Sara Macefield has a good innings with Devon Malcolm, Mike Gatting and others on a cricket-themed itinerary with Cruise & Maritime Voyages
We’re cruising through the English Channel on a blustery autumnal day, and the talk on our ship is all about square leg, mid-off and third man.
To the uninitiated it’s like a foreign language and I’m feeling totally stumped, but it’s only to be expected on this cricket-themed voyage where such terms are bandied about with ease, much to the delight of the 400 or so fans among the 1,400 passengers on board.
When former England cricket captain Mike Gatting and fast bowler Devon Malcolm take to the stage in the theatre to talk about their colourful careers, it’s almost a full house and everyone listens with rapt attention. Even I, as a non cricket fan, find it fascinating as they give their insights on the sometimes notorious stories that made headlines in the 1980s and 1990s.
This is just one of the events centred around the ‘gentleman’s game’ during our five-night Cruise & Maritime Voyages sailing on board Columbus and deftly compered by TV wit Nick Hancock of They Think It’s All Over fame.
Former Essex county players Ray East, John Lever and Graham Napier plus ex Kent and Sussex stalwart Alan Wells also take to the stage for their own informal chat about the game.
However, it’s the two meet-and-greet sessions that are a hit with passengers, as they mingle with their cricketing heroes who, in-between signing autographs and posing for pictures, are happy to chat.
Such sporting diversions bring added interest on this European Cities voyage, where Amsterdam is our first port of call, although the relatively short stop in the Dutch capital (we leave at lunchtime) sadly cuts my sightseeing options.
Thankfully there’s more time to explore Hamburg, a city rich in maritime heritage dating from the middle ages, although music fans shouldn’t miss the infamous Reeperbahn where The Beatles and other famous wannabes cut their teeth in the clubs during the early ’60s, before hitting the big time.
On a cold and windy October evening, I wonder if I’ve made the right choice by opting for a €28 walking tour of the district’s gaudy neon streets, but my doubts quickly evaporate as our engaging guide Stefanie Hempel leads us on a fascinating trip along memory lane to The Beatles’ old haunts.
A singer-songwriter herself, and passionate Beatles fan, she brings the tour alive with absorbing anecdotes, some gleaned from former friends and acquaintances of the Fab Four, and at each stop bursts into a Beatles song while strumming her ukulele.
Our final port, Antwerp, is full of medieval charm bolstered by ancient legends, and one of the tallest Gothic cathedrals in Europe housing major artworks including four masterpieces by eminent Flemish artist Rubens.
As this is Belgium, there’s an obligatory beer-tasting stop at the famous De Koninck brewery, dating from 1833, which serves up a fun interactive tour for €12.
Attractions on Columbus are varied, with a packed programme of events on our sea day ranging from lectures and craft classes to ballroom dance sessions and bridge seminars, though I decide to hone my juggling skills at a circus workshop before joining the morning quiz.
Mealtimes are another draw as there are two speciality dining spots: the Grill steakhouse, which costs £24.90pp, an appealing cosy venue where I tuck into a delicious surf and turf, and Indian speciality Fusion, costing £14.90pp, located just off the buffet restaurant, which scores top marks for cuisine, but could do with improving the ambience.
The main Waterfront Restaurant stands out as one of the most stylish areas of the ship, where I enjoy impressive five-course dinners, but my least favourite dining spot is the Plantation Bistro, as insufficient seating often means this buffet venue gets overcrowded, making it virtually impossible to find a table.
Columbus was originally launched in 1988 as Sitmar FairMajesty, and as an older ship does seem a little dated in some areas, but it boasts standout features that include the elegant atrium and light and airy Connexions Lounge, while my cabin is reasonably spacious with a walk-in wardrobe.
The traditional-style Taverner’s Pub is a lively social hub, and also the venue for some amusing karaoke sessions, although I feel one of the biggest plusses is the cost of drinks – with cocktails costing less than £5 and beers from £2.80.
These keen prices are not only reflected across the ship’s bars, but in the spa where massages start at an extremely reasonable £38, leading me to reflect that, cricket fan or not, such value for money is enough to bowl everyone over.