The Royal Crown of the Rhine
Cruising is all the rage – whether it’s on mega liners on the high seas, sophisticated canal barges or sleek riverboats. John Newton has tried them all – the latest being along the Rhine, Europe’s second longest waterway - where you’ll glide past medieval towns, romantic hillside castles, breathtaking cathedrals and the oldest German wine plantations going back to the Roman era.
The earliest European river cruises were on the Rhine and Danube – and for good reason. Cruises on these two rivers provide a means of time travel through a turbulent history, with jaw-dropping scenery thrown in for good measure.
While the wave of today’s stylish, if ostentatious, new riverboats are entirely 21st century, the Royal Crown combines the nostalgic charm of the 1930s with a modern-day grandness for which she is aptly named.
It was a welcome reception in Amsterdam fit for a ‘royal’ occasion, but this was not about kings and queens, but a ship that could have been made for them.
The Royal Crown captain had stationed his crew at the ship’s entrance to give a hearty welcome to the season’s first travellers on an eight-day/seven-night cruise from Amsterdam to Basel - 825 kilometres through Germany and France to Switzerland’s second largest city.
Not surprisingly, everyone was taken aback by the sumptuousness of the three classes of accommodation with the ‘royal’ suites in a class of their own.
It was an unseasonable cold and wet late spring afternoon – an ideal time for the Royal Crown to leave the bustling city of Amsterdam.
Champagne corks popped as the Royal Crown headed for the Rhine and the river’s most iconic highlights.
Built in 1996 and refurbished in 2010, the 90-passenger Royal Crown was designed for the rivers flowing through the heart of Europe - particularly the Danube and Rhine. The vessel has 45 suites that range in size from 13 square metres (145 square feet) to the top drawer royal suites which measure 18 square metres (200 square feet). All suites are fitted with spacious rosewood cupboards, a dressing table, satellite TV and radio, a safety deposit box, individually controlled air conditioning and en suite facilities with shower and hairdryer. The royal suites on the Panorama deck have large windows to view the passing river traffic. And there’s plenty of that.
Flowing through some of Europe’s most spectacular landscape, the Rhine is also the continent’s busiest and most important waterway. Massive industrial barges – some more than 350 metres long and pushed by powerful tugs – surge along its 1320 kilometres from the Netherlands to Switzerland and vice versa.
Even more interesting is watching the 29-year-old captain manoeuvre the Royal Crown through one of 14 locks on the Rhine - often with just centimetres to spare on either side.
And if that’s not exciting enough to get you out of your comfy lounge room sofa and get on deck, the first sight of Cologne’s towering cathedral is enough to bring on the goose bumps. Work started in 1248 on The Dom of St Peter and Maria, the largest Gothic building west of the Alps, and finally completed in 1880.
As well as its cathedral, Cologne is also famous for its carnival, dockside chocolate factory shaped like a boat and, of course, Eau de Cologne.
After sunny Cologne, the weather deteriorated but that didn’t stop a group of more than 40 jovial Australian dairy farmers from providing some unusual sundeck entertainment, as well as lifting the lounge bar turnover.
The fittest in the Victorian group - from Australia’s biggest milk co-operative -challenged the Royal Crown crew to a bout or two of planking – an isometric core strength exercise that involves maintaining a difficult position for an extended period of time. It’s commonly practiced in pilates and yoga and strengthens the abdominals, back and shoulders.
While the fittest of the farmers took out the Royal Crown plank position title for his effort of just over 12 minutes – it was a far cry from the world record of more than three hours.