26 Jul 2019

Honeymoon River Boat Cruise

The time had finally come. We were off on our honeymoon! For as long as I can remember, we always talked about going to Europe for our honeymoon. Well, we made good on our promise and settled on a river boat cruise down the Rhine! Seeing as this was our first time in Europe, we wanted to see and do as much as possible. Our travel agent (who knows us very well at this point) helped us find the perfect match. We opted for an Avalon cruise on the ship Panorama. As much as we love going to resorts to escape the winter, this was going to be more of a trip than a vacation. Our cruise was an active and discovery cruise, meaning there were plenty of activities and adventures to be had. So here is what we've been up! 

Day 1: Mainz
We took an overnight flight and landed in Frankfurt about mid-day. We were then shuttle to the port of call where our ship was docked. We were served little bites to eat upon our arrival and we sat in the lounge, getting to know our fellow cruisers. We really hit it off with three other couples (from Glasgow, Vancouver and Mississauga) and met up with our friends at almost every meal time. Shortly after, our room was ready, so we checked it out, unpacked and settled in for the week. We had a very beautiful suite with loads of natural light because of the sliding balcony windows and the wall of mirrors. Oh, and the bed was extremely comfortable! I slept very well every night.

We had a quick outfit change and then headed out to explore the old part of Mainz and do a spot of shopping. It was so quaint, yet with hints of modernism. I recognized a few of the storefronts in the courtyard such as H&M, Zara, and Mango. It was hard to resist the temptation, but I do have access to these stores back home. During trip, I made a point of buying unique, local pieces that I otherwise would not come across. We did get a couple chocolate bars and a bottle of local liquor for our room. Priorities, am I right?

We strolled on back to the ship and had a little power nap before getting ready for dinner. It was a beautiful first day. Mainz felt both familiar and foreign to us, minus the cobblestones!

Day 2: Mainz, Eltville, Rüdesheim, Bingen
We stayed docked overnight in Mainz as we had an excursion first thing the next morning. We visited the local town of Eltville and got to enjoy the beautiful rose gardens and did a bit of a wine tour. Our guide actually lives in Eltville and you could tell just how passionate she was. She was also very knowledgeable and I find those people make the best guides because there is so much history and background you simply don't get otherwise. I found she made the town truly shine and come to life! 

After taking in the spectacular rose gardens and tasting some delightful wines (and chocolates!), we headed back to the ship for lunch. We sat with the friends we met the day before, also known as our cruise family! Right after lunch, we set sail for Rüdesheim. My husband and I decided to chill in our room during the sailing. We opened the balcony windows and watched the scenery. It was breathtaking! We also ended up napping a bit, still adjusting from the mild jet lag. Turns out the power nap was just what we needed to re-energize for the next excursion.

Once docked in Rüdesheim, we took the mini train up the main street. We hoped off the train and headed straight for the gondolas up to the very top of the sprawling vineyards. The view was amazing! Once at the top, we decided to hike back down through the vineyard and then through the town. Turns out there was a bit of a fair in the town's main square and it was so much fun watching the kids play and run around! We hit a couple little shops and ended up finding the cutest little music box for my sister. 

We caught our little train again for the ride back to the ship just in time for our Port Talk. We had one of these every day during happy hour to get the low down on the schedule for the next day. This trip was jam packed with things to do and see, so these talks were a great way to keep on top of the activities! My OCD-self was living for this level of organization!

Following happy hour, we retired to the dining room for dinner while we sailed to Bingen. The dining room was level with the water, so sailing during meal times was a very neat experience. The only minor hiccup for me and my motion sickness was that I had to face the way the ship was going! Sitting the other way around did not work for me! I had to do a switch-a-roo with my husband at some point and the table had a good laugh about our mid-dinner musical chairs!

Once in Bingen, we were shuttled-off to a surprise champagne reception at Rheinstein Castle! There was a steep climb of about 15 minutes to get to the top, but the effort was well worth it! We had some bubbly in the rose-filled courtyard, followed by some entertainment from the Castle's resident jester. We were then free to explore the many rooms and levels of the medieval residence. By then the sun had set and made way to the full moon (the Strawberry moon), which made for a very magical and romantic setting! We couldn't have asked for a better first day to our honeymoon!

