Firsthand Look at Riverside Debussy's Public Spaces and Dining

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a three-part series about the 110-passenger Riverside Debussy, which recently began sailing on European rivers for Riverside Luxury Cruises. The first story focused on our Seahorse Suite, No. 215, other suites and suite service, while this piece looks at the ship's public spaces and dining. Finally, we'll soon detail the Vintage Room experience, plus insight from Gregor Gerlach, co-owner and chairman, Riverside Luxury Cruises and The Seaside Collection.

In May 2024, Riverside Debussy, the third river vessel sailing for the new Riverside Luxury Cruises, will begin sailing three- to seven-night itineraries on Europe's Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers. Guests can combine some of those into a 21-night vacation. So, if they sail, what can they expect? Here's our firsthand insight and feedback about the public spaces and dining options on board this newly launched river vessel.

Luxury Travel Advisor sailed for a week on board the 110-passenger ship through the waterways of Belgium and the Netherlands in late March 2024. As we stepped aboard the 433-foot-long Riverside Debussy, we found a pampering onboard experience that mimicked a luxury boutique hotel stay. Here's what we learned about the ship's public spaces and dining. 

Deck 2 Highlights  

Riverside Debussy was docked in Brussels, Belgium as we boarded Deck 2 via a gangway. Entering the ship’s interior on Deck 2, we emerged into a small light-filled, glass-ceilinged atrium area. Here, guests will discover Reception on one side and the Pantry, a 24-7, “go-to” spot for self-serve coffee, cookies and other sweet treats on the opposite side. 

The atrium of Riverside Luxury Cruises' Riverside Debussy has a central design element of a small glass elevator and a circular staircase.
The atrium of Riverside Debussy has a central design element—a small glass elevator ringed by a circular staircase. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Ringed by a curved staircase, the atrium's one small glass elevator—traveling only between Decks 2 and 3—creates a circular central design element. Those two decks house many of the ship's top public spaces. That said, luxury travel advisors should explain to clients that they'll still need to use staircases to reach the ship’s lowest and highest public decks (Deck 1 and the exterior Deck 4 atop the ship).

The Waterside Restaurant

So, what else will river cruisers find on Deck 2? Directly behind Reception is the ship’s main Waterside Restaurant. Each evening, restaurant servers and managers lined the entry corridor; they greeted guests warmly and then escorted them to their table. The restaurant is open seating. That said, if clients are dining in a group of eight or more, it’s best to notify the staff in advance so tables can be positioned properly.

Walking from the entry of Waterside into the restaurant, guests encounter two elongated dining spaces on either side of a "back-of-house" space in the middle before the restaurant opens up across the full ship's beam.
Entering the Waterside Restaurant, guests will discover two elongated areas, such as the one shown above, on either side before the eatery opens up across the full ship's beam.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

In terms of the restaurant’s configuration, Riverside Debussy has a large "back-of-house" space in the center of the restaurant. As a result, when guests enter, they’ll be escorted along either side of that—within two elongated spaces with nice window-side tables that offer superb river views. Moving forward, guests will then reach the part of the restaurant that opens up across the ship's full, 36-foot-wide beam. That provides a more spacious feel for diners who prefer that. 

Timing for meals may vary by individual itinerary. Generally, breakfast service for our cruise was between 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.; lunch from noon to 1:30 p.m.; and dinner from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. No worries, though, if guests miss the hours, as the ship has 24-hour room service (which does carry an added fee). Tip: If guests put out their breakfast door tag before retiring for the night in their suite, their breakfast will be delivered at no charge the next morning. 

For breakfast and lunch service in the Waterside Restaurant, guests are shown to their seats before sauntering to the adjacent buffet/serving area. As for the cuisine, day after day, the buffet selections were not only appealing in presentation but also scrumptious in taste. We also liked that there were many small "tastes" offerings, giving people a chance to try different dishes.

