This is a review of our second Vantage European River Cruise entitled “France Culinary Delights: Paris to Normandy” (MS River Venture, 13 days, June 2018). We took our first river cruise last year with Vantage (Majestic Rivers of Europe: Castles, Cathedrals & Fairytales, Budapest to Amsterdam, MS River Splendor, 15 days, June 2017) and rated it five stars. This cruise (2018) was barely three stars. For the following reasons, we felt this cruise was well below what we experienced in 2017:
• The River Venture was originally due to depart Paris at 6:30 pm (according to the Daily Program), but for some reason it left around 4:00 pm. That meant that several passengers who flights arrived after the ship left Paris had to get their own transportation from the airport and catch up with the ship. Several of these passengers stated they had to pay for this (around 200 Euros) and then Vantage reimbursed them.
• The Cruise Director, Concierge, and front desk staff would hardly do more than their job. There was no going beyond and above. The hairdryer provided by Vantage in our room died half-way through the cruise and when I went to the front desk for a replacement, I was told they did not have any (the Captain apparently had some on order). Nor did they have any US to European electrical adaptors. Another passenger and I had to go to a store while in port and buy our own European hairdryers. Also, there was a couple we became friends with that had booked their flights and travel insurance through Vantage. His bag did not make it to Paris from Atlanta on Delta/Air France. They are also some of the passengers who flights arrived after the ship departed Paris. His bag made it to the CDG Airport the next day, but Vantage (specifically the Cruise Director) asked that he be allowed to communicate with Delta/Air France to get the bag delivered to the ship. Let me say that the passenger did not get his bag until arrival back home in the US after the cruise. Not sure what the Cruise Director was telling Air France, but somehow Air France decided not to make it their problem anymore and sent the bag back to Atlanta without every attempting to deliver it to the cruise ship. The only thing that Vantage did do was laundry what clothes he had and/or brought during the cruise at no cost.
• We barely saw the Captain of the ship (the first night of the cruise during the ship’s safety briefing, the Captain’s Gala dinner, and maybe one other time). He seemed arrogant and full of himself. I believe he only had one Captain’s table (during the Captain’s Gala Dinner). In fact the Captain’s Gala Dinner was moved to Tuesday, June 19, 2018 while we were docked in Rouen, France. According our Travel Documents, the Captain's Gala Dinner was originally scheduled for Thursday, June 21, 2018. I believe the Captain made this change because Rouen is his hometown and since we were staying overnight there, the crew had a night off. Since Tuesday, June 19, was also the same day we were having a 5-course French lunch at the La Couronne Restaurant in Rouen (which was a major highlight of this trip), we had two huge meals in one day...very poor planning!!! Plus, we saw several of the crew members (including the Captain) drinking at the bar in the Can Can Lounge during the local entertainment (Roberto the best Crooner in Town). I would not think this was proper behavior for the Captain and/or the crew. (Note: the Captain on the 2017 cruise was wonderful…we saw him allot and he had at least 4 Captain’s Table during the cruise.)
• Many people on this cruise (including us) were wondering why this cruise was titled "France Culinary Delights." The only real French food we had was at the La Couronne Restaurant in Rouen. We loved all the food on the 2017 cruise and the only food on this cruise that were equally good were the starter course and the desserts. Breakfast was decent with an omelet station. Although, I ordered the “Egg Cloud” breakfast special one morning and could not even cut it with a knife (I sent it back). The hot soups were nothing but broth with no taste or seasonings (exception for the french onion soup we had only one night, but it wasn’t anything to write home about). The cold soups tasted like watered down fruit yogurt. We called the nightly fish entrée “two bite fish” (very small portions and very hard to find on your plate). If we ordered a cheeseburger or hamburger and fries for lunch (takes an extra 15 minutes), we were hassled by the wait staff by them telling us “the kitchen isn’t going to like this.” Several evenings when I wanted to order from the standard every night menu (chicken, steak, or salmon), I was pressured to order one of the evening specials. The Captain’s Gala Dinner was good.
• Some of the staff and food issues on this cruise maybe contributed to the fact that I found out that the MS River Venture would not be sailing again for another 6 to 8 weeks. I was told by the Concierge that everyone onboard our cruise had to be off the ship by noon time on disembarkation day. When I asked why, they told me that the ship was repositioning. I asked where it was repositioning too and did not get an answer. I thought this was odd since the Vantage website stated that all the cruise sailing dates for this cruise were “Sold Out.” I found out from other passengers that several cruise sail dates in May and July 2018 had been cancelled. In talking with some of the dining room staff, they were leaving the ship in Paris and heading back to their home countries. I am thinking that Vantage has a lot more competition in the Europe river cruise market and is cutting back. Maybe the ship staff was not given any notice about the cancelled ship sailing dates. This might contribute to the staff attitudes and not wanting to do anything for the passengers. And maybe the bad food was the Chef trying to get rid of anything they had onboard.
The MS River Venture has a 134 passenger capacity. The rooms are the same as the MS River Splendor. There were two closets (one with a combination safety deposit box) with plenty of wooden hangers. Near the desk are 4 drawers and a cabinet with a shelve that divided the space. All suitcases fit under the beds. The two twin beds were pushed together to create a queen size bed (each bed has its own bottom sheet and comforter). (Note: the comforter is encased in a duvet cover, which is considered the top sheet.) 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. 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. L'Occitaine de Provence amenities are provided, but I didn’t use because I don’t particularly like the Verbena smell. The tap water is drinkable. There was one free bottle of water in the room upon arrival (fee for any additional). There was always plenty of hot water for showers, except for one morning when I was taking a shower, the water went from hot to cold and then just stopped. 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. A white bath robe and slippers is provided for each person to use throughout the cruise. (Note: housekeeping will remove these from the stateroom prior to the last day of the cruise.) There is free Wifi throughout the ship. 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). 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. There is a plug for men’s razors inside the bathroom and one US electrical plug located near the desk/vanity, plus two USB charging ports. The European electrical sockets in the stateroom are recessed into the wall and require a round Schuko Type E/F (or a round Europe Travel Adapter for European Outlets - Type C, Type E, Type F).