CRYSTAL RIVER CRUISES ANNOUNCES 2016-17 ITINERARIES

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National Gallery, Budapest. A forthcoming highlight for the opulent new Crystal River Cruises. from 2017.

Nascent Crystal River Cruises will be hitting a quintet of high notes between 2016 and 2017, with the introduction of a new, musically styled fleet that intended to raise the bar on luxury European river cruises.

First out of the band box is the recently purchased MS Mozart, long regarded as one of the finest deluxe river boats anywhere. She will be restyled as the Crystal Mozart.

Described as a ‘river yacht’, the 160 guest vessel will benefit from a very comprehensive refurbishment before she enters service in July, 2016. The vessel will sail on a pair of alternating, ten and eleven night itineraries along the Danube, showcasing landmark river highlights such as Durnstein, Melk, and the World Heritage listed Wachau Valley, together with Belgrade, Budapest, and the Iron Gates.

Crystal Mozart will also make a special Christmas Markets cruise that will carry guests through the amazing winter hinterland of Austria, Germany and Slovakia.

Second note will be struck by the first of four new, purpose built near sister vessels. The 84 guest Crystal Debussy will showcase a series of five, seven and ten night sailings on the River Seine from Paris. Her first sailing is slated for June 4th, 2017. There will be an emphasis on Parisian art and culture during these voyages, and visits to such legendary, show stopping Normandy favourites as Honfleur and Rouen, with it’s historic links to Joan of Arc.

Just two weeks later another vessel, the Crystal Bach, will inaugurate a series of sailings along the Rhine, from Amsterdam to Basel. Central to these voyages will be a number of overnight stays in banner ports along the route. These voyages can be taken as a fourteen night adventure. The 110 guest yacht will also offer what promises to be a magically indulgent Christmas Markets cruise along the Rhine in December.

Fourth out of the orchestra pit, the Crystal Ravel will carry just eighty four guests on a series of adventures along the Rhone and Garonne rivers, beginning with an inaugural sailing on August 9th, 2017. These voyages will showcase the lush, stunning vineyards, wineries and chateaux of the Gironde and Loire Valleys, and also offer several overnight stays in the fabled city of Bordeaux.

The last note for now will be struck by the Crystal Mahler, with a capacity for 110 guests. Beginning with a maiden cruise on August 29th, 2017, the vessel will sail a series of deep, stunning and extensive sixteen night progressions. These ‘Grand Europe’ itineraries will sail the length of the Rhine, Main and Danube rivers, with a series of overnight calls en route including Amsterdam, Budapest, Passau and Vienna.

The stated aim of the company is to bring the same, legendary standards of cuisine, service and inclusiveness to river cruising as it showcases on its brace of hugely lauded ocean cruise ships. To that end, they will be truly all inclusive products that include free Wi-Fi, flights and overseas transfers, use of on board bikes, most alcoholic and soft drinks; a range of complimentary excursions in each port of call, together with all port taxes and on board gratuities.

These cruises are available to book now, with a lead in fare for a ten night, round trip Vienna cruise on Crystal Mozart coming in from £2,670 for a river suite, fully inclusive as outlined above.

As always, stay tuned for updates.

SAILING THE NEDER RIJN

Leaving Rotterdam's outskirts

Leaving Rotterdam’s outskirts

Heavy industry on the Neder Rijn

Heavy industry on the Neder Rijn

Close up, this has a stark, brutal beauty

Close up, this has a stark, brutal beauty

Ferries criss crossed our route

Ferries criss crossed our route

Banks of plane trees lined the river

Banks of plane trees lined the river

Looking down from mu cabin balcony

Looking down from mu cabin balcony

These power plants were random and impressive

These power plants were random sights

The cathedrals of the 21st century

The cathedrals of the 21st century

All the panoply of the gods of industry

All the panoply of the gods of industry

Giving way to sudden swathes of green

Giving way to sudden swathes of green

Small, tidy villages ranged along the river

Small, tidy villages ranged along the river

Sunsets were tender, mellow affairs

Sunsets were tender, mellow affairs

Evenings served up some amazing vistas

Evenings served up some amazing vistas

Mirror images of evening fall

Mirror images of evening fall

We ghosted under a series of bridges

We ghosted under a series of bridges

Spring evenings had a special magic

Spring evenings had a special magic

Fields and roads, forests and ravines

Fields and roads, forests and ravines

Row upon row of serried plane trees

Row upon row of serried plane trees

Winding bends revealed new vistas

Winding bends revealed new vistas

Bridges of all shapes and sizes

Bridges of all shapes and sizes

And quirky little river boats

And quirky little river boats

And river towns like famous Arnhem....

