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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Debbie Dutton from the USA.

Cruise Line: Scenic.

Ship:  Scenic Jasper.

Destination: Rhine River.

# of Nights: 7.

Departure Date & Ports: June 2017, from Basel, Switzerland to German and French ports along the Rhine River.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5 stars

-Food Rating: 4

-Cabin Rating: 5

-Service/Crew Rating: 5

-Itinerary Rating: 5

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? No.

Review:  CP BLUESHIRTS

We went on this cruise with a group of 40 people from our community. I can say with pretty much certainty that we all had a great time and would do it again!! This was my first time visiting Europe and I think it was a perfect way to go.

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: TJ from Singapore (age 13).

Cruise Line: Uniworld River Cruises.

Ship: River Empress.

Destination: Rhine River in Germany and France.

# of Nights: 7.

Departure Date & Ports:  July 2016, between Basel, Switzerland and Amsterdam, to Colmar, Strasbourg, Speyer, Rudesheim, Boppard, Koblenz and Cologne.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? Yes, I think five.

Review:  A nice and relaxing holiday.

I expected a big retro sailing boat, much like my last experience on a river cruise, however I was really surprised and happy to find a beautiful modern reception and lounge! Overall, I think the whole ship was great, but I especially loved the cabins, ‘kids room’ and dining room. I loved the cabin because the bed and bathroom was cool and the TV had a really good movie selection. The kids’ room was actually the ‘captains lounge’ reconfigured so that kids could play on a play station, as well as sit on small tables to play board games. This was a great place where all the kids met to play FIFA. I also really liked the dining room because it was really fancy, and the buffet selection as well as the menu was stockpiled with great food.

For activities, I liked watching movies in my room or playing FIFA with the other kids. In port, I liked where we could get off and just bike, and we didn’t have to go on a long boring guided tour or bus ride. I liked how you got to know everyone really well. Things were also incredibly efficient and easy, compared to big ships where you have to wait for ages to get on and off at ports and other things like that. Though it was disappointing at first, we got used to not havingWiFi on the river cruise.

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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Knego continues his five-night off-season November voyage up the Rhine to Basel aboard AmaWaterways’ deluxe AMACERTO river cruise ship with visits to spectacular Strasbourg and charming Riquewihr. Click here for Part 1 of his journey.

All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2016 unless otherwise noted.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Rhine River cruise in the autumn

L’Orangerie in gold. * Photo: Peter Knego.

At 8:00 AM, AMACERTO tied up at Kehl, a German town across the Rhine from France’s Alsace region. After breakfast, I filed off on the included “hike” excursion, an invigorating walk through Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace. The Ama coach dropped us off at L’Orangerie, the largest and oldest park in Strasbourg.

It was utterly frigid as we began our march through the park, underneath a canopy of autumn leaves and storks’ nests. The once endangered birds are the symbol of Alsace, where they now enjoy protected status.

Parliamentary panes & Palais de l'Europe.

Parliamentary panes & Palais de l’Europe. * Photo: Peter Knego

Before long, we were passing by the Palais de l’Europe, a Modernist building designed by Henri Bernard and completed in 1977. Originally used to house the European Parliament, it is where the Congress of the Council of Europe holds its meetings.

As we crossed the River III, the current European Parliament building came into view. The sweeping, glass-framed monolith conceals a giant chamber where all 751 members of the Parliament (representing 28 EU nations) meet.

Notre Dame of Strasbourg.

Notre Dame of Strasbourg. * Photo: Peter Knego

After some 90 minutes of fast-paced but scenic walking, we had arrived at the 466-foot-tall Strasbourg Cathedral, which reigned as the world’s tallest building between 1647 and 1874. This remarkable example of High Gothic architecture was completed in its present form in 1439. It was built on the site of a Romanesque cathedral that replaced a Carolingian basilica that was situated atop a Roman sanctuary. Strasbourg is unique in that it has alternated between German and French rule, both of which are reflected in the old town’s architecture, culture and cuisine.

Our tour included access to the interior of the cathedral where a film was being shown. The imposing setting was a nice respite from the bitter cold outside.

Reflections de L'Ill.

Reflections de L’Ill. * Photo: Peter Knego

We continued to the edge of old Strasbourg where the brilliant, sunny reflections in the River Ill provided a deceptive contrast to the actual temperature of the day.

On our way back to the meeting point for the return coach, we were treated to a marzipan by of one of the local confectioners, courtesy of the good people at Ama. While there, I couldn’t resist getting some caramels and nougats to sweeten the trip home.

Back aboard the AMACERTO, an Alsatian lunch was served in the dining room. Afterwards, although a shuttle service into Strasbourg continued for the rest of the afternoon, I remained on the warm ship for a work out and some down time before attending the Captain’s Farewell cocktail party in the Lounge. This would actually be an even more special occasion than usual with AmaWaterways’ founding co-owners Rudi Schreiner and Kristen Karst hosting, along with the captain, hotel director and cruise manager.

After dinner and prior to our departure at 11:45, local French musical duo Armand and Muriel performed some classic French chansons in the Lounge.

Captain’s Farewell cocktail party & French musical duo.

Captain’s Farewell cocktail party & French musical duo. Photo: Peter Knego

 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

AMACERTO Spa Treatment Room.

AMACERTO Spa Treatment Room. * Photo: Peter Knego

AMACERTO spent the morning sailing upriver at a leisurely pace as I wandered about with the camera in search of any space not yet documented. With everyone at breakfast, the Library, located on the port side of the Reception on Violin Deck, was a good place to start. This cozy corner leading into the Main Lounge boasts a digital flame fireplace.

It was also a good time to capture the Spa Treatment Room adjacent to the Beauty Salon and across from the Fitness Center on aft Violin Deck.

AMACERTO Chef's Table, facing starboard.

AMACERTO Chef’s Table, facing starboard. * Photo: Peter Knego

A few steps away, I opened up the curtains in the Chef’s Table for a couple parting views. For those seeking a quiet, out of the way corner to catch up on a good read or just stare out at the ship’s wake and ponder life, this space is the AMACERTO’s best kept secret.

I also had an opportunity to document the ship’s various cabin categories, beginning at the bottom of the ship with a 160-square-foot Category D on Piano Deck. These thrifty staterooms have a comfortable seating area, two fixed windows at water level and a granite-topped desk.

various cabin categories

The various cabin categories. * Photo: Peter Knego

Next up on the accommodation chain are the 170-square-foot French Balcony cabins on Cello and Violin Decks. With slightly more room than the Fixed Window cabins, they boast full-length sliding glass doors that open to a French balcony.

There are two grades of the double balcony staterooms: Category B, which is slightly smaller at 210-square-feet and Category A, which chimes in at a generous 235-square-feet. Both feature French and standard full balconies.

AMACERTO and her sisters also have one Category AA+ double balcony stateroom (not shown) and a trio of Suites that measure 300-square-feet. As AMACERTO was the first in the class, her suites feature expansive balconies and smaller sitting areas that were altered on the other ships to provide more room in the sitting area. The Suite’s bedroom area and bath are largely the same on all of the sisters.

