River cruising on the Main, Danube and Rhine, we pass hillside vineyards and medieval architecture on our journey through the Netherlands, Germany and Austria. On either side of the river banks, we pass villages and towns that have existed for ages. River cruising is slow and relaxing as if gliding along on glass. Passengers sit in the front extensive lounge area, surrounded by glass windows on three sides or on top of the deck for the ultimate views.
River cruising on the Aria, one of the river ships with Grand Circle River Cruise, we traversed from Amsterdam, Netherlands to Vienna, Austria. Staff greeted us at the Holland International Airport and transported the passengers by bus to the Aria, our home for the next 14 days. Onboard, staff immediately escorted us to our cabins. The size comfortably slept two people with ample storage, desks, in-room bathroom and Wi-Fi connection. Cabins had floor to ceiling glass doors and balcony, a large viewing window or two small side-by-side windows. The river ship’s top Sun Deck by the bridge provided outdoor seating with fantastic views. At times, the captain needed to close it because of the heights of some bridges. A library, lounge with 24-hour coffee, cappuccino and tea service, spa with fitness center, a sauna, jacuzzi and messages invigorated and relaxed all 146 guests. Passengers on this cruise were United States citizens. Friendships developed over the next 14 days.
On the Aria, all meals of 14 breakfasts, 14 lunches and 14 dinners included wine, beer or soda. A cold/hot buffet was available for all meals and the chef prepared a ‘local specialty’ dinner in the evening. Open seating was the standard in the restaurant. The four courses served at lunch and dinner included soup, salad, entree and dessert. The servers were very attentive to the needs of the guests and always wished us a “Bon appetite” before the entre. While on the ship, a tour of the galley offered guests the opportunity to see where the food was prepared. It was amazing to see the small area where all the chefs prepared, plated and served the meals. A tour of the pilot room was very informative.
The Great Rivers Cruise began in Amsterdam and cruised to Cologne, Koblenz, Heidelberg and Wertheim, a fairy-tale town where the Main and Tauber Rivers meet. Onward, we cruised to Wurzburg on the Main in Bavaria, walking the bridge with wine in hand and Bamberg, a city on the Main River in Bavaria where the onions are huge and the cold smoky bacon beer was a welcome delight. Nuremberg explored the past and tragic time in history. Regensburg, Passau, and Vienna completed our cruise. Optional tours to Rothenburg on the Tauber River, the Bavaria: Baroque & Beer, with beer, pretzels and mustard and cruising thru the beautiful Danube Gorge to the Weltenburg Monastery provided more opportunities to explore the region. In Melk, a bus transported us to the magnificent Abbey and Baroque Church. Sailing through the Wachau Valley we reached Vienna, an Imperial City, for a Musical Tour of Vienna.
This is not a trip for individuals who have great difficulty walking. Some individuals used scooters and walkers and were accustomed to the cobblestone streets and stairways. During the evenings, we sailed the rivers to a new destination and the tours would begin. Some tours began at the water edge and was a half-day trek through the medieval cities walking on the old cobblestone streets always watching out for bicyclists. Other tours required a comfortable coach ride to the sights. The Grand Cruises employs four Program Directors, men, and women from the area where they have lived. They are very knowledgeable about the history of the country and city, the architecture, museums, churches, castles, UNESCO sites, city life, and stories told over the ages. Some cities provided additional city guides and we met people who lived in the city and they spoke with us about their lives, the war, and refugee crisis – some rather controversial topics. The educational focus of the Grand Circle Cruise Line makes it a leader in river cruising worldwide and the recipient of numerous awards. Every Program Director had approximately 25 guests and were given headsets to hear the director while walking in the cities.
The Rhine River journey from Koblenz, Germany to Ruedeshiem, Germany revealed many castles, 24 in all. The 760 mile voyage up the Rhine River moved at 9½ mph upstream. Each village had a castle on a high hilltop for protection in ages past and a church or two. Along the river, there appeared fortresses, ruins, castles and the legendary Lorelei statue and rocks.
Locks are constructed throughout the rivers. These locks are tall concrete slabs in which the river cruisers and cargo barges slowly maneuver through. There are exactly 12 inches on each side of the river cruiser to the walls. Large doors to the front and back are raised or lowered allowing water to fill or empty from inside the lock. The highest lock on our journey was 85 ft. The locks prevent flooding of the towns along the rivers.
The cruise offered multiple opportunities for enrichment learning. Speakers, singers, dancers and a glass blowing demonstration entertained guests while in port before leaving and in the evening, a crew show on the lounge floor demonstrated additional talents of the crew.
The Grand Circle Cruise Lines has the Grand Circle Foundation founded by Alan & Harriet in 1992 as a means to give back to the world we travel. More than 200 schools in 60 countries have received part of the $100 million dollars donated. Museums have received pledges to purchase artifacts for visitors to view.
If You Go:
♦ Check the seasonal weather for packing appropriate attire. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
♦ Pack one suitcase and one carry-on to avoid additional airfares. Pack ‘outfits’ which interchange.
♦ Carryon medications, small umbrella, and pashmina to use for warmth or cover.
♦ Contact your credit/debit card companies and inform them of your travel. Secure some cash of the countries you will be visiting before leaving on vacation.
♦ Contact the Travelers Bureau or Chamber of Commerce for additional city information in you are extending your trip.
All photos by Mary Ann Olson
- Aria Grand Circle Cruises
- Meals in the Dining Room
- Castle along Rivers
- Gorge on Danube River
- Locks along River
- Town along the River
Mary Ann Olson is a published journalist, photographer, travel writer and musician. She is a member of the Professional Writers’ Alliance and the International Travel Writer and Photographers Association. Mary Ann provides great insight into the culture, music and arts in the countries visited. Wine and Food are a passion and a focus of her travel writing. She shares her travels at I Write About Travel.com.