Marquis Powe, CTA
Sr. Travel Consultant
Toll Free (800) 935-2620 X 618
Direct (281) 269 – 6618
Fax (281) 269-2690
E-mail: [email protected]
Just recently I’ve been fortunate to take a river cruise titled Castles of the Rhine by Uniworld River Cruises. I have been to Europe a few times already however seeing Europe by river boat was entirely new to me. I found river cruising to be a fascinating way to comfortably explore numerous cities as well as quite a few countries without some of the hassles which occur with a typical motor coach tour.
Day 1 (Basel, Switzerland Welcome aboard)
My journey began with a flight to Basel Switzerland where I cheerfully greeted by a Uniworld representative whom guided us to our awaiting transportation parked right out front of the airport exit doors. A quick 20 minutes’ drive and we then were at the ships docking point. Our vessel was the S.S. Antoinette one of Uniworlds newest and the most modern ships. I was able to immediately check in at the ships reception counter which is conveniently located at what I would consider the heart of the ship. Although I was not the only arrival at the time check in was a breeze due to having already completed the online Passenger Information Form in advance which is also important because it allows the crew to become intimate with each and every passengers individual needs or desires. The Passenger Information Form gives the traveler the opportunity to address such issues as dietary restrictions, partial health or mobility issues, and advance notification of any planned trip deviations and as well one could even meet with fellow travelers prior to departure via their online community. In general it helps Uniworld to better tailor the trip to suit each travelers comfort level and needs.
I was in complete amazement of the ships beauty upon arrival and then equally impressed with the interior decor once aboard. You couldn’t help but to admire the gigantic chandelier hoisted above the ships lobby and main entry, as well upon entry of the cabin your jaw drops and eyes unconsciously wander throughout the room’s decor. I had reservations in cabin number 320 which was a French balcony cabin located mid ship on the main deck which is called the La Dutchesse Deck. The cabin has a French balcony with a glass wall which retracts easily with the push of a button located next to the bed. I found myself exploring the cabin and admiring all the attention to detail for almost 30 minutes before realizing that I had left my bags at the lobby from being hypnotized by the ships interior beauty. No worries before I could get back down the hall I saw one of the hosts cheerfully wheeling my luggage towards me. Like a kid in a toy store I began to explore the remainder of the ship. Apparently most of the men travelers aboard had the same idea as you could see others creeping about with childish grin of excitement on their faces. The ship itself featured not only two retractable fourth level lounge areas on the top deck but also is the only river cruise ship with a fully functional movie theater. I was also excited to see a laundry room on board which included three washing machines, three clothes dryers, ironing board station, and complete with all necessary cleaning detergents. Crazy as it may sound this as well as their famous “Leopard Lounge” became my two favorite places aboard the ship. After getting all that exploring out of my system I decided to meet everyone at the Salon du Grand Trianon for tea time which gave me the opportunity to meet others and mingle while enjoying live music and delicious snacks. Shortly following tea time our ship captain Peter Koopmans gave a Safety Briefing which was done in the same location going over all emergency protocols and giving a brief weather and travel forecast for the next few days.
Dinner began at 7 pm in the Restaurant de Versailles where I was able to enjoy one of the best meals I’ve ever had prepared by their many on board master culinary chefs. Normally I find restaurant dining to be a bit of a challenge for me because of what others would call me being “too picky” but hey I just feel like I’m a guy who knows what he wants which is often everything! Example: every night for dinner the menu has usually at least three choices for the main course however also just in case every night outside of the days featured choices they allow you to choose between a savory sirloin steak, delicious herb-enriched salmon, and I believe a type of pasta or lasagna. Well my problem was everything sounded and smelled extremely delicious so I mentioned to the waiter that I wanted not only one of the featured selections from the main course but in addition I also wanted to try the salmon. “No problem” said Lada my waiter who’s also now a Facebook friend. Little did I know this would become a popular phrase used throughout my trip. During dinner I happened to glance up and was amazed to see that the ship had actually set sail for our next stop in Breisach, Germany without me even noticing. I must admit I felt a bit majestic sitting there aboard such a plush ship while enjoying gourmet cuisine and such a hypnotizing view of the sun settling below the river banks of the Rhine.
