Review of the MS Douro Elegance

The Douro river has been the new kid on the block for a couple of years now. Every year new ships are being built to try and meet the demand for cruises during April to November. Riviera Travel have been using the Douro Spirit in 2015 and 2016, a ship which was originally built for Uniworld. So successful have they been that for 2017 they are having their own ship built too – the all new MS Douro Elegance.

MS Douro Elegance, French Balcony Cabin (Middle & Upper Decks)
Continue reading

In Praise of French Balcony Cabins on European River Cruise Ships

Avalon Waterways French Balcony Stateroom

Avalon Waterways French Balcony Stateroom

First time river cruisers can feel they need, what the Americans term a “veranda”, a sit out balcony and not a French balcony.  Why? This would not really be my preference.  I would choose a French balcony over a veranda on a European river cruise ship. You are not trying to see past 4,000 other people to the shore as you would on an ocean liner.  By far the best place to watch the view of the river bank is on the top deck which gives you a 360 degree panoramic view which you can never get from your stateroom, even if you have the biggest one on the ship.

Douro River 360 View from the Spirit of Chartwell Sundeck

Douro River 360 View from the Spirit of Chartwell Sundeck

Let me try and explain why I believe some of the best French balcony stateroom options, offer just as much as a veranda on the central European rivers.

So, I am writing a piece in praise of the French balcony. Where does the term French balcony come from? Are the French particularly scarred of heights and prefer not to be able to look down when stepping outside the safety of the bricks and mortar? Is it a phrase coined by the English to criticize the French for not providing a proper balcony for Queen Victoria? Is it an oversell? Pretending to offer something that it is not. What hapless travellers have crashed full frontal into the triple glazing to demand an explanation forthwith from their charlatan travel agent only to be told, blame the French? Wikipedia simply offers the phrase a “false balcony” which is true if a little harsh.

Why do river ship staterooms have French balconies?

Simple fact, river ships can only be a certain size in width and height, being limited by the height of the bridges and length and width of the locks. Imagine an “Anthem of the Rivers” trying to plough its way down the Rhine. If it were even possible, to navigate, what currently takes a 7 night itinerary would take days longer, as the captain would simply have to go more slowly, so you get my point. Operators are restricted. They can’t go out and they can’t go tall.

So, cabins with verandas have to use the available space for a seating area outside as well as a cabin inside. See the flaw in the plan so far?

Viking River Cruises sell small French Balconies on the Longships

If you are Viking River Cruises then you have decided to sell the French balcony short and all hail the veranda. The Viking Longships have the small French balcony cabins  on the rivers in their modern fleet. At 135 sq ft, your cabin, it could be argued, has been compromised by a veranda. And it’s not yours, but the guy over the corridor who has taken the other 40 sq ft from your cabin! Even the lower deck cabins with the half height window are 150 sq ft.

Uniworld French balconies go for elegance

Uniworld Cat 2 & 3 stateroom on SS Antoinette with electronic french balcony

Uniworld Cat 2 & 3 stateroom on SS Antoinette with electronic french balcony

The exterior of a river cruise ship simply looks more elegant with French balconies. Verandas can give the appearance of a Canary Island waterfront covered in flats (apartments). There I’ve said it! Uniworld however, I have to take my hat off to, they have realised it and have enclosed their verandas in electronically removable glass, keeping the lines of the ship sleek and clean. The SS Antoinette, SS Catherine and soon to be launched SS Maria Theresa, all have this design. Shape and form do matter and the boutique river cruise line have taken this into consideration. However, an insiders tip, the French balcony stateroom, with its electronic window which glides away so beautifully, is the same size – 196 sq ft – as the veranda cabin on the upper deck. So the veranda itself which is wide enough for a sideways chair has taken the space off your cabin. For more interior space, the category 2 is a good choice.

No veranda envy on Tauck, Avalon or Riviera

Tauck, MS Inspire, MS Savor, Cat 7 suite

Tauck River Cruises MS Savor Cat 7 Stateroom

The lovely people at family owned Tauck have created their inspiration class ships, the MS Savor and MS Inspire with no verandas at all. Tauck have said completely and utterly no to their brand new ships having verandas. A brave move for one of the world’s best travel companies you might say. Designed in partnership with Scylla, their long term ship operating partner, these beautiful ships contain more suites than other ships at the luxury end of the market, so huge cabins with ample room for a veranda you might think. But no. My beautiful category 5, 225 sq ft, stateroom on the MS Savor, with its wonderfully comfy bed, Nespresso machine, separate seating area and a gorgeous Molton Brown smell had no veranda and was much bigger for it. Another operator who is launching more and more suite ships is Avalon. Most staterooms are now over 200 sq ft, with an extra wide, 11ft French balcony. The flat glass which covers the entire wall is fantastic for making you feel like you are part of your surroundings. It feels like you are outside even in the cooler months when you are less likely to have the window open.  Let me just mention that we are Tauck certified agents as I passed my exam, (but that’s a whole other blog piece).

