Travel Spotlight: River Cruising on the Rhine
By: Tracy Murphy, May 2014
River cruising is on the rise and is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry. I had the opportunity of experiencing this phenomenon while sailing with Uniworld on the Castles along the Rhine itinerary. Our itinerary started in Basel, Switzerland, and we traveled north to Amsterdam.
I generally advise clients to arrive a day early for any cruise, as you never know what will happen with air travel and you don’t want to “miss the boat” literally! I heeded my own advice and flew to Basel one day early. I am so happy I did! Basel is a charming town and did not disappoint. Our first day we wandered the streets and settled at a café across the courtyard from the Cathedral. We were treated to a 30 minute concert from a brass trio as they played on the upper balcony outside the cathedral. It was wonderful! The next day was rainy, so we spent the morning at the Kunstmuseum Basel. I was delighted to see amazing works by many of the masters: Renior, Cezzanne, Van Gogh, Rembrandt and many more. I obtained an audio guide in English and off I went. While I love traveling with my kids, I could never spend 3 hours wandering in an art museum with them. I loved having that time to explore.
We boarded the ship that afternoon and set sail. We were lucky to be sailing on one of Uniworld’s newest ships, the S.S. Antoinette. It was beautiful!
The Rhine river boarders both France and Germany at that point, so our first few stops were in France, then later in Germany. Unfortunately, the weather did not totally cooperate, and we encountered rain and clouds in the first few days. It did not stop us!
Uniworld is an all inclusive cruise line, so not only were the food and drinks included in the price, but so was a selection of daily excursions from which we could choose. My favorite excursion was a vinegar tasting at Weinessiggut Doktorenhof estate. This was something completely different for me, as I have done wine tastings before, but never vinegar! The cellars were magnificent, the guides were brilliantly entertaining and the tasting at the conclusion of our tour was fantastic. I had the best chocolate truffles I have ever tasted (with, of course, vinegar inside). I rarely buy things when I travel and walked out with 3 bottles of vinegar to bring home.
A close second in my ranking of tours was an optional excursion to Marksburg Castle during our day in Koblenz. Marksburg castle is the only hill castle along the Rhine that has not been damaged and has lived more than 700 years. After seeing many castles that had been ruined during WWII, this castle was a gem and I truly enjoyed experiencing it, as they have it staged to look like it did several hundred years ago.
While most days we were docked in the smaller towns, We did have an afternoon of sailing along the most beautiful stretch of the Rhine. I sat on the upper deck with a glass of local wine and observed the charming villages and interesting castles along the way. The days that we were in town we took daily excursions and had a good amount of free time to explore on our own. I used many afternoons to ride a bike in town and along the long stretches of bike paths that bordered the Rhine, and those were some of my favorite moments. The ship had approximately 20 bikes, and all were in great condition. Also available on board were a small pool, a workout facility and a spa. I talked to many people on board that raved about the massage treatments that were available.
We met some wonderful people on board, many who were extremely well-traveled. I was one of the younger people on board by age but not necessarily by attitude. There were many active people who were very social. Most river cruises generally draw a clientele in their late 40’s – 70’s. However, with the increase in popularity, several lines have dedicated sailings for multi-generational travel. It is a perfect opportunity for grandparents to introduce their grandchildren to Europe in a stress-free manner. The excursions and activities are modified to have options for children as well.
Overall, I loved the experience. With only 130 people on board, it was an intimate setting. The crew was amazing and attentive to every detail. No wants or needs went unfulfilled. I would highly recommend this river cruise to anyone who desires a hassle free experience, seeing some amazing parts of Europe. If you want more information or have any questions, please feel free to email or call me!