Review of Christmas & New Year River Cruises

I very much like being able to sell river cruises where you know what you will get weather-wise. Christmas in central Europe will not be hot, the days will be short, the weather crisp and maybe a little snowy.  It is a landscape that will twinkle and inspire. Guaranteed!

Durnstein, Austria in the winter with snow next to the river Danube

Dürnstein, Austria

Luftner, Uniworld and AMA waterways offer cruises that cover Christmas or New Year or both.  Looking through their Christmas itineraries on behalf of customers has been a delight for me.  We once did Christmas at a restaurant with the kids and my mum and dad.  And it was really good.  The food was superb and the atmosphere very jolly.  We got to enjoy the day, no stress and no washing up!

I  thought it might help if I imagined a Christmas river cruise for you.  So I decided I’d pick Uniworld’s 10 night cruise and a few other bits of other cruises.  So, for the second year, Uniworld’s River Beatrice will again be quietly sailing past towns and villages full of twinkling lights. Tall castles that could have stepped out of a fairy tale will look down from cliffs and peep through forests. Everywhere will be that special snowy white glow lit by the full moon high overhead. – really like the description here, inspiring!

It will be cold – yet you will be warm and comfortable inside. Christmas trees will glitter everywhere. The atmosphere will be so festive with stunning food and relaxing company relaxing. There will be lots of people in a similar situation with whom to talk to and make new friends, and enjoy the festive evening entertainment. With Uniworld there will be guaranteed warm hot chocolate to drink on the deck whenever you venture outside, oh and gluwein.

Christmas presents in a shop window in Saltzburg, Austria

Christmas display in Saltzburg gift shop

I love the idea of combining Christmas Day in Salzburg with New Year’s Day in Budapest. Two countries, two different experiences yet without having to worry about passports, currency or accommodation. This was the land of Silent Night and the Sound of Music; of music and elegance. Vienna, Linz, Bratislava – places which evoked such wonderful images of elegant carriages, of ladies in evening dress attending glittering balls, the opera, of Mozart and Viennese waltz’s (and the special Viennese cakes and gateaux). Oberndorf was even where Silent Night was composed all those years ago – 1818 to be precise.

Christmas Day will be spent happily exploring Salzburg and Oberndorf as well enjoying a wonderful festive lunch at Stiftskeller Saint Peter – one of the oldest restaurants in the world, if not the oldest. In the evening, there will be more entertainment on board making it a really memorable day.

Then there will be the delightful Strauss concert in Vienna and the gorgeous mouth watering confectionary decorations in Café Demel. Culture too will not be forgotten as we are able to see 30 stunning paintings by Rubens at the Liechtenstein Palace.  A very special treat as it is a private collection.

Yet the highlight of the cruise is still to come. Expect to be truly delighted by the sheer beauty and spectacle of Budapest. Walk across the Chain Bridge, see St Stephen’s Basilica and ring in the New Year with an exclusive dinner dance in a gorgeous ballroom and the dramatic fireworks across the city.  New Year’s Day features an onboard brunch and a visit to an artist’s village and, the icing on the cake (please forgive the pun) a visit to the Marzipan Museum.  Where do I sign? Oh, and I’ve just remembered that as Uniworld are now completely all-inclusive, I can wash it all down with quite a lot of festive cheer!

Fireworks over the river next to Parliament Building on New Year's Eve in Budapest

New Year’s Eve Fireworks in Budapest

Sound good?  So, if you fancy a Christmas away from the washing up, then let us know.

Alex

SS Antoinette Review – Day 7

Today was our final full day on the SS Antoinette.  The Uniworld staff are exceptionally good.  As usual we were greeted at breakfast by smiling staff asking us how we were and following up on our conversations from yesterday.  This is not over the top hospitality but a high level of care from staff, that however busy they are are always able to take the time to ask whether you enjoyed the excursion, whether you had tried to specialty of the day or whether there was anything else they could get for you.  I was very pleased to see that my coffee cup was getting filled without me asking – a very important point for a six cups at breakfast girl!

A Morning Visit to Cologne from the SS Antoiniette

Cologne is the biggest and busiest place we have visited.

