Is River Cruising for the Aging Photographer?
My wife has a bad back and bad knees and I have a bad back and bad hips, so when we started researching river cruises in Europe, we were concerned that the walking tours at most ports would be problematic for us. We wanted to select a cruise line and ship that would provide the most comfortable and accommodating experience. After much research, we chose Uniworld’s SS Antoinette on their Castles Along the Rhine itinerary. We also looked at Viking and Avalon, but felt that Uniworld offered more for one all-inclusive price (including some unlimited great wines and spirits) superior food, great shore excursions, and an overall luxury experience. The accommodations were spacious and service was 5-star+ for not terribly much more than Viking or Avalon.
The SS Antoinette is part of Uniworld’s boutique collection. Walking onto the S.S. Antoinette, you will immediately feel like you stepped into France’s Château de Versailles during the late 18th century with the character of the past thoughtfully blended with unusual elements creating luxurious elegance with welcoming warmth.
A blue Strauss 10-foot Baccarat chandelier with huge sapphires, originally hung in New York’s famed Tavern on the Green, graces the two-story lobby. The finest Brazilian marble adorns the walls and floors and a sparkling 19th-century Venetian glass mirror rests high above the reception desk reflecting an air of grandeur.
Ship Features and Amenities
Lavishly appointed riverview staterooms and suites have handcrafted Savoir® of England beds draped in 100% Egyptian cotton linens and a menu of pillow choices. Staterooms and suites on the La Princesse Deck have full balconies and staterooms on the La Duchesse Deck have French balconies.
Stateroom and suite amenities include: generous built-in closets, hair dryer, individual climate-control thermostat, direct-dial telephone, infotainment center with flat-screen TV and complimentary movie and entertainment options, bottled water, and safe Marble bathrooms include: L’Occitane en Provence bath and body products, plush towels, special towel warmers, backlit magnifying mirror, and cozy waffle bathrobes. Staterooms on La Duchesse deck have French balconies with floor-to-ceiling windows that can be raised or lowered with the touch of a button. Click here to view the one-of-kind balcony on the S.S. Antoinette.
All suites are uniquely decorated and have additional amenities and services including: in-suite special butler service; packing and unpacking assistance; in-room breakfast; daily fruit and cookie plate, and an evening amuse-bouche; slippers; private DVD; iPod® docking station; Nespresso coffee machine; refrigerator; free laundry and shoe shine services; bottle of wine upon arrival; and a special dinner in L’Orangerie sky lounge. The Royal Suite offers extra benefits, including: a separate spacious living room and a bathroom with a separate rain shower and tub, and a secluded toilet and bidet area
Public areas include: Salon du Grand Trianon with full-service bar and dance floor, Le Cinema Pigalle movie theater, sun deck with the Bar du Leopard and L’Orangerie, Restaurant de Versailles, a mosaic-tiled and heated swimming pool designed by the famous South African mosaic tile artist, Jane du Rand; and underwater music for your enjoyment fitness center, Serenity River Spa, boutique, guest laundry, and elevator.
About Le Cinema Pigalle, a state-of-the-art 3D movie theater, the first of its kind in the river cruise industry
Le Cinema Pigalle is a 20-seat state-of-the-art 3D movie theater with Dolby surround sound and plush seats for comfortable movie viewing. The Le Cinema Pigalle was introduced on the S.S. Antoinette, Uniworld’s new “Super Ship,” in March of 2011. Movie lovers can enjoy a varied selection of great films including classics, comedy, adventure, and drama, along with a selection of snacks including popcorn, candy, and even hors d’oeuvres, making going to the movies an even more enjoyable experience. Uniworld Boutique River Cruises is the first river cruise line to offer a 3D movie theater onboard their ships.
Additional ship amenities include: 24-hour reception service, complimentary 24-hour specialty coffee and tea bar, use of bicycles and Nordic walking sticks, and free Internet and Wi-Fi access
Length: 443 ft
Width: 37.5 ft
Voltage: 110/220 volts
Royal Suite: 1 (391 sq ft)
Suites: 8 (294 sq ft)
Categories 1 – 3 Staterooms: 53 (196 sq ft)
Categories 4 – 5 Staterooms: 16 (163 sq ft)
Note: Staterooms and suites on La Princesse Deck have full open-air balconies that, with a touch of a switch to raise the glass, can become a completely enclosed conservatory.