Guests will discover a cornucopia of luscious options that change daily. So, at lunch, we chose from soups, cheese selections, charcuterie, salads, vegetables and more. Hot and cold dishes ranged from vegetarian to fish, shrimp, beef, lamb, pork and other meats. And, of course, there were plenty of side dishes as well as yummy desserts, too. Eager servers stand ready to carry the guest's plate back to their table.

As guests walk farther into the Waterside Restaurant, the restaurant spreads out across the full, 36-foot-wide ship's beam.
In the back of the Waterside Restaurant, this dining room extends fully across the ship's beam.   (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Sample Dinner Menu at Waterside

At dinner, the Waterside Restaurant offers full table service with excellent service. While our menus had a decidedly Benelux twist, we often found other tastes of countries throughout Europe and international cuisines in the dishes, as well.

Here's one sample menu: On one evening, appetizers included Dutch herring with apple, onion and creme fraiche; a mosaic of fresh fruits including berries perfumed and Kirschwasser (a colorless European brandy); and selected crunchy field greens with walnut raspberry vinaigrette, fresh figs and morbier. Two soups were offered—leek and potato soup with croutons and spring onion and beef consomme with semolina quenelle and chives.

Popular at our table was a tasty pasta con prosciutto with sun-dried tomato sauce, Parma ham and pecorino. And for the grand event, our choice of dinner entrees included:

  • Crab/crayfish cake with Dijon mustard remoulade and vegetable slaw;
  • Slow-roasted lamb loin with baked Romanesco, green beans, Macaire potato and Calvados juice; or
  • Red cabbage risotto with red cabbage jam, crisp slaw and caramelized pears.

Three different desserts including Tonkabean crème brûlée were offered, plus a selection of cheeses and Sacher cookies. Overall, the cuisine was elevated, creatively presented and likely to please most any gastronomy fan. House wines were also of high quality; plus, there was a premium wine list. 

Could be improved? In our opinion, we would have preferred elegant tablecloths at dinner rather than attractive placemats. Yes, we recognize that not using tablecloths is certainly more eco-friendly (in avoiding the many loads of washing for those tablecloths on every voyage) but we also think tablecloths add a touch of class for any luxury cruise product. 

Deck 1's Three Public Spaces 

Just one deck down from Reception—accessible via the curved atrium staircase—is Deck 1. Essentially, what guests need to know is that there are three small but important spaces here.

The first is Riverside Debussy’s fitness center with the latest exercise machines, free weights and yoga mats. In good weather, those mats can be taken to Deck 4 for outdoor yoga and stretching sessions atop the ship. One plus of our cruise? It was helpful that the masseuse also did double duty as a yoga instructor. 

Next door is the ship’s self-service laundry, a cute and very handy spot that many guests appreciated. While we simply handed our laundry one evening to our butler (and paid the added charge), this self-service option is great for guests who prefer to do their laundry themselves and at no charge. 

The self-serve laundry onboard Riverside Debussy awaits Riverside Luxury Cruises' guests.
This small self-serve laundry has everything guests need to do their own laundry onboard at no charge.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Guests will find that the self-service venue has two washing machines, two dryers, an ironing board, the biggest iron we’ve ever seen, counter space, a sink and more. Yes, this laundry even has a wall-mounted flat-screen TV to keep guests entertained while their clothes are drying.

Lovely Spa Treatment Room

Also located on Deck 1 is the ship's attractive Fehi Spa treatment room. Guests make a reservation with Reception for a treatment from an in-room menu. What's good to know is that this ship’s menu of spa treatments takes inspiration from The Signature Collection’s Fehi Spa offered at sister-brand Finolhu, a luxury property in the Maldives. 

Look for holistic massages and facial care treatments that offer the best of East and West. Massages range from a Natural Bisse luxury oils massage to a Swedish massage, river stone massage, Balinese massage and a neck, shoulder and back massage; the latter is priced at €125. Facial treatments are also available.

Worth noting? Just keep in mind there is no changing facility in the spa treatment area. Guests can simply head to the spa wearing the fluffy robe and slippers from their suite. 

Deck 3 – The Heart of the Ship

From our perspective, Deck 3, one level above Reception is the heart of the ship. We liked The Bistro, an area of blue-high-topped chairs and tables surrounding the atrium's glass elevator and stairwell. There are also standard tables and chairs along the expanses of glass on both sides.

