Ship: Ms Columbus
London, Tower Pier River Thames.
Weather: Grey Clouds, approx 20c.
As I reached Tower Pier by the river Thames in London the grey clouds were not very inviting. On the other side of the river the Hapag Lloyd Ms Columbus ship was moored alongside HMS Belfast, now a floating museum. As we don't get many ships of this calibre in the Thames it stood out magnificently, hence all the tourists who were congregating by the Tower of London taking pictures. As the small boat took me to the other side I was wondering how she will get back to sea as there was no space for her to manoeuvre. It transpires that later during the tour we were informed that she is towed backwards by several tug boats through Tower Bridge. Unfortunately for many tourists this will occur very early in the morning and unless you are a keen photographer you will not see it.
After passing through security I found myself in the reception/information area on deck 3. It was not that big, both service desks more or less faced each other in kind of a V shape. All the daily/forthcoming events in the lounge were in German, but the onboard signs were both in English as well as German. She is a small ship compared to the other big ocean liners, measuring just 144 metres and 21 metres wide and with 197 cabins she could accommodate 420 passengers and 170 crew (European/International). Outside cabins had the higher percentage 134 in total, inside 63 and with 8 suites, the ones situated on deck 4 come with veranda.
Mike Flanagan, the UK Hapag-Lloyd representative introduced himself and our party, although small- 10 in all- 5 from Go cruise including myself (Peter and Jeremy Forster, Bob Keightley and Vikki Grant) was just right. After a small introduction/chat we headed to the back of the ship where the only restaurant is situated. The tables and chairs were neatly laid out and looked and felt very inviting and welcoming.
From the restaurant we walked up the stairs to deck 4 avoiding the lifts as there were still many passengers on board. We were directed to the lounge bar, again at the back of the ship; there were plenty of armchairs and tables, which meant that this was the main place to spend your evenings. The stage and dance floor is set for the ships musicians/entertainers where regular shows are catered for the passengers to enjoy and maybe dance. Depending on their ports of call, local talent also perform here. The bar is aptly situated looking at the stern of the ship and has no doubt given the barman some great views, we on the other hand had a rare sight of Tower Bridge opening up to let a high mast yacht through. Drinks are reasonably priced.
On deck 5 we viewed both the internet/playing cards room as well as the library, both areas reflected the size of the ship, small but efficient. Should you wish to bring your own laptop you have Wi-Fi facility by the galleria. As we went pass the galleria/photo shop towards the back of the ship we ended up in the wine bar. The decor here was more European with neatly placed cane armchairs, it felt very relaxing and a nice place to chill out.
The top deck (Sky) had the usual deck lay out with a raised enclosed sports area, this is also used for golf practice as many of their itineraries are golf related. The swimming pool was adequate in size, but the London weather did not complement it. There are towels/blankets readily available for you to use. (There is a rule on board that no-one is permitted to place their towels on the deck chairs beforehand). On port side there were ample deck chairs and a few tables which led to the fitness room. As I am not one who goes to the gym the equipment layout looked very professional and well co-ordinated. For those who fancy something a bit more relaxing there is a sauna (free of charge) and massage together with a hair salon on deck 1 (not part of the tour). On the other side of the pool by starboard end the table and chairs together with the palm trees adorned the area which led into the buffet /pantry area towards the front of the ship.
As we arrived into the buffet area one of the helpful HL staff was waiting with Champagne to give out to the party. I chose coffee instead as a good beverage on board is always important and this one did not disappoint. From the buffet area we entered the 'Parm garten' (which I assume means Palm garden by all the palms which were dotted around). The area had ample arm chairs/tables and a small stage/dance floor. To the front of the ship there is a balcony which no doubt would be more appreciated on a warmer day. The Palm garten is also used for a buffet lunch and also on some evenings as well as the famous midnight feast.
Whilst at the Palm Garten Mike gave us a presentation regarding Hapag-Lloyd. We were handed brochures of all four of HL ships Columbus, Europa-Worlds best cruise ship according to Berlitz and the two smaller expedition ships Hanseatic and Bremen. He reiterated as it was German owned most of the passengers were German. Should any of the cruises have 15+ non German passengers on board the whole set up becomes bilingual with English added to the fore, this is what they refer to International. He also highlighted how their itineraries were expanding for next year; especially mentioning the great lakes of North America-ironically 2011 is sold out! Towards the end of the presentation he introduced us to Stefan, the hotel manager, who was in the process to prepare us a show cabin-luckily for us there was just one vacant cabin left in the whole ship.
The show cabin was an inside but for some strange reason it had a 3rd bed sandwiched in the middle. This did not give a good overview of the size of the stateroom; despite being reminded of it's larger than average size of 140 sq ft. (13 m2), it looked well presented and clean. All cabins come with en-suite facilities, TV-not flat screen, safe, wardrobe, air conditioning and a cosy bathrobe for you to use. To make it easier to identify, each passenger's deck has a unique colour for its cabin doors.
We finally ended back in the restaurant which by now had several passengers, mostly over 60, indulging on their lunch. The Ms Columbus, although a 3* ship, has a 5* cuisine service and the 4 course meal was superb and just right, not too heavy and a good choice of dishes. Breakfast is buffet style and comes with over 20 types of bread. Both lunch and dinner is waiter service and passengers have choice of time and table allocation. They also offer typical dishes and ingredients of the region HL is visiting at that particular time. The service is immaculate and the waiters, mainly European, are attentive and courteous.
Overall the ship is just right for what it's designed for, not much walking and just the right number of places to relax/meet. The two main cuisine places are ideal for what you are looking for. As they have an 'informal' approach, something that is becoming more and more with cruise lines, you get the feeling that you can wind down and enjoy the ship to its full potential. Looking at the onboard passengers it's clearly geared towards the 40+, children are welcome on board but without the usual amenities for teenagers they may feel a bit bored. Smoking is allowed on selective places.
Barring some connecting flights which are included in the price (ie:-Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Argentina) HL do not offer any flights or transfers. As most of their sales are from repeat passengers they don't offer any discounts or advertise and only have selective agents in the UK. Hapag Lloyd is relatively unknown in the UK and it's a market which they want to break into, especially with their International itineraries. Many people in the UK will ask why Ms Europa is not known in the UK even though she is labelled as the best cruise ship in the world, simple answer is word of mouth.
Geniee'en Sie Ihre Kreuzfahrt. Auf Wiedersehen.
(Roughly translated Enjoy your Cruise, Good bye)