It’s a very particular moment when you find yourself on the same holiday you remember your parents raving about when you were little.
In this case, it’s a river cruise along the Rhine stopping off at little German towns (they actually couldn’t be more German if they were invented for a film) to do wine tastings, because Mrs Gage has always liked a drop of Riesling. I even remember them bringing me back a little-boy-size pair of lederhosen, which seems a bit kinky now. And she still has the branded wine-tasting glasses they were given as a souvenir. Or stole.
Back then, when Donna Summer reigned supreme and Margaret Thatcher was yet to do her worst, they obviously didn’t have all the benefits of the TUI Maya, a spankingly newly refurbished long, flat cruiser, just three storeys high. They wouldn’t have had Molton Brown bathroom products or on-deck silent discos. Or electronic against-the-clock pub quizzes over martinis, though if there was a martini, the parents most certainly would have had that, just to break up the Reisling.
What would have been the same are these views of the beautiful Rhine gorge – UNESCO Heritage Site beautiful – that glide by while you lay on your bed with your French balcony floor-to-ceiling windows open. And the picturesque churches ridiculously inaccessible at the top of mountains. And villages so sweet you probably couldn’t eat a whole one, some of which you stop off at to roam the cobbled streets for an hour or so.
And this being a 79-cabin job that pulls right into downtown little village there’s none of that big-ship getting on and off palaver. You just step ashore, have your wander, drink local specialities (brandy and coffee and sugar and cream at this time of the day!) or disappear down wine cellars to learn about why Eiswein is so expensive: it’s because the grapes have to naturally freeze on a vine for a certain amount of time and if there’s no frost, you’re screwed. In case you were wondering.
The TUI river cruise is a new thing. They may be the biggest travel company in the world (or something) but when it comes to this, they are very much the new kids on the block. And there is an advantage in being the new kids on the block: not only can you copy what the others are doing well and dodge what they aren’t but you have a huge biggest-travel-company-in-the-world budget to splurge. Which is why there’s a mini-wellness centre complete with a Jacuzzi and sauna with a porthole right onto the water, the sort of thing you never find on river cruises.
The décor is modern but not so modern that it would scare anyone. This is elegance but low-key elegance, not the in-your-face variety you get on the mega-cruise ships. A little spiral staircase with a chandelier your next door neighbour might have, a lounge with muted-colour modular furniture and a huge digital screen (they use the silent disco headphones and huge digital screens to do movie nights under the stars up on deck on balmy evenings) and a restaurant with tablecloths and shined-up glassware, even if there is a more casual café-style bit if you can’t be arsed to dress.
People who have never been on a cruise always turn their noses up. In the industry, they joke that people think it’s for the ‘newly wed, the overfed and the nearly dead’ but this TUI iteration seems geared towards, well, everyone. You can imagine coming with a bunch of mates and having a right lark but if you just went as a couple, you’d at least get talking to everyone else: it’s kind of the law when you’re cruising. And it’s a toe in the water if you’ve been thinking about taking the big-boat plunge. Those huge sea-going ships can be overwhelming, though you soon get used to it.
I mean, look at my mum. Her gateway drug was this exact same cruise back when the Rhine was first invented and now you can’t get her off a ship, not even for a day excursion.
For more information or to book go to tui.co.uk/river-cruises, visit your local TUI holiday store or call 0203 451 2688.