I pressed the switch on the wall and the 10ft panoramic window – the entire length of the cabin – immediately opened.
Our indoor cabin had quickly, and very impressively, become an outdoor one.
It meant my wife Lois and I could sit sipping a glass of very decent German white wine and watch the world go by on our cruise down the Rhine.
The new Emerald Luna ship is full of such simple but brilliantly innovative technological ideas.
I’d never been on a cruise ship where the flick of a switch dramatically changed your cabin – with the “magic window”, as I dubbed it, allowing fresh air inside.
We were barely a yard above the waterline of the world-famous Rhine and it certainly gave us a very special experience on the entire journey from Holland down to the Swiss city of Basel.
The Rhine really is a magical river. It rises in Switzerland and joins the North Sea in Rotterdam and there are a huge number of vessels that use it on a daily basis.
From the kayaks, canoes, speedboats and jet-skis to enormous petrol tankers, freight carriers and cruise ships, every section we travelled on was in extensive use.
There are stunning riverside campsites right next to huge car factories.
From leisure to industry, this river is the lifeline for hundreds of communities throughout Holland, France, Germany and Switzerland.
Our own voyage started in Amsterdam. We enjoyed a quiet day by the canals before we returned to the ship and headed south.
Our first stop was Cologne. The bars and cafes around the stunning cathedral were teeming with locals and tourists enjoying a Sunday afternoon in the sunshine.Next was the historic city of Koblenz. Nestled where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet, the city gets its name from the word “confluence”.
It is an amazing place, with a huge statue of Emperor Wilhelm I riding his horse on reclaimed land where the rivers meet at Deutsches Eck headland (German Corner). It had been badly damaged in an air raid in the Second World War and removed. But after much local debate, a new statue was erected in the 1990s.
It may have been politically controversial but the statue is now a major tourist attraction in the city and towers above both rivers.
Nearby, high water marks have been etched in stone to illustrate some of the huge flooding which has affected the area.
Just around the corner three huge pieces of the Berlin wall, torn down in 1989, have been transported and cemented into the ground.
One local had poignantly chalked the words “No War” inside a heart on the ground next to them.
It seemed particularly apt given the current conflict in Ukraine and many tourists stopped to pose for photos.
We then took a cable car up to the city’s imposing Ehrenbreitstein Fortress.
It swoops low over the Rhine and some of the cabins have glass-bottomed floors to allow for spectacular views over the river.
The huge fort is fascinating, with a history going back centuries.
But soon we were back on board heading down the middle section of the Rhine, which features jaw-dropping scenery, stunning castles and legends such as the siren of the Lorelei rock.
Huge cliffs plunge down to the banks but our view wasn’t the best as it started to rain and a heavy mist descended – we chuckled as we thought about the “Fog on the Rhine”!
Next stop was Mannheim. A bus took us to the nearby medieval city of Heidelberg with its massive castle where we enjoyed wine-tasting in the cellar with some of the world’s largest wine vats.
The city is also home to some of the most expensive properties in Europe, with houses starting at £5million. Tennis legend Steffi Graf and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl used to own villas on the banks of the River Neckar.
Heidelberg was virtually unscathed during the war, which means its magnificent castle and half-timbered buildings remain a delight.
Back down the Rhine we stopped at the great European city of Strasbourg.
Our mooring was in the main Rhine port and it was fascinating to see the huge industrial cranes working. The city centre is lovely and the Petite France area is fascinating.
Our final stop on the way to Basel was the German town of Breisach.
We decided to forgo the excursion to a museum in the Black Forest and just strolled around the town.
It was lovely to have some time to ourselves and take in a place that’s not well known as a tourist hotspot.
When our fellow guests returned they raved about the beautiful Black Forest scenery on the three-hour round trip.
LIFE ON BOARD
Aboard the 180-passenger, 443ft-long Emerald Luna, whose cabins are five-star-hotel quality, the food was superb.
There was an omelette station at breakfast, and a pasta station at lunch, plus the chance to order steaks, fish and local specialised delicacies from the a la carte menu.
There were different wines each evening with a team of eager waiters topping you up at regular intervals.
All tips and gratuities were included so there were none of those awkward and embarrassing situations you can find on other cruises.
Tea and coffee were free and there were three drink packages on offer: £8.50 a day for soft drinks and mocktails; £12.50 for wine, draft beer and soft drinks; and £24.50 for everything including cocktails such as Bloody Marys, Moscow Mules and Harvey Wallbangers.
There was also the usual standard cruise fare of quizzes, recitals and films.
The swimming pool is small but there is a jet you could turn on to allow a proper swim against the current, and the roof can open in fine weather. At night, at another flick of a switch, it’s covered with a wooden floor and becomes a mini cinema.
On the top deck the “lawned” sun deck reaches from the bow to the stern, with a walking track round it.
The ship has several bikes on board which are available for use at no extra cost. It was great in some of the smaller ports to be able to grab a bike and cycle off for a look round.
Health-wise, cleanliness levels were second to none. All staff wore masks at all times and there were sanitation gels available everywhere.
Any complaints? Not really. Meal times were a little rigid and at times there was almost too much to do. But overall we loved it.
Are you looking to book your first river cruise? Here are a few tips.
- They can be surprisingly tiring so make sure you choose one that suits your age and fitness.
- While most excursions are included in the price, don’t do them all. Take a day off to chill and enjoy the ship or a small town nearby.
- Do check the drinks packages on offer. If you like cocktails there are often some great deals to be had.
GET ON BOARD
Emerald Cruises offers an eight-day sailing on Emerald Luna from Amsterdam to Basel, calling at Cologne, Koblenz, Mannheim, Kehl (for Strasbourg) and Breisach from £3,145 per person. Departs on May 13, 2023, and includes flights from 16 UK airports, drinks with meals, transfers and excursions. emeraldcruises.co.uk
holland.com; germany.travel; uk.france.fr; myswitzerland.com