02nd May2012

Cruising on the Romantic Rhine

Our home on the Rhine -- the Felicity!

Well I can provide a blow-by-blow, but don’t think you would want me to do that.  It’s always good to leave a little to one’s imagination!

We began our cruise in Basal, Switzerland on the Avalon Felicity.  She is a really pretty ship and we were told that there were 136 passengers that sailed her on April 15th, 2012.  Of course, we attended the mandatory safety exercise which proved to be different than your main stream cruise, in that the safety issues were somewhat different.  Immediately following, we were treated to a welcome cocktail and briefing by our cruise director, Karolien Cazemier. Once we were briefed we made our way to the well-appointed dining room to enjoy our embarkation dinner.  There is open seating, meaning you could seat with whomever and wherever you’d like each and every time you enter the dining room.  This fared well for us, as we were able to meet a lot of interesting and diversified folks.  We later came to know that there were Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, Brits, a couple from South Africa and the remainder were from the good old USA!

Returning to our cabin that evening, we found turn down service, a nice sweet on our pillow and our “fireplace” was on (TV of course!).  There were a number of papers left on our beds, one of which was the Daily Newsletter for the following day’s activities, along with what I’ll call orientation sheets (city highlights and maps) for the different destinations we were to visit as well.

In the morning, several different options were offered for breakfast; one for the early riser, a full buffet breakfast and then one that took place for the late riser.  Lunch was always a buffet and while I’m not a fan of buffets, I have to admit that the chef’s and dining room staff offered a wealth of items to choose from.  Given that there were only 138 passengers (who didn’t always dine at the same time), the intimacy of the restaurant made it that much more appealing.

Dinner was always several courses and, while typically we were offered three different entree options, there was always a “standing” menu for those who didn’t like the options.

Did I forget to mention that in between there was always coffee and cake time and in the Club Room, there was always hot coffee, iced and hot tea, hot chocolate, juices and water, fruits and cookies always available too with a late snack available at 10:30 pm each evening.  On movie night, there was popcorn too!  Thus, we were never left hungry.  In addition, there was always some bubbly available to those during the full breakfast and during lunch, soft drinks (sodas) were available for free as well.  Dinner was a different story in that in addition to free soft drinks, beer and regional wines were offered each night.

When we arrived in each port, always included was a local guide who provided a tour of sf the city’s highlights.  Oftentimes, we were given a choice to have about a half hour to ourselves and then were escorted back to the ship or, if one preferred, they sometimes offered a later escort.  In those instances where the ship was staying for a longer period of time, you also had the option of staying in the city and told how you could make your own way back to the ship safely.

In addition to the local guided tours, there were optional tours (sometimes more than one offered for each destination) offered.  On our first day sailing, our first visit was Strasbourg which included a canal cruise and walking tour.  Strasbourg is located in France which was on the left side of the ship where we docked.  On the right bank of the river was Germany!  Thus, we had an option to tour the Alsace countryside or the Black Forrest in Germany.  We optied for the Black Forrest.

Our next day, Tuesday, we had a planned arrival in Mannheim which included a drive by motor coach to the castle and then we had time to explore on our own, with optional transfers provided in this destination.

Did I mention that every day there was Happy Hour?  The drinks were quite affordable and during happy hour they offered 2 for 1 pricing.  There was always musical entertainment provided by Emil daily, typically after dinner.

Our third day we arrived in Mainz (pronounced Minez) which included a walking tour which took us to the center of Mainz and included a visit to the Gutenberg Museum and Cathedral.  After our visit, we made our way back to the ship to set sail for Rudesheim and lunch.  Our tour in Rudesheim included Siegfried’s Mechnical Music Instruments (museum) and a Rudesheimer Coffee tasting at Rudesheimer Schloss.  After that we had time to explore on our own, which we did.  We took advantage of the Cable Car ride

Cable Car - Rudesheim

over Riesling wine fields which was a proverbial bargain at 6.50 Euros per ticket.  We opted to stay in town and enjoy some German desserts before walking back to our ship.  The shore feature (optional tour) that evening was a German dinner but we decided that we preferred to enjoy our gourmet dinner aboard the Felicity and then call it a day.

Day four brought us rolling down (even though we were traveling north!) through the Rhine Gorge with magnificent scenery as evidenced by the many photos we took from the Sky Deck of the Felicity.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t kind, but fortunate for us, the ship provided heavy blankets and of course the hot chocolate to help keep us warm!

We arrived in Coblenz which included another walking tour.  Just so you know, not all 136 people were in one group.  We typically broke out into four groups, one of which was for gentle walkers.  Our guide was extremely theatrical, so we very much loved this tour.  She also provided a wealth of information and made the tour a lot of fun.  We got to visit the first Eau du Cologne maker where I purchased some bottles to give as gifts at Christmas, thinking that it would be fun to give and also a practical gift!

Additionally on this day, we were treated with a performance by La Strada, a string trio performing extracts from pieces of Western European composers.  Thinking that I’d be bored with much classical music, my oh my La Strada proved me wrong!  They brought me to tears — literally!  Great performance…what a treat.

After dinner we were entertained by the Crew.  The brave crew members either sang or did skits and the finale was truly funny (don’t want to give the store away–you’ll just have to go on a river cruise and find out what they did!).

Even though Friday was not the last night of our cruise, the Farewell Captain’s Cocktail and Gala Dinner took place.  Reason being, we were going to be in Amsterdam the full day with a full day’s activities and the staff wanted us to have enough time to do our packing and prepare for our disembarkation the following morning.

We arrived in Amsterdam very early Saturday morning.  Immediately after breakfast we were treated to a canal cruise.  Again there were optional excursions; Van Gogh Museum; Volendam and Edam and/or the Red Light District.  Wanting to explore the city on our own after the cruise with the hopes of making a visit to the Haus of Anne Frank (while waiting on line, the heavens opened up and it poured on us!), we did opt to join the tour for the Red Light District which proved to be quite interesting.

All in all, our expectations were not only met, they were exceeded.  While we had our reservations about the lack of glitzy entertainment and/or that we’d be bored with some of the cruise highlights and/or fearful that we’d get stuck with a bunch of people for a week, once again we were blown away by the experience we had.  So much so, we can’t wait to book our next river cruise which likely will be Paris to the Normandy Beaches.  Any takers?