3 Great Days in the Cotswolds Area of England

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

If there ever was a real fairy-tale part of England, the Cotswolds would get my vote.  This 25 by 90 mile part of Gloucestershire once was rich due the wool industry—in medieval times, wool was a huge industry, and it is said the best wool in Europe came from the Cotswolds.  The area prospered until the Industrial Revolution and a preference for cotton caused the wool industry to collapse.  So, like many great places in Europe, when the money dried up, these once prosperous areas fell into a time warp of neglect.  The result for us today is a glimpse of the past of thatched roof homes, limestone villages designed to market wool and a peaceful countryside that has great walking paths over rolling hills.

Chipping Campden Colors
Chipping Campden Colors

So, let’s explore some of the best of this area, Chipping Campden, and Blenheim Palace and consider a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick.  As almost always in our blogs, all the pictures are ours–Anne Schrader took most, but occasionally I take a few.

Chipping Campden

Chipping Campden is our favorite town in the Cotswolds.  It really looks like a village lost in a time warp.  The highlight for me are the incredible thatched roofs of some of the homes.  This town was home to the most wealthy wool merchants of the Cotswolds.  It has an impressive high street (high streets were the wide streets so livestock and wagons and pack horses full of shorn wool fleece could be brought to market).  Some historians say this is best high street in all of England. 

High Street in Chipping Campden
High Street in Chipping Campden

The street is lined with yellow limestone buildings—a distinctive stone called aptly Cotswold stone—it is the only stone allowed on this street to preserve the character of Chipping Campden.  This high street does not have house numbers—folks who live here just knew the name of the house or establishment they were looking to visit.

Chipping Campden
Town Hall and WW I Memorial on High Street

As a wool market and distribution center, it is no surprise it has a really interesting and distinctive Market Hall. 

Market Hall
Market Hall in Chipping Campden

It was built in 1627.  Signs in the market’s area provide a good explanation of the construction techniques used to build this hall.

Inside View of the Market Hall Roof
Inside View of the Market Hall Roof

Just off to the south of the western part of High Street, are the thatched homes.  Here are 2 of our photos:

 

Thatched Roof Home in Chipping Campden
Thatched Roof Home in Chipping Campden
Thatched Roof in Chipping Campden
Thatched Roof in Chipping Campden

While there are other neat sights in the town, a unique aspect of Chipping Campden is that it serves as the end of the 102 mile Cotswolds Way—a hiking trail that starts in Bath and winds up in this small town of less than 6000. 

Anne on the Cotswolds Way Trail
Anne on the Cotswolds Way Trail

A visit to the Cotswolds is a chance to relax, slow down, or maybe take a hike.  Here are some pictures of the Cotswolds House, our favorite place to stay in Chipping Campden. 

Cotswolds House
Our bedroom in the Cotswolds House in Chipping Campden
Garden Outside Our Room in the Cotswolds House
Garden Outside Our Room in the Cotswolds House

To learn more about Chipping Campden, here is the link to our website:

LEARN MORE

Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace

Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of the Dukes of Marlborough, who are better known by their actual names—the Churchills; is a place that is a must see for me when visiting the Cotswolds.  This palace has huge significant for the English—its function, as described in the pamphlet I purchased during our visit, “was to be monument, castle, citadel and private house—in that order.”  To my mind, it delivers! 

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace

So, a little history is in order to understand why Blenheim Place was built.  In 1704, English forces under the command of John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough, decisively defeated the French and Bavarians at Blenheim on the Danube River in Bavaria, Germany during the War of Spanish Succession.  This victory stopped Louis XIV’s (he is better known as the Sun King) quest to rule all of Europe.  As a reward for this historic victory, the English Queen, Queen Anne, granted to the Duke land to build a monument and palace home.  The final result (despite many funding issues and political problems that lasted over 30+ years) is Blenheim Palace, a present day World Heritage Site. 

Once you have your entrance tickets, there is a 45 minute tour of the palace that leaves every 10 minutes, but you could wander on your own and talk with the docents positioned in each room.  There is also a multimedia presentation called The Untold Story that takes 45 minutes.  And if you still have not had enough of this grand place, there is a 30 minute guided walk through the private apartments, if available, since the 12th duke still resides at Blenheim.

Another great feature are the extensive gardens.  Among the grounds are the Water Terraces, the Italian Garden, the Secret Garden, the Arboretum, the Rose Garden and the Grand Cascade.  However, most folks find the bridges that cross the man-made lake in the approach to the palace are the most stunning views on the estate. 

The Grand Bridge
Chambers’ New Bridge in the Mist

Sadly our visit didn’t include a visit to the gardens since we visited in March and were on a tight schedule, so we definitely need to return with more time during our next visit to the Cotswolds.

Since this is Winston Churchill’s birthplace, there are interesting displays about his childhood, including his birth room and a Churchill Exhibition.  I really liked both—it gave me a little more insight to the man voted the “Greatest Briton of All Time” in a BBC Television survey. 

When we visited, you were not allowed to take pictures inside, but now on the official palace website, its says pictures are allowed.  These rooms are so stunning, I would recommend you take some photos inside the palace.

Stratford-upon-Avon

If the author William Shakespeare holds interest for you, his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon is a must for you.  Among the sights are a Shakespeare museum/home complex (this is a multimedia exhibit that explains Shakespeare’s life) and then you get to explore his small home, Nash’s House and the cottage of his wife, Anne Hathaway in nearby Shottery (which I found to be the most interesting of all these sites—it was a look at a 1570’s, 12 room thatched cottage).  Here are some photos:

Shakespeare's Birthplace
Shakespeare’s Birthplace
sam_0376.jpg
Nash House Gardens. In the background on the left is the Nash House.
Anne Hathaway's Cotage
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage with a school group ready to tour the cottage

To be clear, if you want to see a Shakespeare play, it is best to spend a night here and take in a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Check out their website (www.rsc.org.uk) for play information.

I also liked the Avon Riverfront with the swans and canal boats.

SAM_0365
Norma Jean Canal Boat Stratford-upon-Avon

Warwick

Warwick is about 18 miles from Chipping Campden (about a 30 minute drive), so it is an easy day trip.  The key site is Warwick Castle, which many consider the best medieval castle in England. 

Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle

Although touristy, this massive place is really quite interesting.  It starts with the moat entrance and leads to huge courtyard. 

Anne at Moat Entrance Warwick Castle
Anne at the Moat Entrance to Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle

There is a good collection of royal residences inside these fortified walls, towers and ramparts.  The most important are the Great Hall and 5 lavish staterooms and a chapel.  You could also pay extra to visit the Castle Dungeon (we didn’t) and other events or shows.  The grounds are well-kept and add to the splendor of this castle.

Here are some other photos from our visit:

Great Hall of Warwick Castle
Great Hall of Warwick Castle
SAM_0408
Dining Room Warwick Castle
Fortifications of Warwick Castle
Fortifications of Warwick Castle

My Final Thoughts

The Cotswolds are an often overlooked part of England.  But, for me it is a true gem.  You will seldom find a more peaceful and relaxing place in all of Europe.  So, how would I spend 3 days in this region?  1 day devoted to just Chipping Campden.  ½ day at Blenheim, maybe more and maybe combined with Warwick.  A day to Stafford-upon-Avon (great for Shakespeare buffs, but if you are that into his works, relocate and stay for a play), or maybe better yet, a walk on the Cotswold Way and another day relaxing in Chipping Campden.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent
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Why You Need a River Cruise Expert to Plan Your River Cruise Vacation

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

We recently helped two couples plan a European river cruise for the 2019 cruise season.  Neither had been on a river cruise.  It got me to thinking—what questions would I have about taking a river cruise for a travel advisor that might be different from another type of vacation?  The more we talked and emailed each other, it became evident to me that both really wanted to go, but they wanted the best possible experience for their money and had a lot of questions.  We finally got them booked on a line neither had previously knew about but was the best option for them–I am quite confident they will have a great vacation.

Emerald Sun Watermarked
The Emerald Sun–a great option many Americans do not know about

I guess it is really not surprising they had so many questions—I read recently that about 526,000 Americans took a river cruise in 2016 compared to 11.5 million who took an ocean cruise (sources Seatrade Cruise News and Cruise Lines International Organization (CLIA)).  In other words, only about 4.5% of all American cruisers took a river cruise in 2016.  No wonder, so many have questions about river cruising!

So, here are some facts about vacations as compared to cruise vacations and the questions I would ask us if I wanted to go on a river cruise.

Reasons People Take Vacations

It might seem strange to start with this information, but to my way of thinking, the purpose or why of the vacation is the central question that needs to be answered.  It really determines if a river cruise is right for your travels.  Here are 3 of the top 4 reasons folks take a vacation (I omitted spend time with family which was number 3 reason to take a vacation) and how a certain type of vacation rates with respondents of a J. D, Power survey conducted for CLIA:

Reasons to Take a Vacation by Vacation Type Any Vacation Ocean Cruise River Cruise
# 1 To see & do new things 42% 45% 54%
#2 To relax & get rid of stress 33% 32% 19%
# 4 To gain knowledge of history & other cultures 6% 8% 13%

 

So for me, this brings up my first 3 questions:  1) Will I get to see and do new things?; 2) Will I get to relax and get rid of stress?; and 3) Will I gain knowledge of history and other cultures?

