Travelmarvel Sapphire is a modestly decorated river ship chartered by Travelmarvel, a division of Australian tour company, APT. Built in 2006, the ship operates on European rivers and will leave the fleet at the end of 2019.
Travelmarvel Sapphire was treated to a soft refurbishment in 2018, giving all 80 cabins and two suites new carpets and drapes, while the Vista Lounge and bar, restaurant and reception area were also refreshed. The ship has a smart, fresh and no-frills look. While this is not a luxury ship, it certainly passes muster in the looks department as there are no signs of wear and tear. What you get is a comfortable ship with comfortable cabins that contain all the necessities.
What Travelmarvel Sapphire delivers is a fun onboard experience, good service and remarkably good food. The ship's friendliness is evident from the get-go. As a solo traveller, I found myself chatting away with a group of people soon after I sat down in the lounge on day one. Another passenger approached and asked if I wanted to join their group for drinks and I also joined a table for dinner. The onboard vibe, jollied along by an upbeat and fun cruise director, is the standout feature. Passengers were crowding the dance floor on the first night of a 15-night European Gems cruise (from Amsterdam to Budapest) and by night three there was a conga line snaking across the lounge. This is definitely a cruise where solo travellers are included -- be it at dinner, on the dance floor or on the shore excursions.
The noise level can be a little high in the restaurant at dinner; I was straining to hear the conversations at my table. It's also quite noisy at night when entertainment is held in the only lounge bar, also making it hard for conversation around the small bar. With just one restaurant, one bar and an open sun deck on the top floor (which is often out of bounds due to the number of low bridges on the Danube-Main-Rhine rivers), the ship is lacking when it comes to public spaces. Those seeking a quiet spot for post-dinner conversation and a drink are hard-pressed as there is no separate area for a chat away from the lounge area where all entertainment and talks are held. By day, the lounge area is a good place for reading and chatting but generally passengers are ashore on excursions at this time.
Due to its age, Travelmarvel Sapphire isn't a ship with the latest bells and whistles; it doesn't have full balconies (or step-out balconies), such as those on ocean ships that accommodate a table and chairs. The majority of cabins and the two suites have French balconies, which are created by opening the sliding floor-to-ceiling glass doors. A waist-high railing acts as a barrier between the cabin and the outside. These 'balconies' provide fresh air and up-close river views and, for many people, this is all that's needed. The cabins themselves are roomy, although the bathrooms are a bit small.
Good food, free-flowing beverages (wine and beer) at lunch and dinner, plenty of information delivered by a cheery cruise director and good service from happy staff are the stand-out features of this ship -- along with an array of free shore excursions (and a couple of optional tours) that run like clockwork. Passengers wanting to kick back and take in the magnificent scenery of the Rhine-Main-Danube rivers and meet fun folks along the way, without feeling the need for plunge pools, fancy gyms, day spas and luxury fittings, should thoroughly enjoy the 'European Gems' itinerary on this comfortable ship.
Being an Australian company, which advertises fairly heavily in Australia, the majority of passengers are Australian, as was the case on my October 2018 cruise, when 60 percent were fellow compatriots. There was also a fair sprinkling of British passengers (some 30 percent), with the remainder from New Zealand. There may occasionally be others from English-speaking countries. The cruise caters to English-speaking passengers who are mostly likely to be mature (over-50) couples, along with quite a few singles or groups of friends. The general upbeat vibe would appeal to a younger audience as well; there were a few couples aged in their 40s on my sailing. While the European Gems itinerary (travelling the Rhine-Main-Danube rivers) is sold as a 15-night/14-day itinerary to Australians, it is also sold as a seven-day leg to British passengers who can take either the Amsterdam to Nuremberg sector, or the Nuremberg to Budapest sector (which can be taken in reverse). Although information is given in English only, some cruise directors, most of whom live in Europe, do speak another European language.
Daytime: Practical casual clothing is the best option as every day presents an opportunity to go ashore for a coach tour, walking tour or bike ride. Good choices include hiking pants, jeans, T-shirts and casual jackets. Good walking shoes are also recommended along with a small backpack and hat. It always pays to pack a rain jacket or collapsible umbrella.
Evening: While there is no strict dress code, many female passengers donned their cocktail gear, or smart casual dresses or dressy pants and top combos. Men tended to wear smart trousers and collared shirts to dinner (and jackets, depending on the time of year and the weather). Men were rarely spotted wearing ties. A good guide might be smart casual for most evenings, and a few cocktail outfits if you feel like dressing up and having fun. While there are no theme nights, there is an ABBA show one night, so a satin pair of flairs would not go astray.
Not Permitted: Shorts and swimwear are not suitable attire in the restaurant at dinner.
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