Launched in 1998, the 140-passenger, 1,643-ton River Symphony has become the model for all of Grand Circle's vessels in the Europe. Four other ships in the line's fleet are near-duplicates; five more represent smaller or larger variations on the design. At 361 feet in length and a breadth of 38 feet (for easy canal transits), the ship accommodates 140 passengers in 70 twin cabins. The ship is four decks high, including its open Sun Deck (the only area smoking is permitted), and contains not only a large public lounge and bar, but a single-seating dining room with river views, a small comfortable library, a full reception center and a limited fitness area with sauna. Elevator access is available to all but the lowest cabin level or the outdoor Sun Deck area.
While the company's initial programs concentrated on the well-known Rhine cruise, itineraries have been greatly expanded to the Danube and the Mosel, as well as seasonal Christmas market cruises, and voyages in Holland and Belgium for the spring floral season. "The Great Rivers of Europe," a voyage between Amsterdam and Vienna has become Grand Circle's signature voyage just as its included "Discoveries" and its onboard Program Directors have become hallmarks of its operations. Cruises are marketed with air included from U.S. departure points, and pre- and post-cruise extensions are offered.
All of the ship's cabins are outside, non-smoking, 150 square ft. or larger and equipped with twin beds (and only twins) that fold into the wall during the day, leaving small sofa-style seating available. Warm-toned wood paneling and veneers are used abundantly, and cabins are both light and comfortable with wall-to-wall carpet and small desk/vanity areas.
The rooms have individual thermostats and are equipped with sufficient closet/storage space, wall safes, direct-dial phones and multi-channel color TV (including a view from the bow-mounted camera). The private bathrooms have showers, but not tubs, and come with a hair-dryer, soap/shampoo dispensers and assorted toiletries. The main difference in the cabins is based on their deck location and view. Serenade Deck cabins have floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors and a small balcony; Sonata/Cantata Deck accommodations have large picture windows; Prelude Deck rooms at water level have chest-high windows.
The Restaurant is located aft on Serenade Deck, the topmost enclosed area, and offers extensive views of both the river and the surrounding areas. The restaurant offers single open seating at all meals and is a non-smoking area. The overall menu is what might be termed Continental-American and should be generally familiar to the American passengers, though a strong effort is made to offer German-European choices and preparations. Both breakfast and lunch service is fairly casual, in a semi-buffet style, with assorted local and regional specialties offered.
Dinner is a more formal menu-centered service, and depending on the situation, will have a limited selection of options available to the guests. Complimentary local wines are served with dinner, or you may order from a selected list at an extra charge. Dress is also casual, though many gentleman feel more comfortable on special evenings with a sports coat or blazer, while women often take the opportunity to dress at a resort or country club level.
In keeping with the size and capacity of the vessel, public spaces are not numerous but are sufficient to meet the needs of the passengers and offer comfortable venues for personal relaxation and public or group events. In pleasant weather and along especially scenic stretches, the Sun Deck serves as an open lounge area and is often the most popular spot onboard. Just below it is the combined Serenade/Symphony Deck, which also includes most of the general public areas.
At the forward end of this deck are the large Main Lounge and its adjacent Bar/Pub. This area serves as the main gathering space on the ship and is used for meetings, lectures, demonstrations and evening entertainment. Full bar service is provided day and evening and part of the Bar/pub even serves as a separate meeting space. Just aft of this are the Reception/Lobby facilities, and off to one side is a nicely stocked library that also provides a calm place for private enjoyment or quiet conversation. The aft portion of this deck is occupied by the Restaurant. The fitness area and sauna are located below, on Cantata Deck and are easily accessed.
All Grand Circle trips, cruises or otherwise, are strongly oriented towards guest enrichment and that was one reason why the company decided to own its ships and shape the experience. Each ship is staffed with a team of three to four Program Directors who act as combination lecturers/tour guides/cruise directors. Experts in local history, culture and the arts, they lead excursions, teach classes, and introduce passengers to everything from onboard craft demonstrations to language lessons to home visits with a chance to interact with the local people. These activities are an integral part of the cruise experience and the Program Directors are the facilitators. Ashore, you will learn about architecture and history, and have many chances to walk and wander on your own; onboard, you'll learn language and cooking and participate in discussions on a range of topics related to your itinerary.