We booked the cruise to celebrate 30 years together, it’s hard to believe how much things have changed for same sex couples over those years!
Once we were through security, we booked into the Number 1 lounge at Birmingham Airport, and after the family with the horrible toddler who for some reason had been given a whistle had left, we relaxed until our flight which was a nice start to the holiday. We seemed to attract families with noisy children as opposite us, there were two more noisy children, but to be fair, their parents tried their best to settle them down. Well, the mother did, and told the father off just as much as the kids! Bonus number one of a river cruise. No kids!
We arrived in Dusseldorf at around 5.30pm, had collected our luggage and were on the coach by 6pm. However, getting to the ship in Bonn, (our revised departure port), was delayed due to roadworks and an accident. We got to the ship just before 8pm. On the way, our tour guide, Barbara, introduced herself and briefly went through what would happen. She kept mentioning the “beautiful” Jane Austen – surely it’s for us to work that out for ourselves? (Turns out she was right, it is a very beautiful ship!) To be fair, that was really the only annoying “American” thing we noticed, there were certainly no endless art auctions, photographers, over enthusiastic staff, etc, and with a kettle in our cabin, it was easy to feel at home straightaway!
On arrival, before we could give our names, we were given our keys and shown to our cabin! It was lovely to be called Mr & Mr – we’ve been on holidays (even our honeymoon) to find our booking is under Mr & Mrs! The cabin is compact, but certainly well laid out, and I was delighted to find that my request for non-feather bedding had been sorted. Two bottles of water are offered each day, but the tap water is perfectly drinkable.
As it was getting late, we went straight to dinner and sat with two other couples, who became firm friends, along with lots of other passengers! The food was excellent – served to the table rather than buffet style – and took advantage of our pre-booked wine package – I’m not sure we got our money’s worth, to be honest, but it’s nice not to have any nasty surprises at the end of the holiday. The food was delicious throughout the cruise – I can honestly say that there was nothing we didn’t like for the whole duration. Portions were adequate, and you could chop and change items, and have double portions without any problems. Dietary requirements were well catered for.
At the end of the meal, we had an unexpected surprise from our cruise.co.uk travel agent – a cake with a huge sparkler to wish us happy anniversary, which was a lovely and unexpected touch.
After dinner, we quickly unpacked – there was more than enough space for everything, and plenty of good quality wooden hangers (the normal ones which also let you hang them over the shower, rather the fiddly ones some places use). There were electricity sockets by both beds, making charging easy, however, they are two pin rather than three pin, so an adaptor is necessary. The cabin included an umbrella along with tea/coffee/milk for the kettle. Other sorts of teas and infusions were available for free in the Lido on the top deck, which doubles as a separate restaurant. For this cruise, it turned out that the menu was Indian – coming from Birmingham, we thought we’d rather eat in the main restaurant as we found the variety and company of other guests excellent. Had the menu been an Indonesian “Rijsttafel” (commonly found in the Netherlands), we would have been very tempted – after all, the head Chef was Indonesian and the captain was Dutch…
Once we’d unpacked, we decided to have a short stroll around Bonn – that’s the beauty of many river cruises, you’re normally docked near enough to walk to somewhere interesting – having been to Cologne in the past, Bonn was an unexpected bonus. With the exception of Strasbourg where we had a coach transfer, all moorings were within 5-10 minutes of the centre, making it easy to have an evening stroll.
Day 2 - Koblenz
After a night’s sleep (with very fierce but essential air conditioning), we woke up for breakfast. There was plenty of choice, although the hot food/egg station was quite cramped and perhaps the sauces could have been put elsewhere on the main buffet.
The safety briefing was done in a professional manner, then there was an orientation talk about Koblenz. One excellent feature was a map of the route along with maps and information on all of the places we were going to visit which had been provided in a folder in the cabin. I do wish sea cruises would follow this example, rather than giving rather limited information late in the night before (if at all, with some cruise lines). For the rest of the morning, we found a shady spot at the front of the ship and very much enjoyed watching the magical castles and towns sail by, chatting to other passengers. All too soon it was lunchtime, which was served buffet style, with the exception of soup. A lighter lunch is also served on the Lido – and on a couple of occasions, I went up to get the hot option which I brought back to the restaurant to join the others. The beef stir fry was particularly nice, but it didn’t stop me having a few things from the restaurant buffet too!
After lunch, we were given a short orientation tour of Koblenz, including the Deutches Eck and town centre, then had time for a stroll around and a cuppa before going back to the ship in time to change for the Captain’s welcome reception which was taking place at 6.30pm. Along with the Farewell Gala Dinner, this was the only evening where there was one sitting. I took the Maitre d’s advice and had a double portion of the pork wrapped in bacon, which was delicious. There was always a meat, fish and veggie option on the menu, and although most nights there wasn’t any choice of starter/desserts, well thought out substitutes were made depending on dietary requirements.
