Rivera Travel is a UK-based guided holiday provider, operating 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 Splendor, built specifically for the conditions on the Portuguese River Douro. The others sail the rivers Danube, Moselle, Rhine, Rhône, Seine and the Dutch Waterways. Riviera also offers River Nile cruises in Egypt on MS Movenpick Darakum. Special solo river cruises on sailings reserved exclusively for passengers traveling alone are available at no single surcharge on select cruises and dates.
While all staff are fully vaccinated, Riviera Travel no longer requires proof of vaccination from guests and PCR tests are not required. However, frequent hand cleaning is encouraged.
What’s it like on board?
Riviera Travel focuses on the holiday market in the United Kingdom, so there is a very British atmosphere on board the European river ships, despite the largely European crew.
That makes for a mostly calm and relaxed cruise: there are no crowds in line or loud groups in the bar, everyone is in good spirits and stoic (when it rains) or patient when needed (sometimes needed with local guides).
The important thing is that everyone participates, cheerfully greeting fellow passengers several times a day and changing for dinner – albeit in smart casual rather than gaudy flash.
The interior of the ship is a mix of dark wood walls, marble floors and polished copper fittings, with rich blue and gold carpets and soft furnishings and plenty of light from floor-to-ceiling windows.
The central reception area has a shop and leads to the comfortable lounge bar at the front of the ship, where there is a small outdoor seating area and steps up to the sundeck.
After a day of exploring, most people meet before dinner for a drink in the bar, when it’s easy to chat with others and find a few people to eat with.
This is often when the cruise director explains the next day’s activities and makes every effort to ensure you know what is happening.
The WOW factor
The destinations are the WOW factor and Riviera Travel’s excellent included excursions. Sometimes these are simple walking tours – or you can borrow a ship’s bike and do your own thing – but there are usually also some good free tours to sights that are a bus ride away.
On the eight-day Rhône river cruises, these longer excursions take in Beaune for wine tasting, the spectacular gorges of the Ardèche, a tour of the huge Popes’ Palace in Avignon and the Roman-built Pont du Gard aqueduct – all of which are Unesco-listed.
But Lord Byron’s new 11-day Lyon, Provencal, Rhone and the Camargue river cruise has visits to the Camargue and Pont de Gau ornithological pork, as well as the Pont du Garde and the Gorges de l’Ardèche, wine tastings in Macon and Chateauneuf- du -Pape and a visit to an olive farm in Les Baux-de-Provence.
As with virtually all river cruise ships in Europe, there are three decks of staterooms, with the smallest staterooms on the first deck – Emerald deck.
These have small tall 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 largest cabins, with similar glass doors.
All decks offer suites, the largest suites on the Diamond deck, with additional space in the living area with armchairs and a glass table.
Everyone is provided with Riviera Travel water bottles which 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 is available in the bar.
But there are packages to upgrade your cabin experience, such as Riviera Plus. This will get you a Diamond deck cabin or Ruby deck suite with a bottle of sparkling wine upon arrival; one aperitif per day per person, Crabtree & Evelyn Jojoba Oil body wash, shampoo and conditioner, one chocolate each delivered with next day’s program and a midweek fruit plate.
Breakfast is a buffet in the main restaurant, from 07:00 to 09:00, with a colorful selection of fruit, cold cuts, cheese, yoghurt, porridge and overnight oats.
Hot choices include bacon, scrambled eggs, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes, but you can order any eggs 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 compared to some other ships, it is all freshly prepared and there are always plenty of salads to choose from, as well as hot meals, usually with a roast cut by one of the the cooks.
Dinner is served by the waiter with a choice 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 also get their money’s worth and the choice of fish changes every day.
There is also a Lido Bar and Restaurant on the Diamond deck, where you can get an early bird continental breakfast, a light lunch or – if you reserve a table – dinner.
It only seats 20 people, but there is also a small terrace at the back where it is nice to have lunch and a glass of wine.
Drinks are usually not included with meals, but there are packages available for the restaurants, although you have to pay for drinks in the bar.
Life on a river ship usually consists of getting out and exploring the town or city where you are docked, as most of the sailing is done while you are eating and often at night.
However, sometimes the ship sails for a few hours during the day, or in the early evening when most people take to the sun loungers on the sundeck to read or watch the world go by.
There’s also a small heated pool on the sun deck, although it’s more for sitting in than swimming, plus deck games like shuffleboard, giant chess and mini golf.
Sometimes there are barbecues and in good weather there is also a bar service on deck.
The very comfortable lounge is also very popular. There is always tea and coffee available and the large windows mean you won’t miss a thing when the ship is sailing.
Lord Byron also has a sauna and steam room on the lower deck, which are free to use, and there is a hairdresser and spa for massages and some treatments.
As with most river ships, after dinner entertainment tends to center around the lounge bar, when there’s always the resident pianist and the cruise director’s quizzes – notably popular for the prices of the onboard shop.
A few times during the cruise, local bands or entertainers come on board in the evening and there is often dancing.
Mrs Lord Byron offers eight-day Burgundy, River Rhone & Provence cruises from May to October, from £1,399 pp, with 11-day Lyon, Rhone Provencal & the Camargue cruises available once a month, from £2,399 pp, including flights or rail transport , transfers, all meals and excursions (rivieratravel.co.uk).