Jewel of a cruise on the Rhine
Could there be a more serene way to start your day than by awakening to the soothing caress of a river breeze on a languid cruise? River cruising the Rhine offers a compelling kaleidoscope of sights and sensory experiences. It’s as dreamy as reality gets. I recently swooned over the Rhine’s multitude of sweet seductions with Emerald Waterways, aboard the irresistibly good looking Emerald Sun. Sleek, chic and contemporary, the vessel is one of their swanky Star-ships, plying Europe’s storied waterways.
Within this pampered cocoon of comfort, the abundance of facilities and features caters to your every whim, while thankfully, the guest capacity is modest, limited to just 182 passengers. The beating heart of my ship was Horizon Bar & Lounge, a convivial social hub with elegant sofas and seating, where effervescent bartenders helped lubricate the wheels of conversation, from a comprehensively-stocked bar. Ahead of each port call, our charismatic cruise director, Gianni, held court with the heads up on the attractions and options that lay ahead at our next destination.
Throughout the cruise, a roll-call of entertainment was staged in the lounge, from the resident pianist tickling the ivories and guest artists showcasing local culture to the hilarious crew shows and feverishly contested afternoon quizzes. As a coffee fiend from way back, a welcome touch is the 24-hour help-yourself hot drinks station, which I put through its paces, at all hours.
On-board dining was another star-turn with a plethora of culinary creations to please the palate proudly presented in Reflections Restaurant. Breakfast and lunch were lavish buffet affairs of gastronomic abundance, while dinner was the full 4 and 5 course a la carte dining experience, with the accent on regional dishes, paired with complimentary wines and beers.
Main courses from my dinner menus included chateaubriand in a bernaise sauce, salmon terrine, grilled fillet of sole in a shrimp-saffron sauce and whole-roasted beef rump in a cognac-pepper cream sauce. The deserts were suitably decadent, spanning hazelnut cake with cinnamon cream and panna cotta with sour cherry compote. I made sure to leave room. Cruising in early summer, the weather was radiantly warm on our cruise, which presented the option of dining al fresco on the Sun Deck at barbeque.
On the Panorama deck of my ship, an ingenious touch is the Riverview Lounge, boasting an indoor heated pool with fully retractable roof, which transforms into a cinema at night, if you want to catch a Hollywood classic. I gazed in awe as the floor rose through the pool’s surface while a movie screen dropped from above. But the thrill of nailing a few lengths before breakfast each morning, as atmospheric villages floated by, was the biggest pinch-yourself moment.
Emerald Waterways is understandably proud of this signature innovation, an edgy and unique feature amongst European river cruise ships. This stunning little sanctuary also doubles as an intimate space for relaxing, with cosy chairs flanking the pool, while a coffee bar and specialty teas are on hand. Emerald Sun comprises 72 spaciously-sized suites and 20 guestrooms. My suite included a private balcony, where the new day greeted me with the caress of the gentle morning breeze, as the world floated by.
Generously appointed with amenities and furnishings, I slept like a baby in my cloud comfortable bed, with complimentary WiFi and a flat-screen TV with ample English channels, at my disposal. The multi-sensory shower unit was an invigorating way to wake up, while my suite was kept impeccably ship-shape by my charming Hungarian room attendant, Gabriel. You could be forgiven for thinking you were staying in a swish boutique hotel. Upstairs on the aforementioned Sun Deck, a dedicated walking track helped burn off the calorific excess from the previous evening, including the panna cotta.
Wellness activities are regularly staged on the deck if you can steal your gaze away from the wraparound scenic splendour, while a putting green is free to use. I constantly failed to impress with my patchy putting. With such a regular roster of riveting port calls on the Rhine, the complimentary shore excursions had us romping through the Black Forest and cable-car riding, high above Koblenz. The guided walking tours led through enchanting cities including Heidelberg, Strasbourg and Cologne.
The quality of the local expert guides was incomparable, all authoritative and effusive ambassadors for their respective home-patch. Our Heidelberg guide, a young university history professor in residence from Milwaukee, Tom, was more like a magician than a raconteur. He had us enraptured as he brought Heidelberg to life with his talismanic story-telling finesse. In response to the growing passion amongst Kiwis for river-cruising, Emerald Waterways has recently opened a New Zealand office, allowing you to book direct with the company’s Kiwi team.
Some river cruises sell at eye-watering prices. Emerald Waterways strives to be far more accessible to Kiwi budgets, with exceptional value deals and great flexibility. Airport transfers, onboard tips and gratuities, all onboard meals, and complimentary wine and beer served with lunch and dinner, are all included in the cruise price. As are daily guided tours and specially selected experiences and activities.
In deference to the evolving river cruise demographic, I noticed the ship was equipped with bikes and a range of Emerald Active excursions are tailored for guests who are seeking extra adrenaline, when ashore. Emerald Waterways currently offers cruise-only pricing which means you can use your frequent flyer points or preferred airline offering discounted fares for travel to Europe. If you’re dreaming of river cruising, in the lap of refreshingly affordable luxury all the way, Emerald Waterways has a cruise for you.
Flying direct from Singapore to 15 European destinations, Singapore Airlines offers incredible reach for Kiwis dreaming of a grand tour in Europe. Operating international flights from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, I flew to Frankfurt with the carrier, lapping up the superb inflight service, impressive entertainment offerings on Krisworld and quality dining. For best fares and seats to suit, head to www.singaporeair.com
By Mike Yardley.