Day 3: Bingen, Boppard, Engers, Koblenz
The next morning was a bit of a break in the sense that were weren't waking up super early to catch our first excursion as the main event was taking place on the ship. We woke up, had breakfast, put on our swimsuits and headed to the sky deck to take in the sights as we cruised through the Romantic Rhine Gorge. We were treated with the most gorgeous views of the multiple castles, vineyards, villages and Lorelei Rock. Our cruise director was doing a commentary over the intercom so that we got the full historical context of the breathtaking views. This area has a very high concentration of castles with one every 1.5 miles. It was a spectacular thing to see!

After sailing for just under two hours, we arrived in Boppard.
We had lunch on the ship before changing and heading out to explore Marksburg Castle, the only hilltop castle along the Rhine to have never been destroyed. It's the most authentic one around! We walked through the wine cellar, the kitchen, the Great Hall, the bed chamber, the armory, the chapel and the blacksmith's workshop. We really got a sense of what living there must have been like. It felt as if we had stepped right into the Middle Ages!

Following our tour of the castle and grounds, we sat down in the nearby restaurant for a sampling of wurst (sausages). We had three different kinds (bratwurst, currywurst and weisswurst) served with a big ol' pretzel and a variety of mustards. It was a great snack just before our hike down the mountain to catch our bus back to the ship, which had continued sailing to Koblenz. 

Once back on the ship, it was a quick shower/change to gear up for the evening activities. We kicked things off with the usual happy hour and enjoyed dinner while sailing to Engers. Once docked, we headed off the ship to Schloss Engers, a Baroque Palace for a private classical concert. Boy were we in for a treat! We were serenaded by two of the most talented musicians I have had the pleasure of listening to: violinist Natan Tishin and pianist Saeko Kitagawa. They played us a variety of classical pieces by Stravinsky, Mozart, Bartók, Shostakovich and Ravel. I was completely transported and mesmerized throughout the entire performance. It was such a surreal setting. The big glass doors to the balcony were open to let in the warm evening breeze and soft light of the full moon. Birds could even be heard chirping along. I feel so lucky and privileged to have witnessed such a performance. I pretty much floated on a cloud back to the ship!

To our surprise, there was a bottle of champagne waiting for us when we got back to our cabin. Our room just happened to be facing the gorgeous palace in which we had just spent our evening and the outside view was as breathtaking as the inside! My husband decided to set the scene and opened the balcony doors so that we could make the most of our view and cheers to being husband and wife. As sweet and romantic a gesture, we were in for a little surprise... At some point, I turned around and saw hundreds of little bugs swarming in the upper corners of the room! We immediately closed the glass doors and proceeded to squish as many as we could armed with tissues. We literally looked like kids jumping on the bed! The entire scene was hilarious and we'll be laughing about that one for years to come! Our cruise family sure got a good laugh the next morning when we told them.

Day 4: Köln, Bonn, Cologne, Engers
We stayed docked in Engers overnight and set sail at 4:45 a.m. to arrive in Bonn for 8:00 a.m. We were set to have free time in Bonn this morning. Knowing this, I had previously looked up things to do and naturally came across Beethoven House. Unfortunately, I had found out that it would be closed for renovations when we'd be in town, so that was off the list. We did however walk past it just to see it in person and say we'd been there! We then just walked around and did a bit of shopping. We found a TK Maxx (that's right, K and not J) and I got a beautiful plum lace dress. We also found out the Haribo (gummies) outlet was nearby but, by the time we found out, we had to head back to the ship. Too bad, I would totally have stocked up on the goods!

Back on the ship, we had lunch and played scrabble on the sky deck while sailing towards Cologne. We were always on the move! It was hard to keep track of our whereabouts at any given time. Thank goodness for the super organized cruise because their daily schedules came in very handy. Not a detail was overlooked!

In the afternoon, we had a visit to the Cologne Lindt chocolate museum. Being the chocolate fan that I am, this visit was a must! We learned the chocolate-making process and got to see all the steps in action. There was also plenty to taste along the way and I even found a magic button! One of the machines would let you "steel" a piece of chocolate from the production line via a little mechanical arm. It was all sorts of awesome! At the end of the tour, we got to sit to a proper tasting of a variety of chocolates. It was the sweetest ending to the visit!

On our walk back to the ship, my husband suggested we use the provided bicycles to go get a closer look at the Cologne cathedral. Having not been on a bike in a very long time (and never being that great at it) I put a brave face and ventured into the busy city on two wheels. I did ok, but it was not a relaxing endeavour. However, the sight of the cathedral made it all worth it! To be so up close and personal to this Gothic architecture was surreal. The detail, the artistry: it's breathtaking!

