Prussian Princess Explores Germany's Countryside

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Writer Theodore Scull spent seven days cruising the Rhine and Moselle rivers aboard Peter Deilmann's Prussian Princess. His report follows:

The Prussian PrincessABOARD THE PRUSSIAN PRINCESS -- I do not speak German, but I wanted to see the German countryside. A river cruise seemed to be a sensible option.

I wanted to share the experience with Germans on their own turf, but I didn't want to be the only American on board the boat. I chose the German-flagged Prussian Princess after I learned that there were about a dozen other Americans booked on a Rhine-Moselle itinerary. The German passengers numbered 75, and although most of the passengers were age 55 and older, there were also families as a result of a week's school recess.

The shipboard operation turned out to be almost completely bilingual and made the minority of Americans feel very comfortable and enjoy a thoroughly German travel experience shared with locals. The ship's study leader made all announcements and described points of interest in both English and German, and the bulletin board exhibited maps and handouts with bilingual port information. Only during a show performed by the entirely German crew did we feel like foreigners. And as the cruise progressed, about one-third of the Germans made an effort to socialize and give us insights, while the others pleasantly nodded or smiled.

The Prussian Princess written on my ticket was translated Prinzessin von Preussen on the bow of the river vessel, which turned out to be the longest riverboat I have ever encountered.

As I first viewed the ship, its two decks of windows stretched under a bridge and out of sight. The ship's 70 cabins are comparable to standard Royal Caribbean rooms and are in two sizes: doubles with French-door-style windows that open and twins with a large, square, sealed window.

The pleasantly decorated rooms have telephones and three audio channels, offering different kinds of music and news broadcasts. My small bathroom had a shower stall and adequate shelf space for storing toiletries.

Public rooms included a furnished entrance foyer that leads into a very dark lounge bar, one I visited only for special receptions and to listen to the singer on two evenings. A tiny, unstaffed bar lounge on the lower deck was most suited to reading and screening English and German travel videos.

The dining room was more inviting and seated all passengers at once with most tables positioned next to a window. Most of the Americans shared two tables and one couple sat by themselves. The well-prepared and -presented menu was German and continental, with both lunch and dinner featuring small samplings of many courses. Dinner, for example, featured an appetizer, a choice of a clear or cream soup, fish, salad, sorbet on three nights, the choice of two main dishes, dessert, cheese from the buffet, coffee and petits-fours.

We sailed from Frankfurt on a revised itinerary because of a lock repair on the upper Moselle, eliminating the call at Trier and reordering the other ports. From the top deck, which stretched nearly the boat's full length, the viewing was excellent, and there were an ample number of deck chairs, two covered sections and an outdoor offering of afternoon tea.

We sailed through the night on three occasions and tied up on the four others, and all landings were at quiet locations. All docks were a short stroll from town centers, greatly facilitating independent sightseeing, an evening ashore and guided walks.

Although the shore excursion booklet listed a program in all but one port, the study leader suggested we book only two or three tours and independently visit the other ports. We got off to a rocky start at Cochem on a Sunday morning, when the English-speaking guide did not show. However, the compact, picture-postcard town turned out to be easy to explore on foot.

A Dutch-born guide took us on an historical and personal walk of her adopted, half-timbered town of Bernkastel-Kues, followed by a wine tasting, with commentary in German ($13). A tour in English by bus ($20) climbed to a commanding fortress and castle, sights overlooking Koblenz, where the Moselle flows into the Rhine.

The Rhine is the world's busiest commercial waterway, and individuality is delightfully expressed aboard the steady stream of barges. We saw many houseboats with children, dogs and the family car stowed on deck.

Navigation is tricky in the twisting and fast-flowing waters, and the legendary danger of the Lorelei Rock was abundantly clear even without our study leader's explanation. Rebuilt and ruined castles dotted the hilltops, shoreline and midstream islands where they once served as tollhouses.

We found the pretty town of Rudesheim very touristy, but Mainz offered a massive 950-year-old Romanesque cathedral, a Gothic church with windows by Marc Chagall and a fine museum devoted to Gutenberg and the history of printing. Worms offered another substantial Romanesque cathedral with Gothic additions and a Baroque high altar, but Speyer became everyone's favorite stop, a handsome, walkable city, largely spared from wars, with tiny lanes, a m;²

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