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The cruise is eight days. We took the Amsterdam to Basel route. There are itineraries that also start in Basel and end in Amsterdam, but we wanted to spend some time in Lucerne at the end of the cruise.
| ||•Day 1 Amsterdam, Netherlands (embark)
•Day 2 Cologne, Germany
•Day 3 Koblenz, cruising the romantic Rhine River, Boppard
•Day 4 Cruising the romantic Rhine River, Rüdesheim
•Day 5 Germersheim (Speyer)
•Day 6 Kehl (Strasbourg, France)
•Day 7 Breisach (Kaysersberg and Riquewihr or Colmar)
•Day 8 Basel Switzerland (disembark)
There are several included shore excursion options at each port and also some extra cost options. Our favorites were the Strasbourg canal tour and Notre Dame Cathedral, the Doktorenhof vinegar estate (a tasty surprise!), and the extra cost Black Forest tour.
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Accommodations for Those With Physical Restrictions
Most river cruise ships will not be able to accommodate wheelchairs or mobility scooters. The staterooms just don’t provide room for storage of such devices, and navigating a narrow gangway with them would be impossible. In addition, at some ports there are stairs from river to street level and at a few others, the ship might be docked alongside other river cruise ships, necessitating traversing (on short gangways) from ship to ship in order to reach the dock.
That said, based on our Uniworld SS Antoinette experience. I believe one could probably bring a lightweight collapsible wheelchair and request assistance from the crew in getting it on and off the ship. My wife, who has trouble walking, took a lightweight collapsible walker (which we had checked as baggage on our airline) that fit in the cabin and in the passageways (and even the ship’s small elevator) just fine. In cases where there were stairs to traverse, the crew carried the walker from river to street for her. It also fit well in the trunks of the small European taxis we took occasionally. The SS Antoinette does have a small elevator that services all decks but the sun deck (not all river cruise ships do). However, the sun deck is reachable by a relatively short outside stairway and does have an electric seat lift for those who can’t climb even those short stairs.
The ship’s staff was knowledgeable regarding the degree and difficulty of walking on the land excursions. The walking tours also had groups ranging from slow walkers to fast walkers to accommodate those of us who move just a bit more slowly. In addition, when we decided not to walk, the staff was easily able to provide taxis to allow us to ride to an attraction and meet the tour group there. They were also able to arrange reasonably priced transportation from Basel to Lucerne at the end of the cruise. Several of the excursions require very little walking, for example, the Doktorenhof Vinegar Estate, and the Black Forest bus tour and Cuckoo Clock factory (except for the portion at the Vogtsbauernhof open-air museum – too much walking, so we just sat at the café and had some snacks and local beer).
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This itinerary offer some amazing opportunities for stunning images. For on-board shots of the castles and other scenic views along the Rhine, I shot handheld. Even though the boat does not rock, like big ocean cruisers, there is still enough vibration to make using a tripod or monopod impractical, since those vibrations will be transmitted to the camera. I found that an ISO rating of between 800 and 1000, with an aperture of f/8.0 – f/11.0, and shutter speeds of 1/500 or faster, provided steady images with adequate depth of field, with my image-stabilized lens.
For the land excursions, I brought a lightweight carbon fiber monopod, which I used in dimmer venues. For interior or extremely overcast exterior images, I had to boost the ISO to 6400, in some cases (or example, Cathedral interiors), and do some noise reduction post-processing in Lightroom.
You don’t necessarily need an expensive DSLR with a Superzoom attached to capture great images on this trip. My sister-in-law used a small Panasonic all-in-one zoom camera with electronic image stabilization and made some fine images. Great images are more about the skill of the photographer rather than the tools he or she uses. That said, and ideal kit for this trip would include a DSLR with high ISO and rapid continuous shooting capability, with a wide angle to telephoto superzoom (e.g. 18mm – 200mm or 300mm).
My photo gear on this trip included a Nikon D7000 (now replaced by the D7100), a Nikon 18-300 mm stabilized zoom lens, a Nikon ML-3 wireless remote, a Nikon SB-800 flash (now replaced with the SB-910), and an Adorama Flashpoint F-2560 carbon fiber monopod with an Adorama Flashpoint F-2 ball head. All the gear was carried in a light weight Adorama Commander bag, which fit into the airplane overhead storage bin with room to spare. I also used a pair of Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles to ease walking on the land excursions.
Resources – Gear
Later posts will describe itinerary highlights – Look for them
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