DAY 1: Amsterdam (Embark)
Arrive at Amsterdam Schipol Airport. If your cruise package includes a group arrival transfer or if you have purchased a private arrival transfer, you will be greeted by a Uniworld representative and transferred to the ship. The ship will set sail in the afternoon for your first port of call, Cologne.
DAY 2: Cologne
You simply cannot visit Cologne without paying homage to its most notorious site, the Gothic masterpiece that serves as the city’s cathedral. A local expert will show you favorite haunts around the Old Town and share some of the cathedral’s most intriguing and Magi-cal secrets with you. Cologne is the largest and oldest city of the Rhineland and a cultural mecca, with more than 30 museums and hundreds of art galleries. A congenial atmosphere and a mix of ancient, modern and reconstructed buildings characterize the heart of the city.
Cologne walking discovery tour with Cologne Cathedral
Cologne walking discovery tour with Cologne Cathedral
As you walk through the narrow lanes of the Old Town, you’ll find it hard to believe that more than 70 percent of the city was destroyed by bombs during WWII. The famous 12 Romanesque churches were reconstructed from the rubble, and the cathedral, Cologne’s iconic landmark, rises magnificently in the city center. Three medieval gates remain standing, as does the old city hall with its Renaissance facade. But these mementos of the past are practically modern compared to the city’s ancient origins. Next to the cathedral you’ll find an unassuming modern building that houses an amazing archaeological find: the Dionysus Mosaic. Cologne was founded by the Romans, who made it the capital of Lower Germania in the 4th century, and the museum was built around the remains of a Roman villa—the beautifully preserved mosaic, which was the floor of a banqueting hall, has never been moved. Though it was badly damaged by WWII, the great UNESCO-designated Cologne Cathedral retains many of its original treasures—the relics of the Magi and other sacred figures, which inspired its building in the 12th century, the 14th-century stained-glass windows that were stored safely throughout the war and the beautifully painted choir stalls—though other treasures are displayed separately. Enter the awe-inspiring nave and learn about the history of the cathedral and its art collections, especially the pieces surrounding the Shrine of the Magi. NOTE: On Sundays and Catholic holidays, tours inside the cathedral are not allowed, but individual visits are still welcomed.
A special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
DAY 3: Koblenz, Cruising the Romantic Rhine River, Boppard
No other river valley on earth boasts more castles than the Rhine, and today you’ll have an opportunity to experience real-life “Game of Thrones” ambiance deep within the medieval walls of Marksburg Castle. Not into dungeons and dragons? Get to know Koblenz, a historic town with a colorful past and eclectic architecture, and enjoy a walking discovery tour. Today brings you a plethora of Rhine delights. You begin in Koblenz, a 2,000-year-old town at the northern end of the most scenic section of the Rhine, where you’ll decide between two very different experiences, a walking tour of medieval Koblenz or explore one of the most extraordinary castles on the banks of the river—followed by yet another choice: You see a close up view of the beautiful region via bicycle, or once you arrive in Boppard, you can opt to take a leisurely stroll through the fascinating village.
Choice of Koblenz walking discovery tour or Marksburg Castle or Exclusive guided “Let's Go” bicycle ride or Boppard village stroll
Koblenz walking discovery tour
Watch the waters of the Moselle meld with the Rhine’s as you stand on the spit of land called German Corner: It’s the perfect spot for a symbol of German unity, an equestrian statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I, who united the nation in the 19th century. (There’s another symbol of German unity here too: three panels of the Berlin Wall.) Behind it is Koblenz’s oldest church, St. Castor’s Basilica, first erected in the ninth century, and just one of the charming churches and squares you’ll encounter as you wander through Old Town. Like many Rhineland towns, Koblenz suffered at the hands of Louis XIV’s forces—that’s why you’ll see so many baroque features in the buildings you pass, since so many needed to be reconstructed after the French left. That’s also why the Church of Our Lady has twin onion domes. Despite their travails over the ages, though, Koblenz’s citizens kept their sense of humor: One example of it might catch you by surprise as you pass the fountain known as the Spitting Boy, which spits water without warning. After the tour, you’ll have some free time to enjoy the Marktplatz (Market Square) and its bounty of shopping and wine bars.