So, now if my responses match 2 of the 3 general questions of why I want to go on the vacation, I am probably a pretty good match for a river cruise.  If the object is to relax, and get rid of stress, a river cruise may not be my best option.  The reason is simple—the river boats often port near or in the city centers and with the included tours, it is more active than just lounging around a swimming pool or spending a day relaxing in a hammock by the beach.  It doesn’t mean you can’t relax on a river cruise—Anne often takes a day off from the sightseeing and just enjoys a short walk on her own or stays onboard.  While these are basic questions, there must be follow on—what sights, what type of new things, how much history, how much mixing with people and their cultures.

Durstein Shuttle Train
Even though the port of Durstein is a pleasant walk half mile walk, there is even a shuttle train to help some river cruise guests with mobility problems

Next Comes the river in Europe

I have written several blogs about what you can expect to see on Europe’s rivers while on a river cruise.  Most river cruisers select either the upper Danube (38.1 % according to Seatrade Cruise News) or the Rhine (31.1%, again Seatrade Cruise news)—that’s 69.2 % of all river cruisers.  While these are great options, by no means are the only options.

Picture6
The Main River is a great cruise route–picture is from AmaWaterways

The type of cruise experience is the central theme here.  My questions would be—What will I get to see on my cruise?  Why should I go on this river?  Are there any problems I might experience on this river?  When is the best time to go?  Here is the link to my blog about the reasons to sail on a particular Europe River: What is the Best Europe River Cruise Route?

Now, What Cruise Line

Perhaps this is the hardest set of questions—not everyone has the same tastes.  I tried to capture some of the differences in my River Cruise Vibes blog.  Level of service, inclusions, ship facilities, food and wine and cruise atmosphere all are part of this set of questions.  Here is the link to my River Cruise Vibes blog: River Cruise Vibes

Next, What Cabin Type?

Although river ships are small compared to ocean liners and the staterooms are usually smaller, there is a large range of options for your cabin.  They all come a different price points and options, like balconies, bed size and bathroom configuration and features.  While this is an important set of questions, the typical river cruiser does not spend that much time in their cabin except to sleep and get ready for their next excursion and meal, so to some, this may not be as important as it is to others. 

 

AmaCerto Stateroom
Our Stateroom on the AmaCerto–pretty nice!

Still, the stateroom can make or break the experience for some river cruisers, especially a seasoned ocean cruiser who prefers a huge suite—river cruise staterooms may be just too small for them or they may need to have a larger stateroom on one of the two Giants of the Danube (another blog I recently wrote).  Is it getting a little complicated?—add in 8 river cruise lines with different features and you can see it really does require a special knowledge of each line to choose the right stateroom for your cruise.

When Should I go?

There are certain times of the year river cruising is less expensive.  If my plans are flexible, I would want to know if I can save some money and still get a great vacation.  One of our favorite times is late October thru November, as the weather is still generally mild, there are less crowds and prices seem generally lower.

Rhine River Gorge
The Rhine River Gorge is fabulous in October

Pre and Post Stays

Most Americans do not want to fly to Europe for only 7 days—due the distance and cost involved in this type of vacation, it often makes sense to extend with a land package.  This creates a new set of questions—among them, what do the cruise lines offer, should my travel advisor create a special add-on package with another vendor, what will I see and do, and how much extra does it cost?

Flights and Transfers

Most river cruise lines offer good deals for flights to help you get to Europe.  However, these can be great experience or a computer generated 3 leg flight that saves the cruise line some money while you suffer a 24 hour ordeal.  This is a tricky feature that really requires the help of a travel professional, in my opinion.  What is included?  Transfers—yes or no?  How much to upgrade?  Can I use my airline mileage?  Just reading some of the consumer complaints about river cruising, it often seems to me the air offers are among the most complained about feature of river cruising.

Entertainment and Night Life

River cruise ships do not have big production shows or casinos (sorry Anne) and if you are a night owl, most river cruise lines won’t meet your expectations.  However, U by Uniworld has a cruise more oriented to the night life.  If you like more cultural small groups or glass blowing demonstrations or cooking classes or themed cruise (our favorite is wine cruises), then river cruising is a good match.  You can bet, I would ask these types of questions.

The Uniworld A 2018
The A–U by Uniworld  in 2018–a different river cruise experience

 My Final set of Questions—what is the Value I will get for my Money?

You might seem surprised that money is my last set of questions.  Value is really taking all the desires you have for the vacation (the above questions) and selecting the line that best matches what you expect for the vacation.  Once you are comfortable you will get a great vacation, and realize all that is included, the cost often seems justified.  Here is a link I wrote earlier about the Great Value of a River Cruise: The Great Value of a Europe River Cruise

Do you see now why you need a River Cruise Expert to help you through this Process?

There are so many things you really need to know to get the puzzle of river cruising right.  I study this all the time and it is hard for me to know everything—I learn something new almost every day.  There is no way you can have all the answers, especially when each cruise line only puts their best foot forward in their brochures and advertisements. 

My Final Thoughts

As you can see, asking a lot of questions about river cruising and then making wise travel choices, is more complex than you may have thought.  Trip planning is not easy.  Making sound decisions are critical to the travel planning process.  Time and money issues are complex—we all want the best at the least possible price.  We help you solve those complex issues, saving you hassles, time and worry.  We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

So, Where Should I Go?

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

One of the biggest problems Anne & I face in making our personal travel decisions is “Where Should We Go?”  You might think this is an easy problem for a destination specialist like us, but in reality, the more you travel to one area of the world, like Europe, the more difficult it becomes.  Why?  It seems so simple—do you revisit places you have been, look for new places, combine the two, emphasize cities, or peaceful stays in the countryside.  There are so many choices—what should I do?  And when all choices are great options, it becomes even harder.

We are facing this exact problem on our upcoming river cruise adventure in December of this year–what should we do after the river cruise and where should we go?

Brugge Bridge
Brugge Bridge–Should We Go Here?

So, let’s explore this dilemma together and see if we can come up with a logical process that will make your decision-making easier and, more importantly, provide you a way to maximize your travel time.  And you will get to learn our decision about our upcoming post cruise stay.

Travel Decision Making

In my opinion, there are 5 steps in the travel decision-making process.  First, you want to go on a vacation somewhere.  Second, you begin a search process, looking for some type of inspiration.  Next come comparisons—what will I do or see while on my vacation.  Now comes the suppliers and vendors–will their product or service that I select provide me the vacation I desire?  Last, you evaluate the decision—did I make the right choices? 

Vacation Time—I want to Go Somewhere

The first step in this process is a decision to go somewhere.  During this phase, you have to decide how long you can go, develop some type of budget and select a general destination.  During this phase, you should ask yourself–why am I going?  Once you know the why, the rest of the decisions become easier.  They always have for us.

The Search Process–Inspiration and Destination Knowledge

infographic-for-blog
We can save you a lot of hassle and time–let us do this for you!

There are lots of ways you can begin your destination search.  Usually it is a cool picture, maybe a book description, maybe a TV show or Movie or Video posted on the internet—it doesn’t really matter how it starts.  You begin to see yourself experiencing something new, or perhaps returning to a familiar place where you can relax or be stimulated.  Or maybe you just don’t know enough but want to try something new or different.  Maybe you went to our website and researched some of the pages to learn about trip ideas or went to our Pinterest site and looked at the over 5000 photos we have taken during our travels or requested one of our 50 Europe City Guides. 

Now that you have been inspired, you next need to learn about where you want to go.  Destination knowledge is the combination of 3 types of knowledge–objective knowledge, subjective knowledge and experience knowledge.  We use all three when planning your trips and, even if you don’t realize it, you do the same when thinking about (or better yet dreaming about) your upcoming trip.   I wrote a recent blog about this subject—it’s called the Power of Knowledge—Our Gift to You.  Here is the link  READ THE BLOG

Travel Planning 101—Comparing What is Available for Your Travel

I think there are 3 main ways to make travel decisions.  They are 1) advantages and disadvantages method (most common), 2) simple prioritization (best opportunity) and 3) to acquiesce to us. I also wrote a blog about this called Making Wise Travel Choices.  Here is the link:  READ THE BLOG

In the military, during our formal decision-making process, we used to call this phase evaluating the course of actions.  We would decide on what to do and decide on the advantages and disadvantages of each course of action.  While this was a more formalized process than is necessary for planning travel, it is essentially the same process you use to plan your trips.  Each traveler makes a series of choices (courses of actions in military terminology) and then compares the advantages and disadvantages of each part of the trip to each destination.

Already this is sounding overwhelming, but we have a good solution for you—this is part of an earlier blog I wrote about the search process.  Here is a chart I developed, addressing some common travel problems and our solutions to help you. 

