New ultra-luxury brand Riverside Luxury Cruises will set sail on Europe’s Danube, Rhine, Rhône and Saône rivers in April 2023, offering personalised guest experiences, exclusive excursions and diverse itineraries that have been carefully curated to meet the ever-evolving demands of today’s most discerning travellers. The brand was launched by German hotelier Gregor Gerlach, co-owner of Seaside Collection, which operates 11 boutique properties in Germany, the Canary Islands and the Maldives.
“In 2018, we realised there was growing demand for a contemporary, upmarket river cruise brand, and decided to fill that niche by developing our own six-star offering,” says Gerlach.
However, launching a boutique resort on the water was more challenging than Gerlach originally anticipated. “We couldn’t buy existing vessels because none of the available ships met our requirements, and we weren’t able to build our own because all the shipyards already had full order books, so we had to sideline the project.”
Gerlach’s fortunes changed when luxury cruise operator Crystal Cruises filed for bankruptcy and ceased operations in January 2022, leaving five river cruise ships and several other vessels without owners. He immediately launched a plan to buy the river vessels, successfully purchasing Mozart in October 2022 and acquiring the remaining four in January 2023 after an extended bidding war with a competitor.
“The vessels are the perfect size to deliver an intimate, personalised and luxury experience, particularly Riverside Mozart, which offers more spacious suites than any other river cruise ship on the Danube,” says Gerlach.
After seeking feedback from Crystal Cruises’ former guests who all rated the vessels highly, Riverside Luxury Cruises opted not to carry out major upgrades on the ships. “We’ll install a new Vista Grill barbeque venue on the top deck so guests can dine al fresco while admiring the passing scenery or watching the sunset, but otherwise, we’re just adding small touches that will elevate the overall level of luxury,” says Gerlach. “For example, we’re introducing pops of colour to the décor, using plush towels in the bathrooms, and decorating restaurant tables with flowers and high-quality tablecloths. We’ll also offer 24/7 personalised butler services.”
The brand has also created a unique food and beverage programme to enhance the onboard experience, according to Stuart Perl, a stalwart of the luxury cruise sector who is now managing director of Riverside Luxury Cruises.
“We’ll offer premium dining and culinary experiences in the onboard restaurants and bars, as well as speciality dishes inspired by the destinations we’re visiting,” says Perl. “These dishes will change as we sail from port to port, and everything will be made with fresh, high-quality local produce. In addition, our trained sommeliers and bartenders will serve regional and global wines, spirits and other beverages to round off the culinary experience.”
Meanwhile, Riverside Luxury Cruises’ itineraries will take guests to a mix of popular and lesser-known destinations. From April 2023, Riverside Mozart will sail various Danube cruises to ports in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Serbia and Slovakia. In May, Riverside Ravel will launch itineraries on both the Rhône & Saône in France, calling at destinations like Arles, Chalon-sur-Saône, Lyon, Tournus and Trévoux. And Riverside Debussy will cruise along the Rhine from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Basel, Switzerland. Riverside Bach and Riverside Mahler will begin operating in 2024.
“The itineraries vary in length to ensure they are attractive to our key target markets, which include the USA, UK and mainland Europe,” says Perl. “Our research showed that some guests want to start and end their cruise in the same destination, whereas others like to begin and conclude in different places, so we’ve planned voyages to suit both preferences. In addition, we’ve taken a ‘modular’ approach to enable guests to customise their cruise by combining different itineraries into one long holiday – another little luxury they will appreciate.”
Guests will be able to choose from a range of shore excursions throughout their cruises too. “We’ve created excursions focused on culture, history, food and wine, active lifestyles and more, so there’s something for everyone,” says Perl, noting that groups will be limited to 20 people to make the experience feel exclusive.
Some of the highlights will include bicycle tours in Budapest, beer tasting or cooking classes in Bratislava, a visit to Vienna’s Spanish Riding School, and a forest hike to Avala Mountain in Belgrade, Serbia.
“One of the best things about river cruising is that you can berth directly along the riverbank, so guests can step straight off the ship and right into the heart of the destinations,” says Gerlach. “This gives them plenty of time to explore the nearby attractions or take excursions. Plus, the ports are located fairly close together so we can sometimes stop at multiple places in one day. Of course, the ships are constantly surrounded by beautiful scenery too, so there’s always something to see whether we’re sailing by day or night.”
Gerlach is keenly awaiting the day the first guests board Riverside Mozart, but he is cautious about planning too far ahead.
“We aim to establish ourselves as the brand of choice for affluent international travellers wanting to enjoy an exclusive, six-star river cruise experience on some of Europe’s most beautiful rivers,” says Gerlach. “So, the plan for now is to stay small and continually refine our cruise product, but we may consider expanding the fleet or offering itineraries on other rivers, either in Europe or elsewhere in the world, in future. However, we’ll never become a mass-market operator with a huge fleet of ships.”
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door.