We were invited for a Rhine River Cruise on the George Eliot with Riviera
Sadly Emma was unable to join Cathy on the trip which was a weeks river cruise along the Rhine, aboard the MS George Eliot, with a small group of other Cruise bloggers, including the eponymous Ben and David, Laura from Cruise Lifestyle, Steph from Cruise With Amber and Dan and Jay from Sailaway.
Cathy fills us in on her river cruise adventure…
I flew from London Heathrow to Düsseldorf where the Riviera representatives were waiting to coordinate passengers arriving on different flights from around the UK and then direct us to the waiting coaches. Riviera Cruises always include a choice of transport options to get you to your ship, either by air or by rail. Transfers are included too and all went fairly seamlessly. But the civilised timing of our lunchtime flight, combined with delays due to a missing bag at the airport and an hours time difference with Germany meant that it was already dark by the time we arrived at the riverbank in Bonn, where our boat was waiting. However, the crew were really efficient, and had us all checked immediately so we could go straight to the Dining room for dinner, while our bags were delivered to our rooms.
First impressions were of a bright, sparkling, airy, reception area with happy friendly efficient staff, it felt like the entrance to a small Boutique hotel. I also spied a 24 hours drinks station with cookies in a glass jar… things were off to a good start!!
MS George Eliot is one of the Riviera’s newest ship, built in 2018.
She has a crew of 36 with a maximum of 132 passengers across 70 suites. The crew seemed to be flexible and work across more than one department over the day. They were always cheerful and ready to chat. Most of the 70 suites are of a similar size although there are also two larger superior suites on each deck and four deluxe balcony suites, which have a small external balcony, on the upper Diamond deck.
We were all allocated one of the 22 standard suites on Diamond Deck, which were a comfortable, 172 ft.² , twin or double configuration, with a table and seating area, air conditioned and very well equipped with enhanced facilities including
- Floor to ceiling windows with ‘French style’ balcony
- Ensuite bathroom with walk-in shower
- Luxury toiletries from L’Occitane – shampoo, conditioner, soap, shower gel, and body lotion -all of a very high standard.
- Bathrobes in assorted sizes, slippers and hairdryer
- Nespresso machine, kettle and mini drinks station with fridge complete with bottle of champagne
- Bedside alarm with wireless charging area and USB points
- UK and Continental plugs with extra USB lightning ports
- Aluminium water bottle with carabiner clip.
- Internet based mobile phone and communications set for you to use onboard and ashore.
- Vox box Individual radios and headphones sets for use on excursions
- Telephone, radio, flat screen TV (with mainly local channels)
- A comprehensive, personalised set of maps, mini guides and complete river map
- Evening turn down service
Dining onboard was impressive
Even with the rush of reaching the Dining room on the first night night, our dinner experience was impressive. The crew gave no hint that they were expecting to close shortly and offered us a choice of 3 appetisers, followed by soup and then a choice of five main courses. These were divided into ‘daily specials’, ‘local flavours’ with chicken and salmon dishes always available too. The menu was very clearly laid out with allergies and intolerances clearly labelled numerically and a suggested vegetarian menu. This was also available, modified to for vegan diets.
Over the week my initial impressions of the food only improved from this excellent beginning. The service in the restaurant was always friendly, helpful and efficient. Any queries about food, allergies, or dietary needs were not only actively dealt with, but also remembered, so that dairy free butter spread arrived every day for one of our number after it has been requested just once. I spoke to a fellow passenger who said that she was loving the cruise because she felt that Riviera actively helped her manage her diet whilst on board and she was never made to feel ‘difficult’ or a nuisance in the dining room.
Breakfast is available on room service which is handy if you have an early start! Otherwise breakfast and lunch are both served in the dining room on Ruby (Middle) deck. These meals utilise the central buffet station but also offer both a hot served selection, and A La Carte options. The restaurant has mainly tables for four or six, with only a few for couples. People mainly seemed happy to share and make new acquaintances over a meal. It was such a friendly ship and there was a happy atmosphere at mealtimes.
There is also a second restaurant, the Bistro which has an open grill kitchen, is at the stern of the ship on Diamond Deck. A limited menu is here served at lunch and in the evening – this menu does not change throughout the week but makes a nice change occasionally, especially when the ship is moving and you have a panoramic view over the wake. The grill does not cost any extra but needs reserving in the evenings – to make sure everyone has an opportunity to visit it is limited to one reservation per cabin. Although as the week progressed, there were occasionally tables available for a second visit on request.
