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My adventure aboard the MS Royal Crown

Until I started at Ponders I hadn’t really heard much about Hebridean but when I began my career with them I started to hear more and more about them both from our Managing Director, Clare Dudley and indeed regular clients of ours who sailed with them frequently. When I heard Hebridean Princess described as a ‘floating country house hotel’ I could just picture myself aboard one day so when we were given an opportunity to sail for 5 nights aboard the MS Royal Crown (the river ship that Hebridean charter), I jumped at the chance. Here is a day by day account of my adventures:

Day 1: Arnhem – The Netherlands.
On arrival at Terminal 5 at Heathrow (an impressive building I must say) and after a smooth check in with British Airways (Hebridean staff were all visible and helpful at the check in desks) we were all lead to the Aspire Lounge to relax before the flight. Well what can I say? Such a lovely to start a holiday (this is included with all the Hebridean river cruise departures) it was so calm and tranquil and lovely to sit there away from the hustle and bustle of one of Heathrow’s busiest terminals. You can help yourself to food (hot and cold), unlimited soft drinks, tea, coffee, water and prosecco. Definitely a stylish way to start your holiday!! The lovely cruise director David Inge was on hand to introduce himself and help anyone that needed assistance or suchlike to the aircraft.
After a nice short flight to Amsterdam (40 minutes) we were transferred to our ship MS Royal Crown which was to be our home for 4 nights. Again, in Amsterdam airport David was on hand to help with luggage and general assistance if anyone needed it. On boarding the ship and receiving a lovely welcome from the crew we were handed our key and lead to our cabins. My first surprise was that it was actually a proper ‘key’ we were given, very heavy on a metal fob but I actually really liked this as the cards nowadays are so impersonal!! It felt old fashioned but lovely at the same time. I was lead to my twin cabin and left to unpack. The cabin, again, was quite old fashioned but pleasant with 2 porthole windows, twin beds, plenty of storage and a nice marble bathroom. Quite adequate for 2 sharing for a 7 nights. The wood was highly polished and shiny like new which I loved!! Once unpacked, as is usual practice on a cruise we had a safety demonstration then a buffet dinner in the restaurant. Something to remember about Hebridean is that they are All Inclusive so a drink in the lounge before dinner can mean the finest champagne and after dinner can be any whisky (including their own brand) that you desire!!

Day 2: Cologne and Koningswinter for Bonn – Germany.
Our first experience of breakfast and boy it was a good one. For me, a real treat on holiday is to have an omelette so I meandered my way through the healthy bits first (fresh fruit and yoghurt) and made my way to the ‘egg station’ where I had the most delicious ham, mushroom and a ‘little bit’ of cheese omelette made for me. It was quite possibly the best omelette I had ever tasted and I am not ashamed to say I went on to have one every morning!! There was a good choice of hot and cold selections, lots of juices and an abundance of tea and coffee if you so desired.
That morning we had our first lecture by the lovely Adrian Finnerty entitled ‘The Life and Music of Beethoven’, I have to say lectures are not normally my cup of tea but this one interspersed with Beethoven music was actually quite interesting and I found myself learning all about him.
We were due to arrive in Cologne at 1000am and have a walking tour excursion but due to some problems with water levels this didn’t actually happen and we were told we would arrive just before lunch so those who wanted a quick 20 minute walk around Cologne would be able to. This is proof that on a river cruise this can happens and you have to ‘move with the times’ as it were. I was interested to see what everyone’s reactions would be (having not done a sailing with paying clients on before) but everyone seemed to take it in their stride obviously used the water and her ways. I took the opportunity to walk around and take some pictures of the ship. I then noticed that most of the public areas in the ship were empty so wondering where everyone was I went onto the Lido Deck where to my amusement people were enjoying the sun and all partaking in a drink or two at 1030 in the morning!! Of course my moto is ‘if you cant beat em, join em’ so I grabbed a glass of bubbles and enjoyed the sail.
Lunch, again in the main dining room is open seating. Buffet for starters and then a choice of mains. You could order a ‘baby mains’ if you fancied a smaller dish then there was a choice of pudding as well. Wine was served freely for lunch and dinner with beer or soft drinks if you wanted.
That afternoon we arrived in Konigswinter on time so not too much disruption caused by the delay and here we drove round the city of Bonn and ended with a visit to Beethoven’s house. This obviously meant more to us all now as we had had the lecture from Adrian in the morning so it has more resonation with people which was good. It is worth mentioning here that all excursions are included but you don’t have a choice, however they are optional and if you want to go off and explore by yourself you are more than welcome. They have the handy GPS systems so you can listen to the tour guide without being by their side (just don’t unplug them when they are charging because the light is annoying you……..like I did!!)
That evening was the Welcome Gala Dinner so we had champagne and canapés in the lounge followed by 6 course meal including Cappuccino of Watercress Soup, Apple and Prosecco Sorbet, Lobster Medallion and International cheeseboard. The food on board was one of the highest standards I have ever eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. David, the lovely cruise director wore his best kilt for the occasion and we were lucky enough to be able to watch some of the ‘Rhine in Flames’ fireworks which were some of the best I have seen. It was such a lovely atmosphere and if you ever get chance to sail when this festival is on I highly encourage you to do so!!