Trip planning does require a lot of work to get it right, and it is a hassle.  Wouldn’t it be better to let us solve the trip research for you?  Here are 7 Benefits to you if you let us plan your trip:

Problem Benefit to You Our Solution
Will I get the best value for my money? Spend your money wisely We match the right vendor(s) to provide a trip that will exceed your expectations
Will I get the right trip? A better vacation We learn your dreams and turn them into a reality
Will I make wise choices? A better vacation and no fear of missing out on great experiences Our 23 years of experience in the travel industry coupled with our first-hand knowledge and numerous professional certifications will help us provide you with the best options available
Will I remember all the details? No unforgotten trip details We check all the details so you do not have any missteps or forgotten arrangements
Will I spend too much time researching my trip? Saves you time & eliminates hassles Once we know what you want, we do research to get you the highest quality, expertly planned trip
How can I best protect my vacation? Peace of Mind We can help lead you to the right people to answer your questions about insurance options
How do I know I can trust my advisor to do the best for me? Someone thinking of your best interests We are members of several professional organizations and we have earned the trust of hundreds of clients.  We encourage you to read their comments about our service

LEARN MORE

 

Trade Offs—What Can I Afford and What Will I Get?

I always tell folks we travel to Europe as many times as we can during a year until we run out of money—most all of us have constraints of some sort—time, travel costs, work demands, family situations—all can affect the desired outcome of your vacation.  Here is simple advice–pick the level of products and services that will provide you the best value.  Don’t let money drive the decision–every time we cut a corner on a vacation to save a couple of bucks, we regretted it.  It always led to poor experiences.  There almost always is the “sweet spot”–great value but not too expensive to bust the budget.  Let us help you find it.

So, Where Do I Go?

The real answer is that there are usually no perfect choices. I do think it becomes easier if we help you, as you can see by the 7 problems we can solve for you in planning and taking your vacation.

For our upcoming vacation in December, we had to make a lot of choices on the pre and post river cruise part of our trip.  Our travel buddies decided to go to Iceland; we opted out and decided to stay in Brugge for a longer stay.  We choose that option primarily for a little more relaxing time in Brugge—familiar, great sights, good food and a chance to slow down.  We found the right air at the right price after 3 weeks of searching and decided a longer stay was best.  I’ll let you know in a blog in early 2019 about how the trip turned out  (spoiler alert–I think it will be great!).

Bruges
Here is the view from the room we will stay in on the upcoming trip–pretty cool!

My Final Thoughts

As you can see, making wise travel choices, is more complex than you may have thought.  Trip planning is not easy.  Making sound decisions are critical to the travel planning process.  Time and money issues are complex—we all want the best at the least possible price.  We help you solve those complex issues, saving you hassles, time and worry.  We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

Active River Cruises–Great Bike Opportunites

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

One of the most interesting changes to Europe river cruises, since we first started cruising in 2009, is the emphasis on bike rides by several river cruise lines.  At first, the bikes seemed almost an afterthought—you could use them but there were few organized tours and they were mostly available for the few brave souls who would venture out on their own.

Fast forward to 2018 and the scene has completely changed.  Not only are there many more opportunities to use the onboard bikes, there are now cruise lines that have partnered with bike companies to provide bike themed cruises for real ride enthusiasts. 

By far, the river cruise company that is really pushing bike tours is AmaWaterways.  Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours has added 11 special bike sailings, and Uniworld has also added 10 bike tours to their 2018 sailings.  These 3 really good lines have partnered with different bike tour companies to offer their guests some premium pedaling experiences. 

So, let’s learn what the 8 major river cruise lines offer their guests for bike riding experiences during their river cruises.

AmaWaterways

Always, it seems to us, AmaWaterways has been the leader in almost all new trends in river cruising.  It is no surprise that active river cruising is so important to them.  They offer guided bike tours on all voyages at no extra charge and it is our experience there are usually at least three per cruise.  On our first cruise in 2009, Anne and I rode the onboard bikes a short way into Wurzburg from our port.  It was fun and the bikes were easy to use. 

Ama Bikes
AmaWaterways bikes ready for Guests 2018

We have several clients that ride on their own while in port or take the included guided tours.  All the feedback has been very good.

Ama Bike Riders in the Wachau Valley
AmaWaterways Bike Riders in the Wachau Valley 2018
AmaWaterways Bike Ride
Our Clients Jane with Len Ready for a bike ride near Cochem, Germany

AmaWaterways also has partnered for some awesome bike tours with Backroads.  Backroads has been in partnership with AmaWaterways since 2015 and it has been quite a success story.  According to an interview I read in Travel Professional News, Kristin Karst, Executive President and Co-Owner of AmaWaterways, is quite proud of this partnership.  Here is what she had to say in 2017: “Providing best-in-class service and authentic upscale travel experiences, we’re bringing more active adventure biking, walking and hiking journeys to the world’s most renowned European river cruise destinations.  We’ve expanded our 2017 line-up of active river cruise departures in partnership with Backroads – the world’s #1 active travel company –by offering more the 50 sailings along the Danube, Douro, Rhine or Seine rivers.”

The company has taken over entire boats on the Danube in 2017and plans to do so again in 2018 and 2019.  And an AmaWaterways vessel will be exclusively reserved for roughly 100 Backroads cruisers on the Douro River in Portugal in 2019.

They also offer smaller group tours.  Typically on these special tours, only 20 to 30 of the total 156 passengers are in the special bike group. The two most popular routes are on the upper Danube and along the Rhine.  These tours feature specialized titanium bikes provided by Backroads.  Currently there are 58 tours scheduled for 2018, including a chartered Danube sailing for Backroads guests only.

I reached out to Backroads and Liz Einbinder, their PR director, provided me some great information about this partnership.  Among the items she pointed out to me were how good the bikes that Backroads uses for their tours.  Here is her description “On all our active river cruise trips we use Backroads state of the art custom titanium bikes.  Our bikes are best in class, lightweight, comfortable and designed for a day of cycling.”  She also told me how folks can book these tours—here is their contact information—“People who want to book one of our active river cruises book directly through Backroads (not through AmaWaterways).Call 800-462-2848 or +1-510-527-1555 or www.Backroads.com.”  Please just remember to include us as your travel consultants when making the booking.

Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours

Scenic has 25 electric bikes onboard their ships.  They are available at no extra charge (it’s hard to buy anything extra on Scenic—maybe only a massage or in the beauty or barber shop). 

Scenic has partnered with cycling outfitter Trek Travel to offer themed bike tours to their guests.  For 2018 there are 11 cruises that can be booked with Trek Travel (again the booking must be made directly with Trek not with Scenic).  The tours are on the Danube and the Rhine.  Tour size is limited to 20.  Trek Travel uses three types of high tech bikes—one is even electric assisted.  The electric bikes provided by Trek Travel are high tech and an upgrade compare to the good bikes that Scenic provides to all guests. 

I had a chance to talk to Lindsay Juley about what guests could expect upon booking a Trek Travel cruise.  She emphasized a couple of key points—first, these trips are a perfect vacation for a couple where one person is a serious bike rider, and the other is not—both will have exactly the vacation they want.  Second, she emphasized how flexible Trek Travel is during the cruise—lingering to take photos, or adding extra miles works well with the staff—the group guide from Trek Travel and the support vehicle allow the riders to travel at their own pace.  Another bonus of the program is that all guests are booked in the Diamond (upper deck) and that means more butler services and a chance to dine at the Table La Rive—it is a six-course degustation menu with sommelier paired wines.  The deposit for one of their tours is $2,000 per person and is non-refundable.  We will be glad to help you book any of these Trek Travel bike tours.  You can learn more at www.trektravel.com

Avalon

Avalon has 10 bikes on its ships, which can be used for free.  We recently saw the bikes while docked at Vienna, so here are 2018 pictures of one of their bikes and the storage area on their riverships. 

Avalon Bike
An Avalon bike ready for use
Avalon Bike Storage Area
Avalon Bike Storage Area

Avalon offers optional bike tours on some its cruises.  It is part of their Active Discovery program started in 2017.  They use local bike companies for the program.  The optional tours are not included in the cruise fare and require an additional fee.  There are 4 tours available on their cruises.  You can cycle in the Netherlands while docked in Amsterdam in the Dutch countryside, or on the Danube starting from Durnstein in the scenic Wachau Valley, or on the Rhine starting in Breisach and finally on the Moselle starting at Bernkastel.

Crystal River Cruises

Crystal has 30 eBikes on their double wide Crystal Mozart. 

On the Crystal’s other 4 riverships, there are bikes available for use by guests who want to explore on their own.  These bikes are also used for organized, guided bike tours.  According to their brochure, the onboard Fitness Director leads the active biking excursions. 

Emerald Waterways

Emerald has 20 on board bikes and their use is complimentary. 