And river towns like famous Arnhem….

A-ROSA FLORA; THE RHINE GODDESS

Dreaming wide awake; sailing the Rhine in spring

Dreaming wide awake; sailing the Rhine in spring

The surface of the springtime Rhine was like a mirror, still and silent as a string of cotton candy clouds flitted across it like so many ghostly galleons. From the balcony of the the A-Rosa Flora, I watched entranced as as succession of stunning vistas unfolded around me like a series of staggering drum rolls, one after another.

One minute we motored effortlessly past giant, hulking industrial plants, the new cathedrals of the 21st century. Another minute, and we ghosted past small villages clustered round the spire of some ancient church. A bend in the river would offer up broad, sandy beaches dotted with improbable gangs of roaming horses, enjoying the returning springtime sun.

Passing under vaulting, arched bridges and through long, deep canal locks, we nudged effortlessly into ancient, fabled Dutch and Belgian cities and some lesser known gems along the way. There was sturdy, Gothic accented Ghent, with its cobbled streets and looming spires, and poignant, pretty Arnhem, with its flower strewn waterfront promenade and the famous ‘bridge too far’ that still straddles the Rhine at this juncture.

Vibrant, swaggering Amsterdam and cutting edge architecture in the vast harbour of Rotterdam formed a fabulous contrast to the breezy, yacht studded harbour at Hoorn. Antwerp was all clattering horses’ hooves on cobbled streets and impossibly gorgeous waffles, lashed in hot chocolate sauce, savoured against a soundtrack of ringing church bells in one of the most magnificent grand squares anywhere in Europe.

Pool deck on the A-Rosa Flora

Pool deck on the A-Rosa Flora

We moved deftly through an endless hinterland of street cafes and flower strewn streets and squares, sailing past flotillas of sturdy Rhine coasters, each one with a car or two strapped to it’s stern and, often as not, a furiously barking dog standing guard on deck. Lines of plane trees stood like sentries as the setting sun flitted skittishly between the foliage, warming the ancient river with an amazing, translucent wash.

Our passage was almost dreamlike; our transport a paragon of modern luxury. The A-Rosa Flora was making only her third voyage, yet already she has become an amazing cocoon of style, warmth and excellence. With open seating dining in a window walled restaurant that regularly offered up the most amazing food I have eaten on any river boat, it was a feast for both the palate and the senses.

Smart, crisp and modern, the A-Rosa Flora boasts a vibrant, modish palette that allows for the bright, linear decor to complement the wash of floor to ceiling natural light that suffuses the boat. An elegant observation lounge right forward leads to the dining room via a starboard side inner promenade. One deck down a small, beautiful jewel of a spa offered an almost water level perspective of the outdoor pageant as it slowly unfurled.

On deck, canvas chairs and wooden tables dotted the forward and slightly raised aft deck. In between was a pool, a small golf putting green, and even a sit up, outdoor bar. Like everything else on board, the quality of fixtures and fittings was superlative. Clean, crisp and incredibly comfortable, the A-Rosa Flora is a modern, modular marriage of intelligent design and subtle, finely styled flair. If the opposition isn’t worried, it should be.

The elegant dining room

The elegant dining room

It is no exaggeration to say that dining was a feast; from the freshly baked breakfast breads and strong, piping hot coffee to the gorgeous, unmissable soups, right down to the delicately prepared fish and such evening dishes as reindeer, it was simply fabulous. The desserts were creamy, custard and chocolate confections that dared you to try and ignore them. I failed. Repeatedly.

The cabins? Four suites had proper private balconies, but most- such as mine- had a French balcony. Twin beds that convert to a very comfy double,  a couple of comfy chairs, and a flat screen TV. Three wardrobes and ample drawers provide more than enough storage space; the dress code is smart casual right throughout the trip.

The bathroom is shower only, though it is an excellent shower. Best of all was the floor to ceiling sliding door that opened up onto that balcony rail; a beautiful place for enjoying a glass of chilled sekt as the A-Rosa Flora ghosted silently along the implacable, moonlit Rhine.

All things considered, those rooms are more than simply comfortable; each one is a little haven. And, this being a river boat, everything else is just a simple step away.

