A-ROSA FLORA; THE RHINE GODDESS

Dreaming wide awake; sailing the Rhine in spring

Dreaming wide awake; sailing the Rhine in spring

The surface of the springtime Rhine was like a mirror, still and silent as a string of cotton candy clouds flitted across it like so many ghostly galleons. From the balcony of the the A-Rosa Flora, I watched entranced as as succession of stunning vistas unfolded around me like a series of staggering drum rolls, one after another.

One minute we motored effortlessly past giant, hulking industrial plants, the new cathedrals of the 21st century. Another minute, and we ghosted past small villages clustered round the spire of some ancient church. A bend in the river would offer up broad, sandy beaches dotted with improbable gangs of roaming horses, enjoying the returning springtime sun.

Passing under vaulting, arched bridges and through long, deep canal locks, we nudged effortlessly into ancient, fabled Dutch and Belgian cities and some lesser known gems along the way. There was sturdy, Gothic accented Ghent, with its cobbled streets and looming spires, and poignant, pretty Arnhem, with its flower strewn waterfront promenade and the famous ‘bridge too far’ that still straddles the Rhine at this juncture.

Vibrant, swaggering Amsterdam and cutting edge architecture in the vast harbour of Rotterdam formed a fabulous contrast to the breezy, yacht studded harbour at Hoorn. Antwerp was all clattering horses’ hooves on cobbled streets and impossibly gorgeous waffles, lashed in hot chocolate sauce, savoured against a soundtrack of ringing church bells in one of the most magnificent grand squares anywhere in Europe.

Pool deck on the A-Rosa Flora

Pool deck on the A-Rosa Flora

We moved deftly through an endless hinterland of street cafes and flower strewn streets and squares, sailing past flotillas of sturdy Rhine coasters, each one with a car or two strapped to it’s stern and, often as not, a furiously barking dog standing guard on deck. Lines of plane trees stood like sentries as the setting sun flitted skittishly between the foliage, warming the ancient river with an amazing, translucent wash.

Our passage was almost dreamlike; our transport a paragon of modern luxury. The A-Rosa Flora was making only her third voyage, yet already she has become an amazing cocoon of style, warmth and excellence. With open seating dining in a window walled restaurant that regularly offered up the most amazing food I have eaten on any river boat, it was a feast for both the palate and the senses.

Smart, crisp and modern, the A-Rosa Flora boasts a vibrant, modish palette that allows for the bright, linear decor to complement the wash of floor to ceiling natural light that suffuses the boat. An elegant observation lounge right forward leads to the dining room via a starboard side inner promenade. One deck down a small, beautiful jewel of a spa offered an almost water level perspective of the outdoor pageant as it slowly unfurled.

On deck, canvas chairs and wooden tables dotted the forward and slightly raised aft deck. In between was a pool, a small golf putting green, and even a sit up, outdoor bar. Like everything else on board, the quality of fixtures and fittings was superlative. Clean, crisp and incredibly comfortable, the A-Rosa Flora is a modern, modular marriage of intelligent design and subtle, finely styled flair. If the opposition isn’t worried, it should be.

The elegant dining room

The elegant dining room

It is no exaggeration to say that dining was a feast; from the freshly baked breakfast breads and strong, piping hot coffee to the gorgeous, unmissable soups, right down to the delicately prepared fish and such evening dishes as reindeer, it was simply fabulous. The desserts were creamy, custard and chocolate confections that dared you to try and ignore them. I failed. Repeatedly.

The cabins? Four suites had proper private balconies, but most- such as mine- had a French balcony. Twin beds that convert to a very comfy double,  a couple of comfy chairs, and a flat screen TV. Three wardrobes and ample drawers provide more than enough storage space; the dress code is smart casual right throughout the trip.

The bathroom is shower only, though it is an excellent shower. Best of all was the floor to ceiling sliding door that opened up onto that balcony rail; a beautiful place for enjoying a glass of chilled sekt as the A-Rosa Flora ghosted silently along the implacable, moonlit Rhine.

