NICK HORTON ventures aboard on his first cruise and ends up embracing the ship-shape Travel.
WHEN you think about it, a life can be divided up into a series of firsts: First steps, first school, first job, first love, first heartache, first car, first house, first marriage and, as one gets to A Certain Age: First cruise.
Now, for a bloke whose only experience of a luxurious life on the seas has been to watch Carry On Cruising countless times or accidentally catch Jane MacDonald on the telly, this was a worry.
Was I now officially a Senior? This way to the continent, that way for the incontinent?
But as we scaled the gangway at Tilbury Docks for a five-day European Cities cruise to Amsterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp aboard Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ flagship Columbus, I realised that there was nothing to worry about.
In fact, within a few hours I was more than happy to embrace the cruising lifestyle, with the emphasis very much on style.
The first thing that struck me was how neat, tidy, clean and, well, ship-shape everything was. The Columbus was refurbished and relaunched in June 2017 but it looked as though it could have been done yesterday. It was immaculate, as was our spacious and comfortable cabin on deck 11 which offered a lovely view of the gradually disappearing Thames estuary as we headed for our first destination of Amsterdam.
With 1,200 passengers on board, the Columbus was close to its 1,400 capacity but with more than 600 crew, all of whom greeted us with a cheery hello as passed them as we wandered this vast vessel, the prompt service and hospitality we received was faultless.
With five dining locations, six entertainment venues including a huge theatre and nightclub, seven lounge bars, including a proper English pub, there’s an awful lot of Columbus to explore.
And that’s not including the deck pools, slightly off limits in a sunny but chilly October, the gym and spa, the casino where you can make regular donations and the library and games room.
Our favourites were the Waterfront Restaurant on deck seven where we enjoyed several quality breakfasts, lunches and dinners as our straining waistlines will attest, and the Connexions bar, where we enjoyed Tom Collins and tequila sunrise cocktails before the top-notch evening entertainment in the Palladium theatre.
CMV always like to introduce a theme for their cruises with celebrity guests: For example cookery with TV chefs, musicals with West End stars and on this particular occasion, it was cricket.
Howzat? I hear you ask…
Well, we were delighted to have on board former England skipper Mike Gatting and fellow legends Devon Malcolm, Alan Wells, John Lever, Graham Napier and Ray East, with TV presenter and comedian Nick Hancock trying his very best to keep them all in order.
No matter if you’re not a cricket follower, their Evening With-style events, informal Q&As or just a pint and a chat at the bar are hugely entertaining and just another aspect to the cruise experience.
One of the highlights of our five-day excursion was the formal dinner after a day at sea.
Now, I know it’s a cruise tradition but remember I’m a first timer here so initially I thought it was a fancy dress party and all the guys had come as bouncers in evening suits and bow ties. Even so, everyone made the effort and we all looked fabulous.
A fine feast was had by all and the evening was completed by the traditional Baked Alaska Parade where a flash mob of all the waiting and kitchen staff dance around the restaurant Gangnam-style holding their trays of Baked Alaska puddings aloft as we all clap, cheer and twirl our napkins over our heads.
One of the joys of staying on a floating hotel such as the Columbus is waking up each morning in a new destination and so it was when we woke bright and early in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam.
There is so much to explore and enjoy in this amazing and welcoming city so it was unfortunate we only had a few hours ashore, but long enough for a canal cruise through the autumn beauty of the city centre and a walking tour of the up-and-coming market and arty district of De Pijp, taking care to avoid the hundreds of random stunt cyclists everywhere.
We had the whole day in our next port of call, the vast expanse that is Hamburg in Germany.
We enjoyed the panoramic view of this historic city from the top of the impressive Elbharmonie concert hall and our walk around the old red brick warehouses, full of tea, coffee, carpets and history.
But the highlight for me was the Beatles Tour of the Reeperbahn red light district conducted by musician Steffi Hempel who took us round the St Paulli area, visiting the Kaiser Keller, Top Ten and Indra and what remains of The Star club where the Fab Four learnt their trade playing to gangsters, strippers and salty seadogs in the early Sixties before Beatlemania.
The delightful Steffi was a fantastic guide, with lots of great gossip and salacious stories, complete with photographs from the time and sudden bursts of Lennon-McCartney classics with her trusty ukulele and gorgeous voice.
Now, ask anyone what Belgium is famous for and if they answer chocolates or Poirot, they’ve clearly not understood the question.
The answer is obviously beer and so a trip to the De Koninck brewery while in the beautiful and historic port of Antwerp is essential.
Not only can you see how one of the country’s most famous and popular breweries make their incredible range of beers, you also get to sample quite a few of them, as well as enjoy the hilarious and entertaining interactive history of the company in the museum’s tour.
And if you’re really lucky, as we were, you’ll be invited down to head brewer Sven Dekleermaeker’s secret cellar lair where he stores some of his glorious beers in old barrels that were previously used to keep brandy, bourbon and port and those flavours infuse with the beer to make something rather special.
And to help the brewing and fermentation process, Sven plays Barry White 24 hours a day in his dungeon as he believes the beer responds in the same way a baby does to music while in the womb.
“So it’s My Thirst, Your Cask: It’s Everything, then?” I asked Sven. “Oh thank you,” Sven replied. “Mind if I use that?”
2019 will mark the tenth operational year of Cruise & Maritime Voyages and with their fleet of six small to medium sized classic style ships, they offer a more leisurely and friendly ‘home from home’ style of cruising and maritime experience, accessible to a much wider choice of interesting and more remote ports of call.
Their aim has always been, and continues to be, on attaining high levels of customer satisfaction by providing comfortable accommodation, delicious cuisine and attentive service. They strive to ensure that their guests return home with many fond memories and will want to cruise again and again.
See cruiseandmaritime.com for details of their upcoming cruises.
Source : BournemouthEcho