The Bistro is a great spot to pick up a light meal or grab-and-go items to take back to the suite. During our cruise, the Bistro opened for a late riser breakfast from 9:30 to 11:30 and small delicacies from noon to 5 p.m. Those bites included cheeses, snack items, fresh berries, other fruits, raw vegetables, dips, salads, charcuterie, sandwiches, fresh breads and much more. 

Some of the seating areas in The Bistro are high-top tables with blue upholstered chairs.
Some of The Bistro seating is shown above; this casual dining spot also has regular tables and chairs. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Tapas in the Bistro

In addition, Tapas in The Bistro was set up one evening on our cruise. Guests make an advance reservation through Reception. Here's what we tasted:

  • Kibbeling, or deep-fried chunks of perch, with mustard-apple mayo;
  • Herb-marinated, dry-aged beef tranches with wild herb sale, black bean stew and old Amsterdam cheese;
  • Mini tartlet with Swiss cheese and leek;
  • Golden-fried wild forest mushroom accompanied by a parsley-lemon-garlic dip; and
  • Swiss rosti pulled pork mini-slider with juicy pulled pork, barbecue sauce, Emmentaler cheese and cabbage salad.

In addition, we had a choice of two different desserts as well as a selection of cheeses. All in all, the cuisine was very tasty. Could be improved? While the tapas were clearly envisioned by the line as a family-style option, there was a bit of a disconnect in the process. For instance, tapas designed for two diners were routinely presented to one of the guests or placed between them. But then those had to be split, a bit awkward for guests seated across from one another with an array of other glassware or plates in between. The tables seemed crowded in that way. We'd go again, for sure, but hope that Riverside tweaks the process to make it a bit smoother.

Strolling Into Palm Court

Continuing forward from the Bistro, on one side is the entry to the Vintage Room (an amazing food-and-wine pairing experience which we’ll detail in the third story in this series), while the other leads to Palm Court, one of our truly favorite spots on the ship.

As a multifaceted lounge space, the spacious Palm Court offers a full cocktail bar with a good amount of bar seating. It also has an entry area with a wall of shelves holding a few artsy books. Natural light abounds via full expanses of glass windows along both sides of Palm Court. Plus, it has a partial glass ceiling. Best of all, guests can nestle into their preferred choice of seating. They'll discover a mix of couches, chairs, cocktail tables and higher tables, too.

Shown above is Riverside Luxury Cruises' full-service Palm Court bar and just a small portion of the large lounge space.
Palm Court has a full-service bar with stool seating and multiple enclaves of comfortable couches, chairs and tables. Only a small portion of the lounge is shown above. (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Best of all, this spacious lounge extends across the full ship's beam. We found it highly appealing, comfortable and a great spot for socializing and meeting new friends. Some guests brought laptops or tablets to do remote work or post social media images from their day ashore. Good to know: Overall, this vessel had excellent, complimentary Wi-Fi by Starlink.

Guests can also relax, sip on a favorite cocktail or other drink and listen to live music in the evening. Service was both intuitive and personalized. Bar servers would come out behind the bar into the lounge and ask guests if they'd like this or that "usual drink" (knowing almost immediately what that was from just one encounter with the guest) or something new. Some 50 percent of the crew aboard Riverside hails from the former Crystal River Cruises, so the service commitment and experience shows. 

Entertainment and Enrichment 

A piano player provided melodic standards on many evenings in the Palm Court.
In the evening, Riverside Debussy's Palm Court offers live entertainment by a piano player, duo or small group. The lounge has a baby grand piano and large dance floor.   (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Entertainment-wise, in the evening at Palm Court, we enjoyed live music on many nights from a talented piano player who had a lovely keyboard touch. He had the right personality for the job, enjoyed talking to guests and played many standards as well as requested songs. On another night, we also enjoyed a live classical music performance from a violinist and cellist.