Later in the evening, we had a stroll back to the Deutsches Eck which took less than five minutes, then around town, stopping for a drink on the way back. Bars seemed to close their outside areas at 11, but we found a lovely place with a good view.
Day 3 – Rhine Gorge/Rüdesheim
Breakfast was served until 9.30, so there was no rush to get up. The morning was spent cruising down the Rhine Gorge, which really should be called the “Rhine Gorgeous”! Again, the scenery was stunning, and the morning passed very quickly. There was a commentary on deck (perhaps the voxboxes could have been used), then there was an explanatory talk about Rüdesheim. There was an optional extra of the landtrain/mechanical museum visit for €15. The landtrain didn’t take long to get to the Mechanical Museum. It’s an absolute must do – housed in a very old building, the lady taking us round really brought the machines to life in the most magical way. After an icecream sundae we walked around town and ended up back on the ship before we knew it – the mooring was so near the town, we didn’t use the train coming back, although it was useful for people who couldn’t walk very far.
After dinner, we somehow missed the organised walk into town, but found a lovely bar on Drosselgasse where there was live music, then a singer – it’s a lovely little street with plenty of evening atmosphere.
Day 4 – Speyer
Another leisurely morning of breakfast, orientation talk, cruising and lunch seemed to vanish quickly. We had a choice of going to the technical museum or into town. As the weather was exceptionally hot, and the museum was mainly in the open air, we decided to go into town. After a short orientation tour, we went to the Jewish Museum and saw the ancient Mikva (ritual bath) which being below ground, was nice and cool. Speyer has a nice enough high street and we found somewhere for a soft drink to people watch. We’d also been recommended to visit the beer garden of one of the Domhof, which was a really great suggestion. We sat and had another drink, then walked through the park to get back to the ship. That night, there was a staff show which was very entertaining, and included a short pantomime – I’ve no idea what the crew must have thought, but the British crowd understood all of the jokes! Afterwards, people were dancing, but we decided to go to the top deck as there was a little breeze.
Day 5 – Strasbourg
Perhaps as we were going through some locks, the orientation talk was at 9.30, so we got up a little earlier on this day, even though we weren’t going to get to Strasbourg until after lunch. The scenery was more industrial, but the time seemed to pass quickly yet again. On arrival, we got into coaches and had a tour of Strasbourg which is very pretty. It’s a shame we didn’t have time to go to see the Parliament, and it wasn’t mentioned by the guide. Being exceptionally pro-EU, I bought a lovely EU-flag umbrella and a wind up musical toy that plays the EU anthem (Ode to Joy). Other views were undoubtedly available on the cruise!
The previous day, we’d very kindly been sent an invitation to a pre-dinner celebratory drinks reception in the Lido. It wasn’t really surprising that so many people were there as this was a lovely way to celebrate an occasion, and the air conditioning struggled to cope, so most of us went back to the lounge with our celebratory drink.
We sat for dinner with our usual friends, most unfortunately one of the waiters was rather rude to one of our party. She simply mentioned that she didn’t have a side plate for her bread, somehow he managed to drop her bread on the floor, then told her that he had other tables to serve! The incident resulted in a bottle of wine being offered. It really was the only unfortunate incident as generally the service was impeccable, especially from Merhan, who helped me learn some Bulgarian as that’s the location for our next trip!!
After dinner, there was a fun music quiz in the lounge which made the evening pass quickly. It’s fair to say that there wasn’t much entertainment on the ship, but with the exception of Strasbourg, where we sailed away at 8pm, we were generally docked very close to somewhere if you wanted a stroll, making it a very different holiday to a sea cruise.
Day 6 – Titisee / Breisach
It was a bit of a shock to have to get to breakfast for 7.30 so we could get to Titisee. Our guide on the coach turned out to be British, making jokes like the roads were designed by “Herr Pinn”. He was quite informative and joked he’d “Brexited” many years ago! The drive, which took about 1h30, was very picturesque. We had a couple of hours in Titisee, which included a short talk about cuckoo clocks, then after a “Black Forest Cake” (or some sausages in my case), we had a look around. We’d left it too late to do a cruise on the lake, but in the full sun it was probably just as well. Most shops sold cuckoo clocks along with the usual tourist stuff.
The drive back was less scenic and took about an hour and lunch was waiting for us when we got back at about 13.30. After lunch, I wandered into Breisach, but my husband decided to have a sleep as it was so hot (about 37C). There was a castle up a hill, but at that temperature, I simply had a short walk around town, which was fairly workaday with not too much to see apart from the castle which was perched on a hill, and I didn’t fancy walking that far in the scorching heat.
