About two years ago I took my family for a day cruise along the Thames in a boat called The Spirit of Chartwell. This day out was fabulous for all sorts of reasons; I learnt that there was a sister ship called The Lord of the Glens operating on the Caledonian Canal which appeared to be very similar in style and standard. The Spirit of Chartwell was chosen for the Queen to travel along the Thames during her Diamond Jubilee trip, so I think you can get an idea of the standard we are talking about here.
The Spirit of Chartwell was superior in appearance to the Lord of the Glens as it had a full colonial-style top deck with lovely canopies and wooden furniture, plus it had a baby grand piano inside. Boarding the Chartwell was a delight in itself - the Captain's personal welcome dressed in white jacket with gold epaulets - it just carried on like that from that moment. The Lord of the Glens didn't match up all that well on first arrival. The boarding steps are a bit cramped and uneven and the boat does not have that colonial look. The small welcoming party of staff was, however, lovely and struck a friendly note straight away. This is, in fact, a very friendly ship, as we were to find out.
The size of the cabins and the single staircase are somewhat dictated by the fact that the ship's overall size has to conform to the dimensions of the locks which it has to enter: it is at the maximum possible size! If the cabins were twice the size, there would be half as many paying passengers so the price would double ! If the cabins were half the size or less - Brittany Ferries style - the cruise would be a lot cheaper due to economy of scale, but everywhere on the ship would be uncomfortably packed with people. There is clearly a balance to be made and we found it very well-judged.
The Captain's welcome was a nice touch.
The meals were of a high standard with 3 choices for each course. It was a privilege to be served food of such a high standard in a fairly remote area of the country. Quite hard to source, I would imagine.
The standard of cooking was very high. Dinner is served at 7pm which allows for a relaxed evening and for the gentle entertainment which was provided for us each evening.
Brian, I think, has been on the ship since it started on the Caledonian. He is extremely good at his job - always cheerful, never 'in your face'. The staff take their cue from him. I would like to personally thank him for all he does.
We've been on quite a few cruises now. We have loved nearly all of them for all sorts of reasons - fabulous food, amazing entertainment, exotic venues - but we have given them a rest because they have started to blur . . . we're not sure which one was which, what we did where . . . yes, we're getting spoilt! The Lord of the Glens does not blur into any of those previous holidays. It was limited because it was a limited environment but it left us with a very Scottish experience. I am not referring to just the geography there - we especially appreciated the very unassuming, but very special types of entertainment we received each evening (we didn't expect anything, for some reason). You're in very safe hands on this ship - the crew make every reasonable effort to make the holiday enjoyable. We liked the dining arrangements - shared tables but moving around each evening so we got know know most of the people on board.
One thing that could improve the comfort of guests, we felt, would be the option to have a duvet instead of blankets. We checked this out and took our own. No real problem.
Would we go again? We certainly would. If we are lucky enough to get the opportunity, we'll go round the islands next time. Many thanks to the Magna Carta Steamship Company for conceiving of this tremendous and very original holiday in the first place.