I made it back all in one piece, just in time to get ready for dinner. The food on the ship was amazing! I loved everything and I'm a bit of a food snob, so that's saying a lot. There was always something different and the dinners were usually a four or five course meal. No complaints here! After dinner, we were in for another treat: live entertainment! The cruise director had arranged for a local band to come aboard and put on a show. The music was a mix of groove and swing, so we all danced the night away and had a ball! It was so fun seeing everybody letting loose and enjoying themselves.

After having boogied until the very end of the show, we weren't ready to call it a night. My husband had arranged for the front desk to set up the hot tub for us. We put on our swimsuits and went up to the sky deck for a scenic dip. We had started sailing again and were going through the large industrial zone on our way to the Dutch boarder. It was impressive to see at night as all the factory buildings and plants were brightly lit, creating an interesting contrast to the night sky. We turned in quite late, but had enjoyed every minute of our day.

Day 5: Düsseldorf
Another day, another city: we arrived in Düsseldorf at 3:00 a.m. It's an odd feeling waking up somewhere different every day, but that was part of the fun as well! We had an early wake-up call in order to make it to our first excursion. Breakfasts on the ship were all buffet style, but there was a limited menu you could also order off. This morning, I decided to try the Belgian waffles. Boy were they amazing! They were crunchy on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. They were seriously the best waffles I'd had in a long time. In hindsight, I sort of wished I'd had them more often!

Bellies full, it was off on our "bites and highlights" tour of Düsseldorf. Naturally, we opted for the foodie option. Nothing contributes to an experience quite like enjoying local delicacies. I remember our tour guide Anna well, as she was the cutest we'd had all week. She was very funny and always thinking out loud. Very much as I do! She was just so lively and entertaining it made this particular tour stand out in a great way. We basically walked around and ate our way through town. We visited a spice shop, a mustard shop, had some pickled eggs and beer/lemonade in a pub, cookies at a bakery, walked through the local market and ended with coffee and cake. Mere moments later on the ship, a BBQ lunch on the sky deck was up next!

Today was a food day. Perhaps, I indulged a bit too much because I wasn't feeling to well come the afternoon. I decided to go for a nap while my husband hoped on a bike and explored the city some more. He got himself a pizza and got a closer look at the TV tower. I woke up feeling better just in time for Afternoon Tea in the lounge. I'd been wanting to try it since the first day but we were always busy at the time. Today was our lucky day! (Again with the food!) We grabbed a cuppa, some sweet treats and enjoyed them while sitting on the outside deck of the stern.

We then headed straight into dinner because we clearly had not yet consumed our body weights in food today... Bah, when in Düsseldorf! We ate with our cruise family and proceeded for after-dinner drinks in the lounge. We ended up staying in the lounge playing Rummikub with our California friends till 2:00 a.m.! The staff had all gone to bed and we were still there telling each other our life stories. It's amazing how you just click with some people. One of my favourite things about travelling is the people we meet along the way. We eventually called it a night (or morning) because we had an early wake-up call the next day!

Day 6: Arnhem, Nijmegen
The alarm went off early this morning and we peeled ourselves out of bed to grab a quick breakfast before hoping on the bus to our next excursion. We were headed to the Kröller-Müller Museum near Arnhem today. This museum has the second-largest Van Gogh collection in the world! Other than taking in all the splendor of the Van Gogh's, we also got to enjoy some Monet, Picasso and Cézanne. It was wonderful getting up close and personal with some of these iconic works of art! Once having done the tour of the inside, we proceeded to the sculpture garden outdoors. It was an entirely different experience, but was just as captivating!

While we were on our excursions, the ship was sailing towards Nijmegen, were we were going to meet up with it. We hopped on the ship for a quick lunch (and I mean quick, we had 20 minutes!) before our next activity. This trip was non-stop! We were running on adrenaline at this point and figured we'd rest and sleep once we got home in a few days. We were determined to make the most of it!

Next stop: the Dutch countryside! We really wanted to see a working windmill (when in the Netherlands) and this was our chance. I forget the actual windmill we visited, but it was rebuilt on a handful of occasions since the 15th century and is a working windmill to this day! We started with a presentation on its history and proceeded to explore the windmill itself. It's quite impressive to see in person! 