AMACERTO Bridge Visit.

AMACERTO Bridge Visit. * Photo: Peter Knego

I also had a chance to peek in at the ship’s wheelhouse, the top portion of which lowers into the base, that in turn can recess into the deck to clear low lying bridges.

German Snacks in the Lounge.

German Snacks in the Lounge. * Photo: Peter Knego

At 10:30, just as I laid my cameras to rest, there was a complimentary Fruhschoppen or traditional German bratwurst, leberkase and beer being served in the Main Lounge.

MV AMAPRIMA and MV AMACERTO at Kehl.

MV AMAPRIMA and MV AMACERTO at Kehl. * Photo: Peter Knego

Moments after AMACERTO tied up at Breisach, she was joined by her slightly younger sister, the downriver-bound, 2013-built AMAPRIMA. Identical in nearly all structural aspects, the AMAPRIMA boasts a brighter interior palette and soft fittings as well as her own unique furnishings and artwork, all curated by Ama’s Kristen Karst. I paid a whirlwind visit to her before disembarking both ships for the included tour to Riquewihr, a wine village some 45 minutes away in the foothills of Alsace.

Pastoral Alsace.

Pastoral Alsace. * Photo: Peter Knego

Riquewihr poppies.

Riquewihr poppies. * Photo: Peter Knego

Although it was thankfully not as cold as the prior day in Strasbourg, the weather was not exactly photogenic. Nonetheless, even in the grim climate, the French countryside was breathtaking and somewhat reminiscent of California’s Napa Valley.

Our guide explained that Riquewihr was one of the few authentic German-style villages to survive the Allied air raids of World War Two.

A member of The Most Beautiful Villages of France (Les Plus Beaux Villages de France), Riquewihr is surrounded by medieval fortifications. Its town center dates from the 16th century and is renowned for its charm.

Riquewihr gate.

Riquewihr gate. * Photo: Peter Knego

On our off-season visit (between peak summer season and the upcoming Christmas Market), Riquewihr was mostly shuttered. We had time to explore, shop and, if so inclined, do a wine tasting or sample some of the local cuisine at the few restaurants and wine cellars that were still open.

AMACERTO Anytime Chicken and Chips.

AMACERTO Anytime Chicken and Chips. * Photo: Peter Knego

A steady drizzle began to fall just as we began our trek back to the coach.

Our final night aboard the AMACERTO ended with yet another fantastic multi-course dinner. I veered from the daily menu to sample the “anytime” chicken entree with a side of crispy fries. Simple but excellent.

After bidding goodbye to newfound friends, I retreated to Cabin 209 to pack as AMACERTO neared Basel, Switzerland, the disembarkation port of our cruise.

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Basel Town Hall.

Basel Town Hall. * Photo: Peter Knego

I set the luggage outside my cabin just before breakfast and clambered off the ship at 9:00. Ama called me a cab for the relatively short journey to the French town of Mulhouse near the Basel airport. It was a quick coach ride back into Basel, where I met my charming host, Gabriele Goldbeck, who gave me a short tour of the town.

Basel Coffee Shop.

Basel Coffee Shop. * Photo: Peter Knego

As the mist turned into a proper drizzle, we warmed up with a nice coffee in a cafe across from the 500-year-old Town Hall and then walked a few more blocks for lunch in one of the local pubs.

Gaby then escorted me up to the Kuntsmuseum before heading back to work. I spent hours marveling at the collection in its contemporary art annex, including a spectacular Pollack exhibit.

The plain concrete facade of the annex belies its stunning interior, where the staircases seem to sweep straight out of a Fritz Lang movie.

Even more marvelous was the collection of modern art next door at the original Kuntsmuseum.

Basel Museum of Art Gallery.

Basel Museum of Art Gallery. * Photo: Peter Knego

I could have spent days there but sometimes it is OK to leave a few stones unturned for future visits. Basel has some 40 major museums, so here’s to returning and taking them in, bit by bit. 

Basel riverfront.

Basel riverfront. * Photo: Peter Knego

On my way back to the coach terminus, I veered slightly off course and crossed the Mittlere Brucke, Basel’s oldest bridge (dating from 1905), to take in the Rhine waterfront.

Before the drizzly day faded out, I took in one last view of the AMACERTO, my lovely home for the past five nights, as she embarked a new complement of lucky guests for her next Rhine adventure.

AMACERTO and the fumes of Basel.

AMACERTO and the fumes of Basel. * Photo: Peter Knego

 

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

by Peter Knego.

A Rhine River cruise in the late fall and winter is quite different than one during other times of the year. It’s colder and windier of course (routinely dipping into the 20s and 30s °F), with snow and rain often making a show. Some shops and restaurants may also be closed in the off-season. Folks who appreciate the plusses of off-season travel, namely there being far fewer other tourists in the ports along the way (with the exception of Christmastime), will love cruising the Rhine in fall and winter.

Summers, many Rhine towns and attractions are jam-packed, with two and three cruise boats often stacked next to one another at the docks in popular ports and the Middle Rhine bustling with day-tripping tour boats. Fall and winter Rhine River cruises, on the other hand, make for a serene scene, and in a sense, a more authentic taste of Europe. The passengers tend to be an international mix of seniors availing of the tranquility and lower off-peak rates.

In the spirit of the off-season traveler, here’s Peter Knego’s account of five days on AmaWaterway’s AMACERTO river cruise ship from Cologne up the Rhine to Basel last November.

small ship Rhine River cruise on Amacerto

First glimpse of AMACERTO at Cologne. * Peter Knego

 

Friday, November 11, 2016

After an extortive, white-knuckle ride on the autobahn from Dusseldorf Airport to Cologne, my cab driver dropped me off as close as he could to the AMACERTO’s Rhine River berth. An icy breeze whipped up the leaf-swirled promenade as I made my approach to the 2,900-gt AmaWaterways’ cruise ship with just a few minutes to spare. The AMACERTO, which had begun her seven-night journey two days prior with an overnight in Amsterdam, was preparing to sail for Koblenz.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

AMACERTO Reception, facing port. * Photo: Peter Knego

I entered at the Reception area on Violin (3) Deck, which has an oval shaped counter area inspired by the curvaceous bows of the Italian-built Riva yachts. I would soon learn that all of the forward-situated public spaces on Violin and Cello (2) Decks are built around this Riva-inspired form. Completed in 2012, the AMACERTO takes her name from “love” (the AMA prefix) and “concerto” (CERTO). She is the first of six nearly identical ships in the fast-growing, deluxe, 21-member AmaWaterways fleet.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

MV AMACERTO Stateroom 209, facing starboard. * Photo: Peter Knego

I was issued my shipboard ID card and led to 209, a 235-square-foot Twin Balcony stateroom on starboard Cello Deck. These spacious, innovative cabins actually have a standard outside balcony accessed via the bedroom area and a French balcony in the sitting area. After more than 24 hours spent in planes, airports and taxis, it looked especially warm and welcoming.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