Cologne Cathedral

The cathedral took 600 years to build due to its gothic style and the swarms of tourists put you in mind of other European city tourist hotspots such as Notre Dame in Paris.  The Christmas markets were also getting set up and it started to all feel really Christmasy.  Armed with our map from the ship’s Cruise Manager we went off to explore ourselves around the vast array of high end shops and household names which the German consumer seems still to be enjoying.  We ended up going off the map.  We thought it best to route march back just in case we missed the 1pm sailing time.  We made lunch with time to spare but felt able to tuck in due to our unplanned exercise.  The roasted suckling pig was amazing as was the fish and chips.  There goes the button on my trousers!

Scenic Cruising along the Rhine to Amsterdam on the SS Antoinette

Now we were scenic cruising again on the SS Antoinette along the busy 21st century Rhine.  Armed with hot chocolate we headed for the private area at the front of the ship for the best view of the industry on the banks, the deluxe riverside houses built by Germany’s new middle classes and watching the captain pick his way through the coal barges, container ships and other river cruisers all the way up past Dusseldorf onto our rendez-vous with Amsterdam.  Some colleagues brought the remains of their wine from lunch and we stayed on the top deck for hours just watching the river going by.  It was heaven.

Drinking hot chocolate on the River Rhine on the SS Antoinette

When the cold got the better of us, the staff called us into L’Orangerie for afternoon tea.  We obviously said we were just looking.  But then the small hot scones with jam and cream just begged to be tried plus the German specialty cakes which the Pastry Chef, who was serving them had worked so hard to produce.  It would have been mean to have said no.

Uniworld provides an add-on in Amsterdam for 3 days in a hotel and this is very popular.  A briefing was given to the people taking this option.

 Our Farewell Gala Dinner on the SS Antoinette

Time to dress up for one last time and enjoy the food and the entertainment.  The menu lived up to its billing:

Farewell Gala Menu, SS Antoinette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We didn’t have a particularly early night as we were heading into Amsterdam the next day.  Everyone decided to let their hair down and enjoy Greg and Margaret for one last time.

Dancing on the SS Antoinette

Thank you to everyone at Titan and Uniworld for a fantastic trip.  River Cruising in such style has enabled me to relax, sightsee and enjoy the most wonderful service and food.

 

 

I am now going to try a Red Carnation hotel in the UK.  The lady who runs the sister company to Uniworld has just won “Hotelier of the Year” for 2012.  I can’t wait to try it.

 

Alex Leete

Global River Cruising

SS Antoinette

November 2012

SS Antoinette Review – Day 6

We sailed this morning to Koblenz and arrived at 10am.  It is worth mentioning that you can’t feel the motion at all on the SS Antoinette or hear any engine noise.  You are only alerted to movement by looking out of a window.  As someone who feels seasick at the slightest movement it was a dream come true.  No rushing to an open window for fresh air on this trip.  We were able to lie in bed and watch the world go by from our full length window.  Totally spoilt!

There was time to linger over breakfast whilst the scenery passed by the Restaurant de Versailles window.  There was also an epicurean demonstration of how to make a black forest gateux with the executive chef which was great fun.

Visiting Koblenz on the SS Antoinette

View from Koblenz Cable CarOn docking in Koblenz, we once again took our Quietvox machines and our numbered cards and followed guide number 5 around the fascinating town of Koblenz.  (This tour also included a gentle walking option).  This city which celebrated its 2000th birthday back in 1992 is at the “confluence” of the Rhine and the Moselle rivers.  The Romans named it  Castrum ad Confluentes (The Camp at the Confluence) which was later corrupted into Koblenz.  Through pretty winding streets and buildings spanning the ages, you learn that 85% of the city was destroyed during the allied air raids of the second world war and as such the city has received extensive renovation and has successfully preserved the ambiance of the old Koblenz.  We took the cable car across the river up to Europe’s oldest fort which gave us an excellent view of all below.

The park on the riverbank, where the ship is moored, contains both the statue of Kaiser Wilhelm 1 and three sections of the Berlin wall as it is dedicated to German re-unification both in the 19th and 20th centuries.

We went all epicurean at lunchtime and were treated to a buffet meal which included the executive chef offering us three different types of sausage and a huge dolop of sauerkraut.  There were even three different types of mustard  Having started off the week opting for the lighter options I was now happy to accept at least another three of the hot choices onto my plate at lunchtime as it was all just so good.

