The MS Serenade 2
Cutlery was strewn akimbo, the wine glasses were rolling around on the table and the menu had been screwed up into a ball. We entered the ship’s restaurant gingerly, and were immediately accosted by a cutlass-bearing pirate grinning maniacally as he poured our drinks. Fortunately, this was all part of the evening entertainment on our fabulous cruise ship, the MS Serenade 2.
We had boarded the ship seven days previously, having flown with Lufthansa from Manchester to Munich and travelled by coach to the Serenade 2’s mooring at Linz. Around 30% of our fellow ‘captives’ had chosen the flight option while the rest had made the journey from the UK entirely by rail or coach from various regional pick-up points. The beauty of this type of Shearings holiday is that people can travel abroad without flying.
The MS Serenade 2 is the latest addition to the Shearings cruise ship fleet on the river Danube. Built in 2007, the ship holds up to 137 passengers and a friendly international crew of 35. The hotel room-style cabins are well equipped with comfortable beds, table, chairs and desk, plenty of storage space adds hangers (tip: stow suitcases beneath the beds), coffee and tea-making facilities, hair dryer, large safe and a mini-bar. The modern bathroom features a shower cubicle as well as a bath with shower and a useful clothesline for drying undies. Hot water is plentiful and air conditioning is extremely effective.
Cabins on the top two decks feature floor length sliding windows and Juliet balconies so guests can sit back and enjoy the passing scenery, leaping up to take photos of fairytale castles, bridges and wildlife. The flat-screen TV also displays the camera views from the front and rear of the ship. Our cruise ‘The spectacular Danube to the Black Sea’ entailed a busy 14-day itinerary from Austria to the Black Sea and back, passing through seven different countries and visiting 11 towns or cities including Belgrade, Bratislava, Bucharest and Budapest.
Nevertheless, we still had time to enjoy the sun deck where we could sit and sunbathe on the plentiful chairs and sunbeds, play giant chess or practice putting. On the occasional chillier days the ship’s lounge offered a welcome haven with coffee, tea, chocolate and biscuits available 24/7, a games corner and library. Shearings cruise manager, Gill, also provided a daily quiz/Sudoku, and knitting/crochet materials for guests to produce 6” squares to make into blankets for the seamen’s mission. For the more energetic, a small gym offers a couple of bikes and a treadmill, while a walking group established that 16 turns of the top deck equated to one mile and sunbathers were treated to the regular sight of ladies circulating serenely.
Food on board was fabulous. Following a buffet breakfast where a chef offered freshly cooked fluffy omelettes and scrambled eggs, we enjoyed delicious and healthy four-course lunches and dinners served to the table by the charming, hard-working waiting team. Sensibly-sized portions meant we could dash off to our city tours without suffering indigestion, while second servings were available for any who required larger portions. A typical menu would include crisp, fresh salad starter; soup; a main course with meat, fish or vegetarian options, and a light dessert or cheese and biscuits. The menu often reflected the country we were sailing through: goulash in Hungary and apple strudel in Austria. We opted for the drinks package that allowed us unlimited draft beer, house wine, soft drinks and bottled water.
While sailing, Gill organized some interesting morning activities including a towel art demonstration revealing the mystery behind the elephants, penguins and swans that adorned our beds; cocktail making; craft mornings and a cookery demonstration. In the evening, notwithstanding the Pirate ‘attack’, entertainment was generally low key as many people were tired after their city tours. However, Rumen, the ship’s talented resident musician, coaxed a few of us up onto the dance floor with his repertoire of English pop music from the past 50 years, and the final night saw us throwing some shapes to ‘YMCA’ and marching around the lounge to “Is this the way to Amarillo”!
Visiting so many fabulous cities accompanied by knowledgeable tour guides was a real treat and the ‘icing on the cake’ was service provided by the ship’s crew. Without exception, they were good-natured, cheerful characters from countries including the Netherlands, Romania and the Philippines. When the ship was unable to travel further along the river because of low water levels, Shearings promptly arranged coach travel to Bucharest and beyond to the Black Sea with an overnight stop in a four-star hotel. A small group of passengers chose to remain on board where the crew continued to provide excellent customer service. The Reception staff also dealt admirably with customs officials at the Hungarian/Serbian border, ensuring they did not summon us from our beds in the middle of the night for physical face-checking against our passports.
Our fellow passengers were adventurous characters eager to learn about the countries we were visiting and firm friendships were made. Many were seasoned travellers who had been on numerous sea and river cruises since retiring and spoke highly of their previous experiences with Shearings. River cruises are a great way to experience different cultures and cities without the stress of road trips and the luxury afforded by the MS Serenade 2 provides a welcome base.
We are sorry to advise that the Specialist Leisure Group, which includes Shearings, entered administration on 22 May 2020. If you have booked a holiday with Shearings, or you have any questions please visit the Shearings website.
You may also find interesting:
- Tips for the first time river cruising
- The spectacular Danube to the Black Sea with Shearings – Part 1