All things considered, those rooms are more than simply comfortable; each one is a little haven. And, this being a river boat, everything else is just a simple step away.

With an all inclusive drinks policy on board and a staff that absolutely work their socks off from top to bottom, dawn till dusk, the A-Rosa Flora serves up the storied, ancient Grand Dames that line the banks of the Rhine with singular aplomb and panache. It’s an elegant, indolent and all inclusive way to see these fantastic places, many of them looking like something straight out of the pages of a Brothers Grimm fable.

Exquisite panoramas from the forward Observation Lounge

Exquisite panoramas from the forward Observation Lounge

And, with all your shore excursions and transfers included for the duration, there is no more convenient or inclusive way to see the magnificent, medieval magic of old Europe. Just lovely.

Advertisements

COLOGNE PHOTO ALBUM

Cologne skyline view from the edge of the Rhine

Cologne skyline view from the edge of the Rhine, looking from aboard the A-Rosa Flora

View of the Hohenzollern bridge, from the pool deck of the A-Rosa Flora

View of the Hohenzollern bridge, from the pool deck of the A-Rosa Flora

Amazingly, the trademark Cologne bridge was rebuilt after being destroyed in 1945

Amazingly, the trademark Cologne bridge was rebuilt after being destroyed in 1945

Looking along the Cologne waterfront before sailing

Looking along the Cologne waterfront before sailing on our week long foray up the Rhine

Close up of the Hohenzollern bridge, named after Germany's ruling royal dynasty

Close up of the Hohenzollern bridge, named after Germany’s ruling royal dynasty

Walking along the Rhine, under the eastern span of the huge birdge

Walking along the Rhine, under the eastern span of the huge bridge

Some of the ornate Gothic stone work on the river front

Some of the ornate Gothic stone work on the river front

Another shot of the amazing, triple span bridge

Another shot of the amazing, triple span bridge that spans the Rhine

Cologne's world famous icon; the monolithic, twin spired Dom cathdral

Cologne’s world famous icon; the monolithic, twin spired Dom cathedral

Close up, the huge cathedral still bears the blackened scars of the 1945 bombing

Close up, the huge cathedral still bears the blackened scars of the 1945 bombing

While whole districts of Cologne were flattened, the Dom somehow miraculously survived

While whole districts of Cologne were flattened, the Dom somehow miraculously survived

Seen from close up, the awe inspiring Dom loses any actual perspective.

Seen from close up, the awe inspiring Dom loses any actual perspective.

You have to stand some way back to take in it's blackened, beautiful perfection

You have to stand some way back to take in it’s blackened, beautiful perfection

The centre of Cologne resembles nothing so much as a giant Gothic theme park

The centre of Cologne resembles nothing so much as a giant Gothic theme park

There are cobbled streets, lined with all souildingsrts of honey coloured b

There are cobbled streets, lined with all sorts of honey coloured buildings

Despite the wartime damage, parts of Cologne still look almost fairy tale

Despite the wartime damage, parts of Cologne still look almost fairy tale

The city has enough spires, turrets and towers for any Disney princess

The city has enough spires, turrets and towers for any Disney princess

The town centre looks like a scene from a story by the Brothers Grimm

The town centre looks like a scene from a story by the Brothers Grimm

Even the statuary has an almost scary, medieval kind of feel to it

Even the statuary has an almost scary, medieval kind of feel to it

Bombed and then a battlefield, it's amazing so much of Cologne remains

Bombed and then a battlefield, it’s amazing so much of Cologne remains

Today, the proud, scarred  Queen Of The Rhine is still a magnificent, must see gem.

Today, the proud, scarred Queen Of The Rhine is still a magnificent, must see gem.

