I was invited by Riverside Luxury Cruises to experience not only their first ship, MS Mozart, but the Riverside experience itself. Bottom Line: I’m a fan! (And you know I don’t toss words like that around lightly.)
Before I get into my travel experiences so far on this unique and eye-opening itinerary (which will be my next article), a bit about MS Mozart.
I have been on river cruises before, but not on such a large, comfortable, and beautiful ship. She is one of the largest river cruise ships in Europe measuring 395 feet long and 75 feet wide, but carries only 120 guests. She is literally twice as wide as almost every other river cruise ship. In fact, compared to one of the largest river cruise operators whose fleet of ships are 442 feet long, but only 37 feet wide and carry 190 passengers, MS Mozart’s spacious suites, large and additional public spaces, venues, top deck, and amenities really make her stand out.
Ironically, MS Mozart is not the newest ship on the Danube River, but alas she is also one of the newest ships. You see, she was built in 1987, went through a few of owners, and then was purchased by Crystal Cruises who spent an extraordinary amount of money basically gutting the ship and creating a totally new one.
Over a six-month refit nothing was left untouched; resulting in the most luxurious river cruise ship with, among other things, brand new large suites (the smallest suites are 219 square feet and the largest are 883 square feet).
So, when Crystal went out of business, Riverside came into business…as part of a larger business, the Seaside Collection, first with the virtually brand new MS Mozart and then the four other virtually new former Crystal ships. I explained this in an earlier article: https://lnkd.in/gvnYCszk
Keep in mind that unlike the new Crystal Cruises established when Abercrombie & Kent purchased most all of Crystal’s assets, including the name, client lists, etc. Riverside has nothing to do with Crystal. Riverside is, well, Riverside and it has its own “vibe” and approach. It just happens to own ships formerly owned by a defunct company. This is similar to Oceania, Azamara and Princess cruise lines owning some of the former Renaissance Cruises ships.
The dining venues consist of the main dining room Waterside, which has a wonderful Marketplace for breakfast buffet, and full-service lunches and dinners
The Bistro for light bites throughout the day (including homemade ice cream/gelatos),
and Blue Deli, a casual dining venue that overlooks the stern of the ship.
There is one element that has been carried over from the prior owner: The Vintage Room, where an evening of wonderful wines and special cuisine is offered. It is an extra cost and is limited to 12 guests when offered.
Some of the other amenities offered on Riverside’s Mozart are a full-service spa and beauty salon with an indoor pool, jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room.
a large fitness center, self-service laundry, an always-available coffee/tea station, a bar, and a show lounge, and a true cigar lounge.
along with a top deck that is filled with a variety of seating areas, a bar, and gardens.
This is where a large inventory of bicycles and e-Bikes are stored and are available for guests’ use on request.
But as I have said often, it is about the software more than the hardware and Riverside has some great software!
Keep in mind you have all these venues and amenities on this is a river cruise ship that has 120 guests; not an ocean cruise ship that services multiples of that!
The Riverside staff and crew are a combination of the truly experienced (including a number of key staff that previously worked on the ship) and young, enthusiastic, staff that could not express their desires and drive to be the best with any more charm. They are mostly Eastern European (Serbia, Romania, Austria, and such) with excellent communication skills for both the U.S. and German/European guests onboard.
From the stewardess to your butler (I still don’t know how or why to use him), to the front desk, to waiters, to bartenders, everyone exudes happiness, and friendliness, and performs at a very high level. They know who they can joke with (like me!) and who to address more formally and handle any quirks with grace and charm. There are some minor training issues, but I have noticed improvements in just a few days from the newest of staff.
The cuisine has been quite good; I would call it Premium Plus. The cuisine is truly varied with a focus – but not obsession – on local dishes, creatively presented, and tasty. Generally, the dishes are more simple in construction, but the care and focus are impressive. For example, the duck breast shown below is of thicker slices and perfectly cooked, rather than a number of thin slices with a rich sauce (that undercuts the duck’s wonderful flavor) in a fancier presentation.
Also note that the chef is talented, charming, and loves to interact with the guests. One guest teased the chef that she wants to be his sous chef. He invited her to “assist” at the start of service one evening by coming into the active galley to observe the action. Nice touch!!
The focus on offering local cuisine is limited to the main dining room and ranges from cheeses to sausages to very proudly served Serbian soups. Another nice and appreciated touch.
I did my usual Hamburger Test and it comes in at an A- (as the burger was more rare than medium rare), but the bun, garnish, and especially perfectly cooked steak fries were spot on. Adding the three different sausages on a creative wooden platter made the presentation, the best I have encountered! (And signaled the hot dog test wasn’t an option!)
I was so impressed, I decided to go with another tough-to-please order: Bagel & Lox. Giving a bit of leeway as a New York bagel isn’t happening at sea, the attention to detail with fresh cream cheese, dill, capers, and pickled onions exquisitely presented on a nicely toasted bagel earned my first A+…and I don’t even like capers!
Dinners have been consistently solid with a more European leaning…and with the added bonus of pasta made fresh every day!
As for desserts, they range from banana splits to…
Room Service is available with a fairly extensive menu, though the evening’s dishes are not published as being available; though the chef is very accommodating.
The wine selection onboard is strong, with a focus on wines from the region. For me, it is a real treat as there are delicious German and Austrian wines that are not readily available in the US and will change the minds of those that erroneously think they are sweet. In fact, there is a George Breuer Riesling; one of the most well regarded winemakers. (I arranged a private Riesling tasting in his cellar as part of my 2014 Culinary & Cultural Cruise.) There are also California chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, for those preferring them. And the wine prices for premium bottles are quite reasonable.
A variety of local beers and a nice collection of spirits are also available. Again, not a largest selection, but a well-thought-out one that will please just about anyone.
There is a solid video system in the room with plenty of high-quality movies. While I am not a big television watcher when traveling, I did not that no US stations are provided. It is also your “go-to” for shore excursion details and the itinerary (though on my unique itinerary, the prior cruise’s one is shown). There is no app, but a Daily Program with just the essential information is provided in paper at evening turndown, which I know many (including me) prefer.
Speaking of shore excursions, because of the unique itinerary, a fairly limited number of guests onboard, and the high water levels leading to slow upriver travel, the offerings have been limited. Even with the limited offerings, and noting that this area of Europe is not the most picturesque, the they have been varied ranging from hiking to walking tours with an included concert to wine tasting, to visits to local farms, and more.
While I generally shun ship tours, I have taken the opportunity to try Riverside’s offerings out. All three guides so far have been extremely nice and provided me with more than enough cultural and political fodder to get me thinking far beyond the history of some buildings; despite being hampered by what seems to be a constant rain on this river cruise.
I am impressed with Riverside Luxury Cruises’ MS Mozart from the ship, to the staff, to the cuisine. Especially with the poor weather and the long distances between ports on this unique itinerary, the ship having so much to offer and the suites being so comfortable, has made life onboard both relaxing and fulfilling.
Add to that the charming and efficient staff and a wide variety of culinary options, including local cuisine, and this is a great river cruise option.
I must note that there has been an overall hesitance by travelers to commit to any of the new offerings due to the serious issues with Crystal, Ritz Carlton, Seabourn, etc. Riverside is truly putting a great product out there and, while, for example, I caution to avoid Ritz Carlton until it can get the kinks out, Riverside is delivering NOW.
I can’t think of a reason not to put Riverside on your short list of luxury river cruise options!
Up next: A Thought-Provoking Journey