Day 2 (Breisach, Germany)
Next morning after a quick 45 minute workout in the ships fitness room and refreshing shower in the spa I headed for breakfast. Breakfast is normally my favorite meal of the day and with Uniworld they left nothing to be desired. I mean they went as far as not only having crispy bacon but also went as far as offering soft bacon as well. “Lord Have Mercy” I did not know there were Uniworld ships in heaven! The food selection was endless. They as well have cooking stations where your omelets, waffles, or pancakes were made fresh to order. All the food was fresh having never set idle. The only problem could be was that there were way too many items to select from and my stomach was too small to absorb it all.
After breakfast our included tour began where we were greeted of shore by our awaiting motor coach drivers and Uniworld Tour Directors. On this day there was the option of an included tour of the “Alsatian Wine Villages” of Kaysersberg and Riquewihr or the choice of going into the town of Colmar on a separate motor coach. I chose to visit Colmar. For those who are not morning people there’s always a late breakfast served from 8:30 am to 9:30 am. With Uniworld It appeared everyone’s day structure was accommodated for. After a brief 20 minute drive into the town we began our tour of Colmar which was a quiet yet humble town with as you can see a sense of humor.
Most people would never know this for being the birth place of the man whom created the Statue of Liberty. There’s a 12 meter replica of the statue of liberty at the towns northern entrance which was sculpted to commemorate the 100th death anniversary of the sculptor Augustine Batholdi. I was fortunate to see this as we drove by on the way back to the ship. She looked like a dwarfed sister version compared to the mighty spectacle I’ve been made more accustomed to here in the U.S. however I admit that I found a sense of comfort within her presence. It was shocking yet felt reassuring to see something so familiar to us Americans while in what some would consider the middle of nowhere. During the tour there is an opportunity to visit the museum which houses most of his remaining sculptures and art pieces.
Upon return from the day tour we were cheerfully greeted by several crew members passing out moist and chilled towels as well as a refreshing beverage of the day. The smells from the kitchen also greeted your nose as lunch has been prepared while away. Lunches consisted of a large buffet with endless food selections. I really do not like using the word buffet because one often can easily gather the wrong impression however keep in mind there are numerous chefs below working hard to ensure all dishes are fresh and replenished quickly as well as freakishly delicious! After a bit of over indulging I was offered desert. WHAT DESERT AFTER LUNCH! Yes desert and freshly made desert might I add. I felt as though someone must have known me personally because I absolutely love pistachios but often have a difficult time finding pistachio flavored anything however on this day to my surprise they had pistachio ice cream as well as mocha ice cream, vanilla bean, and the usual suspects chocolate and vanilla. Talk about jaw dropping deserts. At this point having not even having completed day two I realized Uniworld was headed towards making this the best and most luxurious trip I’ve yet encountered. So after three dishes of pistachio ice cream, a good selection of pastries, and a few items I had no clue what they were but couldn’t resist due to the delicious smells, it was time to wobble my way back to the cabin for a nap.
For those still having the energy there are normally evening excursions one may also choose to participate in following a short while after lunch. On this day there was the option to go for a Nortic walk with Elena the ships on-board fitness coordinator or the option for a visit to the Wheelhouse which is the ships main control room. I decided to go check out the Wheelhouse to see just what was involved with maneuvering such a prized vessel. All the men aboard obviously had the same idea and you could see them all big-eyed with excitement as if someone had just showed them a flashy new toy. Our captain showed us all the various advanced equipment and technology incorporated with running the ship. One was able to also learn just how much technology was involved with operating the ship as we were shown satellite images of the river, ship, and all other nearby vessels in the water. I asked what some of the significantly smaller object on the display were so the captain then pointed out to a school of ducks nearby. Later in the day around 4 pm our ship disembarked and we were headed now towards Kehl, Germany.