With its pale walls, slate-gray roof, and unusually slender towers and turrets, Marksburg looks as though it has been lifted straight from the pages of a fairytale. But don’t be deceived: this is a powerful fortress, built to withstand attack. Marksburg’s defenses were so daunting that enemies generally chose to leave it alone. That’s why this is the only hill castle in Germany that has never been destroyed—a remarkable fact when you consider its 700-year-long history. Enter the fortress through a drawbridge gate and vaulted tunnel—just the first of the many defensive features you’ll encounter on your tour. Notice the “murder holes” in the walls; these would have let defenders pour boiling pitch on would-be invaders. Horsemen once thundered up the Riders’ Stairway, which was hewn into the bedrock, but you can take the steps at a more leisurely pace. Guides will show you the cannons of the Great Battery, once aimed at the Rhine River, and the castle kitchen with its enormous fireplace. You’ll tour the bedchamber, the great banquet hall, the armory, the stables and, if you’re feeling brave, the torture chamber. Don’t miss the re-created medieval garden, with 150 plants used in the Middle Ages for curative (or magical) purposes.
Exclusive guided “Let's Go” bicycle ride
If you’d like to get a closer view of the scenery between Boppard and Koblenz than the river affords, hop on a bicycle and let an experienced guided show you the sights along the excellent Rhine Bike Path. You’ll wheel past Spay and Rhens, which boasts colorfully painted half-timbering on its ancient houses, have a splendid view of magnificent Marksburg Castle, and arrive in Koblenz to meet up with your shipmates. Of course you’ll stop for refreshments along the way.
Boppard village stroll
Join the Cruise Manager on a walk through this attractive town with a long and surprising history; the Cruise Manager will point out its highlights and recommend a host of activities. Take a chairlift to the top of the hill for a great view of the valley and the river (you can hike the return route, if you’re up for it); enjoy a glass of wine at a local tavern and watch the water traffic on the river; or ride a bicycle along the Rhine promenade. You might also visit Saint Severus Church, whose twin towers dominate the waterfront, or explore the remains of a fourth-century Roman fort. If you’re interested in design and the decorative arts, stop by the Museum Boppard to see the exhibit on native son Michael Thonet, who developed the technique of bentwood furniture in the 1840s. His iconic, lightweight chairs are still popular in cafés throughout Europe. Or simply stroll beneath the trees along the city’s scenic riverside promenade, which is lined with the gorgeous villas of 19th-century entrepreneurs.
DAY 4: Boppard, cruising the Romantic Rhine River, Rüdesheim
Experience Germany’s fabled Rhine River in one of two ways—an exclusive tasting of estate-grown Rieslings at Castle Vollards or an invigorating vineyard hike. Your floating hotel arrives in Rüdesheim, one of the most charming ports of call in the Rhine Valley. This city has a long history going back to Roman times and is famous for the Drosselgasse, a narrow, bustling lane of shops and wine bars, as well as its impressive Niederwald Monument, built to celebrate the re-establishment of the German empire in the late 19th century. You may opt to visit a renowned vineyard or, for a more active jaunt, take the long way shoreward from Niederwald with a vineyard hike that includes a stop at a unique museum.
Choice of Exclusive Castle Vollrads wine tasting or Exclusive guided “Let's Go” hike from Rüdesheim to Assmanshausen
Exclusive Castle Vollrads wine tasting
Nestled in the rolling, vineyard-covered hills of the Rheingau, Castle Vollrads has a square tower that dates back to the 14th century, as does the moat. Just one family owned the castle for 700 years, until 1997, adding on to it and remodeling it over the centuries. While the interior of the castle is rarely open to the public, you will have the opportunity to step inside to see some of the elegantly appointed rooms, including the beautiful gold-embossed Flemish leather wall covering in the 17th-century dining room. Grapes have been grown here for more than a thousand years; records show that Castle Vollrads wines were first sold in 1211. These days the excellence of its Riesling is well known; it’s so well known, in fact, that Schloss Vollrads is one of the few German vineyards whose name stands alone on a wine label—no village name is required. Accompanied by a local wine expert, you will sample three wines in three different locations. There will also be time to wander through the grounds at your leisure.
Exclusive guided “Let's Go” hike from Rüdesheim to Assmanshausen
This fun excursion combines several of the area’s attractions. Start by boarding a delightfully quaint mini train to Siegfried’s Museum of Mechanical Musical Instruments for a short tour of its rare mechanical instruments. Listen as tiny birds pop out of music boxes and begin to sing; marvel as colorfully costumed mechanical figures play miniature violins. It’s an enchanting and surprising experience. Follow that up by hopping into an aerial cable car and soaring above the vineyards to the Niederwald Monument, which looks out over the entire Rheingau wine region. From the heights above the river, you and your local expert will hike down through vineyards to the picturesque riverfront village of Assmanshausen (which is noted for its red wine), where you’ll rejoin the ship. Note: The gondola to Niederwald Heights is covered but not heated. Cars are open on the sides, and it is recommended that you dress warmly.
