Brabant is the first foray into river cruising for popular British line Fred. Olsen Cruises. The company has chartered the ship, originally sailing under the name Amadeus Princess, exclusively from Amadeus River Cruises for two seasons. Fred. Olsen has been careful to create the same Brit-friendly atmosphere and standards as guests on its oceangoing ships would expect; the very competent cruise manager on our cruise, for example, had been brought over from the ocean fleet. Tea and coffee-making facilities are being fitted into every cabin due to passenger demand, the onboard currency is the pound sterling and the TV in the cabin shows BBC and Sky News.
Built in 2006, Brabant is middle-aged by river cruising standards but has weathered well, with a comfortable, friendly vibe and nothing too challenging or extreme in the decor. Fred. Olsen has re-branded the hull with the name Brabant, but apart from that, has not made major changes. Most cabins have a French balcony and many of the trappings of brand-new riverboats are present: a massage room and hair salon, a gym, bicycles for guests to use and a tiny plunge pool on deck.
Brabant sails the Rhine, Moselle, Main and Danube and is aimed at the type of person who would choose a Fred. Olsen ocean cruise: over 50, well-travelled, looking for good company and light entertainment rather than flashy or cool. Cruises are competitively priced, with extras like excursions and drinks kept as add-ons, to keep the price down and offer maximum flexibility. This doesn't mean a cruise on Brabant is a budget-style river voyage, though; the food, for example, is absolutely outstanding.
Passengers are mainly British, mainly over 50 and mostly travelling as couples, although there were a few singles on our cruise. Meeting other people is easy as you share a table for meals and friendships are quickly struck up. Many on my Rhine cruise were on their first river voyage and, surprisingly, a fair few were regulars on oceangoing lines like Silversea, Azamara and Celebrity Cruises, rather than Fred. Olsen. The atmosphere onboard is warm and friendly.
Dress code is smart casual throughout; there's no need to pack a jacket and tie. For men, long trousers and a shirt with collar are fine for evenings in the Panorama Restaurant and for women, cocktail dresses on the captain's welcome and farewell nights are as smart as it gets. Sturdy walking shoes are a good idea for time in port, as most excursions are walking tours. Bring gym kit if you intend to use the gym and a swimming costume if you think you might want a dip in the plunge pool.
Full board on the ship is included, as you would expect. Tea, coffee and cookies are always available in the Amadeus Club, a separate lounge aft on Mozart Deck (3). Shuttle buses are included where necessary, for example, from the dock in Strasbourg or Mannheim to the city centre. The ship carries five bicycles, which are free for guests to use. For those who have booked a flight-inclusive package, airport transfers are included as well.
Extras include shore excursions, drinks, crew tips and spa treatments. A drinks package is available for £10 a day, which gives you wine by the glass, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner. While it's not expensive as far as drinks packages go, bar service at mealtimes was pretty slow and some people complained that they didn't get their money's worth; it wasn't uncommon to finish lunch before the wine waiter appeared. A lot of people had remarked on this in the comments book. Gratuities for crew are charged onto each cabin's account at £8 per passenger per day; these are optional. Tips for tour guides and drivers are also at your discretion.