Riverside Takes Aim at the Luxury River Cruise Market

Photos Courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises- Rheinfels Castle; Rhine River Germany
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By Gerry Barker

Photos Courtesy of Riverside Luxury Cruises

True to their name, when Riverside Luxury Cruises launched earlier this year, they took aim at being the top choice in the luxury river cruising market. After being named Forbes’ “Best European River Cruise For Foodies” and Cruise Critic’s 2023 Editors’ Pick Award Winner for “Best Dining in the River Category,” they are well on their way.

Operating three ships — Mozart, Ravel and Debussy — all formerly owned by Crystal, Riverside is offering guests all-inclusive sailings on Europe’s Rhine, Rhone, Danube and Main Rivers.

At the just-concluded Seatrade Global Cruise conference in Miami Beach, Riverside’s CEO, Jennifer Halboth, sat down for an interview to talk about their first year and a look ahead. No stranger to the river cruising business, prior to joining Riverside in 2022, she was with Avalon Waterways for 19 years, most recently as Senior Director – National Accounts.

So what differentiates a luxury river cruise from other cruises?

“For one thing,” she said, “we have less people onboard (guest capacity ranges from 110-160).” She also pointed out their suites are larger — each features a king-size bed — and every room has its own butler. Another important element in their recipe for success (no pun intended) centers on culinary.

“We have a focus on culinary,” she said. “We probably spend double our nearest competitor for the best ingredients.” And since there are fewer guests, she said that means they have more space for larger galleys and more cooks.

Riverside places special emphasis on food and beverage

“If you are going to attract the luxury client, you can’t scrimp on culinary. You have to be exceptional, and we are aiming to be exceptional.” She added that food not only needs to be high quality, but also “beautifully presented so it’s a real experience. When you come into the Waterside Restaurant on one of our ships, it’s like five star dining.”

While there’s no doubt having the use of a butler is emblematic of a luxury experience, Ms. Halboth acknowledged their North American guests aren’t always sure how to utilize their services.

“We want to do a better job in the first day or two (of the cruise) to educate people on using their butler,” she said, and agreed the label “personal concierge” might be a better term.

Of course, one of the main tenants of river cruising are the shore excursions, and Ms. Halboth said Riverside offers a range of options, with “an average of three in every port” that are included in the cruise fare. For first-timers, she said they may want to opt for a walking tour of the town, while others might prefer a more active-oriented excursion.

They limit group size to 15-20 people, and if there are more, will add an additional tour. There are also optional tours she said, such as “taking a hot air balloon ride over Budapest.” Think how that would play on social media.

So what’s included in an all-inclusive Riverside cruise? She said that list encompasses use of the ship’s amenities, a premium beverage package, shore excursions, gratuities, port charges and transfers, as well as Wi-Fi and a welcome bottle of champagne. Optional items include the spa and the Vintage Room, which is “an even more elevated dining experience.”

Guests can also be assured of personalized attention. Apart from the butler, there are two crew for every four guests.

Ms. Halboth pointed out that guests who decide they don’t need the beverage package, or the shore excursions, have the choice of opting those out of the fare, a degree of customization not often seen in the cruise industry.

As they approach the anniversary of their first year in business, Ms. Halboth admitted the cruise line is still in a learning phase. “We’ll spend the next few years honing the brand and the product,” she said. “If you go after the luxury client, there’s not much room for error.”

One of their major initiatives is attracting “the luxury client who is yet to take a river cruise,” and at the same time, would like to push down the average age of their guests, most of which come from North America. “North America drives the river cruise train,” she said.

Riverside Mozart on the Danube

If their efforts are successful, she said it “grows the whole pie for everyone — a real win-win-win.”

Regardless, there’s no doubt river cruising is strong and getting stronger.

“There’s a really bright future for all of us,” she said.


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