The Daily Menu in both restaurants always included two wine recommendations, both included in the drinks package which were included in our Diamond level room. This package includes all drinks with lunch and dinner plus a voucher for an aperitif before dinner. If you are staying on one of the other other decks the package cost about £129 for the week Drinks onboard are very reasonably priced compared to ocean prices.
The is lots of space outside
Starting at the stern there a small seating area outside the bistro which was a popular seating spot while we were moving, especially for anyone who wanted to use the tables to work or relax by painting or drawing whilst ‘wake watching’. Steps lead up from here to the main sundeck, which has a small heated splash pool, a four hole, putting green and plenty of sun loungers, tables and chairs – some behind screens for wind protection. Everything on this level has to be capable of being collapsed down to deck level so that the ship can pass under low bridges. This means that there is no outside bar or any other permanent fixture on deck. The bridge itself is on a lower level at the bow and it too is capable of being reduced to the height of the deck level behind – effectively it is a highly technical collapsible box! Ahead of the bridge is a very comfortable seating area with sofas and tables with stairs leading down to the lounge and bar. It’s a great place to relax with a coffee or drink and watch the river go by!
The bar and lounge on Diamond Deck, just beneath the bow, have panoramic windows, comfortable, seating, a small dance floor and a grand piano. It is a bright, relaxing, welcoming space and is well used throughout the day for everything from safety master on the first morning to port talks, quizzes, and evening entertainment. This was mainly provided by the lovely Lilyana, who played piano and sang, she performed a wide range of music and was a real character. We also had visiting musicians on board at some ports which was a nice touch.
The reception desk, which is manned 24 hours, Cruise directors desk, and a small, but surprisingly tempting, shop are all in the entrance lobby outside the lounge. On a lower level, there is a drinks station with complementary coffee, tea and hot chocolate always available as well as a water machine for filling your drinks bottles with a choice of steel or sparkling water, a wide range of herbal teas, and a never emptying cookie jar!! Stairs lead down to the restaurant on Ruby deck and to Emerald deck where there is a hairdressing and beauty salon which is available by appointment. There is no gym on the ship, so I did not have to feel too guilty about not using it!
Riviera river cruise ships are named after famous English authors
and our ship is named for George Eliot, author of the Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch, books which many of us had studied in English literature at school. The ship displayed relevant artwork to her books and her life, although, sadly, none of her works in the small ships library. This was an unofficial collection books and magazines left and exchanged by other cruisers – a system that works really well but has largely been discontinued on ocean cruise ships. There were also plenty of board games to be found on the shelves and in the lounge
A lift runs between these three deck levels and the mezzanine drinks station, but does not reach the upper sundeck. This is because of the need to collapse all structures at that level, but sadly it means that there is only disabled access to the seating areas outside the bar and the bistro for anyone who uses a wheelchair. I had always assumed that river cruising was something you did when you found Ocean cruising too strenuous, but I have now learnt that the opposite is probably true. The lack of accessibility, on-board, and the difficulty of accessing ships from the riverbank on gangways and pontoons that can be quite steep, is another issue, as is the River tradition of mooring boats alongside each other on occasion. This can mean having to travel through, or even over the ship next door in order to reach your own.
In fact River cruising is more strenuous and energetic than I had realised and definitely not a care home on the water!! I never got to rad a book or play any of the board games! The full programme of excursions, activities and events need you to be fit! I will publish information on each port separately, so that it is accessible as a port guide, but I will run briefly through the places we visited so that you can see how much we packed in.
Shore excursions are all included
The shore excursions and information are all included in the Riviera fare. We had an excellent Cruise director, Caroline, who gave talks daily on where we would be arriving and what we could see in town. We had maps in our cabins of all the cities is it backed with a short history and information on the main points of interest with space to make notes during her talk. You could choose to join a slow, walking group or one of the faster paced groups, or you could choose to explore independently. I quite often did a bit of both, staying with the group until I reach something that I wanted to investigate further and then ducking out! Caroline was assisted by Peter who also accompanied one group at every port and was always available to chat over ideas of what to see ashore and how!