Dinner is promptly served beginning at 7 pm each evening and after dinner there was music and singing provided by the on-board musicians who led to dancing and playful mingling among the group. I noticed that even those whom were shy throughout the day not having said one word to others eventually had no choice but to open up with all the warm energy being put out. As well it may also have been due to the occasional libations which were generously delivered by staff with only the slightest of gesture having been made. Before you knew it some found no shame in getting up and showing off their best dance moves or even their worst dance moves. I personally found this to be amusing yet my favorite evening activity was sneaking off to the Leopard Lounge and enjoying a more intimate environment among new friends. The Leopard Lounge was like a small club obviously decked out in leopard decor which was really neat looking especially being a man not fond of leopard printed anything. it was conveniently hidden if that makes sense, providing a form of escape or a more intimate scene if desired.
Day 3 (Kehl, Germany & Strasbourg, France)
After waking up I reached for the daily program guide which is conveniently delivered each day prior with the evening turn-down service along with these addictive nougat treats. Looking over the program guide I then planned which activities I would partake in for the day. On this day the options were a canal cruise of Strasbourg followed by free time or a “Do as the locals” tour also followed by some free time to explore. In this town everyone was also given the opportunity to stay later having enjoyed lunch in town for a change and enjoy the local flavors.
In this city I decided to take advantage of the canal cruise as means for exploration. I had always wanted to experience a canal cruise after seeing it almost every movie referencing Europe in any way. By motor coach we were driven to the location from-which our canal cruise would begin. The canal cruise took us from the outer perimeter of Strasbourg all the way to the heart or center of the city where we were given the opportunity to see the European Parliament building which at the time was 90% finished from being fully completed. The impressive structure stood high and mighty showing off the power of unity within Europe. Interesting fact is that even though the European Parliament is where members of the government gather to debate and vote they also invite the public to sit in on sessions
The canal cruise took us pass the University and through a more effluent area known as Petite France. The excursion then ended near the center of the city steps away from the massive pink sandstone Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. The Cathedral is one of the finest examples of gothic architecture and also held the title for being the world’s tallest building for over 220 years. Still today in its glory she stands as the sixth-tallest church in the world and the highest structure built entirely in the middle ages.
From the cathedral we were allowed free time to explore, shop, or even dine for lunch in town. There were four different departure times from the city heading back towards the ship beginning from 12 noon till 5 pm. I used this time to do some shopping and then did a bit of sightseeing when I ran into a couple from the night before; Cliff and Peggy. Poor Cliff had suffered numerous losses against me in a fierce night of Spades and was still out for blood however for now we were all new friends from separate ends of the world sharing new experiences. In making our way back towards one of the awaiting motor coaches I noticed that our cruise manager Christine was creeping patiently with a passenger whom had mobility issues. I must admit walking less than one mile per hour would have driven me bonkers however Christine had the most gracious smile ever as she accompanied the man.
Earlier whenever we disembarked I noticed the paved trail following alongside the river so I decided to get a few miles of jogging in after returning to the ship. The trail was nice and scenic offering a reprieve from the cruise itself and some alone time.
After my run I freshened up and went to the cocktail hour in the Salon du Grand Trianon followed by our Daily Talk with Christine within the same location. Dinner was served after at 7pm so I headed in that direction. This evening for dinner I sat down at a different table from my usual location so I could be amongst others which I had ventured with earlier while in the city. After a few minutes of pre-dinner mingling Lada my previous waiter eased over a glass of what by then had become my usual drink, a Scotch with Coke, two ice cubes with a slither of lime. “Thanks Lada I forgot I was thirsty!” as I raised my glass in salute. I must say each of the crew member’s attention to detail astounded me. I had made a comment to housecleaning that my coworker, whom had traveled with Uniworld enjoyed the nougat candies more so than the other chocolates left in the cabins and ever since every day I had a generous stash of nougat delights left for me.
