KOBLENZ, Germany | We are heading upriver on the Rhine, one of Europe's mightiest and most important waterways, but aside from the quiet whirl of the bathroom fan in my room, there is no noise. To port, on a hilltop, Marksburg castle glides soundlessly past.
I'm lying abed aboard the Premicon Queee (renamed the Tui Queen this summer), admiring the castle through my cabin's floor-to-ceiling windows. From my guidebook I learn that the fortress was begun about 1100 and expanded over the next six centuries, that it was the only one in the region to escape the depredations of the French king Louis XIV's invasion in 1689, and that its armoury, kitchens and torture chambers are all intact. Having absorbed these facts I toss the book aside and return to watching the river go by.
If I were so inclined I could slide open the room's double doors and listen to the gentle slap of water against the ship's hull, or I could rouse myself and go topside, to the Skydeck. Maybe I will around two this afternoon, when they serve the riesling as we pass Lorelei Rock.
For those used to the monster-sized ocean-cruise ships, the Premicon Queen is rather underwhelming, except for the almost monastery-like quietness it achieves thanks to a form of construction that separates its engines from the "hotel" portion. But if you only know other river-bound sightseeing boats, this one is a delightful revelation. Launched in 2008, it's the most luxurious cruise ship on the Rhine. More than 20 vessels offer overnight cruises on some portion of the river, especially the 65-kilometre-long portion between Koblenz and Bingen that's been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and includes 28 castles). But only the Premicon Queen comes with a sommelier, a concierge and a butler.
Arian Schneider is the butler. For those passengers in one of the Premicon Queen's four Queen Suites, Schneider is on 24-hour call. This morning, for example, he was roused from sleep at 5:30 a.m. by a request for coffee and extra pillows. Eighteen minutes later, suited, clean-shaven, tie beautifully knotted, he arrived with steaming mocha and fluffed pillows.
"My task is to fulfill wishes," he says. That can be anything from polishing shoes and doing laundry to arranging in-suite dinners with fresh-cut flowers. On shore visits he'll lead his charges to the best shops and carry their purchases.
Those not in the four Queen Suites will still feel pampered. With only 102 passengers served by a staff of 58, the Premicon Queen seems to have someone every few metres to greet you by name and ask after your needs. Mealtimes in particular are orgies of being fawned over by the staff. Those needing more attention can visit the ship's small spa with its sauna, Jacuzzi and treatment rooms.