River Royale Entertainment
For the most part, the ports and scenery provide the entertainment on a river cruise; organized on-board activities do not constitute a major part of the cruise experience. Nevertheless, the auspices of the charming, energetic and ever-present cruise manager provides passengers with a range of diversions just to make sure nobody gets bored.
Most evenings the lounge houses some kind of entertainment; generally local musicians come aboard to share their talents. On other nights of my cruise, activities included an extremely informative lecture about the ship and its operation, presented with humor and theatrical flair by the hotel manager, and a friendly but competitive team trivia contest ably conducted by the cruise manager (the winning team got a nice bottle of sparkling wine presented with great ceremony by the bar staff). In good weather, many passengers go up on deck, where the bar staff makes rounds, to enjoy the scenery and conversation, while others go to bed or watch a movie in their cabins.
The historical, architectural and cultural delights of the ports provide a great deal of enrichment, but these delights are further augmented by local experts brought aboard -- usually before the shore excursion in the morning -- to provide further insight into topics of local interest. For example, a historian (and transplanted American) came aboard in Arles to relate the lesser-known details of Van Gogh's legendary time there, while an instructor from the Valrohna company's Ecole du Grand Chocolat (School of Great Chocolate) joined us in Tain L'Hermitage for a tasting of the grands crus of the company's world-renowned chocolate line and lectured on the art and science of chocolate.
As for the shore excursions themselves, a minimum of one excursion -- usually a morning excursion but occasionally an afternoon or full day -- is included in each port. This generally takes the form of a walking tour; only in Lyon did we use a bus and only then for part of the tour. Each local guide I encountered was knowledgeable, experienced and fluent in English (some were native speakers), and every excursion was interesting and fulfilling.
In some ports where the afternoon is free, there will be an optional afternoon excursion, usually a bus excursion to another town or city, or into the countryside. The one optional excursion I took was well organized, and at around 40 euros, these half-day excursions are reasonably priced in comparison with the excursions on many ocean cruises.
A new feature this year is the Quiet Vox system, where the guide wears a microphone and each participant is equipped with a receiver and earphone (for one ear, so you can still hear what's going on around you). This makes it easy to hear everything the guide says without having to stay close all the time or to constantly ask the guide to repeat things. This ingenious system makes shore excursions far easier and more enjoyable. In fact, the majority of guides and passengers praised it.
River Royale Public Rooms
You naturally won't find much public space on a small river ship like River Royale, but what is there is stylish and comfortable. The ship's main public area, the Renoir Lounge, has windows on three sides, and is decorated in bold reds with cream accenting and dark wood; a bar is at the aft end. Comfortable groups of sofas and chairs make this the "living room" of the ship; it's used for just about every type of on-board function.
There are few other public rooms on board; the library is a cozy space on a balcony overlooking the lobby (where the Purser's Desk is located, along with the entry doors to the ship) with a modest selection of books and games and comfortable seating. One deck below, outside the dining room, is the Patio Lounge, with rattan tables and chairs; this is where you'll find the ship's two computers as well. Internet access costs 0.25 euros (about $0.34) per minute or 25 euros (about $35) for two hours.
Off the Patio Lounge there's also a small shop with sundries, logo items and a variety of local specialties including brightly colored Provencal fabrics, dried lavender and the renowned Valrohna chocolate. Open for a few hours a day and operated by the ship's laundry lady, prices are reasonable and the stock is surprisingly varied given its miniscule size.
River Royale Spa & Fitness
Notwithstanding all the walking on shore excursions, this is not a cruise for the fitness fanatic since River Royale naturally lacks the vast spa and fitness facilities found aboard most large oceangoing ships. Nevertheless, some concessions are made to those for whom fitness is a priority.
All the way aft on Deck 3 is the ship's small fitness center, with a few treadmills and exercise bicycles. Aptly described by one passenger as a "fitness closet," it at least features nice windows overlooking the ship's wake. There's also a small, two-person sauna; you have to notify the front desk a half hour before you want to use it so someone can heat it up for you. Finally there's a treatment room for the ship's massage therapist -- who doubles as a member of the housekeeping staff! A number of passengers praised her services.
What the ship does offer is an ample amount of open deck space on Deck 4, a completely open deck at the very top of the ship. Covered -- unfortunately -- in blue indoor-outdoor carpet (this wretched stuff seems ubiquitous on river ships), this vast expanse offers spaces both in the sun and, thanks to huge white canvas canopies, in the shade as well. Notably, since the ship was originally designed for another region with lower bridges, the entire canopy system must be retractable, an expensive and complex system added after the ship's construction so that it could enter service on the Rhone. Because the canopy needs to be retracted, this area is often closed while navigating on the rivers; however, the lower sections of the deck forward and aft (in the sun) are always open and are popular spots for passengers who want to observe the ship's navigational progress. Aluminum and mesh deck furniture -- nicer than resin but not as nice as teak -- is featured throughout, including chaise lounges with nifty little hoods that you can raise over your head to protect it from the sun. The aft-most part also has a small hot tub for a few people, surrounded by a number of teak deck chairs with thick cushioned pads; this is probably the nicest open deck space on board.