With an all inclusive drinks policy on board and a staff that absolutely work their socks off from top to bottom, dawn till dusk, the A-Rosa Flora serves up the storied, ancient Grand Dames that line the banks of the Rhine with singular aplomb and panache. It’s an elegant, indolent and all inclusive way to see these fantastic places, many of them looking like something straight out of the pages of a Brothers Grimm fable.

Exquisite panoramas from the forward Observation Lounge

Exquisite panoramas from the forward Observation Lounge

And, with all your shore excursions and transfers included for the duration, there is no more convenient or inclusive way to see the magnificent, medieval magic of old Europe. Just lovely.

COLOGNE PHOTO ALBUM

Cologne skyline view from the edge of the Rhine

Cologne skyline view from the edge of the Rhine, looking from aboard the A-Rosa Flora

View of the Hohenzollern bridge, from the pool deck of the A-Rosa Flora

View of the Hohenzollern bridge, from the pool deck of the A-Rosa Flora

Amazingly, the trademark Cologne bridge was rebuilt after being destroyed in 1945

Amazingly, the trademark Cologne bridge was rebuilt after being destroyed in 1945

Looking along the Cologne waterfront before sailing

Looking along the Cologne waterfront before sailing on our week long foray up the Rhine

Close up of the Hohenzollern bridge, named after Germany's ruling royal dynasty

Close up of the Hohenzollern bridge, named after Germany’s ruling royal dynasty

Walking along the Rhine, under the eastern span of the huge birdge

Walking along the Rhine, under the eastern span of the huge bridge

Some of the ornate Gothic stone work on the river front

Some of the ornate Gothic stone work on the river front

Another shot of the amazing, triple span bridge

Another shot of the amazing, triple span bridge that spans the Rhine

Cologne's world famous icon; the monolithic, twin spired Dom cathdral

Cologne’s world famous icon; the monolithic, twin spired Dom cathedral

Close up, the huge cathedral still bears the blackened scars of the 1945 bombing

Close up, the huge cathedral still bears the blackened scars of the 1945 bombing

While whole districts of Cologne were flattened, the Dom somehow miraculously survived

While whole districts of Cologne were flattened, the Dom somehow miraculously survived

Seen from close up, the awe inspiring Dom loses any actual perspective.

Seen from close up, the awe inspiring Dom loses any actual perspective.

You have to stand some way back to take in it's blackened, beautiful perfection

You have to stand some way back to take in it’s blackened, beautiful perfection

The centre of Cologne resembles nothing so much as a giant Gothic theme park

The centre of Cologne resembles nothing so much as a giant Gothic theme park

There are cobbled streets, lined with all souildingsrts of honey coloured b

There are cobbled streets, lined with all sorts of honey coloured buildings

Despite the wartime damage, parts of Cologne still look almost fairy tale

Despite the wartime damage, parts of Cologne still look almost fairy tale

The city has enough spires, turrets and towers for any Disney princess

The city has enough spires, turrets and towers for any Disney princess

The town centre looks like a scene from a story by the Brothers Grimm

The town centre looks like a scene from a story by the Brothers Grimm

Even the statuary has an almost scary, medieval kind of feel to it

Even the statuary has an almost scary, medieval kind of feel to it

Bombed and then a battlefield, it's amazing so much of Cologne remains

Bombed and then a battlefield, it’s amazing so much of Cologne remains

Today, the proud, scarred  Queen Of The Rhine is still a magnificent, must see gem.

Today, the proud, scarred Queen Of The Rhine is still a magnificent, must see gem.

OCEAN VS. RIVER CRUISING- THE PROS AND CONS….

A river cruise can take you right into the heart of cities such as historic Antwerp

A river cruise can take you right into the heart of cities such as historic Antwerp

The rise of river cruising over the past few years has been nothing short of stratospheric. And, as river cruisers become more expansive and luxurious, so the appeal continues to grow. The result? More and more people are flocking to this new generation of river boats than at any other time before; a trend that shows every sign of continuing over the next few years.

So, what if you’re a devoted, deep blue ocean cruiser, considering dipping a toe in the much shallower waters of exotic river cruising? Is it possible to ‘cross deck’ between the two different kinds of adventure? And what are the potential pros and cons out there?

OK, let’s take a look at a few of these….

DOES SIZE MATTER?

Naturally, even the biggest and most elaborate river boat is going to be much tighter in terms of mutual proximity than most cruise ships. So…. should you encounter that certain someone that sets your teeth on edge just by walking into the room, is escape so easy an option?