One of the best inventions of the last few years has been the completely disappearing French balcony glass. So, although the Riviera ships, the William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, which do various itineraries on the Rhine and Danube, do have four deluxe suites with outside space – and you have to be booking a year in advance to get one any time during May-September – everyone else on the middle and upper deck gets a glass wall that opens to the world and saves themselves a few quid in the bargain.

Still want a veranda on a river cruise ship? Then you can do both!

AmaSonata, Cat BB, Twin Balcony, Stateroom

AmaSonata, Cat BB, Twin Balcony, Stateroom

Which brings us finally to AmaWaterways. Berlitz have rated them as having the best fleet on the European rivers and their new Concerto class ships really are stunning.

These ships have middle deck French balcony cabins at 170 sq ft, with disappearing, sliding glass doors opening the whole cabin up to the river. All categories above this feature the AmaWaterways Twin Balcony concept with both a French balcony and a veranda. There, problem solved!

Have a good Friday.


Global River Cruising

Review of Christmas & New Year River Cruises

I very much like being able to sell river cruises where you know what you will get weather-wise. Christmas in central Europe will not be hot, the days will be short, the weather crisp and maybe a little snowy.  It is a landscape that will twinkle and inspire. Guaranteed!

Durnstein, Austria in the winter with snow next to the river Danube

Dürnstein, Austria

Luftner, Uniworld and AMA waterways offer cruises that cover Christmas or New Year or both.  Looking through their Christmas itineraries on behalf of customers has been a delight for me.  We once did Christmas at a restaurant with the kids and my mum and dad.  And it was really good.  The food was superb and the atmosphere very jolly.  We got to enjoy the day, no stress and no washing up!

I  thought it might help if I imagined a Christmas river cruise for you.  So I decided I’d pick Uniworld’s 10 night cruise and a few other bits of other cruises.  So, for the second year, Uniworld’s River Beatrice will again be quietly sailing past towns and villages full of twinkling lights. Tall castles that could have stepped out of a fairy tale will look down from cliffs and peep through forests. Everywhere will be that special snowy white glow lit by the full moon high overhead. – really like the description here, inspiring!

It will be cold – yet you will be warm and comfortable inside. Christmas trees will glitter everywhere. The atmosphere will be so festive with stunning food and relaxing company relaxing. There will be lots of people in a similar situation with whom to talk to and make new friends, and enjoy the festive evening entertainment. With Uniworld there will be guaranteed warm hot chocolate to drink on the deck whenever you venture outside, oh and gluwein.

Christmas presents in a shop window in Saltzburg, Austria

Christmas display in Saltzburg gift shop

I love the idea of combining Christmas Day in Salzburg with New Year’s Day in Budapest. Two countries, two different experiences yet without having to worry about passports, currency or accommodation. This was the land of Silent Night and the Sound of Music; of music and elegance. Vienna, Linz, Bratislava – places which evoked such wonderful images of elegant carriages, of ladies in evening dress attending glittering balls, the opera, of Mozart and Viennese waltz’s (and the special Viennese cakes and gateaux). Oberndorf was even where Silent Night was composed all those years ago – 1818 to be precise.

Christmas Day will be spent happily exploring Salzburg and Oberndorf as well enjoying a wonderful festive lunch at Stiftskeller Saint Peter – one of the oldest restaurants in the world, if not the oldest. In the evening, there will be more entertainment on board making it a really memorable day.

Then there will be the delightful Strauss concert in Vienna and the gorgeous mouth watering confectionary decorations in Café Demel. Culture too will not be forgotten as we are able to see 30 stunning paintings by Rubens at the Liechtenstein Palace.  A very special treat as it is a private collection.

Yet the highlight of the cruise is still to come. Expect to be truly delighted by the sheer beauty and spectacle of Budapest. Walk across the Chain Bridge, see St Stephen’s Basilica and ring in the New Year with an exclusive dinner dance in a gorgeous ballroom and the dramatic fireworks across the city.  New Year’s Day features an onboard brunch and a visit to an artist’s village and, the icing on the cake (please forgive the pun) a visit to the Marzipan Museum.  Where do I sign? Oh, and I’ve just remembered that as Uniworld are now completely all-inclusive, I can wash it all down with quite a lot of festive cheer!

Fireworks over the river next to Parliament Building on New Year's Eve in Budapest

New Year’s Eve Fireworks in Budapest

Sound good?  So, if you fancy a Christmas away from the washing up, then let us know.


MS William Shakespeare Review

A look at the New MS William Shakespeare from Riviera Travel

Riviera Travel have commissioned another new river cruise vessel for the 2014 season, the MS William Shakespeare.  We take look at how she will stack up against the competition from their own fleet and across the other river cruise operators.

MS William Shakespeare

Continue reading