Despite the luxurious surroundings, I find that bar prices are not at all expensive. Each guest on a seven-night cruise receives €150 onboard drinks credit, increasing to €200 for longer stays. Cocktails are around €5 and a bottle of beer €3.30. Plus, there are several party nights with live entertainment and a free bar all evening.
You won’t pay for any food on board either, so whether you’re dining in one of the four speciality restaurants, taking afternoon tea in the Belvedere lounge café (the chocolate and coffee gateaux are divine), having afternoon waffles by the pool, or just fancy a sandwich in your room, it’s all complimentary. My one gripe is that smoking is allowed in several areas of the ship, including balconies. Tea and cake al fresco becomes so much less appealing when your neighbour is puffing cigar smoke in your direction.
In all the restaurants, the emphasis is on quality ingredients, beautifully presented. The Yacht Club on deck nine features a huge buffet at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast is particularly impressive, with hams carved from the bone and an endless selection of fruit, cereal, breads, pastries and hot breakfasts made to order. If you prefer table service, the ship’s largest restaurant, Weltmeere, features beautifully set tables and enormous pink Murano glass lights that dominate the circular room like huge, spiky tentacles. Dinner dress is casual (jacket but no tie) in all the restaurants and diners are encouraged to choose whatever they like from the menu that, like most on board, isn’t traditionally laid out in starters, main courses and desserts but into lighter dishes, soups, maybe pasta, and meat and fish courses.
We start with a tiny, delicate sliver of smoked salmon and move on to paper thin lamb carpaccio on a delicious ratatouille base, a sorbet course served with Champagne, and then a perfectly cooked entrecôte with foie gras. Each course is just a few mouthfuls but the attention to detail is superb. Desserts are delectable and I could happily have licked several plates. The wine list is impressive and the ship’s cellars hold in excess of 7,500 bottles of red, 6,000 bottles of white and 2,000 bottles of Champagne – even more on Christmas cruises. Wine tastings with the sommelier can be arranged at an extra cost. As well as Weltmeere and Tarragon, guests can choose to dine in Serenissima, an elegant Italian restaurant, or Asian-inspired Elements. There’s also Sakura, a sushi and fish restaurant. You can reserve for the evening, and there are plenty of tables for two, removing the need for enforced dining with your fellow guests if you’re travelling as a couple and not feeling sociable.
As you would expect, in-suite information is beautifully presented, and a thick card Programme of the Day arrives every evening showing port information, excursions, a schedule of activities and special offers around the ship. So if you fancy some pampering, you can visit the beautiful Ocean Spa for a sauna (naked – this is a German ship), or book one of many treatments available featuring Thalgo and Dermalogica products. Sporty? There’s a state-of-the-art fitness studio featuring yoga and Spinning, or if golf’s your game, a specialist golf simulator with the resident PGA pro (lessons and swing analysis are available at an extra charge). I seem to have forgotten my trainers so I plump for a free gin tasting in the Herrenzimmer (literally ‘gentlemen’s room’, but it seems I’m allowed in) which is incredibly informative and tremendous fun too. I leave with a spring in my step (or possibly a slight wobble) and a list of new gins to try.