Emerald offers group bike tours, at no additional charge.  It is part of their EmeraldACTIVE program.  The tours include a guided nature tour in the Amsterdam area; a guided bike tour in Colmar, France; a biking tour between Melk and Durnstein; a biking tour of Vienna; a guided bike tour in Belgrade; and a bike excursion from Tournon to Glun, France. 

Tauck

Tauck has 12 Jan Janssen bikes on its ship—these are popular Dutch bikes—and if anyone knows bikes, it is the Dutch!

While researching this article, it appears most guests use the bikes for independent rides, but I found out that one of the 4 onboard tour directors may lead one or two organized bike excursions during a 7 day cruise.  All bike excursions are included and they do include family oriented bike rides in their Tauck Bridges program.

Uniworld

Uniworld has a fleet of free bikes for self-guided or escorted group excursions at no extra charge.  The bike tours are part of their “Go Active” excursions.  They have bike rides on the Rhine River, on the Main River, on the Danube River, on the Moselle River, in Paris, in Lyon, in Bordeaux, in Frankfurt, in the Chioggia (Italy) beach area, in Budapest, and in Belgrade.  Basically, there is at least one “Go Active” bike ride on each of their European river cruises

In 2016, Uniworld added a partnership with upscale tour operator Butterfield & Robinson (a Canadian firm) to offer enhanced bike tours.  On the Uniworld website, I found that Uniworld was offering 10 themed biking tours in 2018.  Their tours are on the Danube (4), the Rhone (3), and the Rhine (3).  The tours are on customized bicycles, with detailed maps, and expert bike guides.  Bicycles include a handlebar-mounted Samsung Galaxy tablet with preloaded route maps via RideWithGPS.  Booking is done directly with Butterfield & Robinson.  Here is their contact info:  www.butterfield.com or 1-866-551-9090.  Again, be sure to include us as your travel agents when making the booking.

I got to talk with a representative of Butterfield & Robinson.  They are very excited about this partnership and are adding a Seine bike tour for 2019 and will retain the 10 themed biking tours they scheduled for 2018. 

Viking

Viking does not offer any onboard bikes.  They do have some limited guided bike tours which are new for 2018.  These tours require an extra fee.

My Final Thoughts

There certainly are some differences between the cycling opportunities offered by these eight river cruise lines.  3 offer enhanced options with their partnerships.  7 of the 8 have onboard bikes that do not have an extra charge.  As with any aspect of Europe River cruises, we can answer your questions and concerns and help you match the right river cruise to your needs and travel style. 

We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

The Capitals of Scandinavia

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

Scandinavia, the land of the midnight sun in summer, instantly brings to me images of fjords, castles, marauding Vikings and beautiful blond Nordic women.  It is a land of spectacular sights.  During the summer, Scandinavia is a great place to visit.  These northern European countries have splendid weather for about 3 months or so, and there is almost always some type of festival during the summer months in each of these capital cities.

Oslo, Norway Harbor Festival
Oslo, Norway Harbor Festival

The Scandinavia region, however, is not clearly defined by all geographers.  Some include only Denmark, Norway and Sweden.  Others add Iceland and Finland and define these 5 countries as the Nordic countries.  A lot of the confusion is over Finland, as large portions were once part of Sweden and Russia, and this also has influenced its culture.  The island nation of Iceland also has some of the traits of Scandinavia but is more isolated from the rest of the Nordic countries. 

Despite these geographic differences, I will include Finland in my Scandinavia blog, as its culture best fits in with the Scandinavia region in my mind and omit Iceland—it is just so physically distant from the other four countries, I have a hard time including it as part of Scandinavia.  All four countries included in my definition of Scandinavia, speak a language based on a northern Germanic dialect, have great seagoing traditions and have adapted well to their cold climates.  While distinct countries, they share more similarities than differences, in my opinion. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t let you know that we have written guides to all these capital cities.  Just go to our website at this link and we will send you the guides you request.  Here is the link on our Northern Europe page of our website:  https://www.dreamdestinations.com/northern-europe/ .  The guides are free and there is no obligation, it is just a service we provide to help you have better travels when visiting this region (this is only part of the 50 cities guides we have for key European cities.)

So, let’s learn more about the capital cities of Denmark, Finland (technically a Nordic country), Norway and Sweden.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Located on the Jutland Peninsula, Copenhagen is a city of just over 750,000 people.  The city is built on two main islands and connected by many drawbridges.  Danes are famous for being seafaring people—the Vikings used to raid from here.  The Danes are considered to have one of the highest qualities of life in the world. 

Copenhagen is sometimes known as the city of spires. 

Borsen Stock Exchange
Borsen Stock Exchange–the twisted tails of 4 dragons form this spire

Among some of the great sites to visit in this city, are the City Hall Square and City Hall (Radhuspladsen), Tivoli Gardens (Europe’s oldest amusement park), the Stronget shopping street area (Europe’s first pedestrian street that goes through the old merchants’ (koben) harbor (havn), Amalienborg Palace and Square (the monarchs palace) and the National Museum, complete with Viking displays to include a Viking longship—I really enjoyed a visit to this museum in 2008. 

Town Hall Square, Copenhagen, Denmark
Town Hall Square, Copenhagen, Denmark
Tivoli
Tivoli

Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki grew up around its harbor.  Helsinki and Finland also have one of the world’s highest standards of living.  Key sites are the market square harbor, the Esplanade (a great pedestrian walkway and boulevard), and the Senate Square.  We have visited twice and really like Helsinki—our favorites are the waterfront market square area and the Esplanade.

Esplande, Helsinki Finland
Esplanade, Helsinki Finland
Harbor Market Helsinki
Harbor Market Helsinki

Helsinki is rated as the capital city with the 8th cleanest air in the world by the World Health Organization.  A huge emphasis on public transportation, may be one reason, Helsinki makes the list.  This city wants to make cars obsolete by developing an on-demand-public transportation system.  The current diverse public transportation system consists of trams, commuter rail, bus lines, 2 ferry lines, and some on-demand minibuses.  There is also a big emphasis on bikes and developing bike paths.  One third of the city is green spaces. 

A Tram in Helsinki
A Tram in Helsinki

Oslo, Norway

The port city of Oslo is a fun place to visit.  It is located on the northeast part of the Oslo Fjord.  We sailed into Oslo on an ocean cruise ship and it was a delightful experience. 

Oslo Fjord
Oslo Fjord

Some of the key sights of Oslo are located right on the harbor.  These include the 700 year old Akerhus Castle fort complex, the city hall and the Nobel Peace Museum. 

Akershus Castle
Akershus Castle
Town Hall Oslo, Norway
Town Hall Oslo, Norway
Nobel Peace Center
Nobel Peace Center

A few streets in from the harbor, Karls Johans Gate, is the main shopping street of Oslo.  On this street, there is the Royal Palace at one end of Karls Johans Gate, along with the National Theater, the National Gallery, Oslo Cathedral and ending at the Parliament—all contained within about a mile or so distance.  On the Bygdoy Peninsula area of Oslo (about a mile from the harbor area), the Viking Ship Museum has 3 Viking boats over a 1000 years old and other Viking artifacts.  Bygdoy also has 3 other maritime museums.  The Fram museum is about polar explorations, Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki raft museum is also here and their maritime museum that explains Norway’s long history with the sea.  Also located in the Bygdoy Peninsula, is the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History—an outdoor museum that has an old wooden stave church from around the year 1200.  There are 160 buildings reassembled and brought in from all over Norway.  For art lovers, Fronger Park (on the outskirts of Oslo) holds the sculptures of Gustav Vigeland and the Edward Munich Museum has all his art work (his most famous painting is the scream). 

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm is built on a series of 14 islands connected by bridges.  This is a town of great old sites and really new modern places.  The old town is really good and one of my favorite sites to explore on foot.  The Gamla Stan (old city) was a part of the Hanseatic League trade network and the resulting trade helped the city grow and prosper.  You will enjoy wandering in the old town. 

Old Town Stockholm
Old Town Stockholm
Old Phone Booth Stockholm Old Town
Old Phone Booth Stockholm Old Town

Very near the old town area is the very large Royal Palace, complete with uniformed guards and a colorful changing of the guard ceremony at noon.  Also in this area is the Parliament building. 

Royal Palace Stockholm
Royal Palace Stockholm

On Deer Island (Djurgarden), there is an amusement park, an outdoor museum of reassembled buildings from all over Sweden and the Vasa museum, the 17th century warship that sank during its maiden voyage.  It also has the ABBA music experience for you pop culture music fans. 

Amusement Park
Amusement Park on Deer Island Stockholm

In the more modern part of town, we even went to an ice bar for a drink—pretty cool to say the least!  

 

Ice Bar in Stockholm
Ice Bar in Stockholm
Anne in the Icebar
Anne in the Ice bar

Stockholm is also on the list of the ten capital cities with the cleanest air (according to the World Health Organization), coming in at number 1.  It was the 2010 Green Capital of the World, and Stockholm wants to be fossil fuel free by 2050.  During the 1990s, Stockholm was able to reduce carbon emissions by 25%, so you can see they are serious about cleaning up the air they breathe.  Development is strictly monitored—even cars must pay a tax to enter the city.  It also has an extensive public transportation system.  85% of the population work in service industries and there are hardly any heavy industrial factories, so this is one reason Stockholm has such clean air.  30% of Stockholm’s area is green spaces; and it has over 1,000 parks. 

