I could just about see msSerenity from the coach window as I arrived on the waterfront in Rotterdam, after a day trip to Antwerp. I’m used to seeing cruise ships tower over the quayside, but to be almost eye-level with the top deck of the ship felt slightly odd. I was taking my first ever river cruise as part of a four-night ‘Christmas Shopping River Cruise’ tour, arranged by SuperBreak, which included return ferry from Hull, a tour of Antwerp and Delft, in addition to a two-night sailing aboard The River Cruise Line‘s msSerenity from Rotterdam to Amsterdam and back. After being on almost 50 ocean cruises, I was a little apprehensive about being on a vessel so small. For me, I enjoy the feature-laden ships, coupled with the great destinations, so to be on a river ship, which highlights included just one lounge, restaurant, and bar, would take some adjusting to. Nevertheless, I was really looking forward to discovering the appeal of river cruising.
msSerenity was docked next to a car park at the back of Tropicana, an abandoned leisure resort – not the most glamorous position! The first big difference I noticed, compared to ocean cruising, was the complete lack of security. We just walked on to the ship without any paperwork or going through x-ray scanners. Security is something we’ve all become accustomed to, whether it be at an airport, cruise terminal, or even to get into buildings. We were invited into the Panorama Lounge for some welcome aboard nibbles, as the crew transported our cases onto the ship from the coach.
Like a Tardis, the ship felt much bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside. The River Cruise Line offers excellent value-for-money river cruises, and the ship reflects the attractive fares. By no means is msSerenity a highly-luxurious vessel. Instead the ship feels incredibly homely, and with such friendly staff, I quickly realised it was the perfect ship to begin my transition into river cruising.
After checking in, I headed to my cabin. All cabins on msSerenity are exactly the same layout and of the same size. The only difference between accommodation is the type of window. Cabins on Main Deck, which are slightly below the waterline, feature two small windows at head height. Moving up to Middle Deck, cabins feature large sliding windows. I was staying in a cabin on Panorama Deck – the highest category – which features a French balcony. Cabins aren’t as big as other river cruise ships, but they make use of the available space. Each bed can be folded away when not in use, which then exposes two small couches. Due to this unique design feature, all cabins are twins, and can not be converted into double beds. There’s plenty of storage space, and the two handy pull-down drawers next to each sofa are perfect for storing your pyjamas during the day.
At this point on an ocean cruise, I would usually begin to tour the ship, but since there wasn’t an awful lot to explore, I didn’t bother. It was soon time for pre-dinner drinks. I had only been onboard msSerenity for just a couple of hours, and I could already tell that river cruising was a lot more regimented than ocean cruising. Everyone gathered in the Panorama Lounge for muster, followed by the Captain’s welcome speech, and almost immediately afterwards, we were invited downstairs for dinner in the restaurant. The bar staff in the Lounge also follow you down to the restaurant where they then take drink orders. Already waiting on the table was the first course, a spinach and feta quiche. The galley is incredibly small on msSerenity, so choices are a lot more limited than ocean ships. The appetiser was followed by tomato soup. I then had the choice of either smoked pork, or perch fillet. I opted for the smoked pork, followed by a white and dark chocolate mousse. The meal was excellent, although I could have eaten slightly more.
After dinner, I took part in the festive quiz in the Lounge, which invloved guessing famous faces, general Christmas-themed trivia, and a round where all answers were related in some way to the twelve days of Christmas. It was a fun way to pass the evening. After the quiz had ended, DJ Sunny performed in the lounge, but I opted to watch us depart Rotterdam from the sun deck. It was freezing, so I didn’t stay out too long, quickly retreating to the Lido Bar. I grabbed myself a warm hot chocolate from the drinks machine, took one of the homemade festive cookies, and went back to the cabin. It was so beautiful leaning against the french balcony, as msSerenity glided along the river bound for Amsterdam.
The next morning, I awoke early just as we were arriving into Amsterdam. I put on a coat and went outside onto the top deck to discover the area in daylight. Just like the previous evening, it was freezing! A layer of frost covered the deck. On a longer cruise and in warmer weather, I could just see myself relaxing on the top deck as we pass quaint riverside villages. One thing that would be good to see onboard would be a hot tub. It was important I went down for breakfast, as our waiter required our order for the evening’s gala dinner. Breakfast is served buffet-style, and you sit at the same table as dinner. I was really impressed with the selection on offer. There was literally everything you could ever want for breakfast, from a great full English, to fresh Danish pastries, breads, and a range of cereals. Viking Eistla was berthed next to us – she looked magnificent. Despite msSerenity looking like the ugly duckling next to her, I was still pleased to be on msSerenity. I’d been on the ship for less than 24 hours, and I had already fallen in love with her warm, relaxed and friendly atmosphere. After breakfast, and from the comfort of my cabin, I watched two A-Rosa river ships arrive at the quayside. When you see river ships poetically turn in the river is when you appreciate the incredible length of the vessels. Before getting off the ship and exploring the city of Amsterdam, I made my way to the atrium, which is where the small reception desk and shop is situated. To disembark, you’re required to hand in your cabin keycard, in exchange for a boarding ticket. This lets the crew know who is still on or off the ship.