DAY 5: Germersheim (Speyer)
Expect the unexpected in Speyer, where ancient treasures harmoniously co-exist with modern day innovation. For something really unexpected, venture into a spooky, candlelit tasting room to sample flavorful elixirs made from wine vinegars. Utterly unique and surprisingly delicious, and something you’ll experience with no other river cruise line. The ship docks in Germersheim, where you’ll have to choose between boarding a motorcoach to the nearby town of Speyer for a guided walking tour or taking in an exclusive tasting at a local vinegar estate.
Choice of Speyer walking discovery tour or Exclusive Doktorenhof vinegar estate visit and tasting
Speyer walking discovery tour
Speyer—“spire” in English—is well named, since the four red towers of the Romanesque cathedral dominate the Old Town just as the medieval bishops dominated the town itself. Though the bishops ruled the town, Speyer also had a special relationship with the Holy Roman emperors: Conrad II ordered the cathedral’s construction around 1030, and eight emperors are interred in its crypts. Your walking tour will take you along the pedestrian-only Maximilian Street—first laid out by Roman soldiers—from the last remaining gate of the medieval wall toward the great church. Near the church you’ll see remnants of a Jewish community established around 1090 under the auspices of the bishop of Speyer. Though the synagogue is long gone, the vaulted ritual baths have been beautifully preserved. (The area is popularly known as the Jewish Courtyard.) Notice the Old Mint and Holy Trinity Church, which were built in the 18th century, following a devastating war, and still stand as masterful examples of late-baroque style. You’ll have some free time after your tour: If you’re interested in automotive history, trains or aeronautical technology, be sure to stop at the Technik Museum. Note: Because the Speyer Cathedral is an active place of worship, no tours of its interior are given.
Exclusive Doktorenhof vinegar estate visit and tasting
For a different spin on the Palatinate wine region, visit the Weinessiggut Doktorenhof estate for a special vinegar tasting. Yes, you read that right—a vinegar tasting. Founded by Georg Wiedemann some 30 years ago, Doktorenhof produces vinegars from premium wines, rather than inexpensive ones. Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner, Riesling and pinot noir are aged with a century-old vinegar “mother,” as the bacteria that makes vinegar is known, and flavored with a variety of herbs and fruits. The results make complex and elegant aperitifs, intended to be sipped from a specially designed long-stemmed glass between courses or after a meal. The atmospheric tasting room (think candles, cloaks and choir music) is like no other you’ll ever experience. You’ll have plenty of time to explore their enticing gift shop, too. A shuttle is available to take you to and from Speyer if you wish to explore it on your own. Romans founded the city, and the Historical Museum of the Palatinate has an interesting collection of Roman antiquities (as well as Celtic and early German objects) you might enjoy investigating.
DAY 6: Kehl (Strasbourg)
Strasbourg is invariably described as quaint, a rather overused word that in this case is perfectly apropos. Whether you see it via a canal boat or on foot with an insightful local expert, this historic town with its cobbled lanes, half-timbered homes, giant stork nests and impossible-to-resist pastry shops will win your heart. Kehl, directly across the river from Strasbourg, will be your ship’s base while you explore the Alsatian capital, which is known as the “Crossroads of Europe” for its strategic location halfway between Paris and Prague. You may choose to see Strasbourg via its historic canals (the way Strasbourg has been seen by its visitors through the centuries), which would give you an enlightening and relaxing overview of this historically important city. Or you may experience the historic core as the locals do, with an exclusive walking tour. If you’re feeling adventurous, take advantage of Uniworld’s bicycles or Nordic walking sticks and explore the banks of the river.
Choice of Strasbourg panoramic tour with cathedral and Old Town visit or Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Strasbourg walking tour
Strasbourg panoramic tour with cathedral and Old Town visit
Controlled over the centuries by either France or Germany, Strasbourg—cross-cultural and bilingual—offers a delightful combination of old and new, as well as French and German characteristics. You’ll see all the highlights on a city tour before venturing inside the cathedral, one of the city’s most famous sites. The same craftsmen who built Chartres worked on it, and the rose window may be Chartres’s equal. Don’t miss the astronomical clock or the truly remarkable statuary and carvings. Climb the spiral staircase to the belfry for an amazing view of the city or visit the sumptuous apartments in the Palais Rohan to get a sense of how the mighty prince-bishops of the church once lived.
