Christmas Market Cruise Onboard the A-Rosa Silva

We sailed with A-Rosa on the Silva.  A 186 passenger river cruise ship down the Rhine River roundtrip from Cologne (Köln) to see several of the German Christmas Markets. It was the “Rhine Christmas Markets All-Inclusive Premium International” cruise.

We choose A-Rosa for two reasons: 1) they market themselves as “family friendly” and allow small children on board and 2) price. It was very inexpensive.  Very few river cruise lines allow children as young as 5-years old.  As for price, we were debating between a river cruise or renting a car and driving from town to town and hotel to hotel.  The luxury cruise lines like AMAWaterways, etc were more expensive than what we wanted to spend on this trip.  A-Rosa was about the same cost as renting a car and five nights hotels; plus A-Rosa included three meals a day, alcoholic drinks, and the convenience of moving in and unpacking once for the duration of our trip.  So, we booked our “floating hotel” and didn’t need to rent a car, or worry about getting from town to town.

Even though A-Rosa is a German cruise line that caters to German customers, our cruise was marketed as an “International” cruise.  This meant that the cruise was bilingual: all literature was printed in German and English, all staff on board spoke both languages, and excursions were offered in both languages (with a minimum number of participants required).  

What could go wrong?

The Ship and Staterooms

The decor on board the ship is hideous. As the saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, well, the green, purple, and gold motif is not my cup of tea. Despite the questionable design and color scheme, the ship was very clean and appeared well maintained.

The layout of the ship is not good in my opinion. On the main deck, half of the ship is dedicated to staterooms, and the front have contains the dining room, bar, and lounge. There is no exterior space on this deck. As discussed in the Dining section of this post, the dining room is not big enough to accommodate all guests, and the lounge is even smaller. The spa in in the belly of the ship on the lower deck. The upper deck is outside and offers tables and chairs and a small swimming pool. This cruise, however, was mid-December and it was too cold and rainy to use the exterior deck. This means, you had the lounge to hang out in, or your stateroom. There was no other place to go on the ship.

The staterooms were very clean and comfortable. The rooms are small, but no different than the staterooms on any other river cruise line that we’ve traveled on. There was a safe inside the closet and a spare blanket.

Housekeeping will only provide two towels per stateroom, no extras. Washcloths are not provided, but we found that in the public bathroom in the lobby, they provided washcloths to dry your hands. You could “borrow” a couple of washcloths from that bathroom.

Basic housekeeping is provided every other day, not daily. On a 5-day cruise, we had housekeeping twice. They do not change the sheets, they just make the bed, empty your trash can, and vacuum the floor.

Plumbing Problems

But, there were major plumbing issues on board.  One of our friends who we traveled with had no hot water for the entire duration of the cruise.  One of our two staterooms we had had sewage leaking into the bathroom.  Despite complaining about this daily, the only remedy offered was for housekeeping to come and mop up the sewage; they never fixed the leak. We ran out of potable water entirely twice during the cruise.  On our final day, we were not able to take a shower before leaving the ship because there was no water at all.  


The dining situation is absolutely horrible.  There are 186 passengers on board, but only 140 total seats available between the two dining rooms. Furthermore, guests are allowed to reserve tables.  A party of two is allowed to reserve a table of four which further reduced the available seating.  A reserved table is reserved for the entire dining period (which is already pretty short at just two hours) and remains reserved during the entire dining period regardless of when the party shows up to eat, if at all.  If you do not reserve a table, you are left with no where to sit!  This is an absolutely idiotic system.  When we complained that there was no seating available we were told we could go sit in the lounge.  When we took our dinner plates into the lounge we were told we were not allowed to eat a meal in there.  Eventually we learned that in order to get a table that we needed to arrive to the dining room 15 minutes before the meal began in order to get one of the few unreserved tables.  

The food was pretty good most of the time, but even after just five days on board, the selection started to feel redundant.  I’m not an expert on German cuisine, but I would say that the food served was typical German food.

If you are unable to eat during the posted meal times, you will have no choice but to starve. There is no food offered whatsoever on the ship outside of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. No room service, no snacks, nothing.


Our itinerary for the trip was as follows:

  • Strasbourg
  • Cologne
  • Rudesheim
  • Speyer
  • Strasbourg
  • Mainz
  • Koblenz
  • Cologne

Due to high water levels on the Rhine, we were unable to make it to Strasbourg. Instead, the ship diverted to Frankfurt, and we took a train to Heidelburg on our own.

We were frequently in port early in the morning and departing in the afternoon before dinner.  For a Christmas Market Cruise, it would have been nice to reverse that so guests could be in town in the evening when the markets are lighted and full of people.  We were in a couple of towns so early, the Christmas Markets weren’t even open yet. With afternoon port departures, we frequently felt rushed in town.

The A-rosa mobile app, the digital board with the schedule, printed materials and the cruise director frequently listed different, conflicting times for when we would be in port or when excursions were leaving.  They must be consistent.  When we diverted to Frankfurt the printed materials said we would be leaving Frankfurt at midnight.  We actually left before dinner.  We had taken a train to Heidelberg.  Thankfully we asked a staff member before we left the ship otherwise we would have missed the boat. 

