Rivera Travel is a UK-based escorted holidays operator, which has 11 river cruise ships in Europe with all but two named after British writers – from William Shakespeare and Jane Austin to Emily Bronte and, of course, Lord Byron. The exceptions are MS Douro Elegance and Douro Splendour, built especially for conditions on Portugal’s River Douro. The others sail the rivers Danube, Moselle, Rhine, Rhone, Seine and the Dutch Waterways. Riviera also offers River Nile cruises in Egypt on MS Movenpick Darakum. Special solo river cruises on sailings exclusively reserved for passengers travelling alone, are available with no single supplement on selected cruises and dates.
While all staff are fully vaccinated, Riviera Travel no longer asks for proof of vaccination from guests and PCR tests are not required. However, frequent hand-cleansing is encouraged.
What’s it like onboard?
Riviera Travel is focused on the UK holiday market so there’s a very British atmosphere on board its European river ships, despite the largely European crew.
That makes for a mostly calm and relaxed cruise: there’s no pushing into queues or loud groups in the bar, everyone’s good-humoured and if necessary stoic (when it rains) or patient (sometimes necessary with local guides).
The important thing is that everybody mucks in, greet fellow passengers cheerily several times a day and change for dinner – although into smart casual rather than showy flash.
The ship’s interior is a mix of dark wood walls, marble floors and polished brass accessories, with rich blue and gold carpets and upholstery and plenty of light from floor-to-ceiling windows.
The central reception area has a shop and leads into the comfortable lounge bar at the front of the ship, where there’s a small outdoor seating area and stairs up to the sun deck.
After a day out exploring most people meet for a drink in the bar before dinner, when it’s easy to get chatting with others and find a few people to join for the meal.
This is often when the cruise director will explain the next day’s activities, going out of their way to make sure you know what’s happening.
The WOW factor
The destinations are the WOW factor and Riviera Travel’s excellent included excursions. Sometimes these will be simple walking tours – or you can borrow a ship’s bike and do your own thing – but there are usually a couple of good guided tours to places of special interest a coach-ride away that are also complimentary.
On the eight-day River Rhone cruises, these longer excursions are to Beaune for wine tasting, the spectacular Ardeche Gorges, a tour of the massive Popes’ Palace in Avignon and to the Roman-built Pont du Gard aqueduct – all Unesco-listed.
But Lord Byron’s new 11-day Lyon, Provencal, Rhone & the Camargue river cruise has a visit to Camargue and the Ornithological Pork of Pont de Gau, as well as the Pont du Garde and Ardeche Gorges, wine tasting in Macon and Chateauneuf-du-Pape and an olive farm visit in Les Baux-de-Provence.
As with virtually all river cruise ships in Europe, there are three decks of staterooms, with the smallest cabins on the first deck – Emerald deck.
These have tiny high windows with virtually no view but the second deck – Ruby – has slightly larger cabins with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors and the third deck – Diamond – has the biggest cabins, with similar glass doors.
All decks offer suites, the biggest suites on Diamond deck, with extra space in the living area with armchairs and a glass table.
Everybody gets Riviera Travel water bottles that can be refilled at the bar or restaurant and there is a kettle with tea and coffee in your cabin – although complimentary tea and filter coffee are available in the bar.
But there are packages to upgrade your cabin experience, such as Riviera Plus. This gets you a Diamond deck cabin or Ruby deck suite with a bottle of sparkling wine on arrival; one pre-dinner drink token a day per person, Crabtree & Evelyn Jojoba Oil body wash, shampoo and conditioner, a chocolate each delivered with the next day’s programme and a mid-week bowl of fruit.
Breakfast is a buffet in the main restaurant, from 7am-9am, with a colourful spread of fruit, cold cuts, cheese, yogurts, porridge and overnight oats.
Hot choices include bacon, scrambled eggs, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes but you can order eggs cooked any way you like – from fried or poached to omelettes with a choice of fillings.
Lunch is also a buffet in the main restaurant and although this is modest in size compared with some other ships, it’s all freshly made and there are always plenty of salads to choose from as well as hot meals, usually with a roast carved by one of the chefs.
Dinner is waiter-served with choices of two starters, two soups, three main courses (plus salmon and chicken always available) and three desserts.
Meat eaters are particularly well served with dishes such as rack of lamb but vegetarians are also catered for and the choice of fish changes every day.
There’s also a Lido Bar and Restaurant on Diamond deck, where you should be able to get an early bird continental breakfast, a light lunch or – if you book a table – dinner.
This only take 20 people but there is also a tiny terrace at the back where it’s nice to eat lunch and sip a glass of wine.
Drinks are not usually included with meals but packages are available for the restaurants, although you have to pay for drinks in the bar.
Life on a river ship mostly involves getting off and exploring the town or city you’re docked in because most of the sailing happens while you’re eating dinner and often over-night.
Sometimes the ship sails for a few hours during the day, though, or in early evening and then most people head for the sun deck loungers, either to read or watch the world go by.
There’s also a small heated pool on the sun deck, although it’s for sitting in rather than swimming, plus deck games such as shuffleboard, giant chess and mini-golf.
Sometimes there are barbecues and if the weather is good there’s a bar service up on deck too.
The very comfortable lounge is also popular. There’s always tea and coffee available and the large windows mean you won’t miss a thing if the ship’s sailing.
Lord Byron also has a sauna and steam room on the lower deck, which are free to use, and there’s a hairdresser and spa for massages and some treatments.
Like most river ships, the entertainment tends to focus on the lounge bar after dinner, when there’s always the house pianist and the cruise director’s quizzes – remarkably popular because of the prizes from the on board shop.
A few times during the cruise local bands or entertainers come on board for the evening and there’s often dancing.
MS Lord Byron offers eight-day Burgundy, the River Rhone and Provence cruises from May to October, from £1,399pp, with 11-day Lyon, Provencal Rhone & The Camargue cruises available once a month, from £2,399pp, including flights or rail transport, transfers, all meals and excursions (rivieratravel.co.uk).