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Bamberg, Germany

Memorable Moments on Europe’s Rivers with Cruise Director Richard Grey

Cruise Director Richard Grey has years of experience under his belt managing river cruises on Europe’s greatest waterways. At Scenic Luxury River Cruises & Tours, Richard is responsible for keeping guests entertained and ensuring the experience runs as smoothly as the winding Rhine. We caught up with Richard to discuss his favorite moments on National Geographic River Cruises since the establishment of our partnership with Scenic. Read on as Richard reveals his wealth of river expertise and the secret spots he loves returning to year after year.

You must have a lot of knowledge about the destinations you visit. How did you come by it all?

I spent six months studying brochures, even before I was accepted for the job. I went through every brochure on the Rhine, Main, and Danube and made my own files of research, which I still take with me on every cruise. I’m learning new things all the time from the guides, so my files just get bigger and bigger. I’ve now got this little library of information.

Tell us about some of the unexpected parts of river cruising. Are there any sites or experiences on these trips that might surprise guests?

There are lots of little funny museums that you wouldn’t automatically want to go to, but at the end people say, “Well, I’m glad I followed Richard’s lead on it.” Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet in Rüdesheim is one. It’s one of the largest collections of automated or mechanical music boxes in the world. I do it a complete disservice by saying music boxes, because these machines sometimes make you think you’re in front of a two-hundred-piece orchestra. All are completely original and refurbished by the great Siegfried himself, and his son now keeps them going. Sounds like a twee thing to visit but, my word, the smiles on guests’ faces when they come out!

What about small towns or other out-of-the-way places?

There is always a good variety of vibrant cities and smaller towns that are chocolate-box, picture-perfect places. We specialize in making sure that the guests go to places like Marksburg Castle, which dates back to the 11th century—there’s a castle tour and a full medieval banquet with entertainment. We also have a private concert by the Imperial Orchestra at Palais Lichtenstein.

Do you have a favorite culinary experience?

Each country has its specialty. Sausage plays a big role in Germany. Be we in Rothenburg or Nuremberg, every little city and town has its version of a bratwurst that they’re very proud of. And the beer. Germany has so many independent breweries, and guests sample wholeheartedly. In the Netherlands and Slovakia, sometimes we’ll go and have coffee and cake with local families. Anything that can incorporate a human touch, where the guests get the chance to speak to locals—people who are the culture of a place, the energy of a place.

Is there a particular experience on one cruise that you always look forward to?

Well, I love all the cruises, but I do enjoy sailing the Moselle on the Rhine River Cruise: Amsterdam to Basel. As beautiful as the Rhine Gorge is, as beautiful as the Wachau Valley is, to be on the Moselle is like being in a trance for three or four days. The vineyards are some of the steepest in the world, and the river winds around its bends past little, ancient, half-timbered Germanic towns on the water’s edge. We stay overnight in Cochem, where you’ve got the Reichsburg Castle shining down on you. Little fingers branching off the river give guests the chance to go as far as Luxembourg. They have the chance to go to the Alsace region of France. If a cruise has so many variations on places and experiences, that strikes a chord with me.

Do you have any favorite activities that you try to join?

The concerts are a big deal for me, because I adore classical music and opera. It’s such a privilege to sit in the Palais Lichtenstein. I love to share that with the guests, and to see guests coming out of the palace and saying, “Wow. I’m not even a fan of classical music, but I’m glad I went.” I haven’t missed one concert in three years. How else would I get to enjoy that?

Are there any other things that go on behind the scenes that travelers might never know about but contribute to making the experience special?

We have what are referred to as “load-ons,” which is when the food is delivered to the ship. What we’ll have is pretty much every crew member in one long chain, from all the way outside, circling all the way up the gangway, into the ship. Everything is being passed from one crew member to the next, going into the bar area or the galley, or into the reception area, and there’s constant communication between the crew, passing on and on. It’s surprising how quickly eighteen pallets worth of goods can be moved from the quayside promenade and placed on board the ship. That teamwork is second to none, but the guests rarely see it because it happens when they are on tour. Sometimes I’ll take a photograph of the team and show it later on in the cruise, and say, “You were all hungry. This is what we did.”