Chronologically I should first talk about our time in Amsterdam with Mimi, but there’s so much swirling around in my head about the ship and our take on it that I want to get that sorted out first. So here goes.
Neither of us had ever done a river cruise so had no idea what to expect. We’ve done ocean cruises, but everyone said you just can’t compare the two, and they’re right. We tried to go in with open minds, and we knew no matter what, we’d have fun, simply because we do.
The ship was brand new, launched in early 2016, and it was immaculate. It shone from bow to stern. Our stateroom was just as immaculate. The outer wall was wall to wall, floor to ceiling window, with sliding doors that opened so you could feel like you were on a balcony without losing the space a balcony would take up.The bed was oriented so that if we were rivering along, you could sit or lie in the bed and watch the scenery go by. I’m sure someone has complained on a TripAdvisor review that the doors are awkwardly situated – if the closet doors were open you couldn’t get out of the bathroom, and if you tried to open the bathroom and main stateroom doors at the same time – well, oops. However, we soon figured it all out and just laughed about it. Our cabin steward was very friendly and did an incredible job of keeping our room clean and tidy for us.
The main thing we were disappointed in was the food. I’ll state up front that part of it was my own fault because I truly am a fussy eater, but generally even on the most restrictive menus I can find something to enjoy.However even Stephen was disillusioned by the food. The breakfast buffet was the same every day, with only one hot dish changing each day. One day we had meatballs for breakfast, another we had hash browns, and several other things appeared randomly. There was plenty of breads, fruit, yogurt, cereals, cheeses and cold cuts, and we could have hard or soft boiled eggs, crispy or limp bacon, scrambled eggs and sausage every day. I fell into the habit of making a sort of club sandwich every morning with toast, a sliced egg, ham, cheese and bacon, then following it up with some fruit.
Lunch was usually a hot buffet, generally including some local specialties, but the breads, cheese, cold cuts, salads and fruit were still available. Lunch was by far the best meal, and I found I tended to eat a much larger lunch than I usually do because the dinners were so lackluster and took so flipping long that I was hungry again by the time I’d finished dessert.
And dinner. For dinner there is no assigned seating, which is rather nice, except that the first few days you spend moving around trying out different people to see who you get along with the best. The first two dinners were nothing short of tedious. Our first night we were joined by a younger couple from Australia – nice enough kids but nothing in common. The second night we sat with a flock from the States – a retired lawyer and his travelling companion, and a girl who worked for the State Department who was travelling with her mom. The mom was silent all through dinner, but the daughter more than made up for her – and us – and the lawyer. She just wouldn’t shut up. We didn’t sit with them again. By the third night we were so disillusioned with ship dinners, that we decided to remain in Cologne and find a little restaurant on our own. We didn’t have to be back aboard till 9:45, so we had plenty of time. We had a lovely pasta dish followed by traditional apple strudel for dessert – the only time, I might add, that we had strudel. You’d think on a primarily Germany based cruise, strudel would have been offered for dessert at least once. But no. By the fourth day we had met our new friends from England, and began to share all our meals with them. By the fifth day we had claimed our own table and god help anyone who tried to sit there. And there were those who wished to join us by that point. We had all hit it off so well that we were telling jokes and sharing funny stories and there was so much laughter at our table that heads would turn throughout the dining room to see what was going on. Our comfort level increased, and there was no pretentiousness among us. If we thought dinner sucked, we freely admitted it to one another. One night Janet had the fish and it was the teeniest piece of fish you’ve ever seen in your life! She wasn’t impressed. I saw it before she started eating and to me it looked like fillet of goldfish. Another night I had a chicken breast. No chicken breast that! Rather, it was a sparrow breast! Very disappointing.
The main problems were the lack of choices, the portion sizes, and the duration of the meals. It took over two hours for dinner, start to finish. We also didn’t care for having to place our dessert order before we’d even had anything to eat. How were we to know what we would feel like for dessert? There were usually three or four appetizer selections, most of which involved fish, which I don’t like, but caesar salad was always available. Thankfully. There were then two soup choices, one consomme, the other creamy. It was the general conclusion at our table by the end of the week that they made the same soups every day, just added different colours and called them different names. There were usually only two choices for the main course and one of them was always a fish dish. Every single night the other choice had something in it I didn’t like – usually mushrooms. Luckily there were always standard options like steak, chicken, fish or a vegetarian selection. I ate a lot of steak. As in every night. Well, except for the night we were in Cologne and the night I had the sparrow breast. At least the steak was a decent size portion! It came with a baked potato and a few bits of green beans wrapped in bacon. By the last night I believe our entire table of six had given up on the menu and we all had steak for dinner. There were usually several choices for dessert -a cheese platter which had maybe two morsels of cheese, two crackers and a grape; a serving of ice cream consisting of two scoops the size of melon balls – no, not melons, you know the little scoops you use to make those tiny melon balls? Yeah, that big. There was also usually a cake sliced so thin you could see through it.
I found that with the meager serving sizes and the length of time between courses, I was always hungry by about midnight. Of course we had no snacks in our stateroom, which led us to go out one day in search of potato chips or something – anything – snackable. Our friends thought this was great fun, and the six of us were romping all over – oh, I don’t remember, some German city – looking for crisps, as they called them. We were successful – Stephen and I found pretzel sticks and candy bars, and Helen and Janet returned with a small can of Pringles! We had such fun with the search! On the final night when we went down to dinner, there was something strange on our table. The others maneuvered us so that Stephen had to sit in the place containing a large paper bag tied closed with ribbons. When he opened it, we discovered multiple packages of various flavours of crisps! The others had remained behind that afternoon while we did an optional excursion, and they wandered around the town of Breisach in search of crisps for us! Needless to say we had a huge laugh over that. And the crisps were appreciated! We snacked on them in Zurich and had none left by the end of the trip!
So back to dinners. There was also an additional course several nights which offered no choice. Twice we started with some sort of pate served on a spoon which looked oddly like one of those round handled baby spoons. You could barely taste whatever was on it. And twice there was a seafood dish handed to everyone. The first time it was a prawn thing and I managed to stop the server from giving me one. But the second time it was lobster and I was the first one served. I had my back to the kitchen so didn’t see it coming until it sailed past my nose and landed in front of me! I hate the smell of lobster. To me it’s positively nauseating. I reared away and literally pushed my chair back. Stephen and I both tried to get the server’s attention to take it away, but she didn’t see us. I decided that would be a suitable point at which to quietly leave the table to fetch my camera from my room. I dawdled, but when I returned the lobster was still underway. Stephen had finished his, put his empty dish at my spot, and started in on mine. I sat down, but the smell was still bothering me. I pushed the dish as far forward as I could. One of our friends, Peter, noticed I was obviously bothered by it, so he motioned for me to give him my dish, which I did, and he stacked it neatly with his, far away from me. Thank you, Peter!
There was really no other food available on board aside from meals. In both lounges there was a coffee maker that produced anything coffee-ish imaginable, including mind-blowing creamy hot chocolate, and there were usually cookies, muffins and doughnuts available there as well but that was it.
I had planned to talk about the excursions, scheduling, and our annoying cruise director now, but it’s lunch time and all this talk of food has made me hungry. Time to eat. And it won’t be lobster….