My Final Thoughts

Scandinavia, if you have not visited this region, should be on your list of places to visit in Europe.  Go in the summer months—many sights are closed during the winter months, especially the amusement parks and the outdoor reassembled buildings.  The other great advantage are the long days—the sun sets very late at night in these four capital cities which helps inspires their many festivals.  Solid reasons to visit this region in my mind. 

We can help you plan and book a trip to Scandinavia—to any or all these four great countries.  We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

Giants on the Danube River

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

Starting in May 2019, there will be 2 double size river cruise ships on the Danube.  The Crystal Mozart is already sailing and the AmaMagna will debut in May 2019.

For many seasoned river cruisers, this may be the next step in luxury river cruising.  For others, this may be an unnecessary use of space and extra costs.

With full disclosure, this blog is based on research only (I have never sailed on either ship), and I will try to tackle this new concept so you can be updated on news of these two unique offerings for river cruise guests.

Some Basics About these Giants

Traditional river cruise ships have been constrained by lock size—the max size is about 38 ft wide and 443 feet long.  The main rivers of Europe can handle these longships, but a portion of the Danube before the Main-Danube Canal can handle wider ships.  Two companies have used this area to build river cruise ships that are twice as wide as ordinary river cruise ships.

Schonbuhl Castle Watermarked
Schonbuhl Castle–the Watchman of the Wachau–one sight you will see on either ship

The Crystal Mozart was originally constructed in 1987.  Crystal acquired the ship, stripped it down to its hull and rebuilt the entire ship.  It entered service in 2016.

The AmaMagna has been built as a new river ship.  It will start sailing with guests in May of 2019.

With more space due to the doubled width of the ship, each of the giants of the Danube are designed to offer its guest more choices on a bigger river ship.  It clearly is aimed for luxury guests who like more space and expect more venues onboard.

The AmaMagna

The AmaMagna will still be 443 feet long but 72 feet wide—double the width of most longships.  It will hold 196 passengers in 98 staterooms.  By comparison, other AmaWaterways longships have 78 staterooms for 156 passengers.

Ship_37_AmaMagna_Exterior_rend_04_FULL
AmaMagna Photo AmaWaterways

The two key changes to the AmaMagna are larger staterooms and the addition of a Wine Bar/Restaurant.  There also will be an Al Fresco Dining area on the bow (front) of the ship.  It still will retain the normal features of AmaWaterways ships— a main lounge, fitness room, hair salon, massage rooms (there are two on the AmaMagna compared to one on the other longships in the AmaWaterways fleet), main restaurant, a reception area and the hugely successful feature, The Chef’s Table Restaurant.

So let’s talk stateroom size—here is the rundown: There will be one suite at 710 square feet with a full balcony; 6 suites at 474 square feet with full balcony; 46 suites at 355 square feet with a full balcony; 34 staterooms at 252 square feet with full balcony and 11 staterooms at 205 square feet with fixed windows—I affectionately call this area the swan deck, as part of the room is at the waterline and the swans often swim by for a unique view of them above and below the waterline from the window.

Ship_37_stateroom_4_gallery
355 sq. ft. suite on the AmaMagna. Photo AmaWaterways

The AmaMagna will sail two 7 day itineraries on the Danube.  They are the Romantic Danube (Vilshofen to Budapest) and the Melodies of the Danube (Budapest to Vilshofen).  For those of us who have sailed the upper Danube before, the ports are similar to previous AmaWaterways itineraries with some minor adjustments.

The Crystal Mozart

Mozart_Night-400x200
The Crystal Mozart in Budapest. Photo Crystal River Cruises

The Crystal Mozart is 395 feet long and 75 feet wide.  It holds 154 guests in 79 staterooms according to the brochure, but I keep coming up with a passenger count of 158 based on two to a stateroom (79 x 2)—some publications list the passenger count as 160.  41 cabins have fixed windows on the first deck, which is known as the Harmony deck.  They are all 219 square feet. 

Mozart_Suite_Fixed_Window-300x200
Fixed Window Suite on the Crystal Mozart. Photo Crystal River Cruises

The remaining cabins are on the Seahorse deck, on deck 2.  On this deck there are 24 French balcony cabins—23 are 219 square feet and one is 209 square feet. The 14 remaining cabins are considered penthouses.  There are two 883 square foot suites with 2 beds; and 12 staterooms of 330 square feet.  None have outside balconies—there are only French balconies on the Mozart.  The twelve 330 square feet staterooms have bathtubs, but the two larger stateroom only have showers—seems odd to me, as a bathtub is often a desired luxury feature. 

Mozart_Penthouse-1-300x200
330 sq. ft. Penthouse Suite on the Crystal Mozart. Photo Crystal River Cruise

Each stateroom on the Mozart has a butler; a stocked mini-refrigerator and a welcome bottle of champagne and two bottles of wine in suite. 

On deck 3, the Crystal deck, Crystal Ocean cruisers will recognize many of the venue names.  Venues include the Blue Bar and Grill, Connoisseur Club, Palm Court, the Cove Piano Bar, the Vintage Room, the Waterside Restaurant and the Bistro Mozart.  The deck has a wrap-around Promenade.

Mozart_Palm_Court-1-300x200
Palm Court on the Crystal Mozart. Photo Crystal River Cruises

The Crystal Mozart has 4 itineraries for 2018.  These include the Treasures of the Danube, a 10 day loop that starts and ends in Vienna (fares start at $4078 per person); the Danube Serenade a 7 day eastbound starting in Vienna and first sails west through Austria and then sails east to Budapest (fares start at $2,803); another 7 day Danube Serenade that sails west from Budapest to Melk and then loops back to Vienna (again the fare starts at $2,803); and finally a 11 day Eastern Danube Discovery that sails from Vienna eastward to Belgrade and then back to Vienna (fares start at $5,525).  For 2019 they have added a trip called Danube Dreams and Discovery for 7 days, which is a modified loop from Vienna (fares start at $2,805).  It also will sail a special Christmas cruise, one time only, starting on 20 December for 13 days (fares start at $5,415)—it is available for 2018 and 2019. 

Media Coverage

While almost all the press lauds the Crystal Mozart as a true luxury ship, there are just some nagging coverage items.  Some note the king size beds limit space in some cabins, negating the extra space of the double wide boat.  The Mozart does not have an elevator.  The Vintage Dining Room is an additional cost and depending upon the wines selected runs from about $300 up to $2000 per person.  Some have complained there is a run on this room and all passengers do not have access.  For an all-inclusive line, there sure seems to be a lot of extras to spend your money on—optional tours, watercraft, Michelin Star dining on shore are not included.

With a ship yet to launch, it is really unfair to make comparisons with the Crystal Mozart.  There are some differences, however, that leap out at me.  Here they are:

  • No elevator on the Mozart; there is one on the AmaMagna.
  • No outside balconies on the Mozart; many outside balconies on the AmaMagna.
  • Extra charge for the Vintage Dining Room on the Crystal Mozart (as I noted earlier $300—$2,000 depending on the wines selected per person); Jimmy’s Wine Bar is included on the AmaMagna.
  • A one hour limit on Wi-Fi on the Mozart (there is an extra charge for more than one hour); unlimited on the AmaMagna.
  • The Mozart is all-inclusive and has butler service; the AmaMagna has included wine, beer and beverages with meals and a one hour Sip and Sail free cocktail hour but has no butler service.
  • Both have unique water sports boats and extras. At present the AmaMagna items are free; there sometimes is an extra charge for items on the Crystal Mozart.

I will be very interested in the 3rd Edition of the Berlitz River Cruising in Europe that is due out in early July 2018—I will report and update this blog once I can get the new edition.  The author, Douglas Ward,  is about as impartial as it comes when reviewing river cruising in Europe, so I try to use him when possible to help my evaluations.

My Final Thoughts

Giants on the Danube—it is a way to get an ocean cruise sized cabin on a rivership.  Are the limitations in size and extra offerings of these giant riverships worth it?  I’m really not sure yet—both carry an extra price tag that seems pretty steep to me. 

On the AmaMagna, a swan deck cabin starts at $3799 per person and main and upper deck cabins are an additional $1799 (raises the price to $5,598 per person) to $9,999 (raises the price to $13,798 per person) depending upon the cabin selected.  By comparison, you can book a lower category French balcony cabin for about $4200 per person on an AmaWaterways longship—that’s a difference of $1,398 per person ($5,598-$4,200=$1,398).

