Discover the riches of history, culture and great food in Europe in just one week. Wake up each day in a new city. Have all the arrangements taken care of, so you only need to enjoy yourself. Sounds appealing doesn’t it? If this seems like your kind of trip, then a Titan river cruise through the Low Countries on MS Serenade could be the holiday for you. In our week’s cruise we got a taste of Netherlands and Belgium, visiting six different cities each with their own personality. If you are wondering if a river cruise is your kind of holiday and whether Titan’s river cruise ship MS Serenade would suit you, read on to discover some of the things we enjoyed on our Titan River Cruise.
1. The contemporary classic decor of the MS Serenade 1
On boarding the MS Serenade 1 we were impressed by the contemporary and stylish decor. The public areas have been refurbished in the last year and it definitely showed. I’d call the style contemporary classic, with a scheme of soft greys and greens and a zing of colour in the lime green cushions.
Although this ship does not have the artworks and other luxury touches of some of the high end river cruise ships, the decor was fresh and the atmosphere comfortable. The lounge area was spacious and light with windows on either side and a variety of seating areas so that you could sit as a couple or a larger group and make friends easily.
Behind the bar area was a smaller semi-enclosed library, with some books and games as well as more private seating, which was ideal if you wanted to read in quiet or do a bit of work. In this area there were also a few magazines to borrow and a printed daily ‘newspaper’ with the highlights of the international news.
For those who want to stay fit, there is a keep-fit room and sauna on board, although I never saw this in use. I think most of the guests got enough exercise just by walking around the places we visited each day. A paid laundry service is available through housekeeping and there are no self-service laundry or ironing areas on board.
2. The comfortable cabin on MS Serenade 1
Our cabin 310 was on the Chopin Deck of MS Serenade 1, which was the highest level of accommodation deck, just a few steps up from the reception area. All the cabins on board are 16m square, which is a good size bearing in mind the limited space on a river cruise ship. If you have not been on a cruise before you should not expect the same amount of bedroom space that you might find in a hotel.
The beds were made up separately but pushed together to make a double or alternatively could be arranged as twin beds. There was plenty of wardrobe and bedside storage space for clothes with room under the bed to stow away our suitcases. The decor of the cabins had been refreshed in the last year to give a more colourful and contemporary look, with a vibrant green colour scheme and more contemporary style of easy chair, although the wardrobe fittings have remained the same.
The cabins like ours on the upper accommodation decks (Chopin and Mozart) have French balconies, which means that the windows slide back like French windows with a balcony rail and you can sit in the easy chair with a great view of the landscape when cruising in the daytime. Our room was very comfortable and the only additional things we might have liked to see would have been a larger flat screen TV, as the one on the wall was quite small, and some net curtains for greater privacy.
Our bathroom on MS Serenade 1
We enjoyed using our bathroom on board the ship which was fresh and modern, with neutral coloured tiles, a modern sink and fittings and the novelty of a bath tub as well as a shower. It’s quite unusual to have a bath tub due to the limited space on board river cruise ships, and Guy enjoyed a soak at the end of a day’s sightseeing, while I mainly used the shower.
There was a refillable container of eco-friendly herbal scented body wash in the shower and smaller bottles of shampoo and body lotion as well as some other toiletry items such as a shower cap. I’ve noticed that even high end hotels are moving away from the small bottled toiletries, in favour of less wasteful refillable toiletries, and this does not necessarily mean lower quality of products.
3. The Dining experience on MS Serenade 1
There’s plenty of food included in your Titan river cruise and you may be forgiven for thinking that most of the time is spent eating and drinking! Most of our dining took place in the restaurant on the Mozart deck, with steps down from the reception area, while informal lunch and afternoon tea was served in the Panorama lounge.
The restaurant had been redecorated in the last year and had a smart and colourful contemporary look, with table cloths and a slightly formal feel. I was pleased to find a ‘free seating’ approach in the restaurant, where you can sit at a different table, with different guests each night. We always enjoy this more than fixed seating, since we can chat to different people each night by sitting on a larger table with other guests.
