As one of the most popular European rivers to holiday on, the Rhine has its fair share of river cruise ships. Which means there are times when ships need to tie up next to one another so passengers can pass through or over another ship to reach the riverbank.
At these times it’s hard not to get a little, shall we say, competitive, as passengers check each others’ ships out and wonder if they made the best choice.
When I told a friend who had also cruised the Rhine that I was going to be on Uniworld’s SS Antoinette he revealed that it was the ship he wished he had been on.
After seeing SS Antoinette’s foyer as he passed through he’d asked for a tour and soon discovered why impromptu ship tours can lead to such good conversion rates for future trips. Talk about having an immediate and direct comparison between ships.
I’d experienced Uniworld before on the Venice and Gems of Northern Italy cruise on the River Countess, so was confident in my choice. But hearing him describe my new ship to be made me all the more excited about the trip ahead.
And so it was with a spring in my step that I hopped out of a taxi in Amsterdam and met my home to be for the next week.
Uniworld’s Luxury River Cruise Style on SS Antoinette
One of the first things you see when you step onboard Uniworld’s S.S. Antoinette is a huge blue chandelier hanging in the two-storey foyer.
This 10-foot blue Strauss Baccarat chandelier once hung in New York’s Tavern on the Green and I’m told there are large sapphires in it, though I’ll confess I couldn’t quite tell which of the twinkling blue pieces were gemstones. That’s a skill I’ll have to work on.
Uniworld’s first Super Ship is 443-foot long, carries 154-passengers and has a few things I hadn’t seen on a river ship before.
First up is the swimming pool. And we’re not talking a little top deck number that could be easily confused with a spa bath here.
SS Antoinette’s pool is a generous size for a river ship and in a space where the walls are either glass or decorated with beautiful mosaics. There are sun loungers to lie on, where I happily discovered I could see the view and feel the warmth without being out in the sun (very good for a traveller with redhead skin).
Having the pool at the back of the ship isn’t just good for the view, it helps create a quieter ride by having its weight in an area that could otherwise have problems with vibration.
As well as a top spot to relax, the pool is also used for water aerobics which I can report really get that blood pumping.
The ship’s top deck is another unusual feature, with two enclosed areas that can collapse on command. When approaching a low bridge, the walls on the L’Orangerie Sky Lounge and Bar du Leopard Bar start to come down, then once out the other side they go back to their full height. Which means the top deck is more than a sun deck, it also has two sheltered and air conditioned areas to relax in.
Other public areas onboard include the dining room, bar and lounge areas, fitness centre, spa and onboard cinema with Dolby surround sound and vintage movie posters on the wall.
Then there’s your own little private area for the week ahead. The staterooms.
Inside My Stateroom on SS Antoinette
Having loved my stateroom on the River Countess I was excited to meet my floating room for the week on SS Antoinette, and I was not disappointed.
The ship’s design is inspired by Marie Antoinette’s France and the rather opulent style made me smile.
The handmade Savoir of England beds with their high thread count Egyptian cotton sheets were just as heavenly to curl up in as I remembered, and there were L’Occitane products waiting to be used in the bathroom.
Next to the retractable window there was a small section with a little mirrored table and two chairs that could be closed off from the rest of the room with sliding glass doors. As I was travelling solo it took me a moment to realise how handy that must be if your travelling companion was sleeping and you wanted to open the window and let the sounds of river life in.
As much as I love to be social, I also have times when I want to retreat and when I realised both room service and on demand movies were free, I knew I’d have to allow myself a night in some time.
That said I could have spent all week in my stateroom and not made it through the movie selection. There are 91 free movies to choose from, including one that I was excited to see.
After staying at the Hotel Adlon Kempinski in Berlin for the first time I’d been wanting to see Greta Garbo’s Grand Hotel, which was filmed in the original Adlon and is where she first uttered the words ‘I want to be alone’.
And so on the night when I wanted to be alone I slipped into my soft robe, ordered room service and a nice glass of red and hit play. Heaven.
Uniworld’s Castles Along the Rhine River Cruise Stops
Of course you don’t go all the way to Europe to sit in your stateroom, as lovely as it may be. There’s much to see and do when you’re cruising down the Rhine, and while some stops and experiences are shared with other river ships, there are also special things that we got to do with Uniworld.
Our eight-day itinerary took us from Amsterdam to Basel, with stops in Cologne, Koblenz and Boppard, Rudesheim, Germersheim, Strasbourg, and some gorgeous Alsatian wine villages before arriving in Basel.