AMACERTO, Stateroom 209 WC. * Photo: Peter Knego

Even the large (especially for a river ship) Carrara marble and granite bathroom was impressive, with a roomy shower (massage and rainforest heads,) wide sink area and window (that on later ships can be switched to a “fog” setting) to allow in natural light.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River with AMACERTO

Sofas on the Rhine. * Photo: Peter Knego

With fellow guests all back on board after a morning tour of Cologne, which was celebrating its “Carnival” holiday, AMACERTO began her upriver passage. As they headed to the Restaurant for lunch, I partook of a small salad in the Panorama Lounge, where light buffet style lunch was being served.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

AMACERTO Sun Deck chess set, facing forward. * Photo: Peter Knego

Before heading to stateroom 209 for a quick nap, I took a short walk in the brisk but fresh air up on Sun Deck. I was impressed to see a heated wading pool with a swim-up bar and an oversized chess court among the ship’s outdoor features. Once I hit the bed, it was hard to resist going into hibernation for the next 12 hours, but a very special dinner would intervene.

small ship cruise on the Rhine aboard AMACERTO

The Chef’s Table. * Photo: Peter Knego

By day, the Chef’s Table is a quiet, semi-circular room on aft Violin Deck with picture windows that overlook the AMACERTO’s wake. Each evening, it becomes an alternative dining room accommodating up to 24 guests.

On the port side of the Chef’s Table entrance, there is an open kitchen where guests can watch the chefs prepare each dish.

Table settings include linen napkins, Schott-Zwiesel stemware and olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a tapenade (olive dip), butter and salt crystals to accompany the spectacular fresh-baked breads.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

Chef’s Table seafood appetizer. * Photo: Peter Knego

The Chef’s Table offers a set menu with two entree choices (usually a surf and a turf), but vegetarian alternates can be fulfilled upon request. Wines are paired with each course and while there is no charge for this lovely experience, reservations are required.

Shortly after dinner, we arrived at Koblenz. I joined an included walking tour of this pretty little hamlet at the intersection of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers.

Our guided walk took us into the main city square, which was largely quiet after the prior night’s Carnival celebrations.

On the way back, I diverted course with some friends for a look at the dramatically lit Deutches Eck monument to Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse (1), completed in 1900 to signify the reunification of Germany. It was damaged in World War Two but rebuilt in 1993.

AMACERTO would remain at her berth until 7:00 AM but I was oblivious, finally catching up on that much-needed rest.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Curiously, despite all of the included extras and wonderful little nuances they would provide throughout the cruise, Ama doesn’t offer room service. That said, the always available specialty coffees and tea were mere steps away from my stateroom to help bring me out of a deep, self-induced torpor.

I made quick work of breakfast before heading up on deck for the passage through the spectacular Rhine Gorge. For the next several hours, the icy breeze and the brilliant sun were in a full-out battle.

small ship cruising on the Rhine with AMACERTO

Sunshine on the Rhine. * Photo: Peter Knego

Every landmark and town in the gorge was, of course indicated on a handy little map and well described in our cruise manager’s narrative but sometimes it was nice to just take a deep breath, savor the beauty and let the imagination take over as we sailed in the wake of the Romans, the Gauls, the Franks and maybe even a few Huns.

Just as I was about to head back down and warm up, the AMACERTO’s staff began circulating with some potent Rudesheimer coffee (fortified with a dose of sugar, brandy, whipped cream and chocolate). I had already revved myself up on a pair of macchiati but when on Rhine…or something like that.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

Rhine Gorge-ous! The Schoenburg Castle, built in the early 1100s and now a hotel. * Photo: Peter Knego

We continued past quaint river towns on a picture postcard perfect day under a panorama of vineyard-strewn hills topped with Medieval castles.

small ship cruising on the Rhine aboard AMACERTO

Upper and lower castles. * Photo: Peter Knego

Another favorite sight on the upriver passage is the little Pfalzgrafenstein Castle on a tiny islet upriver of the famed but not terribly photogenic Lorelei rock. Dating from the 1300s, it was a toll station situated at a dangerous turn in the river that basically could not be avoided.

At 2:00 PM, we arrived at Rudesheim. On my last visit, I took the tram up to the spectacular Niederwald Monument with its huge statue of Germannia (move over, Lady Liberty) overlooking the Rhine. It was closed due to high winds, so, after lunch, with a little persuading, I joined some 24 fellow guests for a guided bike tour. AMACERTO and her sisters carry up to 25 bikes and helmets for guests to use on guided or self-guided tours for no charge.

small ship cruising on the Rhine aboard AMACERTO

Riding on the Rhine. * Photo: Peter Knego

A lack of coordination and balance, when combined with a bike and a camera, can create some challenges. I trailed the tour, taking the occasional photo and doing my best to avoid stray dogs, strollers and darting children on the promenade. But the fall colors and the golden afternoon light made it an experience I will never forget.

We turned inward and rode through the vineyards and rolling hills near Rudesheim.

small ship cruising on the Rhine board AMACERTO

Reflections of AMACERTO. * Photo: Peter Knego

By the second rest stop, the sun had left us.

Upon our return to the brightly lit ship, we surrendered our bikes. The 20-kilometer ride ended up being a wonderful way to see the local countryside and bond with fellow guests.

With just a few minutes to spare, I capped the ride off with a run along the promenade under the especially full moon. It felt good to have paid it forward for all the gourmet cuisine that lay ahead.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

MV AMACERTO Restaurant, facing aft. * Photo: Peter Knego

We were off to the Restaurant, a handsome space cleverly designed by AmaWaterways’ co-owner Rudy Schreiner, that is enhanced with a vibrant and warm color scheme courtesy of his wife and AmaWaterways’ co-owner Kirsten Karst. Like some of the family-owned cruise lines of yore, the wildly successful and highly rated Ama is a home spun operation, conceived and orchestrated by the California-based, Austrian ex-pats. It was there that they became fond of the comfortable booth-style seating framed by the Restaurant’s oval, Riva yacht-inspired infrastructure.

Not unlike the Chef’s Table, the Restaurant settings include custom Ama chargers, Schott-Zwiesel stemware and that handy tray of olive oil and other bread embellishments.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

Rack of lamb. * Photo: Peter Knego

The service and locally sourced cuisine in the Restaurant were excellent and included a trio of starter courses, two soups, two salads, three entrees (meat, fish and vegetarian), three desserts, a cheese plate and a slew of “always available” options such as grilled steak, chicken breast or salmon, Caesar salad, coleslaw and fries. An included red and white wine choice are paired with each lunch and dinner, generously poured along with beers, soft drinks and bottled water.

At 8:30 PM, we were off on yet another included adventure, a trolley ride to the famed Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Cabinet Museum.

As corny as it sounds (and it is), your heart would have to be made of highly polished and carved wood, glass, bronze and steel to not fall in love with these intricately and beautifully designed instruments…and the guides who so devotedly and enthusiastically demonstrate them for you.

