Simon Leeming boards the partially refurbished ship on a trip along the Rhine and speaks to Titan’s MD about why the they have moved into river cruise now
Founded in 1978, Titan Travel were one of a handful of traditional tour operators who helped develop the UK escorted touring market. Brothers Hugh and Irwin Ferry were determined to offer something unique and what they decided upon has since become synonymous with the brand and something that is unrivalled today: the VIP Home Departure service which picks up customers in a chauffeur driven vehicle from anywhere in mainland UK to their chosen UK departure airport.
In 2009 Titan was bought by Acromas Holdings, parent company of Saga, and ditched the Titan HiTours name. They became a big player in cruise, packaging both river and ocean cruises through other operators, often in addition to their own coach tours. A partnership with Uniworld saw Titan make big strides into the river cruise market before deciding to charter a heavyweight of the river cruise world: Serenade 1.
It was a clever move by Titan, chartering a ship that is well known to many British river cruisers, thus giving them an established place in the market. The partially refurbished ship was launched last March with a mini-cruise from Cologne and cruise adviser was on board.
Being picked up by a private chauffeur driven car is a great way to start your holiday, taking the stress out of the rush to the airport. The service is included as standard on every Titan holiday, an impressive feat, as is having not one, but two tour managers on every cruise.
Cologne is a staple of every Rhine cruise and it’s a beautiful place to embark and have a relaxing walk through the Rheingarten and watch life go by in the evening. During the cruise, we got to experience several Titan excursions, of which customers will usually have three included during a standard seven-night cruise.
One of our included tours was in Arnhem, a quaint Dutch city with an impressive history and imposing cathedral, which, despite the destruction of the Second World War, features 18th century taverns. It is also the site of the failed British military advance during the war as featured in the film A Bridge Too Far.
Another delightful stop in the Netherlands is Hoorn, on the banks of the Markermeer, with canals reminiscent of Amsterdam and a 16th century tower. It’s also the former home and trading base of the Dutch East India Company.
With enough capacity for 136 guests in 68 cabins, Titan have done their best to provide a product that perfectly fits their target audience: Brits. While plug sockets are still European, they have provided tea and coffee facilities and baths in every cabin, English is the only language spoken on board and food is restaurant standard without it being too fancy for the British palate.
But why now? “It has been something we have been carefully considering for the past couple of years,” says Andy Squirrell, Titan’s managing director, who added that the company has long-term plans for the sector with the charter running into 2018 with an option for 2019.
“River cruise is a natural crossover for our escorted touring customers, with some very similar characteristics,” he added.
The ship is four-star, at odds with Titan’s five-star coach product. While good progress has been made following a recent partial refurb, several areas require improvement, particularly the cabins which are due to be renovated later this year. Customers will also be without basics that other river cruise operators provide, such as fruit baskets and bathrobes. Wi-fi is only available in the lounge and restaurant.
But that doesn’t take away from it being a fantastic, relaxing ship. Service is good and there is plenty of quality food, with large buffet breakfasts, and four-course à la carte feasts for lunch and dinner, including themed meals such as a Bavarian Lunch complete with Leberkäse and pilsner. If that doesn’t fill you, there is also afternoon tea, midnight snack and a 24-hour tea and coffee station.
The comfortable lounge is contemporary in feel and complete with local musicians, the restaurant feels bright and welcoming, and the sun deck is large and features an enclosed sun room with 360-degree views of passing scenery, along with plenty of sun chairs and giant chess. Sixty of the cabins on board feature Juliette balconies with wall-to-wall sliding doors, providing plenty of light. Having eaten too much, customers can also work out in the gym or have a sauna.
Their tours are unashamedly more expensive than their competitors’, highlighting that customer experience and value of inclusions is often more important than a price point. However, launching their new ‘all inclusive’ cruises from only £699pp and with
a standard week’s cruise on the Dutch waterways at £1,299pp, it has given them a new edge. With the market flooded with new five-star river ships, providing another suitable, British focused four-star cruise is exactly what this industry needs.