In addition, the Dixie Jazz Band played one evening. They were a good group, for sure, but the choice seemed a bit odd, given the Benelux region of sailing. Still, if guests desired musical diversity, this band certainly delivered that.   

As for enrichment, the line's perspective is that on most days as guests are exploring ashore, the enrichment comes from the destination experiences, guides and locals met along the way. Enrichment that was offered in Palm Court was clearly fueled by the region of sailing and followed a hefty culinary and beverage slant. For instance, one day, guests could attend a Belgium chocolate souffle presentation by pastry chef Barbara and on another day, “Bierolade: a Beer and Chocolate Tasting.”

Our voyage's enthusiastic shore excursion manager, Karolina, conducted port talks at Palm Court prior to the ship’s arrival at a particular destination. She outlined Riverside’s tours, explaining what was involved in each in terms of time involved, details about walking distances and key sights or activities along the route. But she also provided tips on what independent explorers could see and do.

The ship used Riverside motorcoaches to take guests on some shore tours or at least provide transport to the walking tour starting point. The line also offered bicycle tours and carried a fleet of regular bikes and e-bikes on the top deck; those were used both for tours and for guests who wanted to head out and explore a destination independently.           

Interior Pool Area

One interior space that Riverside Debussy nicely has that guests won't always find on another river ship is a pool. Situated aft on Deck 3, this decent-sized square pool can be used without worry about any weather outside. Plus, guests accustomed to swimming laps at home will likely appreciate the pool's “swim against the current” feature.

Surrounding the pool are several padded loungers, plus guests can also head outside to wooden deck chairs facing aft. Inside the pool area, guests will also find both men's and women's changing rooms and lockers. Also provided inside are both still and sparkling water, plus fruit-infused distilled water. 

A decent-sized square pool is inside Deck 3 aft on Riverside Debussy.
Inside Riverside Debussy, guests will find this decent-sized square pool. It's located aft on Deck 3.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Atop the Ship on Deck 4

Atop the ship, the exterior Deck 4 is best described as an open-air spot for guests to relax, socialize and watch the world float by. They'll find comfortable couches, singular chairs with pillows, tables and chairs, and even bean bags to sink into. 

In addition, Deck 4 is home to two Big Green Egg barbecue grills. Based on weather conditions and the itinerary's length, an al fresco Vista Grill lunch may be offered on certain days. The culinary team heads up to throw a steak or shrimp "on the barbie." In addition, there’s a pop-up Vista Bar (which actually drops down into the ship's structure when the vessel is sailing under certain bridges); that, too, opens up weather permitting. 

Deck 4, the top deck of Riverside Debussy, offers many comfortable seating areas.
This comfortable outdoor furniture awaits Riverside Debussy's guests relaxing or socializing on Deck 4 atop the ship.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

Parting Thoughts

Overall, we feel that the public spaces of Riverside Debussy are both attractive and work well for their intended use. We particularly liked the fine cuisine served in the Waterside Restaurant; the luxury of having an interior pool usable in all weather; barbecue grills and spaces to spread out atop the ship on Deck 4; a pampering spa treatment room; a well-thought-out, self-service laundry; grab-and-go options at The Bistro; the well-equipped fitness room and more. Above all, we enjoyed the fabulous Palm Court for socializing, reading, enjoying cocktails and listening to live entertainment. In many cases, we began to think of Riverside Debussy as our home away from home. 

As for service within public spaces throughout the ship, overall, our view is that it was excellent and reflective of Riverside's crew-to-guest ratio of two crew members for every four guests. 

As for languages, Riverside attracts a multinational audience including many guests from the U.S., U.K. and Australia/New Zealand. So, English is the primary language spoken aboard, but some crew members speak other languages, too, particularly German. Riverside is owned by a German company, so it does attract many German guests. The spa brochure that's placed in guest suites provides treatment information in both English and German, for example. 

Stay tuned next week for our last article in this series about the seven-course degustation menu and wine pairings at the Vintage Room. In addition, we'll also provide insight from Gregor Gerlach, co-owner and chairman, Riverside Luxury Cruises and The Seaside Collection.

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