Rhine River Cruise, Amsterdam to Basel aboard Avalon Waterway’s new ship Felicity

AMSAMS boatAMS blk forestAMS castle 1Ams clock usAMS FrauAMS Gourgeous Rhine Gourge GirlsAmsterdam cruise arptAMS lunchAMS Colmar canal Who would have thought when we planned this river cruise over a year in advance that we would get such a great response for both the cruise and the passion play at Oberammergau. And boy, did we have fun! We arrived in Amsterdam a day in advance of the cruise and as luck would have it the Netherlands had made it to the World Cup soccer finals (vs Spain) with the game being played during our stay. The NH Amsterdam Hotel was in fact only about 2 short blocks from the outdoor event site where the game could be seen on giant screen tv’s in a typical Amsterdam party atmosphere. The city was up for grabs that evening and we blended in well in our orange colors in support of the home team. We sailed the next day aboard the Avalon Felicity, a beautiful 122 passenger ship just built this year.  This was our second European river cruise and we are convinced this is the best way to see many of Europe’s great cities and regions. No packing and unpacking, an included tour of the highlights of each city visited along the way and great food and companionship. There were Brits, Aussies, a Kiwi and Soni even met a guy from Ohio on board. Each evening before dinner we’d meet in the lounge for a port briefing from our Cruise Director Jean-Loup to go over the next day’s schedule and tours. Attendance was high, could it be the nightly 2 for 1 Happy Hour, no garnish please? We also received a printed schedule along with maps and some historical information in our cabins each night- along with a chocolate treat. Our first port of call was Cologne and we docked on the river a few short blocks from the famous Gothic cathedral that dominates the skyline.  Our included shore excursions were in groups of about 25 with local tour guides and we all had personal headsets to hear the narrative in I-pod fashion. After the tour there was free time to explore the city on your own or just walk back to the ship and relax. The weather was warm and sunny, so the top deck was a great place to hang out and watch the river traffic go by. The four course dinners at night were superb! Choices of several salads and soups, main entrees like Duck a la orange,beef tenderloin with bernnaise sauce,halibut with scampi,rack of lamb,butterfish and scrumptious deserts (think chocolate mousse,crepe suzette,tiramisu)- small portions but plenty filling and you don’t come away stuffed. Had to save room for the local wines and beer included with dinner. Lunch and breakfast were buffet style with plenty of choices and delicious local cheeses and tasty ice cream flavors to choose from. A short visit to Koblenz was followed by an afternoon on deck viewing the most scenic part of the the river the Rhine Gorge. A lovely warm sunny afternoon was in store as we floated by castles, vineyards and small German villages as Jean-Loup narrated stories of the building of these ancient castles, battles and historical points along the way, including the Lorelei Rock. A late afternoon port call at Rudisheim and a stop to sample the famous Rudisheim Kaffee(what was in that anyway!) Siegfrieds Mechanical Music Museum just up the street and offered some real antique gems not found anywhere else in the world. Our first optional tour of the week  found the bulk of our group back down the street for a Bavarian dinner with local wine. The rains came in the middle of dinner ( too bad we were on the patio) and brought some much needed relief with cooler temps. About this time Mary magically appeared dressed in typical Bavarian garb flitting from table to table with pitcher in hand and the place was up for grabs! Somehow we all found our way back to the waiting tourist train for the short trip back to our  ship. Next day brought us to a port stop at Mannheim and a motorcoach excursion to the old university town of Heidleberg. Our local tour guide showed us the old castle (aren’t they all) and the great views overlooking the city. Then, free time to explore on our own-or shop! That afternoon we set sail for Speyer and an interesting visit and tour of the cathedral. A hilarious show was put on for us after dinner that evening by the crew. Lots of laughs! Strasbourg,France was a real surprise! Beautiful city, which we got to see up close on a canal tour.. Of course, what would a trip to the Alsace region be without a wine tasting stop? Back on the German side of the river was Breisach, our hopping off point for the Black Forest excursion. We traveled deep into this southern Bavarian region, among the rolling hills and small towns even spotting a stork nest on the chimney of a local church. The cuckoo clock stop was pretty amazing from simply designed clocks to elaborately designed time pieces with lots of moving parts. Even Deb walked out with a cuckoo, not Tom! On top of that, above the shop they were serving Black Forest Cake and coffee to our group-yummy! The shop’s owner and master woodcarver, who had given a wood carving demonstration the night before aboard ship, came on the bus as we were about to leave to thank us- we must have shopped well! Our last night aboard the Felicity we enjoyed the Captain’s Farewell Dinner. Then many of us retreated to the lounge to hear Nasco play his tunes on the piano one last time and to keep Fari busy behind the bar. Basel, Switzerland was as far as we went and the buses were ready to transport us the hour or so trip to the Zurich Airport for our flight home. Joan took the rest of our group by rail to Innnsbruck and then on to the passion play held once every ten years at Oberammergau,Germany. I was not looking forward to that British Air flight and that crazy round about transfer at the new international terminal at Heathrow- who dreamed that up anyway! It took every bit of our 90 minute connection time to navigate this maze, but we didn’t loose any of our, by now, seasoned travelers! What a memorable trip with a wonderful group! Looking forward to our next adventure.  John and Joan 2010