MS Thomas Hardy

Cruise Express

Australian owned and operated

Ms Thomas Hardy

Reviewed by and sailed to: Andrew Mevissen, six-day, round-trip

Christmas market cruise from Budapest to Slovakia and Austria

Date: December 2019

Cruise line and ship: MS Thomas Hardy (named after famous British author) – one of a fleet of five-star ships operated by Riviera Travel River Cruises

Size of ship: 3600 GT, 4 decks

Passenger capacity: 169

Year built (refurbed): 2017

Currency onboard: Euros

Where the ship cruises: The Rhine, Moselle and Danube rivers

Most suited to: Riviera Travel River Cruises is a popular British cruise line and hence attracts English passengers as well as Americans but an increasing number of Australians are also being drawn aboard by competitive fares. Riviera is also popular with solo travellers, with every cruise offering a selection of supplement-free cabins. Plus, there are a range of cruises throughout the year exclusively for solo travellers, with every cabin free of any single supplement. Most passengers are over 55.

Embarkation/De-embarkation Process:In Budapest, Riviera offers a complimentary pick-up service from a centrally located Hotel. A cruise concierge greets passengers in the hotel before they are transferred to the ship. An impressive line of staff welcomes guests onboard the ship where another free bon voyage drink is offered. Baggage was delivered to cabins in minutes and the whole embarkation process was quick and seamless

Atmosphere: Thomas Hardy is a spacious, five-star ship but the atmosphere is elegantly casual and charmingly relaxed with a light-filled, marble-floored lobby greeting guests on arrival. There are rich hardwoods, gleaming brass and polished copper, sparkling glass and intricate wrought iron, all creating a harmonious ambience of understated elegance and all designed to make guests as relaxed as the flow of the Danube. With only 169 passengers onboard, the friendly and personable crew quickly remember your face and name and you get to know your fellow passengers quickly as well. There are no formal nights so the dress code throughout the cruise is smart casual although you can dress up a little if you like.

MS Thomas Hardy

Staterooms: All the staterooms are branded suites. Like most of the ship, our lovely 17sqm suite sported a French balcony – a panoramic, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door that, when opened, turns the room into an alfresco sunroom. All cabins enjoy a river view and it was joyfully mesmerising to lie on our big, comfy bed and watch the scenery float by, listening to the gentle, lapping water through our open glass door.

The marble bathroom boasted Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries and a great shower. The suite also offered a sitting area, ample space under the bed for luggage, flat-screen TV with a bridge camera channel, individually controlled airconditioning, phone, hairdryer, handy USB ports for phone charging, bathrobes/slippers and tea and coffee-making facilities including a small coffee pod machine – a nice and unusual touch. There’s an evening turn-down service too with chocolates on the pillows.

There are bigger suites with private balconies and the lower deck offers cabins with smaller, fixed windows just above the waterline. Some of these are available for sole occupancy on every cruise – with no supplement, subject to availability.

MS Thomas Hardy

Dining Options & Service: Flanked by panoramic windows, the main restaurant offered tables for two, four or six guests, beautifully laid out with crisp linen. Seating is anywhere, anytime, with dinner typically available from 6.30-8.30pm.

The cuisine is typically English but there’s enough on the menu to please all. The final night’s eight-course degustation dinner was a stand-out – a delectable and veritable feast featuring seared prawns, rillette of duck, winter bisque, pan-fried halibut and rum balls. As this was a Christmas market cruise, there were festive inclusions such as Christmas pie, mulled wine granita and Christmas baked Alaska.

Breakfast is a buffet or made to order with an extra early bird breakfast available in the lobby from 6am for early risers. There’s a second, smaller bistro at the rear of the ship offering alternative dining and it’s complimentary – with great vistas over the wake and back along the river. The Bistro is my tip for lunch, with deliciously hearty pasta and burger dishes. A buffet lunch is also available in the main restaurant. Afternoon tea is served in the lounge.

Drinks are not included in fares, which helps to reduce fares, especially for passengers who are not keen drinkers. An A$149 per person drinks package could be purchased for our five-night cruise which covered drinks with lunch and dinner- pretty good value at A$30 per person per day. Drinks from the bar outside lunch and dinner are extra but very reasonable. Service by all staff is efficient, proactive, warm and friendly. Gratuities are not included in fares either, which also helps to keep fares down so that passengers can tip what and who they like- a freedom Australians will appreciate.

Entertainment: A pianist plays in the lounge for pre and post-dinner drinks and there are regular talks by the cruise director about ports and excursions. A highlight was an Austrian string quartet that came aboard the ship while moored in Vienna to regale passengers with a moving concert featuring composers who loved Vienna, such as Mozart, Bach and Strauss. An in-cabin TV offered movies/programs and a small library nook featured books authored by the ship’s namesake, Thomas Hardy. Most of Riviera’s ships are named after famous British writers.

