We chose to cruise with A-Rosa because the travel agent booked us on a specific Christmas Markets cruise for four nights. The markets were the only reason we decided to bite the bullet and try a river cruise (it was our first ever cruise of any kind, river or sea). It was also advertised as being an English speaking cruise. Two days before we were due to board, we got an email saying that due to low water levels in the Rhine our original cruise had been cancelled and we were being transferred to another ship, sailing to Amsterdam and Rotterdam. And it was a German speaking cruise. Never having cruised before, we didn't quite realise the importance of it no longer being an English speaking cruise.
We should have boarded our original cruise in Cologne but the new cruise was departing from Duisburg, about a 90 minute coach trip from Cologne. When we boarded our ship (having had to walk down a muddy path from the coach to the gangway), we were immediately struck by how hot it was on board. We're Australian, we were cruising in Europe in winter but even so it was far too hot for us in all the public rooms. In our cabin, we were at least able to turn the heating off and open the window for a bit of fresh air.
When we congregated with the rest of the passengers for the welcome by the Captain and crew, that was when we discovered what a German speaking cruise really meant. We couldn't understand a word that was said. We then discovered that all entertainments were conducted in German, so we were unable to take part. We were also the only non-German speaking passengers on board so we couldn't even socialise with our fellow passengers.
But worse was to come. We arrived in Amsterdam and we asked the receptionist on board where we could find the Christmas Markets. That was when we discovered that we had been transferred from a specific Christmas Markets cruise to a non-Christmas Markets cruise. We decided to make the best of Amsterdam, and we did enjoy our day there. Next day though, we went to Rotterdam. Again, no Christmas Markets. We went to the Tourist Information office to enquire about the hop on/hop off bus only to be told it wasn't operating at that time of year. Various other attractions that we asked about were also closed at that time of year. We spent an hour in a food hall and went back on board the ship. It was a complete waste of a day.
To add insult to injury, on the final day of the cruise we were transferred by coach from the ship to Duisburg train station (that was the option we chose - there were two or three options to choose from). We got off the coach at the train station and discovered that one of our bags had not been loaded onto the coach. The coach driver had nothing to do with the ship, she was simply hired to do a job. Thankfully she took pity on us with our non-existent German and after phone calls back and forth between various people (I have no idea who), she agreed to drive us back to the ship. We searched and searched for the missing suitcase and finally found it ourselves, on the coach that was just about to depart for Cologne train station. If it had gone there, it would just have been unloaded onto the footpath and left there, unclaimed!
In fairness I have to add that we were given a refund of $250, plus a 60 euro voucher that could be used on board for spa treatments etc. However, nobody seemed to grasp that the only reason for us going on a cruise was for the Christmas Markets. That was the only reason we paid for a cruise and air fares to Europe. When the cruise was changed (and we know nobody can do anything about water levels in the river), we should have been told that it was no longer a Christmas Markets cruise and we should have been given the option of a full refund so that we could then make our own arrangements to hire a car and drive ourselves around. Instead we had to endure four days of not being able to speak to anyone and not being able to understand any of the public announcements or the entertainments on board.
Our travel agent was at fault too - they were copied in on the email we got about the change in cruise and they should have made sure to let us know it was no longer what we'd booked and paid for. Oh, I forgot to say we were also offered a 40% discount on a future cruise, to be used within two years. Well, after the experience we had, we will NEVER go on another cruise.
I would also like to add that the staff on board the ship were excellent, especially the young man who cleaned our cabin every morning. He could not have been more thorough in his cleaning, and he was extremely accommodating and went out of his way to help us. The dining and bar staff were also very friendly and helpful. But sadly we will never see them again.
We got a cabin upgrade when our cruise was changed, so we were no longer on the lowest deck but the one above it (I think our cabin number was 110 but can't be certain). The cabin was perfectly adequate, there was room to shove our suitcases under the bed so we weren't falling over them, the window was big so there was plenty of light and there was enough room to store our clothes etc. The bathroom was really nice, with a roomy shower.