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Basel to Amsterdam Review


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River Cruise Review – Scenic Pearl – Basel to Amsterdam, August 19-26

This was our first River Cruise so we had nothing to compare it to. So I will describe everything I can about this wonderful experience. We planned this trip with another couple that we hadn’t seen for several years and met them on the boat.

 

We started out our holiday by getting to Basel a day before we were scheduled to board the ship. I have gotten both Swiss Francs and Euros before I left the states. I think I would have only needed Euros, it seems in Basel, Euros would have been accepted wherever we were.

 

We flew into Zurich and got in around 9am. We already had tickets for the train to Basel and went to find it. It was somewhat confusing to determine what platform etc, but the lady at the lost and found was most helpful and we got on a train 1 hour earlier than I had planned. We had first class tickets and when we got on a car with first class written on the end I realized that first class was on an upper level of the car. Well we are Americans and do not travel lightly, so the train was not crowded and we parked our luggage in second class and parked ourselves next to our luggage. The conductor made sure to let us know we could go to first class but she also seemed to be used to seeing Americans with lots of luggage. It was a nice train ride and we got into Basel around 11:30. After getting off of the train we found a taxi and headed to Hotel Spalentor Basel.

 

We got to the Hotel around noon or so. We were able to get into our room. This was a really nice way to get started. The front desk clerk gave us Tram tickets for the time we would be there and a map and off we went walking around the area of the hotel, through one of the city gates. We had a nice meal of quiche at a small neighborhood restaurant within a couple blocks of the hotel. We walked through several more areas window shopping and taking in all the buildings before we called it a night (since we were still recovering from our flight) and headed back to the hotel. The room was very comfortable.

 

Wednesday morning after a nice breakfast at the hotel, we set out again, this time to find the river and walk along it. It was a nice morning and we got to see more of Basel. Around 1pm we headed back to the hotel and got a cab to be taken to our river boat, the Scenic Pearl. Crew from the ship came for our luggage as the cab driver took it out of his trunk and we saw our luggage next in our cabin when we were able to check in. But before we could check in we were given some sparkling wine and waited in the lounge area for about 30 minutes. We then were shown to our cabin and our luggage. We unpacked right away. The cabin was small, just enough storage space, none to spare but we managed. We left our suitcases on the floor and when we got back later that evening they had been stored under our bed. Our cabin attendant and butler came by to meet us and then we headed to the lounge to find friends we were traveling with and meet other passengers. That evening in addition to a buffet dinner we had a safety briefing. A couple more drinks and to bed. While there are late night snacks in the lounge, we only stayed up late enough one night to see them. I need to add that throughout the entire cruise we were always doing something or getting ready to do something. There was very little down time but everything was very interesting and we saw so much and learned so much that we could always rest when we got back home.

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The Scenic Pearl had 163 passengers mainly from Australia, Britain, Canada and US. Our Cruise Director (CD) was from Austria and always available to assist with any questions or issues. It seemed like if ever there was a small issue she was right there to ensure the situation was good. We were in cabin 230 close to the back of the boat. We were not bothered by any vibration or excessive engine noise, in fact we both wished there was a little more to lull us to sleep. I am really susceptible to motion sickness, but I was not bothered at all on the boat; I did need to take something before excursions that involved a bus ride. I do not have a count of how many locks we went through, but went through most of them the first 2 nights. This did not impact our sleep and I really wished I could have seen one or two transits during the day. Also, at night I kept the TV on to the bow camera so if I woke up during the night I could look at it and see if we were moving or if it was daylight or if we were at a dock, etc. The cabins all have an Apple smart TV that can be used to access your email via the web. Neither of us could access the web on our laptops and I soon gave up when I realized I could get email over the web on the TV. However internet was sporadic and usually the best chance to get on line was early in the morning while we were docked. Also each cabin will have a map of the river of the cruise; I did not find this until halfway into the cruise, it is a great map to use during the trip.

