When APT invited me to join them for three nights aboard the MS AmaVerde, I couldn’t possibly turn down the opportunity to find out more about river cruising. Having only previously experienced ocean cruising, I was keen to find out what it is about river cruising that has seen it soar in popularity in over the last few years; the number of British travellers taking a river cruise grew by almost 8,000 in 2014, taking the total to 139,400, according to figures released by CLIA UK & Ireland.
With Training Team Leader Sarah on hand to gather as much precious information as possible to pass on to our sales team, we departed Gatwick early Saturday morning on route to meet the MS AmaVerde in Amsterdam. Over the course of three nights and four days we would enjoy the same APT experience as our customers, finding out just what they can expect to receive along the way.
What followed included four days of fairy tale castles, pretty harbours, perilous bike rides, cheese factories, giant clogs, and questionable window displays (I’m looking at you Amsterdam!)
Within minutes of arriving in Amsterdam, we were whisked away to our private luxury coach for the 20 minute transfer to the ship. Between us we had travelled around the world, yet not a single person in our group had ever visited Amsterdam, cue a journey full of clichéd remarks of ‘Oh look, a windmill!’ and ‘Wow, it’s all very flat isn’t it?’.
We arrived at the ship, where a very helpful crew swiftly took our luggage from us and transferred it to our staterooms. With a couple of hours to spare before check in, our fabulous host APT’s Laura Dawson took us on a VERY extensive tour of Amsterdam. Over the course of three hours (and around 20,000 steps according to my trusty pedometer) we saw everything Amsterdam had to offer; rivers lined with painted boats; enough shops to make city centres at home pale in comparison; historic squares edged with cosmopolitan cafes; and riverside homes with colour coordinated bikes waiting outside the door. The modern Hard Rock Café sits between the historic converted church-cum-iconic music venue Paradiso and the imposing Rijksmuseum that houses some of the most world’s most prolific works of art. Amsterdam is a place of juxtapositions; modern yet historic; a party capital scattered with endless peaceful parks and quiet riverside spots. Take in the city’s history, indulge in frites with mayonnaise (frites are to Amsterdam what chocolate is to Bruges) and watch the world go by with one of a seemingly endless number of local beers.
With our extensive tour complete, we headed back to the ship and snacked on the impressive lunch spread that had been laid on in the lounge; three tier sandwiches and freshly-baked buttery oat cookies are the future as far as we are concerned. Nicely full, we headed to our staterooms; spacious, cosy and with French windows opening up the whole of one wall, we would have been happy to call it home for two weeks, never mind three nights.
After changing, we headed down to the lounge for a light-hearted and entertaining briefing from AmaVerde’s Cruise Director Petra, before heading for dinner at the Verde Restaurant, where the food was exceptional and the service impressive.
AmaVerde remained in Amsterdam until Sunday lunchtime, so Sunday morning was spent on the first of the day’s three excursions. We left AmaVerde behind and stepped aboard a much smaller river cruise ship to explore Amsterdam’s famous canals with our very knowledgeable and often hilarious guide. History and humour went hand in hand to create a tour that was intriguing and interesting, and I think we were all a little disappointed when it was over! Next, we boarded a bus for a city tour with our guide, one that was again dispersed with some good humour and little known facts. With everyone present and accounted for, we headed back to the ship for lunch and departed for Volendam.
With lunch enjoyed (four delicious courses for both lunch and dinner is a recipe for diet disaster!), we headed to the Sun Deck to watch AmaVerde manoeuvre the first lock of the journey; no small feat and something that was great fun to watch. Yachts sailed past us and the scenery was ever changing. Eventually we arrived into a beautiful harbour in the town of Horn, where sailing boats lined up beside impressive yachts to make for quite the picturesque approach to our newest destination. We boarded a coach and made our way through scenic countryside and into the village of Edam; land of cheese! We celebrated our arrival with a visit to a cheese factory; a dream come true for a cheese fiend like myself.
We continued our journey to the harbour of Volendam, where vibrant fisherman’s houses overlook the water and tiny shops sell some of the region’s best seafood. I can testify that the calamari certainly lived up to the hype! We shopped for souvenirs, lingered long enough to snap a close up with a friendly heron and teetered in giant clogs on the water’s edge for a photo opportunity.
Sunday evening saw us welcomed into the Bella Cucina Grill for a five course Gala Welcome Dinner; Smoked Salmon, Casanova Salad, Mushroom Cappuccino, Whole Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Herbs Mousseline Potato and a dessert of Mascarpone Mousse with Sesame Crossties. With a food baby firmly in place, we headed to the lounge for cocktails and a laidback soundtrack provided by the ship’s talented pianist.
Stayed tuned for Part Two of Tales from a River Cruise Convert on Thursday!