We booked our first European river cruise with Vantage Deluxe World Travel at the end of January 2017. We selected their June 27 to July 12, 2017, 15-day river cruise entitled “Majestic Rivers of Europe: Castles, Cathedrals & Fairytales” that began in Budapest, Hungary and ended in Amsterdam, The Netherland. Here is an overview of our experience(s):
• BOOKING: We called and booked through Vantage Customer Service (located in Boston, MA). The booking process went very smooth and we were immediately assigned our cabin on the MS River Splendor (Category B, French Balcony on Forward Middle Deck, 165 sq. ft.).
• CUSTOMER SERVICE: Whenever I contacted Vantage over the next couple of months with various questions/concerns, the people I spoke with in Customer Service were always friendly and very helpful (except for one person). Most of the information is on their website and in your MYPORTFOLIO.
• AIRLINE FLIGHTS/AIRPORT TRANSFERS: We arranged for our own airline flights to Budapest and from Amsterdam, but did buy the Vantage Airport Transfers ($120.00 r/t per person).
• TRAVEL PROTECTION PLAN: We did not buy Vantage’s Travel Protection Plan, but did buy it through another source at a much lower cost. I understand now that effective July 1, 2017, Vantage has a new Travel Protection Plan with lower cost and increased benefits (check their website for more details).
• ARRIVAL IN BUDAPEST: Our flight from Amsterdam to Budapest was delayed almost an hour and I sent an email to Maya, our cruise ship concierge, to let her know our flight was delayed and to please relay this information on to the Vantage airport representative. When we arrived in Budapest, the Vantage Rep was waiting for us and got us to the shuttle that took us to the ship. Upon arrival at the cruise ship, Maya meet us and escorted us onboard where the rest of the cruise staff greeted us. Because of the delay, we missed the Welcome and Safety Briefing, but a cruise member immediately got us to our assigned cabin and briefed us.
• RIVER CRUISE SHIP: We cruised on the MS River Splendor, which was designed exclusively for the American traveler with a passenger capacity of 176.
o SMOKING: There is no-smoking throughout the interior of the ship. A designated smoking area is on the open-air Solaris Deck.
o HANDICAP ACCESSIBILITY: The elevator is located in lobby near the concierge desk (accessible to all interior floors). A hydraulic chair lift is located outside on one side of the ship to access the open-air Solaris Deck. We never took the elevator or the chair lift, but saw other passengers utilizing it all the time.
o COMPASS ROSE RESTAURANT: This is the main dining room located on the Explorer Deck (forward middle deck) and there is no seating plan, so you can dine with whomever you choose. Most tables are set for six to eight people (round or rectangle tables) with a few tables for four people (Captain’s Table is set up for 10 to 12 people). Each table has white table linens, fine crystal/dinnerware/silverware, and fresh flowers. Climate control is very pleasant if you set near the windows and a little less noisy than in the middle of the room. The restaurant is closed whenever a service is not in progress.
o CABARET LOUNGE: The lounge is located on the Navigator Deck (forward upper deck), is opened 24/7, is where the bar is located (open from noon to the last guest retires), where tea, coffee, and hot chocolate are available around the clock, and where all port talks and entertainment happens. Early Risers’ Breakfast is available here from 6:00am-7:00am. It is also where you can relax, read a book from the library, or meet fellow passengers, or play a game of cards. Entertainment onboard features local performers coming aboard in select ports, plus there is a jukebox and a grand piano.
o CAPTAIN’S CLUB: The Captain’s Club is located on the Navigator Deck (rear upper deck) and is where you can enjoy healthy spa cuisine and other lighter choices, buffet-style. While seating is open during the day and for lunch, reservations are required for dinnertime. We ate lunch a couple of times, but found it on the warm side and preferred the variety of food in the Compass Rose dining room. We did not eat any dinners here.
o SOLARIS DECK: The top observation deck is where you will find the walking/running track, as well as chase lounges and table and chairs.
o FRONT DESK/CONCEIRGE: Located on the Explorer Deck (forward middle deck). This desk was usually staffed with at least one person, but most times there were two people.
o FITNESS CENTER: The fitness center is located on the Odyssey Deck (middle lower deck). It is outfitted with a treadmill, stationary bike, step machine, and free weights. We did not use it, but did notice many passengers who did.
o MASSAGE STUDIO: Available onboard, but we never signed up for any treatment. The massage therapist did perform light stretching exercise several mornings in the Cabaret Lounge (free to passengers).•
• DAILY PROGRAMS: Each day there is a port talk about the next day activities and each evening a daily program for the next day is left on your bed during turn-down service. The program provides times for all activities, as well as Concierge Suggestions for the port or onboard activity.
