|Marienberg Castle dominates this river view of Würzburg, Germany, in the heart of Franconian wine country.|
We sailed recently on an Abercrombie & Kent Connections program that included a river cruise through Holland and Germany on Amadeus Cruises’ Brilliant. Here’s our report.
Life on board: Breakfast was well received by guests as it included menu items such as omelettes and other egg dishes; there was also a special menu item each day, such as eggs poached in red wine, croquet monsieur and pancakes. A breakfast buffet included scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, oatmeal and a vast array of pastries. Breakfast meats and lox were also provided, as was fresh fruit and cold cereals. Lunch always included a buffet of fresh salad options, plus menu choices that included a soup-of-the-day and three entrée options, typically one with beef or pork, one with fish (sauce could be requested on the side for those who were diet conscious) and a vegetarian option. A dessert buffet of cakes, pies and fresh fruits was offered at every meal. Dinner typically included a pre-set appetizer served to each as they sat down. On one evening it was a Caesar salad with a piece of smoked salmon on top; another evening it included a cold Italian appetizer of prosciutto and vegetables. A choice of soups, as well as three or four entrées, was offered (typically with one choice representing local fare, such as pork tenderloin with mashed potatoes and applesauce).
Afternoon tea with pastries, as well as a midnight snack, was also included.
On the final evening of the cruise, a special local menu was prepared by the chef; there was also a cocktail party for those guests who were disembarking.
Drinks: Red and white wine were provided at dinner inclusively, as was bottled still or sparkling water. Soft drinks were served at an additional charge. Cocktails and wine in the main lounge were reasonably priced; for example, a Prosecco was 3.50 euros. A bottle of sparkling water in the lounge after dinner was 3 euros.
Staterooms: Our cozy room #211 had floor-to-ceiling sliding doors. The ship does not have balconies. Robes and two sets of slippers were supplied as was bottled water daily. Other amenities included a hair dryer and small bottles of hand lotion, shampoo and conditioner. Bathrooms were snug with showers. A flat-screen TV included local satellite stations and national cable news. One featured film ran repeatedly throughout the day, and included the titles Australia, Gladiator and Shakespeare in Love.
Note: Smoking is permitted on the Amadeus Brilliant in outdoor areas. Amenities on board included a small workout room with exercise bikes and a strengthening machine. Light exercise classes were also given each morning before excursions; there was also a beauty salon and a room dedicated for massage treatments.
A lounge on the third floor of the ship had a cappuccino/latte machine, which was convenient for those who wanted coffee prior to breakfast. That lounge also had computers for those guests who did not bring their own devices. Wi-Fi was available on board; guests were given a username and password to use on their laptops or notebooks. Front desk staff and dining staff were friendly and showed concern throughout for all passengers.
A&K Special Touches: The Abercrombie & Kent group was one among others on the ship (others included Gateway and a cluster of those from Japan who had their own group leader). Benefits of being within the A&K group included having a dedicated guide, who was on hand from the beginning of the trip to the end, on land and sea. Aside from checking in consistently with A&K clients to ensure everything was going well and acting as a liaison with ship staff to handle special requests, he supplied concierge-style services for those who wanted a private guide in certain ports (we heard him negotiating whether lunch could be included in one price that was quoted); he also took on the challenge of trying to secure hard-to-get football tickets for a couple who was staying on an extra day in Munich. Certain land tours were included within the A&K package; others needed to be added on once on board. In all cases, A&K had its own tour coach and guide in each destination. Other A&K perks included being given the chance to settle our accounts a few hours earlier than everyone else on the evening prior to disembarkation, helping us to avoid the crowds approaching the front desk. A&K guests were also given a bottle of water for each excursion.
|Bamberg Cathedral, and its adjoining rose gardens, overlook the Rhine in Bamberg, a UNESCO World Heritage city.|
The group enjoyed a dinner together the evening of arrival in Amsterdam, as well as a farewell dinner in Munich the evening before everyone was to depart. Those in our group of 22 included CEOs, money managers, doctors and dentists, many of whom had traveled with A&K before and who were now taking a river cruise for the first time.
On land: Ports in Germany (we joined after the group sailed through Holland) included those that alternated between Baroque and Gothic architecture. Some were cities that had been bombed extensively during World War II that were nearly entirely rebuilt, with precise care given to restoring their historic significance; others had escaped severe damage and were extremely well preserved. There are cathedrals, churches and imperial residences to tour in nearly every port. For those who want a good local beer and sausages, rathskellars are available at every turn as are cafes serving cappuccino and pastries such as apple strudel.
Of note: Cologne is a standout, thanks to its huge Roman Catholic cathedral, known for its two huge spires. The old town was rebuilt after WWII; it’s a good walking city with plenty of coffee shops and restaurants. Of note is the Excelsior Hotel Ernst, a member of The Leading Hotels of the World. Set just across from the Cologne Cathedral, it has an elegant piano bar and the Hanse Stube restaurant. Be sure to have drinks or dinner here as it will give you the chance to mingle with elegant locals.
Further along the Rhine, Koblenz, with its enormous statue of Wilhelm I, is another stand out with its well preserved old town with interesting shops selling silver jewelry, local crafts and unique dress shops. (Most open at 10 a.m., which is good to know if your cruise departs in the morning before moving to the next port.)