Here’s an overview of all the food that is included in your cruise;
Breakfast is served buffet style in the restaurant, with a good selection of fruit, yoghurt, pastries, cereals and hot dishes. There was something for every taste and the restaurant staff would bring coffee and tea to the table.
Lunch, which we sometimes missed if we were out sightseeing, was either a 3 course table service in the restaurant or a more informal buffet in the Panorama lounge. In the lounge there was a selection of open sandwiches , fruit, soup and a pasta dish laid out which I preferred to the sit down service, although it did sometimes mean queueing while everyone was served.
Dinner in the restaurant was a 4 course meal with always 3 choices in each course and normally fish, meat and vegetarian options. There would be an appetiser, then soup, followed by the main dish and a choice of desert, fruit or cheese as well as after-dinner teas and coffee. The standard of the food was high, and I especially enjoyed the appetisers and main dishes, although I didn’t like so many of the deserts which seemed to be based on a lot of custard or jelly dishes.
Wine or beer was served with both lunch and dinner, with a choice of white, red and rose at each meal. Although I’m not a great drinker, the wine was of good quality and Guy who likes a glass or two was very happy.
On one night was the Captain’s gala dinner with some additional courses and a few special dishes, which made a nice occasion, and on another night there was a pirate themed night with plenty of blood red or dishes on a pirate theme.
The dress code for dinner was smart casual, with most guests dressing up a little bit for dinner as you would for a restaurant at home. For the Captain’s gala dinner some of the gentlemen wore a jacket, and the ladies dressed up a little more, but that was about as formal as the dress code got on board. In general I’ve found that the dress code on board river cruises tends to be more informal than on ocean cruise ships.
4. The friendly staff on board MS Serenade 1
We found the staff exceptionally helpful and friendly on board, with the large housekeeping, restaurant and bar team headed up by the Hotel Manager. All the staff were welcoming and helpful, constantly greeting us and wishing us good morning, and the restaurant staff were constantly looking for ways to please us. The staff worked very hard and yet the atmosphere always seemed happy which set the good mood for the whole of our cruise.
As the ship is chartered by Titan Travel, there are effectively 3 teams on board, with the Captain, crew and technical staff making one team responsible for the ship’s navigation, maintenance and safety on board. The Hotel team is responsible for the housekeeping, restaurant and other guest services, and the three Titan Travel Tour managers took charge of the excursions, transfers and other guest travel requirements.
All three teams worked seamlessly together to provide an excellent guest experience. Gratuities are not included in the cruise but we received such a good level of service that I was more than happy to give the recommended amount at the end of the cruise, as I felt the staff had worked incredibly hard and definitely earned it.
5. The Titan VIP door-to-door experience
One of the things we enjoy about travelling with Titan is the VIP door-to-door travel service which makes every holiday a very relaxing experience. We were collected promptly in a luxury car for our transfer to the airport. On this trip we were travelling from our local airport in Bristol, although in the past we have had 2 hour transfers to Heathrow which saved us the hassle of driving and parking.
At Amsterdam airport we were also met by our driver and whisked to the port area dropping us right in front of the ship, with the same prompt and friendly service on the return journey. Where several guests are arriving on the same flight, they will be greeted in the airport by Titan staff and taken to their transfer vehicle while any guests travelling by coach were also accompanied by one of the Titan Tour Managers.
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When we spoke to other guests about their reasons for choosing Titan, the VIP door-to-door service was often mentioned. It’s a real benefit of booking with Titan since the transfer arrangements are taken care of and included in your holiday price, making for a very relaxing start and end to your holiday.
6. Getting up close to fascinating new places
One of the things I love about river cruises is that the ships can get into the heart of the city, while ocean cruise ships may be moored some distance away from the city centre. In Amsterdam the MS Serenade 1 was moored close to the Central Station, so that within 10 minutes from the ship we could be strolling along one of the canals admiring the beautiful merchants houses.