Day 1 Koblenz and Boppard
Our first port was Koblentz where we moored close to heart of the town. An important city, where the Rhine and Moselle rivers meet, it has some imposing buildings and statues. I followed the first half of the guided tour, but then felt drawn to the cable car, which took me high above the city to the fortress where a viewing area meant you could see the change of colours where the rivers meet. I walked back through town and was back on board in time for lunch as we headed to our next stop Boppard. This was completely different, a small town perched on the bend of the river. The main reason for visiting is the incredible view from the hills above of the Bopparder Ham, ‘the bendiest bend’ on the Rhine. So I took my second cable car of the day up into the hills! It was a short walk in the woods to the viewing point, and the evening light was perfect. Back on board for the Captains welcome party with local entertainment, song and dance.
Day 2. The Rhine Gorge and Mainz
Scenic sightseeing from the ship this morning, as we passed through the spectacular Rhine Gorge, vineyards, steep hills and rocks towered above the river with castles perched on top.
We reached Mainz after lunch and had the option to take a general walking tour, but I wanted to visit the Guttenberg museum and the Chagall windows in St Stephans church, so I headed out by myself to explore. The option to take included trips or not, is helped by the helpful maps and mini guides which are provided for each town. You really can chose to do whatever suits you best.
Day 3 Heidelberg and Speyer
We docked in Mannheim and were up early for another two Port day. First we headed to Heidelberg, by coach. A famous university town, I opted to follow the guide and learn the history of the city. She was the best guide we had all week, with just the right balance of information, humour and movement! I particularly liked learning of the early weights and measures markings on the cathedral where you were able to check the size of your bagel from year to year! Others in our group took the cable car up to the castle above the city, it sounded really interesting, and a ‘must do’ next time I return. The ship had moved from Mannheim while we were ashore and was now docked in Speyer – I found coming back to it in a different place quite surreal! Speyer is a pretty little town just a short walk away from the river, so some chose to do that, others visited the technical museum, which sounded the perfect mixture of bonkers and fun. It is now on my ‘must do’ list as well!
Day 4 Strasbourg
We arrived in France for the day and docked in Strasbourg. A Coach took us to the edge of the city, and a walking tour of the highlights. The cathedral is astonishing and the town generally is quite peaceful and very interesting. We could return to the ship for lunch and then take afternoon tour of Colmar, but I decided to stay in Strasberg and return to the ship independently. I took a river trip around the city and out to the European Parliament buildings. I particularly liked the Napoleonic defences and the old Tannery district, it was a really interesting day, the history of the city is astonishing and I hope to return one day to spend more time there.
Day 5 Rudesheim
Quiet morning on board doing my filming and notes for Cruise Addicted, followed by lunch and an ice cream party in reception as we arrived in Rudesheim. I took a trip to Seigfrieds Mechanical Music museum, which was absolutely fascinating, stuffed full of old fairground organs, early phonographs and digital music machines. The village itself is beautiful, full of wine cellars, Christmas decoration shops and coffee bars serving the famous Rudesheim coffee which combines coffee, chocolate, brandy, sugar and cream- presumably to give you enough energy to keep shopping and drinking wine. Some of our group took another cable car up for a panoramic view, others went to visit an Abbey. There is loads to see here. I hope to come back maybe for the Christmas market which is apparently amazing! Gala dinner tonight…
Day 6 Bonn and Cologne
A very foggy morning as we made our way back. We had hoped to moor in Cologne for the afternoon and then move back to the dock where we had begun our cruise but there was no space, so we docked in Bonn at lunchtime, took a walk through the city to the station, then headed to Cologne where we spent time in the astonishing cathedral, and looking around the town before returning to the ship on the ships coach for the Captains cocktail party, and our last evening on board!
It was wonderful to spend a full week onboard
You can see that we packed a lot into our six full days onboard and, whilst obviously you don’t HAVE to do it all, I think you can see why I feel that river cruising doesn’t deserve it’s reputation as being only for older people. I definitely think it’s something to start enjoy while you’re young too!! I was very grateful to Riviera Travel for the invitation and for their hospitality – I would definite encourage you to consider a river cruise yourself!
Riviera has some excellent offers available on Christmas Market cruises this winter which I think would mark an excellent starting point for you first river cruise if it’s something you’re tempted to try…
Search for your own cruise here…
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