As the next day was going to be very busy, the disembarkation presentation took place this evening. It was followed by a talk about the next day’s tour (including a warning that not everything would be in English when we got to Switzerland – apparently some people had moaned about things being in German in Germany!)! The evening continued with the Captain introducing all the staff and crew before the Farewell Drink and Dinner. Once again, the food was excellent and I had a mixture of both corn-fed chicken and a rösti which was the vegetarian option.
Day 7 – Bernese Oberland/Lucerne
The last full day was very long and undoubtedly the highlight. Even though Switzerland isn’t in the EU, it is in the Schengen area and a member of the EEA, so there were no passport formalities, which could have made the day even longer.
After breakfast we picked up our packed lunch, a sandwich (or gluten free alternative!) along with salad, chocolate biscuits, fruit and juices. Our coach was supposed to leave at 8, but during breakfast it was announced that it would leave at 8.15, only to finally leave at 8.20. So much for Swiss timing!
Groups 1 and 2 left 30 minutes earlier than Group 3, as there wasn’t enough room on the train for all of us. Our guide actually lived in Richmond (North Yorkshire) and came over for the summer season. To be honest, we’ve had better guides and he seemed a little confused at times. We arrived at Wilderwil at about 10.30, just enough time to use the facilities (there are none on the train) and caught the old cog railway up the mountain. We sat near the driver, so didn’t have the best view, it’s probably best to be nearer the centre of the train rather than at the front or back. There wasn’t much information about what to do on top, a sign did say Alpine Garden, but I didn’t hear anyone saying they’d been. There is a self-service café at the top where everyone ate their packed lunch (even though the tables advised “no picnics”) –the guide did say they wouldn’t mind. Prices in Switzerland are generally extortionate, and this was certainly no exception! Sitting with a view of snow-capped mountains when the temperatures had been approaching 40C all week was rather magical, to say the least! It was quite a bit cooler, but still in the mid-20s, which was very unusual.
At 13.01 (well, 13.02 to be precise), our train departed back down the mountain and then we had an hour-long journey to Lucerne. The guide didn’t seem to want to use the voxbox, so we followed him to the very picturesque wooden bridge then had a wander around ourselves. We only had about an hour, so there wasn’t really enough time to stop for a drink, although we did have an ice cream while walking round.
The drive back to the ship took about an hour, and we arrived at about 18.00. It’s a shame we didn’t have more time in Lucerne, but getting back gave us enough time to shower and do the majority of our packing. It had been a long day, so after dinner, we went to the top deck and sat chatting with other passengers – we had been going to have a stroll into Basel, but thought we’d leave it until the next morning, when we had spare time after breakfast.
Day 8 – Basel and goodbye
We had use of the cabin until 9.00, so after breakfast we sorted everything out and left our hand luggage in the shop, heading off for a walk around Basel. In the very immediate vicinity of the ship, it’s very workaday and rather grim, not at all what we expected for Switzerland. However, a short walk over the bridge leads you into the Old Town, which is very nice. We then came back over another bridge and found the Minster, the Old University and the Rathaus, which is exceptionally pretty (and has a free toilet).
Rather than spend a fortune on a drink, we went back to the ship, where tea/coffee was being served in the lounge, unfortunately in paper cups, rather spoiling the decadence of the ship. A light lunch was served from 13.00, comprising goulash soup (surprisingly no veggie option was available), open top sandwiches and fruit.
Our coach was to leave at 13.30, and we were called at 13.20. We got onto the coach and started on our way. The road access to the river is very limited, and then we heard a bump, the driver had hit something. The police seemed to arrive in seconds, then Barbara came onto the coach and said that the person who should have accompanied us to the airport had been delayed, so hopefully we could sort ourselves out at the airport. With an average age of well above 18, we decided we knew how to use an airport and off we went at about 14.00. The driver was quite chatty, saying he was German, but works a lot in Switzerland as wages are about double those of Germany. On the way, we were very surprised when his phone rang and he answered it, holding the phone while he drove! However, we did get to the airport safely and to the correct terminal.
We had a lovely, if extortionately priced tea/coffee in Sprüngli which cost nearly £10. My husband managed to leave his jacket there and because the UK isn’t part of the Schengen agreement couldn’t retrieve it as we’d passed through another passport control, making it an even more expensive cuppa!
Our flight back was with Helvetic Air (seemingly part of SwissAir), which was very enjoyable, with a drink (alcoholic or non), chicken or cheese sandwich and a chocolate before landing. It was one of the nicest flights we’d had in a while and a lovely way to end our holiday!
All in all, we were delighted by the holiday and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them and would definitely go on another Riviera holiday in future. It’s certainly not a bargain break, but there again, you do get value for money and it’s a wonderful way to celebrate something special. Read Less