Rachel On The Rhine
First-time river cruiser Rachel Emerson got to climb aboard Amadeus Queen and sail part of the Rhine. Here are her first impressions of the ship and river cruising in general.
My journey began with a short 45-minute flight from London Stansted over to Amsterdam’s International Schiphol airport. As one of the largest travel hubs in Europe, I was surprised how quickly my colleague Jackie and I found ourselves on our way to join Amadeus Queen, the newest addition to the Amadeus family and our floating hotel for our exciting Classical Rhine river cruise. Amsterdam Schiphol airport has excellent connections to the city; you can either opt for an organised transfer or, as we chose to do, take the convenient 20-minute train to the Grand Central Station, which was just a five-minute stroll away from the river cruise pier and our awaiting ship.
As a first-time river cruiser, the first glimpse of Amadeus Queen berthed at the cruise pier in Amsterdam was an exciting moment. I was eager to get on board and explore everything this perfectly sized vessel had to offer. We arrived at 4 pm and the ship’s crew were on-hand to help us with our luggage and, once on board, we were welcomed by friendly reception staff who assisted with a swift check-in. Then, in no time, we were shown to our stateroom.
Within just minutes of being on board Amadeus Queen, I was impressed with the striking contemporary interior design and the light and airy feel which continues into each and every cabin. It was evident straight away that the pace of life on board slows down and the time is yours to do as much or as little as you wish.
Our cabin on the Straus deck was beautifully decorated, luxuriously furnished and, best of all, the wonderful floor-to-ceiling window could be dropped down to let in the fresh air. Already, I was excited to set sail and enjoy the views from the comfort of the cabin. This impressive B grade accommodation was spacious and well-equipped, with everything needed for a comfortable stay and plenty of storage space including a good sized walk-in wardrobe. It was great to unpack once and feel right at home instantly in our home away from home.
Being a small ship, it did not take long to find our way around. With cabins and public areas spread over three decks and the reception desk in the centre of the ship, everything is very easy to locate. The top sun deck is a delightful area; it’s easy to find a spot you like, grab a sun chair, and then sit back and relax with 360-degree views of the ever-changing scenery. The Panorama Lounge is a great place to mingle and meet fellow cruisers. Along with the stylish Amadeus Club, both are favourite places to sit, relax and watch the world go by. One of the highlights of the Amadeus Club is the stunning indoor pool, which can be made use of in all-weather with its retractable roof and is great to combine with the optional massage facilities.
The Amadeus Queen stayed in Amsterdam overnight, allowing guests to choose how to spend their first evening. Being right in the heart of the city, some chose to head off and explore, whilst we decided to stay on board and make the most of the facilities and welcome presentation. Cruise director Gaby gave a short talk and brief on the ship along with highlights that were coming up during our cruise. This was a most welcome activity on day one, answering some of the natural questions any newcomers to river cruising may have. We also had the chance to book any shore excursions that had not already been pre-booked.
At this point, the evening was young. We got ready for our first evening of dining, which turned into the highlight of the day. We enjoyed a wonderful menu of delicious cuisine, prepared with locally sourced ingredients, accompanied by exceptional locally produced wines. A real treat for the senses! Following on from dinner, the entertainment began as we were invited to the Panorama Bar for a wonderful hour of song by a local shanty choir singing songs of sailors at sea, spreading good cheer amongst all on board and making a perfect end to the day.
Setting sail from Amsterdam the following morning marked the start of our journey along the Amstel River. The engines were started up and early breakfast was served to allow guests to get up on deck to enjoy the sail away from Amsterdam. Luckily for us, the majority of guests joined the tour which took them overland and returning to our next port of call Hoorn. This left anyone who chose to remain on board the delight of having the ship to themselves and a morning of peace and relaxation to really settle into ship life and switch off from reality. We made sure we were up on deck to experience passing through the first locks of our journey and to witness the ship’s officers remarkably navigate the ship along the river, a fascinating experience for any newcomers to river cruising.
One of the many beauties of a river cruise is being able to berth in the heart of your destination. As we approached the charming Dutch town of Hoorn, it was clear we could not get any closer to the 16th-century harbour. The ship’s gangway was only steps away from the historic old defensive Hoofdtoren Gate which towers over the harbour and is now home to one of Hoorn’s best restaurants. Guests on a shore excursion returned to the ship at this stop and those who remained on board could enjoy a nice stroll around the historic buildings, lovely cafes and shops before it was time to return on board to carry on our journey.
