Never having been on a cruise of any kind before, I was not quite sure what to expect as we joined the Amadeus Princess ship at Basel for our Rhine River Cruise with Lüftner Cruises. I’d heard that the European river cruise ships have the intimate atmosphere of a small hotel, but that everything is on the compact side as the boats are restricted in height and width so that they can fit through the locks and under the bridges as they pass down the rivers of Europe.
The ship proved to be an extremely comfortable base for our cruise and had all the conveniences we required in our cabin and in the public areas of the ship. So if you’re considering taking a European river cruise, here’s what you might expect based on our our experience with Lüftner Cruises;
I hope you enjoy the video tour below of the Amadeus Princess river cruise ship
Who will my fellow passengers be?
The Amadeus Princess is one of a fleet of 11 ships owned by Lüftner Cruises and with 80 cabins the guest list will typically be 150-160 people, making it easy to make friends on board while mingling in the bar lounge and on the excursions. The languages used on board were English and German and on our cruise there were a couple of large tour groups from the USA and Israel as well as couples and groups of friends from the USA, Canada and Germany. We learned that large tour groups often use river cruise ships for bookings, so the nationalities of the passengers may vary between cruises, but there’s typically an international mixture. With a few exceptions, most of the passengers on the cruise were in their 50s, 60s and 70s and typically seemed to be the active retired who were keen to get out and explore the history and landscape of the Rhine. As one American guest put it “This cruise is history come alive for me”
What will my cabin be like?
Our cabin was on the Mozart deck, the highest of the 3 levels of cabins and one below the open sun deck, with floor to ceiling French windows that we could open to give a balcony effect. The cabins on this deck were in the highest price band, but I would have been equally happy to have a cabin on the Strauss deck below, which were slightly cheaper, although the few cabins on the lowest Hayden deck had smaller windows. The room was compact by hotel standards but had everything that we needed for a pleasant stay; a large double bed with bedside lights; a narrow dressing table with a mirror above and cupboards below, 2 power points and just room to perch my laptop. We had room to stow our cases under the bed and for clothes storage there was a double wardrobe and a total of 6 drawers. In a cupboard there was a small safe which was suitable to store smaller valuables although not large enough for my laptop.
Like the bedroom, the bathroom, with shower, sink and toilet was compact but had everything that we needed, some nice mini toiletries, a cupboard under the sink and a well-lit mirror. I wondered whether there might be a problem if everyone on the boat decided to take a shower at once, but this was never a problem as the ship has huge water tanks and we had a good hot shower whenever we wanted.
Where can I relax on board?
Our first evening started with a welcome cocktail in the Panorama Bar when the crew were all introduced and we felt that the cruise was well and truly underway. This lounge bar occupied the front end of the ship on the top level with access to a small deck area where you could sit and get a view as the ship progressed down the river. The Panorama Bar was a little crowded if all the cruise guests were in there at once, but normally this was not an issue as guests filtered in an out for a pre or post-dinner drink, for afternoon tea or for evening talks about the next day’s events and excursions. It was a pleasant place to socialise and to make friends with other guests.
For those who wanted a quieter place to read or play games, there was the Amadeus Club at the back of the ship with comfortable leather seats, a TV area and a couple of computer stations where you could connect to the Internet for an additional charge. The upper sun deck stretched the whole length of the ship with plenty of chairs to sit outside, and space to play games such as chess. Because we were travelling in May when the weather was changeable and because we spent a lot of time on excursions, we didn’t spend much time on the sun deck, but in summer I think this would be a lovely place to sit in the sun and take in the scenery as it drifts by.
What is the food like on board?
Immediately below the Panorama Bar at the front of the ship, was the Panorama restaurant, where we took all our meals, with breakfast, lunch and dinner being included in the cruise. On our Lüftner Cruise the table seating plan had been pre-arranged but there was an opportunity to go and talk to the restaurant manager about your table when you boarded. I’ve heard that some other cruises have a free seating arrangement, enabling you to sit at different tables each day, however on our cruise there was a fixed restaurant table for the duration of the cruise. Our table worked well for us as we had a location by the window and pleasant table companions, but I spoke to some guests who were disappointed that they didn’t have a table with a river view.
We were very impressed with the quality of the food on board as we had a three course lunch and a four course dinner every day as well as a breakfast buffet with hot dishes, pastries, fruits, cereals and yogurts, cheese and cold meats. There was a wide variety and even though some elements of the meal, such as the cheeses and cold meats at breakfast or the salads at lunch were standard, I noticed that each day the selection was slightly different. Our typical lunch menu would be an entrée of salad and soups from a buffet, followed by a choice of three hot dishes including a fish and vegetarian option from the menu and a desert buffet of fruits and gateaux. For dinner a typical menu was a salad or meat entrée and soup course followed by a meat dish such as medallions of pork or roast beef in a mustard crust or alternatively a fish or vegetarian option. All the food was beautifully presented and the service was excellent with the same waiters and bar staff serving us throughout the cruise. Table wine was served with the evening meal but you could also purchase bottles from the wine menu with all meals.
What will I need to pack?
The dress code on board the ship was relaxed, with no requirement to dress formally. As much of the day was spent on walking tours and excursions, comfortable flat shoes, layers of clothes to cope with the changeable weather and waterproofs in case of showers were the order of the day. For dinner most passengers dressed up, but even so it was more smart-casual than dressy and only a few gentlemen wore a jacket at dinner – certainly no need to pack your evening gown or dinner jacket!