This night after dinner there was a live performance from a band by the name of “Three for You” which featured music from the 60’s to the 90’s. Now this was one of my more memorable evenings where I can recall witnessing almost everyone dancing and some point. Even I myself was pulled into a conga lines and forced to unleash my swagger.
Day 4 (Germersheim & Spyer, Germany)
After receiving my 6:30 am wake-up call I went to the swimming pool to try out the Aqua Aerobics class with Elena the ships Well-being Coach. The pool was heated perfectly and the spa shower was awesome as well. Although I never had an opportunity for a much needed massage it was comforting to know that it was available as a service on the ship.
After then going to breakfast and watching people’s walk of shame from the night before we all disembarked from the ship to head into the once fortified town of Speyer. Speyer was a very interesting town with a great deal of history. I learned how the town was the first Roman military camp established and was able to visit the Jewish Bath or Mikveh as it is called.
This evening aboard the ship there was a Private Fine Dining experience in the L’Orangerie for guest who made reservations. Seating was limited and I failed to make reservations in advance so I cannot comment on the experience however I was told by several which did attend that it was just as excellent as the meals which I was having in the main restaurant. Later after dinner while strolling about I could hear the commotion from a few of the men travelers huddled up discussing an upcoming Lock in the river. It was funny to see a bunch of grown men playfully excited about the amazing feat they were about to see. Having witnessed some pretty amazing things in my travel experience I did not think it to be all that impressive however I was wrong. For those which have not experienced a Lock is a device used for raising and lowering ships between stretches of water containing different levels. Whenever we approached a Lock in the river you could see the men running like school children anxious and eager to witness.
Day 5 (Rudesheim & Boppard, Germany)
This day I woke up in Rudesheim and was taken by mini train into town. There we had a brief walking tour followed by free time. A few others and I decided to venture up the hill by cable cart to visit the Statue of Germania, Ridesheim’s most famous landmark created to commemorate the creation of the German empire in 1871. Being up near the hills summit one could enjoy the picturesque landscape combined with the calmness of the river; truly amazing!
With Rudesheim being known for its vast wine vineyards we were taken to a wine tasting at Castle Vollrads where we learned more of its 800 year old history and of course sampled the local product. As we drifted from one room to the next learning about the estates tragic yet interesting history our glasses were generously filled with some of the best wine in the region. On this day we were scheduled to visit two cities so about twelve rooms later we all joyfully stumbled back to our awaiting designated driver. It was back to the ship so that we could now make our way to Boppard before sundown.
After eating lunch aboard the ship we set sail through the “Romantic Rhine Valley” where our Cruise Manager Christine gave commentary on the Sundeck during the journey. I didn’t even remember until I was sitting in my cabin and just so happened to change channels on the TV and there was a front camera view of the ship as we sailed. I could hear Christine talking and explaining about the various castles as we approached them. I looked out of my cabin window and sure enough I was about to miss the best part of the trip. Although with the technology provided I could have just as easily enjoyed Christine’s commentary and the beautiful view from my cabin I decided to share my excitement with the other guests.
After a breathtaking stretch of countless castles we arrived in Boppard around 4pm and had a walking tour of the small quaint town. I noticed that Elena the Well-being Coach also had a Nordic Walking tour group for those with mobility issues. I decided to venture on my own with the use of one of the bicycles so I packed a small day bag changed into something more suitable for trekking and headed out. Boppard was one of my favorite locations being that I tend to be fonder of small and more charming European towns. For some reason I was on a mission to find the best cheeses around so after a lap around Boppard I stopped into a small cheese shop and sampled some of the vast varieties they had to offer. I also find it fun and very educational to visit the local grocery stores. One would be amazed at some of the things you could find. Upon returning to the ship I ran into a few of the chefs from the kitchen that had left into town also on bicycles for fresh supplies. I was impressed on how they made time and effort to supply the guests with fresh local products rather that processed or frozen goods from who knows where.
