Have you ever wanted an intimate, personally guided tour of European wine villages amid historic settings? Wine and cruising enthusiasts are opting for wine experts’ introduction to the famous wineries and vineyards or Europe via winemaker-hosted river cruising. AmaWaterways pioneered wine-themed river cruising in Europe by offering wine adventures far from the crowds and long lines inherent in ocean cruising. These river cruises tell the story of the origins of grapes in their ancient, noble locations, and offer guests a wine expert’s comparison of old and new world wine styles.
Winemakers Compare the Wines of the World
Travel with me on my recent Rhine River cruise, “Captivating Rhine,” aboard the AmaWaterways ship, AmaKristina, hosted by Fred Franks, CEO of famed Dr. Konstantin Frank Wines. Wine & Spirits Magazine recently named Dr. Frank Wines as one of the 2019 “Top 100 Wineries” in the world. Other passengers included wine club members of Dr. Konstantin Frank Wines as well as other couples and solo travelers who like the idea of a personal and professional look at the remarkable wines of Europe.
Most cruisers select a cruise based on the itinerary of the voyage. In the case of winemaker-hosted cruises, guests select a cruise itinerary date based on multi-faceted selection criteria: the winemaker host, the ports visited, the wine varietals highlighted and the excursion choices. We compared the wine varietals from Dr. Frank Wines with grapes grown in the New York Finger Lakes vineyards to the wines of Germany and the Alsace. These Rhine River regions with their fairytale villages were the first to introduce the world to the delicious cold-climate grown wine grapes like Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. Perhaps this summer could include a cruise on the Dordogne River in Bordeaux and compare the Dr. Frank Wines to those famous French red wine blends. Fred Frank notes:
“This is our third time to host a wine-themed cruise. We make wines from some of the same varietals grown in Austria, Germany, and France. Cruisers can compare and contrast the old and new world wines. Next summer, 2020, we will be hosting a cruise in Bordeaux. We make Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc wines from Bordeaux varietal grapes, so the passengers can taste our wines in comparison to French Bordeaux blends.”
Couples onboard the AmaKristina enthusiastically describe their reasons for sailing. Many opt for celebrating a milestone anniversary, a reunion with other wine club friends or just a getaway from a hectic work year.
Dr. Dan Diaz and Rick Zendarski describe their river cruising motivations. Dr. Diaz, a busy gastrointestinal physician from York, PA, notes:
“I have a crazy work schedule a home. On a river cruise you can see the sights up close and appreciate the beautiful landscapes like the Rhine River Gorge castles passing by. The lounge is one of my favorite places to relax and also visit with other guests. I love the attention to detail on AmaWaterways, the ratio of staff to guests, the quality of the food and wine.”
Rick Zendarski, an equally busy professional, adds:
“This is our second cruise on AmaWaterways with the Dr. Frank wine club group. We love the fact that there are less people (from an ocean cruise). The excursions are not rushed, we get to interact with more people and the atmosphere is more relaxing. But we still had a great time with the evening entertainment complete with live music and dancing. The bike excursions are a great choice at almost every stop.”
The All-Inclusive Approach: Wellness & Cuisine
Many cruisers lament the potential for weight-gain and lack of exercise during a cruise. Others site the need for special nutrition requests and fresh, local food ingredients desired for a vacation. In 2019 AmaWaterways instituted an onboard wellness program featuring both class and private exercise opportunities in addition to local, freshly prepared seasonal cuisine. My cruise’s wellness program offered a core-strengthening class, a stretching class, a digestive walk, a high-intensity 100’s workout, a guided bike tour, a fast-paced guided tour and a jogging session ashore in one single day. Additionally, the chefs always accommodate special dietary needs. I watched onboard as local fruits and vegetables were loaded on our vessel from the port dockings. The AmaKristina Operations Manager commented:
“Every cruise we cater to our guest with special diets, food intolerances whether vegan, gluten free, dairy free. We know it’s our responsibility to take care of these requests. We are very conscious to adapt our menus to the local cuisine and produce that we get at the ports stops. Our menu choices are adapted to the season and the region.”
Heather and Vincent Champion, also members of the Dr. Frank Wines club, appreciate the AmaWaterways accommodation of Heather’s vegan food régime, the flexibility of port excursion choices and the chance to celebrate special occasions on a river cruise. Heather notes:
“Even though we work full-time, we do try to prioritize pre-planning for the cruise. Sometimes I go on one excursion and Vince chooses a different one. AmaWaterways makes it easy to choose and change. Excursions are part of their all-inclusive approach [to the cost]. We’re here celebrating my 44th birthday and our 18 years of marriage, and this is our 3rd cruise as club members of Dr. Frank Wines.”
Vince Champion adds:
“River cruising is the perfect venue for both of us. I really appreciate the ‘decompression’ time and the great chefs onboard. I would definitely recommend a river cruise for an anniversary. Given the wine education we receive onboard, it’s so important that the wines we drink are from the region we are visiting.”