 

Thursday, August 20 – Before we arrive at our first port we have a safety drill and cruise overview with the CD. After lunch we are docked with Kehl, Germany on one side of the river and Strasbourg, France across the river. We took the excursion of “Shop with Chef” Since there were no outdoor food stalls operating that day, we went to a local grocery store where the Chef explained the produce, cheese, deli meats and other products in the store. The store set up a sampling of cheese and sausages, with wine and dessert for us. We then did a short city tour around the cathedral and had a little time to ourselves. It was a very nice afternoon.

 

That evening was the Captain’s welcome dinner. An electronic keyboard player, Oleg, was in the lounge most evenings to play music which was enjoyable.

 

Every day – usually before dinner – we had a port talk with the CD in the lounge. She explained what would be happening the next day and any special things to look out for. This information was also printed in the daily program which was delivered to our cabin during dinner.

 

Friday – August 21 – Mannheim, Germany. Our excursion Friday was the Speyer Technical Museum. After a 30 minute bus ride or so we got to this very large museum complex with so much to see. We had around 2 ½ hours to see it all and we did not feel rushed at all. We also had plenty of time in the gift store. We got back to the boat for lunch. After lunch there were shuttle buses to the city center. We went in but it is a pretty commercial area and we walked around the main square once and found a place to have a beer until it was time to get the shuttle back. After dinner we headed back to Mannheim to the Palace for a very nice concert. Before the concert we got a tour of the palace with some of the history explained to us. We really enjoyed the concert.

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Saturday – August 22 – Rudesheim and Koblenz Germany. Our excursion this day was to go to the Siegfried’s Mechanical Musical Cabinet. We were taken there by a small train that picked us up at the dock. This was a very fascinating place. The museum contained many, many mechanical musical instruments and many of them were played for us. It was just very enjoyable and interesting. After the museum we walked through town and did some shopping. There was a cable car available to take us to the top of a hill overlooking the valley and river, but we wanted more time walking through the town and we stopped at a café for some traditional Ruedesheim Koffee which includes flamed brandy and whipped crème, very good. I had it cold (so it was not flamed at the table) and another person had it hot and that was flamed at the table.

 

That afternoon we sailed through the Rhine Gorge with castle after castle. This was what I had been waiting for. We found a table on the top and enjoyed the view. While we were sailing through the castles, there was some commentary on various castles. It was a beautiful afternoon and in addition to the castles there was much to see.

 

That afternoon we arrived in Koblentz (where the Rhine and Mosel meet) and went for a cable car ride up to the Enrenbreitstein Fortress overlooking the river. It was quite a view. We walked around the fortress, had a drink and came back down. Apparently there are around 7 museums in the fortress but there was no way we could have seen them. Some people went to see the catacombs but we decided not to, feeling we would be too rushed.

 

Sunday – August 23 – Koblenz and Cologne Germany. Our morning excursion was a guided visit of the Reichsburg Castle in Cochem. The CD divided us up so that there was a slower paced group (gentle walkers) which we joined – more time to take pictures. Even then, it was a steep walk to the castle from where we were dropped off. The castle was very interesting and the guided tour took us to many rooms with explanations of the history. We then took a van back down to town and walked around. We left the tour so that we would have some time in town to visit shops or stop for a beer, which we did.

 

Lunch that afternoon was a Bar-B-Que on the top deck. The food was good, but by the time we got through the line there were no tables outside left and I got directed to the back of the boat and no tables there and then I got directed to the front of the boat and no tables there. Finally someone felt sorry for me and found a table on the lower deck behind the lounge with chairs. But they had run out of silverware and napkins, so it took awhile to get settled to eat.

 

That afternoon was down time as we sailed along the Rhine. There is a lot of ship traffic. I sat out on our balcony and the sun was so nice I could not keep my eyes open, also very nice for a nap. The CD had some games and stuff going on in the lounge for those that needed stuff to do.

 

That evening we arrived in Cologne.

