I can’t match the excellent review `Holland and the Bulbfields` written by ESW in 2017 about the Saga holiday `Springtime in the Netherlands` on the Rex Rheni but as the itinerary was slightly different when we went in April 2022 I just want to add my thoughts about the holiday and the Rex Rheni, so this is not a full review of the holiday. This was our first Saga holiday and we booked it because I wanted to see Keukenhof and as we live near Folkestone it seemed the easiest option post pandemic.
The outward journey by coach
As we live just a 20 minute drive from Folkestone we opted for the taxi pick-up from home. We were taken to the Holiday Inn Express at Cheriton to do Covid tests prior to departure. This procedure was chaotic in that Saga only had the use of two rooms which served as spaces to do the self-tests/waiting rooms. The rooms were already full when we arrived and as one table was covered with breakfast pastries, cups and saucers, tea and coffee etc. there only remained the end of the table being used by the Saga representative to tick off arrivals on her list. We managed to do our tests and showed her the results. Some people, who had obviously never done a Covid test before had to be helped, so the small area became even more congested and felt rather unsafe. There were two coachloads of passengers; our luggage was loaded and we set off for the nearby Eurotunnel entrance. We got talking to the couple sitting near us and they had been picked up very early that morning from their home in Somerset and had enjoyed their journey in the hire car, with comfort stops. their driver offering to queue for drinks in the service stations. The coach journey was not to be so good. Everything went well until we approached the outskirts of Antwerp, where we experienced terrible traffic jams. We didn’t arrive at Rex Rheni in Amsterdam until approx. 7.00 pm. The scheduled 5 hour coach journey had taken 8 hours! Other passengers travelled by Eurostar or flew into Schiphol Airport, but even those flying had problems on their return journey due to staffing problems at Schiphol.
On board Rex Rheni
I don’t know for certain but Rex Rheni is probably the oldest river cruise boat that Saga uses in the Netherlands and Rhine areas; it was launched in 1979 and refitted in 2017 and although the prices charged are possibly cheaper than other boats in service, potential passengers should be aware of its quirks and idiocyncracies.
We were allocated tables for the whole holiday, even for breakfast, `due to Covid` and luckily all six at our table got on well together. The food at dinner was generally good although the service could have been better – we were usually served last and then rushed through the meal, with cutlery and glasses being removed as we ate – but I preferred the flexibility and choice of the lunch buffet. Breakfasts were very good but on the first morning we were all hunting for fruit juices and milk which we eventually found on a table near the kitchen, hidden from view by a screen and plants. It would have been a good idea for someone to tell us what was available and where, rather than having to wander around searching. This was one of the niggles about the Rex Rheni – announcements and written instructions/information were sadly lacking. The chairs in the restaurant were made of heavy, solid wood and as our tables were quite close together it was very difficult to move the chairs to get out to go to the buffet bars at breakfast and lunchtime.
Investigating our cabin after our first dinner (we’d not had time before, as we arrived so late) we opened the door to the bathroom but no light came on automatically so we searched around for a switch but could not find one. There was no laminated sheet of helpful information that one normally finds, even in budget hotels. Eventually my husband found the switch by the mirror over the basin!! However, on our way to the lounge we heard someone else asking at reception where the bathroom light switches were, so it wasn’t just us being stupid. We had a double cabin on the main deck. It had a large window and a rather strange layout of a table and chairs by the window but accessed by a step onto the higher level. The single beds were opposite each other on either side of the central aisle to the window but neither had anywhere to stand a glass of water for the night and the reading light stuck out from the wall at just the right height to hit your head on if you turned over; also my bed had no headboard or length of wall to lean against so I couldn’t sit up and read in bed. The beds are quite high off the floor, although I suppose one could crawl in from the end that rests on the dias in front of the window! Those with mobility problems would be wise to check about access to the stair lift before booking a cabin on the Passenger Deck. In the lounge the height of the central large chairs blocked the view of the entertainment for those sitting behind and, as in the dining room, would be better replaced with smaller, lighter chairs. Entertainment in the lounge did not mix well with those who just wanted to buy a drink at the bar and sit and chat: silly little things that, if put right, would make a vast improvement to the holiday. We didn’t enjoy the coffee served at breakfast and after meals so one evening decided to get a cappuccino from the bar as we thought that might be more to our taste but bizzarely this was not included in the `free drinks from the bar between the hours of noon and midnight`. Obviously we paid up but considering there was no `help yourself to tea and coffee` facility due to Covid I felt this was rather mean.
Keukenhof was the only included trip and was the main reason I, and many others we spoke to, chose this holiday. We were worried at first because it was crowded due to it being a national holiday, however, once away from the entrance the crowds thinned and we had a good day, even better than I expected. I heard some people complaining that we spent too long at Keukenhof but we thought it was about right.
Zaandam – was ok but there wasn’t a great deal to see apart from the outsides of houses where Peter 1 of Russia and Monet had lived and unfortunately my interactive map/audio headset didn’t work. After walking round the centre with its C & A store and market I rather wished we’d gone on the optional trip to Zaans Schans or even caught a train or bus there from Zaandam (or Amsterdam on the last afternoon) for an independent visit. We hadn’t booked the optional trip as although I wanted to see the row of windmills I didn’t want to go inside a windmill or see cheese or clog making etc. however, if I had my time again I would go on the optional tour to Zaans Schans. (I’ll do a separate review of Zaandam when I have time.)
I realise I’m probably in the minority but I enjoyed seeing the industrial area as we left Amsterdam and I found sailing across the Markermeer and Ijsselmeer towards Enkhuizen very interesting, particularly going across the Naviduct Krabbersgat which carried a canal over the Markerwaarddijk with its busy road down below. I did hear comments such as `this is not a river cruise, it’s like being at sea, you can’t see anything` but I was happy to see places for the first time that I’d learned about at school (and we’d taken binoculars, which helped).
Enkhuizen – we really liked charming Enkhuizen and wished we’d had longer there. There are streets full of interesting old houses, many picturesque canals and a rather good selection of specialist shops in the main shopping street. We didn’t do the optional trip around the Outdoor Zeiderzee Museum (which didn’t open until 10.00 am) although we saw some of the buildings from the road outside. We preferred to walk round the town on our own but unfortunately there just wasn’t enough time to visit the Indoor Zeiderzee Museum. Enkhuizen is the one place in Holland that I would like to return to one day and I will shortly do a separate review of the town.
Hoorn – was a bit disappointing although there were some interesting old buildings. We did an independent walk through the main part of town, often seeing fellow passengers walking by with their audio headsets.
Amsterdam – what I saw I didn’t like (I’ve done a separate review).
We were given a packed lunch for our return coach journey which luckily only! took 5 hours. Once back in Cheriton our taxi arrived quite quickly to take us home.