Rhine River Highlights: The Excursion Option Difference
Port excursions are a key element to any cruise. The proximity of the ships to the destinations and their logistics are so much less complicated in river cruising than ocean cruising. Excursions are included in the cruise at AmaWaterways. It is a huge advantage to be able to make selection changes due to last-minute preferences or weather concerns. AmaWaterways also offers the choice of gentle, regular and fast-paced walking excursions guided by knowledgeable local hosts. We were fully wired for sound with the provided headsets charging our rooms. No need to have to stand right next to the tour guide to catch his voice an hear about the full history and landmarks of our destination. The ports on this cruise included Cologne, Amsterdam, Heidelberg, Riquewihr, Rüdesheim, Strasbourg, France, Freiburg in the Black Forest, Breisach, Basel and the Upper Middle Rhine Valley’s Rhine Gorge.
As a history buff and Level 4 Sommelier, my excursion highlights included:
• Visiting Riquewihr, the Alsace, France. This Alsatian village was the model for the Disney movie, “Beauty and the Beast.” Riquewihr, France is officially recognized as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Even the local baker came out to greet us with his basket of French macarons. Group wine tasting with Fred Frank featured the wines of Alsace.
• Seeing the Castles on the Middle Rhine. During our sailing of the Middle Rhine Valley we comfortably sat in the ship’s lounge, sipped the cocktail of the day and enjoyed the oral travelogue. We plotted our excursion on a map given to us called the “Castle Cruiser.” A notable castle is Burg Katz near the Loreley Rock on the Middle Rhine. Loreley was the girl who was sentenced for her supposed bad behavior. She was blamed for luring the sailors to the rocks along one of the most beautiful and dangerous stretches of the Rhine.
• Touring Historic Heidelberg. Heidelberg is a city dominated by the ruins of its historic castle and known for its university – the oldest in Germany. The castle was built by Frederick V, Count Palatine of the Rhine, for his English Bride, Elizabeth Stuart, the charismatic daughter of King James VI, thus linking the German-English royals.
• Observing the Astronomical Clock in the Strasbourg Cathedral. Strasbourg, the center of the Alsace, France region has always been a bit of a “ping pong ball” in ownership between Germany and France and reflects the cultures and languages of both nations. The astronomical clock in the cathedral is not to be missed. It is an amazing example of the higher math and physics needed by 18th–century scientists prior to the advent of computer technology.
• Cruising the Amsterdam Canals and Visiting the Anne Frank House. Amsterdam boasts 165 canals. A two-hour tour highlights the challenges and beauty of living on them. A visit to the Anne Frank house recalls the courage and the strength of the people of Amsterdam. Millions of people have read Anne Frank’s diary, which has been published in over sixty languages. This house was the hiding place from the Nazi regime for she and her family for two years. It has become a pilgrimage of sorts to pay respects, remember, and to learn from Anne’s story so that these events may never happen again.
Considering a Wine-Themed Cruise?
AmaWaterways offers a wide-range of wine cruises with unique itineraries at no additional cost over their traditional river cruises. Famous winemaker hosts serve their wine portfolio to cruisers onboard and present enrichment seminars showcasing regional wine distinctions, delving deeper into the wonderful flavors and tastes of Europe. In addition to the AmaWaterways’ featured cuisine and nightly entertainment, our “Captivating Rhine” cruise and host winery, Dr. Frank Wines, offered these bonus activities:
• A Dr. Frank Wines Dinner. The chef and winemaker developed a multi-course dinner from the wines of Dr. Konstantin Frank pairing the flavors of local cuisine with several of his wines.
• The Fred Frank, CEO, Wine Lectures. These enrichment sessions discussed the differences from New World, specifically New York winegrowing, and the traditional vineyards and winemaking of Europe. He highlighted the wine grapes of both, compared the new environmental changes of global warming affecting the regions and contrasted the flavor differences. A trivia quiz with prizes capped this enrichment series.
• Hosted Wine Tasting Excursions. On selected excursions, the local wine-tasting sessions were led jointly by Fred Frank and the local winemaker… expertise from each of their perspectives.
AmaWaterways has scheduled sixty-six wine-themed Cruises featuring paired wine hosts for 2020. These river cruises start in April, and end in late November. Itinerary choices range from “Enticing Douro” on the Douro River of Portugal to “The Colors of Provence” on Rhone River starting in Provence, France. Others include “Melodies of the Danube” on the Danube River, visiting historic Vienna, Austria, and a “Taste of Bordeaux” cruising La Gironde and Garonne and Dordogne Rivers.
Sixty-six different wineries and wine experts will be adding commentary and expertise while hosting these cruises. Notable among them are: Anthony and Suzanne Truchard, Truchard Vineyards, of Napa Valley, CA; Thacher Winery of Paso Robles, CA; Messina Hof Winery of Bryan, Texas; Zerba Cellars of Walla Walla, WA; Hawkins Cellars of Willamette Valley, OR; and again, Fred Frank, Dr. Frank Wines, Finger Lakes, NY. Select a wine-themed cruise and let’s raise a glass to a winning concept aboard AmaWaterways.