On the river: Cruising between Koblenz and Rüdesheim gives guests a great chance to view the most well-preserved region on the Rhine river. Castles dating to the 1300s are abundant and one nearly gets used to seeing them high up on hills that are lined with vineyards that create the grapes used to make delicious Rhine wine.
Rüdesheim was a treat; the main street along the river serves up cafes and restaurants and shops. The destination also provides plenty of opportunity to purchase some of the region’s famous wine in sophisticated little shops.
When in Rüdesheim be sure to save time when you return to the ship to sit up top on the sundeck to enjoy the local scenery. From one angle you can gaze at lush rolling hills with grape vines with a magical twilight that one seems to find only in northern Europe; another vista shows off a castle set high up on the hill that seemed to capture the golden glow of the sunset in the prettiest manner possible.
Leaving the Rhine for the Main, we traveled to Miltenberg, set on the river’s bend. Upon disembarking, a dramatic bridge with swans swimming scenically beneath sets the scene. After walking through the historic town we took a coach to Wertheim’s medieval town center. Its castle set high on a hill and timbered houses give you a true sense of being in the heart of Germany.
Würzburg was the first stop the next day. It’s notable for the fact that 90 percent was destroyed when it was bombed by the allies in March 1945. It was subsequently meticulously rebuilt in its former image since the war. Würzburg has more than 50 churches (of note is its Gothic chapel), it also has an annual procession, and more than 50,000 make an annual pilgrimage here. A highlight of the city is a visit to the Residenz, an 18th-century baroque palace, which served as the bishop’s imperial residence. The tour also included a wine tasting in a medieval cellar; Würzburg is set in the heart of Franconian wine country, so wine and wine-making are key to local life.
Bamberg the next day was a contrast to the previous stops; it’s a dynamic UNESCO World Heritage city built on seven hills. Today it’s acclaimed for its medieval architecture — after visiting the significant 13th-century Bamberg Cathedral, its Imperial Hall residence and its adjoining rose gardens which overlook the Rhine, head back into town for a coffee, ice cream or German beer at an outdoor café along Obstmarkt. Shopping also impressed our shipmates; they reported back with lovely purchases for those back home, such as lovely knit slippers and pretty scarves with unique designs. Bamberg, with its river running through the heart of town, is also known as Little Venice.
Worth a look: The historic Hotel Messerschmitt in Bamberg is the childhood home of Professor Willy Messerschmitt of aircraft design and manufacturing fame. It is now a member of Romantik Hotels and offers a traditional setting at the entrance of Bamberg’s old town.
Munich: We disembarked the Brilliant in Nuremberg and drove by coach to Munich, about one and a half hours away on the Autobahn. We all checked in to Hotel Torbrau for a final evening before heading home the next day. The hotel is the oldest in Munich (although it’s thoroughly modern now) and sits in a fabulous location just a few blocks from the market square and the Cathedral Square.
We loved the service at the hotel, which was friendly and professional. Downstairs in the lobby a doorway led to the hotel’s adjacent restaurant, Shapeau, whose proprietor instantly welcomed us and offered us a glass of water when we told him we had just checked into the hotel. He invited us back for happy hour, where we joined our group before enjoying our final dinner together. A&K is wise to wrap up its river cruise tour with a final dinner on land; the excitement the group felt over switching from river to land was palpable, and we all agreed we’d made some excellent friendships we were determined to carry on after the trip.
Tips on Munich: We were tempted to enjoy the specific nuances that this great city offered and so when we ventured to the Viktualienmarkt, we promptly went up stairs to Rischart, a historical location that overlooks the market square and is ideal for people-watching in this vibrant city. We loved it that locals ate here, too. We told the affable waitress we wanted to taste the best of Munich since we were there for just the day and asked her if Munich had its own sausage. Indeed it did, she said, and she promptly brought us a big white bowl filled with hot water that contained two very white sausages. With the main dish came two German pretzels and a good-sized portion of sweet Munich mustard. We enjoyed tasting the local fare, but at the same time, we noticed from our perch atop Rischart that locals were lining up en masse during lunch time at a stand with the name Leckerbissen on it.
We had to check it out and verified its location (should you want to try it yourself) at the corner of Viktualienmarkt and Pralat-Miller-Weg. Indeed, it was serving, for the cost between 2 and 3 euros, options that included well-roasted sausages on a bun in the form of Rostbratwurst, Rauchzipferl and Gekuhite Erfrischungs-Getranke. After our post-lunch snack, we looped around to the adjoining farmer’s market and enjoyed the late October dappled sunlight as it played on
stands offering local wines and vegetables, holiday wreaths and the lovely calluna plant.
Note: Once you peruse the farmer’s market and then come upon the seafood market, offering oysters, mussels, crab and other amazingly fresh delicacies, you’ll realize you’ll need more than an afternoon in dynamic Munich, which also garners its vibrancy from the fact that it’s a college town with more than 50,000 enrolled students.
What’s In Store For 2014
Abercrombie & Kent has expanded its Connections Journeys program to include European river cruises, and has launched its first brochure this year focusing solely on river cruising. Nine journeys will include France, Holland, Germany, Austria and Hungary. Highlights include groups of no more than 24 guests. Programs start and end on land in well-placed city hotels so everyone gets to know each other well. The group on board also experiences land programs separately from the rest of the ship’s guests, adding to the bonding experience.