I have just enjoyed 7 nautical days on the Rhine. It seems to me that cruising is similar to the story of The Three Bears. Cruise ships are too big, pitching fishing boats are too small but Shearings Holidays river cruise ships are just right!
To meet up with the good ship MPS Rotterdam in Cologne, we had to make our way by feeder coach to Hythe. We then separated into our Tour coaches and continued to Dover. Arriving in Calais we then had 500km to travel with 1 overnight stop. I found this gruelling but many of the other passengers loved coaches and were very happy to be taken care of from beginning to end. They did not have to even think about their luggage en route.
I learnt that if you spoke to Shearings Holidays direct, they could make suggestions on how to reach the departure point by train or air. Another excellent service that Shearings offer is a department specialising in the needs of travellers less-abled. If you explain your limitations, well versed staff at Shearings will advise on the right trip for you and the excursions that you will be able to manage comfortably. This worked very well for a member of our group who was diabetic and needed wheelchair assistance. She had travelled with Shearings Holidays before and was a ‘returning customer’. Many of the people I met had indeed travelled regularly with Shearings Holidays – always a good sign.
The Hotel Le Bretagne *** St Omer, was our first night’s stop. A charming hotel with good food and a bar but I noticed that there were no grab rails, nor anti-slip mats in the bath which could have been a problem to older clients.
The return overnight stop at a Best Western Hotel in Belgium was fine with all the facilities you could wish for including the all important tea making tray.
Unusually, MPS Rotterdam was taking two groups on this trip. One was called The Battlefields Commemorative Cruise and the other Summer Gardens & Three Countries (Cologne to Brussels). This created some confusion but Melanie our Tour Manager on the ship dealt with it all beautifully. Our drivers also showed great flexibility when the paperwork had not quite caught up with them.
Here was proof that Silver Travellers are on the move from all parts of England.
The ship itself was a delight. A selection of cabins, all shapes and sizes. The old adage of ‘You gets what you pay for’ is true when cruising. Some ships sailing past were clearly offering ‘Champagne Service’ but I am sure you would also pay champagne prices.
All meals were included and the food was so tantalising that no-one missed a meal even though we all admitted we never ate three meals a day at home.To eat breakfast with the world going by at 22 km an hour (downstream average speed) is a very peaceful way to start the day.
Melanie our Tour Manager posted our travel plans on the Notice Board daily. All cabins had a TV which showed daily menus and travel plans. Before we arrived at each destination Melanie made announcements giving us a little background knowledge and letting us know if there were any changes to the plan. You have to be flexible when travelling, for locks and lifting bridges do not respect itineraries. No-one could say they did not know what was going on – but of course one person did!
The Battlefields Commemorative group had their own Shearings Tour Guide.
Tony, is a retired military man who very ably took the group through strategy and sites of war. He told heart breaking stories of individual heroic actions which never received official recognition and stories of conscientious objectors who died for their beliefs. I found it all very sad and for me it emphasised the futility of war.
The Summer Gardens group began by exploring the Botanical Gardens in Cologne where there was a very good Hot House. We visited a World Heritage site – Augustusburg Palace in Bruhl. Here the Palace gardens were designed in 1728 by a student of the master gardeners at Versailles. The Palace itself was a witness to Rococo creations in Germany. The contrast of opulent décor in the state apartments and the bare servants areas behind hidden panels was staggering.
Cologne of course is famous for 4711 Eau de Cologne which has been produced here for more than 200 years. We are told that the original formula is still used.
Some of our group went to sample these wares and came back smelling of … well cologne actually!
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.