On the Crystal Mozart, it is really hard to get an exact fare without calling the company for a quote.  The brochure only lists starting fares (I listed them earlier in this blog); AmaWaterways is upfront about the stateroom costs.  On one booking site (Affordable tours), I found some crossed out prices for a June 30—July 10, 2018 sailing on the Treasures of the Danube by category for the Mozart (the brochure states the fares start from $4,070 but it includes prices for 3 possible Crystal river ships), so here goes:  Fixed window stateroom $7,290–&7,655 per person; a French Balcony was $9,250 per person; the Penthouse suite was $16, 235 per person and the 2 room Suite was $37,305 per person.  The website claims these are brochure rates, per person in US dollars, but I have no way to verify if these are accurate.

There is a market for this type of river cruise—those who want more personal space and are willing to pay for it.  It answers the one problem some river cruise clients’ voice—they want a bigger stateroom, similar to the staterooms they have experienced on an ocean cruise liner.  For folks who love Crystal Ocean cruises and expect the same level of service and amenities, they should also be good matches for a Crystal River Cruise.

My guess is that when the AmaMagna starts sailing, the press will call it a draw when comparing the Crystal Mozart and the AmaMagna.  It will be interesting to see if I’m correct on this prediction.

Should you go one of these giants?  It will be right for some, but do not fear–we are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts who can guide you through these decisions and help you determine if the increased space and amenities are worth the extra cost.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

We Make People Happy!

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

We have done a lot of traveling lately and had many clients traveling in the first six months of this year.  It started me thinking about our purpose as travel advisors.  Why are we in business?  What is our purpose?  What should we provide to our clients?

There are many ways to look at these 3 questions—in my MBA classes, we studied economists and business advisors and their thoughts on businesses.  Perhaps the two most famous, Milton Friedman and Peter Drucker, have their definitions of the purpose of a business.  Friedman states the purpose of a business is profit maximization.  Drucker states the purpose is to create and keep a customer.  While I think there are merits in their definitions of the purpose of a business, I believe there has to be more.  Here is our business purpose–we want to improve your standard of living by helping you experience different places–we want to help you have happy travels!

So, let’s explore this together and see if we make people happy when they travel.

What Our Mission Statement Means to You

In our mission statement, we state we are “certified travel advisors who specialize in cruises, Europe river cruises, and European vacations for discriminating travelers.”  We further state “we provide customers with highest quality, expertly planned leisure travel.”

These are lofty words, but what do they mean to you?  Maybe a shorter way to say this is “we make people happy when they travel.”  I think we try to do this in two ways.  First, we want the planning experience to be pleasant—no stress, no worries—only solutions to your travel desires.  Second, we use the right vendors that will provide you great experiences—happy travel is the result.  It is our combination of experience planning travel and dealing with people in the right way that results in happy travel experiences. 

Put another way, we have tried to create a company that we would want to do business with and use over and over again.

Happiness is Vital in our Business

Happiness for me is an emotional state of well-being.  It is living a good life, one with positive emotions, finding pleasure in living, satisfaction and joy.

No one wants hassles in their lives but we still have them—it is just part of life.  Since there are always obstacles to happiness in our lives, we are determined not to be an obstacle—we want our dealings with you to be easy and fun.  We want to improve your emotional state of well-being—in short, make you happy.  When we make your travels happy, all else falls in place.

It is our golden rule—we treat you like we would like to be treated!

How Travel Creates Happiness

I think there are 3 main reasons travel creates happiness.  They are 1) experiencing different cultures and places, 2) enjoying the food and wine when dining on a trip, and 3) to connect or reconnect with friends and loved ones.

71 River Cruise
Friends and loved ones on an AmaWaterways river cruise 2015

One of our goals when planning your travel is to create happiness by helping you achieve these 3 factors on your vacation.  Travel planning is both an art and a science.  To get the best experiences and memorable dining, we must know our products completely—this is the science of travel planning.  While that is important, we also have to match these to your expectations—this is the art of travel planning.

If we do it right, we are certain to create happy travel results and this is both your and our goal.

Our Business Interactions with you—Happy Experiences are our Goal!

We want to become or continue to be your trusted travel advisors of choice for discriminating travelers who want a good value for their travel budgets.  We are really aware that our clients use us because they know us, hopefully like us, and most importantly, trust us.

I think there is one other aspect—we always treat you with kindness and fairness.  Basically, we want to make you happy you decided to conduct business with us and we made your trip a happy experience.

Some Examples of Happy Travel from 2017 & 2018

Often it is the voices of others that really tell the story.  Do we really make people happy?  Here are two communications from our trusted clients:

“I wanted to express my appreciation for you organizing and delivering one of the most wonderful travel experiences of my life! The AMA Waterways “Danube Cruise” was a truly amazing and educational trip! This was my first river cruise and I must say that working with Dream Destinations throughout the travel planning process made my trip come together flawlessly! Your professionalism and expertise earned my TRUST and I can’t wait for you guys to plan my next adventure on one of the many rivers of the world! I love you guys and the way you go about your business!!!”

Jeff Rock 2018

Jeff and Hank
Friends for over 47 years–Jeff Rock, my West Point Classmate, and Hank

Thanks, Jeff—sounds pretty happy to me!

“Hank and Anne at Dream Destinations are truly the best, bar none! My wife Denise and I first met them on an Ama Waterways Rhone River cruise back in 2013. Their knowledge and passion for all things Europe is truly infectious and the reason why we have booked travel with them every year since. Some of our favorite places to visit are Paris, Prague, Bruges, Nuremberg, Strasbourg, and Lucerne. From river cruises to rail passes, accommodations and restaurant recommendations, they are our “ambassadors to Europe” and our first choice in travel agents.  These two travel professionals will thrill you with their ingenuity and exceed your every expectation by designing a one-of-a-kind trip tailored to your dreams and desires.”

Mark Thomas 2017

Mark and glasses
Mark Thomas and crew preparing for wine tasting on an AmaWaterways River Cruise 2014

Thanks Mark and Denise—we are proud to help you have several happy trips!

My Final Thoughts

Happy Travels!  And Happy first day of summer 2018!

We are in the business of making people happy when they travel.  Sure, we would like to also make a profit, but our focus has always been on making your trip a great experience that brings you joy.  You can’t imagine how good it makes us feel when we succeed—it makes us happy!

When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision making process.  We think we have all these qualities.  And, we want you to be happy during the planning process and on the trip.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

AmaWaterways Blue Danube Discovery 2018

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

As I write this, I’m on the AmaCerto in the Rhine-Danube Canal.  It is our 5th trip on the AmaCerto—feels like home.  Much has changed since 2009 in river cruising—almost all is for the better.

So, I thought I’d write about AmaWaterways and the Danube—one of the two most popular routes for river cruisers in Europe.

The Route

Our cruise started in Budapest and will end in Nuremberg.  We have sailed this direction upstream 3 times; twice downstream.  The amazing scenery has not changed much—the Wachau Valley has to be the one of the best cruises for just enjoying the upper Danube River scenery.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so there are no bridges to interrupt the views.  Unlike the Rhine River Gorge, with castles dotting almost every hill, the region has only three or four great castles.

Aggstein Castle
The ruins of Aggstein Castle

 

Schonbuhl Castle
Schonbuhl Castle on the Danube River

But the quaint villages, sometimes dominated by a fortified church complex, and the steep vineyards provide a relaxing and fun sailing experience—the castles are not missed.

While we chose to sail on the river in the Wachau Valley, you could also bike through this wonderful place.  AmaWaterways was a pioneer in bicycle tours on the Danube and the 20 mile bike ride was a highlight for many—it may be one of the best cycling rides in Europe.

Other stops before the Wachau included, Bratislava (capital of Slovakia) and Vienna (capital of Austria).  Even after multiple stops in both places, we find these incredible cities—vibrant and deserving of more exploring.  Also, the small village of Durstein and its blue-towered monastery and castle ruins where Richard Lionhearted was held in prison, is another great stop.  We then sailed to Melk with its famous Abbey, ornate chapel, and collection of rare books and manuscripts.

Later today we port in Passau, the first city on the Danube in Germany.  It sits on a peninsula at the confluence of the Inn, Ilz and Danube Rivers. 

img_2098
The Veste Oberhaus (Bishop’s fortress) overlooking Passau

We will then visit Regensburg (we are going on a beer and sausage tasting tour) and finally off to Nuremberg.  All are great stops.

What is New Onboard

While much remains the same, there are two great new features on the cruise.  They are the new wellness program and the Sip ‘n’ Sail cocktail hour just before dinner.  Both are real hits in our opinion.

While most who know me well, would say my favorite change is the new included Sip ‘n’ Sail free cocktail hour, but, I was most impressed with the wellness program.  Our wellness hostess, Vanda, conducted stretching classes, core strengthening classes and bike rides.  What impressed me most that it was all age appropriate and the response on board has been very good.  As a former physical fitness instructor in college and for sports teams, it was interesting to see how well the programs were conducted and how the cruisers enjoyed adding a little fitness to their daily routine. 

Another big change was the Sip ‘n’ Sail program.  Free (included) drinks prior to dinner is great.  Wine, beer and a good selection of well drinks—even martinis are included.  Great improvement!

