Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The River Empress -- She's Got Personality!

I can't believe it has been nearly a month since my last posting. I came back from my river cruise on the Rhine and promptly got buried in work. Now it's time to take a breath and report on the River Empress and all of her charms.

This was the first cruise of the season for the River Empress and she has just been through a makeover. Our group was the first to occupy the newly re-decorated staterooms and they are beautifully furnished and cozy. The bathroom is gorgeous but small and very large people will find it difficult to negotiate the shower stall. I fell in love with the L'Occitane hair and body products. There was plenty of closet space for both me and Steve on this seven-day cruise and our large suitcases easily fit under the bed. The bed was comfortable but I would have preferred one duvet instead of two; each of us had our own duvet so it was harder to snuggle with Steve. Given that Uniworld caters to the North American market, I wish there had been more American-style electrical outlets.

The food was excellent and I particularly enjoyed the "Zaanse" Mustard Soup with Garlic Croutons and Chives, the Creamy Carrot-Ginger Cappuccino Soup, Roasted Rack of Lamb and German Apfelstrudel. Regional specialties that were served for dinner during the week were Potato Pancake Lasagna, Dutch Crepe, Kirschplotzer, Rheinischer Herring Salad and Rheinischer Sauerbraten. Good wine was generously poured during dinner; in fact, since my glass was always full it was easy for me to fool myself into believing that I wasn't drinking very much. Our Restaurant Manager, Lajos Palotasi and Executive Chef, Ratislav Bekes, were very attentive to our culinary desires and would often point out dishes on the menu during dinner and in the buffet during lunch they thought we would like.

Our Cruise Manager, Rik Sprengers, was very charming and funny. In the Dutch language, the letter 'g' is pronounced like a guttural 'h' and Rik gave us all sore throats while helping us to pronounce Van Gogh in Dutch and say Good Morning (Goedemorgen) in Dutch. In addition to the free language lessons, Rik gave his guests a personal complimentary tour of Amsterdam's Red Light District. How many Cruise Directors do you know who would do that? He tantalized us throughout the tour by making us wonder how he knew so much about the Red Light District, i.e. how much it cost for the different types of services and how much the ladies had to pay to rent their rooms, etc. It turns out that there is some kind of official "office" in the Red Light District where you can go to inquire about pricing and services. Prostitution is legal and regulated in Amsterdam and the prices are fixed.

Altogther the cruise was a fantastic experience. The crew felt like family, the onboard lectures were fascinating and we never had to wait in line to be seated in the dining room or to embark or debark the ship. It also helps that I was traveling with a fun-loving group of fellow Cruise Holidays franchisees and we were hosted by Uniworld Sales Manager Kathie Weitzman, who was the quintessential gracious hostess. Here is a photo taken on the last night of our cruise:

More photos of the River Empress