 

Monday – August 24 – Cologne. Our excursion in Cologne was a walking tour of the city and we had a gentle walkers group again. The city center area was very crowded and windy that day. The Tailormades did not work very well, probably because there were so many being used by the various groups in the area around the Cathedral. The cathedral was magnificent and the tour of the city was very interesting. We also had some free time and were able to buy some Cologne (which was first blended in the city) thus the name. We stopped for some local beer which is served is special thin glasses to help keep the carbonation in.

 

We went to meet a bus to go back to the ship. The first scheduled bus had filled up about 20 minutes before it was scheduled to leave, so the CD ordered an extra bus so we would not have to be waiting around additional time. We were very impressed that this extra effort was made to keep us happy. Back at the ship we had a talk by the CD on disembarkation and luggage etc.

The dinner this evening was the Captain’s farewell Dinner, the menu contained Lobster or filet and was a nice dinner, but it did last over 2 hours and seemed to be very long. There is only so much you can talk about with your tablemates. But the dinner was very good.

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Saturday – August 25 – Amsterdam. This was our last full day on board. We did the excursion to Edam and Volendam. It was a very interesting tour with a walk through each city and a stop at a cheese factory. We had a little free time on the shore of the Zuider Zee in Volendam. The drive to and from the towns was very interesting, our guide explained things around Holland and the fields we drove through such as farmers use canals instead of fences to keep livestock in certain areas.

 

After we got back to the boat and had lunch we went on a canal cruise, the boat was docked fairly close to a canal cruise concession. This is very easy to do on your own.

 

That evening was a Seafood buffet with several types of Seafood served at different stations. It was a nice change, but a little hectic getting what you wanted. We declined going on the walk through the Red Light District after dinner since we were staying 4 additional days in Amsterdam.

 

Wed – August 26 – Amsterdam – time to disembark. The entire process that was used for handling all the passengers and their various needs was extremely well organized. The CD had a spreadsheet of all passengers and their plans when leaving the boat. We were given luggage tags that identified the time to put our luggage in the hall the morning of disembarkation. Those going to any hotel other than the Double Tree had cabs arranged for them and they were called individually when their cabs came at the scheduled time. Those flying out later that day or staying at the Double Tree were taken to the hotel with their luggage. As we went to the transfer bus, we pointed out our luggage so it would get loaded on the bus with us. Since it was around 10am, the guest rooms at the Double Tree were not ready for those spending the night but we were able to check in, just not given a room. Our luggage was stored with the day room that Scenic had arranged for those passengers waiting to go to the airport or waiting for their room at the Double Tree. So those waiting for rooms and waiting to go to the airport had a place to stay with coffee and snacks. It was very well organized. Since we did not get our room yet, with our luggage under control in the luggage room, we were free to do something in Amsterdam. When rooms were assigned, the hotel would be sure to take our luggage up to our rooms. We went to the library next door for a very nice lunch, this had been recommended to us by one of the people handling our transfer. The cafeteria was on the 7th floor with a great view and the offerings were very nice, a large selection and comfortable place to eat. After lunch we went through the train station with a friend to help find some souvenirs since there really wasn’t a lot of shopping time on the various excursions.

 

We spent 4 nights at the Double Tree which is right next to the Central Train Station and very convenient. It was a good place to stay, the staff was very helpful with any arrangements. While in Amsterdam we visited the Resistance Museum and the Lord of the Attic church (now museum) which is in the Red Light District. We also visited the Heineken brewery which was a nice fun break and also very interesting. It took both time and effort to find the places we visited. Even though we had the Tram stop, we still walked around quite a bit before we found what we were looking for. There are no big flashing signs, we would walk right by the place and still needed to ask directions. But everything we saw was well worth the effort. The Dutch Resistance Museum was extremely interesting and worth all the time and effort it took to find it. Audio guides are included with admission. There was so much to see and didn’t take any pictures since this wasn’t a place to take pictures. After that we got on a Tram to an area with restaurants and went looking for a place for lunch. It started to rain and that helped us pick a place quickly. It was a nice café. DH ordered “thinly slices filet” sandwich and I ordered a sandwich of traditional Dutch sausage. The service was fairly slow but it was a nice place to sit and people watch. When our lunch was served, we both were fascinated to find that the meat in both of our sandwiches was not cooked, but nicely seasoned. DH loves steak tartar, so he thoroughly enjoyed his sandwich; I thought what the heck and my sandwich was also very good. It did not taste or feel raw. I later found on another menu a description of the sandwich I had called Ossenworst and described as “traditional Dutch raw beef sausage”. At another place we stopped for refreshments in a very local neighborhood I saw one couple each with a sandwich like DH had and another customer eating a sandwich with the traditional sausage. It also took us quite a bit of time to find the Lord in the Attic church which is now a museum. But the museum was very interesting and showed good examples of the canal houses also. The church itself was parallel to the canal and ran across three canal houses, so the front of each house had the rooms of the size from when in use and from the outside looked like three homes.

