Last year we took a Mediaeval Germany cruise with Riviera Travel, on one of their newest vessels, the Jane Austen, along the Rhine and Main rivers.
We were a group of eight friends, and two of us were solo travellers so Riviera’s policy of allocating a few single cabins on each cruise with no single supplement was a great incentive to book early, which we did and secured excellent cabins for all of us, including one each for our single travellers.
The flights to Germany were from Heathrow, nobody’s favourite airport, but the rebuilt Terminal 2 was a pleasant surprise. Light, airy and uncrowded with the departure gate only a short walk from the airside restaurant in which had lunch, instead of the normal one-mile hike. And the Lufthansa flight was pleasant: comfortable seats, punctual arrival and, most unusually, a complimentary sandwich and drink.
The Riviera rep met us at Frankfurt airport, ushered the party to the coach and on our arrival at the boat the luggage was efficiently dealt with and all our cases carried promptly to our cabins.
The Rhine was very low (apparently the Jane Austen’s previous cruise had been cancelled due to low water) and we were told the boat was actually resting on the river bed in Mainz where we joined the cruise. Fortunately, this was not a problem for the captain who got us on our way with no trouble. Once we were in the Main River/Canal, the numerous locks ensured the water level was always consistent.
Cabins were very well appointed with plenty of storage space and a particularly well-designed semi-circular shower with doors which folded back internally, so the bathroom was also roomier than some we have known. Air conditioning was excellent and easy to control and the stewards kept the cabins impeccable. And every cabin had a kettle (!) with ample English Breakfast teabags and real milk. So wonderful to be able to make a cup of tea in the morning without trekking in one’s dressing gown to the coffee/tea stations. Other cruise lines have always told us that safety rules prohibit kettles in cabins – obviously debatable. If Riviera can do it, why can’t their competitors? This will be a question I shall ask in future!
Another very welcome feature was the offer of an iron and ironing board delivered to the cabin to press all our crumpled clothes as they came out of the suitcase, unlike most cruise lines which charge a fee to press items.
All the on-board personnel were helpful and efficient. Our waiters were great, the hotel manager and reception staff helpful and responsive, our cabin stewards exceptional and the ‘sailors’ invariably pleasant and helpful, rushing to help with carrying luggage and assisting passengers on and off the boat/coaches etc.
The cruise itinerary definitely lived up to our expectations, visiting some lovely mediaeval towns and villages. The orientation talks before visits were helpful and good maps and information were always available
We had informative local guides to show us around Wurzburg, Bamberg and Nuremberg. Wertheim and Miltenberg were delightful small villages and a pleasure to discover by ourselves. But gorgeous Rothenburg is of course the jewel in the crown and absolutely breathtaking. It is 38 years since I was last there and it was delightful to see how beautifully preserved it has been kept – one can almost feel that the stage coach has just dropped you off at the town hall. Very touristy of course, but absolute magic.
The only place we did not enjoy was Markbreit – in fact it was difficult to see why we stopped there. The town was deserted, with the few shops closed and shuttered, nowhere to get a coffee and a definite impression that the inhabitants might have been kidnapped by aliens. We would have preferred more time in Rothenberg or Bamberg.
We covered a lot of miles, mainly sailing at night, which seemed eminently sensible given we passed through 43 locks and, after the novelty of the first few has worn off, locks are intrinsically very boring. The boat’s engines were very quiet and did not disturb our slumbers.
However, although we were informed in advance, it was unfortunate that the itinerary dictated that most of the sun deck had to be closed for much of the journey, due to low bridges, which meant that the public areas of the boat could get very crowded indeed.
Nightly entertainment was low-key but enjoyable. The pianist in the lounge was very proficient and played a wide variety of easy listening music to suit all tastes and the two quizzes were fun. The show put on by the staff was excellent – somewhat cynically we were expecting something resembling the Gang Show so were agreeably surprised by the very talented crew.
Breakfast was very good. Full English breakfast available and always hot and well cooked. Individual teapots with English Breakfast tea made with boiling water, rather than the usual continental style of a glass of warm water with a camomile tea bag in a saucer. A real effort was made to cater to, and meet the expectations of, their largely British clientele.
Those who for some odd reason preferred the continental breakfast – aka bread and jam – were also well catered for with a selection of cold meats and cheese also on offer.
Food at lunch and dinner was variable. Some dishes were very well cooked – especially steak and pork dishes, whilst others were unappetising, in particular pasta and vegetarian dishes which were often served lukewarm. However, there was sufficient choice for everyone to choose something from the several courses on offer – no one went hungry and most of us ate far too much. And there was a great choice of delicious puddings.
One evening we booked for dinner in the small Lido restaurant in the bow, which was a very enjoyable occasion but as it was a set menu which never changed we did not repeat the experience – nor were guests encouraged to do so as the intention was understandably for as many people as possible to have the opportunity to dine there.
In short, Riviera knows its target demographic extremely well and caters skilfully for its clients. We very much enjoyed our holiday and the cost was comparable with other companies we have travelled with – base price was cheaper but after tips and drinks (and no on-board credit) the cost was very similar, with a very well-appointed boat and a carefully considered and interesting itinerary.