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Life onboard Riviera Travel River Cruise. Great times. Great people. Great places.

I must have sat down to write this blog about my Riviera Travel River Cruise eight or nine times, and each time I’ve stopped and the page has felt more blank than when I first sat down! There is so much to say, so much I want to do justice with my words that I’ve struggled to put anything down. Frozen by the fear of not doing a good enough job.

Riviera Travel awarded me with an 8-day cruise along with 6 other travel pros. It’s a part of my job that you just cannot put enough emphasis on. The value of trips like this, where you get to experience the “product” like a guest is immeasurable. And this trip was so much more than that.

There are parts of the trip that were “off-piste”. Not part of the programme, very much not your typical river cruise. The exploits of which can be found on my personal Instagram, and I won’t talk about here. 

On-piste. On-programme the trip was amazing. We had an absolute blast on this cruise. We were fortunate enough to get along as a group of travel pros but the itinerary was fascinating, the ship and crew were out of this world and we were blessed with some wonderful weather. Only a couple of these things did Riviera Travel have any control over! 

When you meet good people you get sparks. A lot of sparks flew during our trip. Filled with moments to remember forever. 

So what was the cruise? Well here’s the science bit…

Amsterdam, Cologne and the Best of Holland and Flanders River Cruise – 8 days

  • Experience more with so much included
  • Happy by day two or Riviera Travel will bring you home with a full refund
  • Seven nights on board in your choice of luxury cabin or suite, complete with river views
  • 8 visits and tours including a trip to the Floriade Expo, guided tours of Cologne, Antwerp, Bruges, Ghent and Rotterdam and visits to Kinderdijk, Airborne Museum or Het Loo Palace gardens
  • All meals on board from dinner on your day of arrival through to breakfast on your day of departure, including a welcome dinner and the Captain’s Dinner
  • A packed lunch during the full day trip to Bruges
  • Five-star service from an English-speaking crew and knowledgeable local guides
  • Complimentary on-board tea and coffee
  • Complimentary on-board Wi-Fi
  • 2022: Included visit to Floriade Expo for a full day

Airport “mayhem” or trouble-free?

The group met the UK side at Birmingham Airport. Meeting your travel companions on these trips can be a little nerve-wracking but the group instantly gelled. We bonded quickly over the queue less check in and security.

Riviera Travel takes care of your flights or Eurostar from regional airports and railway stations, and once you’re at your destination you meet a representative and they take you from the airport to the ship in no time. 

There’s no special treatment for us as VIPs – this is all standard and you really feel like a bit of a rock star. It was also a quick opportunity to introduce ourselves to other guests onboard. 

I AMsterdam

Dinner on the first night was a low key affair, we got to know some of the crew, those guys that were to be our servers for the entire cruise. You may have seen crew to guest ratios of 2:1 etc. But on a river ship, you get on first name terms with many of the crew and your fellow guests. It creates a fabulous atmosphere onboard, especially as you get later in the cruise.

As it was my second time in this free city, it was fun to explore it by night. I felt the city completely changed versus the daytime. The vibe in the pubs and bars is very different, the shops come alive under the fluorescent lights. 

Day two, while still docked in Amsterdam we joined a bus to take us to Floriade 2022. A horticultural exhibition that is only open every 10 years. I loved that there was flexibility on the trip, you can stay the whole day at the Expo or head back on a lunchtime coach and enjoy a lunch on the ship before having more free time in Amsterdam.

As a group we opted for the latter as a plan. Enjoying our first lunch onboard, a more relaxed affair than dinner but still excellent quality food and wine. Lunch was littered with top ups on the wine and light bubbly conversation. And then we chilled. The early morning and many many steps around the Expo mixed with all the fresh air and wine, wiped me out. 

Meeting back later for pre-dinner drinks we dressed up for the Welcome Dinner. I loved that this was on the second night. The first night we had the grime of a travel day on us. This evening we were relaxed into the cruise life and could spend the time to get ourselves dolled up.

Rolling down the River, in a splash pool

We began sailing at dinner. I did miss the sail away atmosphere of an ocean cruise. So I instigated my own little sail away pool party after some post-dinner cocktails. I don’t actually think you’ve lived until you’ve enjoyed a glass of wine in a splash pool going through a lock on the Amstel River.

The pool is open at night, as is the top deck, although there are times during sailing that you’re there at your own risk of low bridges! 

This could be Rotterdam…

Is the song stuck in your head yet?! I think I spent the whole day with it running around my head. But what a place! I think I was most pleasantly surprised by this city out of everywhere we visited. It’s the second largest city in the Netherlands and a huge sea port but its compact center meant we got to grasp all the highlights before heading back to ship for lunch and daytime sailing to Kinderdijk.

The walking tours throughout the cruise were a great length, about an hour and a half, long enough to see the city, jam-packed with content and all included in the price of your cruise.

After sailing through lunch we arrived mid-afternoon at Kinderdijk, a village in South Holland. It’s known for its iconic water management with a total of 19 windmills and 3 pumping stations. We had a guided tour through the waterways, dikes and trails. Enjoying a film about the history of the dike and a tour through one of the preserved windmills. 

There were some crowds but I still found this an incredibly serene experience. By the water in the sunshine there was a stillness to the place. I loved it!

Bruges and Ghent. Nostalgia Vs New Memories.

This was actually my third trip to Bruges and as we wandered the UNESCO World Heritage site I was overwhelmed with nostalgia.

