Grand European Travel guest Dale B., share his experiences aboard the S.S. Antoinette on his recent Castles Along the Rhine River Cruise.
There are times when a spur-of-the-moment decision turns out just fine.
That was certainly the case for my wife and me when we decided one evening over a glass of wine to look into the possibility of taking a river cruise in Europe. Being in our mid-seventies, and with some mobility problems, we were not quite sure we could pull it off, but decided to pursue our “one last big trip” agenda to see what was available. We are certainly happy that we did.
Since we had greatly enjoyed the “Great Trains of Europe” trip with Grand European Travel in 2007, we immediately went back to their website to see what might suit our schedule and budget. The Castles along the Rhine River Cruise seemed like just what we were looking for.
So I made a phone call and was fortunate to reach Grand European Travel Expert Kari Nixon. Kari gave me all the details of the trip, from the itinerary to the specific ships we might travel on, the cost, the range of accommodations available to us, discounts available to us – answers to any question we might have had.
Several months later we found ourselves sitting in the Munich airport looking out at a foggy morning after an overnight crossing of the Atlantic and awaiting our connecting flight to Basel. Upon arrival in Basel we were greeted by two representatives of Uniworld, Grand European’s sister company. We were told that, due to repair work being done on one set of locks on the Rhine, our cruise would begin at Breisach, rather than Basel. We were then transported by van to the S.S. Antoinette at Breisach.
The Antoinette is a new ship, built in 2012. It is beautifully appointed, from the reception area with its sapphire-adorned chandelier that formerly hung in the Tavern on the Green in New York, to the all-marble bathrooms in the staterooms. The Grand Trianon Lounge, the dining room, even the swimming pool are all exquisitely decorated and furnished.
One of the advantages of a cruise of any type is the ability to unpack on day one and not have to worry about re-packing until the last day. The Antoinette provided plenty of storage space for our clothing and luggage. The housekeeping staff was attentive, efficient and thorough. And the picture window in our cabin was a delightful touch, with its ability to silently lower to half the total height allowing fresh breezes and an unobstructed view of the passing scene.
The first major event was, of course, a greeting from the captain and a briefing from our Trip Manager Tony. We were soon to find that having Tony as our manager was one of the best parts of the trip. He was always available, always ready and willing to answer questions, and carried out his responsibilities with both aplomb and good humor. We were given an overview of the cruise and of the included and available walking and bus tours along the way; and the obligatory safety drill.
Our first opportunity to see the countryside came in the form of a short bus ride to two small French towns along the Alsatian wine road, Riquewihr and Kaisersberg. Other passengers chose a walking tour of Colmar or a self-guided walk through Breisach.
Having a German bus driver and a French guide led to some light-hearted banter about the advantages each side of the Rhine. The ability to cross international borders without bureaucratic rituals was, thanks to the European Union, quite welcome.
Riquewihr and Kaisersberg are classic, picturesque villages with brightly colored half-timber houses towering above narrow streets lined with shops that cater to the tourist’s every want, but without the gaudy, in-your-face presence that one might expect of a tourist town.