Cruising on the Rhine (Part One) The MS Grace
On a cold day in December I received an email from Silvertravel to say that I’d won the Romantic River Cruise on the Rhine. I could hardly believe my luck and then I couldn’t wait for May to roll around; it was just the boost we needed to get us through those dark winter days.
The Romantic Rhine cruise for eight days with Tauck, on the MS Grace, would start in Amsterdam, sail through Germany, taking in Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Baden-Baden and finally into Switzerland. We soon discovered that Tauck are a company supplying worldwide luxury travel and European River Cruising is something they’ve been providing for many years.
We flew into Amsterdam for a one night stay and joined the MS Grace the following day. We were greeted on board by the Cruise Director and because we’d arrived a little early and our cabin wasn’t quite ready we were offered a buffet lunch in the restaurant, which was a lovely start to our cruise and an indication of things to come.
On that first afternoon as other guests were arriving we had ample opportunity to wander about. Without doubt the MS Grace is a classy ship and beautifully appointed throughout, with chandeliers, ironwork and marble floors in the lobby, giving the ship a truly luxurious feel.
There is a total of 67 cabins, taking a maximum of 130 guests. We discovered that our cruise was running with only 68 guest, they are usually full. At 433ft. MS Grace boasts more space per guest than any other boat on Europe’s inland waterways. The ship has three decks, lower, second and upper.
The Panorama Room is spacious bar/lounge area with comfortable seating and beautifully wide windows where you can enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail. This is where all talks/demonstrations/entertainment take place. The Compass Rose restaurant offers open seating and flexible dining with dinner served between 6.30 pm – 8.30 pm. Arthur’s Bar is an alternative dining venue for lunch and dinner and lighter breakfasts. Open between 10.00 am – 11.00 pm daily.
There’s a beauty/hair salon on board along with a mini gym. On the top deck, there is a plunge pool and a mini putting green along with a wide variety of seating from sun loungers to tables and chairs, all in a chic grey rattan.
Cabin Comfort: Allocated a loft cabin on the lower deck we were delighted with the huge windows, giving us great views. We’d done a bit of sailing back in the day and at one time we had a cabin complete with double bed and small shower that would have fitted into the stylish bathroom on the Grace. With a huge walk in shower, complete with pull down seat should you feel the need, lovely bathroom products by Molton Brown, exclusive to Tauck, and plenty of cabinet space above and below the sink. (They even provide a magnifying mirror, which I find a must). Dressing gowns and slippers are such a luxury when you just want to flop on the bed and relax after a hard day’s sight-seeing before heading off to the restaurant for a fine dining meal. The bedding and bed were so comfortable and a big space beneath the bed was perfect for storing suitcases. A fridge, containing complimentary soft drinks and a safe were also welcome. Because the MS Grace caters for mostly American tourists it’s only right that they provide the fancy coffee maker, which most hotel rooms now seem to favour. Because I’m English I like tea. My husband said that ‘when in Rome’ but even though I like coffee I can’t take the super strong stuff, even watered down. But, my problem was solved and each morning a very nice waiter brought me my ‘English Tea’ – in a teapot. Now that’s what I call service.
On our first evening, we joined the other guests and the Cruise Director, Steve, in the Panorama Lounge for a welcome drink and an introduction to the crew. From Latvia to Indonesia, Poland and Canada; they came from far and wide. The executive chef, Fenna Grietje was from the Netherlands and she invited anyone with special dietary requirements to speak to her personally.
Fine Dining on the MS Grace: Every day we were presented with an imaginative and tasty menu, incorporating the local produce of the area we happened to be travelling through. Each night the four courses on offer would usually include a homemade soup and a tempting dessert. From lobster thermidor to venison the main courses were something I’d only ever have on special occasions. Each night the wine to accompany the meal would be carefully chosen and recommended; because I drink very little those choices were perfect for me. While travelling through Germany the white asparagus season had begun and that featured heavily for a couple of days. Ray is a fish lover which he ate at least once a day, whether lunch time or evening, hake, snapper, mackerel and river trout. As we got to know our fellow passengers, mostly American, some grumbled that the portions were rather small but I thought they were perfect, how else would we have managed four courses every day. There were always alternatives to the main menu on offer.
Lunch: Lots of salad choice, sandwiches and even a hot option, pasta bake to roast beef. Breakfast could be whatever you wanted. Cereals, fruit, and a smorgasbord of cold cuts and cheese. Also, bacon, eggs, sausages and pancakes cooked to order.
Throughout the week, depending on our location the Chef would invite guests along to a tasting of local foods, usually late afternoon. Amsterdam – cheese and fish, Germany – sausages and sauerkraut, France, oysters and snails.
Customer Service: Every crew member provided a top-notch service from the moment we stepped onto the ship. There would always be someone in reception to greet us each day on our return with hot towels and a little treat, a pastry or a piece of chocolate. The cabin crew did a turn down service while we were at dinner; not necessary but a nice touch all the same and I did enjoy the little chocolates they left. I worked as a chambermaid when I was a student and know the effort that goes into bed making and clearing up after people. The restaurant staff provided the same attention to detail and I loved the sitting down each day to a beautifully laid table, with linen cloths.
Entertainment: Each day there were lectures/demonstrations and quizzes if we were sailing and in the evening a resident pianist in the Panorama Lounge kept everyone happy. After dinner one evening while in Germany a local band came on board and they were loads of fun; all versatile musicians and their lead singer was quite the comedian entertaining us with everything from soul to oompah style music. He even got everyone doing the conga round the room, which could have ended in disaster, given the total age of that line. But, we all survived and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
Tour Guides: We had two main guides, Iris and Betina. These ladies provided a fantastic service. By chance we were with Betina on most tours and we really liked her delivery – never over kill and always willing to explain things twice, sometimes more – she really did have great patience. Each evening we received a newsletter to remind us of the itinerary for the following day, which we could also find on the onboard channel on the TV in our cabin. Each day a choice of activities/tours would be on offer and if you didn’t want to go on anything then you could stay and relax on board the ship.