Well, most lounges on river boats are quite large, and most restaurants are open sitting, so there will usually be just enough clear water between you and your very own Marie Celeste. Also, many of the new ships have large cabins, often featuring French balconies. If you want, you can retire to your own personal, comfy bolt hole, without losing anything of the scenic parade passing by. At least on one side of the boat.

NEAR, MY DEAR…..

Porto's hilltop location is absolutely stunning. Approaching it by river cruiser is increidble.

Porto’s hilltop location is absolutely stunning. Approaching it by river cruiser is incredible.

Another great advantage of river cruising is that most vessels rock up to a quayside right in the centre of town, usually meaning that you can forget long coach rides to see the local sights and highlights. Many will, indeed, find this to be a blessing.

ROCK AND ROLL, OR SMOOTH AS SILK?

River sailing is most always calm to the point of soporific. There’s a strange, dual sense of being almost close enough to the passing landscape to touch it, while at the same time feeling a sense of quite splendid isolation. A strange dichotomy, but not without its charm.

ACTION PACKED OR ACTIVITY LACKED?

Again, size precludes a river cruiser from offering the facilities of a deep sea ship. If you can’t live without a rock climbing wall, flow rider, 24 hour popcorn and thirty alternative restaurants, then river cruising might not be for you.

And yes, the boats are much more low key in terms of nightlife. Think ‘country house’ rather than Studio 54 with azipods.

Then again, many river ships spend overnight moored in the middle of city centres, from Porto to Prague. This gives you the opportunity to dip in and out of the local restaurant and social scenes just as much or as little as you like, and without the worry of having to find a hotel afterwards. Which can be rather nice.

THE PRICE IS RIGHT, RIGHT?

Cruising past the banks of the River Douro in Northern Portugal.

Cruising past the banks of the River Douro in Northern Portugal.

Alas, river cruising is not a cheap gig, especially in Europe. That said, many operators include a huge amount in the fares, such as most, if not all shore excursions, and free beer and wine with lunch and dinner. Specialist operators such as Titan UK even include door to door transfers, and even overnight hotels as and where necessary.

And, to be completely fair, even big ship cruising in Europe is typically quite expensive, especially in the high summer season. You pay your money, and you make your choice.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Both ocean and river cruises offer hugely inclusive, tempting, quality options for the soft adventurer, either as a solo traveller, part of a couple, or as part of an extended family group. And while nothing will ever replace the thrill of sailing into New York, or enchant me like those sun kissed, indolent Greek Islands, I am becoming more and more addicted to river cruising as well.

Does it have to be either/or? I don’t think so. If there’s an itch to scratch, I respectfully suggest you get out there, and give it a try.

Either way, I suspect that you will be pleasantly surprised. Enjoy!

CRUISE AND MARITIME EXPANDS INTO GERMAN MARKET

Cruise And Maritime Voyages showcase the highlights of Europe

Cruise And Maritime Voyages showcase the highlights of Europe

In a move officially announced today, Cruise And Maritime Voyages has announced the acquisition of the German operator, Transocean.

This gives the hitherto UK focused company an inroad into the potentially lucrative German market. As it stands, Transoceam has interests in both river and ocean cruising.

The beginnings of an understanding were reached last winter, when Cruise And Maritime chartered the 21,000 ton MS Astor from Transocean for an initial season of Australia and Pacific sailings, mainly from Fremantle. That arrangement had already been reconfirmed for winter 2014-15, prior to today’s announcement.

With immediate effect, this means that Cruise And Maritime will now assume marketing and promoting the 2014 programme of Astor cruises in Europe this year. In all, the well regarded ship, recently refurbished, will be offering some fourteen cruises between May and October, mainly sailing from Hamburg and Kiel, before she returns to Australia in November.

It also gives Cruise And Maritime a quartet of river vessels; Belvedere, with 176 passengers, the 150 passenger Bellefleur, Bellejour, with 180 passengers, and the smaller, 80 passenger  Sans Souci. 

Between them, this quartet operates across the Rhone, the Moselle, Danube, Main, Rhine, Neckar and Elbe, Oder, and Saone river networks.

The four German river boats, as well as the ocean going Astor, will continue to be advertised to the lucrative German market, though with some increasing international representation. Recently, Cruise And Maritime has opened offices in both Fort Lauderdale and Sydney.

The company also recently dipped a toe into the UK river cruise market, with the acquisition of the premium grade Vienna 1 for cruises on the Rhine. As with many products in the increasingly lucrative river cruising market, Cruise And Maritime fares include flights, transfers, all excursions, and on board wine or beer with dinner each evening.