Exclusive “Do as the Locals Do” Strasbourg walking tour
Begin in the German Quarter with a stroll through the spacious green spaces of Republic Square, which is surrounded by stately neoclassical structures—among them is the Palace of the Rhine, built at great expense as a residence for the Kaiser, should he happen to visit Strasbourg—and cross over the water to Broglie Square on Grande Île. Twice a week Broglie Square is the scene of a lively outdoor market, but there’s no shortage of activity on the other days of the week in this area, where impromptu concerts and street performances take place. Wend your way with your guide through the maze of bustling pedestrian streets lined with historic buildings— many of them housing tempting shops—toward the cathedral, whose single spire can be seen throughout the region. Stop for coffee and perhaps a pastry at a patisserie near the cathedral. Your local expert will tell you about the daily lives of the people in the area and introduce you to the delights of Alsatian cuisine before you go off to explore on your own and try out some of Alsace’s famous dishes. You have the entire afternoon to see more of Strasbourg on your own.
Note: Shuttle service will be provided to and from the center of Strasbourg in the afternoon.
DAY 7: Breisach (Kaysersberg and Riquewihr or Colmar)
Look up “charming and “picturesque” in the dictionary and it could very well show images of today’s choice of destinations—two of Alsace’s best-known wine villages or a town some have hailed as the prettiest in the world. Is it really? See for yourself from our uniquely Uniworld perspective. A charming town dominated by a 17th-century hilltop cathedral, Breisach is your gateway to the Alsatian wine road. This is your launching point for one of two excursions along the celebrated route des vins, which hugs the foothills of the Vosges mountain range. You can visit Kaysersberg and Riquewihr, two of the most picturesque villages in the region, or take a tour of the larger town of Colmar, considered one of the most beautiful destinations along the wine road and the capital of Alsatian wines. If you’re interested in doing something a bit more physically challenging, you could stay in Breisach and walk or bike through the surrounding vineyards.
Choice of Alsatian “Village Day” or Colmar city tour
Alsatian “Village Day”
An old stone well in Kaysersberg bears an inscription that warns against drinking water and urges the reader to “Drink with moderation old and subtil wine . . . and leave the water to the side.” What better words could guide you as you explore some delightful Alsatian wine villages? Though the remains of a 12th-century castle speak to Kaysersberg’s strategic importance in the Middle Ages, today it is an idyllic village nestled among vineyards. Join a local guide for a one-hour walking tour, passing storybook medieval houses with steeply pitched roofs and a gorgeous Gothic cathedral that was begun by a 12th-century Holy Roman emperor. In modern days, the village is best known as the birthplace of Albert Schweitzer. The road from Kaysersberg to Riquewihr provides quintessential wine road scenery: lush foothills, famous vineyards, castle ruins and quaint villages. Riquewihr itself seems to have changed little since the 16th century: The timber-frame buildings still boast colorful shutters and cheerful flower boxes, and stone arches still lead to cobbled squares with cafés and carved fountains. Your tour of this enchanting village ends with a tasting of an Alsatian specialty, flammekuchen, a delicious flat bread topped with onions and bacon, hot from the oven. There will be time for you to explore the little shops in the village center, where you’ll find local specialties like schnapps, cheeses and artisanal breads, before returning to Breisach.
Colmar city tour
Colmar has been called the prettiest town in the world, and it’s hard to argue with that designation. As you ramble through the town, you may find it easy to believe the rumor that Colmar was spared during WWII bombing because pilots knew it was too beautiful to destroy. Rainbow-hued half-timbered houses front peaceful little canals, flowers tumble from baskets and window ledges, and cobblestone lanes lead to extraordinary examples of Gothic architecture (among them are the Dominican Church and St. Martin’s). You’ll see fairytale 16th-century houses, including the House of Heads, so called for the 111 carved heads decorating the façade, and Pfister House, the unmistakable inspiration for a bakery in the animated feature Howl’s Moving Castle. Frédéric Bartholdi, who sculpted the Statue of Liberty, was born here; his sculptures are scattered throughout town—you’ll spot several of them in the center of fountains. You’ll also have some time to explore on your own; you might want to check out the Unterlinden Museum, perhaps best known for the Isenheim Altarpiece. And it’s worth remembering that Colmar is the capital of Alsatian wine-making—consider relaxing over a glass of cool white wine and watching the passing parade. Spend the afternoon onboard, simply enjoying the views from the ship’s lounges or decks and sampling some of the ship’s amenities. Sip a cocktail on the Sun Deck or relax with a massage.
A special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
DAY 8: Basel (Disembark)
Disembark the ship. If your cruise package includes a group departure transfer or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg for your flight home (unless, of course, you’ve decided to extend your trip with the post-cruise extension to lovely Basel and Lake Lucerne).
Cruising cabin onboard: S.S. Antoinette, River Empress