Back on our warm ship, a deejay was spinning oldies in the main lounge, but after a long, adventurous day capped off with a wine-drenched dinner and evening tour, I felt like an oldie and opted for some sleep, instead.

Sunday, November 13, 2016
small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

MV AMACERTO at Speyer. * Photo: Peter Knego

This would be my first visit to the town of Speyer, which we reached at noon, following a pastoral, if misty morning of upriver cruising. Located in the Rhineland-Palatinate county of Germany, Speyer was a Roman settlement that rose to prominence when one of its citizens, Konrad II, became King of Germany in 1024.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

Speyer Cathedral. * Photo: Peter Knego

On the included 1.5-hour walking tour, our first stop was the Speyer Cathedral, the largest surviving Romanesque church in the world. It was completed in 1,111.

Even with the clouds and chill, the fall colors were brilliant and ever present as we worked our way into the Speyer town center.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

Pretzel time. * Photo: Peter Knego

After circling the church, our tour guide led us to a popular pretzel stand where we were all presented a freshly baked pretzel to take on the road with us.

I would learn later that Ama had discretely “sponsored” our savory treat although they never let on to it. One of many nice touches during the course of an Ama journey.

Our next stop was the the Jewish quarter where we found the remains of the synagogue. Until the advent of the Third Reich, the Jewish community was well respected in Speyer.

For centuries, the still unchanged natural bath or Mikveh was used by the Jews, whose hygiene was far better than their Christian counterparts who were thusly far more susceptible to the plague.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

Off season Saturday in Speyer. * Photo: Peter Knego

After our tour, I walked with a comrade into town but most of the shops and cafes were closed. We were in between peak season and the Christmas Market season, which meant we had far fewer tourists to compete with but also that many of the local businesses were on leave.

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

AMACERTO overview. * Photo: Peter Knego

I headed back to the ship, detouring onto a nearby bridge for some photos.

Considering that most European river cruise ships are limited to set dimensions, similar shapes and drafts that can get them through the locks and under the requisite bridges, the AMACERTO has some nice external architectural nuances.

small ship river cruising on the Rhine

AMACERTO’S appetising Observation Lounge, looking forward and aft. * Photo: Peter Knego

I arrived just in time to peel off several layers of scarves and sweaters to enjoy a nice warm tea in the homey and comfortable Observation Lounge.

As I toyed with a plate of cakes and delicious homemade cookies from the bar, I enjoyed listening to fellow guests parse the results of the U.S. election.

I managed to squeeze in a quick workout in the gym, which has two stationary bikes, a treadmill, a rowing machine and free weights. After another delightful dinner, there was a group music quiz in the Lounge with the added catch that guests had to actually sing and dance to earn their points. Another glass of wine, please.

Here’s Part 2 of this story!

 

small ship cruising on the Rhine River aboard AMACERTO

Banks of AMACERTO. * Photo: Peter Knego

* All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2016 unless otherwise noted.

 

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family river cruising

My sons’ first cruise at 9 months old. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

By Heidi Sarna.

You could say we wrote the book on family cruising. My 14-year-old twin sons have been on more than 30 cruises with their travel writer mom. In the early years — their first cruise was at 9 months — it was the big ships that suited us best. Cribs, babysitting, playrooms, kiddy pools and video arcades were needless-to-say vital amenities at that time. As they got older, we began drifting toward the small ship cruises that I have always preferred and which I feel are more educational and memorable for my boys in the long run. We started on Ponant’s L’Austral along the Croatian Coast when they were 10, enjoying snorkeling excursions, bike rides and treks to old hilltop castles.

The next summer it was the Star Flyer in the Greek Isles where we paddle-boarded in the sea, rode motor scooters along insanely gorgeous winding island roads and dug into delicious calamari, creamy feta cheese and crusty bread in local tavernas. In their 12th year, it was an awesome cruise on the historic and adorable little Juno across Sweden’s Gota Canal after a week at a youth soccer tournament in Gothenberg, watching the boat go in and out, up and down, a series of 66 locks, and sometimes riding the boats’ bicycles along the tow path.

Star Clipper Greek Isles

Family fun on the bow sprit. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Last summer, I planned a Rhine River cruise aboard the 130-passenger River Empress, one of Uniworld Boutique Cruises‘ fleet of sleek high-end river boats. I won’t kid you, my boys had pleaded with me to choose a big-ship cruise — they missed them after so many years — where they could play basketball and ping pong, and spend every lunch time at the pizza counter and ice-cream machine with gaggles of other kids.

While I could see where they were coming from, I wasn’t budging on the family river cruise. They’d wind up enjoying themselves, maybe even loving it, as they did those other small-ship cruises we have taken. Exploring some major European cities they hadn’t been to before in Germany and Holland would be great for them — the history, the food and the cultural buzz — and I wanted them to see all of those medieval fairytale castles along the Rhine. Our July sailing was one of Uniworld’s series of annual family river cruises, so there would be other children and special efforts made to please young cruisers as well as mom and dad, including having lots of bicycles on board for use in port.

In the end, they made the best of it, and we all had a ball. But don’t take my word for it: here’s my teen sons’ take on their family river cruise on the Rhine:

family river cruising

The elegant main lounge and the ship’s hub. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Q: What were your first impressions when we first boarded the River Empress?

Tejas: I expected a big retro sailing boat/yacht, much like my last experience on a river cruise, however I was really surprised and happy to find a beautiful modern reception and lounge!

Kavi: I thought the River Empress was quite fancy as the lobby was very elegant with lots of glass and chandeliers all around the place. The front lounge area seemed very cozy and it was nice how they provided plug points for all different countries.

Q:  What were your favorite rooms on River Empress?


Tejas: I think the whole ship was great, but I especially loved the cabins, ‘kids room’ and dining room. I loved the cabin because the bed and bathroom was lit (aka “cool”) and the TV had a really good movie selection. The kids’ room was actually the ‘captains lounge’ reconfigured so that kids could play on a play station, as well as sit on small tables to play board games. This was a great place where all the kids met to play FIFA. I also really liked the dining room because it was really fancy, and the buffet selection as well as the menu was stockpiled with great food.

Kavi: I thought that the top of the boat was the nicest part as I could see up and down the river. I really enjoyed one of the days when we could eat up there and see as all the castles went by. The whole journey was very scenic so even if there were no castles it was always a very nice view.

family river cruising

The boys’ favorite spot on the boat. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Q:  What were your favorite things to DO on the boat?

Tejas:  Watch movies in my room or play FIFA with the other kids.

Kavi: Probably either playing video games in the captains lounge or looking at the scenery from on top of the boat. I especially enjoyed reading up there as it was very peaceful.

Q:  Did you appreciate the bicycles we could all use?

Tejas:  Yeah that was great and really fun.

Kavi: I really liked the bicycles that we got to use as I much preferred biking around the ports than walking.

family river cruising

You can bike every day in port along the Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


Q:  What did you think of the food?

Tejas:  I loved everything especially the lunches. I can’t choose anything specific cause there was such a great variety of delicious food.