The daytime activities on board are optional for anyone wishing to partake, they include informative port talks and lectures, card games, outdoor chess and shuffleboard games, and morning exercises to name a few. The intimate atmosphere leaves evening entertainment traditionally relaxed and sociable. Every evening, we were treated to performances from the resident duo, as well as some surprise visits from local musical acts too. All of which are advertised in the daily programme an evening in advance for you to plan your day ahead. The flexibility of the shore excursion programme on an Amadeus river cruise allows you to pick and choose the days you wish to join a guided tour or explore independently. You can also take advantage of the ship’s complimentary bicycle hire if you are feeling more adventurous and want to venture further afield.
We had sailed overnight and were well on our way along the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal. With the sound of church bells ringing in the distance and whistling birds in the trees lining the river edge, the Amadeus Queen glided peacefully through the tranquil water. The ever-changing scenery saw us passing underneath bridges, beside traditional houses and the numerous campsites that dotted the riverside.
Our next stop brought us into the heart of Cologne, the fourth-largest city in Germany and guarded carefully by the historic landmark cathedral dating back to the Roman age. This is the biggest Gothic cathedral in Germany, is the burial place of the Three Wise Men and home to a decorative gold chest holding their relics. Our call happened to fall on a Sunday afternoon, which was market day along the harbour front. The ship’s gangway amazingly took us right into the centre of this bustling marketplace, a feast for the senses and a fantastic chance to try a Bratwurst sausage and mingle with the locals. Venturing further into the city, we came across the old town with a mixture of colourful restaurants, boutiques and squares. Hidden in narrow streets, the historical houses have a medieval flair. It’s a great area to find a café and try the local ‘Kolsch’, a typical beer served in a special glass.
We woke up to glorious sunshine and scenic cruising at its most beautiful as we entered the Moselle river. Early risers were treated to a wonderful stretch of peaceful sailing, passing through more locks and past charming villages too. The scenery became more dramatic as we continued along rolling hills and vineyards came into view. Looking closely, you can spot fairy-tale castles, locals enjoying the great outdoors, small sailing and rowing boats, horses and cattle grazing in fields and the odd tractor too - all painting picture-perfect scenes.
It wasn’t long before the pretty medieval town of Cochem came into view. As the second-smallest district in Germany, with a population of only 5,000, Cochem has small-town charm and fascinating history to explore. This day, we chose to join an Amadeus shore excursion to Reichsburg Fairytale Castle, which dates back as far as 1000AD and towers high over the riverside town, offering spectacular views from the top. In the past, this castle has been occupied by Kind Conrad III, overrun by French King Louis XIV’s army and, in the end, was purchased by a private investor who has renovated the castle and passed ownership onto the town of Cochem. The guided tour takes you back in time to explore the inside quarters and appreciate the wonderful views of the valley below.
After the castle visit, we continued to the historic centre for a guided walk of the old town which concluded at a family-owned winery, where we discovered all about the wine production in the valley and, of course, enjoyed a few tastings of different varieties of Moselle wine. All in all, our tour provided us with an excellent insight into Cochem’s history and culture; an educating and enjoyable day out amongst the company of our fellow cruise guests. A lovely late sail gave more free time to find some local delicacies and some took a ride on the town’s cable car for more stunning views of the valley.
The final day arrived far too quickly and marked the end of our time on board Amadeus Queen, as we disembarked in Koblenz. Located at the exact meeting point of the Rhine and Moselle rivers, this adorable city is the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, which is where the Amadeus Queen was to continue her journey towards Basel. Only steps from the ship’s gangway is the German corner, lined with tall flags, offering views of where the rivers come together and towered by the Kaiser Wilheim memorial. The city is overlooked by Ehrenbreitstein Fortress which can be accessed by the breathtaking cable car ride. If you are simply looking to relax in the city, there are also many local cafés and restaurants to choose from. There is plenty to do here, however, our time was limited so, after saying farewell to the ship’s crew and disembarking for the very last time, we managed a stroll around the main highlights before setting off on our homeward bound journey.
Looking back on my first river cruise, I can see how this intimate style of cruising can become addictive. I have lasting memories of beautiful scenery, berthing right in the heart of destinations whilst being looked after by wonderful crew on board a stunning ship. Whether you are brand new to river cruising and like the appeal of small-size ships over larger ocean liners, or you have extensively travelled on ocean liners and looking for something different, why not try river cruising for yourself? My first river cruise has opened up a whole new world of river journeys and destinations to explore and this cruise, taking in the Rhine and Moselle, was certainly the best itinerary to start with. I can highly recommend it.