Wednesday, July 10, 2013

European River Cruise aboard the A-ROSA AQUA on the Rhine

Tony and I just returned from the June 29th 2013 sailing of the A-ROSA AQUA, a luxury all-inclusive river cruise on the Rhine river. A-ROSA's passengers have been traditionally Germans, but the David Morris International has partnered with A-ROSA to introduce European river cruising to North Americans. The June 29th sailing was the inaugural cruise for North Americans.

There are a few bumps that still need to be ironed out (like the information on the web site, documentation, etc.) but overall it was a fabulous cruise and highly recommended!

We arrived in Basel the day before our cruise was to depart & explored the area. We flew into Zurich and took the train to Basel. It was a beautiful train ride, much of it along the river.

First on the agenda was a dry run to the pier to make sure we could find it. We had a nice long walk along the river. We saw river taxis and ferries that were pulled across the river on a cable.


We stopped once to ask directions from a bank guard who spoke very little English but was able to tell us to go to the point where 3 countries come together. We found the pier and the A-ROSA AQUA was in port. 
A sign by the door said 'No Visitors' so we just admired the outside. We wanted to find out what time embarkation was, but found no one to ask. After the long walk to the pier, we decided we did not want to repeat that with our luggage so we set out to find the nearest tram stop. Basel hotels provide their guests with a mobility pass which gives then free transportation on trams and busses. We found the Kleinhüningen tram stop just a few blocks away and took the number 8 tram back to old town.

Old town was, as the name implies, old. We saw lots of places dating back to the 1200-1400s. Many of the doors had dates over them.
There was a beautiful church at the top of the hill.  

We retired early since it was our first night and it was a long night! The body clock just couldn't adjust to the new time zone. I woke every few hours, read email, checked Facebook and even downloaded a book during the night. 

We awoke to a rainy day; not at all what the weather channel had predicted, but what else is new?

Once we worked up the courage to face the weather, we took a panoramic ride on trams 15 and 16. These routes took us through the city center, over the Bruderholz and twice across the Rhine, passing many of Basel's places of interest.
We stopped at Marktplatz and enjoyed some entertainment at a local health fair.
There was a vegetable market in the middle of the square.
Before we knew it, it was time to head for the A-ROSA AQUA! We took tram number 8 from Aeschenplatz to Kleinhüningen. It was a short walk to the dock. We were a little worried that we had no paperwork for the cruise but our worries were soon washed away by the welcome glass of champagne. 
Registration took less than a minute and we were in our room, unpacking our bags. The room was bigger than we expected and came appointed with a canopy above the bed, a flat screen TV and plenty of closet space. 
The bathroom was small, but clean and efficiently arranged. There was a decent amount of closet space too, with shelves, hanging sections and a safe.
Once we got settled, we walked around the boat. The carpet in the hallways was adorned with rose petals.
The roomy lounge had plenty of seating for the 202 passenger capacity of the ship, but we would later learn that there were only ~60 passengers aboard this voyage.
We were instructed to come to the dining room to select our table. We chose a table for 4, hoping that we would be seated with some fun people.  (We understand that future cruises will be open seating). Beyond the dining room was another room with tables that could be used for casual dining or gaming, and an open area on the back deck with a wine bar and beer tap.
The top deck was all open air.  There was a seating area with tables and umbrellas, a putting green and shuffleboard court.
At the other end of the deck was a sun deck with lounge chairs. Oh, and of course, a giant set of checkers.  Depending on the height of the bridges, sometimes the deck equipment had to be collapsed to get under a bridge.
We found the spa.  There were massage services available for a fee, but the exercise equipment, sauna and hot tub were part of the all-inclusive offering.
There was a small gift shop at the center of the ship with jewelry, clothing and cosmetics.
After our tour of the boat, we grabbed a bite of salad for lunch and a glass of chardonnay while we looked over the A-ROSA Journal.  Each day, we would receive a journal that included information about activities, excursions, meetings, all-aboard-time, and the all-important drinks of the day! For embarkation day, the alcoholic drink of the day was the "Welcome on Board" (Sparkling wine, blue Curacao and orange juice).  The non-alcoholic drink of the day was the "Big Apple" (Apple juice, lemon juice, orange juice, grenadine and sparkling water).
We met Casey, the Creative Director from David Morris International. We visited with Casey and his partner in the lounge during the 'mandatory' safety demonstration. The demonstration was a video of a stern man who never blinked telling us what to do in an emergency. Afterward, a young lady reassured us that the boat could not sink because the Rhine is not deep enough. 
After the safety talk, we heard about the spa treatment and the excursions. There was an explanation of a change in our itinerary. Our projected mooring place in Speyer was unavailable so we would be docking in Mannheim instead. It was a 2 drink information session and the bar staff graciously kept our drinks filled. They even brought us a snack of fruit and cheese. The boat was about 1/3 full (50-60 people) and we understood that about 16-18 of the guests were like us, on a 'fam' trip.