Onboard Activities: The observation lounge and bar, with its inviting leather armchairs and sumptuous sofas, was very popular although I think I was the only person to use the small exercise room! There was also a massage room and hairdresser onboard as well as a souvenir shop. The top sun deck featured plenty of deckchairs, a mini golf course and a small, plunge pool – an unusual but welcome inclusion on a European river ship. The pool is heated comfortably in summer but on our winter Christmas cruise it was toasty hot – an indulgent jacuzzi in which we could soak in the passing scenery, drink in hand. Many passengers had not thought to bring swimwear so pack it for a dip. There are also bikes onboard, free for passengers to use in port, which we did with glee!

Excursions: I was very impressed with the complimentary excursions offered during the cruise. In each port there was a free excursion which typically included a guided coach and walking tour for half a day or so, leaving the rest of the day to explore on your own – including the stunning Christmas markets of Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest. There were other optional tours available for purchase as well but we loved the free tours available as well as the complimentary transfers to and from the ship and to Christmas markets.

Favourite Experiences on the Ship: Our two favourite activities were time spent cruising the famed Danube by day – so relaxing, with epic castles and quaint villages passing by – and enjoying the ship-top plunge pool/jacuzzi at dawn as the town woke up and at night, under the stars, surrounded by the majestic splendours of Europe.

Families: A river cruise would suit teenage children who take an interest in the passing scenery and ports visited and able to entertain themselves on the ship.

Self-Service Laundry: No, but for a charge, staff will launder your clothes.

Uniqueness: Riviera Travel River Cruises likes to do river cruising a little differently, partly to make river cruising as affordable as possible. The tours may not be as long as those of other cruise lines, but they were very enjoyable and informative, leaving us time to explore on our own as well. There’s the flexibility of buying your own drinks package and tipping what you want and Riviera does not discount its already reasonable fares so everyone in the same cabin type has paid the same fare.

The fare structure is also very simple to understand. Riviera has gained a strong reputation also as a solo-friendly cruise line with a selection of supplement-free cabins available on every cruise (but book early for these) and a range of cruises every year exclusively for solo passengers with every cabin open to solo guests, free of any surcharge – and no need for sharing with other solo passengers. 

Bookings are only available via travel agents so to learn more about some great offers, contact Cruise Express today on 1300 766 537 or email info@cruiseexpress.com.au

Share

Ms Thomas Hardy

Reviewed by and sailed to: Andrew Mevissen, six-day, round-trip

Christmas market cruise from Budapest to Slovakia and Austria

Date: December 2019

Cruise line and ship: MS Thomas Hardy (named after famous British author) – one of a fleet of five-star ships operated by Riviera Travel River Cruises

Size of ship: 3600 GT, 4 decks

Passenger capacity: 169

Year built (refurbed): 2017

Currency onboard: Euros

Where the ship cruises: The Rhine, Moselle and Danube rivers

Most suited to: Riviera Travel River Cruises is a popular British cruise line and hence attracts English passengers as well as Americans but an increasing number of Australians are also being drawn aboard by competitive fares. Riviera is also popular with solo travellers, with every cruise offering a selection of supplement-free cabins. Plus, there are a range of cruises throughout the year exclusively for solo travellers, with every cabin free of any single supplement. Most passengers are over 55.

Embarkation/De-embarkation Process:In Budapest, Riviera offers a complimentary pick-up service from a centrally located Hotel. A cruise concierge greets passengers in the hotel before they are transferred to the ship. An impressive line of staff welcomes guests onboard the ship where another free bon voyage drink is offered. Baggage was delivered to cabins in minutes and the whole embarkation process was quick and seamless

Atmosphere: Thomas Hardy is a spacious, five-star ship but the atmosphere is elegantly casual and charmingly relaxed with a light-filled, marble-floored lobby greeting guests on arrival. There are rich hardwoods, gleaming brass and polished copper, sparkling glass and intricate wrought iron, all creating a harmonious ambience of understated elegance and all designed to make guests as relaxed as the flow of the Danube. With only 169 passengers onboard, the friendly and personable crew quickly remember your face and name and you get to know your fellow passengers quickly as well. There are no formal nights so the dress code throughout the cruise is smart casual although you can dress up a little if you like.

MS Thomas Hardy

Staterooms: All the staterooms are branded suites. Like most of the ship, our lovely 17sqm suite sported a French balcony – a panoramic, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door that, when opened, turns the room into an alfresco sunroom. All cabins enjoy a river view and it was joyfully mesmerising to lie on our big, comfy bed and watch the scenery float by, listening to the gentle, lapping water through our open glass door.

