The Magnificent Seven: A Whistle-Stop Guide to Seven River Ships

It’s a new-old adage that ‘there’s a river cruise out there for everyone!’ While on the outside, river ships may look very similar – after all, there’s a lot more constraints with how long or wide they can be, to sail under bridges and through locks – there’s a surprising range of difference between river cruise lines. At this year’s CLIA River Cruise Conference in Amsterdam, many of the members of Team Select saw for themselves a veritable river smorgasbord!

Amy from marketing, and our cruise specialists, Sharon, Bella, Tracey and Chloe, discovered some of the great variety available on the rivers during ship tours of Riviera’s William Shakespeare, Emerald WaterwaysEmerald Dawn, Uniworld's SS Antoinette, CroisiEurope’s Lafayette, Shearing’s Da Vinci, Tauck’s MS Grace, and Amadeus River Cruises’ Amadeus Silver III – a real range from 3 to 5*, and ships with a very British or a more international feel, and appealing to couples from their 40s upwards. Each of these ships and cruise lines represented excellent value for money, even though they offered something different, because they would suit different people, different needs and different budgets. Even our girls had different preferences amongst themselves!

Emerald Dawn - Emerald Waterways

Our first taste of the river ships at the River Conference was Emerald Dawn, as we were lucky to stay onboard overnight before the Conference began in earnest. One of Emerald Waterways’ ‘star ships’, Emerald Dawn was built in 2015, although the whole fleet is very young, with the first – Emerald Sky – built in 2014. Emerald Dawn is a modern vessel with very contemporary décor, primarily with a sleek, monochrome finish. We were all staying in Grand Balcony Suites, which were cosy, nicely decorated, and spotlessly clean, and featured a very good bathroom, as well as a sectioned off space from the bedroom area, where you could and enjoy the views from a panoramic drop-down window, creating a conservatory in cooler weather or a walk-out balcony in the warmth (sadly, in Amsterdam in November, it was very much a case of the former). Onboard facilities include the stylish and spacious Horizon Bar and Lounge, as well as the Reflections Restaurant where we enjoyed a three-course dinner with attentive service, although in this weather we certainly didn’t get to try the Sky Barbecue on the Sun Deck! However, the indoor pool area was the most popular feature with our team, which can be covered for inclement weather, or its retractable roof can open up if it’s warm and sunny. At night, the pool area turns into an onboard cinema; another nice touch we were all impressed with! Thanks to a combination of Emerald’s chic, stylish and modern vibes, and features such as an indoor pool and cinema, it’s easy to see its appeal for younger clients, usually from late 40s or early 50s upwards.

Tauck - MS Grace

  • slide
  • slide

After a busy day at conference, listening to various industry experts and one-to-one meetings, it was time to experience a taste of the hospitality of a different river cruise line, staying overnight on the sublime MS Grace, one of Tauck’s stylish river ships. Grace has all the hallmarks of a Tauck river ship: elegant, timeless and classic in style, with comfortable, spacious, and well-appointed accommodation, including innovative loft cabins available. Tauck’s famous loft cabins are so unique, and are designed to increase the amount of natural sunlight on the lower deck, extending from the first to the second decks, providing guests in these cabins with an additional view. The bathrooms were bright with marble, and included Molten Brown toiletries and rainfall showers, and the bedrooms boasted ample storage space. We were treated to an exclusive dinner at the National Maritime Museum, as Tauck include at least one exclusive dinner in a special location on each of their river cruises – it may be an historic palace or in a museum after-hours – which was a nice touch, as it showcased one of the memorable experiences on offer with Tauck. The Lounge onboard is exceptionally relaxing, with plush sofas and chairs, a resident pianist, and an exemplary bar staff who ensure that you never go without a drink or two (and it’s all-inclusive onboard!). Although we did not have dinner onboard, we – of course – had breakfast in the main restaurant, the Compass Rose, and we took in the informal alternative dining area, Arthur’s, on our ship tour the next day.

Because of the high standards of the ships and the quality of itineraries, Tauck appeals to discerning travellers, very often those who come from a professional background, whether or not they may be (semi) retired. While the ships themselves are stunning, the itineraries and the included experiences are the real draws with Tauck, and so those looking to immerse themselves in culture and history will be drawn to a Tauck river cruise. As a long-established American company, with an excellent reputation across the pond, the majority of guests onboard tend to be educated Americans.

Riviera Travel - William Shakespeare

In addition to spending time on Emerald Dawn and Tauck’s MS Grace, we also enjoyed ship tours of five other, very different, ships. The first ship we toured was Riviera Travel’s William Shakespeare, launched in 2014. Riviera cater predominantly for the British market, and are in fact the second largest river cruise line for Brits. Although excursions are included, Riviera do not include drinks; their pricing for drinks is very reasonable, and this generally suits their guests onboard, often preferring the flexibility of enjoying a glass of wine or beer while exploring ashore. The William Shakespeare is an understated ship, with a subtle, dark decor, and expansive public areas. With just 140 guests onboard, and a 4:1 crew to guest ratio, there's a charming sense of intimacy onboard. Team Select were struck by the spaciousness of the cabins, many of which boasted floor to ceiling doors offering excellent panoramic views of the riverlife outside. In each of the cabins, you'll also find tea-making facilities; an uniquely British feature not often found onboard river vessels!