Excursions & Tours

We paid for excursions even though we didn’t know if the excursion would take place until the moment of the excursion. This is because A-Rosa requires a minimum number of participants in order to have the excursion.   If A-Rosa is not able to honor an excursion reservation it would be nice to know that well in advance so we could make plans with a 3rd party other than A-Rosa.  Unfortunately A-Rosa does not think like that; if there was not enough English speakers interested in any excursion, it would be canceled.

Most of the Excursions are walking tours through town and would last 1-2 hours. This is typical of any river cruise. All of the tours are provided by third party companies. The guides all spoke English quite well, and most of them gave a nice tour the town we were in.

On one excursion, the Mainz Wine Tasting Tour, both Germans and English were grouped together.  The tour guide would speak for several minutes in German, and then say 2 or 3 sentences in English.  Fortunately, other bilingual guests on the excursion realized what was happening and were able to relay to us what the guide was omitting from the English portion of his tour.  We felt gypped and quickly lost interest in the tour.

Even though we paid for an excursion, we had to purchase headphones in order to hear the guide.  This felt cheap on behalf of A-Rosa to charge guests 3 Euro for a headset when we’ve just spent over 600 Euro on excursions. 

The “A-Rosa Premium All Inclusive” Lie

The cruise was marketed as “All-inclusive” but it is NOT.  We were offered an extremely limited drink menu of one red wine, a white wine, two beers, coffee and tea.  The rest of the bar menu was available for an additional charge.  There was a fee for excursions.  There was a fee for table reservations.  This is NOT “All-inclusive” and that phrase should be removed from their marketing materials.  It’s misleading and deceptive. 

The marketing lists the following as party of the “All inclusive” package most of which was false marketing…a lie:

Let’s review these unfulfilled promises one by one:

“Indulge all day, every day with gourmet buffets”

FALSE:  Buffets are not available all day.  In fact, there is NO FOOD available at all outside of the limited dining hours and the afternoon tea. A-rosa competitors will have coffee, tea, and snacks available 24/7.  How hard is it to leave out a kettle of hot water and make tea available throughout the day?  Or leave out a tray of cookies.  It’s a small, inexpensive gesture that will elevate A-Rosa from a budget “no-frills” experience to a slightly more luxurious experience.

“High-quality drinks included throughout the day”

FALSE:  As stated above, only a very basic an limited offering of drinks is available.  They even close down and block off the tea except during meals and the afternoon tea.  Why can’t someone have a cup of tea after dinner?  Why block this from guests?

15 % discount on SPA ROSA treatment

There was no mention of the Spa at any time during our voyage. 

Transfers between train station/ airport and ship

FALSE:  While there was a bus to take us from the train station to the ship at the beginning of the cruise in Cologne, that was not available at the end of the cruise.  The staff offered to arrange for a taxi at our expense. 

“At dinner, you will have the choice between buffets or a-la-carte dining, plus we’ll have Welcome & Farewell dinners”

FALSE:  There was no “a-la-carte” dining whatsoever.  I even asked about this and was told that there was only a buffet.  Dinner was served on the first day and last day, but there was nothing special about it to make it a “Welcome” or “Farewell” dinner… they were just regular meals.

“Unique Destination Scouts who give insider tips, so you can make the most of your holiday”

FALSE:  There was no insider tips given. The port talks were sparse and offered very little information about the upcoming port other than a map of where we “might” be docked and how to walk to town.

“Immersive onboard entertainment”

FALSE:  There was no onboard entertainment. None.

“Complimentary room service in every cabin grade”

FALSE:  There was no room service available.  No food whatsoever was available outside of the dining hours.


When the cruise was over, we left the ship and the gangway to exit the ship was not lit.  We had to leave the ship carrying all of our luggage in the pitch black.  The gangway deposited us on a muddy patch of grass.  A-Rosa needs to provide lighting and setup the ramp so guests can walk out onto pavement, not a mud puddle.  It was a serious safety issue.

Customer Service and Booking

Booking the cruise should have been an indicator of how English-speakers would be treated on board.  I called A-Rosa over 12 times and was hung up on repeatedly and was unable to ever speak to an English-speaking customer service agent.  I even asked, in German, if there was someone available who could speak English and was told there wasn’t.  Eventually, I had a friend, who is fluent in German, call on my behalf to get my questions answered and I booked the cruise online. The website has several bugs which made reserving excursions a near impossible task. Entering our passenger details uncovered a different bug in which the website would randomly change the birthday whenever you clicked “Save” to save the data.  I resorted to emailing customer service, but it frequently took two weeks to receive a response from Customer Service.  Many of our emails were never responded to at all.


I have sailed on many river cruises in the past.  With kids sailing for free, this made for this to be a very inexpensive sailing compared to other cruise lines.  In hindsight, I would prefer to pay a little bit more money and receive a higher quality experience.  For four people to sail in two staterooms for about 3600 Euro is an extremely good value. For this, I do not look down on A-Rosa… I got what I paid for.  I think, however, A-rosa can make a few changes that would have a huge impact on their service and the experience that your guests receive.  Especially since they seem to be trying to expand beyond the German market and try to attract more English speaking vacationers. 

A-Rosa is a low-end budget cruise line. If you’ve sailed with Viking, AMAWaterways, Avalon and expect that same experience on A-Rosa you will be disappointed. If, like us, you are just looking for a floating hotel and not any kind of on-board experience, it would fit the bill.

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