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Earlier this year, I embarked on my very first river cruise: a six-day voyage from Amsterdam to Frankfurt via Cologne, Koblenz and Rüdesheim.

While I was looking forward to my trip, there were definitely some aspects I was a little apprehensive about. Would my cabin feel poky and claustrophobic? What kind of meals can realistically be cooked on a moving vessel? And just what would I do on board during the periods we weren’t in port?

But I’m pleased to report that I returned from my cruise a bit of a convert. Of course, the excursions and the variety of places we stopped at were fantastic – but I already had high hopes for them. So instead, I’ve done a round-up of the things that pleasantly surprised me during my time on MS Bellejour.

Cabin size and storage

My only previous cruise experience involved an inside cabin on a huge ocean cruise ship, so I had prepared myself for a cabin that was on the compact size.

But I actually found that I had all the space I needed. The beds were a decent size, with enough space around them to potter about without tripping over my scattered belongings. There was enough room by the wardrobe to change without whacking my arms against the wall. And light flooded in from the sliding doors leading out to the French balcony.

I later discovered that MS Bellejour’s standard cabins are among the biggest available on European river cruise ships – a big plus point, especially on a smaller ship where you might want to retreat back to your own space from time to time.

I hadn’t expected a huge amount of storage space, either. But there was more than enough for my six-day stay – I didn’t even use three-quarters of it. There were wardrobes, cupboards, shelves, drawers, and a full-length mirror (something I often find lacking in hotel rooms).

The showers

It might sound a bit strange, but I was fully expecting a weak, weedy shower. It is a ship, after all – how good can the water pressure actually be? As it turns out, a lot better than I can get at home.

While I probably wouldn’t go as far as describing it as a power shower, I would say it was pretty close. And there were no random fluctuations in temperature (one of my pet peeves with hotel showers). A solid 10 out of 10 from me!

The quality (and variety) of the food

The food on MS Bellejour was probably the biggest surprise for me. I can’t imagine it’s easy to cater for 180-odd people (and with the limited kitchen space that a river cruise ship provides). But the chefs pulled it out of the bag every night – delicious four-course meals, all perfectly prepared and beautifully presented.

Because dinners are a sit-down affair, there’s more of an ‘occasion’ feel than you might get at a buffet, where people are constantly up and down to help themselves to dishes. Tables were dressed in white linens, waiters were on hand to clear empty plates and replenish bread baskets, and glasses were kept topped up with complimentary wine or beer throughout the meal.

You could also opt for the sit-down meal for lunch, but I preferred the lighter, more casual spread in the lounge – a hearty bowl of soup and a sandwich or two was plenty for me. It was great to have the choice, though, and if I’d been on a longer voyage I’d probably have mixed up where I had lunch each day.

How well I slept

This is likely to be a personal thing, but I slept incredibly well on the ship, particularly when we were sailing overnight. Some people I spoke to didn’t like the movement, but I found the gentle motion and background hum of the ship’s engines very soothing when it came to nodding off.

I found the bed really comfy too, and loved that I could pile up spare pillows for extra squishy-ness.

How much I enjoyed the leisurely pace

Ordinarily, I like to go 100 miles an hour on holiday. I love a city break or active holiday, and tend to get itchy feet if I’m just sitting on a beach or next to a pool all day.

Being on the cruise forced me to take things a little slower. We had a few stretches of scenic sailing between destinations – and, being a smaller ship, there weren’t oodles of activities to sign myself up for.

Instead, I just took it easy. I took a cappuccino back to my cabin and enjoyed it next to my balcony. I read a few chapters of my book up on deck in the sunshine. I worked my way through the daily quiz (with a bit of help from Roger, our tour manager). I snapped countless photos of the pastel-coloured towns and grand castles that we passed.

And I did enjoy it. It made a nice contrast to the days when we were in port and I was out and on my feet all day. It also gave me a bit of time to read up on our upcoming ports of call and get excited about the places I’d be discovering and the new sights I’d be seeing.

There were still a few moments where I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, but certainly not as many as I was expecting. Turns out I do like a bit of R&R after all!


Not sure whether a river cruise will be your sort of holiday? Have a watch of our river cruise videos, where we interview a group of first-time river cruisers about their experiences on MS Bellejour.


Article published on: 8th August, 2019

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Laura

Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.

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