It upset me that I could not get a booking on that river cruise, the one always on television, when I reserved a 7 day Danube journey. I thought I was buying second best as the Sapphire was not owned by Viking but by Travel Marvel. I promised myself I would jump ship if it was too bad. But our first clue that we got it right was when a black Mercedes limousine arrived from the ship to collect us at the airport. Once aboard we were welcomed, processed and led into a spacious, clean cabin with our suitcases already on the beds. Our cabin lacked one essential - a full length mirror.
Luxury continued as we met our Captain Vladimir and his Officers over a glass of champagne. Among them Milenko, the restaurant manager, who people said achieved such high standards by docking a waiter’s pay if there were a complaint. As a result the service was fantastic, special dietary needs were respected and the staff could not do enough to please. But that was true of all the 41 Middle European and Indonesian crew members. The Chef, conveniently married to the Hotel Director, offered dishes ranging from good to Excellent with occasional booboos like sorbet which melted between kitchen and table and an unrecognisable foie gras parfait. But the fish was always perfect, meat was to die for, desserts sublime and the wine offered with each dish was the perfect choice.
So what was the fly in the ointment, the black spot, the disaster zone? There always has to be something not quite perfect. It was the Cruise Director’s communication style. Every day we left our floating palace on luxury coaches to visit Abbeys, mediaeval towns Roman Fortresses and to discover that the Salzburg hills are still alive with the ‘Sound of Music’. Each coach carried a trained guide who provided a high level of information both factual and mythical.
To pull that off a Cruise Director has to have great organisational skills, the patience of Job and the ability to flexi-think. She had all those great qualities and looked after us so well. But with 168 passengers with a mean age of about 63 years and many with short attention spans, the Cruise Director’s hour long briefings about the next two to three days excursions or the Mann Danube Canal drew flak. As the sun sank below the yardarm, passengers expressed more interest in gin and tonics, glasses of Prosecco or taking a long shower than being given more information.
As we left the Sapphire blissed out at the end of a great week, the next two week cruise passengers were arriving. They were greeted with the same charm and efficiency that welcomed us. We had chosen not second best but happily one of the best ships cruising the Danube. So if you want to experience the joys of a River Cruise, go Sapphire, go Travel Marvel. It will be worth every penny/cent.