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Credit: TUI

TUI Maya review: What's it like onboard TUI River Cruises' first ship, from cabins to dining?

Author: Colette Doyle

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TUI River Cruises has recently welcomed TUI Maya as its first of three new cruise ships - perfectly timed with restrictions finally easing and river cruising on the rise.

TUI River Cruises was due to launch its first river cruise ship last year but its delay proves good things come to those who wait

Christened TUI Maya, she was expected to sail in March 2020, together with her sister ship TUI Skyla, but Covid put a stop to that.

So when she finally made her debut in mid-August this year, with an inaugural cruise down the Rhine, there was a lot to celebrate.

TUI is clearly serious about its entry into the popular river cruise market. The line has spent millions refurbishing the fleet (originally owned by German and Swiss tour operators), and it shows in both the charming public areas and the smartly appointed cabins.

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According to the company’s river cruise MD, Chris Hackney, these ships are all about "flexibility and choice" – and there’s certainly plenty of both when it comes to the onboard culinary options.

The dining area on TUI Maya is divided into the elegantly designed Verdastro, where the art deco lighting lends a delightfully Agatha Christie effect, and Bistro, which is a more casual eatery. Both serve buffet breakfasts before turning à la carte for lunch and dinner.

But the alfresco dining up on deck 4 is surely what river cruising is all about. After all, who doesn’t love browsing on barbecued treats as the sights drift by?

A range of complimentary drinks is offered with meals, though customers who want a wider choice can either upgrade to the all-inclusive drinks package or pay as they go.

TUI River Cruises: The line has spent millions refurbishing the fleet. Credit: TUI

For diversion, sporty types can enjoy mini-golf, boules and shuffleboard, and there is also the chance to watch movies under the stars – something more usually associated with big, ocean-going cruise ships.

In the Observatory, guests can admire panoramic views through picture windows, and the outdoor terrace is ideal for sunning yourself in warmer climes (with the added attraction of a happy hour each evening, including complimentary canapés, plus afternoon tea once every trip).

- READ MORE: TUI River Cruises launches winter holiday 2022 sale -

There’s evening entertainment on offer as well – cruise director Jamie was displaying his crooning skills to good effect when I visited – and quizzers are catered for too.

The sophisticated surroundings of the Club Lounge – all plush chairs, brass fittings and mirrored tables – offer another enjoyable place to relax, especially in front of its remarkably convincing digital fireplace.

As on any cruise ship worth its salt, the Atrium is the hub of life on board. Here you’ll find the cruise director, ready to help with any queries, and on Maya it’s also home to artwork by painter Simone Van Den Berg (the lights are designed to resemble tulips in a nod to her Dutch heritage).

TUI River Cruises: As on any cruise ship worth its salt, the Atrium is the hub of life on board. Credit: TUI

There’s a wellness centre, too, small but perfectly formed, with a sauna and whirlpool bath making it a cosy spot to unwind.

The cabins are thoughtfully designed, and for those happy to splash out on an upgrade, the wonderfully spacious 24m2 French Balcony suites offer a whole host of tempting extras, including a Molton Brown toiletries set, dressing area, continental breakfast in bed and priority luggage delivery.

- READ MORE: Why should you go on a river cruise holiday? -

River cruising has been on the rise for some time now, and Chris Hackney believes he knows why: "It’s such a great way to see a number of different places in a short period of time, from small towns like Rudesheim on the Rhine to capital cities such as Vienna and Budapest."

He also notes that, post-Covid, TUI is seeing a surge in demand for itinerary-heavy cruises – and of course that’s exactly what a good river journey delivers.

Excursions are a vital part of the package, and TUI gives each guest a weekly £120 credit to put towards their cost.

TUI River Cruises: The cabins are thoughtfully designed on TUI Maya. Credit: TUI

With an average of 14 trips available on each seven-day itinerary there’s plenty of choice, and most trips are in the £20 to £40 range, with headsets included so you can hear the guide’s commentary while exploring at your own pace.

Maya’s sister ship Skyla will be launching at the end of November, just in time for the Christmas market season, while a third vessel, Isla, will complete the family next spring.

With the whole trio up and running, TUI will offer a wide choice of itineraries on the Main, Danube, Moselle and Rhine, as well as the Dutch and Belgian waterways, with excursion options including winery outings, a classical concert in Vienna, a trip to see the windmills of Kinderdijk, and a walking tour of Speyer, one of Germany’s oldest cities.

- READ MORE: Six of the best Rhine cruises for spring and summer 2022 -

Previous TUI ship godmothers have included the likes of Dame Judi Dench, but for Maya and Skyla the company has gone in a different direction, selecting two "everyday explorers" – a college administrator from Barnsley and a London-based illustrator.

That’s just one sign of the fresh thinking that TUI is bringing to Europe’s river-cruising scene – and with ships as appealing as these, I’m sure there will be many more to come.

Get onboard

Six-night ‘Dancing Down the Rhine’ cruise aboard TUI Maya, round trip from Frankfurt via Boppard, Rudesheim, Dusseldorf, Bonn and Koblenz, departing November 7, 2021, from £699 including flights.

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