River cruising with Riviera Travel: a relaxing holiday where the scenery comes to you.
The designer of the Riviera Travel river cruise ship MS Jane Austen is a real master at the art of quarts-into-pint pottery. In a space of about 110 by 11 metres, over three storeys, they’ve squeezed in an impressive array of amenities for cruising comfort. This was our first river cruise and we were looking forward to seeing the Rhine from the water, and visiting lots of places without all that packing and unpacking. The ship is in essence a floating hotel, and is used as one out of season for winter conference guests in various cities.
Starting with our cabin, this was a standard suite, with ensuite bathroom. There was a good sized bed, a small desk and a chair and ample wardrobe space. Full height windows can be opened so we could enjoy a bit of privacy as we watched the riverbank slide past (cabins on the bottom deck only have small windows). As well as everything you would expect, including a kettle and teabags for that early morning cup, our orange voxboxes were already sitting in their charger for us. These are used by the guides for tours when the ship is moored; much better than huddling around the guide, trying to hear what they’re saying.
There are a total of 74 cabins onboard, for a total of 148 guests, with the majority of cabins being the similar to ours. There are ten larger cabins for those who feel they need a bit more space. Guests are served by a total of 36 crew.
Cabins on board MS Jane Austen
The ensuite bathroom was small, with shower only (no bath) – not surprising, given the limits on fresh water on a ship. The shower itself was good and powerful; I do hate weak showers. Crabtree and Evelyn toiletries add a little touch of luxury.
Around the Ship – Inside
The ship is split into public and private spaces; forward are the dining room on the lower deck with the bar/lounge above. Both are large enough to each take all guests at the same time, so there’s no need for first and second sittings for meals. Between these areas and the cabins aft is an atrium (with chandeliers, no less!), with a concierge desk, small shop and lift. Aft of the atrium is the space for cabins. At the very aft end of the ship, on the upper deck is a day lounge, with a coffee machine; at lunchtime, a light lunch is served here and in the evenings, its an alternative location for dinner.
The forward bar area is a great place to while away the day when the ship is under way, especially on colder days when braving the sun deck it a bit too hearty. With large, floor to ceiling windows you can watch the scenery slip past in the warmth, and given the size there’s bound to be somewhere to sit and chat to your fellow cruisers. Its also the space where short talks about each of the stops are made; more comprehensive if there isn’t a guided tour planned, a rough outline for stops with a tour. To help break the ice between the guests, there are a couple of evening events – quizzes and similar – that help to break down British reserve a little.
The small size of the ship means that it is very fast to get around, two minutes at the most from your cabin to the dining room, and no chance of getting lost like you can easily do on an ocean ship.
On the lower deck is a small spa area, offering both sauna and steam rooms, and a hairdresser’s salon.
On Deck on the MS Jane Austen
On a sunny day, though, the upper sun deck is the place to be. With plenty of comfortable chairs, or chaises lounge, it’s a great place to sit back and relax. There’s a small putting green to let you hone your golf skills, and a hot tub for those who would like to soak away any aches and pains.
Unfortunately, our cruise at the end of the season meant that it was really a bit too cold to be spending too much time on this deck; the other guests seemed to think so too, as it was sparsely occupied the whole time. A great shame, and the Rhine gorge is a truly awe inspiring place and was really best experienced from here.
Dining on Riviera Travel’s MS Jane Austen
There are a few dinners each cruise where the staff serve the whole ship, but most meals are served in the dining room as a buffet. As mentioned before, the small lido deck saloon at the aft end of the ship served a waiter served dinner most evenings, and a light lunch during the day. The ambience onboard is really one of relaxed enjoyment – there aren’t dress codes, but should you wish to dress up you won’t be out of place. Riviera Travel don’t operate any all-inclusive drinks packages, so drinks are charged to your room and paid at the end of your holiday.
The food itself was tasty, with excellent variety. Fresh produce is brought onboard frequently, which really shows in the menus. We were really impressed with both the buffet offerings and the a la carte dinner on the lido deck. We also liked the use of local foods, traditional German bread, cheese and cured meats at breakfast, as well as a comprehensive German wine list.
Seating in the dining room is on tables of between 4 and 6, with a couple of larger tables for groups. This does mean that guests are encouraged to mix
Cruising with Riviera Travel is a very easy experience. Even before you arrive onboard, the information pack that’s sent to you is exhaustive and should answer any questions that you have, even if it’s been a while since you last travelled abroad. Each evening a sheet spelling out what’s happening the following day is placed in the cabins, so you know what to expect the next day. Every aspect of the holiday is designed to make things easier for you, and caters for Riviera Travel’s older demographic. When you arrive you are greeted at the airport, escorted to the coach for transfer to the ship. There is a system of “shore passes” so the crew know who is on board and who is ashore which makes it very unlikely that you will ever be left behind.
All the staff at Riviera Travel’s HQ have all travelled with the company so they’re well aware of what people are looking for when on holiday, and particularly what British holiday makers are looking for, so you can call and ask questions and discuss any concerns before you book, so you know exactly what to expect. On board the excellent, friendly and reassuring cruise manager and tour manager could not have been more helpful making guests feel at home and at ease, who will accompany you at stops, and sit and have coffee and cake with you if you are not taking the guided tour.
A large proportion of the guests are repeat clients, and frequently will arrange to travel again with new friends they have met on board. It is worth noting that Riviera Travel do not discount their holidays, and many of the popular cruises do sell out, so there is nothing to be gained from a late booking. Drinks are charged on a bar tab – most people spend considerably less than they would buying the inclusive drinks packages that some operators offer.
Riviera Travel is probably not the river cruise company for us, only because their demographic quite a bit older than we are; mainly retired professionals, but we thoroughly enjoyed our time on board. A river cruise is an excellent choice of holiday to take an older, perhaps not so agile, parent or relative on. The ability to visit different places, arriving in the centre of town without all that packing, unpacking and long transfers cannot be underestimated and for us is one of the major selling point of Riviera Travel. Travelling on the waterways of Europe on a river cruiser is something we’d certainly consider doing again, and I’d happily spend a week on a ship, relaxing, reading and watching the world go by on the Douro, or through Germany, Austria and Hungary on the Danube.
Riviera Travel offer 12 river cruises throughout Europe (8 to 14 days), with prices starting from £1099 for an 8 day cruise with transfers and full board (£140 – £200 a day). Read more here.
Read about the The Rhine Gorge – Koblenz, Boppard, Mainz & Heidelberg.
Fuss Free Flavours was the guest of Riviera Travel. All opinions are our own.