The feelings of my first visit as a teen, with my friends. Remembering the sound of the Darwen Vale High School Jazz Band ringing in my ears. Sending videos of the unchanged canal tourist boats to my girlfriends who were also on the trip.

The memory of the excitement I felt when stepping through the cobbled streets guiding my husband and daughter for their first trip to Bruges on a Baltic Heritage cruise a few years back.

But then something strange happened. In this city which ages but doesn’t get old. I created a ton of new memories. New experiences with new friends. And saw it again, in a new way. 

We wandered, we laughed, we drank beer (so much beer!) and now Bruges will be the place I stole a wee (remember your Euro change folks! You pay to pee everywhere!), Giggling as we ducked the barrier in an emergency and demanding the tour leader to bail me out, should I get caught!

Bruges will forever be the place Dangerous (keeping names out of it) took advantage of free chocolate samples, giggling like a schoolgirl. Where we drank 12 local beers in a speed beer tasting (of our own making). It took just 40 minutes so we didn’t miss the bus back.

It will be where I got a taste for beer, and when I drink it in future I will remember these times. 

From Bruges we caught the bus to Ghent and enjoyed a couple of hours in the main historical city center. All of the activities and excursions are optional; you can do as much as you like on the Riviera Travel river cruises. We chose to pack so much in as agents, to get the full experience.

After a delicious dinner reunited with fellow guests onboard while my companions opted for an early night, I opted for a twilight dip in the pool. It was the perfect evening for it, clear skies and as we sailed again, the views weren’t magical BUT the stars coming out of the indigo sky made for a special time. 

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Antwerp – a hidden gem

Due to unexpected weather we experienced a change to the itinerary. This can happen. And when you’re dealing with mother nature you have to be prepared for some flex to the itinerary. As it turned out we got to enjoy a morning of sunshine and games onboard the ship! 

We arrived in Antwerp around lunchtime and headed off the ship just after we’d enjoyed lunch.

The historic city dates back to the middle ages and is home to thousands of diamond houses, hundreds of art galleries and a brimming art scene. We enjoyed the walking tour, picking up our listening devices from the charger in the room and stepped straight into the outskirts of the city center from the ship.

Exploring from the river you get to the heart of the city within a few minutes at most of your ports of call. I love the ease and unlike ocean cruises, there was atmosphere and life at the port, you really didn’t need to go far to experience the destination.

The walking tour took you out into the city and back if you’d like, we chose to stay a while and soak the Friday night atmosphere on the sunny afternoon. Claiming our spot for some sundowners in the Grote Markt, at the heart of the historical center. 

Living our best Bridgerton life

I’m not sure a river cruise is complete without a visit to a stately home or palace. Surely you would expect nothing less for a cruise aimed at the over 50’s?!

Riviera Travel certainly pulled out a great one, the Palais of Het Loo in the Netherlands was a truly special place. We explored the Palace Gardens and Stables in the most magnificent sunshine. Each of us feeling a little ready to start a drama in our own episode of Bridgerton.

The spectacular gardens are symmetrical and littered with fountains of joyous creation. The travel pro group leaping for joy at all the Insta worthy content! 

Wiped out after lunch I opted for a nap onboard the pool deck (Love a Scandinavian a.k.a an outdoor nap). Until the rain started and the darling crew on break took the time to wake me so I didn’t get soaked!

We had a late departure for Cologne so we enjoyed a comfortable dinner, getting fully into the throws of the routine of life onboard. 

One thing that surprised me was just how far the wine stretched at dinner, with an aperitif included in our Riviera Plus cabin status, by the time you got to the meal you enjoyed a light buzz, and if you caught the attention of the crew, you could have your wine topped up throughout the meal. Leaving dinner with a post dinner wine fuelled glow and enough of a tipple to take you through the evening’s entertainment.

Entertainment onboard nightly was a briefing about the following day’s port but also a lounge singer. Then on a couple of nights we enjoyed everything from cheese tasting to local musicians. It was a real slice of authentically getting to know the destinations.

Cologne is a Feeling

We arrived later in the day, enjoying another morning onboard and a leisurely lunch before leaving the ship early afternoon.

Out of all the ports this was one of my least favourite,. The cathedral quarter was rammed so busy with crowds and train passengers as it’s so close to the main station. We were there on a Sunday so the entire shopping centre was closed too.

Some of the travel pro group hired scooters and enjoyed a motorised ride over the river and took in the views as well as the lovelock bridge (thousands of padlocks adorn The Hohenzollern Bridge)

We possibly didn’t give this city the time it deserved, as the last full day on the cruise, there’s always that feeling you can’t shake. That Sunday night before work on Monday kind of feeling.If you can relate. 

Back onboard we were under strict timings for the Captain’s Dinner, drinks and speeches at 6:30pm with a huge gesture of appreciation for each and every one of the crew. They adorn their best uniforms and it’s really special to get the opportunity to cheer for your fave people. 

I didn’t want to be hungover for the journey home but after a big night like the Captain’s dinner that was a big ask!  A huge plus point to the Riviera Travel River Cruise is there are no early kick offs. On an ocean liner, no matter your flight time, your disembarkation is early early early. We were one of the middle groups to leave the ship. We had to leave our room by 9am but we stayed onboard until way after 11am and other guests were due to stay onboard until after 4pm. They would be served with a light lunch. Fantastic!

How do you summarise and put into words one of those most special trips? I hope this blog has told the story of how I met the most beautiful, good people. How I experienced some truly wonderful places, by one of the most underrated holiday experiences and in a way that makes you want to follow in my footsteps?

Follow in my footsteps | Speak to a Cruise expert

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