A-Rosa Sena Christmas cruise review: from freshly-made stroopwafels to Christmas markets

World of Cruising's James Gambling embarks on a five-night "Rhine Christmas Markets City Experience" with A-Rosa onboard A-Sena - read on to find out exactly how he got on.

I’m barely through the door, having thrown down my work bag and plonked myself on the sofa when my wife asks, “do you fancy going on a river cruise?”

Albeit slightly taken aback, as I had no previous inclination that she has ever considered this, but it was the perfect solution to a cold, dark winter as well as the ideal way to get into the Christmas spirit.

“Of course” was my reply, and so it began. We were soon then booked on A-Rosa Sena’s first Christmas Markets cruise in November.

Fast forward four weeks, and we are here in Cologne greeted by the magnificent structure of the Dom Cathedral. If you’ve never seen this awesome building, you’re in for a treat as its imposing architecture, growling gargoyles and dark grey walls greet you as you exit the station.

Delving deeper into the city, we are delighted to find not one, but two Christmas markets full of all that you’d expect. From festive treats of gluhwein, sweet pastries and traditional savoury snacks to trinkets and other gifts, you could happily spend a few hours just milling around.

However, my wife and I don’t have that much time as we excitedly prepare to board A-Rosa Sena, our home for the next five nights.

A-ROSA SENA possesses impressive sustainability credentials. Credit: A-ROSA

Splendid Sena

Launched in summer 2022, Sena can carry up to 280 guests when full, with a team of 85 super-helpful multi-national crew onboard.

Measuring over 130 metres in length, she is one of the largest ships on the Rhine. However, what is equally, if not more impressive, is the fact that Sena is one of the cleanest ships in the river cruise industry.

So, what makes it so sustainable? The fundamental difference with Sena is that it uses an E-Motion concept. In practice, this means that it combines a diesel engine with an electric motor, powered by batteries, allowing extra energy generated by the diesel engine to be stored and used when necessary.

Therefore, the ship can switch to battery power when arriving and departing from ports. While docked, it can also connect to shore power.

As a result, we aren’t surprised when any movement or vibration is virtually impossible to notice, in fact, we had to alert some of our bar buddies to the fact that we were moving a couple of times, only discernible by moving lights on the banks.

We also noticed that A-Rosa goes out of its way to reduce plastic use and waste throughout the ship and in passenger facilities.

Cabins are located on decks one, two and three. Credit: James Gambling

As for the all-important cabins, we are located on deck three, with most passenger cabins situated on decks two and three and these cabins are identical.

Spacious family cabins are located on deck one where you’ll also find the superbly fitted spa and gymnasium and the kid’s club.

In fact, A-Rosa would be an excellent choice when travelling with children as the kid’s club is staffed even if there’s just one child onboard. There’s also a plethora of activities, films, games and entertainment aimed at the age of the children on each sailing and well-appointed cabins we’ve not seen better facilities on river cruises.

Or you can treat yourself to a suite cabin, with a small collection of this cabin class located on deck four towards the aft of the ship or close to the main lounge.

Back to us, our cabin is a D-class outside cabin and it’s superb, measuring 21 square metres with all that we could possibly want.

Our en-suite shower room is stocked with A-Rosa’s toiletries, and the rest of the cabin features a comfortable settee, a dressing table with a large mirror, a huge and comfortable bed and a balcony.

Go to the spa for a range of massages and treatments. Credit: James Gambling

As the evening rolls around, we head down to the speciality restaurant serving steak and seafood – my stomach is rumbling at just the thought.

We stock up on the freely poured speciality wines and enjoy sushi, steak tartare, fillet steak and teriyaki salmon – of course, we had just about enough room for dessert and savoured crème brulee and cheesecake.

At 39 euros per person, we certainly got our money’s worth, but we equally enjoy the buffet that we indulge in the next night – with the same quality of food and wine.

We are quick to learn that life onboard A-Rosa Sena is not dull by any means. There are classes during the day including a wine and chocolate matching held in The Winery, lessons from the chef on salmon pickling and in warmer climes of course there is the expansive sun deck with its two swimming pools, the larger of the two definitely worth a dip.

During good weather, the crew also open the bar on the sundeck so there’s never far to go to find that drink.

The spa and gym are also excellent and staffed by wonderful crew who are able to give treatments and massages to help you relax after that busy day’s sightseeing or just because you want it.

The atmosphere stands out straight away, the international mix of guests from the UK, Germany, France and the United States all enjoy each other’s company.

Rotterdam features a unique fusion of old and new architecture. Credit: Shutterstock

A joyous journey down the Rhine

After the excitement of Cologne, our standards are high for the next port of call – Rotterdam.

As the ship berths just a stone’s throw from the city centre, we are welcomed by an eclectic mix of buildings from the Cube Houses, one of Rotterdam’s most iconic attractions, which are literally cubes tilted by 45 degrees. Yes – as strange as it sounds.

But we are focused on visiting Rotterdam’s Markthal which is a residential and office building with a generous food market within. Options of oriental, sausages, coffees and chocolates abound however we choose to try the freshly made stroopwafels, thin slices of cookie held together with a caramel filling.

Sure, you can buy these in local supermarkets in the UK, but you cannot buy these in local supermarkets in the UK. You have to try them freshly made, hot and oozing with gorgeous caramel sauce.

The next day we sail onto Amsterdam, where a wide range of excursions are available - from half and full-day excursions and evening canal cruises, there was something available for everyone.

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Utrecht is a stand-out port of call. Credit: Shutterstock

After walking from the ship into town we head away from the centre towards De Pijp district which is well worth visiting. Originally constructed in the 19th century it’s now a thriving community and has the biggest street market in The Netherlands.

From clothing to fresh seafood there’s something there for everyone. Easily accessible by walking (45 minutes from the central station) or you could use Amsterdam’s frequent tram or underground services.

In addition to the market, there are some lovely bars and restaurants and for those that want to know they’re in the Amsterdam there is also a small red-light district.

We then wander around some of Amsterdam’s main shopping district and picturesque canal – top tip, make sure you keep your eyes open for trams, bikes and now electric bikes which seem to come at you from every angle, but this doesn’t take away from the stunning scenery that surrounds us.

Utrecht is also another highlight, with a charm of its own. We admire the locals arranging their gifts for Sinterklaas, a Dutch festival that happens on St. Nicholas’ Eve (5th December) where gifts are exchanged with loved ones. We love this city so much that we make a mental note to return to soak up some quieter canal-city life.

Discover the festive spirit in Cologne. Credit: Getty Images

After a day full of exploration, we sail out of Utrecht and look forward to cruising back to Cologne with memories of 3 Dutch cities across five-nights fresh in our minds.

It’s all gone by far too quickly and A-Rosa has done nothing to help our diet with the food, drink and service that they’ve bestowed upon us.

We would always recommend that you book your A-Rosa cruise with a reputable tour operator in the UK where you can book an inclusive package with transfers and flights. We used Newmarket Holidays who were excellent with their arrangements and documentation keeping us well-informed throughout.

To summarise - travel with A-Rosa for excellent food, service, accommodation and a relaxed feeling. You’ll also love the line if you’re happy to talk to people, like a mix of international guests, want something that’s a bit less ‘group organised’ and a family cruise with a difference.

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