Arena review: Europe river cruise with Arena River Cruises
By Jeannine Williamson | 18 May 2022
We review the new much-anticipated Arena River Cruises ship, Arena, as Jeannine Williamson enjoys an affordable escape on Europe’s rivers.
Delayed for two years due to the pandemic, Arena River Cruises’ 192-passenger flagship vessel Arena finally set sail in March and is the first of two vessels being added by the UK line in 2022.
On European rivers that are already awash with self-styled five-star luxury ships, a cruise on Arena fills the gap for anyone looking for a value-for-money river cruise, maybe as a second holiday or as a first-time river cruiser.
For British cruisers, Arena is a very cosy and welcoming home-from-home. The breakfast buffet has everything you need for a satisfying ‘full English’, there’s daily afternoon tea and the dessert menu features traditional treats such as bread-and-butter pudding.
Arena might lack the bells and whistles of swish and luxury ships with butlers and an array of dining venues, but it excels in offering a very comfortable and relaxed vibe with no formal dress code, friendly crew members, affordable fares and some pleasant surprises along the way.
For example, most river ships have lower ‘duck level’ cabins that are just above the water line and have fixed windows that don’t open. Arena’s cabins – which are all the same size – have floor-to-ceiling windows that slide open onto a Juliet balcony, where you can lean out over a railing rather than step out.
They also tilt open to provide fresh air. As well as making cabins very light, it’s a nice touch that you would normally associate with more expensive vessels. There’s even a small gym and sauna, too.
Built in 2005 and previously sailing for another line under a different name, Arena was given a complete makeover before being launched by Arena River Cruises, which caters only for English and Irish passengers.
The panoramic lounge is the hub of the ship. Again, it has large windows so you don’t miss any of the passing views. There’s a bar, resident keyboard player and dance floor, and on each cruise you can expect a couple of quiz nights run by the affable British cruise directors.
Buffet breakfast and lunch and an à la carte dinner are served in the one main restaurant and drinks are not included unless you buy the good-value €20 per day premium package, which includes other perks. It’s worth noting the ship doesn’t have any lifts so is not suitable for wheelchair users.
Arena sails on the Dutch waterways, Rhine, Moselle and Danube, including themed spring bulbfields trips, expert-led itineraries that this year include gardeners Charlie Dimmock and Helen Yemm, and Christmas market sailings.
How to book an Arena river cruise
A seven-night Danube cruise on Arena, departing on August 16, 2022, and sailing round-trip from Passau, starts from £1,195 per person including coach travel and ferry crossing plus a one-night pre and post-cruise B&B hotel stay in Germany. For more details visit arenarivercruises.com.