Our new friends Casey and Tom asked us to join them for dinner and we were happy to oblige. 
Each course was paired with a complimentary wine. The amuse bouche was "Tafelspitzsülze" with green Herb Sauce, served with champagne. Next was Tartar of Scottish Wild Salmon and Avocado with sautéed Scallop and marinated Wild Salad paired with white wine. 
The Truffled Beef Essence with Morrels followed by Crepinette of Veal Rack with Port Wine Jus, Chive Moussline and glazed Baby Carrots was served with red wine. 
Dessert was Madeleines with braised Apricots and Hazelnut Ice Cream, accompanied by a sweet desert wine. After dinner drinks were offered with a selection of French Cheeses each evening.
While we we finishing up, one of the crew members let us know that we were about to leave port. She wanted Casey to know that we were missing 3 passengers, but we must leave on time or we would miss our slots in the locks. (We later learned that there were not 3 missing passengers after all, there was a mistake on the manifest.) As we left the port, we could see the three countries monument where France, Germany and Switzerland join.
After helping ourselves to an array of delicious stinky cheeses, we made or way to the lounge for the captain's welcome and the introduction of the crew. 

Getting to sleep wasn't easy again. We slept with the balcony door open so we could hear the river. We felt the boat shift as we entered each of the 4 locks. We traveled a distance of 59 km over 12 hours, passing through Weil am Rhine.

We awoke to find that the boat had docked in Breisach. It was a beautiful day! We had breakfast of custom made omelets with bacon.
After breakfast we met the Austrian guide Bernhard for our biking excursion. The bikes were nice cruising bikes with both hand and pedal brakes. They had 8 gears that were easy to shift. Although we brought our own, A-ROSA would have provided gel seats, backpacks and water bottles.
Our route took us along the river and through the woods to the next town of Berkem. 
There was a short uphill climb to get into town. 
We took a 20 minute break to enjoy the little Sunday festival and sample the local wine. 
The route back was through a residential section and past corn fields. 
There was a long steep uphill to get back into Breisach. Some people (Tony included) had to get off and push their bikes.
We toured the town and the church and then rode back down to the dock and boarded the boat in time for lunch. Tony's GPS reported that we had ridden 22.4 km at an average speed of 11.4 km/hour.
Lunch was a buffet with cooked to order burgers as well as Asian food. We opted for the salad bar, and BJ had a bowl of 'lobster' bisque which was really tiny shrimp bisque.

Many of our compatriots took a bus excursion to Colmar, but since we had just been there last November, we elected to skip it.

