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Castles, camaraderie & cocktails: We tried an all-inclusive river cruise

VIVA Cruises launched its new ship VIVA TWO in March 2023 and Sailawaze joined the German river cruise line for a short sailing along the Rhine and Main rivers to experience it for ourselves.

Words by Harriet Mallinson

The soaring, craggy hillsides are studded with gothic mansions and crumbling castles as I float along while an idyllic riverside town intermittently pops up brimming with turrets, church spires and traditional, colourful houses.

It’s certainly not hard to see why Germany is the birthplace of so many fairytales; even the entrances to railway tunnels resemble a castellated tower. Much like Pocahontas, I start to wonder, what’s around the next river bend, and more importantly, what mysterious Count might dwell inside that romantic fortress perched amid the bank’s green cape?

Luckily for me, my imagination has several days to run wild as these gorgeous views of the Rhine River are available morning, noon and night onboard VIVA Cruises’s newest river cruise ship VIVA TWO.

Lazing in my bed of a morning – oo what’s inside that intriguing mansion? Munching on four types of herring at lunch (yes really) – ee look at that beautiful village. Quaffing champagne in the evening – aah those twinkling lights are so pretty!

Yes, there’s no escaping Germany’s gorgeous countryside from a river cruise, making it perfect for anyone who fears being ‘stuck’ out at sea.

Indeed five-year-old brand VIVA Cruises is a great option for anyone looking to try their first cruise. VIVA TWO holds up to 190 passengers so never do you feel overwhelmed by crowds and there is none of that cheesiness many fear when it comes to cruising.

Well-appointed cabins are comfortable, modern and boast a classic design with muted tones making for very chic accommodation and the elegance continues in the fairly spacious bathrooms, furnished with lovely Rituals products.

As for the aforementioned room with a view, no dreaded inside cabins here. The most affordable lower deck rooms on VIVA river cruises all have windows while on two of the three decks floor-to-ceiling windows open up entirely, converting the whole room into a luxurious balcony without eating up floor space.

Talking of which, there are three restaurants to choose from on VIVA TWO – all stylishly designed and decorated, naturally.

Riverside is the main restaurant (featuring a wide selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus) and is my personal favourite. As I dine by the window on tasty marinated veal tartar, tiger shrimp ‘thermidor’, slow-roasted beef stripling and molten lava cake (no going hungry on this trip), I relish the cheerful chatter of fellow guests, the sight of the water flowing just beneath me and the vistas beyond.

That is, of course, until another vessel shimmies over and moors up just alongside us – commonplace in the river cruise world but something of a shock on the first occasion. We inadvertently join a couple’s romantic dinner date on the other side of the glass and tacitly toast to the night when our eyes meet. River cruising is nothing if not awash with camaraderie.

On the deck below, Mediterranean restaurant MOMENTS serves top-class speciality food, accompanied by light entertainment (just remember to pre-book) while for more intimate, casual eats there’s VIVA’s Bistro.

The latter – perhaps best during the day thanks to the views at the back of the ship and the option to dine al fresco – specialises in seafood, think shrimp cocktail, lobster bisque, seafood risotto and tuna fillet.

After dark a DJ strikes up in the ship’s lounge – his deck pulling out of a grand piano like a rabbit from a hat – and guests congregate around the spacious bar at the front of the ship, to drink and dance.

In fact, a huge perk of sailing with VIVA Cruises is the signature all-inclusive products – comprising snacks, full board, high-quality alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, Wi-Fi and all tips and gratuities.

Consequently, it’s not surprising that VIVA river cruises attract a younger audience than other similar lines as such travellers are frequently drawn to all-inclusive voyages, not only because they can knock back as many drinks as they like (and spend as much time on phones as they want) but one never has to worry about the costs adding up while away – the upfront price is exactly what the holiday will cost.

The only place you’ll have to get out your wallet while away is when you head ashore; and the beauty of European river cruising is that ships generally moor within accessible distance of a city centre so you can amble off the ship and begin your land escapades immediately.

What’s more, with more overnight stops than ocean cruising it’s easy to head into town for dinner or a night out if you fancy exploring the destination and soaking up its culture past dusk.

My cruise takes in the German cities of Mainz and Frankfurt, both of which prove super easy to visit from the ship. Holidaymakers can do their own thing or join the well-priced VIVA shore excursions – the line offers a two-hour walking tour of Mainz for just €24.

The Rhineland city is famous for its university (thanks to which a whopping 55 percent of people in the city are under 35), wine and Mainz Cathedral, one of the most important religious buildings in Germany; the Christmas markets are fab too. Consider brushing up on Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the printing press before you visit on a Rhine river cruise – he was born in Mainz and homages to the great craftsman can be spotted throughout the charming city.

Frankfurt, on the Main (the longest tributary of the Rhine), also has plenty of fame to shout about. Anne Frank, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the Rothschild family all hailed from the German city and the financial hub is now home to the European Central Bank.

Consequently, Frankfurt (above) may bristle with glass, steel and concrete skyscrapers and whiff of money, but its old town is really quite delightful. It’s all superficial of course – the medieval-esque half-timbered buildings in the Römerberg, Frankfurt’s old central square, were all reconstructed after the heavy bombing of World War II – but wonderful to wander around nonetheless. Come in August on a Main River cruise and you’ll see wine pouring out of The Fountain of Justice!

Of course, if it’s free-flowing wine (no pun intended) you’re after, VIVA TWO delivers at all times of day, and coming back for afternoon tea is lovely after a day of culture.

Looking for more activity back on board during your VIVA river cruises? There’s a small gym complete with weights, a bike, a running machine and a rowing machine to help you keep the infamous cruise weight gain at bay, plus a spa with a sauna and steam room. Note this needs booking but it’s free and will be yours for the hour – just the ticket after a day of tramping around the continent’s urban gems.

For further relaxation when the day’s adventure is done – or if you fancy simply having a lazy day – books and board games are available in the lounge, while on deck there’s a heated pool open 24/7. In warm weather this upper deck is perfect for reclining in a deck chair and watching the world go by – VIVA is even installing hammocks for the ultimate chill out.

Oo look, another castle.

Set Sail

Rhine, Main, Danube with VIVA Cruises

Duration: 9 nights

Where: Düsseldorf | Coblenz | Rüdesheim | Frankfurt | Miltenberg | Wertheim | Würzburg |Marktbreit | Volkach | Bamberg | Nuremberg | Regensburg | Passau


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Published 07.02.23