Setting Sail

With castle-dotted landscapes and an abundance of charming towns, a cruise down Europe’s Rhine River is nothing short of magical 

Stepping off the plane in Basel, Switzerland, I can feel a buzz pulsing through my body. It’s a familiar feeling, one usually reserved for Christmas morning, receiving good news, or, in this instance, finally arriving at a long-awaited travel destination, giddy with anticipation of the week ahead.

And who wouldn’t be when embarking on Uniworld Boutique River Cruises’ eight-day Castles Along the Rhine sail? With France on one side and Germany on the other, the journey promises enchanting beauty and unique adventures at every stop—and wow, does it deliver. Don’t worry about planning the logistics: Once you’ve reserved your spot, the Uniworld team takes care of the rest, ready to whisk you away as soon as you clear customs at the airport.

While the ship’s footprint allows for a modest 152 passengers, the elegant S.S. Antoinette greets arriving guests with a grande hello. Inside, Brazilian marble graces walls and floors while the two-story foyer shines bright thanks to a 10-foot blue Strauss Baccarat chandelier. The lavishly appointed river-view staterooms and suites are designed for distinction, most of them featuring an open-air window or balcony that welcomes the cool river breeze. The ship glides smoothly through the water, navigating every turn with such grace that it’s hard to tell when you’re actually moving unless you peer out the window.

Days are filled with a variety of bustling activities. Explore the Alsatian villages in France, where colorful timbered houses and shops filled with goods from local artisans transport and delight. In Strasbourg, the cathedral and the Museum of Decorative Arts give a glimpse at life during a historic time, and holiday stores located throughout are filled with cheer. Sip vinegar as an aperitif at the Doktorenhof estate in Mannheim, Germany, before heading to a romantic getaway in Heidelberg—home to the country’s oldest university and charming baroque Alstadt (Old Town). Don’t worry, there’s plenty of built-in free time to explore at each port as well.

Get a close-up look at Marksburg Castle in Koblenz and spend the afternoon seeing the city by bike. Cologne offers an urban appeal, the city anchored by the intricate Gothic cathedral. Wine lovers will enjoy a tasting at the Schloss Vollrads castle in Rüdesheim, Germany, which dates back to the 14th century, before embarking on the most scenic part of the sail—a 31-mile stretch of picturesque landscape dotted with stately castles and sloping vineyards.

Back onboard, the options continue for guests. Unwind at the spa or take in the top deck’s surrounding views while sipping on a pre-dinner cocktail. Special activities are planned throughout the week, including yoga, post-dinner entertainment and an optional progressive dinner, which invites guests to unseen places on the ship, including the kitchen, staff corridors, captain’s deck and more.

And while little compares to the beauty and thrill experienced when sailing the Rhine with Uniworld, perhaps the most unexpected highlight is the opportunity for friendship along the way. Whether it’s the New Yorkers who become your dinner companions, the small circle who joins you at the Bar du Leopard for a daily nightcap, the European woman who invites you to her birthday celebration, or the English father who has the entire ship dancing by the end of the evening, there is a sense of good will and camaraderie all around.

Of course, there’s the exceptional staff—from the bartender, to the sommelier, to the housekeeping members, front-desk attendees and beyond—who somehow make each and every person feel like the most important guest on the ship, further solidifying the original guarantee: A cruise down the Rhine is nothing short of magical.