• FOOD: There are 41 meals included during the river cruise (14 breakfasts, 13 lunches, and 14 dinners, including Captain's Welcome and Farewell Dinners and one meal ashore).
o BREAKFAST: Breakfast had a time range (usually 7:00am to 9:30am). Usually buffet self-service style that included an omelet station, cheeses, fruit, all types of breads/muffins /pastries, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon, bacon, sausage, some type of potato, pancakes/waffles/crepes with special sauces, several types of cereal, etc. Early risers’ breakfast is available in the Cabaret Lounge from 6:00am-7:00am.
o LUNCH: Lunch normally has a start time (not a time range). It was either menu service (with buffet salad bar) or full buffet self-service. There was always a variety of proteins, vegetables, salad, dessert, and many days included a special station (pasta, thai, salmon wellington, stuffed pork tenderloin, etc.). There were at least 3 favors of ice cream every day. We loved the Salmon Wellington (went back for seconds) and will be trying to make it at home. Note: You can enjoy a Light Lunch Buffet in the Captain’s Club Lounge, but this buffet does not include the same variety you will get in the Compass Rose dining room.
o DINNER (includes free wine, beer, and soft drinks): Dinner has a start time and if you are very late, you might not get any food. A normal dinner menu was usually 4 courses (appetizer, soup, entrée choice, and dessert). The Captain’s Welcome & Farewell Dinners were 5 or 6 courses. We give the food at least 4-or 5-stars. Chef Irvan and his staff were experienced and presented delicious and fresh food every day.
• PORT EXCURSIONS/LOCAL TOUR GUIDES:
o LEAVING AND RETURNING TO SHIP: To leave the ship, you must pick up a card (the size of a business card) from the front desk/reception that has your name and room number on it. Upon returning to the ship, you must hand the card back in. The card is placed back in your room slot so the crew knows you are back onboard. (Note: When leaving and returning from an excursion, you might have to walk through or over another cruise ship that is at the same port. Some cruise ships will not allow passengers from another cruise ship to walk through their lobby, thus making passengers walk up and across their top deck and back down to gain access to their cruise ship.)
o YOUR COLOR FOR THE DAY: Passengers are divided into groups of 20 to 40 to accommodate for either the motor coach transport or walking tours and assigned a specific color. Passengers are given a color card before leaving the ship which helps them locate their assigned bus or local tour guide sign.
o HEADPHONES AND RECEIVERS: Vantage uses QuietVox audio system for port excursions. The color you are assigned for each day/tour is also used to activate your receiver.
o CITY MAPS: There were always maps available at the Concierge Desk for every port we were in.
o BUSES: There is no assigned seating on the buses…first come, first serve. Sometimes you are allowed to leave items (i.e., jacket, umbrellas, backpacks) on the bus while you are on an excursion. Buses are locked in this situation.
• BIKE RENTAL: We recommend that you do not rent a bicycle ($150.00 per person for the entire cruise). The ship has complimentary bicycles and helmets that you can sign out in port. We found little opportunity to ride the bikes in any ports unless you want to miss a port excursion.
• PRE/POST-TRIP EXTENSIONS: We did not opt for any pre- or post-trip extension offered by Vantage. If we do a river cruise again, we will probably arrive a day earlier (to adjust to the time change) and maybe leave a day later.
• RIVER LOCKS: During this river cruise, we went through 66 river locks (16 on the Danube, 16 on the Rhine-Main-Danube-Canal, and 34 on the Main-Rhine). Locks are a very interesting part of river cruising. For example, the lock width along the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal is 12 meters, so all ships can have a maximum width of 11.40 meters, which leaves exactly one foot of space to the right and left when a ship enters a lock. Our crew was excellent at entering the locks without bumping the walls.
• LAUNDRY SERVICES: Laundry service is available onboard for a service charge. We did not use this service, but talked to several passengers who did. Pieces of clothing had shrunk or were ironed when they requested it not be ironed. The cost (in Euros) for various items: men’s or ladies’ shirt (E3.50), men’s or ladies’ pants/jeans (E6.00), men’s or ladies’ underpants (E2.00), ladies’ bra (E3.00).
