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.