The afternoon was spent reading interspersed with some napping on the sun deck.
Later, we took a walk around Breisach. We picked up a map at the tourist information office and started following the red path. We immediately got lost and ended up on the blue path, but it was a happy accident because it led us past some interesting sights and through some beautiful vineyards.
One interesting observation about the tourist information. They had plaques at each point of interest with what appeared to be a good deal of information about the sight. The 2 lines at the bottom are the extremely condensed English translation.
Back on the boat, we freshened up and met our friends in the lounge for fresh French oysters and champagne during the port talk about the next days itinerary. The alcoholic drink of the day was "Caribbean Romance" (Amaretto, Bacardi Rum, grenadine, lemon juice and orange juice).  The non-alcoholic drink was "Coconut Kiss" (cream, coconut syrup, pineapple juice and strawberry syrup).  Tony tried the coconut drink but had them add a little something to it.
We went back to our original table for dinner since Casey, our host, would be entertaining other guests. We started with a Mousse of Cherry Tomatoes followed by duo of Barbarie Duck with marinated Rocket Salad and Raspberry Vinaigrette. The wine for the starter was Prosecco Frizzante Splash.
The Chanterelle Mushroom Soup with Potato Straw was the best dish of the trip thus far. It was paired with Silvaner wine from the Vineyard Sander.
The entree was Pan Fried Wild Salmon Fillet with Saffron Foam, Baby Zucchini and Mediterranean Rice, served with Niersteiner Auflangen Riesling from the Vineyard Gehring. The most wonderful dessert followed, Almond and Apple Tart with Calvados and homemade vanilla ice cream. The dessert wine was Gelber Muskateller from Vineyard Gehring.
We stopped by the cheese buffet on our way back to the lounge. We partied with our new friends, and before we knew it, it was midnight and the start of my birth month. We had champagne and some BBQ chicken horns and cheese bread. The band, Lipstick Duo was awesome. Casey and I cut the rug to 'Dancing Queen'. Gabriel was the other musician. He sounded like we imagine Lawrence Welk would sound singing Achy Breaky Heart.
We sailed through the night (~10 hours) from Breisach to Kehl, a distance of 67 km.  We encountered 4 locks as we passed through the Black Forest & Kaiserstuhl on our way to Kehl.

We docked in the very industrial city on Kehl, about 6 miles from Strasbourg. Because of the length of our boat, we could not dock in Strasbourg. I got up for the 7:30AM exercise class which turned out to be more stretching than anything else, although it did include a few push ups and planks.

After a quick breakfast of an omelet and bacon, we joined the bike riders for the Strasbourg tour. Bernhard, our leader, who must have been all of 21 years old asked for a volunteer to bring up the rear and make sure the group stayed together. Tony volunteered to be the caboose. 
We had a nice ride into Strasbourg.
The weather was perfect and we made just the right number of stops for photographs. 
We had a beverage at La Corde à Linge and some sampled Bernhard's recommended cheesecake and tiramisu. 
We made a stop at the cathedral but could not get in because it was closed for lunch. 
We had a small mishap when the GPS fell off of Tony's bike in the middle of an intersection. The drivers waited politely while he stopped to pick up the pieces. Thankfully it still worked and reported a 21.8 km ride for the day at an average speed of 10.8 km/hour.

We made it back to the boat for a late lunch. The buffet was much like the previous day with the burger bar and the Asian station. We availed ourselves of the salad bar, choosing to save our calories for dinner.

We decided to walk into Kehl to look for some super glue to fix the GPS. We should have taken the GPS with us and we wouldn't have made a wrong turn and toured the scrap metal recycling area. We eventually found the shopping area and 2 large stores, but neither had super glue. We got some tape, sun screen and hair products.

Back on the boat, we had a nice soak in the Jacuzzi followed by some time on the sun deck visiting with our friends Casey and Tom.