Kavi: I really enjoyed the wide variety of food they had at the lunch buffet and at dinner, but my favourite food had to be the club sandwich that was available at the lounge area.

family river cruising

The view from mountains above Rudesheim. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Q:  What were your favorite ports?

Tejas: I liked the ports where we got off and just biked, and we didn’t have to go on a long boring guided tour or bus ride.

Kavi: My favourite port was Rudesheim as I enjoyed the view from the top of the hill and also enjoyed walking down. Another nice thing was the long bike ride that we did and it was really nice riding next to the river.

 
Q:  What did you like more about the River Empress compared to the big giant ships you’ve been on? 

Tejas: I liked how you got to know everyone really well. Things were also incredibly efficient and easy, compared to big ships where you have to wait for ages to get on and off at ports and other things like that.

Kavi: The ship was better than the bigger ships as there was less space so you could go everywhere very quickly and also you got to know a lot of people on the ship.

small ship cruising for families

Just about everyone is mingling on the top deck on sunny, scenic days. * Photo: Heidi Sarna


Q:  What did you like less about the River Empress compared to the big ships you’ve been on? 

Tejas: I prefer big ships because there are way more people to meet, and things to do, and of course sea days are really really fun. I also like that big ships are big so you can really explore the place and find different things. WiFi is also an astronomical benefit, but we got used to not having it on the river cruise.

Kavi: I prefer the big ships as there is much more choice and lots more to do.

Q: If you had to describe the River Empress cruise experience to a friend in one sentence, what would you say?

Tejas: A nice and relaxing holiday.

Kavi: It was a nice family boat with lots of nice people and fun things to do.

family river cruising

My teens in the elegant main lounge on River Empress. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

 

 

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Reviewer RL from the USA Cruise Line Uniworld River Cruises Ship River Countess Destination Italy's Po River # of Nights ...
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Reviewer: TJ from Singapore (age 13). Cruise Line: Uniworld River Cruises. Ship: River Empress. Destination: Rhine River in Germany and France ...
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Reviewer: Kavi from Singapore (age 13). Cruise Line: Uniworld River Cruises. Ship: River Empress. Destination: Rhine River in Germany and France. # ...
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Reviewer: Mike from New York City. Cruise Line: Uniworld River Cruises. Ship: River Empress. Destination: The Rhine River in Germany and France ...
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QuirkyCruise Review QuirkyCruise Review About Uniworld

Snapshot

What more could you ask for in a river cruise: luxury interiors, cushy cabins with amazing beds, all-inclusive fares and a fleet of bicycles on board for pedalling in port whenever the whim strikes.

Uniworld operates river cruises in many parts of the world with a heavy concentration on the rivers of Northern, Southern and Eastern Europe, including Russia. The river cruise line is one of the 30 brands of The Travel Corporation that operates family, youth, guided, independent, safari and adventure travel, as well as river cruising, and hotels in 70 countries on six continents. The river cruise line is considered to be at the top of the market and is known for being truly all-inclusive. A Generations Program designed for families has specific Europe river departures for children, tweens and teens. The newish “U BY UNIWORLD” program originally targeted travelers in the 18 to 40 age range, and now these river cruises are offered to all adult passengers upon two renovated ships — River Baroness and the River Ambassador — redesigned with a more contemporary look and features like communal tables for dining, creative cocktails and international DJ’s onboard while sailing on the major European rivers to exciting ports like Paris, Amsterdam and Budapest.

Uniworld Ships, Years Delivered & Passenger Profile

The European fleet takes from 118 to 159 passengers (Russia 202 passengers), and the riverboats are new or recently rebuilt to provide many of the same amenities as the newest units. S.S. MARINA THERESA (built 2015 & 150 passengers); S.S. CATHERINE (b. 2014 & 159 p); S.S. ANTOINETTE (b. 2011 & 154 p); RIVER BEATRICE (b. 2011 & 156 p); RIVER QUEEN (b. 1999/remodeled 2010 & 128 p); RIVER ROYALE (b. 2006/remodeled 2014 & 130 p) now operates at S.S. BON VOYAGE with added features such as a top deck pool, lounge and three restaurants – casual dining, the main restaurant offering a cooking demonstration area plus a bistro; RIVER COUNTESS (b. 2003/remodeled 2012 & 130 p); RIVER DUCHESS (b. 2003/remodeled 2012 & 130 p); RIVER EMPRESS (b. 2001/remodeled 2014 & 130 p); RIvER BARONESS (b. 1994/remodeled 2011 & 116 p); RIVER PRINCESS (b. 2001/remodeled 2011 &130 p); RIVER AMBASSADOR (b. 1993/remodeled 2011 & 116 p); QUEEN ISABEL (b. 2013 & 118 p); and on the Russian waterways RIVER VICTORIA (b. 2011 & 202 p). Added in 2017 is the 128-passenger S.S. JOIE DE VIVRE that will allow a greater variety of river trips along the Seine, plus excursions to Paris, Versailles and the Normandy beaches. N.B. LA VENEZIA (remodeled 2020 & 126 p) for 8- & 10-day cruises to access destinations on and near the Po River, Venice and nearby islands, and Milan.

DSC_2895 Uniworld S.S. MARIA THERESA

Passing Budapest’s Parliament. * Photo: Uniworld

Uniworld River Cruises Outside Europe are Briefly Listed Here

A 7-night Nile cruise aboard the 82-passenger RIVER TOSCA and a hotel stay in Cairo add up to a 12-day cruise tour, January through May then resuming at the end of September. A 7-night Ganges River cruise aboard the GANGES VOYAGER II and a land tour including New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Kolkata adds up to a 13-day cruise tour with departures September through March. In Southeast Asia, a 7-night Mekong River cruise aboard the French colonial-style MEKONG NAVIGATOR combines with a 7-night hotel stay in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City with departures year-round except April and May. The MEKONG JEWEL will double the departures beginning in 2020. Yangtze River and China cruise tours last from 11 to 18 days year-round with a 3- or 4-night river cruise aboard the CENTURY LEGEND or SANCTUARY YANGZI EXPLORER.

N.B. Beginning in September 2020, Uniworld will be offering a Peruvian Amazon program featuring two itineraries: an 11-day cruise tour that include Lima and a cruise to Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and a 15-day combination of Machu Picchu exploration and a week’s Peruvian Amazon cruise. The riverboat ARIA AMAZON offers 15-suites, all with large picture windows. Included are all excursions, wines and spirits, and gratuities.

Uniworld Passenger Profile

While most river cruisers are 50 and up, several offerings will appeal to multi-generational families who would like to vacation together. The latter are scheduled in the summer holidays and December, and extra bicycles (including child sizes) are brought on board for guided and independent pedaling in port whenever the mood strikes. Solo travelers will find that a wide selection of European river departures have a waived or low single supplement.

Uniworld Passenger Decks

The fleet has two or three cabin decks, and elevators operate between all except lowest deck on RIVER QUEEN, RIVER ROYALE and no elevator on RIVER AMBASSADOR & RIVER BARONESS. RIVER VICTORIA has 4 cabin decks and no elevator to the lowest deck. As is common on riverboats, none have elevators that rise to the Sun Deck.

