Well, it was a full-on day. With quite a few revelations and one or two new experiences! Mother and I flew from London City Airport for the first time, en route to another first, a river cruise on the Royal Crown.
So all went very smoothly, landing in Antwerp as expected, then a bus and a train to the city centre. It was pretty easy, if somewhat uninspiring. Another time I’d try the Eurostar to Brussels, then take the train to Antwerp just for fun. Antwerp Station is famously known as the city’s second cathedral and rightly so, the marble, carvings and soaring glass roof, delicately spun together, are unexpected in their elegance.
So to our ship by taxi: the Royal Crown is, without doubt, luxurious, stylish and rather what I imagine a floating Orient Express might be like. The first impression is of a rather lovely boutique hotel, it has a traditional reception desk manned by the highly efficient Kristina and her team, who are all helpful, smiley and without exception, charming. Which is, in fact, the same throughout the ship; every member of staff greets you politely, does their job superbly and is totally customer focussed.
The public areas of the ship are exactly right, large windows, polished daily, creating an intimate atmosphere in the lounge, which actually feels more like a very large country house drawing room, fortunately without some of the quirkier relatives. The lighting is soft too, which adds to the relaxed feel. Geza, the resident musician, very gently tinkles upon a rather magnificent Steinway in the corner, throughout teatime and the evening, with a suitably laid-back repertoire. Tea is a hearty affair with cakes and sturdy, well filled sandwiches, just what we needed after the 5 am start.
So, with Mother restored, she travels well, but does require regular re-fuelling with coffee and snacks, we sweep down the main staircase to our cabin. It is important to say that neither of us has ever been on a cruise before, so we are viewing this with totally unbiased, fresh eyes. And frankly, I am delighted! Cabin 7 is really well appointed, good size twin beds, plenty of cupboard space to absorb our many belongings and quality wooden coat hangers. Little details make all the difference. A safe, hairdryer and ample toiletries are provided too, as are extra pillows and really warm blankets. The bathroom is a little gem, bijou certainly, however, everything is cleverly slotted in, and the fittings are smart, dark wood again, with good lighting. The shower works perfectly and is, thankfully, easy to use.
This is a great start to our four days on board. Dinner, preceded by champagne in the lounge, is a sophisticated meal. Each of the five courses is perfectly proportioned and delicious, really delicious. Aleksander Klaus, the executive chef, is to be highly commended, for the presentation and execution of all the dishes. The beetroot risotto converts me to a vegetable I’ve never enjoyed before, no mean feat. The salmon is cooked beautifully and to celebrate, I allow myself the crème caramel, which is a culinary delight. Happily replete, we retire to the lounge for coffee and a brandy, whilst cruising gently along. The sunset during dinner was picture perfect, a fiery red in a backdrop of lowland landscape, flying geese criss-crossing the fields as if choreographed by an artist.
Next stop, Rotterdam!
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Hebridean Island Cruises for European Sailings on the Royal Crown.