THE ROYAL VIKING; THE QUEEN OF THE MIGHTY NILE

The Royal Viking

The Royal Viking

She is a slice of modern luxury that would make any pharaoh gasp in awe; smooth as silk and as perfectly posted as a swan, the Royal Viking glides serenely along the golden highway of the pharoahs- the eternal Nile- offering comfort and convenience on a style that even Cleopatra herself could not dream of.

A boat of this size could easily carry almost two hundred passengers quite comfortably. Instead, the Royal Viking carries a maximum of 136, in sixty two cabins and four suites, spread across three upper decks.

All the cabins are outside, with floor to ceiling sliding doors and a balcony rail. There is a table and a couple of comfortable chairs, refrigerator, flat screen TV and a very comfortable double bed.  Three wardrobes allow for more than enough storage space. With dark wood fixtures and a wooden floor, these come in at around 252 square feet-  larger and more commodious than the regular cabins of most ocean going cruise ships.

The bathrooms also have slatted woods floors, with a toilet, sink, and combination bath and shower unit. Each comes complete with daily changed towels, and en suite bathrobes. Further up the scale, the suites offer even more living space.

The Royal Viking is one of the smartest and most contemporary boats on the Nile. Inside, a gracefully flowing lobby staircase leads down to the main, wood panelled bar. Full of large, comfy chairs and sofas, this is the ideal spot to enjoy a pre or post dinner cocktail with fellow adventurers, or one of the fancy dress parties and treasure hunts that make up the after dinner entertainment.

The lounge on board Royal Viking

The lounge on board Royal Viking

One level further down, the smart, contemporary dining room is lined by floor to ceiling windows that offer an almost water’s edge view of the Nile. Assigned tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner seat from two to six people. Meals are offered buffet style, with free coffee and tea at breakfast. Ingredients and creations reflected both a tempting, filling of Egyptian and international fare. And if there was a perhaps understandable emphasis on local fish and chicken, the food was almost invariably good to excellent in quality. Meals on board the Royal Viking soon came to be the social highlights of our day.

There is also a small shop on the upper level of the lobby, leading round to the middle deck of cabins. Climbing two levels, you emerge onto one of the most beautiful and expansive sun decks ever seen on this most ancient of rivers.

The forward part contains a large, cool pool that is an absolute blessing to have in the searing heat of an Egyptian spring. White padded, wooden loungers flank this area, all the way back to where a large, shaded outdoor viewing deck, full of elegant wicker chairs, sofas and tables, makes for a fantastic, unobstructed vantage spot across both banks of the river.

It’s a perfect spot for a leisurely afternoon tea as you glide past the beguiling panorama that plays out along the river; cattle and oxen grazing by the river banks. Small boats full of fish struggling to head up stream. The slender spires of mosques and the silently waving fields of rushes that flank the water’s edge.

And the view from on deck, at sunset....

And the view from on deck, at sunset….

And, of course, where better to savour the tender, mellow springtime sunsets, or a cocktail at night, with a backdrop of thousands of chirping crickets?  All things considered, the Royal Viking is a pretty spectacular way to see one of the most amazing and compelling places on earth.

PHOTO ALBUM: QUEEN HATSHEPSUT’S MORTUARY TEMPLE, LUXOR, EGYPT

One of the most potent attractions and enduring sights on the entire west bank of the Nile- the imposing, almost completely intact mortuary temple of one of ancient Egypt’s most legendary rulers- the great queen, Hatshepsut.

'Crouched in crook of death'... first view of the mortuary temple

‘Crouched in crook of death’… first view of the mortuary temple

Surrounding limestone ecarpments shelter the temple

Surrounding limestone ecarpments shelter the temple

Lower far side wing of the complex

Lower far side wing of the complex

Approaching the vast, silent complex on foot is an amazing experience

Approaching the vast, silent complex on foot is an amazing experience

Looking up to the nearside, second level

Looking up to the nearside, second level

'Silent in a sea of timeless limestone....'