What remains the Same

Anne always reminds me that consistency is the key to great travel.  On AmaWaterways, the good things remain the same or are slightly better than past cruises. 

Let’s start with the cruise manager, Kata.  We sailed with her in 2011, and when we met up again, we were greeted with a hug and total enthusiasm.  We weren’t clients—we were old friends getting to share a trip together.  For those who have never sailed on a river cruise, the cruise manager, arranges tours, and is the person who helps you enjoy the cruise.  He or she is the person who makes or breaks the cruise for you and as always, AmaWaterways delivered.

3 Great Ladies
Kata, Anne in her new Dirndl dress with Carmen of the bar staff.

Food and service is excellent—always well planned meals.  One item of note—portions are slightly smaller and for the baby boomers of our generation, this is a smart move.  You can always have more food, but even for big eaters like me, the portions were properly sized. 

Each year, the included Chef’s Table menu changes.  I liked meal this year,  and the wonderful view from the stern of our river ship.  It is the little extras that make the difference—the Chef’s Table remains a hit.

Chef's Table
The Chef’s Table

Bar service is outstanding and the wines were particularly good with meals.  It still amazes me how generous the wine pours are by the bar staff—the idea is to give you enough and not too much, but you will seldom find your wine glass empty for long during meals.

Our cabin was always clean and efficient.  I find the cabins well designed and perfectly adequate.  Although some would prefer a larger cabin, the constraints of the river lock system have limited cabin size.  Don’t despair—larger cabins are coming to AmaWaterways in 2019 with the AmaMagna—I will write a future blog about the two large river cruise ships that will sail a portion of this route we are currently sailing. 

I can’t say enough about the crew—they work 18 hour days, and every detail is about making your vacation better.

Our Cruise Experience

We are traveling with a lifelong friend and West Point classmate, Jeff Rock.  Rock is a straightforward guy, so I take his comments to heart.  He sailed the entire Danube—2 weeks on the AmaCerto.  His email to me prior to us joining him in Budapest —“This is a great way to travel!  Can’t wait to see you.”

Jeff and Hank
Friends for over 47 years–Jeff Rock, my West Point Classmate, and Hank

He plans to sail again with AmaWaterways.  Not a real surprise to me—almost all who go on a river cruise we plan, go again.

My Final Thoughts

When folks find our we have sailed this route before, they want to know why—wouldn’t it be boring?  Our response —it never is!  You can’t see it all on the first trip and when you consider the different seasons, it changes.  Spring brings new life, summer is full of flowers and green trees, autumn is ablaze with color and Christmas is a festival not to be missed (don’t forget about our Christmas cruise on the Rhine in December of this year).  These are wonderful places to visit and we hope one day you will let us plan a trip to one or all of these great places.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.  And, you want someone who can help you with the decision-making process.  We think we have all these qualities.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 46 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

Rangers Lead the Way!

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

The crossing was rough—the weather was stormy and the seas were not kind to the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions.  Most could not get any sleep as the dread of an upcoming mission along with the rough seas made them restless.  It is always that way before critical missions—no amount of training and preparation could ease their minds—they were going Pointe du Hoc to destroy an artillery battery on top of a 100 foot cliff.

The capture of Pointe du Hoc was considered critical to the overall invasion plan.  It was considered one of the most dangerous areas of Normandy.  The 155mm cannons could fire upon the landing zones of Utah and Omaha with devastating effect on the invading force.  It had to be neutralized.

Pointe du Hoc was defended by elements of the 716th and 352d Infantry Divisions, along with artillerymen–it became a heavily fortified bastion for the Wehrmacht as part of the Atlantic Wall.  Approximately 200 German troops (125 infantry and 85 artillery men) were garrisoned in or around the Point du Hoc position.

The rangers had to take this defensive area or the whole D Day mission might fail.

An Obstacle too Difficult to Take from the Sea

The Pointe du Hoc cliffs were considered too difficult to scale under combat conditions.  This point of view was firmly held by the Germans.  And, not surprisingly, most American military commanders also thought it was a suicide mission.  Yet, it was vital to the success of the overall invasion scheme.  The 100 foot cliffs were almost 90 degrees from the base to the top.

Pointe Du Hoc Cliffs 2.jpg
Pointe Du Hoc Cliffs

The Germans planned the defense on the land bridge of Pointe du Hoc facing away from the sea by concentrating their forces for an inland assault.  They developed a defensive position consisting of heavily fortified concrete casements interlaced with tunnels, trenches, and machine-gun positions around the perimeter.

Rudder’s Rangers

On fateful day, Lt. Col James Rudder led 225 men in an assault on the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc.  But to understand this superb combat unit, we must return to the days of 1943, where Rudder formed the Rangers.  The 2nd Ranger Battalion was activated on April 1, 1943 at Camp Forrest, Tullahoma, Tennessee.  They were volunteer units.  Each soldier had to possess superb physical qualities and sharp mental skills.  They also trained in Florida.  Each ranger became skilled in all types of weapons, hand-to-hand combat and handling difficult terrain.  The unit was deployed to Scotland next.  Here they trained on scaling cliffs and worked with British Commandos. 

The rangers were organized into 6 line companies, A to F.  Each company consisted of 65 men and 3 officers.  The companies were organized into 2 platoons.

The Plan

The plan was for the 2nd Ranger Battalion to assault the cliffs at 0630 and take possession of the German position by 0700.  Company D was to scale the cliffs from the west; Companies E and F were to scale the cliffs from the east.  They would then destroy the cannons once on top of Pointe du Hoc.  After destroying the weapons, they were to establish a defensive perimeter on Pointe du Hoc and prevent the Germans from moving reinforcements down the coastal highway that connected Grandcamp and Vierville.  The rangers were to hold the ground until relieved by the 116th Infantry Division.  Relief was scheduled for noon on 6 June 1944.

If they failed, the 5th Ranger Battalion would then take up the mission, along with companies A and B of the 2nd Ranger Battalion.  They were scheduled to also land at Pointe du Hoc as reinforcements, assuming the objective was taken by 0700.  If it was deemed the initial assault was a failure, this force was to land at Omaha Beach and move inland to take Pointe du Hoc.

A Landing that Started Off Wrong

At 0445 the rangers were loaded into landing craft that held 22 men per landing craft.  They men and supplies were loaded into 10 landing craft and 4 DUKW’s amphibious vehicles. 

Landing Craft
A DUKW craft used in the D Day Invasion

As they approached the beachhead, they were 3 miles off course, and LTC Rudder realized the error and the landing craft had to travel exposed back to the correct landing site.  By the time they arrived at the objective, 1 landing craft and 2 DUKW’s were sunk. 

They were due to start their assault at 0630, but the currents and navigation errors delayed the landing until 0710.  Since the plan called for the assault to begin at 0630, the naval bombardment stopped at 0625.  This allowed the Germans to regroup and take up some defensive positions.

The Germans, however were slow to reorganize, and this aided the assault.

The first landing crafts made it to Pointe du Hoc at 0710.

Over the Top and Success

Scaling the cliffs was one of the most impressive military feats ever successfully accomplished by a US unit.  Companies D, E and F landed and scaled the cliffs by using rocket-fired grappling hooks attached to ropes.  They developed the scaling techniques primarily by trial and error during their training sessions.  Their training was intense and it paid off—under pressure and enemy fire these soldiers responded despite incredible odds against their success. 

The landing problems resulted in an assault only from the east side of Pointe du Hoc.  The soaked ropes often didn’t reach the top, but finally some worked correctly.  They only had 15 casualties in the initial assault.  The German defenders cut ropes, threw potato mashers, and fired on the exposed soldiers.  Within 15 minutes of landing, the majority of Rudder’s assault force had made it on top of Pointe du Hoc.

Pointe du Hoc 4
Pointe du Hoc Cliffs

Once up top, small groups of ranger went off to accomplish their mission.  They were stunned by the results of the bombardments—one soldier said it looked like the craters of the moon.  It looked nothing like the mock-ups and photos of the site.

Bomb crater Point du Hoc
Bomb crater Point du Hoc

But the biggest surprise were that they 155 mm cannons were missing—the Germans had placed telephone poles in the concrete bunkers to fool the aerial reconnaissance.  The German ruse had worked.

Rudder divided his forces into two units.  One group established a command post in the bunker area.  The second group went off in search of the missing cannons.  They were located, unguarded, in an apple orchard about a mile from Pointe du Hoc.  With thermite grenades, the rangers destroyed the weapons and ammunition supplies.

By 0830, Pointe du Hoc was secured and 5 artillery cannons were destroyed.

Hanging On

Rudder has signaled that he had landed late but the message was garbled and not understood by the commanders at sea.  They committed the reserve ranger to land at Omaha.  Rudder’s group was now on their own.

Later that day, the Germans started their counterattacks.  By night fall, Rudder’s men were forced back into defensive positions of a small 200 yard perimeter.  By 7 June, Rudder had a fighting force of fewer of 100 of the original 225 who had begun the assault.  Ammunition and food were running low.

