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Interview with Mary Gotts, Ver-Colne Valley U3A

Mary Gotts and her group aboard MPS Lady Anne

Mary Gotts is now in her eighth year as group travel organiser for the Ver-Colne Valley branch of the U3A near St Albans. In addition to monthly day trips, Mary organises approximately four trips each year ranging from short breaks in the UK to holidays aboard, always for group of 45 or more, to destinations and on itineraries that appeal to the varied interests of her members. Key to a great trip, says Mary, is a good choice of excursions in each destination and the flexibility for members to do as much or as little as they like, so in this respect river cruising is ideal.

To date Mary and her group have travelled with The River Cruise Line several times including visiting the Dutch Bulbfields in springtime, cruising the Rhine to Switzerland, visiting the Rhine Valley Christmas markets and, in 2017, taking a full ship charter of the ‘Captain’s Choice’ cruise aboard the mps Lady Anne.

The Captain’s Choice itinerary was added to the programme in 2016 to celebrate 15 years of working with Captain Wido and the Lady Anne. Devised by Captain Wido to showcase less well-known destinations in his home country, this unusual cruise takes passengers away from the well-known tourist spots of Holland and includes visits to the star-shaped town of Heusden, Roermond and the Dutch Lake District, Arcen and its 17th century castle and Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands.

Here, Mary tells us about her experience of the ‘Captain’s Choice’ cruise and why cruising the waterways of Holland has been such success for her group.

Q – Why did you choose the Captain’s Choice cruise?

Having experienced the Dutch Bulbfields on a previous cruise, I knew Holland was pretty and I was keen to find an opportunity to try something slightly different. On paper, the itinerary seemed to offer exactly what our group looks for – a balance of gentle cruising with opportunities to explore quaint villages and towns away from the usual tourist traps. We’d had such a wonderful experience cruising on the Lady Anne previously that although the itinerary was unusual, I was confident that this trip would suit us and that Wido and his team would look after us very well.

Q – What was the best part of the cruise?

The trip more than lived up to expectations, it was fantastic! None of us had any idea what Holland might be like ‘off-the-beaten track’ but we were very pleasantly surprised, it felt like we were uncovering little hidden gems at every turn. One of the highlights was sitting out on the sun deck, watching the world go slowly past and wondering what fascinating place we would arrive at next.

Q – Did your group have a favourite destination?

All the towns and villages we visited were very pretty. One that particularly stood out was Maastricht, because as well as being interesting, there were some excellent shopping opportunities.

Q – How would you sum up the cruise?

It was a perfect combination for us of gentle cruising and relaxation, with opportunities to explore unknown places, completed by a warm welcome and friendly atmosphere on board.

Q – Do you have any tips for anybody considering booking this cruise?

The Lady Anne is very different to most other river and ocean cruise ships, so try not to make comparisons – the experience is quite different. It is much smaller, more intimate and full of history and, for example there are no requirements for formal dress on board. The Lady Anne is very warm and homely and a lovely base to return to after a day exploring Holland’s hidden corners.

Q – You have cruised on the Lady Anne many times, but recently the group sampled the ms Serenity for the first time. How was that?

Our group has sailed on the Lady Anne and has always enjoyed the experience, so we knew that the Serenity would be very different. The ship is larger, but it felt no less warm and welcoming, thanks to the excellent crew. The service was very attentive, and all the staff were friendly and approachable, which really made it for us – the food was excellent too with a good variety. We enjoyed the ‘Strasbourg Christmas Markets’ itinerary very much, particularly the excursions as many of us had visited both Heidelberg and Strasbourg briefly on a summer cruise. It was wonderful to see both looking so festive, to have more time to discover Heidelberg and to have an opportunity to really explore Strasbourg as we had only had a taster of it from a canal cruise on our previous visit.

Q – Where are you off to next?

 We enjoyed the ‘Captain’s Choice’ cruise so much that in June this year we are chartering the Lady Anne again for a bespoke cruise that Wido is planning for us, nicknamed ‘The Netherlands Part 2’. We all came away from the previous trip so thrilled, we can’t wait to discover more!


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