By Ellen Uzelac, Cruise Critic contributor
In the 10 years that MS River Rhapsody has been sailing Europe's rivers, little about it has changed. Why tinker with a good thing? This understated, yet elegant, ship is a classic -- and is one of the reasons Grand Circle Small Ship Cruises has amassed such a following for its river itineraries.
Rhapsody, built snug enough to accommodate locks and low-slung bridges, is trim and fit, and it's pure magic to watch her tie up to town docks in storybook locations like Melk, Austria and Budapest, Hungary. While in port, Rhapsody becomes part of the local scene, giving passengers intimate access to the surroundings in a way that no large ship could.
While Rhapsody is small in scale, accommodating just 140 passengers, its educational enrichment component is nothing short of grand. Here's how it works: Guests are divided into as many as three groups, and each group is assigned a program director, who serves as tour guide, cultural liaison and concierge throughout the duration of the cruise. The "PD's," as they're called, are well-equipped and, because they are from the region -- on our recent 10-night cruisetour of Old World Prague and the Danube, one PD was from Romania, the other from Bulgaria -- they often share personal observations that add texture to the tour experiences. Of course, there are also optional shore excursions with local guides, along with a number of "highlights" tours that are included in the cost of the fare.
On large ships, crew can be somewhat anonymous. Not so on Rhapsody. With just 34 crewmembers, passengers get to know them by name and by personality. If nothing else, the hilarious crew show toward the end of each cruise is worth the price of the ticket. Rhapsody does close to 40 cruises a year during the European sailing season, starting in March and ending in mid-December. At 10 years old, Rhapsody is a ship that still packs a lot of punch.
River Rhapsody Fellow Passengers
Rhapsody's passengers tend to be retirees from the U.S. They're also a loyal bunch. Of the 76 guests on our cruisetour, almost half had taken three or more previous trips with Grand Circle.
River Rhapsody Dress Code
Rhapsody does not have a formal dress code, so personal preference prevails. Overall, passengers tend to dress somewhat casually. Jeans and nice tops are acceptable for nighttime dining. There are no formal nights.
River Rhapsody Gratuity
Crew gratuities are pooled and shared equally. Rhapsody recommends a flat tip of $10 to $12 U.S. per person, per day. Gratuities for the crew may be deposited in a tip box at the reception desk or paid by credit card. It is customary to tip the program director assigned to your group $4 to $6 per person, per day. Tips to the PD's, who are independent contractors, should only be in the form of cash -- U.S. dollars, euros or local currencies.
We took our first Grand Circle river cruise this spring (2013), on the M/S River Rhapsody, and I want to voice a few cautionary notes, to help people decide whether this cruise is for them. But first the strong positives. (1) The staff are ...continue
With an American 70-cabin river boat and 34 crewmen and program directors all with excellent conversational English, this was an excellent adult touring and discovery Rhine and Mosel rivers cruise - from Antwerp, Belgium, through the Netherlands and ...continue
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We were asked by retired friends of ours to join them on a river cruise on Grand Circle Travel's "River Rhapsody" for a cruise up the Rhine and Mosel rivers. We have been on numerous large ship cruises but never on a river ship. We had a couple of ...continue