In terms of other things that you might need, there were a couple of sockets in the cabin which would be sufficient for most people but as I had a fair amount of electronic equipment to charge, I took an extension lead with 4 extra sockets as well as my normal European plug adaptor. Although I would normally pack a guide book, I found that if you were planning to take excursions this was unnecessary, as every tour we took had an excellent local guide and a lot of information was also provided on board about the places we would be visiting. There was no money exchange or banking facility on board, but we found that there was an ATM at almost every place we visited and that this was the best way to get local currency.
What will my typical cruise day look like?
We quickly we got into the rhythm of the cruise which for us involved tours of the interesting towns and villages where we stopped, so we didn’t spend too much time on board the ship during the day. After breakfast each morning we would join our tour group on the quayside with a local guide, who would either take us on a walking tour directly from the boat, or we would be driven by coach, mini-bus or even tourist train to our starting point. Having always been an independent traveller I’ve never much gone for guided tours, but found that the quality of the tour guides was really excellent and that they filled the tour with plenty of interesting information, anecdotes and local knowledge that you could never have gleaned from a guidebook.
If you opted not to take every tour, you might spend more time on board and enjoy the afternoon tea served in the Panorama Bar, or do your own sightseeing directly from the boat, as most times we were were moored within walking distance of the towns we were visiting. Bicycles were also available for guests to borrow, with locks and helmets, which was another good way to get out on your own and explore or take a ride along the river, as we did from Cochem on our last day.
I was surprised that the ship did most of the sailing by night, and it was only when we passed through the famous Middle Rhine section with the castles and Loreley rock that we were all on deck to admire the scenery. However, the first part of the Rhine Cruise was not particularly scenic with a flat landscape dotted with industrial complexes and quite a few locks.
The key time that we learned to listen out for was “All on board time”, normally 15 minutes before the ship was due to sail, as if you were late the boat couldn’t wait. Having said that, the ship had an efficient system for checking guests in and out of the ship with a shore pass that gave a phone number to contact the ship and details of mooring locations, and they also took our mobile phone numbers as part of the booking process.
What about the excursions?
Different cruise lines have different approaches to excursions, some including free walking tours in the cruise price, while others like Lüftner Cruises offer a range of excursions as a bookable extra. We had pre-booked our excursions as a package and there were typically 2 tours per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon with lunch on board the ship. So that we could easily hear the guide, we were all issued with personal headsets, and were given radio sets each time we left the ship, which was great when I got distracted taking photos and got a bit behind the main party, but could still listen to the commentary.
The advantage of taking all the tours on offer was that we really saw a lot and learned about the fascinating history along the Rhine, but the downside was that we didn’t have a lot of time to just relax on the ship or to just sit in a café and let the world go by. This was our choice of course, but those who want a more relaxing cruise might want to just do one excursion per day and spend the other half day exploring on their own or relaxing on the ship (and take advantage of the afternoon tea).
The other benefit of the tours was that we had immediate entry to things that we might not have had time to see on our own, with no queues or transport worries. For instance we had a private viewing of the Jewish Baths at Speyer, were first into the castle at the top of the hill at Cochem and enjoyed the private tasting of Alsace wine at Domaine Hering. The excursions varied in price between €15 per person for a walking tour up to €46 per person for a wine tasting tour, but there was a pre-booked excursion package of €225 per person which saved around 25% on the individual prices and I’d recommend this option if you are the sort of person that wants to see as much as possible on your cruise.
How green is my cruise?
The Lüftner Cruise company is very proud of its eco-credentials and has a “Green Globe” accreditation which is a certification issued by the UN World Tourism organisation. Michael Heller, the Hotel Manager explained to me that this extends not only to things like reducing waste water, recycling of garbage and the energy efficient lighting system, but also to the training of the staff in eco-friendly practices. At certain ports, the ship switches to shore supply of electricity which means the ships does not constantly have to run its engines, as it is quieter and better for the environment, even though it costs the company more. The company also collaborates with the Atmosfair climate protection organisation to enable passengers to make a donation to offset their CO2 emissions while on board.
What extras do I need to budget for?
The main extras that we needed to budget for over an above the price of the cruise were excursions and tips. Tips are not an obligation but are customary on cruises for good service and the suggested amount was €5-7 per person per day, which was given in an envelope at the end of the cruise to be shared among the staff. Most guests, especially the Americans, also gave a tip of a few Euros to the local tour guides who were really excellent. As wine and coffee was served with dinner each evening and afternoon tea was served every day, we didn’t spend much extra on board, although we did indulge ourselves with a bottle or two of the local wines. You might also need to cover the odd coffee or snack while out sightseeing, but since lunch was served on board and the tours left little time for independent wandering we didn’t spend a lot on these either. If you need to use the Wifi, the costs can be expensive and the charge on board the Amadeus Princess was €3 an hour. Overall, we found that a lot was included in our cruise price, especially if you had pre-booked the excursions, so we didn’t spend much extra on our cruise.
We really enjoyed our first ever cruise with Lüftner Cruises, and although we are normally independent travellers, we found that it was a fantastic way to see a lot of interesting things in a short space of time, while always having a comfortable, friendly base to return to.
More tales from our Rhine River Cruise
Read my Cruising the Rhine daily diary at The Online Travel Journal
Photo Diary of my Rhine River Cruise
From Riesling to Gewürztraminer – our wine tasting on the Alsace Wine Route
About Lüftner Cruises
My thanks to Lüftner Cruises who hosted our Rhine River Cruise – Lüftner Cruises specialise in European river cruises on the Rhine, Danube, Rhône and other destinations in Europe, with personal service and Austrian hospitality. You can also follow them on their Facebook Page. We travelled on the Amadeus Princess on a 7 day Classical Rhine Cruise which travelled from Basel to Amsterdam, although we disembarked at Cologne.
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