My first impression of the River Splendor was not favorable. Knowing it was one of the newest ships, it certainly did not look like a new ship to me. My fears and disappointment were quickly squelched upon embarking the ship. The “splendor” of the ship became quickly evident. Crew members welcomed us aboard with a smile and willingness to answer any questions. Tea sandwiches and drinks were a welcomed treat. As we were one of the first group of travelers to arrive, we took the time to explore and familiarize ourselves with the ship. Embarkation went very smoothly.
Overall, the interior of the ship was clean, staircases wide, and cabins adequate in size. The interior of the ship has a contemporary look. Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship at no additional cost.
There is only one main dining area, the Compass Rose. Seating is on a “first come” basis. You may choose to sit wherever you like, with the permission of those already there. Several large groups (15 in one) chose to sit together. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style dining. It is possible to get your choice of omelet or fried eggs. Selections included bacon, sausages, potatoes, fresh fruit, yogurts, pastries, breads, a variety of muffins, cold cereal, oatmeal, muesli, and cold cuts. Lunch included a salad bar, pasta (different every day), tea sandwiches,
Dinner included an appetizer, soup, choice from two entrees and two desserts. There is also an always available menu which included salmon, chicken or steak. In addition, those watching their weight could select from a separate menu. Red and white wine was available at dinner and was as much as you like. Once dessert was served, you could not have any more wine. Another option was to eat at the Captain’s restaurant located at the back of the ship. Indoor and outdoor seating was available. This is a “serve yourself” set up and a small scale of items were available. There was a salad bar with limited items, limited desserts, and the food was grilled out on the deck. Sausages, chicken, steak, ribs and other traditional grilling foods were available and the selection varied from day to day. Lunch and dinner were served here. We did not like this option because we enjoyed being waited on and the other choices available in the main dining area.
We were in Cabin 303, on the same deck as the dining room. The cabin measure 165 square feet and was adequate for our needs. Suitcases can easily be stored under the bed. The beds can be set up as one queen or two twin configuration. Flat screen TVs are in every cabin. A nice touch was to have a “Welcome” screen with our names when we arrived. Bottled water is provided free of charge. Outlets are European style but there is at least one outlet with a U.S. plug. The closet was divided into two sections and each had wooden hangers. There were enough drawers in the dresser for our 2-week supply of clothing. There were two types of suites on the 4th deck. Some had a larger sitting area while others had a second room. The suites had names of explorers including Columbus, Marco Polo, Stuyvesant, Vespucci, Hudson, Drake, DaGama, etc. The larger suites have mini-bars and in-room refrigerators. The owners suite was quite large (330 square feet) and had a separate desk area, two flat screen TVs, sitting area, and an in-room coffee maker. It also has a Jacuzzi tub and is located on the Navigator deck. The owner’s suite is named Liza Minelli.
The bathrooms have separate glass enclosed showers. A plus is the built-in clothesline in the shower stall. The showers were spacious and allowed you to turn around without hitting the walls of the stall. Water pressure could be adjusted to your liking. Toiletries are from L’Occitane. A make-up mirror, hair dryer, and plug for a razor are included.
The dress code is casual. No shorts or jeans are allowed in the dining room for dinner. The majority of the travelers dressed up a bit more for the Captain’s hello and farewell dinners. Women wore dresses, dressy pant suits and skirts with pretty tops and most men wore a jacket with or without a tie.
The average age of travelers was in the 60-plus age group. Most were not new to cruising and many were on their second, third or fourth Vantage cruise. This is a testament to the overall great service, itinerary and attention to detail. Open seating and included excursions made it easier to create new friendships.
The only gratuity automatically charged to your account is the $5.00 per day, per person for the Cruise Director and Concierge. You can choose to lower or increase this amount. You cannot give more to the Cruise Director, unless it is in a separate envelope. Gratuities are pooled for the crew and Vantage recommends giving 9 to 11 dollars per person, per day for them. Also, tips are not automatically added to bar drinks.
Entrance to the ship is on the two-deck atrium located on the Explorer deck. There is a front desk that is open 24 hours and is where passengers check in and out of the ship. This is where currency can be exchanged, bills paid, questions answered, and boarding passes picked up as needed.
Near the front desk is the hospitality desk where passengers can request assistance from the concierge for bookings for shore excursions and other amenities in port. The Cruise Director is also available to answer questions or assist in any manner. The ice machine is located behind the hospitality desk as is a small ship’s store where you can purchase jewelry, souvenirs, postcards, t-shirts and hats. An elevator is available (located near the hospitality desk) for this who choose to use it when going to the Solaris Deck on the top level.
