Given the days are taken up with short excursions and independent shore visits, there's little time spent onboard during the day apart from during lunch, afternoon tea and post-excursion sightseeing from the lounge or sun deck. One morning is spent cruising along the fantastic Rhine Gorge -- a 65km stretch of the river from Koblenz to Bingen -- to view some 20 medieval castles and the legendary 132m-high Loreley rock that lines both sides of the river. The cruise director presents a commentary on most of the castles and passengers standing on the top deck and seated in the lounge can follow along with the aid of a map and the river markers.
Another presentation on the Main-Danube Canal takes place once the ship leaves the Main River and enters the canal, not far from the town of Bamberg. This remarkable piece of engineering, measuring 171km long, joins the two rivers and reaches a height of 406m as it traverses the Alps.
Things hot up at night when everyone's back on board and a variety of guest entertainers (singers and folkloric groups) and the resident musician entertain in the Lounge.
Shore Excursions Travelmarvel offers a complimentary shore excursion almost every day, usually a half-day walking tour that may include entry to a major site such as an historic home. These tours are accompanied by local guides. Passengers are divided into groups and travel to the destination by coach where they are provided with headsets so they can hear the commentary even if they are several metres away from the guide.
There is only one day when these includes tours are not offered and that's when the ship is in Passau, Austria. This is the day passengers can take one of two optional or extra-charge excursions to either Salzburg in Austria or Cesky Krumlov, in the Czech Republic. Passengers who do not wish to participate in these tours, have a day to wander around on their own in Passau -- which is welcomed by many guests who have already been to those cities, or just want to explore on their own.
A typical included tour is the visit to Melk Abbey, in the Austrian town of the same name located on the Danube River. Another of the complimentary tours is a visit to Rudesheim am Rhein in Germany to see the fabulous museum - Siegfried's Mechanical Music Cabinet, while in Amsterdam there's a morning cruise along the city's canals in a smaller sightseeing vessel.
Travelmarvel also allocates one afternoon for 'home hosting'. Passengers visit a local family near Miltenberg, Germany, to have afternoon tea and learn about local life. Passengers are divided into small groups of around eight and each groups visits a different home.
The six optional shore excursions -- known as 'Select Experiences' -- include: a half-day visit to the Medieval walled city of Rothenburg and its Christmas village (59 Euros); a full-day tour of Salzburg and a full-day tour of Cesky Krumlov -- (both priced at 78 Euros); a Mozart and Strauss concert at the Eschenbach Palace in Vienna (62 Euros); a morning tour of the Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens in Vienna (49 Euros) and the full day tour to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia (68 Euros).
Tours are well organised and guides excellent, especially Florian the guide in Rothenburg, who had passengers in hysterics with his witty banter and quirky insights.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment Daytime entertainment is rare, but there is one enjoyable event in Bavaria, which, naturally, involves beer. As the ship approaches the Bavarian town of Bamberg, the crew turns the Vista Lounge into a makeshift beer hall, complete with recorded oompah music to stage a Fruhschoppen, which literally translates as 'an alcoholic drink before midday in company'. A buffet is set up and five different types of German sausages are served along with sauerkraut and pretzels, and several types of beer. It's a fun morning, and even though it's a hearty meal, everyone still adjourns downstairs in the restaurant for lunch not long afterwards.
A guest entertainer comes onboard most evenings; one night it's the aunt-and-niece ABBA singers; on another it's a local crooner; and, on another, a violinist. Another beer-themed event takes place on the evening the ship pulls out of Regensburg with music by the Bavarian Devils, while a Hungarian folkloric group performs on the evening the ship overnights in Budapest. When no guests acts are onboard, the resident musician -- a competent singer/pianist with a good repertoire of hits and memories -- always draws an appreciative crowd and gets plenty of people up on the dance floor.
Enrichment Travelmarvel Sapphire offers a handful of daytime and evening talks on its 15-night European Gems cruise. These include the commentary on the medieval Rhine Gorge castles and the Main-Danube Canal, as well as a glass blower (it was a man called Hans and his young son on our cruise), who joins the ship at Miltenberg. After watching Hans create a few Christmas baubles and explain how he envisioned his signature piece -- a delicate little ornament known as the Sparrow of Ulm -- all of which is delivered with a smattering of local history and politics, guests are free to browse his wares and purchase items.
There is only one bar and lounge, the Vista Lounge, situated on the Rhine Deck above the restaurant. The lounge has floor-to-ceiling windows and chairs and tables. There's a small stage for the musician and a dance floor. At one end, just above the foyer, is an oval bar with fixed bar stools. There aren't enough stools nor are there enough chairs in the lounge area to accommodate everyone, so many folks stand around the bar if they don't want to take part in the music and the dancing.
Drinks are reasonably priced and the following are examples: House wines (5.50 Euros a glass); aperitif (3.70 to 4.10); beer (3.40 for a small glass; 4.60 for a large); mixed drinks and cocktails (5.80), spirits (4.10 to 6.50).
Outside spaces are limited. The top level Sun Deck has several blue canvas deck chairs, some of which have attached small tables (a couple with ashtrays for the smokers). There are also quite a few tables and canvas director's chairs, which would be used for casual meals, although al fresco meals didn't feature on my cruise. There's no pool or whirlpool. The Sun Deck is often off-limits due to the many low bridges along many stretches of the river. There is a small outside deck just off the reception, where you can stand, and this was the place for smokers to light up. Rarely did many people use this as it is too narrow and there is better viewing from inside the ship and on the Sun Deck.
There's a small reception area on the Danube Deck, just near the entrance to the ship and outside the Restaurant. This is where bookings for shore excursions are made, while staff attend to any inquiry and can, if need be, print out emails and accept stamped postcards for mailing. It includes a small gift shop selling books and maps of the region. There is no Internet cafe, however Wi-Fi is free for guests with their own devices; passwords are allocated by reception.
The ship has one small "Fitness Room", the size of a cabin located on the Moselle Deck, the lowest passenger deck, with two bikes, a treadmill and some weights. There are no spa services. There are about 10 bicycles for guests to use -- they are free but must be reserved. Only a couple of people on my trip used them, due to the busy schedule. The best places to ride appeared to be along the shoreline in Wurzburg and Rudesheim, away from the narrow cobblestoned streets of the Old Town.
Children under eight years of age are not permitted on Travelmarvel tours and cruises. Children under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult and share their accommodation with an adult. The ship is really not designed for children, as there are no special facilities.