The river cruise is called “Castles Along the Rhine” and as well as watching them go by from the river we visited Marksburg Castle, the only hill castle on the Rhine that was never destroyed, and the Castle Vollrads for an exclusive wine tasting.
While we shared Marksburg Castle with passengers from other ships, Uniworld is the only river ship company to take passengers to Schloss Vollrads and share its turbulent history.
Schloss Vollrads has been making wine for more than 800 years and has seen 27 generations of the same family live in the castle. That is until the last Earl, who unfortunately took his own life. At the time people weren’t buying German wine, the castle was millions of dollars in debt, and it seemed like there was no way out.
Since then Schloss Vollrads has been brought back to life and is successful once again. Not only is the castle itself beautiful to explore, the guides do a great job of sharing the tales and there’s the added advantage of sipping on some lovely Rhine Reisling as you move from room to room.
Back on the ship, I also raised a glass to the castles along the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. Knowing the big day of cruising through a castle dotted landscape was ahead I decided a mimosa wasn’t out of order after breakfast. This was not the sort of thing you did every day.
The 65-kilometre stretch of the Rhine is a UNESCO World Heritage site and there’s castle after castle as you glide along.
It was beautiful and also peaceful, thanks in part to the ship using Quiet Vox for the commentary. Rather than our cruise director Anthony explaining the stories behind the ‘Cat and Mouse’ castles as we went by over a loudspeaker, the Quiet Vox headsets we used for excursions were loaded up with the stories.
As we approached a place of interest, the Quiet Voxes would vibrate letting us know it was time to put them back on if we wanted to listen to that part.
Every day there were optional excursions that we could take part in. There were times when I liked to go it alone, such as in Cologne. Here I went to find the original 4711 store and get caught up in its history in their little museum and dab on some of the cologne from a free flowing tap running into a gold bowl, before making my way to the cathedral.
Then there were times when I wanted to do the whole tour, or start with the tour and then break off by myself as I did in the colourful villages in Alsace.
I liked the way we could be a part of the group, or do some solo exploring. And there was a chance to be a part of special activities including a cooking class with respected chef Matthias Mangold in his lovely home.
And this is the part where I’d like to do a shout out to our cruise director Anthony for having something very special up his sleeve.
The Unexpected Joys of Vinegar Tasting in Germany
Yes, vinegar tasting.
Wine tasting is one thing, but vinegar tasting didn’t sound particularly palatable. If Anthony hadn’t been so passionate about it when he described the different excursions I may have skipped it. But oh I’m so glad I didn’t.
The Rhine valley town of Vinnengen may sound like vinegar, but that is just a coincidence. This tiny town only has 900 people and one family is making something I only wish I could get my hands on again.
Like lots of people I’d heard about the health benefits of drinking vinegar but when I tried the whole apple cider vinegar thing it wasn’t for me.
But at Weinessiggut Doktorenhof they create something very different.
Here they use a vinegar mother, the base vinegar bacteria, which is over 150 years old, make their own organic wines to be the base for a lot of the vinegars, and then age the vinegars in barrels that are 100 years old.
On our tour we donned long brown capes and went down to meet the mother and see the barrels and the herbs the vinegars are infused with before resting for at least four years before being sold. Some of them are 30 years old and all of the ones I tasted were a revelation.
After each vinegar was poured into unusual fine and tall glasses, we tasted them straight and my tastebuds went into overdrive. In the good way.
A 1756 recipe with sage, lavender and bitter wild oranges named after Casanova won me over, and I also swooned over their cherry flavoured Angels Kissing the Night which is dedicated to guardian angels.
Before leaving I bought both and from the very next morning on the ship I started my days drinking vinegar.
Sometimes I would sip a little straight, other times I would dilute it in water so I could extend the experience.
I only wish I had bought much, much more. Now that my supply has run dry I’ve been looking for anything that comes close as sadly they don’t post their vinegars all the way to Australia.
Uniworld is the only river cruise taking passengers to Weinessiggut Doktorenhof and my advice to anyone lucky enough to cruise the Rhine on SS Antoinette is take Anthony’s advice and if you like the vinegars, buy as much as you can.
That’s one of the great things about travel. Sometimes you see things you expect and have been looking forward to, like castles. Other times you taste something wonderfully surprising like a fine vinegar.
I’ll savour it all.
Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of Uniworld river cruises but as usual all opinions remain her own