Price

$$$  Super Pricey. For families, some departures offer 50% for ages 4-18, and a few even offer free accommodations when traveling with two adults.

Included Features

All shore excursions at differing levels of activity, gratuities on board and off (ie to tour guides), alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (limited to dinners in Russia), Internet and WiFi, use of bicycles.

Fisherman's Bastion, Buda section of Budapest. * Photo; Ted Scull

Fisherman’s Bastion, Buda section of Budapest. * Photo; Ted Scull

Uniworld Itineraries

Operated as both European river cruises-only and others with land and hotel extensions ranging from 8 to 15 days, with longer travel options lasting up to three and four weeks. European itineraries cover the Rhine, Moselle, Rhine, Main, Danube, Seine, Rhone & Saone, Gironde, Garonne & Dordogne, Douro, Po & Venice Lagoon and Russian rivers canals and waterways between St. Petersburg and Moscow.

For example: 10-day cruise-tours in North Italy include a land portion from Milan to Venice then on Day 3 to Day 10 live aboard the River Countess docked in Venice and sailing the Po River. 15-day cruise-tours include the above then add four days to visit Florence and Rome.

Further afield are river journeys in Egypt, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, and India’s Ganges River.

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Uniworld’s map of European river cruises.* Photo: Uniworld

Why Go?

Oceangoing cruises touch at coastal ports, while inland cities and scenic destinations are often a longish bus ride there and back (think Berlin, Bruges, Ghent, Paris, Avignon, etc.) while river cruises take you directly to the doorstep and to many other great cities and sights.

When to Go?

River cruises are operated seasonally, and often not at all in November, January, February and often into March. Christmas markets cruises are the exception in December. While there are fewer crowds in the spring, rain may also limit independent activities ashore, while the fall sees less tourists and often nicer weather.

Uniworld Cabins

Attractively and individually furnished with private balconies for some of the top accommodations, and French balconies with small rectangular windows high in the room on the lowest deck. Most standard cabins measure 150-160 sq. ft. with a few as small at 128 sq. ft., and suites 214 to 410 sq. ft. Cabins offer TV, telephone, bottled water, and safe, while many suites have butler service, and all suite offer room service for breakfast, daily fruit and snacks, stocked minibar, bottle of wine upon arrival, and free laundry service.

A lovely standard cabin aboard River Empress. * Credit: Uniworld Cruises

A lovely standard cabin aboard River Empress. * Credit: Uniworld Cruises

Uniworld Public Rooms

The furnishings and original artworks are lavish for riverboats, and the newer vessels have two lounges with bars, while the very newest add heated swimming pools. Nearly all but the oldest have a complimentary guest laundry room — unusual on riverboats — and all have a spa and fitness room, sun deck with open and covered lounge seating, life-size chess pieces and free Internet and WiFi (though signals can be weak).

Uniworld Dining

The main restaurants seat all at one open sitting and dinner is from a menu while breakfast (with eggs to order) and lunch are buffets. In addition, there is an early riser breakfast, and light lunch options are in the main lounge and in the Sky Lounge or on the Sun Deck when weather permits. Afternoon tea is served in the main lounge, and al fresco dinners in the Sun Lounge or on the Sun Deck, again weather permitting. The food is very good and there typically at least one local option at lunch and dinner (ie Wienerschnitzel, sausages and sauerkraut on a Rhine cruise). Beer, wine and soft drinks are complimentary at meal time and any time of day (dinner only in Russia). Family departures offer children’s menus.

Wienershnitzel (pork) for lunch on board. * Heidi Sarna

Wienershnitzel (pork) for lunch on board. * Heidi Sarna

Uniworld Activities & Entertainment

Shore excursion choices fall into several categories: Choice is Yours is either to go on a first timers excursion or one that is less visited; Go Active might mean by bicycle either with a guide (historian or naturalist) or on your own; Do As Locals Do meets with local people; Village Day may involve a visit to a small town, workshop and/or farm; Special Visits are arranged for instance to a noble’s property or an evening visit when a site is normally closed to the public; and Gentle Walking means going at a relaxed pace with a guide, or remain on board and visit the spa or simply relax. While underway or at the end of the day, onboard lectures will feature art and cultural historians. The Generations family program includes some supervised children’s activities aboard, from pastry making demos to face painting and knot tying, and ashore, with excursions to places like interactive museums and forest adventure climbing parks. Uniworld teamed up with top travel operator Butterfield & Robinson to offer special river cruise departures using bicycles for exploring much of the way along the Danube between Passau and Budapest, returning to the boat every afternoon.

Biking along the Rhine in Basel before the it's time to sail. * Heidi Sarna

Biking along the Rhine in Basel before the it’s time to sail. * Heidi Sarna

Special Notes

Singles rates are reduced or waived on a wide selection of dates and itineraries. There are especially marked family departures in the summer.

Along the Same Lines

Scenic & Crystal River Cruises.

Contact

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises, 17323 Venture Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 91316; Uniworld.com; 800-257-2407

— TWS & HMS

© This article is protected by copyright, no part may be reproduced by any process without written permission from the author. All Rights Reserved. QuirkyCruise.com.

Rhine River Family Cruises

By Heidi Sarna. 

By the end of our weeklong Rhine River cruise last July, we had forgotten that months earlier my 13-year-old twin boys had grumbled and pleaded for us to do a big ship cruise where they could play Ping-Pong, shoot hoops and zip down a water slide with other teens.

Rhine River Family Cruises

The River Empress. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Their transformation to the other side started within minutes of arriving at the 130-passenger River Empress. Turns out my experienced more-erudite-than-I-realized offspring were very impressed that a smiling crew member (who we later realized was the master himself, Captain Henk Plaatje!) trotted up to our taxi the moment we reached the pier to whisk our suitcases onto the vessel. Straight away we were shown to comfy sofas in the fancy main lounge, a sea of damask, brocade and gilded picture frames. We were offered drinks and snacks in silver bowls to while away an hour or two until our cabin was ready. We were happy campers.

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small ship river river cruises

My sons in the elegant River Empress lounge, even teens appreciate the finer things in life. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

My boys loved their cabin across the hall from our identical room, with its large windows peering out just a few feet above the river and nest-like beds covered in thick European-style duvets and huge pillows. Over the week, they enjoyed many on-demand movies on the TV, from Ant Man to Monument Men, Meet the Parents and Gandhi, welcome consolation given the weak Wifi on board ruled out playing on their phones or laptops. Though they were definitely not happy about this initially, they got over it pretty fast and it wound up being a blessing that pushed them to socialize the old fashioned way.

