8 days – Rhine, Strasbourg and Heidelberg
This was our first river cruise so weren’t quite sure what to expect – how different is it from the Cruise & Maritime Voyages trip last year down the coast of France, Spain and Portugal? Will it be as good as it looks in the brochure? Well, we were not disappointed.
Riviera Travel has an excellent reputation as a 5-star provider of river cruises, especially in Europe, and this one down the river Rhine is a perfect way to see beautiful medieval towns, castles and lush vegetation as we travelled through the spectacular Rhine Gorge.
The MS Jane Austen is very comfortable throughout the public areas, spacious lounge and bar, and the dining room. Around 140 guests are accommodated on three decks, the standard cabins below well appointed with shallow windows along the top of the outer wall. Plenty of light comes in and you can see the changing shoreline as you sail by, albeit with a close-up view of the river’s surface though not as bad as it sounds! The middle and upper decks are better, of course, with French windows though no balcony as such. Maid service is excellent, at least three times a day, so everything is clean and tidy as you would expect from 5* service.
As it is a smaller boat, it is much more intimate and less formal than the larger cruise ships, with a free choice of where to sit for meals. The two Riviera Travel tour reps, Eric and Barbara, gave a briefing every day on what the next day’s excursion would be, including instructions for finding our coaches and to remember the individual Vox Box devices to hear the tour guides.
You cannot fault either Eric or Barbara for their expert knowledge about the Rhine and its history. Even on the days we were travelling between stop-off points, lounging gracefully on the sun deck (or in the cooler lounge areas as we were in the grip of a heatwave July 2018), legends associated with ancient castles were described in detail complete with names and dates from past centuries.
First impressions on day one – nice boat, welcoming, well-organised for pick-up and reception and taking you to your cabin. No luggage yet as dinner was already available, so most people just went to eat. You can sit anywhere in the dining room and the very helpful staff explained how the system worked – order soup and the main but help yourself to salad and dessert bar – and we loved Andrei who knew exactly what our preferred drinks were after just one meal!
We decided on the Drinks Package in the end for drinks at lunch and dinner although you must register for this at least 48 hours before the cruise. Not sure if it is worth it as it doesn’t include bar drinks, but it works out fine if you plan on 2-3 drinks each at dinner plus a couple at lunch. Actually, bar prices are not bad with 150ml glass of house wine €2.75 and a 100ml glass of sparkling wine €3.50, so you could choose not to take the package and not be too disappointed. However, we made the most of it with glass of rose with the starter from the salad bar and a glass of red with the main – very tender steak in slices rather than a chunk, and salmon with a jacket potato. These are perfect portion sizes for us, not too much, but you can always ask for more vegetables if you need to.
At the end of the first evening we were happy, good food and wine and chatting with other guests at dinner. It is fascinating hearing why others have chosen this trip. Some have done lots of sea cruises, but this was the first river cruise for several people. We ended the evening sitting on deck at 10.40pm waiting to sail.
Did the trip meet our expectations? Yes, this is definitely a better sailing experience than on bigger sea/coastal cruises. I couldn’t believe how stable it feels and looked out of the window several times during the night to check that we were actually moving! It was such a comfortable, relaxing way to visit so many places along the magical Rhine and we did get the most out of our 8 days.
We did almost all of the included excursions, occasionally just exploring on our own, and it was worth signing up for the extra trip to see the largest wine barrel in the world and the mind-boggling world of mechanical musical instruments. We were exceptionally lucky that it was so warm during our trip, enjoying some wonderful balmy evenings when we could go ashore after dinner or just relax on the moon-lit sundeck.
Though mainly entertained by pianist Laszlo in the lounge bar, and a few team quizzes for the competitive guests, the highlight has to be the Crew Show. A fantastic show with the oddest Cinderella ever presented, a spoof restaurant sketch, and a brilliant group performance by six perfectly-timed energetic performers. We are not generally bothered about ‘entertainment’ offered, although we know that some people look forward to this aspect of a longer cruise, but this was certainly a show not to be missed.
The only issue is the Drinks Package which does not include all drinks aboard. A lot of individuals did complain either because they were mis-sold this element by their travel agent, or when they realized how much you need to drink to make it worth-while. I think this may be a critical element that needs to be dealt with, maybe increasing the amount per person to include all drinks, as it was the only topic that got any negative comments from guests.
In any event, we were delighted with our river cruise and will certainly choose this option again in the future. So many places to see – wine regions of France, maybe Budapest to the Black Sea – who knows?
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Riviera Travel – River Cruises