We then visited a local, family-run fruit and flower farm and got to taste freshly-picked goodies. The farmer was interrupted a few times by his beeper going off. He happens to be a volunteer fireman for the area. We didn't think much of it at the time, but turns out there was a major fire at a metalworking company in town. 

The last part of our outing was a horse-drawn carriage ride through the Ooijpolder nature reserve. We got to see plenty of wildlife, and got a few giggles when kids started following the carriage on their bicycles! It was a very relaxing afternoon and it was nice to get back to nature after spending a few days in busy cities. However, it was back to the bustle of the city when our bus got stuck in a traffic jam on our way back to the ship. We made it back ok, but there was a lot of commotion because of the fire that day.

After a quick change, it was off to dinner! We had made plans to eat with Ben and David, a couple of cruise vloggers! They are the funnest people around and we got along swimmingly. It was the story of a fashion blogger meeting travel vloggers. Needless to say, we didn't run out of things to talk about. Ben and David have a YouTube channel where they share videos of their cruising experiences so be sure to check them out to get a more in depth feel for our trip. They did a cabin tour video (here). This was the exact same cabin we had! And here is the full ship tour video.

After dinner, we all decided to enjoy the hot tub. It was late by the time we got to the sky deck. The ship started sailing at 10:45 and we were seated in the hot tub as we were going under bridges. It was such a cool feeling! The bridges were so close to us and it was night time, so the whole thing was very surreal! After a dip, it was time for bed.

Day 7: Amsterdam
We made it to Amsterdam, our final destination! This is the city we were more excited to visit and explore. It's been on my husband's places-to-visit list for as long as I can remember. When we woke up this morning, our ship was double-docked to another ship. This is a common occurrence in busy ports. It means that we have to go through another ship to get to the dock. It's mildly inconvenient, but you do get a glimpse into the stylings of another ship which can be interesting if you have a curious nature.

We had breakfast and headed out to our last activity, a painting workshop! We went to Ateliers Westerdok and it was a very quaint and inviting space. We had coffee and cookies while one of the artists did a demonstration of Van Gogh's style. We then moved into a room full of easels and different subject matters to choose from. I opted to paint a vase of sunflowers while my husband did his own thing. He started painting something of his own inspiration and it wasn't going as well as he'd hoped. He got a little worked-up, took a breather and came back for a second try. This time, he painted what was in front of him (cherry blossom branches) and it turned out amazingly! The artist was telling him how Van Gogh would often get frustrated with his work. Turns out he got the full-on Van Gogh artistic experience (minus the ear-cutting!) We actually hung onto our works of art (3 in total) and plan on framing them and putting them on the walls. They are not masterpieces by any means, but make for great honeymoon souvenirs. I mean, when else will we get to take part in a Van Gogh-style painting workshop in Amsterdam?

After class, we headed back to the ship for lunch with Ben and David. The boys got to talking toys and how they planned on taking out their drone for some areal footage and my husband was all ears! We had invested in a good camera days before the trip and he really enjoyed taking pictures (he took every single shot in this post!) He really tapped into his artistic side on this trip.
Post-lunch, the three of them went off exploring and playing with the drone. Now, my husband wants one... I stayed behind to have a nap and do a bit of blogging. Obviously, I didn't get very far as I'm only posting this now, but I tried! This trip was very hectic and I just couldn't keep up. I even dropped the ball on my Insta Stories by day three. I decided that fully enjoying my honeymoon was more important than social media. Before I knew it, it was time to get ready for our final Port Talk and farewell dinner. I actually won a polo shirt in the raffle! It totally made my day! We had dinner with our cruise family for the last time and it was bitter sweet. It's crazy how close you can get in just a week, I fell like I've known these people for ages. The feeling is similar to that of making friends during summer camp as a kid. You all bond over a shared experience and that experience would not have been the same without them. So, to my cruise family, thank you for being part of this amazing adventure!
Finally, it was time to pack our suitcases as we'd be disembarking in the morning. Being the organized person that I am, that's what I did that evening. On the other hand, my husband went out to a hotel bar with a group from the ship to party the night away! We are so different, but that's what keeps things fresh.

Our trip doesn't end here, we decided to spend a couple extra days in Amsterdam to really makes the most of it. Be on the lookout for that blog post on that coming soon!

No comments:

Post a Comment