Uniworld - S.S. Antoinette

  • slide
  • slide
  • slide

Uniworld’s S.S. Antoinette was perhaps the most striking ship we toured; it really packs the ‘wow’ factor as soon as you step onboard, as you’re faced with a dazzling 10-foot blue Strauss Baccarat chandelier that formerly hung in New York’s famous Tavern on the Green, but now hangs proudly in the two-story foyer. It was perhaps a divisive feature, with some of our team liking it more than others, but it’s certainly a memorable entrance. Much of the emphasis with Uniworld is on the high standards of personalised service, and the experiences enjoyed onboard and ashore. Like Tauck, Uniworld sits on the higher end of the spectrum of ships we visited, offering an all-encompassing, all-inclusive experience onboard, with carefully curated itineraries, unique experiences, and a diverse choice of excursions to immerse guests in the culture and history of the destinations they’re visiting. However, while Tauck is classic and more understated in its style, Uniworld offers a sumptuous, decadent boutique feel, with lavish décor. Its stunning suites – of which there are nine, ranging from 294 to 391 square feet – offer butler service, but all staterooms onboard are gorgeously appointed, some with French balconies, and others with full, open-air balconies. Staterooms and suites are upholstered with beautiful fabrics, and boast marble bathrooms. The Salon du Grand Trianon – S.S. Antoinette’s panoramic lounge named after the chateau set in its own park in Versailles – and the Restaurant de Versailles are similarly stunning, but perhaps the public area which our team liked the most was the Bar du Leopard. Found at the aft of the sun deck, this full-service bar was something quite different, with maple leaves fanning you, and with dark leathers and woods (and a fabulous leopard-print carpet), it was somewhere very warm and inviting. The indoor pool looked very relaxing, with great views offered from the three glass walls. S.S. Antoinette is simply stunning and extravagant, fit for its namesake, the famously decadent Marie Antoinette.

CroisiEurope - Lafayette

In many ways a stark contrast – with much simpler décor – to Uniworld, the next ship we toured was CroisiEurope’s Lafayette. A beautiful, fresh flower arrangement in the reception welcomes you onboard with a lovely scent as you first enter, and the ship overall has a nice, light airy feel, and is quite spacious. Throughout, much of the ship’s décor is a crisp, clean, bright white, with dashes of purple – such as on the cushions adorning the sofas, and the bed linen – adding a touch of colour. The cabins onboard are a good size, with many of the cabins featuring beds facing floor-to-ceiling windows, and the restaurants and sitting areas are spacious too. Onboard, there’s a disabled-access cabin and four single-capacity cabins, so this is a ship worth considering for those with mobility issues or are solo travellers. The ship’s capacity is only 82, much lower than many other vessels cruising the Rhine, adding to the sense of spaciousness. A French family-run company for over 40 years, CroisiEurope are Europe’s largest river cruise line, and their strength largely lies in their focus on building ships to suit rivers; due to this pursuit, CroisiEurope have developed paddleboat technology inspired by the ships on the Mississippi to cope with the waters of the Loire and Elbe, and are able to offer some truly unique itineraries. CroisiEurope offer great value for money, with pleasant, spacious ships and interesting itineraries, from very reasonable price points – whether a shorter, taster 3-night river cruise from Paris, or a longer itinerary. As well as their river ships, they also offer barges and some coastal cruises.

Shearings Holidays - MPS Da Vinci

Perhaps one of the most surprising ships of all was MPS Da Vinci, which sails along the Danube, Main, Rhine, and Dutch Waterways with Shearings Holidays. Although Da Vinci was first launched in 1995, it’s been regularly spruced up since, and boasts a lovely, traditional, dark-wood style, with a homely feel thanks in part to the welcoming open fire in the lounge. The library area was lit up with candles and was equally inviting. Other facilities onboard included a nice fitness and sauna room, and the top deck was covered so that you could still outside and take in the views of the changing scenery even if it rained. The cabins were a good size, with pull-down twin beds (there are no double beds onboard), giving plenty of space during the day. Shearings had attempted to introduce more open dining, but guests preferred fixed dining times at the same table, and so dining reverted back to traditional fixed dining. All in all, Da Vinci represents excellent value for money, with plenty of comfort and a friendly crew, and as it caters more for a mature, British crowd, it would be ideal for those who enjoy traditional, small-ship cruising or escorted tour holidays.

Amadeus River Cruises - Amadeus Silver III

The final ship we toured was the brand new Amadeus Silver III, launched by Amadeus River Cruises this year. This ship really made an impression on us, with its beautiful décor, and its lovely, airy, modern feel. The onboard amenities, including a hairdressing salon, fitness room and massage room, were very good, and the lounge and public areas, including the classical Café Vienna, or the outdoor glass-shield River Terrace eatery, were excellent; well-appointed and spacious. The accommodation was a mixture of suites with walk-out balconies and staterooms with drop-down panoramic windows and walk-in wardrobes, through some of which you could connect to the next-door cabin like walking through Narnia, and all rooms featured luxurious bathrooms. While drinks are included with meals, it’s possible to buy an additional all-inclusive drinks package, and excursions can be chosen as part of a package too, offering guests excellent flexibility to suit their tastes, interests, and budgets. Amadeus has been run by an Austrian family for some 40 years, and has traditionally been very popular with Austrians and Germans. They began their river cruises offering holidays to Austrians and East Germans to sail along the Danube and enjoy destinations on that side of the ‘Iron Curtain’, so their knowledge of the Danube is practically unrivalled; one of their unique itineraries extends further down the Danube Delta and offers wildlife safaris to take in the varied bird species local to the region.

It was great to see such a range of river ships - some very modern in style, and others more traditional, and running across the scale in terms of price and inclusiveness. However, whatever your budget, interests, or tastes, the sheer diversity of ships we saw in one day - really, just a snapshot of all that's on offer - highlights the fact that there's a river cruise out there for everyone.

If you would like to book a river cruise, why not contact our dedicated river cruise specialists today?

Call us today on 01234 326 758


Visit us in our Bedford shop at 24 Mill Street