– Marissa Malley, Travel Conceirge
I recently returned from a 7-day adventure sailing along the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland, to Mainz, Germany, with Emerald Cruises, and I wanted to share my experience.
Day 1: Embarking in Basel, Switzerland
My friend and I boarded the Emerald Dawn in the afternoon where it was docked at the Dreiländereck passenger ship terminal after independently exploring Basel. Check-in was a breeze. But I would definitely recommend taking advantage of the transfers offered by Emerald to take you directly to the terminal from the airport or train station because it was a little tricky getting there by public transportation in Basel.
Days 2 and 3: Colmar and Strasbourg, Alsace, France
A malfunctioning river lock put us behind schedule our first full day, so we arrived late in Colmar, leading to the bike tour of Colmar having to be canceled. But we still had the chance to enjoy some sightseeing on the guided walking tour.
It was like stepping back in time in these two Alsatian towns with worn cobblestone streets and beautiful half-timbered buildings. You can feel the blend of German and French influences in this region that changed hands between the two countries at various points in history. Colmar is a charming little medieval town while Strasbourg is a large city that’s now home to the European Parliament.
A leisurely boat ride on the Ill River and its canals followed the guided walking tour of Strasbourg. On both days we had some free time to explore without the tour guide.
I had a bretzel (the local German-influenced word for “pretzel”) in both Colmar and Strasbourg because I can’t resist a soft pretzel, and they were available in almost every bakery. Both my friend and I bought little handmade bretzel earrings in a Strasbourg souvenir shop.
Fun fact! Strasbourg’s Grande-Île city center was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Day 4: Baden-Baden, Germany
We docked in Rastatt and headed to Baden-Baden, a spa town close to the Black Forest. We had a guided walking tour of the city that included a visit to the Baden-Baden Casino, and we had a chance to see but not visit the Friedrichsbad spa and the excavated ruins of Roman baths. I tried some absolutely delicious Black Forest cake at a cute little bakery during our free city exploration time. The more adventurous from the ship hiked up to the Old Castle on the EmeraldACTIVE excursion.
Fun fact! Baden-Baden became part of the Great Spa Towns of Europe UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2021.
Day 5: Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg is another charming German town. Our guided tour started at Heidelberg Castle, where we had the opportunity to try two wines and see the famous Heidelberg Tun, a giant wine barrel that can hold almost 60,000 gallons of wine. Afterward, we then went down to the city to continue the walking tour through the Baroque city center, followed by a little free time on our own.
That night after dinner Nina and Tine, our Cruise Director and Activities Director, hosted Disco Night, a fun event filled with dancing and ’70s music.
Fun fact! Heidelberg is home to Heidelberg University, the oldest university in Germany, which was founded in 1386.
Day 6: Koblenz, Germany
I decided to be more adventurous and go on the EmeraldACTIVE bike tour instead of going on the guided walking tour of the city while we were in Koblenz. We biked almost eight miles along the Rhine and still had time after lunch to use the included tickets to take the funicular up to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress that overlooks the Deutsches Eck (“German Corner”) at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle. Overall, if you’re able to do it, it’s an experience I would highly recommend.
That night was the captain’s farewell reception and dinner. The dinner was delicious. During the dessert course, the whole crew came out to be recognized by name to great applause from us guests for their hard work. It was a very touching experience.
We stayed overnight in Koblenz, so after dinner, we had the opportunity to check out a beer festival that was going on that weekend mere yards away from where the ship was docked. It was an unexpected delight to be able to experience the fun atmosphere of a summer beer festival in Germany.
Fun fact: Koblenz was founded as a Roman military post in 8 BC. Its name comes from the Latin (ad) cōnfluentēs, which means “(at the) confluence.”
Day 7: Rüdesheim and Scenic Cruising through the Rhine Gorge to Mainz
We left Koblenz the next day and spent the morning cruising to Rüdesheim through the Rhine Gorge. Nina the Cruise Director narrated the cruise, pointing out points of interest on both banks of the river and regaling us with the legend of the Lorelei, a 433-ft tall rock face. We were able to follow along with the maps in the informational booklets that were provided in our rooms, which was helpful because there were dozens of small castles and vineyards dotted the hilly landscape on both sides of the river.
We arrived in Rüdesheim after lunch. We boarded the Rüdesheimer Winzerexpress, an adorable little tourist sightseeing “train,” and arrived at Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet Museum, which houses one of the biggest collections of mechanical music boxes, and then had free time in the city.
Some of us went to RheinWeinWelt, a wine lounge where you buy tokens to use in self-serve wine dispensing machines. There were dozens of local wines to choose from. The tokens were €1 each and got you a small swig of wine to taste.
I took the opportunity to try a Rüdesheimer kaffee, the local coffee specialty made with flambéed Asbach Uralt brandy and topped with whipped cream. It was delicious but potent! Be warned if you give it a try!
We left Rüdesheim late afternoon and arrived in Mainz later that evening. The west bank of the Rhine near where the ship was docked was full of locals drinking and having fun in the park while enjoying the last bit of daylight as the sun slowly set. It was a tranquil final evening in Germany.
Fun fact: The Rhine Gorge, also known as the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2002.
Day 8: Disembarking in Mainz and Heading Home
That morning we had our last breakfast together and said our farewells. The night before we received our color-coded luggage tags that corresponded to our scheduled departure times to the airport. We left our luggage outside our rooms, and they were brought out by the hard-working crew. Even the head chef helped unload suitcases that morning. We were whisked away to the airport in Frankfurt by private vans with plenty of time to check in and go through security before our return flights. Nina did an amazing job scheduling and organizing the airport transfers, making it an easy and seamless process for all of us.
When I arrived home, I already wanted to go back! I can’t wait to go on another river cruise with Emerald because I had such a wonderful time!
Miscellaneous Thoughts and Observations
Environmentally conscious travelers will appreciate the reusable metal tumblers, onboard water dispensers offering a choice of chilled still and sparkling water, and the large glass bottle of water delivered daily to the room.
The entire crew was top-notch, from the room attendants to the servers in the Reflections restaurant to Nina the Cruise Director and Tine the Activities Director. They all worked together to make the week such a special experience for everyone on board.
It was nice having a choice of red or white wine at lunch and dinner and unlimited coffees and water all day from the machines. Guests who want more options throughout the day would benefit from one of the three additional drink packages on offer.