‘Silent in a sea of timeless limestone….’

Ornate statues dedicated to Hatshepsut., looking out over the arid, dead lands of the west bank

Ornate statues dedicated to Hatshepsut., looking out over the arid, dead lands of the west bank

The surrounding scenery is literally unchanged for milennia

The surrounding scenery is literally unchanged for milennia

Close up of one of those amazing, ageless statues

Close up of one of those amazing, ageless statues

Looking along the upper level colonnade. The entire complex is something like 97 feet high in all

Looking along the upper level colonnade. The entire complex is something like 97 feet high in all

If this ancient, sun scorched columns could only talk...

If this ancient, sun scorched columns could only talk…

The shade of ageless stone columns was very welcome

The shade of ageless stone columns was very welcome

The sheer symmetry of the entire complex is awe inspiring

The sheer symmetry of the entire complex is awe inspiring

Another ground's eye view of the complex

Another ground’s eye view of the complex

Emblem of Horus, the Falcon god

Emblem of Horus, the Falcon god

One last, backwards glance...

One last, backwards glance…

LITTLE ROYALS- RCI ANNOUNCES SHORT WINTER CARIBBEAN/BAHAMAS SCHEDULE FOR 2015/6

Majesty Of The Seas offers short Bahamas cruises from Miami over winter 2015-16

Majesty Of The Seas offers short Bahamas cruises from Miami over winter 2015-16

Royal Caribbean International has just announced an extensive season of short Caribbean and Bahamas cruises for the winter of 2015-16. The cruises, offered on a trio of different class vessels, sail from three different Florida ports, and offer durations from three to five days in all.

The biggest- quite literally- of the options are offered on the old ex-UK stalwart, Independence Of The Seas. The popular and commodious ‘Indy’ operates three different itineraries from Port Everglades; one of four nights, and two five night runs.

The four night voyages showcase the popular Yucatan port of Cozumel. One of the five night runs offers calls at both Belize and Cozumel, while the second highlights Falmouth, Jamaica, as well as the private Royal Caribbean resort of Labadee, on Haiti.

These are some of the best short cruises on offer in the region, combining exotic and landmark destinations with enough sea time to sample the diverse dining opportunities and dazzling nightlife and entertainment options aboard one of the most completely equipped resort cruise ships in the world. I expect this programme to be hugely popular.

Not to be outdone, Port Canaveral offers the enhanced Vision class Enchantment Of The Seas. The ship- the only one of the six ship, late nineties built class to be (thus far) lengthened, will offer three and four night cruises from that port to both Nassau and the line’s private Bahamian island at Coco Cay, with the four night cruises also offering an extra day at sea.

These short, invigorating breaks aboard a classy ship offer the alluring option of adding a stay at any of the numerous Florida theme parks, including the amazing Kennedy Space Centre. 

Coco Cay, RCI's private island in the Bahamas

Coco Cay, RCI’s private island in the Bahamas

Finally, Royal Caribbean is offering departures year round from Miami aboard the still elegant, immaculately maintained Majesty Of The Seas (see my previous blogs for a review and separarte photo album of this ship). Majesty Of The Seas is the last of the Sovereign trio, the pioneer class of mega ships developed for the line during the late eighties.

She offers three night cruises that offer calls at Coco Cay and Nassau, and a more mellow, four night Monday departure that adds feisty, bohemian Key West to the first two ports of call. This is a well regimented, destination intensive ‘fun run’ on a ship that was recently refurbished, and still offers more than enough bells and whistles to make sailing her an enjoyable experience. The only qualifier I would add is that the inside cabins are very small, so pack light if you’re travelling economically.

While there is nothing really innovative overall here, this programme is soundly researched, and as tight as a drum in terms of product offerings. The addition of the magnificent Independence Of The Seas, in particular, is a very welcome development.

As always, stay tuned for potential changes and additions’subtractions to this roster.