Day 6 (Koblez, Germany)
This morning we’ve passed through the second half of the “Romantic Rhine Valley” and arrived in the magnificent and equally historical city of Koblez. The city resides at the intersection of the Rhine and Moselle River. After breakfast there was an Aerial Tram ride up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress for an in-depth guided tour. The fortress was massive having passageways and tunnels throughout like a maze of some sort. Inside were displays depicting the different generational stages of use the fortress provided for soldiers. The views from atop the steep hill it resides are breathtaking. One could see the whole city and admire its peaceful beauty.
After lunch there was an optional evening excursion to the Marksburg Castle but instead I strolled into town on foot for supplies and souvenirs. Retail shopping in Koblez was fierce and reminded me of parts of Paris with all the various signature shops. I found it easy to get great deals on clothing and electronics although with all my shopping I forgot to provide my own shopping bag. In many parts of Europe it is common for a store not to provide shopping bags or may even sell them for an additional fee which is for the waste management.
Day 7 (Cologne, Germany)
After another calm night of sailing we arrived the next morning in Cologne, Germany’s fourth largest city and one of the most prominent travel destinations within. We left the ship early morning and walked to the Cologne Cathedral which was just less than a mile away from where we were docked. The cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a true marvel to have witnessed and seen up close. Lined with such amazing artwork from the base all the way up its tall towers, the cathedral attracts large crowds and invites tours except on Sundays and holidays. Some now new friends and I decided to take a trolley tour departing from the cathedral then circling around town. We passed the old town, the love locks, and my favorite stop was the famous chocolate Museum which had an entry line wrapped around the building. It was cool to see the modern art inspired architecture of some of the buildings mixed in next to stone walls built by Romans long ago. When the trolley ride ended I stopped into the main gift shop located adjacent to the cathedral to pick up a few bottles of cologne which the city is known for. After spending too much time wondering I pace myself back towards the ship, which again thankfully was located within walking distance. We were to disembark and head towards our final destination of Amsterdam.
This day after a hearty and always delicious lunch everyone enjoyed the weather and scenery on the sun deck above. I reclined back into a lounge chair with a cocktail in one hand and camera equipment in the other documenting everyone’s expressions on video. Everyone was happily mingling and relaxing amongst one another reminiscing on their favorite parts of the journey. There were some even discussing future cruises with their new shipmates. The sky was beautiful and there were families with children all over the river banks all waving as we passed. You couldn’t help but to feel important drifting along the Rhine while being welcomed the whole time. Everything was so lively along the river banks on this day. There were families set up with picnics, pet lovers and their furry companions, kites flying, a few speed boats racing past, and even people paragliding.
This evening was the Captains Farewell Reception and Gala Dinner. Everyone was able to have a last meal and toast with new friends before departing the next morning. Of course there was the usual singing and dancing along with great conversation but this night there was also a slight sense of sadness for having to depart such a fantastic trip.
Day 8 (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
On our last morning before saying my final farewell I was taken on a thorough tour of the ship and shown each and every cabin type. I was even shown hidden elevators and passageways throughout the ship that were available had I known existed. Each cabin was personally designed and even upholstered to coordinate. From the drapes on the bedding, carpets, chairs all the way to the drapes over the balconies everything coordinated and was highly fashionable. I was even shocked to have noticed TV’s over some of the beds, on the verandah balconies as well as a main unit in the cabin itself; they were all over the place. Each cabin was loaded with luxury amenities some including butler service. The bathrooms are all lined with marble and equipped with towel warmers. After a detailed inspection of the ship cabins I said farewell to my outstanding hosts and disembarked the ship now in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is a bustling and lively city full of friendly faces of every nationality and bicycles; yes bicycles. As soon as you enter the city that’s the one thing you will see lying everywhere. It’s one of the many solutions they’ve found to help improve their society. Some would say that the only way to truly experience Amsterdam is by bike. I noticed Amsterdam to be a city of tolerance as well as diversity. Walking the stoned streets you will run into people of every nationality all with a predetermined destination maneuvering between one another like busy ants.