Until fairly recently, river cruises in Europe were strictly a seniors-only affair — all about older couples planted on deck watching the scenery float by with a cup of tea or a glass of rosé. Not anymore. On our sailing there were 39 kids under age 18. Uniworld, like some other companies, including Disney Cruise Line, are offering more special family cruises than ever before, mostly during the summer. In 2017, Uniworld has 22 scheduled.

small ship cruises on the Rhine

The gorgeous Middle Rhine attracts the attention of two brothers. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Europe river cruises work well for families for a few reasons: their intimate size makes it easy to meet to new friends; they stop at one or two ports a day, assuring no one gets stir crazy being on board for too long; many carry bicycles for use in port; and rivers are serene places to sail with little chance for choppy water.

Our “Castles along the Rhine” itinerary from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam was a week of back-to-back visits to medieval towns and cities along both the French and German sides of the Rhine. Each of the seven ports offered some combination of charming timbered buildings painted in bright colors, towering Gothic cathedrals and wending old canals lined with flowers. Walking tours and other excursions in every port are included in the fares, with several designed for kids on our sailing such as an adventure climbing park.

RELATED: A 5-night wine country river cruise from Bordeaux France …. by Heidi Sarna

small ship cruising on the rhine

Gorgeous scenery in every port of a Rhine cruise, here Strasbourg. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Picturesque Ports

Our favorite stops included Strasbourg, the capital city of the Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine region of France and a lovely town of cobbled traffic-free lanes and the Grand Île Unesco World Heritage site, an island within the city bordered by canals and home to the 15th-century gothic Strasbourg cathedral and other old churches.

We also loved Speyer, on the German side of the river. Here, we split up, our boys going with a group of other kids and some parents on a guided excursion to a transportation museum to walk on the wing of a retired Boeing 747. My husband and I, along with another couple from the boat, choose a guided tour of the massive and beautiful Speyer Cathedral, dating back to the 11th century and considered artistically and architecturally to be one of the most significant examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe. It’s been a Unesco World Heritage site since 1981. After the tour, we headed to the nearby Domhof Hausbrauerei for some liquid refreshments. 

Enjoying a tasty mug at the Domhof Brewey in Speyer. * Photo: anonymous

In Rudesheim, Germany, we took a cable car ride above the emerald-green hillside vineyards to Niederwald Heights for a nature walk and views of a particularly scenic section of the Rhine Valley. One son joined us for the outing, and the other stayed on board to sleep in. Later that day, the kids especially liked tours of two castles in this region, Rheinstein and Marksburg, where they could climb up inside narrow towers, try on armor and learn about life in medieval times.

The big draw in Cologne was its massive Gothic cathedral with its towering spires and gorgeous stained glass, particularly a modern abstract window by German artist Gerhard Richter that really caught my eye.

Rhine River Family Cruises

It’s a castle fest on the middle Rhine. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

The highlight of the week was clearly the two days spent on the gorgeous Middle Rhine, from Rudesheim to Koblenz, the classic region where medieval castles one after another seem to grow out of the steep rocky slopes, in between quilt-like patches of vineyards, deservedly earning the area Unesco World Heritage status.

Bicycling Every Day

A big plus for our family was the option to use the boat’s complimentary bicycles in port. Nearly every day we hopped on one of the sturdy Swiss-made bikes for rides along the paths flanking the river.  As the boat only departed Basel in the evening, after lunch on our first day we headed out along the Rhine, towards the center of Basel, pedaling past an arty industrial area, a bustling sunbathing spot and an elegant neighborhood of river-facing mansions. We got up-close views of the popular summertime pastime of “Rheinschwimmen,” when adventurous folks hop into the water for a float down a section of the cold fast-moving Rhine River clutching brightly colored backpack-like waterproof bags sold all over town to keep phones and wallets dry.

Another day we signed up for one of the week’s handful of guided tours, the four of us and about 15 others disembarking at Boppard and riding for about 20 kilometers behind the ship’s fitness instructor, to Koblenz. It was a lovely pedal that meandered along the river, through villages and past hillside vineyards. Another day docked in Germersheim, after our excursion in Speyer, I biked solo for an hour along a quiet undeveloped stretch of the river. Bikes are available on every sailing, and extras are brought on board for family cruises (about 40 on our voyage, including child sizes).

Rhine River Family Cruises

You can bike every day in port on a Rhine cruise. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Unfortunately, not all of the 1,320-kilometer Rhine is so scenic, including the southern part between Basel and Strasbourg that was canalized in the 1930s and 40s to improve navigability. Industrial complexes with belching smokestacks, especially around Ludwigshafen, Cologne and Dusseldorf, dot other sections of the Rhine. Read more about the history and science of the Rhine HERE.

Luckily during those bits, most people were happy to hit the small gym or spa, attend the once- or twice-weekly lectures (on our cruise, a children’s book author did a reading), or chill in their comfortable cabin. Four suites measure 214 square feet and the rest of the rooms 151 square feet, all with smart fabric wall treatments, marble-clad bathrooms, plush Savoir beds handcrafted in England, and large windows or sliding doors (French balconies) just a few feet above the river. As there are no connecting cabins or triples (as is the case on most river boats), families must book multiple cabins.

A lovely standard cabin aboard River Empress. * Credit: Uniworld Cruises

While some kids stuck to their parents and others were older teens, on our cruise about 20 formed a vibrant kid community that thrived whenever they were on board, which was usually mid afternoons onwards after the shore excursions wrapped up. From a precocious and popular 5-year-old from England to my guys at the upper end of the age bracket, the band spent many hours in the playroom (the converted library for the week) taking turns playing FIFA soccer video games and generally having a ball, racing back and forth to the big jars of marshmallows and Gummy Bears offered for the week on a marble-topped credenza in the Main Lounge.

The kids gaming room for the week was a natural hub. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Two extra crew members were on board for our family cruise to help supervise the kiddos and special activities like a story-reading session, knot tying, strudel-making class and long kids’ tables at dinner. During the big day zigzagging along the Middle Rhine past all those legendary medieval castles, the kids piled toppings onto still-warm waffles at a mini buffet set up at one end of the sun-drenched top deck, while the adults snapped photos, listened to short narratives on the personal tour-guide devices everyone had been issued, chatted with new friends, soaked up the scenery, and sipped glasses of chardonnay and German lager.

small ship cruises with kids

Kids joined planned activities like knot tying and pastry making, and also did their own thing. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Dinner & After

As a family, we all looked forward to mealtime in the stylish restaurant, with its red leather upholstery, green water glasses, and floor-to-ceiling windows that allowed the river scene to be the backdrop as we ate. At the lunch buffet, my boys gravitated to the pasta with alfredo sauce, fish and chips, carving station, and sandwiches, while mom and dad hit the salad bar and sampled the German options, from Weinershnitzel and potato salad, to sauerkraut and sausages. At dinner, jackets weren’t required but many wore them anyway. Menus featured several options for every course including a regional dish, the likes of a delicious roasted chicken with mushroom gravy, escargot Alsace style with a splash of Reisling, and traditional Blackforest cake. Kids could also choose from their own menu, with classics like macaroni and cheese, and burgers.

small ship cruises on the Rhine RIver

Great views of the river scene while dining. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

For the adults, complimentary red and white wine were generously poured at dinner, usually one or both were German or French from the Alsace region. Before and after dinner each day, we always hit the elegant Main Lounge to relax with a glass or two of the dry and tasty Sekt German sparkling wine, and listen to the talented Cezar sing and play piano. Pre-dinner there was a talk from the cruise director about the following day’s highlights. Post dining, musical acts were brought on board a few nights for the grown-ups, while the kids went back to their virtual soccer tournaments or to the small Patio Lounge down on Deck 1 to play board games and drink hot chocolate from a coffee and drinks machines on call 24/7.

