This River Cruise Line Is One of the Best-Kept Secrets on Europe’s Rivers

Some of the most luxurious river cruise sailings in Europe are also some of the most affordable.

A suite on Riverside Luxury Cruises, featuring a bed with green decorative pillows and a desk with a mirror above it

Riverside Luxury Cruises has resurrected the formal Crystal Cruises river cruise ships, some of the most luxurious vessels plying Europe’s inland waterways.

Per Karehed/Riverside Luxury Cruises

When Riverside Luxury Cruises entered the crowded and highly competitive river cruise market last year, it had the advantage of starting with one of the newest, most luxurious fleets of ships on Europe’s inland waterways.

But anyone who travels regularly knows that luxury is about so much more than just the physical aspects of a ship or resort. It’s also about the people, food, amenities and, of course, the service.

By all appearances, Riverside is committed to not just competing, but excelling across all aspects of luxury river cruising. After a week of sailing the Rhine and Main Rivers aboard the 110-passenger Riverside DeBussy, the most recently launched Riverside ship, I had to agree with a fellow traveler and frequent river and ocean cruiser who said the food was the best she has ever had on a ship. And she has sailed with a lot of luxury cruise lines.

And while there were a few minor service quirks in the dining room—as one would expect on any ship’s first season—it was clear that this new player in the luxury river cruise space has the service-oriented chops and the luxury-hospitality background needed to maintain the high standards set by the ships’ previous owners, the now-defunct Crystal Cruises.

Even more important, the cruise was fun. I knew it would be when, on our first afternoon of sailing, at the beginning of a cocktail-making demonstration, Miroslav, the bartender, asked us for the definition of mixology. When no one had an answer, he replied, “The art of getting hammered.” The next hour flew by as we laughed our way through demonstrations and samples.

The swimming pool on 'Riverside Debussy' with a couple lounge chairs

Among the unique onboard amenities: a swimming pool

Ian Schemper/Riverside Luxury Cruises

The ship

Riverside DeBussy is one of five ships that German luxury hotel company Seaside Collection acquired during Crystal Cruises’ bankruptcy process. Because the ships sailed just a season or two prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and Crystal’s ultimate demise, they are like new and feature the original elegant yet simple and contemporary decor (like a classy boutique hotel, with lush velvet fabrics and nods to sleek art deco design, that’s not overdone). Top-of-the-line amenities include heated bathroom floors and incredibly comfortable true king-size beds in the staterooms and suites.

One of the biggest luxuries on board is the luxury of space. The Riverside ships have larger-than-average cabins ranging from 194 to 706 square feet, with walk-in closets and double vanities in the bathrooms. The public areas are also generous in size. And with a maximum of just 110 guests, the ships have the highest staff-to-guest ratio of any river cruise line, with one crew member for every two guests. There are also lots of indulgent extras, such as butlers for every stateroom, 24-hour room service, high-end Natura Bissé products from Barcelona in the spa and the cabins, an indoor pool, a small but well-equipped fitness center, and a self-serve guest laundry (in addition to laundry and dry-cleaning services.)

The Vintage Room on 'Riverside Debussy,' featuring a long dining table, large, curved, almost armchair-like dining chairs, and geometric art and textures on the walls

An elaborate six-course tasting-menu dinner takes place in the intimate Vintage Room.

Courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises

The food

From homemade cookies to a special eight-course tasting-menu and wine-pairing dinner, Riverside’s locally sourced culinary offerings are where the cruise line really excels. I am not easily impressed when it comes to food. But I didn’t have a single dish I didn’t enjoy during my seven days on board, whether it was eggs Benedict for breakfast, homemade soups at lunch, or the fine-dining options each evening.

The crème de la crème, of course, was the seven-course tasting menu, offered for an additional 295 euros per guest (around US$317 based on current conversion rates), in the ship’s Vintage Room, a private 10-person venue off the main dining area with sweeping views of the passing scenery from its floor-to-ceiling windows. The night I dined there, the dinner menu included roasted yellow capsicum soup with a fresh anchovy, coriander, and a paprika chip; surf and turf of beef sirloin and seared scallop; and tender pink spring veal cooked with pistachios. Just as good as the dinner were the exceptional wine selections from France, Germany, Switzerland, and Hungary. Among my favorites: Donatsch Completer Malanserrebe, a white wine from the rare and ancient grapes native to the Graubünden region of Switzerland.

A dessert plate from the Vintage Room featuring two balls of green and yellow dessert and two fig quarters along with some other shavings for presentation

Elaborate meals, cooking demonstrations, tastings, and pairings, are all an integral part of the Riverside experience.


The itinerary and excursions

I sailed on the DeBussy between Amsterdam and Basel, Switzerland. The seven-day cruise (with an option to sail another seven days and end in Budapest) started with an overnight that included a nighttime canal cruise in Amsterdam. After a morning walking tour in central Amsterdam that included a stop at Café Luxembourg, where we tasted local Dutch Bols gin and apple pie. Then we learned about cheese making and tasted some samples (of course) at the family-owned Henri Willig before setting sail. The next morning we cruised through the famed castle-lined Rhine Gorge. From there it was on to Dusseldorf, known for its art and architecture, before we split off from the Rhine onto the Main River and its lesser-visited, well-preserved medieval towns and villages of Miltenberg, Wurzburg, and Bamberg.

In keeping with the culinary theme, the excursions (all are included) offered demonstrations and tastings of local Bavarian beers and wines. Rainy weather canceled our bike and art tours in Dusseldorf, but otherwise there were three to four activities to choose from every day. In Miltenberg, I chose the witch-hunt–themed excursion, where we learned about the history of witchcraft and how deadly epidemics, bad harvests, and storms fueled an era of witch hunts that landed some in prison while others were killed and burned. We also visited the last remaining witch’s cottage, which is hidden in the garden of a private residence. Active travelers can take advantage of Riverside’s hike and bike tours, and guests can also check out bikes to ride on their own.

The lounge on 'Riverside Debussy' with a central grand piano and black-and-cream club chairs all around

The lounge is where the majority of the evening entertainment takes place on Riverside Debussy.

Ian Schemper/Riverside Luxury Cruises

Onboard activities

While every day offered a choice of off-ship activities, I would have also been happy to spend most of my time on board, sipping mimosas on the sun deck or getting spa treatments from the experienced masseuse and aesthetician. As we sailed, the fun-loving crew kept us well entertained with the aforementioned mixology classes, a pastry demonstration, and bingo, which offered spa treatments as prizes. Evening entertainment varied, from the onboard pianist to a Bavarian brass band and an amusing parlor game put on by the crew called “Liar’s Club,” during which some of the crew stood at the front of the lounge to answer questions, and we had to figure out who was and wasn’t telling the truth.


As a startup, Riverside may be the best-kept secret on Europe’s rivers. That means good deals and lots of choices for travelers as the company works to build its brand recognition internationally. Riverside Debussy sails 3- to 22-night itineraries on the Rhine, Moselle, Main, and Danube Rivers. All-inclusive (including gratuities, transfers, wine, beer, and spirits) rates start at $2,413 per person for a three-day cruise, based on double occupancy.

Jeri Clausing is a New Mexico–based journalist who has covered travel and the business of travel for more than 15 years.
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