It's no wonder that one would feel an automatic sense of calming luxury when boarding the extraordinary River Cloud II; it is owned and operated by the same folks who own and operate the elegant sailing yachts Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II. There's an air of privilege aboard -- a cocooning, non-intrusive elegance. And why not? After all, the ocean-going Sea Cloud was built for Marjorie Merriweather Post by her husband E.F. Hutton in 1931, and River Cloud II was designed to provide the same sense of luxury, comfort and privilege.
Actually, the ship was built in 2001 and was meant to convey "the nostalgic charm of the 1930's." Unlike most squared-off, boxy-looking river vessels in Europe, the 338-foot, 44-cabin River Cloud II has a sleek, pointed, narrow prow and an elegant profile. Lounges and cabins filled with pale woods; plush, comfortable furniture; marble floors and gold fixtures are prevalent throughout. There's a teak sundeck filled with loungers and tables; chess and shuffleboard courts are available for an extemporaneous challenge. The vessel also has a dining room, lounge with grand piano, library, boutique and salon.
On boarding, passengers are greeted with Champagne; suite passengers will also find chilled bottles in their cabins. Wine and beer at meals, soft drinks, non-alcoholic coffee and tea are included in the price. There are as many as six meals daily, prepared using fresh regional ingredients. Supper is at one sitting, with country-club casual dress requested, except for the Welcome Dinner the first night and the Captain's Dinner on the last night of the voyage. During those events, cocktail attire is appropriate. Fine linens, crystal and elegant dishes and cutlery set the tone in the dining room; wines are specially selected to go with the meals as they are served.
There is a computer station in the library with complimentary e-mail services. (Only huge, photo-laden e-mails carry a charge, so wait until you get home to send the pictures.)
Bicycles and helmets are also available for free.
Entertainment onboard is varied. There are enrichment lectures on topics related to your particular itinerary (Holland and Belgium, the Rhine River or the Danube), regional performers brought onboard for an evening and the "house" musician, who entertains daily at the grand piano in the lounge.
The 1930's charm of River Cloud II has some quirks, though -- particularly when it comes to cabins. Although they are beautifully appointed, 30 of the cabins (117 square feet) are located on the lower deck and have two portholes; only the junior suites (130 square feet), located on the Promenade Deck, have large windows. Most contemporary river vessels, even those built in the mid-1990's, include French balconies or picture windows in their cabins, so we wonder if the design compromised comfort at some level. And, while we appreciate that there is one wheelchair-accessible cabin on the Promenade Deck, we do find it amusing that it is furnished with bunk beds.
Nonetheless, all cabins are equipped with individual air-conditioning, in-suite marble baths, televisions with VCR's or DVD players, mini-bars, hair dryers, safes, robes and slippers, fine linens, fresh flowers and French-milled bath amenities.
Most of the cruises (along the Rhine, Main, Mosel and Danube rivers) offered are seven-night voyages, but you can also choose from select eight-, nine- and ten-night trips, as well. Shore excursions are not included; nor are bar drinks, alcoholic coffee and tea beverages or tips, which are recommended at 12 euros per day, per person.
--by San Diego-based Jana Jones, who is the creator and editor of lodging Web site Sleeping-Around.com, as well as one of Cruise Critic's stalwart ship reviewers.