• GRATUITIES GUIDELINES:
o CRUISE DIRECTOR/CONCIERGE/SHIP STAFF/CREW: For non-suite passengers there is a gratuity of 17 Euros per passenger/per day (20 Euros pp/pd for suite guest). This amount is pre-charged to the passenger’s credit card at the beginning of the cruise and can be adjusted at the end of the cruise or modified to cash gratuities. Our gratuity charge for 2 passengers for 15-day cruise was 476.00 Euros. We choose not to adjust at the end of the cruise, but did give several of our favorite servers in the dining room a separate envelope with additional gratuity.
o PORTERAGE: Included for ship and hotels.
o LOCAL GUIDES/REGIONAL EXPERTS: 2 to 3 Euros per person per day for each. If the guide was good, we gave them between 2 and 4 Euros.
o LOCAL DRIVERS: 1 to 2 Euros per person per day.
• CRUISE SHIP STAFF & CREW: The passenger-to-crew ratio is 4-to-1. The crew is English-speaking and very friendly.
o CAPTAIN: Captain Peter was very nice. We saw him all the time: greeting passengers leaving and returning to the ship, during the Captain’s Welcome and Farewell Reception. He even rode with us to the airport in Amsterdam after the cruise to catch him flight home for holiday.
o CRUISE DIRECTOR: Veronika Hoskova was our cruise director and was absolutely fabulous. She was from Prague, Czech Republic and spoke at least 4 languages. I don’t know when she slept, because she literally was everywhere, all the time. She was very knowledgeable about each port and its history. She was truly a delight to be around…always very happy and really to help.
o CRUISE CONCIERGE: Maya Pashpurova was our cruise concierge. Maya was good at taking care of any special request the passengers might have and assisting Veronika.
o RESTAURANT/LOUNGE STAFF: The staff was wonderful…from Gina the Hotel Manager, Caitlin the Restaurant Manager, to the Chef and his staff, to the wonderful waiters/servers (especially Mihai and Galina).
STATEROOM/CABIN FEATURES (Category B, French Balcony on Forward Middle Deck, 165 sq. ft.):
o SIZE: The cabin was bigger than we expected and there were two closets (one with a combination safety deposit box) with plenty of wooden hangers. Near the desk were 4 drawers and a cabinet with a shelve that divided the space. All suitcases fit under the beds.
o BEDS/LINENS: The two twin beds were pushed together to create a queen size bed (each bed has its own bottom sheet and comforter). (Note: the beds do not have a top sheet that we are accustomed to in the US.) The beds are on the firm side and very comfortable to us. The bed linens were very soft and the four pillows were standard size and had enough support.
o BATHROOM: The 3-piece bathroom (single sink, toilet, and glass-enclosed shower) was actually larger than ones on an ocean cruise ship or has a better floor plan design.
o WATER: The tap water is drinkable. There was one free bottle of water in the room upon arrival. There was always plenty of hot water for showers.
o A/C & HEATING CONTROL: Each cabin has its own individual climate control. It took a few hours to get the temperature cold enough for us, but then it stayed relatively constant.
o VIEW: All staterooms face outside and feature a spacious river view.
o BATH ROBE & SLIPPERS: Each person is supplied a white bath robe and slippers to use throughout the cruise. This was an unexpected surprise and I used mine every single day. Note that housekeeping will remove these from the stateroom prior to the last day of the cruise.
o WIFI / WIRELESS INTERNET SERVICE: There is free Wifi throughout the ship. We found the service to be better in the Cabaret Lounge than in the stateroom. Because access is based on local cell phone coverage (verses cable connections), service can be spotty or not available at all. There was also a computer and printer located in the pubic area on the Odyssey Deck near the Fitness Center.
o TV SERVICE: Each room has a flat-screen TV with True Video on Demand (watch what you want, when you want, from the ship’s vast library of movies). There is access to many US television channels (i.e., MSNBC, CNN, Discovery, Weather, etc.). You also view the following from the comfort of your stateroom: daily destination highlights, important events, flight information, follow the ship's journey through real time GPS tracking, and other key information.
o ELECTRICAL OUTLETS/PLUGS: There is a plug for men’s razors inside the bathroom and a US electrical plug located near the desk/vanity. We took a USA 4-plug power strip with us to charge devices. The adapters we took with us did not work because the electrical sockets in the stateroom were recessed into the wall. We had to borrow a European Plug Adapter that I believe was a round Schuko Type E/F (or a round Europe Travel Adapter For European Outlets - Type C, Type E, Type F) from one of the crewmembers to be able to use our sound machine near the bed. Small adapters might work as well.
o IPHONE/IPOD DOCKING STATIONS: A docking station (30-pin connector)/clock/
radio/speaker combination with remote control is available in each stateroom. The docking station is only compatible with iPhone 4/4S and older models.
o AMENITIES: L'Occitaine de Provence amenities are provided. I did not use because I did not particularly like the Verbena smell.
