Josh Stephenson joins CMV and six famous cricketers on a mini-voyage of discovery to three European cities.
Cricket has never been my first passion, but upon discovering that I was to sail aboard Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ (CMV) flagship Columbus for a cricket-themed voyage, I made a commitment to immerse myself in all things cricket.
Fast forward to departure date and, as I board, I realise that CMV has gone big for its themed itinerary, because I’m joined by former England captain Mike Gatting, Devon Malcolm, Alan Wells, Ray East, Graham Napier and John Lever, as well as They Think It’s All Over host Nick Hancock.
Comfort at sea
As for the cruise itself, I am sailing from London Tilbury to Amsterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp in just five nights.
Columbus, which has capacity for 1,500 passengers, is a spacious and comfortable host. Built in 1987, the ship underwent an extensive facelift after being bought by CMV in 2017, and she has emerged all the better for it.
There’s a wide selection of bars and lounges to grab a drink in, from the old-fashioned English pub, Taverners, to the top-deck Observation Lounge.
As for food, there’s no chance of going hungry on Columbus, because there’s something to eat at seemingly every hour of the day. The main dining room serves up to five courses with an emphasis on traditional British meals everyone will enjoy.
There are also two speciality restaurants on board offering food at a very reasonable price – £14.90 for a three-course meal excluding drinks – and guests can also choose from the Indian restaurant, Sindhu, or traditional steakhouse, The Grill.
Canals, cafés and cycling
Our first port of call is Amsterdam and this cosmopolitan city is full of effervescent charm.
I hop on a canal tour to start the day, which is a great way to see the city, before taking a stroll through the up-and-coming district of De Pijp (think Shoreditch but Dutch), with its trendy cafes, bars and the longest street market in the country.
After a peaceful night’s sleep, I arrive in Germany’s second-largest city, Hamburg. Previously rather in the shadow of Berlin and Munich, Hamburg could now be getting its chance to shine.
And it doesn’t shine much brighter than the Elbphilharmonie – a colossal concert hall standing out on the edge of the Elbe river like a cultural beacon to incoming cruise passengers. It’s fair to say the architecture takes my breath away.
HafenCity, where the Elbphilharmonie can be found, is a great place to explore, and its red brick warehouses – listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site – are an impressive sight. It is also home to Burg – the coffee museum – where the best coffee in Hamburg can be tasted.
I indulge in a spot of history at Hamburg’s red light district, the Reeperbahn, as I’ve discovered that this neon-filled area is also where Liverpool’s finest, The Beatles, first made their big break in the early 1960s at the Star Club.
And it is here that we meet a lady called Stefanie Hempel, who has been touring the Reeperbahn eight days a week, telling the story of when The Beatles came to Hamburg. She arrives armed with her trusty ukulele (George Harrison’s favourite instrument, apparently) to sing her way through history.
Brewing at its finest
Following my stroll back through time, a bout of rough weather tests my sea legs to the limit en route to Antwerp. Here, I meet our guide and head out to explore this charming city – a mash-up of Bruges and Brussels.
Antwerp is Belgium’s ‘Capital of Cool’, where all the major fashion brands can be found, jewellery stores sell priceless diamonds and the ubiquitous Belgian lace can be bought in bulk.
A whistle-stop tour takes in all of the highlights, including the stunning Cathedral of our Lady (where some of Reubens’ work is housed), the decorative city hall and the Brabo Fountain, which depicts a man tossing a giant’s hand into the sea – which is why you’ll find hands all over the city.
I also take a tour of Antwerp’s famous De Koninck brewery, experiencing a deeper look into the world of beer (as well as samples along the way, of course). However, the true highlight comes when the head brewer leads us down to his personal cellar – a glorified man-cave where the lights are low, the beer is on tap and Barry White plays in the background to help with the brewing process.
I could stay here all day, I think to myself.
The same could be said of the entire trip. Here is a ship of effortless grace and impeccable service where time seems to stand still. Indeed, I didn’t like my time on Columbus. Oh no, I loved it.