 

Visiting the Heineken brewery was very interesting and fun. We got a lesson in the history of the company, and a lesson in the brewing process which included a motion simulator. We had a couple beers included in our admission and I won an additional beer answering a question about beer. The brewery also had a shuttle boat that went somewhere, but when we were done we headed to an area with lots of restaurants and shops along a canal.

Getting around Amsterdam is made easy with the Tram system but because of the layout of the streets etc, it still takes patience to find what you are looking for, but well worth the effort.

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Closing thoughts

 

The River Cruise was (to us) fast paced with little down time to take everything in. We understood why this had to be with so many things to see and we were glad we had rested up some the day we arrived in Basel. There were things that we just didn’t get a chance to see, but we saw so much that we needed to avoid being so overwhelmed we wouldn’t appreciate where we were. There was a lot of walking and stairs. We really did enjoy the time and all that we got to see and experience.

 

Excursions times were printed in the daily program. The CD had asked that we not assemble in the entry way until she called us which would be about 10 minutes before it was time to leave. People assembled early anyway, and it wasn’t until the last day we thought to have our cabin door open a few inches so we could hear the CD call for us.

 

Meals etc. The breakfasts and lunches were all buffet. We are not fans of buffets, however the food served at all the buffets was very good. Our only issue was that it seemed like getting anything from the buffet meant breaking in the line, stepping in front of someone. It was very chaotic and at times a challenge. We realize why breakfast and lunches are buffets but it seemed everyone turned up at the same time and a timid person didn’t have a chance. The lunch buffet had a different regional dish every day at one end; I didn’t discover this until about halfway through the cruise; it also had a carving (beef, pork or turkey) station. The dinners (except first and last nights) were all sit down and the menu had a nice variety of choices (a fish selection, meat selection and a vegetarian selection plus some regular standbys like chicken breast, salmon and hamburger) and again the food was very good. The service manner of the dinners made all the meals last longer than we would have liked. The entire dining room was served the appetizer and when all were done and all the dishes picked up, then the soup course was served. When all were done with the soup course and all dishes were picked up then the main course was served. Dessert was not served until all were finished with the main course and all dishes picked up. This was not just at your table, but the entire room. So if you wanted a light dinner of just soup and dessert you still sat through the serving of the dining room. Also, after dinner, coffee was not offered in the dining room but many people went to the lounge for coffee from the coffee machines.

 

We had laundry done while on board and it was picked up in the morning and returned that evening. The laundry form said it would be the next day but we were happy to get it the same evening.

 

We left our order on the door for coffee every night (except the last night) and the coffee arrived at the time specified every morning. It was very nice to have coffee while waking up and getting ready for breakfast. There were coffee machines in the lounge that were available 24 hours. We did not get breakfast room service, so I would stop by the River Café area in the afternoon and get a banana to have with morning coffee and morning meds.

The lounge was not big enough to hold all the passengers, this wasn’t a problem most evenings, but with some special entertainment, some people were standing. The first couple of nights everyone went up to the bar to get their drinks and then starting the third night the bartenders told us they would bring our drinks to us instead of us taking them to our tables. We preferred to sit at the tables, but that made viewing any information on the TV screens during briefings and entertainment difficult.