The afternoon was free time for those that chose not to take the optional tour to the 750 year old Marksberg castle.  It was time for a bit of present shopping for the family in what is a sizable German city but very easy to walk around.

Once back on board we tucked into afternoon tea and then went to the Captain’s wheelhouse visit.  Captain Jort gave a very entertaining explanation of how the nautical side of the ship is handled and the training of the sailors.  He himself has worked his way up to Captain within Uniworld and seems very happy with his nautical life.  There does generally seem a longevity of the Uniworld staff which always tends to be the sign of a well run company.  Especially when they come from so many different countries and English is not their native language, the human touch is even more important to bridge cultural barriers.

Tonight we had a disembarkation briefing in the Salon du Grand Trianon.  Passengers would be leaving for Amsterdam airport from as early at 5am on Sunday morning for those that were connecting with transatlantic flights.  If anyone needed train information then the SS Antoinette staff would do the research.  All bags got colour coded tags dependent on transfer time and each customer had to ok the bag onto the vehicle, so none could be misplaced.  Very straight forward and well explained.  Breakfast was available in some shape or form for even the earliest risers.  Gratuities settlement was also explained.

For dinner this evening I chose the lightest options from the main menu: vanilla-pineapple shooter for the appetizer, beef consomme with pancake strips which was delicious and then Beatrice Tollman’s spaghetti pomodoro and left out the pudding.  However, the wine was still free flowing and probably made up for my calorie counting on the food!

This picture however shows the full glory of the Wellington of Pork Tenderloin served with port wine jus, sugar peas, glazed carrots and caramelized sesame potatoes. Yum.

Wellington of Pork Tenderloin, SS Antoinette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the ship was docked in Koblenz until 11pm, there was chance to sample some of the portside bars as well as the entertainment on board.  As we’d stayed up late the night before we stayed for a little while to listen to the show songs sung by Tony & Florina Lettieri in the main lounge which went down very well with the guests from the US.  Some of our group went to the Leopard Bar for cocktails and board games.

Cinema on the SS Antoinette

There is also an on board cinema which has the comfiest leather reclining chairs and puts you in mind of somewhere that Frank Sinatra would have had in his mansion.  There is a daily programme at 10am, 3pm or 9pm with popcorn and ice creams included.

 

But we decided to go for an early night in the cabin and choose a film from a massive selection including pretty new releases.  We chose “The Help” not realising that it lasted 3 hours.  Lights out at 1am!  Not as early as we had wished.

Alex Leete

Global River Cruising

SS Antoinette

November 2012

 

SS Antoinette Review Day 5

This morning we woke in Rudesheim, the most famous wine town in the region.  We had a more leisurely start to our the day on the SS Antoinette as we were taken to a wine tasting at Castle Vollrads at 10am.  For those who were up earlier there was an excursion to the Mechanical Museum in Rudesheim for which the Cruise Manager had organised a little land train to take the guests to at 8.30am.  There were plenty of early risers who said it was well worth doing as the museum had been especially opened for the SS Antoinette guests.

Wine Tasting at Castle Vollrads on the SS Antoinette

Castle Vollrads Wine Tasting, Rudesheim, Germany

Castle Vollrads has been producing wine since the 14th century and all of them are the reislings.  Our private tour was fascinating as we were split into groups of about 20.  Despite the early hour we were all very pleased to try the three different reislings on offer, one dry, one medium and one sweet.  The explanation of the production processes, the terrior and the history of the winery were all fascinating.  The shop at the end of the tour had exclusive prices for our group which went down very well.

Cruising the Middle Rhine Gorge on the SS Antoinette

Map of Castles of the Middle Rhine Gorge

We then returned by coach to the SS Antoinette and settled down for a delicious lunch whilst daytime cruising to Boppard, which was to take us through the “Romantic Rhine” middle Rhine gorge through the castles.  Each guest is given a small map with the castles on, their navigation point in the river. This afternoon we were to pass 20 on our way to Boppard.  The Cruise Manager provided commentary onto the top deck and in the lounge.

 

 

We braved the cold to get the best view from the sundeck.  The staff had put out blankets and hot water bottles for us and regularly provided hot chocolate.  Nothing is ever too much trouble  By moving indoors and outdoors we kept warm and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  We even cruised past the Lorelei rock.

Pfalz Castle, Kaub, from the SS Antoinette

 

This castle is called Pfalz and sits in the middle of the river.