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We also took the free ferry close to the ship to the Amsterdam Noord area and in no time at all were spotting cool streetart and sipping coffee in a trendy cafe.
The MS Serenade also was able to take us right up to Kinderdijk, where we could see the windmills, whereas larger ships would have to bring people in by coach.
In Dordrecht, Antwerp and Rotterdam we could easily walk from the ship to see the main sights, with maps and history guides provided and often an included excursion with a knowledgeable guide.
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Brussels and Ghent were the only places where we needed to take a transfer bus since the city centre was some way from the ship.
Several excursions were included in our cruise, while in other places we could explore on our own, and the balance of organised activities and free time felt just right. I noticed that some guests were happy to take a short walk and then relax on board, while others like us love to explore on their own and see as much as possible, so the mix of excursions and free time seemed to suit everyone.
7. The English feel on board
I’ve been on a number of European river cruises and found that the mix of nationalities on board has been different in each case. River cruises are very popular with US and European travellers as well as us Brits, but in the case of the Titan river cruise the guests all seemed to be from the UK.
While we also enjoy meeting people from all over the world, there is something reassuring in being with your own kind, so if you like a British feel to your holidays, a Titan river cruise is a good choice for you. The atmosphere on board was geared to UK tastes, with a kettle in the cabin to make your own tea and coffee and the language and entertainments on board all being in English.
8. The Titan service on your cruise
Unlike other cruises where you may be with guests who have booked through different agents, the MS Serenade 1 is exclusively charted to Titan Travel. There were three Titan Tour managers on board who were there to ensure all excursion and transfer arrangements ran smoothly and that any guest enquiries or requirements were adressed. This made for a very personal, almost a family feel on board, since Beverley, Caroline and Gavin were always on hand to answer questions at their desk in the reception area or while mingling with guests in the lounge.
The Titan tour managers do not stay with the ship but cover different Titan holidays at different times and accompany some of the guests by coach or on flights, where there is a larger group travelling together. They also organised some of the entertainments on board, such as the daily quiz and generally worked hard behind the scenes to ensure everything ran smoothly.
On the occasion when one of the guests was taken ill while on board, the Titan Tour team accompanied them to hospital and ensured all their medical needs were met. As many of the guests were in their 60s and 70s, this was a reassuring aspect of the Titan service, to know that there was a familiar face who would help if any problems arose.
9. Meeting the captain on MS Serenade 1
One of the fun parts about being on board MS Serenade 1 was meeting the captain, as the ship operates an open bridge policy. Unlike larger ships where you might have to book on a special tour to visit the bridge, we were able to knock on Captain Robert’s glass door and he was happy to welcome us in to the bridge for a look around. Obviously we waited until it was a quiet time and would not have visited if the ship was doing something complex like going through a lock.
Captain Robert explained all the controls and how he was in communication with the authorities at each lock or bridge, which might have to be raised for the boat. We had picked up the list of all the rivers and canals that we would be passing through to arrive at the towns visited each day and it was an impressive list to be navigated. We were surprised to find that there is no big ship’s wheel, only a lever not much bigger than a pencil to steer the ship. Captain Robert even let me sit in his Captain’s chair, so I could pretend to be Captain for 5 minutes!
10. Affordable pricing and inclusive costs
While cruise holidays generally are not the cheapest option in terms of headline prices, a lot is included with your cruise, and I think that Titan river cruises balance excellent value with a quality experience. The MS Serenade 1 offers a very comfortable mid-range experience, although you should not expect some of the luxury extras such as bathrobes, luxury toiletries and cocktails, that may come with more expensive river cruises.
While there were a few optional excursions and other things to pay for, it would be perfectly possible to have a very enjoyable cruise without paying for much outside the Titan river cruise price. Since different cruises vary in what they include in your cruise holiday price, here’s a guide to what is included and what you might have to pay extra for;
Included in your Titan river cruise price
- VIP door-to-door transfers from home to airport to cruise ship and back again.