As well as the shores of the amazing Amazon....

As well as the shores of the amazing Amazon….

On the deep ocean cruising front, Cruise And Maritime operates a brace of highly respected ‘ladies of a certain age’, in the shape of the veteran Marco Polo and the highly popular MV Discovery. Despite their lack of balconies and alternative restaurants, the two ships continue to book briskly, and have proved popular additions to the UK cruising roster.

This for now probably marks the limit of Cruise And Maritime’s expansion in terms of ocean cruising. There simply are not too many candidates about that fit the line’s preferred style of classic, ocean liner style voyaging on the market these days.

However, the river cruise market could be another matter altogether. And, no doubt, the line is looking at the possibility of some cross over trade between the ocean and river components. It makes for a whole raft of intriguing possibilities.

As always, stay tuned.

TRAVEL TRENDS TO WATCH OUT FOR IN 2014

The magnificent Swallow's Nest in Yalta

The magnificent Swallow’s Nest in Yalta

With the last rites for 2013 about to be intoned, now is as good a time as any to look at some of the potential highlights on offer in what could be quite a shiny 2014. So, for your consideration, here are some of the more tasty prospects on offer across the cruise spectrum.

Expect Nile Cruises to make a slow but steady comeback in 2014. It was barely noticed, but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office recently lifted it’s advisory on not travelling to Egypt, and the numerous river cruise operators on the Nile are gearing up to rebuild that shattered trade. Expect low initial prices, plenty of availability, and some of the most fascinating and ageless sightseeing anywhere on the planet.

The Black Sea is hugely under rated as a cruise destination, quite astonishing when you consider the wealth of attractions it can offer within a relatively short distance. With evocative names such as Sevastopol, Odessa and Yalta, the region is a historical glut. Offering such sights as the famous Swallow’s Nest at Yalta, and the field where the Light Brigade made it’s infamous, doomed charge, it should be on everybody’s ‘to do’ list at least once.

Voyages To Antiquity offer a couple of Black Sea cruises in 2014 on the small, highly styled Aegean Odyssey. With all excursions included in the price, and top quality lecturers on board to put the region in its proper historical context, this is definitely the way to go ‘back to the future’.

More historical reminiscence is on offer with the 40th Anniversary of D-Day in June. With lines as diverse as Cruise And Maritime, Fred. Olsen and even Holland America offering invasion themed itineraries, there will be no shortage of options to relieve the first few months in the story of Operation Overlord, and the eventual Allied breakout from Northern France.

Meanwhile, the seemingly endless expansion of Caribbean cruise options gets another boost with the January debut of the new, Miami themed Norwegian Getaway. With a vibe and an on board lifestyle aimed at echoing the sultry, seductive ambiance of South Beach, the huge, new 154,000 ton ship will be cruising from Miami year round, and definitely ups the ante in terms of on board eateries, entertainment, and watering holes. She should be an absolute smash.

Rome will be a highlight for Oasis Of The Seas passengers in autumn 2014

Rome will be a highlight for Oasis Of The Seas passengers in autumn 2014

Heading the other way, the enormous Oasis Of The Seas begins a brief European season in the early autumn, as she brackets a handful of Mediterranean cruises in with essential dry docking in Rotterdam. One of the two largest cruise ships ever constructed, the mold breaking leviathan is using the cruises as a series of obvious trial runs for future deployment of one of these ships in the more crowded ports of Southern Europe.

These are just a handful of the forthcoming highlights for 2014. No doubt many, many more will be unveiled over the course of the next few months or so. My advice, as ever, is to stay tuned.

DREAMING WIDE AWAKE- CRUISING THE RIVER DOURO

Spirit of Chartwell on the Douro...

Spirit of Chartwell on the Douro…

The surface of the sunlit River Douro shimmered like polished glass as the Spirit of Chartwell sauntered nimbly upstream in northern Portugal’s famous wine region. On both sides of the river stretched an amazing visual panorama, one so vivid and intense that it’s sights and sounds were seared into me like the mark of a branding iron.

Vineyards. Row upon row of stepped, winding, sun drenched wine terraces in a dozen shades of electric green. Old, half ruined houses peeping out at the water’s edge, their granite walls scorched by centuries of long, hot northern summers. Small boats, still as flies frozen in amber. Vast, vaulting bridges with traffic scurrying across them like maddened ants.

