This is neither a trick quiz question nor are hash of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ – but the story of a new river cruise ship which I visited last week when it was just 2 weeks old!!
MS Charles Dickens is 110m long and 11.45 m wide -pretty standard fare for European river cruise ships you may say. But the fact that Riviera Travel have been able to design this ship and some of their other ships, to their own specifications, means that they have been able to incorporate all the design and décor features that they know appeal to their principally British guests. There is a plethora of tropical hardwood, marble surfaces and fixtures, polished brass and wrought iron fittings as well as an abundance of glass and polished stainless steel. All in all this gives a restful, sleek and tasteful look to the whole of the ship.
Charles Dickens is so brand new that there is a dearth of pictures of the actual ship – she is the sister ship to MS William Shakespeare, albeit Charles Dickens has a blue lower hull and blue bedding, perhaps to differentiate it from the predominantly red colours that are found on William Shakespeare.
An early morning flight from Manchester to Dusseldorf and then a 45 minute coach transfer took me to Cologne. A first sight of the Charles Dickens moored on the Rhine in the shadows of Cologne Cathedral and the Hohenzollernbrucke (the bridge where people have placed love padlocks on the fence between the footpath and the railway lines). We were greeted as we boarded by the Captain and the Hotel Manager, rightly proud of their new ship.
Although the ship has 76 cabins, in line with Riviera Travels policy of offering some cabins per sailing to single passengers (at no single supplement), there will rarely be more than 140 or so guests on board. There are 3 types of cabin on Charles Dickens: Nickleby (Lower) deck cabins with half height windows (153 sq ft); Copperfield (Middle) and Oliver Twist (Upper) deck cabins with French balconies (161 sq ft); and 4 suites (245 sq ft) on Oliver Twist deck with double balconies (one is a smaller french balcony and the other is a more conventional ocean cruise style balcony which you can sit out on).
It is fair to say that my personal jury is still out on the effectiveness of full balconies on river cruise ships, as the balcony itself cannot stick out over the side of the ship (as on ocean ships) and so takes space off the actual cabin itself – great if the weather is good, but not so ideal if it is a trifle inclement. The cabins are thoughtfully designed with a frosted glass door into a well-appointed bathroom, complete with marble effects, toiletries and glass shower door. There is bottled water available, replenished daily as well as the Quietvox receivers for shore excursions. Plush hotel beds and a soothing blue and chocolate brown colour scheme should ensure a pleasant night’s sleep. There are arm chairs in the French balcony cabins along with a unique system allowing the full length windows to recess totally into the side of the ship.
The ship has 4 decks altogether, including the Sun deck, part of which (along with the Bridge) can be hydraulically lowered, as required, to get under bridges along the river. Here you can play giant chess, sink the odd putt, chillax in the small jacuzzi pool or simply recline under an awning and watch the river go by. For anything more energetic, head to the lower deck for the small gym and sauna area.
There is a chair lift forward on the Upper deck to get up to the lower part of the Sun deck and an enclosed lift, mid ships, to transport you from the Middle to Upper decks. It does not go to the Lower deck though. Cabin 202 on the Upper deck is a part adapted cabin, that is it has wider doors to allow a wheelchair through. River cruising is not a suitable holiday for anyone who relies on a wheelchair for getting about 24/7. Mooring positions at ports of call and water levels on rivers may result in having to clamber over other river cruise ships to disembark, or having to disembark your own ship from the Sun deck. So the questions I always ask are:
As you embark the ship on the Upper deck, you enter the Lobby and atrium area, housing the Reception desk (complete with helpful staff, information on ports of call, the Daily Programme and a bulbous glass bowl full of tempting boiled sweets). A right turn takes you forward into the large welcoming Lounge with panoramic bay windows, a centrally positioned bar and different combination of comfortable seating (arm chairs and settees in purple, olive green and beige colour schemes).
These allow you to chat in groups, browse a book from the library shelves, sit up front and admire the view or relax listening to the background piano music. There is also a small dance floor should you feel the desire to practice a few steps and a 24 hour self service station for tea and coffee (in addition to tea and coffee making facilities in your cabin). You can also access the open deck at the forward end of the ship, via this lounge.
The second bar on Charles Dickens is at the stern of the ship, also on the upper deck. It too has large panoramic windows and open air seating. On 3 evenings during a typical 7 night cruise, it is transformed into the Chef’s signature restaurant for no more than 24 diners. This alternative and very intimate dining venue is complimentary, but your table does need to be reserved!
The main dining room is on the Middle deck – a light, bright, attractive room with innovative ‘sound absorbent’ paint on the ceiling to reduce noise levels whilst dining. It also has panoramic tinted windows so that you do not miss any of the scenery whilst enjoying your fine dining experience. Breakfast and lunch is buffet style (although you can also enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast in your cabin – as long as you order it before midnight!) Dinner is waiter served on an open seating basis, with most tables seating 4 or 6 people.
The first evening of the cruise is often a buffet dinner (as guests arrive at different times through the afternoon and evening). The second evening is the welcome dinner, with drinks, canapés and introductions from the Captain and crew beforehand. There is also a Gala dinner and a Farewell dinner before disembarking at the end of your cruise. If the weather is very good you could also eat al fresco! The lunch I had was excellent and complemented totally by the wine and the attentive but unobtrusive waiter service: a duo of smoked salmon, followed cream of sweet potato soup with diced apple & nuts, topped with vanilla foam. I followed this with a main course of herb crusted rack of lamb and finally apple strudel – delicious!
Riviera Travel currently operate seven 5* ships and three 4* superior ships on European rivers as well as three ships in the Far East. They sail on the Rhine, Rhone, Saone, Danube, Main, Douro, Seine, Moselle, Elbe, Irrawaddy and Mekong. In 2016 they will also be offering 2 charters on Royal Clipper and a series of Croatian coastal cruises on the 4* MV Corona.
Don’t forget, Riviera Travel are one of the largest escorted tour companies in operation and for the fourth year running they have been recommended by ‘Which?’. Visualise a river cruise ship as your floating hotel and you can see why Riviera Travel and river cruising work so well together. But you could equally well eat pasta at Pompeii, drink sangria in Sicily and munch pizza in Pisa on one of their (Italian) European tours. Or what about visiting Switzerland or Spanish cities like Santiago and Barcelona, taking land based tours in Greece, Turkey or France or further afield in the USA, Canada, South Africa, Japan or New Zealand. They also offer short breaks of 4 or 5 days in cities including Berlin, Bruges, Krakow and Iceland (I know – not a city!)
Whilst river cruising may provide the bedrock of my interest in Riviera Travel, their overall holiday product is excellent and I do not hesitate in recommending you to take a look at their holidays. Get in touch if you would like me to get you a brochure for any or all of their diverse destinations and holiday types. But don’t delay – Riviera Travel do not discount their holidays closer to departure time – you really do have to book early to secure your preferred holiday date and accommodation.
Please get in touch if you are interested in finding out more about any of these exciting cruises and holidays. Telephone: 0161 439 5179 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org