Wine and a fine time dancing down the Rhine

GIVEN I speak German, am a cruise stalwart and have been having Latin and ballroom dance lessons for some years, this TUI ‘Dancing Down The Rhine’ River Cruise couldn’t have been more tailored for me if I had been christened Taylor Tailor, and worked as a tuxedo maker for Burton’s.

Yet despite this obvious ‘suitability’… ahem… I know I would have still enjoyed it immensely if none of these had applied, as this was a fantastic experience that will live long in the memory.

Having been on some of the UK’s biggest seafaring cruise ships, it did cross my mind beforehand how this would compare, given as the full width of a river ship can be traversed in a good ten strides or so.

But as we approached the TUI Maya River Boat, sitting resplendent in its Frankfurt berth on the Main river, I just knew this was going to be something special for other reasons.

Tui Maya River Ship.

The ship is fitted out to the same TUI/Marella Cruises high-quality specifications as its bigger sea sisters, with gleaming metal, sparkling glass, luxurious carpets, glossy-lacquered timber and other high-end fittings, oozing quality and class wherever your sea... sorry, riverlegs take you.

Our Deck 2 Superior French Balcony cabin was elegant and luxurious and, as with all Maya’s rooms, came with air-conditioning, hairdryer, flatscreen Smart TV, safe, Molton Brown toiletries and tea and coffee making facilities. All rooms are on the outside of the ship, with either a porthole, floor-to-ceiling window or French balcony.

Ours came with a king-size bed, which can be made into two singles, along with a large dressing table and a lounge chair with a drinks table and a fridge, and our shower room/toilet was modern and stylish with plenty of room.

As any sea cruise holidaymaker will tell you, finding your way on board can be quite daunting, and that after a week – usually on departure day – you’ve finally found your bearings.

TUI Maya's Reception and Atrium.

Not so here. With two bars, two restaurants, a Wellness Centre, an expansive top deck and the Observatory show lounge as the main attractions over the ship’s four levels, you’ve found your feet within half an hour – and that’s the essence of why this cruise was different and special: intimacy.

Forget thousands of faces, some you might not see more than once on your cruise, here was an opportunity to get to know your fellow shipmates, and I witnessed friendships for life blossom over the course of our six-day adventure.

And not once did I feel at a loss for something to do. We downloaded the TUI navigator app to our phones which kept us informed of all the activities on board, be they quizzes, dance lessons, sporting activities to enjoy should we not be on an excursion or just strolling ourselves around the town we shipped up at.

Speaking of excursions, included in the price for each person is a £120 (pro-rata) per week trip allocation, which meant that a good proportion of our time was spent in the company of a qualified German guide speaking the usual impeccable English. Guests are able to choose which trips they would like at the time of booking, and, as a rough guide, our £105 (pro-rata over six days) gave us the opportunity to enjoy three excellent tours during our stay, with the option of topping up should you wish more.

One of Maya's elegant cabins.

So what about the dancing element? Well we were given some expert tango tutelage and a waltz workout by our very capable and helpful instructors Kevin and Denise, who were at ease teaching absolute beginners while giving handy tips to more seasoned dancers.

While acknowledging the obvious confines of the ship’s size, I would have liked to see a temporary dance floor rather than having to dance on carpet, and a bigger allotted space would have helped further.

But this was the inaugural Dancing Down The Rhine trip, so we were the guinea pigs of sorts and our comments were asked for and noted by the ship’s cruise director Mark, whose sunny disposition and bubbly, chatty personality was a highlight of the trip.

Dining is an expected quality experience on board, and we were not to be disappointed. Breakfast, lunch and evening meal are either served by attentive and professional staff in the more formal Verdastro restaurant, or on a more mixed waiter/self-serve basis in The Bistro.

The Observatory lounge.

Both are tastefully and elegantly decorated, Verdastro in an opulent gold and green with beautifully dressed tablecloths, with Bistro given a more contemporary feel with funky pastel shades and chic formica tables.

Expect locally-sourced produce in a varied choice of delicious meals and excellent regional wines included with lunch and dinner, and guests currently have the option to choose between an all-inclusive package for the rest of your drinks, or half board-plus (all tips included) and so pay as you go for your tipples throughout your cruise.

Entertainment was varied with a local oompah band, British comedian (and Peter Kaye tribute act) Lee Lard flown in for our pleasure, along with resident musicians/artistes, an amazing interactive quiz and a sensational Silent Disco – select one of two tracks on your personal disco-light headsets and do your thing, oblivious to the silence in the room as you dance!

Ports and trips

We embarked in Frankfurt on the Main river, sailing into the Rhine and then our wonderful journey began. Our trip took us to marvellous German cities and town, each with its own identity combining both traditional and more modern architecture.

The pretty town of Rüdesheim was our first port of call, and we enjoyed an excursion on the Winzerexpress road train to see some of the amazing expanse of vines producing the famed Riesling grapes, before taking in the quaint and eccentric Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet museum. Here was an amazing array of musical machines from years gone by and, for me, was a real trip highlight.