We joined the crew in the lounge for the daily port talk. Sidney, the bartender, made us a special drink which we called Sidney's big cucumber martini. it was delicious; made with muddled cucumbers, mint and vodka. Spring rolls were served with our cocktails.
Dinner was, again, delicious. We started with Duck Caree with Lemongrass and Sauce Cumberland accompanied by Riesling Gutswein from the Vineyard Robert Weil.  The soup was a Light Cream of Pimento with Atlantic Fishes.  Even the non-fish eaters thought the soup was delicious as long as they didn't dig to deep and get a chunk of fish. 
The accompanying wine for the hot appetizers was Chardonnay from the Vineyard Bassermann-Jordan. I was convinced that they chose it for the initials "BJ" on the label, in honor of my birth-month!
The third course was "Fregola Sardi" Pasta with Lamb Fillet and Truffle foam followed by the main course of Under the Skin stuffed Corn fed Chicken Breast with Market Vegetables of Strasbourg, Polenta Cake and Thyme-Jus. Merdinger Bühl Spätburgunder from the Vineyard Joachim Heger was the main course wine selection.
Dessert was Lightly jellied Champagne Soup with Berries and Lemon Sorbet served with Riesling-Sekt from Vineyard Heinrich Vollmer.
After dinner, we all went to the upper deck to observe while the boat went through a lock, and then it was back downstairs to dance the night away. Sidney made another specialty drink, this one was made with passion fruit.
After dancing the night away, we needed extra sleep so we did something that is almost unheard of, and missed a meal so we could sleep extra late. I finally rolled out of bed at 11. We made a pass through the dining area on the off chance that they were still serving but it was deserted. We walked into Mannheim. The city is built on a grid system which should be easy to figure out but took us a while to master. We had a cappuccino at Meydan and did some people watching.
We hit the high points, the palace, church and gardens. 
We made it back to the boat in time for lunch. The buffet included a green Thai fish dish that I loved!

We took the bus into Speyer where we were originally supposed to dock. The bicycles were loaded into the cargo bin beneath the bus for our bicycle tour.
Bernhardt led the bike tour again. Today we were a group of 11, well 12, including Bernhardt. Tony batted cleanup again, bringing up the rear and I was the go-between making sure everyone knew where to turn when the group got separated. Tony got a cool orange vest to make him look official!
We had some fairly inexperienced riders with the group who were unhappy that we were riding in traffic. One woman took a fall when she tried to jump a curb but didn't seem to be hurt.
Some of the ride was on bike paths and some was in the city. 
We made a stop at the Roman Cathedral and other touristy sights.
The Speyer bike ride was 14.4 km and we averaged 9.8 km/hour, a slower shorter ride than normal probably due to trying to keep 12 people together.  We were back on the bus by 5:30PM and back to the boat shortly after 6:00PM. That gave us barely enough time to get cleaned up for cocktails and dinner. The cocktail of the day was Jamaica Punch (Amaretto, Bacardi Rum, grenadine, lemon juice, pineapple juice and orange juice).  The non-alcoholic choice was the Ipanema (limes, brown cane sugar, lime juice & Ginger Ale). We stuck with sparkling wine as our choice.

Dinner was maybe the best yet. Goose Liver with Chocolate 70% with Brioche and Caramell was served with Ruby Port, and then there a Light Cream Soup of Water Cress paired with Gutswein Riesling from the Vineyard Dr. Bürklin-Wolf-Pfalz.
Next came Lime Risotto with marinated Octopus.  The entree was fork tender Roast Beef with Truffle-Hollandaise, white Turnip and Potato and Mushroom "Gröstel" with a Dunkler Hahn Rotwein Cuvee from Vineyard Toni Jost (Bacharach)-Mitteirhein.
Dessert was decadent Crème brûlée with Zeitinger Schlossberg Riesling Auslese from Vineyard Selbach-Oster-Mosel.
Sidney made a special drink with cognac in honor of my birth month. We couldn't find our usual compatriots so after a few songs in the lounge, we headed up top to enjoy the beautiful evening. We made it an early night. (We later learned that everyone else had turned in early too.)

For the first time on the cruise, we woke to find that we were still motoring up river. The crew wanted to make sure to time it so that we passed through the castle region while it was daylight. The views would have been spectacular had it not been for the rain and fog.  We were traveling 168 km from Manheim to Koblenz, passing through Worms, Mainz, Rudesheim, Loreley, St. Goar, Boppard, Lahnstein, some of the same places we had walked and biked through on previous trips.
It was too wet to go up on deck so we found a quiet place to sit in the spa at the front of the boat where we had a pretty good vantage point. 
It wasn't long though, until others discovered our little sanctuary and the peace and quiet were destroyed. Everyone congregated outside the massage room. Bernhard, the masseuse, politely pointed out that the announcements about the castles couldn't be heard in the spa and hinted that we all go to the lounge. Nobody except us took the hint, and we learned later from the massage patrons that they were disturbed by chatter.

