CRUISE THE PLANET
Sailing along the Main River in Germany we stopped in Wurzburg for the day and first went off on an exclusive Abercrombie & Kent Onshore Connection event. Arriving back on board Amadeus Brilliant for lunch we ventured out again in the afternoon, this time to the charming town of Rothenburg. Returning back in time for dinner, we sailed into the sunset. It was a day typical of river cruising in general and a good illustration of the A&K element, layered on top of a basic cruise line experience.
The Cruise Line
Luftner Cruises has been sailing the waterways of Europe for over 30 years, targeting a mostly European clientele. Operating a fleet of ten ships, Luftner sails along Dutch and Belgian rivers, the French Rhône and Saône and up and down the Rhine, Main, Moselle and Danube. Cabins are nicely appointed and our ship, 150-passenger Amadeus Brilliant, features a lounge at the front of the ship as well as at the back of the ship, a small spa and exercise area and an assortment of bicycles for passenger use.
The Base Experience
The Luftner experience is comparatively less inclusive than some other river cruise lines and can best be described as a decent foundation from which passengers can custom-build their experience. For example, shore excursions; wine, beer and soft drinks with all meals; wireless Internet service;bottled water to take ashore are not included but available for an additional fee. That’s where the comparable value of the Abercrombie & Kent element, layered on top, creates considerable value. We’re crunching the numbers now and will have details on perceived, anticipated and actual value soon.
The Abercrombie & Kent Difference
Our A&K package includes the basic Luftner Cruise experience but adds some sort of excursion at each port, be it tagging along with the ship’s group or going off on an exclusively arranged experience, on our own. Our A&K guide, with us every step of the way, provides bottled water most of the time when disembarking for a tour and takes care of “all tipping throughout the journey” we were told at an orientation briefing the first night on the ship, presented as including the ship staff, bus drivers and tour guides. Without adding up numbers yet, that’s a considerable € amount. As previously mentioned, the A&K element also includes transfers to and from the airport, a personal meet and greet and a pre- and post-cruise hotel stay, dinners part of the deal.
First Stop Of The Day
Arriving in Wurzburg, we docked in an industrial area. Transportation somewhere would be needed for any activity other than walking along the riverbank, arguably not a bad way to spend a day and some passengers did just that. The 13 of us in the A&K group went a different direction, taking a motor coach to Kloster Bronnbach, a former Cistercian monastery dating back to the 12th century.
A&K Exclusive Onshore Connection
Founded in 1151, the former Cistercian monastery in located in the lower Tauber Valley , also a wonderful place to make wine, which we sampled at the conclusion of the tour. The Cistercian monks, in addition to being rather ravenous consumers of wine are also referred to as “gardeners of God” as we witnessed by their prolific cultivation of roses.
Second Stop Of The Day
After lunch it was off to Rothenburg for a tour of a town referred to as Germany’s well-preserved ‘Jewel of the Middle Ages’, and rightfully so. Our local guide explained that what we were seeing was basically the same as it has always been, with the addition of running water, electricity and other modern conveniences as they were invented. Towers, city gates, walls and cobblestone streets have remained unchanged since the Thirty Years War. A bit of free time at the conclusion of the tour allowed us to look around at our leisure before the ride back to Amadeus Brilliant.
Practical Application: It does not normally take more than a stop or two on a river cruise for passengers to get greedy about the ‘free time’ offered at the conclusion of guided tours. I strongly suggest paying close attention to the orientation tour and then breaking off from the group when some feature of the area being toured looks appealing. Better yet, if your river cruise line provides advance information about the destinations, study that with the same gusto as one might the deck plans of a huge ocean cruise ship, for orientation purposes. This is not to degrade the quality of a local guide’s tour but time is limited and free time, if you enjoy it, should be yours.
The long day was typical of how river cruises can go when passengers fully engage all that is being offered. Some do, some don’t. Those with mobility issues might go along on one or the other of the off-ship offerings spend the day on the ship relaxing or go off on their own in an entirely different direction. One in our group did just that, visiting Bishop’s Palace, a premiere site not offered by the Luftner base experience. Even on tours, those with an adventurous spirit can custom design their own experience. All those options are universal to the genre of river cruising in general, much like the customizability of ocean cruises.
The Enduring Memory That Counts
Regardless of how we got here, who provides what part of the experience or which we choose to engage, at the end of the day we were travelers in Europe digging deep into Germany, at a lovely time of the year. That will be the takeaway and enduring memory that will last a lifetime.