Each day was perfect, as the River Empress with its lovely interiors and excellent service glided down the Rhine to some of Europe’s most charming towns and cities. What a wonderful family holiday.

Our first family Rhine River cruise and we’d do it again in a heart beat. * Photo: Heidi Sarna

Tips
  • Fares include meals, shore excursions, tips, and wine, spirits and soft drinks. Family sailings tend to be higher priced than non-family sailings because there are special activities and excursions offered.
  • Basel and Amsterdam are two beautiful and historic cities that are definitely worth a few day’s stay before and after the cruise.
  • Bring layers, as summers temps on this itinerary can vary between the 60s in Amsterdam and the 80s and 90s in Basel.
  • For more info, see QuirkyCruise’s Uniworld profile or go to www.uniworld.com.

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Kristen from Singapore.

Cruise Line: Viking River Cruises.

Ship: Viking Prestige.

Destination: “Danube Waltz” in Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Germany and Czech Republic.

# of Nights: 7.

Departure Date & Ports:  Sept 2016, from Budapest (Hungary) to Passau (Germany).

OVERALL RATING: 4 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? Yes, but not a river cruise.

Review: Though the Prestige was a Bit Tired, Overall a Wonderful Experience.

Doing a river cruise is a wonderful way to see cities that are close together but spread over various countries (Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Germany and Czech Republic). You can relax and enjoy the scenery (even with a glass of wine as you are not driving!) and never have to unpack/repack. Both of these are huge perks.  And you even get lots of history and facts whilst sailing. The Viking group did a great job of nailing the correct amount of time in each port and also providing a lot of good excursions. The staff is well trained and very friendly. I would make sure that you research your boat/line carefully as while many are good, they each have unique features that will appeal to different people. For example, the Prestige was one of Viking’s older boats and was a bit tired.  It also did not have a gym, but none of their boats do as that is not in their philosophy.  Other lines have small gyms and other items that might appeal to each person, such as on board bicycles for use on shore. But, with Viking being such an experienced line, they tended to attend to all the details very well. Overall it was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it!!

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

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QuirkyCruise reader review

Reviewer: Mike from New York City.

Cruise Line: Uniworld River Cruises.

Ship: River Empress.

Destination: The Rhine River in Germany and France.

# of Nights: 7.

Departure Date & Ports:  July 2016, from Basel, Switzerland, to Amsterdam, visiting Colmar, Strasbourg, Speyer, Rudesheim, Boppard, Koblenz and Cologne.

OVERALL RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

Have you been on a small ship cruise before? Yes, a few.

Review: Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended!

A European river cruise truly gives hop on/hop off a whole new dimension sailing seamlessly between historic cities and towering vistas along the Rhine. The vessel was luxurious, the dining sumptuous, the service impeccable and, best of all, alighting straight onto the banks of a charming river-side port was a welcome change from the tedium of the traditional big-ship tender process.

See more QuirkyCruise Reader Reviews here, honest feedback from real passengers!!

 

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QuirkyCruise reader review
Reviewer

Suvir from Singapore

Cruise Line

Viking River Cruises

Ship

Viking Prestige

Destination

Europe

# of Nights

7

Departure Date & Ports

September 2016 from Budapest, Hungary, visiting Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria and Germany.

OVERALL RATING

4 out of 5 stars

Have you been on a small ship cruise before?

Yes, many years ago

Review

A Great Europe Overview

Overall – this was a great way to cover many countries (Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic (Optional Excursion), Austria and Germany) in a week. The ship stops at both quaint smaller towns as well as capitals like Budapest and Vienna. Upgrading to a suite was a decision well worth the extra money given the significantly larger space and amenities (like free laundry). The clientele were generally older Americans who did not have much cruising experience. Staff were personable and both the hotel manager (Zoltan) and the Cruise Director (Daniella) were excellent). The premium wine package was unnecessary so I would not pay extra for that. The ship was well laid and we spent much of the time on board in the lounge or on the upper sun deck. All in all – a worthwhile experience.

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small ship cruises Uniworld announcement

small ship cruises Uniworld announcementUniworld Boutique River Cruises just announced a new program in the works: “U BY UNIWORLD” targeting active travelers between the ages of 18 and 40. Plans include the redesign of two Uniworld ships, the River Baroness and River Ambassador, to create a more contemporary look with features like communal tables for dining, hip cocktails and international DJ’s on board while sailing on Europe’s major rivers. The focus is to be on adventurous excursions and experiences in exciting cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Budapest, with extra time spent in port so passengers can check out the nightlife and restaurant scene.

“U BY UNIWORLD is poised to define the river exploring experience for an entirely new demographic,” said Brett Tollman, Chief Executive of The Travel Corporation (TTC), the parent company of Uniworld as well as youth-focused tour operators Contiki and Busabout,

Uniworld hasn’t released many details yet, but the idea is very intriguing and we’re eager to see where it goes. The line promises to share more info in early 2017; the first cruises are set to debut in early 2018 and go on sale in March 2017. Stay tuned.

small ship cruises copyright

 

Rendering of Crystal's new river boats. * Crystal Cruises

Rendering of Crystal’s new river boats. * Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises has just announced a series of tweaks and revisions to its previously announced expansion plans. Currently, besides the line’s 1,070-passenger CRYSTAL SERENITY and 922-passenger CRYSTAL SYMPHONY, the line consists of the 62-passenger expedition-style ESPRIT, which debuted in the Seychelles in December 2015, and the 158-passenger CRYSTAL MOZART riverboat which debuted in Europe in July 2016.

The line still intends to build six new river boats (though has nixed plans to build two for French rivers), the first pair to debut in 2017: the 110-passenger CRYSTAL BACH and CRYSTAL MAHLER will cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, and boast 250-square-foot suites with walk-in closets. They will introduce two more river boats in 2018, and another pair at an unspecified date.

Crystal currently operates a 12-passenger private jet and says they are adding a Boeing 777 (and not a Boeing 787 Dreamliner as announced previously) for luxury air trips in 2017.

To join the ESPRIT, Crystal has plans for three new expedition ships (two more than previously announced) to start sailing the polar regions in 2019 (a year later than originally announced), 2020 and 2021, with the first to be called CRYSTAL ENDEAVOR.

Crystal has pushed back plans for the first of a new trio of 1,000-passenger luxury ship to 2022 (from an original target date of 2018).

Earlier this year, the Crystal also canceled its plans to revive the famed SS United States ocean liner, a beloved classic languishing and laid up in Philadelphia.