Former BBC royal correspondent and ocean cruise veteran, Jennie Bond, recently returned from her first ever river cruise, and told cruisecapital.co.uk all about it…
For me, it’s the ocean, the beach, sunshine and sand between my toes that truly floats my boat – if you’ll excuse the pun.
So when ROL Cruise suggested I might enjoy a river cruise, I was slightly dubious. I live by the sea, deep in Devon and an hour from any city. I do that because I don’t like cities …or towns, come to that. So why would I enjoy floating down a big river, stopping in all sorts of conurbations?
But, as I discovered, one of the great things about tapping into the knowledge of experts like ROL Cruise, is that they not only know what’s out there – they soon get to know what makes you tick.
And that’s how my husband, Jim, and I – by now, veterans of the ocean-going cruise world – came to be sailing up the Rhine last June.
First surprise: our ship, Uniworld’s SS Antoinette, was far bigger and more glamorous than I’d imagined. We checked in beneath a magnificent blue chandelier and were ushered to a spacious cabin… or stateroom, in the proper parlance!
Huge picture windows give you a panoramic view of your surroundings and, at the touch of a button, the top window slides down so that you can lean on the balustrade and feel you are almost outside.
We soon discovered that riverboats can be just as elegant as ocean-going ships. The atmosphere, though, is more one of a big house party – partly because instead of thousands of guests on board, there are only 150 people to get to know.
Surprise number two was that the standard of food and wine was excellent. I was almost embarrassed that the sommelier knew precisely which wines I preferred by the second day. But then I discovered that he’d taken equal care with every guest.
Another plus is that there is so much to see and do, with scenery like the Rhineland castles on either side as you sail.
I really enjoy the pure relaxation of sea days on an ocean cruise, with miles of nothingness all around. But it was fascinating to drift past towns, and even cities, watching the hustle and bustle of life from the quiet and comfort of your armchair or sun lounger.
There’s also a lot less hassle getting places once you’ve stopped. Most of the time, the ship will dock right in the centre of the town or village and you can just stroll off and explore. No waiting for tenders or shuttle buses. And one really great touch was a bank of bicycles on board that you could simply use and cycle off into town.
The guided tours, though, which were all included, were original and good fun. Who’d have thought of going vinegar tasting in the ridiculously pretty town of Rudesheim? We had to dress up like monks, in heavy dark cloaks, to protect the huge, ancient wine casks from our smells and germs. We learned all about the process of making fine vinegars and then tasted them in delicate, long-stemmed shot glasses. Delicious!
You see, ROL Cruise knows I’m a bit quirky… and they put me in touch with my inner thirst for vintage vinegar!
All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our first river cruise. And there are so many more rivers to explore! Nothing will ever keep us from life on the open sea, but we now know that there’s even more variety in the cruise world than we’ll ever have time to exhaust.
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