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RIGHT:  just one of the many castles that we watched pass by.

 

Loving those Castles on the Rhine

ERIC SCOTT January 1, 2015

 

WHAT’S the better – an ocean voyage on a super liner or a boat on

the river? For me the river boat wins hands down.My wife and I are

not long back from a Uniworld cruise from Amsterdam to Vienna

along the Rhine, Main, and Danube Rivers and had a simply

wonderful time among those “castles on the Rhine, candlelight

and wine” and twio weeks of total pampering.

It was our first experience of a small boat cruise after a trip on a

big ship – the Celebrity Eclipse.

The ocean cruise around the Mediterranean and the Adriatic was

a fabulous experience, but for me it lost the battle on points. Sure the big ship had an enormous range of different rooms, dining rooms and bars, but the drawback was that the main meal seating was set when passengers joined the ship if you didn’t like your companions, tough luck. Although you could ask for a seat switch, but it felt like it would be a bit rude.

The River Duchess has one dining room. It is big enough to seat the 120 passengers and tables are arranged in twos fours and sixes; so everyone could choose their own seating arrangements.

This turned out to be a great melting pot where many people shared foursomes until they found folk with similar tastes and temperament. We ended up in part of six Aussies and we had a ball.

The other great advantage of this trip was that it was fully inclusive. There was no need to worry about shore excursions, tips, or drinks. This for me was a big problem on the ocean voyage: drinks were not included and very expensive – they basically charged restaurant prices - and all shore excursions were extras, which meant careful examination of funds before picking something from the wine list or booking a shore excursion.

So, with unlimited drinks, I did worry that there might be some rowdy nights, but there weren’t; everyone had fun without going to excess. The range of food was not as large as the ocean liner, but it was all good (I had some of the tastiest soups ever, they were different every day and everyone was a winner).

The entertainment was basic – just Johnny on the keyboard in the lounge. But he was a top player and knew when to play background music and when to step up the tempo. We had many entertaining nights in the lounge.

The state rooms weren’t large – we had our French Balcony room on the top deck – but they were nicely decorated with lots of mirrors and the beds comfortable. I felt that the rooms though could have been roomier with a queen bed rather than the king. The rooms were serviced every day with turn down at night,

We did have problems with the room: twice the toilet flooded and unfathomably the cabin lights switched themselves on during the night or early in the mornings, which made for some disturbed sleep. A few other passengers suffered too.

We discovered later that all the lights were on wifi and the signals were getting crossed. They would be hard wired at the end of the year we were informed.

But what made this trip so enjoyable was the staff. They were fantastic and by the end of the trip we felt they had become friends. The tour manager Heiner was a German who spoke perfect English, had a great sense of humour, and was a stickler for time. He also knew his subjects. We learned a lot from Heiner.

Francisco the restaurant manager was always friendly, always had a smile on his face, and had a book full of full of practical jokes. He was great fun.

The staff too Paul, Georgio and Gino for three, were fabulously efficient and friendly at the same time. They were always fun and wore genuine friendly smiles. There was not one who looked as if he was there on sufferance.

Of course there were no huge waves to unsettle the stomach and at every stop there was a level riverside path for would-be cyclists to join the locals for a short or even longish ride.

For most of us it was disembark and join in the daily walking tours of whichever Burg we happened to be in. Oh the joy of disembarking in the centre of town instead of the local port with the touristy shops and nothing else.

From Amsterdam to Vienna, from the Van Gogh Museum and Red light district of the Dutch city to the fabulous palaces of Bavaria and the dark atmosphere of the Nazi Documentation Centre and the parade ground where Hitler ran his military circuses, every tours was well led either by Weiner or local guides.

And for those not so fit there was a daily “gentle walking” tour.

The passengers varied in age so there was no feeling of being on a cruise for geriatrics or the opposite with groups of youngsters living it up on free booze. It was a truly happy ship from start to finish and I can’t wait to climb on board for a cruise through Asia later this year.