Rudder held on until 8 June, when the 5th Rangers finally linked up with his force.  His men had withstood 5 counterattacks.

The 2nd Ranger Battalion (a total force of about 560) had 77 killed and 152 wounded and 38 listed as missing.  At the time of the relief, Rudder’s original force of 225 had less than 75 men capable of fighting.

Rudder was wounded twice in the battle and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC). Thirteen other Rangers were awarded the DSC for their roles at Pointe du Hoc. The 2nd Ranger Bn. was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.

Pointe Du Hoc Bayonet Monument
Point du Hoc Ranger Monument
Pointe Du Hoc Bayonet Monument Insciption
Pointe du Hoc Bayonet Monument Inscription

My Final Thoughts

To me, the value of visiting a place like Pointe du Hoc, is to see first-hand the difficulties this unit had to endure to insure the success of the D Day invasion.  Reading about this in history books or blogs just doesn’t due it justice—when you walk the terrain, the hardships and sacrifice leap out at you.  It really is about the best of America military forces—superbly train soldiers, given a near impossible mission, and they triumphed.

Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

WW II Cemeteries and Monuments in Europe

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

May is an important month for the US military.  The 19th is Armed Forces Day and the 28th is the observation of Memorial Day.  I cannot think of a better way to recognize the courage and sacrifice made by our Armed Forces in World War II, than to tell you about the Cemeteries and Monuments dedicated to our Armed Forces in Europe.

There are 13 American cemeteries and 3 monuments in Europe.  According to the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC), there are 89,033 soldiers honored in the 13 cemeteries.  73,177 are buried; 15,856 are listed as missing.  There are 3 monuments maintained by the commission—one in England and 2 in Normandy, France.

To help us learn more about these tributes for our fallen and missing soldiers of WW II, I have organized this by country to help make their unbelievable sacrifice a little more understandable.

This is a hard blog to write—the sheer numbers are staggering.  Despite this tragic tale, these places are dignified and respectful.  It is like Arlington Cemetery where my father and mother are buried—they use similar markers for each deceased, regardless of rank, but each has his or her legacy engraved on the markers.  Here is what a marker looks like in Arlington National Cemetery:

Henry Schrader Gravestone Marker
Henry Schrader Gravestone Marker in Arlington National Cemetery

In Europe, the markers are a cross.  Here is a photo of an unknown American hero:

Unkown Soldier
Unknown Soldier Buried in the Normandy American Cemetery

American Cemeteries in Belgium

There are 2 American Cemeteries in Belgium.  The Ardennes American Cemetery contains 5,317 buried, with 65 percent of those being fallen airmen of the U.S. Army Air Forces. There are also tributes to the 463 reported missing in action.  This cemetery served as the central identification point for all of the Europe Theater of Operations towards the end of the war and continued that mission of identification until 1960.

The Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery has 7,992 soldiers buried here and there is recognition for 450 missing in action.  The majority of the fallen Americans are from two major efforts of WW II.  The first battles were a result of the U.S. First Army’s drive in September 1944 through northern France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg into Germany, and the second group of dead were from the Battle of the Bulge.

The American Cemetery in England

Cambridge American Cemetery is the only American Cemetery in England.  The site was donated by Cambridge University.  3,812 are buried here; there is also tributes to the 5,127 reported missing in action.  Most were crew members who died in the Battle of the Atlantic or in bombardments of Europe later in the war.  In 2014, a visitor center was opened to help explain this critical phase of WW II.  It even has a downloadable app to help visitors learn more about this vital war effort.

American Cemeteries in France

There are 6 American Cemeteries in France. 

The Brittany American Cemetery is located near the eastern edge of Brittany.  Here are buried 4,409 dead soldiers and there is recognition for 500 reported missing in action.  Most of these military members died fighting in the Normandy and Brittany campaigns of 1944.

The Epinal American Cemetery is located near the Moselle River.  It has 5,254 buried her, most of whom lost their lives in the drive by the 7th Army towards Germany in the northeastern portion of France.  It also recognizes 424 missing in action.

The Lorraine American Cemetery contains the largest number of US soldiers killed in Europe—there are 10,489 buried here.  Another 444 were reported missing in action and their names are listed on the plaques displayed here.  Most of the dead here were killed while driving the German forces from the fortress city of Metz, France toward the Siegfried Line and the Rhine River.

The Normandy American Cemetery, perhaps the best known of all WW II cemeteries by Americans, is the final resting place for 9,385 killed and 1,557 reported missing during this campaign.  It lies just yards from the Omaha Beach area.  Walking this area is special—the rows of dignified markers honor these dead.  It was the first cemetery established in Europe by the Americans.  Walking this hallowed ground is a stark reminder of what it took to invade Europe—the sheer number of markers is just overwhelming.  Anne & I led a tour here in 2014 for the 70th Anniversary of D Day (June 6, 1944) and we will lead a tour in 2019 for the 75th Anniversary.  During the 2014 ceremonies, each gave site was marked with a small American and French flag.  It was indeed memorable and touching and a fine tribute to our lost soldiers.

American Cemetery 2
American Cemetery in Normandy with French and American flags

American Cemetery

The Rhone American Cemetery is along the route used by the U.S. Seventh Army in its drive up the Rhone Valley. It was established on August 19, 1944 after the Seventh Army’s surprise landing in southern France.  There are 860 dead buried her and recognition of the 294 missing servicemen who were in this battle area.

The smallest WW II cemetery is near Paris.  The Suresnes American Cemetery is primarily a WW I cemetery, but it also has 24 unknown soldiers killed in WW II buried on the grounds.

Italy

There are 2 American Cemeteries in Italy. 

The Florence American Cemetery has 4,399 soldiers buried here and there is recognition of 1,409 reported missing in action.  These are soldiers of the 5th US Army, who died in the fight to capture Rome and in the heavy fighting battles in the Apennines Mountains that lasted until almost the end of WW II. 

The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery has 7,860 buried in the cemetery and 3,095 are listed on plaques as missing in action.  According to the ABMC website “The majority of these individuals died in the liberation of Sicily (July 10 to August 17, 1943); in the landings in the Salerno Area (September 9, 1943) and the heavy fighting northward; in the landings at Anzio Beach and expansion of the beachhead (January 22, 1944 to May 1944); and in air and naval support in the regions.”

Luxembourg

One of the most well-known cemeteries in Europe by Americans, is the American Cemetery in Luxembourg.  Along with the 5,075 buried here and the 371 reported missing, it is the burial site of LTG George Patton.  Anne and I visited this sacred ground in 1989 while I was still on active duty.  It was truly emotional for me—I was so humbled and grateful for these soldiers.  Many of these soldiers lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge and the subsequent drive to the Rhine River.  My Dad was part of the Battle of the Bulge and he survived—I am sure knowing that made me respected these dead heroes even more.

Luxembourg Cemetery
Luxembourg Cemetery

Netherlands

There is only one American Cemetery in the Netherlands.  It has 8,301 buried here; another 1,722 are listed as missing on the plagues displayed at this site.  According to the AMBC, this cemetery has a unique connection to the Dutch people.   “Since 1945 members of the local community have adopted the grave sites of our fallen. They bring flowers to the cemetery and research the life of the service member as a way to honor their sacrifice.”  It is a nice tribute to those buried here.

Monuments

There are 3 monuments in Europe commemorating the struggles our soldiers endured in route to our victory in Europe.  The first 2 are in the Normandy area.  They are the Point du Hoc Ranger Monument and the Utah Beach American Monument. 

As a graduate of the US Army Ranger School, when I first walked the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, I realized how difficult the climb was from the beach and I just could not imagine completing the climb under hostile fire.  The monument is a ranger trench knife built on top of one of the bunkers of Pointe du Hoc.  The mission of the second ranger battalion was to scale the cliffs and eliminate the 155 mm artillery cannons the Germans had placed on this key defensive position.  In recognition of their successful mission, the monument was created by the grateful French people.

Pointe Du Hoc Bayonet Monument

 

Pointe Du Hoc Bayonet Monument Insciption
Pointe du Hoc Bayonet Monument Inscription

The monument on Utah Beach is a tribute to the successful amphibious assault landing on June 6, 1944.  It commemorates the achievements of U.S. VII Corps forces that landed and fought in the liberation of the Cotentin Peninsula from June 6, 1944 to July 1, 1944.

The monument is a red granite obelisk set in a small park overlooking sand dunes of the historic site.

The newest monument is in Dartmouth, England and was dedicated on June 6, 2017.  Dartmouth was one of the staging points for the D Day invasion.

My Final Thoughts

While researching this blog, I realized how many members of our Armed Forces scarified their lives against nations determined to defeat us and impose their will upon our country.  I hope you will take a few minutes to reflect on this monumental effort and the cost to many who made the ultimate sacrifice.  They deserved to be remembered and honored.  I hope this blog did them justice and I hope you will remember them also. 

May we never forget—be thou at peace to each who gave so much for our country.

Hank Schrader, Major (Infantry) USA Ret.