After stopping into one of the many coffee shops for an expresso I floated my way towards my pre-booked accommodations. I was staying three nights at the St. Christopher’s Inn at the Winston conveniently located near Dom square, Central Station, The Royal Palace, and literally overlooks the Red Light District. The Inn is actually one of the most famous hostels in Europe and having traveled for years now being wined and dined in five star accommodations and just now getting off of a luxury river cruise ship I wanted to experience something new. I was rather impressed with the whole setup of the place.
There was the most popular club around built onto the hostel. As well there was a bar and various hangout areas. The place had a very warm and friendly vibe. Travelers from all over where engaging in conversation and enjoying music and atmosphere as if back home with friends. I found it too easy to find new friends all which invited me to explore the city with them. I originally made reservations for a private room because even though I wanted a new experience I was unsure just how comfortable I would be rooming with up to four other strangers. After hearing all the fun my neighbors here having I went back down to the front desk and gave up my room for shared accommodations. In the beginning I had two roommates, Shane who was one of the coolest Canadians I’ve ever met and another man from India whom after 10 failed attempts just told us to call him Chat. We went out that evening to familiarize ourselves with our surroundings and get a bite to eat. Food is also plentiful and you could find food vendors and small food shops with no sitting room selling such items as Kroket’s, Poffertjes, Bitterballens, and Patat which is just the Dutch version of French Fries but thicker than the norm, and oh if you ask for catsup you’re the weirdo because they eat them with mayonnaise yuck. You must try the StroopWafel undoubtedly the most famous and popular pastry from the Netherlands. A stroopwafel’ is a unique kind of cookie. It is a waffle made from baked batter and sliced horizontally. It’s filled with a special sweet and sticky syrup and so delicious.
Day 9 -12 (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Next morning after the complimentary breakfast I went on the free walking tour the Inn offers which took us past Dom Square, The Royal Palace, and then after a few stops along the canals we headed to the Red Light District on our way back. After the tour I made my way by foot to Anne Frank’s House, Van Gogh Museum, and stopped by to admire the flower markets which were full of some of the most amazing specimens that I had ever seen. I found navigating throughout Amsterdam to be rather easy and most if not all guest houses will provide maps of the city. There are plenty of bike rental shops, one can jump on a tram, and cabs are abundant if desired however I found the walk to be a bit exciting and propelling.
Over the following few days I explored the remainder of the city with my new friends Shane and Chat from the hostile. There were many things for three misfits from separate parts of the world to get into such as the Heineken Brewery, the Sex Museum, Hemp Museum, Ziggo Dome, and some awesome night clubs. The music in Amsterdam was like art in itself because you only heard the best artists’ music being played and admired. The one thing I could really appreciate while in Amsterdam as a music lover was that they truly accepted music from all over the world however they played only the best of music. You could tell that the music being played was not because a radio station or someone was paid to do so but rather because it was music that was truly great and appreciated. Some of my greatest moments there were just relaxing in the basements of the local taverns listening to Chat and Shane debate about their own world views and politics while still in agreement about the music. If anything music and harmony are things I believe which bind the community of Amsterdam.
Spending the extra time in Amsterdam was a great way to top off an already amazing journey through one of the many rivers of Europe. I explored new territory, indulged in the richness of the culture and made so many new friends along the way.
Marquis Powe, CTA
Sr. Travel Consultant
Toll Free (800) 935-2620 X 618
Direct (281) 269 – 6618
Fax (281) 269-2690
E-mail: [email protected]