This was our first River Cruise The boat was very nice. The crew was cordial and very nice. The food and presentation was very good as well. The bathrooms are larger than most ocean going cruise ships. However, we had a room in the back end of the ship and could not open the sliding glass door because of the engine fumes and other ships constantly parked alongside.
We were most disappointed with the changes from the original itinerary because it was the reason we chose this particular cruise. The ship left from Conflans NOT Paris. Conflans is over an hour bus ride from Paris. So on the departure day, we lost what would have been a whole afternoon in Paris. The guided tour of Vernon was cancelled (we received a letter) and we received no refund (Vantage advertises that the guided tours are worth over $1,000 per couple). The WW2 Caen Museum tour was removed from the original itinerary, and we were never notified (this was one of the reasons we took this cruise). Also, Vantage previously advertised that this museum was the best WW2 Museum in Europe. Dinner in Les Andelys at Commanderie de Templiers changed to lunch, then changed back to dinner at another place, in a beautify setting out in the country. However the dinner was disappointing. The main course consisted of a chicken leg.
The other main reason that we chose this particular cruise is because Vantage advertises that they dock in Honfleur, the most beautiful stop on our itinerary. Instead we ended up for 2 days and nights in some God awful back water docking station in LeHavre (an industrial port) with views of containerized shipping cargo, floating garbage, and cranes lifting cargo and working on constructing a building. In doing some investigating on my own, I found out that as of our travel date, VANTAGE had NEVER docked in Honfleur, yet they continue to advertise it.
Vantage has recently instituted a new cruise management process where they eliminated the Program Managers in favor of one Cruise Director and one Concierge. This did not seem to work very well. This was our first cruise with Vantage, however, their other “frequent cruisers” with whom we dined, were disappointed as well, and voiced it on more than one occasion. I believe that one cruise director is not able to adequately handle 134 people, and the concierge was no help that we could see. On the side tours that we paid for, a couple of the guides did not speak English very well, and therefore the experience was not good. The guides also “lost” many of the people on the tours. In Versailles ($199 for 2 people) we finished the tour with only 5 people out of 24, and at the Lourve ($170 for 2 people) we finished with just 7.
We paid $8000, for 2 people (for a lower level cabin) excluding the airfare and side trips. The pre-cruise 3-day in Paris (not really 3 days, since you arrive in the afternoon of the first day, and transfer to the ship at 11am on the 3rd day) was too expensive for what we got for $1200 (per couple). Two nights in a hotel, the tour of Museum De Orsay, one dinner and 2 breakfasts, and transfer to ship. We had to pay for our own transfer from the airport to hotel because we booked our own airfare.
TIPPING: Instead of having just one Program Manager to tip, we now had to tip both the Cruise Director who had to split her time between 3 buses (because there are no longer any program managers), and a Concierge who did not seem to have much value. We were also told to tip guides and bus drivers everyday, even on the side tours that WE had to pay VANTAGE an exorbitant amount of money for, e.g. Versaille = $199/couple, The Lourve = $170, per couple.
There was too much pressure about Tipping. At the end of the cruise, I witnessed the Purser chastising a single lady passenger because he thought her tip for the crew was not enough. In fact, I heard him tell her: ”This tip is for 40 people, it is not enough”….Totally inappropriate…… Others told me of similar experiences.
On the morning we left for home, there were traffic problems so we got to the airport late. THERE WAS NO VANTAGE PERSON TO MEET US AT THE AIRPORT AS PROMISED. The driver dropped us at ARRIVALS instead of DEPARTURES. An older couple were completely lost and had to be guided around by another passenger who almost missed her flight.
WOULD I TRAVEL WITH VANTAGE AGAIN:
MAYBE. Since I have had no prior experience with Vantage, maybe they can fix these issues. I know that their “frequent cruisers” are hoping that they do.
The trip was more expensive with all of the add on’s than we were expecting. VANTAGE automatically added to our bill 5 euros per day from each of us for both the Cruise Director and Concierge. We had the option to change it, but it was embarrassing to do so. Additionally, they asked for 10 euros per person per day for the crew (200 euros per couple = $272). Then we had to tip in 4-5 euros per day for the guides and drivers. We felt that these tips for the side trips should have been covered by Vantage, especially the side trips that we had to pay for ourselves. Also, it felt like we spent more time on buses that on the boat.
CRUISE DIRECTOR: We felt that Vantages recent change to one Cruise Director and one Concierge, from assigned Program Managers (usually at least 3) assigned to separate groups, is not working. We felt that our Cruise Director was OVERWHELMED. - Too many people to take care of (134).
FEEDBACK ON CONCIERGE:
Never used her for side trips (and she does not leave the ship on the side trips to help the Cruise Director).
PACING OF ITINERARY:
VERNON/GIVERNEY - Very nice tour. It was very crowded. Very hard to move around and stay with the guide.
ROUEN -- This was a nice tour
CAUDEBEC -- The was also a nice tour.
HONFLEUR/NORMANDY – Honfleur was the most beautiful town that we visited. HOWEVER, instead of the 2 days that we were originally told we would spend here, we only spent one morning BECAUSE Vantage could not dock there. They notified us by mail shortly before departure. We docked 20 miles further away in LeHavre. This deprived us of exploring that beautiful town and port of Honfleur, and made the trip to the Normandy Beaches about a 2 hour bus ride each way. We did not have enough time to see everything at the cemetery and at Pointe-Du-Hoc, where the Ranger came ashore.
LES ANDELYS -- Chateau Galliard was nice, but dinner onshore was a chicken leg
CONFLANS -- We were on our own (both times since we boarded there instead of Paris). Not much to see, as it is a very small town. We took the side trip to Versailles from here. Versailles was very crowded, the pacing was bad, the guide was hard to understand, and lost everyone in the crowds but 5 of us. This was particularly disturbing because we paid $199 per couple for the tour.
PARIS - The city tour by coach was nice.
SIDE TRIP -The guide at the Lourve spoke bad English and again lost almost the whole tour group by the end of the tour (there were 7 people left at the end). This place was also very crowded (could not get anywhere near the Mona Lisa). The pacing was very bad. This tour was $170 per couple.
Concluding, Europe is very crowded this time of year and we have decided not to return to Europe during summer holiday again. We feel the crowds will be much less during the shoulder seasons (spring and fall)