The ship’s crew were offering a couple of excursions, one of which included a canal tour, but I spent the afternoon walking around the bustling city of Amsterdam. It seems impossible to fully relax in Amsterdam, as everywhere you walk there are bikes rushing past, or trams rolling along the streets. I took a stroll through Vondel Park, where I spotted a few wild parrots – not something you expect to see on a freezing December day in Amsterdam! I got back to the ship, just as the fog rolled in. I was glad to be back in the warmth. I spent the remainder of the day sitting in the Panorama Lounge, occasionally running to the back of the ship to top up my mug with more delicious hot chocolate. The ship has a small selection of games and books that can be borrowed during your time onboard.
In the evening, a game of bingo was held, but I skipped that, and just went down to the lounge for a pre-dinner drink, and listened to DJ Sunny on the keyboard. River cruises do not have a strict dress code like ocean cruise ships, but tonight was a chance to dress elegantly if you wished, but you were not obligated to do so. As it was just a short cruise, I didn’t bother packing my suit, so I just went down in a smart shirt and trousers. After the entertainment had finished, we were invited downstairs to the restaurant. The tables looked very festive, adorned with Christmas crackers, party poppers, and party horns. Already waiting for me on the table was the first course, a smoked salmon roll. Next was a delicious pumpkin soup, followed by orange sorbet. At breakfast time, I had the choice of ordering pork fillet, or duo of fish with lobster butter sauce for my evening meal. I went for the pork. After the main course, the galley crew and waiters performed a Baked Alaska parade. Afterwards, the entire restaurant had an impromptu competition to see who could blow their party horn the loudest. I’m pretty sure people in Rotterdam would have been able to hear all the noise we were making! After dinner, it was back up to the Panorama Lounge for the evening’s entertainment. It was a collection of festive games, including a Christmas music quiz, a game of higher or lower, and a love and marriage game show. It was a fun way to spend the evening, which by this point we were making our way down river back to Rotterdam. Before heading back to the cabin, I grabbed my obligatory hot chocolate and cookie, and stayed up to watch us pass under some bridges. It was amazing to see how little clearance there actually is – the sun canopies, and wheelhouse have to be lowered just to fit under! I left the cabin curtains open overnight, and it was mesmerising lying in bed, and gazing up at all the stars. By this point, we had sailed out of the suburbs of Amsterdam and were in the open countryside, with no light pollution whatsoever.
The next morning we were back in Rotterdam nice and early. I had to vacate my cabin by 8 a.m., but we were all free to stay and enjoy the facilities on the ship until 12 noon. The morning started off grey, dull, and wet, so I stayed in the comfort of the lounge until around 11 a.m., when the sun came out. Our luggage was collected in the morning, and loaded onto the coaches. We had free time to explore Rotterdam until 3 p.m., when we had to meet back at the ship ready for our trip to Delft. msSerenity was docked in a much nicer spot this time, directly at the foot of the Erasmus Bridge. I had wanted to pay a visit to the old Holland America Line ship, SS Rotterdam, but due to time-constraints it wouldn’t have been possible. I had a quick look at the Maritime Museum, before taking a walk to one of my favourite buildings in the city, the Markthal. This gigantic market, offers a variety of local delicacies, such as fresh fish, cheeses, chocolate, and bread, but what makes this market so special is the beautiful building it is located in. I looked around some of the shops, but before I knew it, it was time to head back to the quayside for the coaches to Delft, and ultimately back to the ferry.
I really enjoyed my first river cruise. It was an excellent insight into what river cruise holidays are like. msSerenity is a great ship to start your river cruise adventures on. If you’re used to luxury surroundings, and the best-of-the-best, then this ship might not be for you. But for me, someone who has never experienced a river cruise before, it was excellent. There was a great community atmosphere onboard, and the crew of just 34 were outstanding. Despite it only being a two-night cruise, it was sad to disembark. It would have been great to stay onboard longer, seeing more destinations, and to have the chance of seeing us sail during the day. There’s no denying that the majority of river cruises are a lot more expensive than ocean cruises. I could go on two seven-night cruises for the average price of just one seven-night river cruise. While I still prefer the attractions of the big ships, I’ll be keeping an eye out for possible river cruises in the future! Just like my very first cruise ship, Independence of the Seas, my first ever river ship, msSerenity, will always have a place in my heart!
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