 

 

 

 

The SS Antoinette arrived in Boppard by 4.30pm and we were led on a walking tour by the Cruise Manager.  We were then left with free time to sample a gluwein and do a little shopping.

Uniworld’s Epicurean Adventurer Programme on the SS Antoinette

Tonight was Uniworld’s signature “Epicurean Adventurer” dining experience which showcases the cuisine of the area.  We asked our favourite waiter Boris for his recommendations.  We were treated to a traditional potato pancake served with sour cream, red beet mouse and salad bouquet.  Then for the main course we had roaster sirloin with Dornfelder sauce with sauteed peppers, zucchini and oxtail “sheppard style”.  It is worth mentioning that anyone who is less adventurous is able to order something simple like a free range chicken breast or salmon for any evening meal.  I even say one couple order one of each of the starters and mains and puddings at every evening meal and the waiting staff happily obliged.  I think they thought they were on “Masterchef”!

After dinner there was a local La Strada classical quartet on in the lounge who played some stunning gypsy melodies.  However, as we were moored in Boppard overnight we decided to go into town for a drink.  When you leave the ship, even during the day you need to take a room card with you.  This then needs handing back into reception on your return so they know not to leave without you.  We stayed out until 2am and used the opportunity to sample some local beers.

Alex Leete

Global River Cruising

SS Antoinette

November 2012

 

 

SS Antoinette Review Day Four

We woke up today to find the SS Antoinette still cruising to Germersheim, the stopping off point for Speyer.  There was also a signiture lecture this morning, nice and early at 8.30am entitled “The European City from the Middle Ages to “Modern Times” by Sven Matthiesen.

Visiting Speyer from the SS Antoinette

Speyer Dom

A 20 minute bus transfer away, Speyer is home to Europe’s largest Romanesque building, Speyer Dom (cathedral). With its six spires it took over 30 years to complete.  We learnt that as the Romanesque style is plain this time was nothing compared to Strasbourg, which as it is in the gothic style took over 600 years! Three Holy Roman Emperors are buried in the crypt and it appears that each son was trying to out-do the other in the redesigns according to our best guide yet, Tomas (seen here with his number 4 paddle).  As a German speaking English he could speak as an English person would, using a turn of phrase, philosophy and an understanding of the sense of humour that only someone who had lived in Britain you’d think would have.  We also visited the ancient Jewish area and sacred bath which is still in use today.  Uniworld provide a “Gentle Walking Tour” option for Speyer where the guide follows a slower pace but still does 70-80% of the tour.  The gentle option was ticket 5.  Each excursion we were asked to pick a card from reception with a number on it.  That then related to our bus and to our guide.  It worked really well and meant groups were of even numbers.  Each guide had a “lollypop” with the group number on that they held aloft and we all wandered towards them so we could re-tune our devices to their commentary.

We had free time for cafe and kuchen and then returned to the ship for the hot buffet lunch.

Cafe in Speyer, Germany

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cycling Down The Rhine!

As the SS Antoinette was moored next to a cycle path than ran the length of the Rhine a group of eight of us decided to try the complementary bicycles.  You just ask at the front desk and a bike is brought down for you and adjusted quayside.  I reckon we cycled about 5 km and I was very glad to get back to afternoon tea and cakes in the Salon du Grand Trianon.  Other passengers had gone on the optional afternoon excursion to Heidelberg.

Bike and SS Antroinette

(rather a dull picture I’m afraid but the ones of us – in motion – came out blurred of course!)

 

 

 

 

Private Dining on the SS Antoinette

This evening we took up the invitation for the Private Dining Experience in L’Orangerie.  At no additional charge this is on a first come, first served basis by signing up at the front desk – there are announcements during the day.  It is a more intimate experience with the suite butlers waiting on you and the chef cooking the food in full view of the diners.  A tip for deciding which night you try is to find out what is being served in the main restaurant that night.  We had a lovely meal, but our colleagues who stayed in the Restaurant de Versailles had Confit of duck which is one of my favourites so I was a little disappointed to have missed it.  However, the Tiramisu – of which I am not a great fan – was fantastic.  Well done to the chef for using the Asbach Uralt German whiskey of the region.

Tiramisu on SS Antoinette

 

 

 

 

 

Alex Leete

Global River Cruising

SS Antoinette, November 2012