By Robert Lidster
This route is operated by DFDS’ MS Princess of Norway. For more information and booking, visit the DFDS Seaways Website.
As we approached the DFDS Seaways International Ferry Terminal at Royal Quays North Shields, we could see the m.s. Princess of Norway looming high above the terminal buildings. We pulled into the car park in good time and managed to secure a good parking place close to the pay machines and footpath to check in. Neither my wife nor I had travelled this route before, indeed it was our first visit to the Newcastle area. We live some 310 miles away close to the port of Harwich and have sailed from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark with DFDS Seaways on two occasions, this would be our first trip from Newcastle to Amsterdam.
Check in started at 14:30 and was quick and easy, taking only a few minutes. Boarding would not commence until 16:00 for a 17:00 departure, but there was ample seating in the terminal as well as a shop, a café, an amusement arcade and a Burea De Change so plenty of things to keep you occupied. There was also a model of a Roman fort from the second or third century A.D. as well as models of DFDS Seaways’ Prince of Scandinavia and Queen of Scandinavia. Besides the check in desks for DFDS Seaways there was also a check in desk for the many cruise ships that visit the Port of Tyne and many of the ships name plaques are displayed on the wall.
By the time boarding started there were some 200 foot passengers waiting to board, we were amongst the first to board and, as with check in, it took no time at all (one of the reasons that I prefer travelling by ferry or cruise ship, as opposed to flying, is the fact that you do not have the lengthy check in and waiting around that you get at airports). Once on board, we were greeted by a crew member who directed us to the lifts which would take us to deck 8 where our cabin was situated. As we stepped out of the lift on deck 8 another crew member was waiting to point us in the right direction (this is the kind of service that makes you feel special and makes one company stand out above others).
Our cabin number was 8102 and was a sea view cabin overlooking the bow (front of the ship), this afforded us great views. The cabin was compact but comfortable with four berths, two lower and two upper (as there was only the two of us, the two upper berths were stowed away). Between the two beds there was a table, there were several coat hooks and clothes hangers, a mirror, radio, and an electric point but do remember to take an adapter with you if you wish to use UK appliances. The shower/wc was compact but again had everything that you needed, bearing in mind that for many passengers it is only for one night (although as we were on a mini cruise we would have this same cabin for two nights). Towels are provided and there is a liquid soap dispenser by the side of the wash basin, you need to provide all other toiletries yourself.
Once we had settled into our cabin we went out on deck to explore and to watch the ferry sail out of port. The facilities on board were very impressive with three restaurants. The 7 Seas Buffet Restaurant serves a fantastic all-you-can-eat buffet dinner in the evening and breakfast every morning. The Blue Riband Restaurant is a’ la carte and has a smart casual dress code, the standard of the food in this restaurant is first class and the atmosphere ideal for that special occasion. The Explorers Steakhouse is exactly what you would expect from the name and the dress code is casual, all three restaurants recommend reservation. Besides the three restaurants, there is also the Bake’n Coffee Café which is informal and offers a very good range of sweet and savoury food as well as hot and cold drinks.
There are a number of onboard bars, all of which offer comfortable and spacious seating areas. The Compass Bar which serves cocktails, beer, wine and spirits, also offers whiskey, brandy or wine tasting with a Sommelier. The Navigators Bar is the venue for live music from the Troubadour, and the Columbus Club is the largest bar on the ship and features a stage where a live band performs, this is also the venue for the late night disco. There is also the Sky Bar which is located on the top deck, it offers fantastic views and serves cold drinks, nuts and crisps. Unfortunately this bar was not open during our cruise as it only operates during fine weather due to it being open to the elements.
Onboard entertainment consists of live music, disco and video screens, two cinemas showing the latest movies, a casino with three gaming tables for Roulette and Blackjack as well as slot machines. There is also a Kids Club with a “Ball Pool” and cartoons, and during the school holidays there is a children’s entertainer with magic, treasure hunts and games. There is also a shop onboard where you can purchase everything from clothes, perfumes and jewellery to wines, spirits and tobacco (a great place to pick up those last minute gifts).
The ship itself can accommodate up to 1,250 passengers in 478 cabins, it is 161metres long and 27 metres wide, has a maximum speed of 21 knots and has room onboard for 600 cars. The ship was built in 1986 and has had refits in 2003 and 2006 and sails under the Danish flag.
Having toured the ship and seen as much as we could, I inquired at reception if it would be possible to view one of the Commodore Class Cabins, luckily for us a few of the cabins were vacant and Philip a crew member very kindly took us to one of the cabins on deck 8. The cabin was about twice the size of the sea view cabin that we had and it featured a double bed, television, wardrobes, complimentary mini bar, room service and complimentary hot buffet breakfast. Although we were unable to view one, Philip informed us that the Commodore Class Cabins on deck 9 were larger with separate living and sleeping areas. We left the cabin promising ourselves that next time we must book ourselves a Commodore Class Cabin.
That evening we had an excellent meal in the 7 Seas Restaurant before taking in the evenings entertainment which included listening to the Troubadour (Mike Hutchinson) an excellent singer/guitarist playing old standards in the Navigators bar and listening to the Pink Panther band in the Columbus Club (a four piece band with a female singer), playing a mix of old and new music. During the interval there was Bingo presented by John Morgan the Cruise Manager.
The following morning, due to strong winds, we arrived into Ijmuiden later than expected at 11:30 Central European Time. The transfer coach into Amsterdam takes approximately 40 minutes and drops you off outside the Victoria Hotel which is opposite the central train station, we opted to stay on the coach for a guided tour of the city which lasted for about another 50 minutes. Our driver Marie was very competent and handled the coach with great expertise around the busy roads of Amsterdam whilst our guide Harry provided a most interesting and informative commentary. When the tour was over we were dropped off at the Victoria Hotel, the return coaches would depart between 15:00 and 16:00, this gave us ample time to find a restaurant for lunch. We ate at “De Roode Leeuw” on Damrak not far from Dam Square. We caught the complimentary transfer coach back to Ijmuiden at approximately 15:15. And did not need to check in as we already had our boarding cards as we were on a round trip. Boarding started at 16:00 and once back on board we rested before dinner and taking in the evening’s entertainment, which tonight included a music quiz.
We arrived back in Newcastle the following morning at 10:00 impressed with our DFDS Seaways mini cruise to Amsterdam. We both felt that this trip was ideal for those seeking a restful break for a couple of days and the service that we experienced was excellent. Along with the entertainment, the food was comparable to many cruise lines that we have experienced. This really is an inexpensive way to cruise or a most relaxing and enjoyable way to travel to Holland.