It took a while to decide where to go once travel opened up. A river cruise along the Rhine and Main with Saga in late autumn fitted the bill nicely. Made even more tempting by the opportunity to experience Saga’s brand-new river boat, Spirit of the Rhine.
On board Spirit of the Rhine
We flew to Frankfurt to join the ship and what a beauty she is, larger than the average river vessel with a capacity for 190 passengers. Due to Covid restrictions, we sailed with just over 100 guests on board, so plenty of room for everyone. The public areas are spacious, light and airy with panoramic windows along each side. Cabins are well proportioned and attractively decorated. They also have more storage than any other cabin I have travelled in which is always welcome. The cabins on the top two decks have floor to ceiling picture windows with sliding doors, a real bonus in the summer! As always, the food on any Saga holiday is excellent. A good choice at every meal and innovative, tempting menus. There was always a choice of red or white wine included at mealtimes, and a comprehensive wine list if you wished to purchase a favourite tipple. Drinks from the bar were charged, and I was pleased to see that unlike some hotels, prices were what you would expect. Tea and coffee are included throughout the day. If you feel peckish between meals, a choice of exquisite cakes appears at teatime, and savoury snacks are served at 10pm in the bar. Spirit of the Rhine also has a small speciality restaurant, ‘Rheinfels’, positioned at the back of the boat. Pre-booking is essential due to size, but there is no supplement to pay. Be prepared for a memorable 6 -course meal to rival any top restaurant.
River cruises are all about relaxation and this one didn’t disappoint. We travelled overnight from Frankfurt along the River Main to Aschaffenburg, an historic Bavarian town. A beautiful sunny morning gave us the chance to wander at leisure using the Quietvox headsets provided by the ship – a great way to discover the local history. They work alongside a map and give you concise guided commentary, allowing you to sightsee independently.
Saga also offered a guided tour with coach transfer for those who didn’t want to walk so far. The weather for November was cold but sunny with no wind, perfect for an afternoon on deck after a busy morning. We settled down and enjoyed watching the pretty towns and villages drift by with the added interest of negotiating locks along the way. Our next stop was the historic city of Mainz, and again the weather was kind. We awoke to a mist rising from the river, and it felt as though winter was just around the corner. Saga offer several included excursions and a few optionals. Today there was an included city walk and an optional coach trip to Heidelberg. We set off again with our Quietvox and did our own thing. Mainz was full of autumn colour and the historic market square was being transformed into a winter wonderland and market. Christmas was making an appearance and the iconic German Christmas shops attracted everyone.
You must be prepared for itineraries and plans to change on cruises, and that happened to us on the 4th day. En route to Strasburg there was a problem on the Rhine with a vessel getting stuck. We had to turn back and due to time constraints missed out Strasburg. A great shame, but these things happen. Saga did their best to make the most of it by offering us complimentary drinks all day and a free excursion in Rudesheim, our next stop.
The next couple of days were marred slightly by fog and very cold temperatures. It is unusual for river boats to still be operating during the winter months, but if you come prepared with warm clothing, it is still enjoyable. In Rudesheim it was an excuse to warm up with a steaming mug of the local speciality, Asbach coffee. Asbach is a German brandy, and it is mixed with sugar, heated until it caramelises, topped off with coffee and cream. It certainly does the job!
The afternoon was spent cruising a very picturesque part of the Rhine to Boppard with just time to explore this pretty town before night fell.
Saturday and our port of call was Andernach, a medieval town with lots of history. While exploring with our Quietvox we came across groups of locals resplendent in all manner of costumes gathering for some sort of carnival parade. It was hard to find out exactly what was going on, as even the local Tourist Information office seemed confused. We just followed the crowds and enjoyed the marching bands and parade. It certainly brightened our day.
Back on board for a long stretch to take us through to our last stop, Amsterdam. This beautiful city never disappoints, and we had all afternoon to explore. We joined the included excursion on a canal boat trip to get our bearings and then left the group to walk around by ourselves. The boat had moored just by the Central Railway Station, so very close to Dam Square and the major sights. As dusk fell, we strolled along the canal banks, admiring the architecture of the grand houses and soaking up the atmosphere of this vibrant city. Back on board for the last evening of our trip and time to pack our bags for home.
The Saga Experience
I often get asked about the ages of guests on Saga cruises, and obviously it can vary. Saga’s policy is over 50s, but younger people are accepted if carers or relatives. On this trip, given it was early days of being able to travel again, I was heartened to see so many older people. There were some in their 90s and some with walking issues, but the staff were amazing. Saga know their customer base and are well-prepared to assist where necessary. On the excursions, they always made sure any guests needing a helping hand or who walked at a slower pace were catered for. Talking to older guests, it was inspiring to realise how they value the freedom of travel and are determined to keep going for as long as they are able.
The Covid travelling experience
The cruise we chose visited Germany, France and Holland so one form for each country, plus a form to return to the UK, plus a lateral flow test on our return and a fair bit of ‘uploading’ and downloading’ of documents. As expected, Saga do not leave anything to chance, and our final documents arrived in good time with copious notes on filling in everything required. Now I have safely returned to the UK, I can report that all went smoothly. The Saga team on board the Spirit of the Rhine were completely up-to-date with everything, and helped anyone who needed assistance, to complete the formalities. We flew from London Heathrow and the experience was much easier than expected. Once in Europe you will find mask wearing is mandatory indoors, and you need to always carry your Covid Vaccination Pass and photo ID. 48 Hours before arrival back into the UK the passenger locator form had to be completed. Saga hosts were on hand with help and tips as we all knuckled down to what I felt was the trickiest of all the forms so far. Once that was out of the way, we all made the most of our last evening and many of us were already planning the next trip.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Saga Holidays.