We are berthed so the bow of the ship just clears the pedestrian bridge. At 7:00 pm, the bridge is covered in people, shoulder to shoulder, blowing soap bubbles in our direction. The mayor of Frankfurt has called for a flash mob to help send us off in style. Hundreds of rainbows float past us in the evening sky. It is nothing short of magical.
Everything is spotless; this ship has been used once before for an investor sailing, so there is no wear and tear on… anything. The staff is genuinely charming and because the ship is new to them, too, they have some of that “isn’t this fun!” sparkle that they’re sure to lose after they’ve been carrying plates or replacing towels for two weeks, three, four, more. My fellow passengers are atypical — it’s all media and industry wonks and agents, not the 60 plus retirees on holiday that this kind of travel targets. While some of the trip’s demographic is reflected in the agents, the age curve is dragged towards the younger side by flaks and hacks. The ship is slightly more than half full, there are always empty tables in the dining room, the lounge is quiet, up top it is easy to get an entire ship length away from your fellow travelers. There is champagne in my stateroom. There are L’Occitane products in the bathroom and the beds are comfortable and there is a sliding glass door that opens wide so the entire room turns into a balcony. I can sit on my bed, drink espresso, and watch the banks of the Rhine slide by.
I feel kind of terrible about how transparently for sale I am.
I’m not going to lie. I love it.
I eat too much. I drink too much. I do not sleep enough. I walk a lot and my feet hurt. I am tired so I take not very satisfying naps, but the reason they’re not satisfying has nothing to do with the ship — it’s quiet and comfortable and the motion is barely perceptable. No, it’s that I am diverted by the landscape, by the coal barges going the other direction, by the vinyards stuck, nearly vertical, to the hillsides, by the church spires and castle towers and even the little campgrounds perched on the banks of the river. I’m hungry between meals, which is absurd because during meals I’ve eaten enough for three. I’m awake too early because I’ve left the curtains open in case I wake in the middle of the night — I want to see the villages on the banks in darkness, too.
I could not afford this trip. It costs approximately 500 USD a day plus airfare. For 500 USD a day, you get all your meals, all your tours (though there are additional options), snacks most of the day, wine with dinner, and your very nicely appointed room. It’s what they call in the industry a “value” trip — you get a lot of bang for your buck. I believe this is accurate — the room alone would likely set you back 300 a night, it’s small but it’s very nice. The only thing I wish for is a bicycle — which can be rented at each docking — and a bit more time at the stops, though they are not rushed, it would be unfair to say that they are. Even while wishing for more time, I spend a fair amount of it on park benches, in beer gardens, in window seats in cafes. There is a tour of a castle, a tour of a mechanical music museum, a walking tour of Cologne with a focus on that city’s Jewish history. I take the tours, not because I have to, but because I’m interested. I miss the one talk — by author Patricia Schultz — because I have fallen asleep while watching the landscape flatten out during the cruise north into Holland.
The trip is lovely. It’s absolutely the kind of thing you should take your mom on, she’d love it. Or blow some cash on yourself because really, that day watching castles appear beyond each successive slope can not be beat. You could honeymoon happily, or you could just have a lazy vacation staring out that sliding door, left wide open to the breeze off the river.
Not only is everything fancier and more luxurious than how I travel on my own, it’s all paid for by the operator. The biggest hit on my pocket is to tip the crew at the end of the trip, and that’s nothing for what I’ve recieved. Pennies. My airfare to and from the ship’s start and finish points is paid for. My sailing is paid for. The gifts and my bar tab are paid for. I don’t know who paid for the soap bubbles handed out to the laughing citizens of Frankfurt on the Holbeinsteg bridge, but it wasn’t me.
You should take anything I say about this trip with a grain of salt.
And also, it was just about perfect.