Rhine Rhapsody

Deilmann’s Heidelberg offers luxury and proximity to Germany’s famous river regions

By: Ralph Grizzle

This is the first Image
The Heidelberg overnights at towns along
the Rhine and Moselle.
We are walking along Drosselgasse, the lively narrow pedestrian street in the best known wine village along the Rhine River. It’s Saturday night and the street is festive, with people dancing to German folk bands in beer gardens and wine cellars on either side of us. At one open-air beer garden, waitresses carry frothy glasses of beer. At a wine cellar nearby, patrons sip the Rheingau’s famous Rieslings, sparkling Sekts or locally distributed brandies.

Fortunately, we have plenty of time to soak in the local culture. Our riverboat, Deilmann River Cruises’ Heidelberg, will dock here overnight. During our seven-day cruise along the Rhine and Moselle rivers from Mainz to Trier, the ship spends the night in each port, within walking distance of the town centers. That proximity allowed us to walk back into the towns after dinner. It was as if we were staying in an elegant hotel in the center of town.

In fact, the newest of the Deilmann fleet, the 110-passenger Heidelberg functions just like a deluxe boutique hotel. Each time we disembarked the ship, we left the brass key to our stateroom at the front desk, much the same as you would do at a hotel. Standard staterooms were large, 190 square feet, with rich colors golden-hued walls, light-wood tones and crown ceiling trim. The queen-sized bed featured European-style duvets with feather pillows. The bath was spacious, with floor-to-ceiling tile and brass fixtures, a pedestal sink and showers so large that you’re not required to step out of the shower if you drop the soap as in the smaller showers on larger ocean liners.

Heidelberg features French balconies. You can’t step out on them, because there is nothing to step onto. But with double glass doors that slide or swing open, French balconies offer the same functionality as a balcony on a large ship, providing open-air views of the countryside.

Although Deilmann is a German line, non-German speakers will find the ship a safe haven. The Heidelberg, staff spoke English well, and they were there to direct us to whatever we needed ashore. There is, however, a downside to Heidelberg’s bilingual nature. One night, what might have been a great presentation on Moselle wines turned into a laborious venture. The speaker had to present in two languages. And, there were times when fellow passengers (the mix was about 60 percent European, 40 percent American) simply could not communicate. Even so, the atmosphere was always friendly and collegial.

There are, of course, things about the Heidelberg that may irk some travelers: smoking is permitted in a section of the lounge (Deilmann will ban smoking on its river cruisers beginning in 2008); dining times and tables are assigned; there are only a few tables for two; and for those who must remain connected, no Internet access.

Cuisine on the Heidelberg is tailored for Continental palates. That means that if you’re a fan of duck liver pate, you’ll love the fare. At one point, I joked with a fellow passenger that if they labeled the plates of herring “sushi,” Americans would be clambering over one another to fill their plates.

Aside from the few dishes that Americans may not be accustomed to, the food on Heidelberg was outstanding. Breakfast was European-style, a smorgasbord that even offered champagne, or Sekt, as the German sparkling wine is known. And on one morning of each cruise, Bavarian Morning Pint is offered. It falls between breakfast and lunch. On the menu: free beer, brats, sauerkraut, German potato salad, pretzels, music and more.

The Heidelberg was one of the costliest river vessels ever built, and attention to detail is evident throughout. For those seeking an upscale European river cruise experience (and spacious, well-designed staterooms), Heidelberg gets high marks as a floating deluxe boutique hotel on some of Europe’s most beautiful rivers.


Deilmann offers an array of European itineraries on the Heidelberg for 2008.