- A scheduled flight from your local airport or a no-fly option such as a coach is included – of course the type of transport you choose may vary the overall cost of the cruise.
- All on board meals – breakfast, 4 course lunch or informal buffet lunch, afternoon tea, 4 course dinner, midnight snacks.
- Wine, beer and soft drinks are included with lunch and dinner
- An aperitif at the Captain’s welcome reception and farewell evening.
- Bottled water in your cabin which is refreshed daily
- Coffee, tea and hot drinks from a self service machine by the lounge area
- Free wifi in the public areas of the ship
- Most excursions and port visits, with a transfer bus laid on where required. On some days there was a 2-3 hour walking tour as an included excursion, while on other days we could explore on our own either walking from the ship or taking the included transfer bus.
What you may need to budget extra for
- Pre-dinner drinks or drinks outside meal times. If you are likely to order drinks throughout the day, you might consider a drinks package at €10 per person/day for the Standard Package and €17.50 per person/day for the Exclusive Package.
- While most days there was an included walking tour, on a couple of the days a walking tour was offered as an optional extra. The cost of the optional tours were Brussels £38 per person pre-booked or £50 per person locally booked while the Rotterdam tour was £33 per person pre-booked or £46 per person locally booked. I thought the tour prices were reasonable, especially if you pre-booked, as we had very knowledgeable guides and sometimes some extras like the chocolate tastings in Brussels.
- Gratuities are not included and you’d need to budget for €5-10 per person per day for the MS Serenade team and €3-5 per person per day for the Titan Tour Manager team. An envelope was provided for these at the end of the cruise.
Who will enjoy a Titan river cruise on MS Serenade 1?
We found that the typical guests on board our Titan river cruise were retired or semi-retired couples in their 60s and 70s. There were a few who were travelling with friends or as solo travellers. The small size of the ship made it easy to mix and make friends with other guests, so I would not have had any worries about travelling solo on this cruise.
I’ve already mentioned the English feel on board, so those who like being with other UK travellers and having arrangements that are geared for UK tastes will enjoy this cruise. Those we met on board were very well travelled and I think that river cruises generally appeal to those who enjoy the history and culture of the places we visited, and are less concerned with lots of entertainment or time on board.
You also need to be fairly active to enjoy a river cruise since you often walk from the ship into the town to explore, with steps, cobbled streets and uneven pavements to contend with.
MS Serenade 1 facts
- MS Serenade 1 was built in 2005, refurbished in 2015 and is on exclusive charter with Titan Travel since 2017
- 68 guest cabins across 3 decks
- Cabins are 16 m square in size – the size is the same on all decks but window sizes are smaller on lower deck.
- Chopin (top) deck – 2 suites and 29 cabins with French balconies
- Mozart (middle) deck – 25 cabins with French balconies
- Beethoven (lower) deck – 12 cabins with water level windows
- Each cabin has wardrobe space, fridge with mini bar, kettle with tea and coffee making facilities, small safe, hairdryer, complimentary bottled water, heating/ air conditioning
- Bathrooms have both shower and bathtub, with a refillable liquid shower gel in shower and small sizes of toiletries/ soap
How much will my Titan River Cruise cost?
The cruise that we enjoyed in August 2018 was an 7 night cruise – Delights of the Low Countries that started and finished in Amsterdam. The MS Serenade 1 follows a varied programme of cruises on the rivers of Europe throughout the cruise season from May to October, so you may not find the exact same cruise as we did. However, you can take a look at the MS Serenade 1 cruise programme here to see all the possible cruises and get an idea of prices. The ones that are closest to the cruise of the Netherlands and Belgium that we took are;
Dutch Waterways with Bruges – an 8 day cruise from £1,149 per person (April 2019)
Beauty of the Dutch Waterways with Bruges – a 10 day cruise from £1,699 per person (August 2019)
To Book your Titan River Cruise
Thanks to Titan Travel who hosted Heather and Guy on the 7 night Delights of the Low Countries river cruise