was lost. The infotainment system also provided free internet, with a full keyboard. You could print to the printer in the aft lounge. Our cabin steward kept everything tidy, restocked the water, and made animal sculptures out of the fresh towels. The laundry service was reasonably priced and our items were returned within 24 hours.

Dining: My husband has food allergies. Our maitre 'd provided him an annotated menu each day so he could choose his meal safely. The food was delicious, beautiful but accessible cuisine. You could choose between three gourmet options for five courses for dinner, plus a standard menu of grilled chicken, steak, etc.

There is open seating for each meal. We appreciated that we could choose a table for two or for four rather than being assigned to a larger table. Wine, beer, soft drinks, coffee and tea are provided at no additional charge for each meal. There is a corkage fee for bringing your own bottle. Between meals, a coffee drink/hot water machine was available 24 hours a day, plus water, ice tea, and cookies. An express lunch station was available in the main lounge. The noise level in the dining room was low even when filled with diners. The waiters pampered us, even as we saw them hustling to make everyone feel pampered. We would have liked to have more of the local cuisine featured, such as schnitzel cordon bleu and wurst. On our next cruise, we would probably have lunch in town on more days, even though the lunch on board was delicious.

Lounges and Entertainment: The large main lounge had comfortable seating for all passengers, plus the bar and coffee station. The aft lounge is more intimate. There is nightly entertainment of singing, piano, and dancing. The gift shop has a variety of items. Free postcards and postage were available to send to your envious friends and family back home. The library provided novels, travel guides, and daily news. The Sun Deck was closed during the three days we were cruising the Main-Danube Canal and Main River, due to the low bridges and locks. But once it was open, it has seating for all passengers, including a covered area. There is a small hot tub on the Sun Deck.

Itinerary: The overall pacing of the cruise was perfect. We had relaxation time each day but also plenty of activities with the walking tours and excursions. We didn't feel either rushed or bored. We saw plenty of castles, cathedrals, palaces, and village squares. We enjoyed watching people on the riverbank camping, fishing, cycling. See more in our Cruise Guide's review of a similar itinerary with a different cruise company, Avalon.

Bottom Line on the AmaDolce Cruise Experience
Our experience was luxurious and pampering. I would definitely choose them again.