A small library and the Latitude Lounge are also located on the Navigator Deck. Several groups used this area to play cards. The Latitude Lounge is where the cultural connections, port talks and entertainment was held. Our Cruise Director Vicki provided a daily briefing where she shared the itinerary of the following day complete with maps and questions. There is also a full-service bar. Coffee, tea and water is available on a 24-hour basis. Passengers took advantage of the Lounge offered during the day to read a book, use their computers, play cards or simply talk in small groups. Happy hour was offered every evening prior to the port talk and dinner.
The Captains Club may be a misnomer since it is available to anyone. It is located at the aft of the ship on the Navigator Deck. The area has indoor seating for lunch and dinner as well as outside seating for those who choose this option. This is the area where food is grilled for those choosing to dine in this area.
Although we did not use it because we brought our own electronics, there is a computer room with two PCs, two Macs and a printer. Vantage also makes available iPads for check-out and use on the ship.
The Solaris Deck is the top deck and is where you want to be when sailing the beautiful Wachau Valley. The deck has a small walking track (you can also walk around the entire deck), and a chess board. There are covered and uncovered seating available.
There is a small fitness room with a treadmill, stationary bicycle and weights. There is no nail or hair salons on board. I believe massage services were offered at additional cost.
The River Splendor provides a daily city tour or excursion. People are assigned to specific color groups and board the bus bearing the same color sign. Groups are about 30-35 passengers. Local guides are on each of the buses. The enjoyment level of the tour or excursion is dependent on the local guide. All guides have a good command of the English language and most are very knowledgeable about their local area. For the most part, we had good guides but others came back with stories of things they had seen that was not part of our tour. Personal headsets are provided for use throughout the cruise. These allow you to hear the guide wherever you are in the group. Most of the afternoons afforded us free time to either go back and see some of the sights on the tour or simply to do “your own thing”. In my opinion, the best guides were those who were able to inject some humor in their talks and also share some of their personal stories. A separate group for “slow walkers” who wanted to tour at a slower pace.
Vantage offers optional excursions for an additional talk. Some of these were quite pricey. We did not take advantage of any of these. Passengers who took advantage of this option came back with reviews that went from great to a waste of money. We did book a separate excursion with another company and paid one-third the cost of the Vantage excursion.
Vantage is noted for its lectures and programs called Cultural Connections. Here we received port talks from the Cruise Director, watched local talent perform, and talks about the lock system. Our Cruise Director Vicki provided a daily briefing where she shared the itinerary of the following day complete with maps and questions. There was a glass blowing and strudel demonstration on board. We learned our ship would go through 66 locks, the tallest being 88 feet. It was amazing to watch the captain maneuver the ship through some locks with only 5 inches of clearance on either side.
The crew provided entertainment one evening and there were two evenings of dancing including line dancing, the chicken dance, etc. The dances were hosted by the Cruise Director and Concierge.
The Captain spoke to all passengers on how he was asking everyone to disembark and travel by bussed to our next port Passau. The reason being the area the ship had to travel through had low water and many rocks to maneuver around. Twelve passengers chose not to leave the ship. Once in Passau, had our port tour and then had free time to do as we chose. Our Cruise Director was in constant contact with the Captain as to his progress. When we learned the ship would be later than planned and it was pouring down rain, Vantage took all of us to a local hotel and provided free drinks (open bar) and appetizers until our ship docked. Another example of how well Vantage takes care of its passengers.
Our post-extension included two days in Bratislava and three days in Prague. The Sheraton hotel in Bratislava was top notch. I was pleasantly surprised to find this hotel to be such a nice one. Vantage Travel booked this for our two day river extension. The hotel was tastefully decorated, the room and bathroom large, and the location great. Our room was on the 2nd floor, the Starwood preferred guest level. The room overlooked the courtyard and we had a view of the Danube River. There were nice fluffy bathrobes to use, slippers, and turn down service at night. From this hotel, most of the sites were within a 10-20 minute walk (we are senior citizens). Breakfast was included with out stay and the choices were great. The hotel is near the Eurovea, an enclosed mall with about 200 shops and restaurants. On the opposite side of Eurovea (you can walk through mall to get there), there was a nice river front area with sidewalk cafes and a grassy area where children were playing. Lots of people out enjoying the late afternoon and evening too. It is quite family friendly. I was totally satisfied with the accommodations Vantage booked for us.
In Prague, Vantage booked us into the Hilton Prague Old Town Hotel. The hotel was not as luxurious as the one Vantage booked in Bratislava and seemed to be smaller. Our room overlooked the rooftops of nearby buildings. Our room was on the seventh floor next to the elevator. Breakfast was included and there was a wide selection of items as well as omelets made to order. The hotel was located near the train station and a short distance from the sights which is a positive since our major means of transportation was walking.
I asked several fellow passengers who had sailed with Vantage prior to the Majestic Rivers cruise and they all agreed Vantage was the best. I then asked the first time river cruisers on Vantage and they said the same. I have to agree. Vantage is the best value for your money and the itinerary was great.