We visited the following attractions as excursions on our Vantage River Cruise in June/July 2017:
- Fisherman's Bastion: Beautiful View from Buda side across the Danube to the Pest side.Very crowded with tour groups, but beautiful views across the Danube of the Pest side. Worth the trip for picture taken.
- Budapest Central Market Hall: Great Produce, Meats, Spices, Etc. You can find all sorts of goods on the 3 floors: fruits, vegetables, dairy product, pickles, fresh fish, Hungarian paprika,pate, wines, various souvenirs, and even home style meals, or Hungarian snacks like Langos at the upper floor food stands and eateries. It was interesting to just walk around and people watch before returning to our ship.
Budapest Parliament: Our Vantage river cruise ship sailed down the Danube pass the Parliament building on our first night in Budapest and it was beautiful to see it in all it's glory.View All 353 City Tour Reviews
Imperial Summer Palace & Gardens In Vienna: We did a guided walking tour of this attraction as part of a Vienna excursion during our Vantage River Cruise in July 2017. The palace and gardens reminded me of the Palace of Versailles (outside of Paris). The estate rooms were beautiful and ornate. I especially loved the Mirrors Room with its magnificent white-and-gold Rococo décor and the crystal mirrors and is an example of a state room from the era of Maria Theresa. She was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg and reigned for 40 years. We also visited The Café Residenz and purchased some of the best Apple Strudel in Vienna.View All 179 Schonbrunn Palace Reviews
We visited the State Hall of the Austrian National Library as part of a guided walking tour of Vienna's Inner City during our Vantage River Cruise in July 2017. It is the largest library in Austria, with over seven million items in its various collections and is located in the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. A wonderful display of books, painted ceilings and statues.View All 183 Walking Tour Reviews
Wonderful Concert in a Beautiful Music Salon: We had an exclusive one hour Strauss & Mozart concert at the Kursalon Music Hall as a part of our Vantage River Cruise in July 2017. Prior to the concert, we were served champagne on the balcony. The musicians, opera singers and enchanting ballet dancers presented a concert full of Viennese charm and were very entertaining. I highly recommend this to anyone visiting Vienna.View All undefined undefined Reviews
Largest Cathedral Organ in the World: We had the pleasure of visiting St. Stephen's Cathedral in Passau, Germany as part of our Vantage River Cruise in July 2017. This cathedral has the largest cathedral organ in the world with 17,974 pipes and 233 registers (made up of 5 independent organs that can be played concurrently from the main keyboard). We attended a 30 minute organ concert in the cathedral which was very good.View All 112 St. Stephen's Cathedral Reviews
We had a guided walking tour of the picturesque Regensburg as part of our Vantage River Cruise in July 2017. It is by far one of the most charming towns on the Danube river, is the only German city not bombed during WWII, and dates back to the Roman era. Many beautiful buildings to look at. The best sausages in Regensburg can be found at the Historical Sausage Kitchen at the Old Stone Bridge. If you are in need of food, wine, beer, snacks, or anything else (including the original Handlmaier’s Sweet Bavarian Mustard), the EDEKA Market Jende is located near the St. Peter’s Cathedral in the basement of the Galeria building (Neupfarrplatz 8, 93047 Regensburg) and has great prices. The first floor of the building is like a department store and had sales on Swarovski Crystal and chocolate.
We visited the following in Nuremberg as part of a tour during our Vantage River Cruise in July 2017:
- Documentation Center: With the use of the Audioguide you receive commentary in seven languages The center's permanent exhibition informs visitors about the causes, the context and the repercussions of the National Socialist reign of terror. The focus of the 19 exhibition areas is on topics with links to the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds. This is a hard subject to talk about and/or see, but it well done.
- Zeppelinfeld: Today the whole site is a memorial, and parts are used as the Norisring motor racing track, which had just had a race the weekend before we visited. It was very noisy because items used for the race were being removed all around us. Six Nazi party rallies were held there between 1933 and 1938. The swastika atop the grandstand was blown off in 1945 after Germany's fall in World War II. The grandstand pillars were removed for safety reasons in the 1970's.
- Nuremburg Trial Courthouse/Room: We were glad there was no court in session, so we were able to actually visit Courtroom 600 where the Nuremberg trials were held from 1945 to 1949 for the surviving German war criminals of World War II. This place was chosen for the trials because it was almost undamaged, offered sufficient space, and included a large prison complex. The courtroom is smaller now because a wall that had been removed during the trials (in order to create more space) was put back. In addition, the judges' bench was turned 90 degrees and is no longer situated in front of the window, but stands where the witness box was placed during the trials.