Enjoy a sauna or a jacuzzi dip in the TUI Maya Wellness Spa.

Boppard was the afternoon port of call, and en route afforded us an amazing opportunity to sit on the top deck, wrapped in provided TUI blankets (this was November after all!), to witness the marvel of the many beautiful castles overlooking us as we sailed up the tranquil waters of the Upper Middle Rhine Valley.

It was then onto the bustling city of Cologne and its magnificent twin-spired cathedral, before moving up to our northernmost port in Düsseldorf, where the flat landscape lends itself to beer rather than wine production, so it was only polite to have a glass or three of Altbier – the locally produced dark ales – in this elegant city.

We then made our way back down the Rhine taking in the former West German capital of Bonn, with its presidential palaces, thousand-year-old churches, museums and the birthplace house of famous son Ludwig von Beethoven.

Koblenz, where the Rhine meets the Moselle at the impressive Deutsches Eck, was our penultimate destination. Here visitors can take the cable car (seasonal) over the Rhine for impressive views over the city, or stroll around the city centre with an amazing array of shops.

And finally, with a longer day back in Frankfurt than on our arrival day, we were also able to take in this beautiful major city – nicknamed Manhattan due to its futuristic skyline, with timber buildings and museums hosting artworks by Van Gogh, Monet and Rembrandt.

So what else can I tell you? Staff wear masks at all times and guests are asked to do so when moving around the ship. There is a vigorous cleaning regime and guests’ temperatures are taken daily, usually on arriving for breakfast. No pool here folks understandably, but the Wellness Centre has a sauna and jacuzzi to relax in. Just book a slot at reception. European plugs so adapters needed, euros is the currency and, well, the rest is up to you.

If you didn’t bring a smile with you, you’ll certainly be leaving with one following this amazing and relaxing riverboat experience.

An example five-night cruise on sister ship Skyla on the Yuletide Wonders cruise costs £700pp on a half board-plus (all tips included) basis staying in a Superior Cabin on December 18, 2021 (price at the time of writing). For more details, visit www.tui.co.uk/river-cruises/

TUI River Cruise facts

Summer 2022

22 itineraries available

TUI Isla will sail her first season

TUI Maya goes All Inclusive as standard ( summer only. Isla and Maya remain FB+)

Two new itineraries added: Legends of the Rhine and Treasures of the Main, which explore the Rhine Valley and Bavaria. Legends of the Rhine on 12th August sailing will be in Koblenz when it hosts the Rhine in Flames festival- which is one of the biggest firework displays in Europe.

Winter 2022

Three new Christmas market sailings from new embarkation port of Wiesbaden- Festive Flavours, Winter Wonderlands and Christmastime on the Rhine. Customers can visit some of Germany’s biggest and brightest Christmas markets, ticking off famous landmarks along the way.

One new Christmas Day and one new New Year sailing departing from Wiesbaden. Rhine Christmas Celebrations is a is a seven-night itinerary where cruisers will spend Christmas Day in Düsseldorf as well as stopping in big-name German towns such as Cologne and Mainz. New Year Getaway is perfect for guests wanting to celebrate the New Year in style docking in Frankfurt ready for the clock striking midnight, before calling at German and French cities including Mannheim and Strasbourg.

Extras

We started off our break with an overnight stay at the wonderfully modern Village Hotel Cheadle, making our flight departure day from Manchester a straightforward and relatively relaxing experience. Our package also included eight nights’ parking for one car at Care Parks.

Holiday Extras is the market leader in UK airport parking, hotels, lounges and transfers, and last year customers who pre-booked their parking with Holiday Extras saved an average of £100 each vs the price they'd have paid on the day.

Booking an airport hotel with parking at Manchester Airport ensures that you can enjoy more holiday without the hassle. Plus, always flexible and easy to amend, with Flextras, if you need to cancel you can, without charge.

One night’s accommodation at Village Hotel Cheadle with eight nights’ parking for one car at Care Parks is available from £131.75. To book, visit HolidayExtras.com or call 0800 316 5678.

Our great start continued at the Aspire Lounge at Manchester Terminal 1 which allowed us to fully relax in this busy and bustling airport - a place for all, regardless of your reason for travel.

The lounge boasts a wide array of complimentary soft drinks, premium wines, beers and spirits and tea and coffee included in the entry cost and also offers a satisfying selection of hot and cold food throughout the day.

Enjoy a hot breakfast of bacon, sausage and scrambled eggs, and in the afternoon, hot foods such as pastas, curries and soups with vegetarian and gluten-free options. Cold dishes are available at all times too. Manchester Terminal 1 Aspire Lounge prices start at £26.99 per adult and £18.49 per child for a three-hour stay, and Aspire have lounges in many other UK airport terminals.

A few changes have been made since lockdown so please check out the full details at executivelounges.com

The twin spires of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral.
Village Hotel, Cheadle
Village Hotel, Cheadle.
CarePark, Manchester.
Aspire Lounge, Terminal 1, Manchester Airport.