Ian Cooper discovers a special interest river cruise aboard Saga’s new ‘Spirit of The Rhine’
After over two years of Covid caution, my wife and I finally plucked up the courage to go river cruising again. She liked the idea of a cruise that explored stunning spring gardens, however I fancied a ‘special interest’ music cruise. We came up with the perfect marital compromise. We didn’t have to choose at all, because Saga river cruises had the 7 nights Keukenhof & Dutch Delights: Sound of Movies itinerary aboard their newly christened ‘Spirit of the Rhine’ ship.
Our botanical and musical adventure began with a direct Eurostar journey to Amsterdam and a whole 5 minutes coach transfer to our ship. Many guests had confessed in early conversations that they were slightly anxious, travelling for the first time after the lockdowns. However, nobody really needed to worry as Saga took Covid safety very seriously, with testing on the coach before boarding and mask wearing when appropriate.
The ship – The ‘Spirit of the Rhine’ was immaculate with modern minimalistic décor and well-equipped comfortable cabins. We had a French Balcony for fresh air. Additionally, there was a mini bar which we used as a fridge for medications, a small safe, a TV, good storage space and bathroom with a great shower. The auto dimmed light in the bathroom which went on automatically during the night and a British three pin socket were extra thoughtful touches.
Keukenhof Gardens – After a short overnight cruise to Rotterdam, we were off on our included excursion to the Keukenhof Gardens, the world’s largest flower garden. It is not easy to find superlatives to sufficiently do it justice, but this is 79 acres and 7 million bulbs of horticultural heaven. The weather was a little questionable during our visit, but the indoor pavilions provided equally breathtaking presentations of tulips and other flowers in colours I have never seen anywhere else. After a long first day we were ready for dinner.
The food – The food on ‘Spirit of the Rhine’ was outstanding. Breakfast and lunch combined a buffet with waiter service, but dinner was beautifully set and served. What stood out apart from the ‘MasterChef’ style culinary quality was the excellent nutritional balance of the meals. There was always a good range of choices with personalised care for those with dietary preferences. At the rear of the ship was Rheinfels, another restaurant serving 6 courses for dinner. Guests had the option to dine there without additional charge.
The Sound of the Movies: ‘special interest’ cruising – The growth in the popularity of river cruising has given river cruise operators the business challenge of how to differentiate their respective offerings. One of Saga’s answers has been to create a range of ‘special interest’ river cruises, to give an additional focus to the overall experience.
This ‘special interest’ cruise … the ‘Sound of Movies’ .. was hosted by special guest pianist Carol Anne Wells. She has performed worldwide, on TV and radio and at many concert venues, including before royalty at the Royal Albert Hall. Her arrangements and piano playing was stunningly brilliant as was her encyclopedic knowledge of movie music.
From the early silent movies of Buster Keaton, up to the modern movie music of composer John Williams, Carol took guests on a musical journey through various movie music genres. Through a combination of entertaining lectures and concerts, an added dimension, was the nostalgic and perfectly timed film clips shown seamlessly by colleague Anne Gardener. This created a whole multi-media experience.
Included excursions – Of course, this itinerary was not just about the flowers at the Keukenhof. There were included excursions to The Hague, the Netherlands’ third largest city and the administrative and royal capital.
Another included trip took us to Kinderdijk, the home of the largest area of windmills still in use in the Netherlands. It is living history, experiencing how windmills work and the contribution they have made to Dutch life.
As the week unfolded there were also included trips to the lake village of Giethoorn. Often called the Venice of the Netherlands there are no roads or cars in the centre of the town so locals use punts to get around the network of canals. Finally, we were back in Amsterdam, with an iconic canal cruise and plenty of time to avoid the cyclists and explore the many attractions of this vibrant city.
Amongst arange of optional paid for excursions, a particularly popular one was to the Arnhem Commemoration, to visit the site of Operation Market Garden, beginning at the famous ‘Bridge Too Far’.
Very relaxing, we opted to spend an afternoon doing something very Dutch … painting clogs. We now have two terribly painted mini clogs on display in our lounge. The grandchildren love them.
Verdict – Well the ‘special interest’ music, the ship and the food were all first class. Despite the challenges of some unseasonal weather during our week, Saga creatively adapted the itinerary around the weather conditions. Whether travelling as a couple, with a friend or as a ‘solo’ traveler, Saga really understand their passenger profile.
Spirit of the Rhine and Spirit of the Danube are Saga’s first ever purpose-built river cruise ships, with others to follow. These new ships have a guest capacity of 190.
In addition to many itineraries and rivers, Saga offer a range of many special interest river cruises and other holidays.
Speak to a Silver Travel Advisor to book your Saga cruise: 0800 412 5678
Coach, air and Eurostar travel options are included and available as appropriate to the destination.
Carol Anne Wells – www.carolannewells.co.uk