I decided to take the opportunity to hit the gym and had a decent view from the exercise bike. Later, I enjoyed the final stretch of the castle region from the hot tub where it didn't matter if I got rained on.
Hamburgers were available on the back deck, but we chose the salad bar again along with some samples from the hot buffet. The oxtail soup was very satisfying for a rainy day.

We docked in Koblenz around noon, so after lunch we borrowed an umbrella from the ship and set out to explore the town. We elected to skip the bike excursion since it was so rainy. We found the tourist map among the paperwork from the boat and followed one of the suggested routes past some of the sights. 
We stopped to admire this fountain and I was about to take a picture when I was startled by the boy in the fountain spitting on unsuspecting tourists.  Thankfully I was standing to the side and didn't get wet.
The red route had us back at the boat around mid afternoon, perfect timing to have a beer under the awning at the back of the boat.

We continued the tour, following another suggested route that went past the huge palace and an impressive government building. The weather had started to clear by then so the walk was more pleasant.
We found a marker showing the high water marks for past years.
After our walk, we got cleaned up and took our deck of cards to the lounge. We didn't get to finish our game before our new friends joined us for cocktails. Today's cocktail was the Dirty Harry (Gin, Vodka, lime juice, grapefruit juice and orange juice).  The non-alcoholic option was the Red Orchid (orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemon juice and grenadine). Again, we stuck with sparkling wine. The hors d'oeuvres were fried mozzarella sticks with guacamole. The port talk told us what to expect the next day in Cologne. Then the staff let us know that they were planning an Independence Day BBQ for us.

The wine pairings for dinner were all from the Peter Jostock winery. The winemaker and his wife had dinner in the restaurant. Our little group of friends took turns going over to their table to let them know how much we appreciated the wines.
Dinner started with Melon Soup with Mint, followed by Graved Salmon with Wild Herb Salad and Horseradish Cream. This was accompanied by a Riesling Winzersekt brut.
Next was a Ragout of Green Asparagus and Sot L'y Laisse served with Riesling Hochgewächs. The entree was Pink Roasted Rack of Lamb with Gravy, Eggplant Caviar and Potato Wedges accompanied by Regent Redwine, a surprisingly rich red wine for the region.
Dessert was Marquise aux Chocolate with Passionfruit Sorbet and a sweet Riesling Auslese.
After dinner, we congregated in the lounge again. One of the gals had colorful nicknames for some of the other passengers on the boat. She gave us the nickname, 'The Carry-ons' since we travel standby and never check luggage. Many of the nicknames were based on celebrity look-alikes.  There was Doogie Howser, Helen Mirren, Randy Quaid, Shirley Jones, Joe Paterno, Judd Hirsh/Buddy Hackett, Ryan O'Neal, Bill Rancic, Anderson Cooper and Tall Danny DeVito.

We made it another early night since we planned to bicycle again the next day. During the night, we traveled 96 km from Koblenz to Cologne passing through Remagen, Rolandseck, Königswinter and Bonn.

We were just motoring into Cologne when I woke up to see the cathedral out our balcony door. The camera just happened to be next to the bed so I snapped a picture.
Tony slept in a bit while I had a cappuccino with a new friend. Breakfast was the usual omelet with a couple from Hawaii.

The bike tour was a more manageable size again with only 6 people. We rode into the city to see some of the sights, including the cathedral and a couple of the city gates. 
We still had extra time so Bernard took us on the bike paths on both sides of the Rhine. Somewhere along the way, the GPS mount on Tony's bike broke, dumped the GPS onto the bike path and he ran over it.  It takes a licking and keeps on ticking though!  Except for a broken case, no harm done.  We rode 22.6 km at an average speed of 11.2 km/hour.

