You don’t have to go far for a fabulous cruise. A five-night getaway from Tilbury on the Thames with Cruise and Maritime Voyages takes in three fabulous cities in three countries. Do it in the off-season and the prices are better than ever, the streets aren’t crowded – and there are the gorgeous colours of autumn.
The trip starts in the historic setting of the 1930s brick cruise terminal, a listed building, at Tilbury on the Thames. Heading past Southend (and the lights of its lengthy pier shining in the twilight), by the following morning you’re in Amsterdam. Next day it’s Hamburg followed by a day at sea, then the Belgian city of Antwerp before arriving back refreshed the following morning.
But not only is this a trio of city breaks, it’s also a cricketing cruise. CMV is known for its themed itineraries, whether 60s music, Carry On comedy stars or sports personalities. This one is Cricket Legends and features former They Think It’s All Over TV host Nick Hancock hosting half a dozen luminaries, not least former England captain Mike Gatting and fast bowler Devon Malcolm, in quizzes, talks and parties.
Columbus carries 1,400 passengers in classic style. No rush, no fuss, just quality rooms, plenty of shows, live music in the bars (including the Dome with its panoramic views) and good food.
There’s the smart, sophisticated Waterfront restaurant with its five-course dinners and the casual seaside-styled Plantation Bistro with everything from fish and chips to imaginative curries. Not surprising given that the ship’s Master Chef is Goan Michael Shaji – so the boutique Fusion restaurant, for which there is a £15 charge, is rather special. As is the neat little Grill steakhouse, for the same price. All charmingly British at a good price – a pint of Spitfire bitter costs £4.50.
We wake as we’re slipping into the heart of the city at the end of the North Sea Canal and by the time we’ve had coffee and croissants we’re off. A two-minute walk gets us to a glass-roofed boat and we’re pootling through the maze of canals on a must-do excursion.
There’s coffee and apple pie as we negotiate low bridges, pass the museum home of Holocaust victim Anne Frank and countless bicycles. We disembark and tour an up and coming neighbourhood, De Pijp, less busy than elsewhere, despite the attraction of the daily Albert Cuypmarkt street market, where we buy waffles and other tasty treats.
The little streets are a treat too with parking bays being uprooted and turned into community gardens – with timber ‘worm hotels’, cloaked in flowers, where locals dispense with green waste, using the resulting compost to help everything bloom. There’s just time for a stroll past the grandiose Rijksmuseum, along canals, through the Rokin shopping area and back to the ship (first buying a Delft blue and white pottery Christmas decoration from the stall at the port).
We’re back on board for a late lunch and, in the Palladium theatre, the Cricketing Highlights show with Nick Hancock chatting to all the cricketers – Mike Gatting, Devon Malcolm, former Sussex captain Alan Wells, England bowler John Lever, Essex bowler and author Ray East and Essex batsman/bowler Graham Napier – about their favourite cricket moments before a stirring film of career highlights.
Next day we spend the morning sailing up the River Elbe, wide, pretty in the mist and with ornate hotels on the banks along with occasional beaches. At 10.30, we’ve had breakfast and it’s time for the sort of star entertainment you rarely get this time of day – An Audience with Mike Gatting and Devon Malcolm, an in-depth chat but, like on the Parky show, showbiz rather than sports stats.
As we arrive we arrive in the elegant centre the baroque tower of St Michael’s Church looms large. First stop is the latest riverside creation; the glassy, wavy-roofed Elbphilharmonie concert venue (the ‘Elbe’) grows out of one of the historic warehouses that now form a district of the arts, apartments and restaurants. Inside (it’s free to visit) there’s barely a straight line as you climb curiously shaped staircases, passing bars with panoramic views and marvelling at the modernistic concert hall.
From here we stroll (under the ornate iron pillars of the overhead railway, now carrying the modern metro) to the riverbank where there are ferries and sailing ships and tour boats. We take a lift 24m down to the Old Elbe Tunnel which, built in 1911, was the continent’s first river tunnel for vehicles. Beautifully tiled, with sea creatures in relief panels, and still the occasional car on the single-lane road, it’s a delight – and free. We carry on past the elegant Fish Market (dating from 1703, where each Sunday morning fish along with flowers, clothes, souvenirs and much more is sold among the coffee and food stands) and the Submarine Museum, where a working Russian sub houses displays on the horrors of war. Veering through the lively St Pauli area we wander along the Reeperbahn, the historic red light district, a busy road of saucy shops interspersed with kebab outlets. This was where the Beatles learnt their trade, playing for hours each day to American servicemen in tiny clubs.
At Beatles-Platz, a circular record-like space lorded over by stainless steel statues of the Fab Four (actually Fab Five, with one-time member Stu Sutcliffe, integral to their time here) we meet Stefanie Hempel for her Beatles tour with a difference – armed with a ukulele and stopping to sing songs we see various sights including several where they
performed. There’s the entrance to the Top Ten club (once the grand Hippodrome and now the trendy Moondoo) and the monument on the site of the former Star-Club along with the apartment house doorway where John Lennon posed moodily, a shot used many years later for his Rock ’n’ Roll album. Twilight has enveloped the Reeperbahn and we head back to the ship for dinner.
Time for cricket
A test match-like day starts with an engagingly shambolic cricket quiz with the air of a stand-up comedy performance. Nick Hancock, aided by cricketers, asks the audience questions before a Q&A with England bowler John Lever, Essex bowler and author Ray East and Essex batsman/bowler Graham Napier. It’s fun even if you’re not a cricket addict, tales of camaraderie, beer and surreal overseas tours.
After lunch there’s the Meet the Cricketers party in the Dome, guests queuing for autographs and selfies, keen to chat with their heroes. Then at teatime it’s the grand finale, the Question of Cricket Quiz, where the chaps are tested on their knowledge (with more than a touch of humour from Hancock).
Another river, the Scheldt, and another important port. We dock in the old town, near the grandiose Gothic/Baroque St Paul’s Church. It’s where we start a walking tour. Even more grandiose on the inside (it’s wider than Paris’s Notre Dame), it’s packed with huge altar paintings by local boy Peter Paul Rubens. By contrast a few minutes walk away is the Boerentoren, claimed as Europe’s first skyscraper; a 97m Art Deco building from 1932. Rubens’ home, off the main shopping street, is another delight amid chocolate shops, cafes and bars – the De Koninck brewery, opened in 1833, is still brewing but is a state-of-the-art attraction with industrial chic bar and several restaurants, including the Black Smoke barbecue, new in November 2018.