The true advantage of the river cruise, for me, is to find yourself smack in the middle of an historic old town or city the minute you step off the deck. No long bus ride, no boat transfers, no industrial cruise terminal. Just the venue, waiting to be explored.
In Mainz, our guide for the walking tour is Eva, a round and energetic advocate for her city. We each wear a small earphone attached to an electronic black box about the size of a deck of cards that hangs around the neck. This means that even if one of us lingers behind to take a photograph or to admire a statue, it is still easy to hear Eva’s commentary and to follow her without having to stay in a clump around her.
She gives us a brief history of Mainz, an important town that was largely destroyed during the war and has since been carefully restored. She warns us that there is a big football match that day, and if we see young people oddly dressed or behaving badly, we should not take that for typical behavior.
One of the highlights of the tour is the beautiful central square, lined with restored buildings and full of market stalls brimming with produce. Eva tells us that Mainz is famous for its market breakfast, which actually lasts until mid afternoon and features fresh buns, sausages and wine. People come from all around to enjoy the market and the breakfast.
Most notable about Mainz is the Gutenberg Museum, dedicated to the work of the city’s most famous inhabitant, who created his moveable press and printed his famous bibles in Mainz. And in St. Stephan Cathedral, glass windows by Marc Chagall are breathtaking.
Each of the ports we visit offer similarly easy and inviting touring possibilities.
In Rudesheim we visit the decidedly odd Mechanical Instrument Museum, where mechanical monkeys, singing mechanical birds and hundreds of devices to produce music have been collected.
Later we warm up with a cup of Rudesheim coffee, comprised of hot coffee, whipped cream, a liberal portion of the famous local brandy and chocolate.
In Koblenz the gigantic statue of Kaiser Wilhem dwarfs us and in Cochem we visit an ancient mustard mill and toured the Imperial Castle of Reichsburg.
A walking tour of Cologne shows us the home of the first eau de cologne, and ends up at the famous cathedral where we are free to tour on our own, enjoy coffee in one of the many cafes, or explore the town. The walk back to the ship is a short and easy one.
In all these shore excursions, there is enough historic background provided by the guides to give us an overview, as well as a walking introduction to the important sites. Usually there is plenty of time for shopping or exploring on your own, and passengers are free to return to places that they would like to investigate more fully.
That kind of freedom and ease is what makes this type of cruising so attractive, I believe.