Ancient villages clustered around the comforting spire of the local church seemed to recoil from the edges of the water. Small houses with swimming pools. And, occasionally, a series of vast, vaulting, dam like canal locks; concrete and granite giants that stand like sentinels across the path of the stream.

The sensation of rising and falling over ninety feet as the Spirit of Chartwell was gracefully raised, and later lowered again, is almost impossible to quantify. It’s a slowly gentle and surreal process. Then, with just the slightest surge of the engines, we were heading downstream once more.

Literally something new around every river bend...

Literally something new around every river bend…

Down at this level, a warm breeze whistles around the Douro. But there are no big towns here, or any other real form of noise pollution. The most vivid and memorable soundtrack was that of literally thousands of chirping birds.

A strange parallel universe exists on a river cruise. The land on both banks seems almost close enough to touch; the sights, smells and colours are incredibly alive and, because you are in midstream as a rule, the sense of perspective is damned near perfect. Everything seems and feels pin sharp.

And yet, there is a sense of sublime detachment as you glide through this magnificent natural canvas. The slow but steady progress of the boat brings a whole new series of stupendous, audio visual assaults on the senses with each new twist and turn of the river. It can be scenic overkill of the grandest kind; taking it all in is a practical impossibility.

This is especially so on the mountainous, meandering River Douro, a place so chocolate box pretty that it looks as if it was put together by the makers of Kodak film. From up in the hills to down at water level on both sides, something new is constantly coming at you to divert, enthrall or engage you.

All things considered, it’s a pretty eclectic, exalted way to travel. Very highly recommend indeed.

THE QUEEN’S BARGE- CRUISING IN PORTUGAL

The Spirit of Chartwell

The Spirit of Chartwell

For those of you wondering what became of the barge used by Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal family for her Diamond Jubilee on the rain lashed Thames last year, I can tell you that the vessel is very much alive and well,

In fact, I’ve just stepped off it.

It’s actual name is the Spirit of Chartwell, and it is now out in Portugal, operating short, high end cruises amid the glut of scenic overkill known as the Douro valley; a role for which the small, stylishly formed, former mini ‘Royal yacht’ is just perfect.

The boat is operated by a company called Douro Azul, but is also chartered through high end UK travel operators such as Titan Travel. It is without doubt the most unique and stylish way to see one of the most stunningly beautiful and underrated rivers in the world.

The colouring and design is meant to resemble the old umber and cream pullman rail carriages of such legendary trains as the Brighton Belle and the Golden Arrow. Inside, large picture windows frame incredible views, while dark wood panelling is enlivened by artfully backlit lailique murals lifted from the former Cote D’Azur Express.

Game of Thrones, anyone?

Game of Thrones, anyone?

inside, the seating areas feature a single seating dining room, with banquette style tables, and a lounge scattered with plush, spectacularly comfortable armchairs that echo the pullman style motif of the barge. A highlight is two of the ‘thrones’ especially commissioned from Harrods; they make great talking points, as well as being supremely comfortable in their own right.There is a small, semi circular bar and a gorgeous, Baby Grand piano that would have benefitted greatly from the services of an actual piano player.

The dining area on the Spirit of Chartwell

The dining area on the Spirit of Chartwell

Food is typical Portuguese fare, simply prepared local dishes such as green cabbage soup with salami, fresh caught fish, succulent pork, and fantastic desserts, of which the mouth watering, cinnamon accented creme brulee is typical. The presentation is elegant, and complements the beautiful interiors of the boat to create a slowly unwinding feast, with a side order of outstanding Douro scenery as a delicious option.

Downstairs, a series of twenty compact but comfortable cabins come with the same dark wood panelling, private facilities, very comfortable beds, and more storage space than you might expect. All are outside, with picture windows that frame the fantastic scenery all around you to perfection. Each is named after a former Royal Navy warship, and comes complete with the crest of that particular ship- a very nice touch.

The pullman livery is very obvious here.

The pullman livery is very obvious here.

But you’ll really need to be outside to appreciate all the magnificence on offer. The Spirit of Chartwell has a swathe of plush, comfortable padded sun loungers, and comfy chairs in a more shaded area, though the boat would certainly benefit from an upper deck hot tub as well.

The Spirit of Chartwell is certainly a show stopper; she drew awed looks and small crowds wherever she sailed. If the rest of the Douro river fleet can be classed as tourist buses, then the Spirit of Chartwell really is a pullman with propellers. She certainly makes quite an impression.