We got back to the boat in time for lunch on the sun deck. The staff had prepared an Independence Day feast! Along with it, they served the local Kölsch beer. The Duo Lipstick performed during lunch.
We had thought we would go back into town but the weather was so perfect and the sun felt so good that we decided to spend the afternoon on deck, enjoying some of Sidney's delicious cocktails.
We were joined by friends who shared travel stories.
The port talk in the lounge during cocktail hour covered our destination of Amsterdam.  The cocktail of the day was the Blue Lagoon (Vodka, Bacardi Rum, Blue Curacao, orange Juice and grapefruit juice). The Tropical Fizz was the non-alcoholic choice (pineapple juice, lemon juice, grapefruit juice and sparkling water).

After the port talk, we went back up on deck for a 'sail away' party. Everyone was snapping pictures of each other so we could remember our cruise buddies.  See if you can pick out any of the celebrity look-alikes.
Dinner was delicious again with some unusual selections. Our starter was King Crab Tartar with Grapefruit, followed by Lemongrass and Curry Cappuccino.  These selections were paired with Riesling Hochgewächs halbtroken from Vineyard J. & H. Selbach. 
The next course was Goose Liver Ravioli with Apple, served with Cuvée Weißburgunder & Grauburgunder vom Roten Hang from the Vineyard Gunderloch.  The main course was Fillet of Gilt Head Fish with Gravy, Artichokes and La Ratte accompanied by Vollmand Rotwein Cuvée from Vineyard Gehring.
Dessert was iced Crepes with Mascarpone Strawberry and Vanilla Ice Cream. The staff had also prepared a special Independence Day Chocolate cake for us.  The wine for this course was Spätburgunder Rose feinherb from Vineyard Onig.
During dessert, Casey, with David Morris International, proposed a toast and thanked us all for being part of the inaugural North American sailing. He toasted Independence Day & Canada Day and recognized some birthdays and anniversaries, but sadly, forgot to recognize my Birth Month Celebration.
We danced a few dances to Lipstick Duo and then turned in. The cruise through the night took took us 295 km to Amsterdam.  We passed through 2 locks and the towns of Dusseldorf, Emmerich, Xanten, Tiel & Utrecht, arriving in Amsterdam around noon.

We had lunch on the top deck and then took a walk around Amsterdam.  It was extremely crowded! With no particular destination in mind, we wandered through the streets, past canals, buildings and monuments.
We followed the sounds of cheering to find the Dutch Street Cup in progress in the middle of town.
Back on the AQUA, we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon on the sun deck with some of our new friends. Before we knew it, it was time for cocktail hour with the cocktail of the day, the Caspare Collins (campari, lemon juice, sugar syrup and sparkling water).  The non-alcoholic offering was the Mango Dream (mango syrup, lemon juice & orange juice). While we enjoyed cocktails, our Cruise Director, Jenny went over the Disembarkation Information.
We were all sad that this would be our last fabulous dinner aboard the A-ROSA AQUA.  A couple of the passengers proposed a toast to the crew, thanking them for their exemplary service. 
Our side of the dining room enthusiastically joined in the toast!
Dinner started with Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Salt Flower Capers. Next came a Wild Rabbit Terrine with braised Figs. The paired wine was Spätburgunder Blanc de Noirs from the Vineyard Gehring.
Gratinated Lobster Tail enticed even the non-fish eaters at our table.  It was accompanied by Weißburgunder from Vineyard Bassermann-Jordan. The main course was Beef Fillet "Surf and Turf" with Red Wine Shallots, Market Vegetables and Potato Gratin. Grand Bateau from Vineyard Chateau Beychevelle was the paired wine.
Dessert was Pavlova with Fruits and Pistachio Ice Cream served with Geiber Muskateller from Vineyard Gehring.
The Captain, Hotel Manager and Officers of the A-ROSA AQUA invited us to the Lounge after dinner for a farewell cocktail.
More dancing and then it was up to the top deck to finish out the night talking and laughing with our new friends.

Conclusion?  We would enthusiastically recommend a river cruise on the A-ROSA line.
Interested?  You can book through me using the contact information below:
BJ Morris

To view our other travels, please visit