River cruising has a new kid on the block, and its name is Riverside Luxury Cruises. The company launched earlier this year and currently operates two ships – Riverside Mozart and Riverside Ravel. Travel Market Report recently returned from a cruise on the Rhône River onboard Riverside Ravel, where we got to experience what makes Riverside Luxury Cruises so unique.
Here's what travel advisors should know about this new river cruise line and the ship.
Family-owned and operated
Riverside Luxury Cruises is owned by Seaside Collection, a second-generation, family-owned business that operates a string of luxury resorts in the Canary Islands, the Maldives, and boutique hotels in Germany. The Hamburg-based company purchased all five river ships from the former Crystal River Cruises and has since launched two this year: Riverside Mozart, sailing on the Danube, and Riverside Ravel, sailing on the Rhône. In March 2024, Riverside will launch Riverside Debussy on the Rhine. The remaining two vessels have been chartered by Uniworld Boutique River Cruises to enter service in 2024 and 2025.
An all-inclusive luxury experience
Riverside is positioning itself in the luxury river sector, in the realm of Uniworld, Scenic, and Tauck. Its premium, all-inclusive pricing includes an open bar, an excursion in every port, unlimited Starlink Wi-Fi (which we tested and found to be efficient), taxes, and gratuities to the ship's crew, tour guides, and bus drivers. Riverside also offers complimentary roundtrip transfers, butler service in every suite category, and complimentary 24/7 room service.
Advisors with clients looking for more flexibility in what they're pre-paying for can choose from three other pricing packages that come with fewer inclusions.
International mature clientele
Although most guests sailing onboard Riverside this year come from North America, the company is also marketing to Europeans. No matter who is onboard, the official language onboard is always English. The Riverside guest demographic is the affluent luxury traveler – mature couples who prefer small ships and top-end food and service. The line is also expecting former Crystal River Cruises guests to return to the ships (and, in some cases, the crew) they loved.
Riverside Ravel – bright and elegant
Riverside Ravel has capacity for 110 guests, and not much has changed since it was launched as the Crystal Ravel in 2018. The first thing we noticed upon embarkation was its bright and airy interior. Floor-to-ceiling windows flood every room with light, with the partial glass ceiling over the Palm Court Lounge being particularly delightful. Soft earth tone hues throughout the public areas exude understated elegance, punctuated by jewel-toned accents in toss cushions and glassware. Up on deck, beige sofas and white loungers pair well with orange fleece blankets and hot pink ottomans.
Plush and fully stocked suites
Riverside Ravel's accommodations are spacious, with the smallest suite measuring 194 square feet and the largest 764. The suites lack balconies, but floor-to-ceiling windows bring in lots of light, and at the push of a button, the upper window panel drops down to create an open-air balcony feel. Every suite is furnished with a king bed that can be converted to twins, a marble bath with a walk-in shower, Natura Bissé bath amenities, and a fully stocked bar that is replenished daily. Thick terry robes, slippers, USB plugs, a safe, and a hairdryer complete the suite amenities. With the exception of the lead-in suites, which have a wardrobe closet and a single bath vanity, all other categories have walk-in closets and double sinks.
Suites are serviced twice a day, and a butler is available in every category, whose services include laundry and pressing (for a fee) and room service delivery. The ship also has a free self-serve guest laundry with Miele machines, complimentary detergent, and an ironing board.
Exquisite dining and fine wines
Unanimously agreed among guests onboard our cruise, dining on Riverside Ravel is nothing short of exquisite. Every day, Ravel's culinary team produces dishes that are creative, varied, and delicious, with delectable breads and pastries made from scratch and freshly baked.
The Waterside restaurant operates in an open seating format, where guests can arrive any time during restaurant hours. This is different from mainstream river lines that operate a single seating, where guests all have to dine at the same time. Breakfast and lunch are served buffet-style, with cooked-to-order eggs and all other breakfast favorites in the morning and an impressive selection of salads, unique cheeses, cured meats, hot entrees, and fresh pasta at lunch. Pastries and sweets are plentiful and are perfectly sized for sampling.
Dinner is a nightly extravaganza with full table service. The menu changes daily and features fish, meat, pasta, and vegetarian entrees, along with seafood and regional specialties, complemented by a list of Rhône Valley wines and full bar service. The restaurant has plenty of tables for two and larger ones for groups and newfound friends.
