I’ve never been on a cruise before so my holiday this year would most definitely be a ‘first’. Not a week on the ocean waves though, but a six-night cruise on a luxury hotel barge meandering through the locks of the River Thames starting at Hampton Court and finishing at the lovely town of Henley-on-Thames. It’s a luxurious and leisurely means of transport which made me realise just how many lovely sights I miss when speeding along in a car.
From the minute my husband Chris and I stepped on board the lovely hotel barge ‘Magna Carta’ on Sunday afternoon, we immediately felt welcomed, with all the crew personally introducing themselves to us. Along with our fellow passengers, we soon realised we only outnumbered by the crew by one – how’s that for personal service!
The hostesses showed us all to our beautifully appointed suites below deck and proceeded to explain the all important safety rules e.g. closing the portholes when the barge is cruising to avoid water coming into the cabin when using the locks!
We were then invited upstairs to the canopied sundeck where we were able to get to know the other passengers and crew, and enjoy the lovely canapes and champagne.
From then on, all week, you just enjoy the relaxing atmosphere on board, watching the world go by, join in the fascinating daily guided excursions to places like Windsor Castle, the Henley Rowing Museum and the Stanley Spencer art gallery. Or just simply take one of the on-board bikes and cycle down the well tended towpaths, meeting the barge further upstream and getting back on board to sample one of the scrumptious lunches they provide.
Dinner every evening is at around 7.30pm and it’s a veritable feast of delicious food and wine, including fantastic cheeses and locally sourced, very fresh ingredients. Our chef Steve was more than happy to cater for different palates – our fellow American passengers were both vegetarian and he did separate dishes at all the meals for them as well as catering for the carnivores on board! Steve also made us a white chocolate cheesecake for my birthday which was the best I have ever tasted!
The leisurely and convivial lunchtime and evening meals soon created a feeling of camaraderie between the passengers which for us, added to the enjoyment of the trip.
I also had a chance to see just how difficult and how much concentration it takes to get through the locks safely – I was allowed to steer the barge for a short time. I then watched as Dominic expertly manoeuvred the barge into a lock – we likened it to fitting a cork into a bottle.
Saying goodbye to the lovely crew and passengers who had become your second family for 6 days was difficult but on the other hand, we have exchanged names and e-mail addresses and will be sharing our photos and memories very soon. I’m sure we will keep in touch.
For more information about cruising the Thames aboard the Magna Carta, click here.