The last time I was on a Rhine River cruise, I had an unfortunate encounter with a bird.
We were approaching Germany’s Lorelei Rock, the most famous landmark along the river. Legend has it that a lovelorn siren plunged to her death there, and is now said to haunt the area, luring sailors to their doom with her lyrical voice.
But just as I looked up, a passing gull made an untimely deposit on my new blue jacket. By the time I had wiped it clean, the Lorelei was fading into the distance.
It’s gnawed at me ever since.
That’s one reason why I want to take a 2015 Emerald Waterways “Jewels of the Rhine” cruise, an eight-day voyage that travels from Amsterdam to Basel aboard Europe’s newest river cruise line.
Another reason is that, frankly, the previous Rhine cruise boat was a bit of a tub – while Emerald Waterways ships are the latest in luxury, spaciousness and comfort.
Because they’re the newest ships cruising the Rhine, Emerald has built in more space per passenger, but with prices and perks that offer remarkable value. Meals, wine or beer at lunch and dinner, most daily shore excursions, transfers within Europe, Wi-Fi and even tips are all included in the rates. Every stateroom and suite comes with river view.
The ships are built around the concepts of light, airiness, and creative use of space.
For instance, I can create my own all-weather “indoor balcony”: with just a press of a button, the upper half of my floor-to-ceiling window will drop down, creating an open-air experience, sans raindrops or bird droppings.
And there are innovations you won’t find on other European river boats. An onboard heated swimming pool comes with retractable roof and adjacent gelato station; in the evening, the pool transforms into a movie theater showing both classic and recent films.
The Rhine, of course, is much more than the Lorelei, which itself is just part of the 40-mile-long Rhine Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that inspired Wagner operas, Heinrich Heine poems and Victor Hugo to praise its “regal dignity.” More than 40 medieval castles and fortresses stand guard high above the gorge, and vineyards cling to the steep hillsides.
With castles lining both sides of the Rhine, I’ll grab a seat on the Sun Deck, which sports 360-degree views. The Horizon Bar, with floor-to-ceiling windows, offers exceptional views with the bonus of liquid refreshment.
The voyage starts in Amsterdam, a city where canals flow past 17th century houses, bicycles are the prime form of transport, and art museums showcase Van Gogh and Rembrandt. It then cruises the Dutch countryside, passing windmills and pastoral scenery en route to the Rhine and Germany.
In the Rhine city of Cologne, I’m eager to climb to the top of its twin-towered Gothic cathedral, another World Heritage site. Why? That’s where the best views are — and I can casually mention to my tablemates at dinner that I had conquered the 500-foot-tall towers of the Kölner Dom.
Emerald, of course, will reward my efforts with a fine meal back onboard in the main dining room, called Reflections. (At breakfast and lunch, I can also stoke up for shore excursions – or a lazy day on deck — at the alfresco Terrace Restaurant.)
The cities of Koblenz – founded by the Romans two millennia ago — and Mannheim are also on the docket, as well as visits to fortresses, castles and wine-making villages.
Rüdesheim is one of the latter. Since I’m big on views, the cable car ride up to a lookout there intrigues me, as does a visit to a mechanical musical instrument museum – the only kind I could possibly play.
I can look forward all week to Emerald’s full day stop in Germany’s Black Forest, a fairytale-like area I’ve only touched on in the past. Germany’s largest waterfall and cuckoo clock are there, along with an open-air museum of 16th-century life and a visit to a local Gasthof to learn how to make the region’s famous dessert, Black Forest Gateau. (Followed by a tasting, of course.)
Basel, Switzerland, is just a short sail southwest of the Black Forest, and the disembarkation point. A final breakfast on The Terrace will find me plotting my next European river cruise – perhaps on to the Danube?
Emerald Waterways sails there, too. The “Emerald Danube” – it has a nice ring to it.