Day 3: Boppard and the Rhine Gorge

This morning was a little relaxing for me as I chose not to do the walking tour (see my previous Malta blog for my leg injury) so I took this time to have a look around the boat and really get a feel for it. I must mention that not everyone does the excursions so please don’t feel like you have to do them all. I met a lady on board who declared to me that as soon as she gets on she doesn’t get off until she disembarks. She is happy to sit in the lounge, reading her book, getting the occasional coffee or whisky and that is fine with all the staff on the ship. Anyway, it gave me time to explore and see what else there was on board. On the Panoramic Deck which would be the main deck you have reception, lounge (here there is the bar plus tea and coffee making facilities that you can use all day), atrium with a little shops selling essentials, Hebridean gifts and all sorts of other bits and bobs (some very nice jewellery and scarfs actually), library (here you have a couple of computers, some games, newspapers and books – I feel it only fair to say I had hardly any Wi-Fi on-board the whole time I was away so don’t expect to be able to be on constant contact with the outside world), a small beauty salon offering basic treatments and small gym and sauna. The only cabins on this deck are Royal Suites. Then you have Lido Deck which would also probably be known as the ‘sun deck’ here everything is very teak and again polished wood so it look lovely and clean. There is a bar with service during the day up here as well. The only other deck is Select Deck which is where the rest of the cabins are.
After my exploration and lunch we cruised through the Rhine Gorge – some of the most stunning scenery I had ever experienced. Again it seemed most people were watching this on the Lido Deck so I took my blanker (provided in the cabin) as it was chilly and joined everyone else to look at the amazing sights.
Adrian did another lecture again this afternoon before cocktail hour which was ‘Melodies of the Rhine’. Again I think it is his way of interspersing the lecture with different music that helps keep it interesting.
Of an evening there is not a lot in the way of entertainment which I actually quite liked. There is a resident pianist Will Marshall who plays after dinner until around 11pm. It’s very unobtrusive and doesn’t stop you being able to socialise and chat with other passengers which happened a lot on this cruise and was a lovely aspect!!

Day 4: Mainz – Germany

This was our last full day on the cruise and I knew it would be a busy one with 2 excursions and a piano recital so I was looking forward to it!!
Our first excursion was to the Gutenberg Museum which was especially opened on the day it is normally closed for Hebridean guests (I would just like to put in here it was quite a walk to the Museum but the lovely people on board arranged for a taxi for a couple of the less able ladies so they were able to join us which was lovely.) The Museum is named after Johannes Gutenberg and his inventions. Here, the main attraction was a reconstruction of Gutenberg’s workshop where visitors are shown how printing was done during the time of Gutenberg. We then went on to see the two original Gutenberg Bibles of the mid-15th century, these are among the most valuable treasures of the museum. I have to say there was something nice about having the museum just for us – it makes it extra special somehow.
After lunch we were wine tasting………………in a monastery!! Something I have never experience before. Not being a massive white wine drinker I didn’t really appreciate all the different wines, nevertheless it was interesting to hear all about the monastic life of the early centuries. At one point we were taken to where they slept, in a cavernous building apparently just on wooden slates, with no glass in the windows you can’t even begin to imagine how very cold it would have been for them.
With everyone warmed by the wine we headed back to a piano recital by a young gentleman called Martin Ivanov who played the works of Chopin. If you closed your eyes he really good have been the man himself, he was extremely talented and had 2 call backs to perform more once he had finished (so much did everyone love him!!) During the performances and lectures on board you are asked to be very respectful with noise and they also close the bar service. They are, however, happy to top you up with drinks before it starts so you don’t get thirsty!!
It was with a heavy heart that we headed for our last dinner and to say goodbye to the lovely waiters (especially handsome Lucien who played some tricks to cheer us up) but we felt a little bit more light hearted that evening after when we took part in the quiz which was quite good fun. I have to say some of them got quite competitive but it was all done in good humour and the winning team shared their champagne with those left which was nice.

All in all my experience of the Royal Crown was absolutely amazing. I am not going to lie when I took my first look inside the ship I thought it may be a little old fashioned to me taste but I ended up loving it. I still remember the weight of the key and how exciting it actually felt to have a ‘real key’ instead of a computerised card. The attention to details was something to behold. I forgot something in my cabin one day and quickly went back to find the cabin steward was shining all the brass, including the toilet flush, now that’s dedication!!

 

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