The marble bathroom boasted Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries and a great shower. The suite also offered a sitting area, ample space under the bed for luggage, flat-screen TV with a bridge camera channel, individually controlled airconditioning, phone, hairdryer, handy USB ports for phone charging, bathrobes/slippers and tea and coffee-making facilities including a small coffee pod machine – a nice and unusual touch. There’s an evening turn-down service too with chocolates on the pillows.

There are bigger suites with private balconies and the lower deck offers cabins with smaller, fixed windows just above the waterline. Some of these are available for sole occupancy on every cruise – with no supplement, subject to availability.

MS Thomas Hardy

Dining Options & Service: Flanked by panoramic windows, the main restaurant offered tables for two, four or six guests, beautifully laid out with crisp linen. Seating is anywhere, anytime, with dinner typically available from 6.30-8.30pm.

The cuisine is typically English but there’s enough on the menu to please all. The final night’s eight-course degustation dinner was a stand-out – a delectable and veritable feast featuring seared prawns, rillette of duck, winter bisque, pan-fried halibut and rum balls. As this was a Christmas market cruise, there were festive inclusions such as Christmas pie, mulled wine granita and Christmas baked Alaska.

Breakfast is a buffet or made to order with an extra early bird breakfast available in the lobby from 6am for early risers. There’s a second, smaller bistro at the rear of the ship offering alternative dining and it’s complimentary – with great vistas over the wake and back along the river. The Bistro is my tip for lunch, with deliciously hearty pasta and burger dishes. A buffet lunch is also available in the main restaurant. Afternoon tea is served in the lounge.

Drinks are not included in fares, which helps to reduce fares, especially for passengers who are not keen drinkers. An A$149 per person drinks package could be purchased for our five-night cruise which covered drinks with lunch and dinner- pretty good value at A$30 per person per day. Drinks from the bar outside lunch and dinner are extra but very reasonable. Service by all staff is efficient, proactive, warm and friendly. Gratuities are not included in fares either, which also helps to keep fares down so that passengers can tip what and who they like- a freedom Australians will appreciate.

Entertainment: A pianist plays in the lounge for pre and post-dinner drinks and there are regular talks by the cruise director about ports and excursions. A highlight was an Austrian string quartet that came aboard the ship while moored in Vienna to regale passengers with a moving concert featuring composers who loved Vienna, such as Mozart, Bach and Strauss. An in-cabin TV offered movies/programs and a small library nook featured books authored by the ship’s namesake, Thomas Hardy. Most of Riviera’s ships are named after famous British writers.

Onboard Activities: The observation lounge and bar, with its inviting leather armchairs and sumptuous sofas, was very popular although I think I was the only person to use the small exercise room! There was also a massage room and hairdresser onboard as well as a souvenir shop. The top sun deck featured plenty of deckchairs, a mini golf course and a small, plunge pool – an unusual but welcome inclusion on a European river ship. The pool is heated comfortably in summer but on our winter Christmas cruise it was toasty hot – an indulgent jacuzzi in which we could soak in the passing scenery, drink in hand. Many passengers had not thought to bring swimwear so pack it for a dip. There are also bikes onboard, free for passengers to use in port, which we did with glee!

Excursions: I was very impressed with the complimentary excursions offered during the cruise. In each port there was a free excursion which typically included a guided coach and walking tour for half a day or so, leaving the rest of the day to explore on your own – including the stunning Christmas markets of Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest. There were other optional tours available for purchase as well but we loved the free tours available as well as the complimentary transfers to and from the ship and to Christmas markets.

Favourite Experiences on the Ship: Our two favourite activities were time spent cruising the famed Danube by day – so relaxing, with epic castles and quaint villages passing by – and enjoying the ship-top plunge pool/jacuzzi at dawn as the town woke up and at night, under the stars, surrounded by the majestic splendours of Europe.

Families: A river cruise would suit teenage children who take an interest in the passing scenery and ports visited and able to entertain themselves on the ship.

Self-Service Laundry: No, but for a charge, staff will launder your clothes.

Uniqueness: Riviera Travel River Cruises likes to do river cruising a little differently, partly to make river cruising as affordable as possible. The tours may not be as long as those of other cruise lines, but they were very enjoyable and informative, leaving us time to explore on our own as well. There’s the flexibility of buying your own drinks package and tipping what you want and Riviera does not discount its already reasonable fares so everyone in the same cabin type has paid the same fare.

The fare structure is also very simple to understand. Riviera has gained a strong reputation also as a solo-friendly cruise line with a selection of supplement-free cabins available on every cruise (but book early for these) and a range of cruises every year exclusively for solo passengers with every cabin open to solo guests, free of any surcharge – and no need for sharing with other solo passengers. 

Bookings are only available via travel agents so to learn more about some great offers, contact Cruise Express today on 1300 766 537 or email info@cruiseexpress.com.au

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