River Empress is one of the older ships in the fleet (2002) and a one-off (not part of a class), but like its fleet mates, it goes through a regular series of refurbishments (the last was in 2014) to keep it looking brand new.
In fact, everything looks so fresh out of the box, that it's hard to tell that this Grand Dame is deep into her teenage years.
However, since the ship's launch, river cruising has come a long way, and some of the more modern river boats have features such as (small) swimming pools, hot tubs, multiple lunges and alternative restaurants.
River Empress has none of these, harking back to an era of more simple river cruising, with one main dining room, an al fresco dining area (in clement weather) two small lounges and a large, open top deck.
But there are three aspects of River Empress which really make it exceptional. The first is the extraordinary attention to detail, giving you the feeling that you really are staying in a luxury, country house boutique hotel (run your hands along the walls of the corridor, they are all padded). The second is the astonishing levels of service. True, river ships are small and the atmosphere is far more personal than large cruise ships, but the staff and crew go out of their way from the moment you step onboard to make you feel at home. And after a day or two they know your seating, drinking and dining preferences.
The third is the dining, which is outstanding. Often locally sourced, and reflecting the region, meals will be complemented by local wines.
The ship will often sail during daylight hours during particularly scenic stretches of the river, so passengers can enjoy the view while lunching, and docks at night so they can stroll around in town after dinner.
River Empress sails two itineraries -- Castles Along the Rhine and European Jewels, along the Danube, Main and Rhine.