Riverside Ravel also features The Bistro casual eatery that offers early and late riser breakfast and light afternoon bites. In the same space is a coffee bar serviced by a barista. A special dinner event was held at The Bistro on two nights during our cruise. Served family-style, the international menu of soup, cold and hot tapas, and dessert is a blend of traditional and exotic (among other things, our menu featured Caesar's salad, sweet potato fries, venison tartare, and frog's legs).
At the top end of Riverside Ravel's dining experience is The Vintage Room – an exclusive soirée reserved for just ten guests. Hosted by the Restaurant Manager in an elegant private room with grey leather armchairs, the seven-course tasting menu is the pinnacle of Riverside's culinary excellence, with each course beautifully presented and paired with generously poured premium wines. The cost of the dinner is high at €295 per person but will appeal to wine aficionados as the vintages served are all top-end and free-flowing.
Service that goes the extra mile
Riverside Ravel's crew is friendly, eager to serve, and always looking for ways to improve their guest's experience. On a daily basis, the hotel director and restaurant manager check in on guests to see if there is anything they need to make their day better. When a few guests felt the full-day tour and winery lunch in Avignon was too long, Riverside arranged a later departure from the ship and offered it to anyone interested in joining only the lunch portion of the excursion. That's next-level service.
We only have one suggestion for improvement, which we have put forth to Riverside. Service onboard the best luxury ships is generally intuitive: the ability to anticipate the guests' needs and remember their preferences. We felt the crew could do with more training in this aspect and polish their attention to detail.
Variety of excursions and activities
The included excursions highlight the best of the Rhône River valley – with several wine-tasting opportunities (including Beaujolais and Châteauneuf du Pape), a visit to a truffle farm, and city walking tours. All excursions are also escorted by the excursion managers, which is a nice touch in case anyone needs assistance or has questions. E-bikes are available for guests to take ashore, and e-bike tours are also offered at select ports.
Riverside Ravel has a small fitness center with free weights and cardio equipment. Massages and facials are on offer, and a morning stretch class is scheduled daily. The small indoor pool was a little too cold for our liking, but its aft location offers a quiet space to relax, with a skylight and several loungers.
What advisors have to say about Riverside Ravel
During our sailing we met up with a group of travel advisors, including Nancy Wood, owner of Wood Travel Partners and a river cruise specialist.
"The beautifully plated meals were some of the best food I have ever tasted. The suites are large and full of light, with great bathrooms and bath products. Friendly crew, fun excursions, and a vintage room dinner that was spectacular will make this a top recommendation for my clients," she told us. "Riverside will be one more option for my clients who are looking for luxury on the river."
Also onboard was Alysha Klein of Alysha Klein & Associates, who was on her first river cruise and thoroughly enjoyed the intimate ambiance and the ability to connect with fellow travelers. When asked about the Ravel, she had great things to say: "We truly enjoyed everything from the moment we boarded until we disembarked. The private car service that transported us, our butler escorting us to our suite, and the champagne in our suite were all truly luxurious touches. Riverside's service was impeccable, and the food was so delicious!"
Alysha shared social media posts daily while onboard and has already heard from clients expressing interest in sailing on Riverside. She also praised Riverside for supporting travel advisors through training, communication, social media posts, and an engaging sales team.
- The onboard dress code is resort casual. In the evenings, collared shirts and slacks for gentlemen and dresses or separates for ladies are appropriate. Although we observed a few men wearing sports jackets at dinner, it is strictly optional.
- Riverside will also provide transfers to/from local train stations at the start and end of each sailing, which is a nice touch as other river brands usually only provide them to/from the airport.
- The onboard currency is Euros, but without a gift shop or any excursion upsells, the only expenses clients would have are from spa treatments, the Vintage Room dinner, or ultra-premium spirits.
- Riverside offers a waived single supplement on lead-in suites on all ships and is currently paying 21% commission on all bookings.
Riverside North American sales contacts
Riverside has four directors of sales who can educate advisors all about Riverside Luxury Cruises and ways to grow their business. Advisors can also visit www.riverside-cruises.com for more information and register for access to the travel advisor portal.
Michelle Rodriguez Suarez - Eastern U.S. & International Accounts (Mexico, Central & South America), firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolyn Szekeres – Central and South U.S., email@example.com
Kelly Browne – Western U.S., firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Ouzounov – Canada, email@example.com