 

At some ports we were “rafted” with another Scenic boat. While some people didn’t like this, it seems that this is necessary at times and really didn’t impact us.

 

We really enjoyed the cruise and our pre and post adventures. There is no way we could have seen all the sights we saw in even a month. There was so much to see and experience. There are a couple other itineraries we are looking at for future adventures.

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Very interesting to read. Thanks so much for all the details in it - like embarkation and debarkation - and how they work. I forgot to add things like that in my review. I totally agree about the lack of downtime. We really kept hoping for a "sea day" even though we knew we weren't going to get any. It was worth it to see so much but it's definitely a fast pace.

 

Welcome home!

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What a helpful land thorough review. We are doing this exact itinerary on the Scenic Opal next June. Your comments are so helpful!

 

One question, did you do your air through Scenic or independently? If through Scenic, what was your experience? I have not booked air yet and need to get going on it soon.

 

It was my understanding from reading other posts and reviews that you could order off a menu as an alternative to the buffet for breakfast and lunch?

 

Thanks again!

Edited by sunsetbeachgal
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Very interesting and thanks for sharing. Must say I was quite surprised to read about the food being buffet for breakfast and lunch and also the first and last dinners. I am not a fan and would expect for their prices this would not be the case.

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To answer a couple questions

 

There was a menu for breakfast that was Eggs Benedict and I do not think it changed during the week. I did not see any menu to order from for lunch.

 

Our air was booked by my TA not through Scenic.

 

On the first day there was a time to make reservations for Portobello's but we forgot and then we got a day given to us, (all at the same time) but we cancelled since we had so much going on the day of the reservation.

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One more question, if I may. How dies it work for dinner, does it begin at a certain time or is there a time range you can arrive during? I am a bit confused since you mentioned all courses seemed to be served and dishes cleared at the same time. Like you, we enjoy a nice meal but do not wish to sit for long periods between courses.

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Main dining room seating was at 7pm most nights (Portobello seating at 7:15). So everyone gets seated at the same time - I saw one couple come in about 20 minutes after we were seated but that was not the norm and caused consternation with the servers.

Orders are taken from all. They served everyone the appetizer, they picked up everyone's dishes then served the soup, then picked up everyone's dishes and so on.

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Thank you mj_holiday.

We are taking this cruise in October on Tauck.

 

We would love to read a review on the Tauck cruise as we are considering this one for a couple of years from now. We did Budapest to Amsterdam with Tauck last August. Have a great river cruise!

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Thanks again! I assumed dining on a river cruise was like Anytime (Open) Dining on a cruise ship and that you could arrive within a certain period...guess not!

 

Better I adjust my expectations beforehand!

 

Just for general information, the way of serving the evening meal will be different with different lines. My only experience is with Tauck. We had open seating from 6 - 8:30 each evening. Each table was served individually as your party came in to eat or an open table filled up. For parties of over 7 a reservation was needed so that size table would be available. Breakfast and lunches were mostly buffet although breakfast was also made to order in the kitchen for certain items. All seatings were open seating.

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Just for general information, the way of serving the evening meal will be different with different lines. My only experience is with Tauck. We had open seating from 6 - 8:30 each evening. Each table was served individually as your party came in to eat or an open table filled up. For parties of over 7 a reservation was needed so that size table would be available. Breakfast and lunches were mostly buffet although breakfast was also made to order in the kitchen for certain items. All seatings were open seating.

 

I just went to my desk and pulled out Scenic's brochure and it says that meals in the dining room are "open seating with tables from two to eight". My definition of open seating would be as you have described above, maybe theirs is different..

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Open seating on a river cruise means there are not assigned tables -- you walk straight into the dining room and choose where you want to sit. Most river cruise lines serve dinner at a fixed time (immediately following the Cruise Manager's talk about the next day) and everyone is expected to troop down to the dining room together. This could be a deal-breaker for some folks, but we haven't had any problem with it [even though we always take Anytime Dining on ocean cruises].

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