The "Golden Age" of cruising as rediscovered on the MS Deutschland, the European luxury ship steeped in liner tradition.
The Deutschland Imagine the 1932 Greta Garbo film Grand Hotel with one important set change, with the elegant lobby, public areas and guest rooms all floating on a tranquil sea, and you begin to know how a passenger feels on the MS Deutschland. Peter Deilmann Cruises' luxurious ocean liner lives up to its description in the brochure as "a 'grand hotel' reminiscent of the golden era of cruise travel." The film Grand Hotel, incidentally, was based on Berlin's famous Hotel Adlon, badly damaged during World War II and recently rebuilt.
Instead of the long lines and confusion to which Americans are accustomed when embarking on a cruise, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Deutschland's boarding procedure took no more than 15 minutes. On the way to the gangplank, a crew member offered me a glass of Sekt (German sparkling white wine) while the ship's band played Lili Marleen. That set the tone for a leisurely and enjoyable vacation. Deilmann Cruises has been rated in the top small ship cruise lines year after year by readers of Conde Nast Traveler.
Built in 1998, and still looking brand-new, the Deutschland accommodates a maximum of 520 guests. Handsome burled wood combines with satin brocade upholstery and oil paintings in larger than average size staterooms to create a fine European hotel ambience. Bathrooms, with mermaid murals on shower walls, feature Italian marble and brass fixtures. Welcome gifts provide another touch of class-a bottle of French champagne and-handy for shopping during port stops-a Deutschland-logo tote bag.
Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Edwardian decor create a retro look of high style and glamour. Example: the magnificent cut crystal chandelier and ceiling mural in the Emperor's Ballroom. Ornately etched mirrors in the Old Fritz Bar recall early 20th-century grandeur. The centerpiece of the Lili Marleen Salon, popular with guests for after-dinner drinks and piano music, is an oil painting of 1930s/40s cinema superstar Marlene Dietrich. In a setting of potted palms and old-fashioned wicker furniture, afternoon tea is served at the Lido Terrace.
The Berlin Restaurant offers fine international cuisine, including local specialties from countries visited during cruises. For more informal dining, the Lido Gourmet, with its stunning Tiffany-type stained glass ceiling, features a sumptuous buffet. Eight-course gourmet dinners (allow two to three hours) are served in the exquisite, candlelit Four Seasons Restaurant. There's no extra charge but reservations are required.
You'll never be at a loss for something to do. English-language classic and more recent movies are shown in the cinema and on in-room TVs. Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief and Meg Ryan in French Kiss were among recent offerings. Guests enjoy Las Vegas-style review shows, concerts and dance music in the Emperor's Ballroom. English-language newspapers, as well as books and computers, are available at the Adlon Library. Not to be missed: a visit to the bridge with the intricacies of operating the ship explained by one of the officers.
For the ultimate in relaxation, Wellness Spa staffers recommend a 60-minute full-body massage, Thalasso Therapy or a Cleopatra hot bath with rosebuds and oils. Also available: Roman bath-styled indoor pool, sauna, and the full spectrum of treatments. Precor treadmills, stairmasters and rowing machines make the Sports Center a state-of-the-art facility. Weather permitting, walking a nautical mile around Deck 9, swimming in the outdoor saltwater pool, shuffleboard, table tennis, skeet shooting, golf putting and just relaxing on a teakwood deck chair are popular activities.
World-class shopping takes on a new dimension with such luxuries as a 45,000-Euro (approximately $58,500) Glasshütte man's wristwatch Or, more down-to-earth: a Fossil-brand lady's watch is priced at 60 Euros. Other tempting items in the duty-free shops include Paul and Shark Italian men's yachting wear, ladies' clothing by internationally-known designer Lisa Campione, Mont Blanc pens and Ray-Ban sunglasses.
Tables are reserved for English-speaking guests at the captain's cocktail party, with translators provided during his welcoming talk. They can also request seating at tables with other English-speaking guests in the Berlin Restaurant. One of the most enjoyable experiences for Americans on a Deutschland cruise, however, is getting acquainted with some of the European (mostly German) passengers. Dining in the Lido Gourmet, where there are no separate tables, is a good opportunity to do so. There's almost never a language barrier-most of the European passengers speak excellent English.
Disembarking is surprisingly easy. No pushing, shoving or long waits to get off the ship. Passengers are called to the reception area according to the times of their homebound flights. I was personally escorted to a waiting taxi by a ship's staff member, and when I arrived at the Lisbon airport, a Deutschland representative helped me through the entire check-in process. She even walked me to an escalator and told me my flight's gate was on the next level, just a few steps to the left-a "dream" departure from a "dream" ship. The Deutschland is used in Germany's popular TV series, Das Traumschiff (The Dream Ship), similar to the American Love Boat series.
Itineraries include ports in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, South Africa, Egypt and other popular destinations. Shore excursion packages with English-speaking guides can be purchased in advance at substantially lower rates than excursions purchased individually onboard.
Cruise-only rates, in the current brochure, which runs through April 14, 2008, (excluding the March 2007 Canary Island sailings which are sold out) begin at $3,355, double occupancy. Port charges and air taxes are additional. Free round trip air transportation from 17 U.S. cities and low air supplements from an additional 34 cities in the Midwest and West are being offered on 20 sailings in 2007. These sailings also offer free shore excursions, valued up to $600 per person, and free airport-ship transfers. For passengers who prefer to arrange their own air, there's a $750 reduction in the cruise fare.
For a free video or brochure, call (800) 348-8287. Visit www.deilmann-cruises.com for more information about the Deutschland as well as the company's four-and five-star European river cruises.