|Review of 5/3/2018 AMA Waterways Taste of Bordeaux|
We had an opportunity to take our second European river cruise aboard AMA Waterways Taste of Bordeaux itinerary onboard AMA Dolce. This is a roundtrip sailing from Bordeaux, France through the Bordeaux wine region. Differing from the many other 7 day river or ocean cruises we have been on, this one was a Thursday to Thursday itinerary.
Arriving in Bordeaux we took a local taxi to the riverside embarkation in Bodeaux on the Garonne River. The Garonne leads leads to the Gironde Estuary, and is subject to tidal rise and fall, and is for centuries has enabled ocean going vessels to load the wines of Bordeaux for shipping around the world.
We spent the first night in Bordeaux, and familiarized ourselves with the AMA Dolce. Its capacity is 146 passengers, and we had a few vacant cabins. It consists of 3 passenger decks, and the topside deck with seating, a track, a small hot tub, and the captain’s piloting station. Decks 2 and 3 contain cabins with French balconies, the lounge, and the dining area. Deck 1 contains cabins at the waterline, with small windows just above water level, but the cabins are similarly sized to those with French balconies. At the rear of deck 3 is the 28 seat Chef’s Table where guests can request seating daily for dinner, at no additional charge. There is one elevator between decks 2 and 3 for those with limited mobility.
Evening entertainment is limited to a DJ, or a few local musicians brought aboard for the evening while in port. There was also a wellness representative that daily led optional exercise, yoga or and some slide presentations in the lounge. Each evening before dinner, which is open seating between 7-9pm, the cruise director holds a 15 minute briefing of the coming day’s excursions and schedule.
Breakfast is buffet style, including made to order eggs as well as scrambled eggs, meats, fruit and juices, and a wide variety of pastry. Lunches include both salad and buffet items, as well as optional entrees from a menu, ice cream or sorbet, and a cheese assortment. Dinners are menu driven, with appetizers, salads, soups, entrées and desserts. Entrees typically included a meat and a fish selection. Local wines and beer are available at no cost at lunch and dinner. We did enjoy the Chef’s Table one evening for dinner. It included an exceptional menu of appetizers, salad and soup, an entrée plate with four mini entrée items, and dessert. Special wines were served.
Our days typically included an excursions of sightseeing in the mornings and a visit to a chateau with wine tasting in the afternoons. Buses took us to the sites, but there was some walking during the excursions and chateau visits. Day 2 included a guided walk through Cadillac in the morning, and after lunch we visited Roquetaillade Castle, occupied for 700 years by the same family. This was followed by a visit to a Chateau Guiraud for Sauternes wine tasting. On day 3 we sailed to Pauillac in the morning, and boarded buses for a drive through the Medoc region where cabernet sauvignon grapevines stretched as far as we could see, in most directions, and included such famed Grand Cru Class chateaus as Chateau Lafite Rothchild and Chateau Mouton Rothchild. We visited Chateau Gruaud Larose for a tour of the chateau and the wine cellar before wine tasting.
On day 4 we sailed outbound to Blaye for a tour of the 17th century Blaye Citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After lunch we visited Bourg,with a Carraige Museum, underground passageways in oil tanks from WWII, and ended with a wine festival complete with local musician, and dancing and wine tasting. Generally at any of the wine tastings they included some local bread, cheeses, and sausages to accompany the wine. On day 5 we sailed down the Dordogne River to Libourne, the heart of the St Emilion and Fronsac region, the Bordeaux area’s most elite wine regions. We bused into the historic St Emilion town, with picturesque architecture, ancient monuments and a monolithic church carved out of one piece of limestone rock, and then went under the church to discover its catacomb and caves. After some time to walk and enjoy the town and it many wineshops and restaurants, we bused to Chateau de Ferrand for winetasting of GrandCru Classe wines. On both days 4 and 5 there were also optional bike tours of the area.
On day 6 we had the opportunity to walk into Libourne in the morning and enjoy an open air market in the Bastide town in the morning including samples of sausages, cheeses, and local chocolate. In the afternoon we boarded buses for the short trip to Fronsac for a tour of the grounds and historic Chateau La Dauphine and sample Fronsac regional wine. On day 7 we returned to Bordeaux and spent the morning on a walking tour of the center of the city, with its historic cathedral, city hall, and high end shops, and then were bused to the Bordeaux Wine Museum. The uniquely shaped 8 story building included interactive exhibits on wine smells, food pairing, and wine growing, and ended with wine tasting on the 8th floor with a panoramic view of the city. In the afternoon of this last day, after lunch we were free to enjoy the city on our own. After dinner, the vessel got underway for an hour from 9:30-10:30pm to view the lit-up city from the river…a post card moment!
Shipboard gratuities were about as expected on a cruise, but we also tipped the daily guides 2 Euros and the bus drivers 1 Euro each tour. I had ordered about 300 Euros from my bank in the US before leaving, and used all by 5 Euros on the taxis and the shipboard gratuities. There was not much need for currency during the days. We left the Ama Dolce at 9am on the 8th day by taxi for the return to the Bordeaux airport and the trip home. As we are wine fans, I am very glad we had this opportunity to learn more about the wide variety of Bordeaux wines, as well as visit historic areas.