After numerous international ocean cruises, my husband and I decided three years ago to sample some river cruising. We have travelled the Rhine, Danube, and this year we chose Vantage for our Douro River cruise. In order to keep this brief, I am going to list why I believe Vantage is the best choice for the Douro:
1. We have had countless cruise directors, and by far, Carmen was the very best Cruise Director we have ever had. She was constantly visible and available; she had the ability to communicate across the board from those that required limited information to those that required some pretty significant “adult supervision – there’s always at least one! LOL!” Finally, Carmen demonstrated a “genuine” concern and caring for all of the passengers. A “rare” attribute in a Cruise Director from my experience.
2. From the time we were warmly greeted at the airport upon arrival (even though our flight had been DELAYED by an hour and a half), to the time we were returned to the airport for our return flight home, Vantage took exceptionally good care of us. So much so that we weren’t just “dropped off” in Madrid to navigate our way through the airport. We had a dedicated agent who walked us to the counter to check-in, and then walked us to security. Very impressive service!
3. Vantage is the “ONLY river cruise” that I could find that began in Porto and ended with a tour of Salamanca and on to Madrid (with an optional tour to Toledo); both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was the perfect itinerary with more days for far less money in comparison to competitors.
4. The Pre- (Lisbon) and Post- (Madrid) hotels that were included in our package were simply spectacular from service to location to accommodation to breakfast buffet; 5-Star rating.
5. Onboard the Douro Serenity, the longboat was kept meticulously clean, we had the French balcony, which was beautifully appointed with loads of storage. The bed was extremely comfortable. We did ask for a top sheet as we are used to sleeping with one. There is a blow dryer provided in the cabin. Vantage also surprised us with the gift of a VANTAGE water bottle that we could refill daily, although, there were also additional water bottles offered on all of our excursions. In the staterooms you will find replenished bottles containing wonderful smelling toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and soap.) I am a huge advocate for reducing plastic waste, and was appreciative that Vantage has taken the lead of being more mindful toward that effort.
6. In comparison to our other two river cruises (both well-known brands), the evening entertainment was far superior. Vantage provided far more variety, and it was excellent quality. What I found more interesting is that the Captain was far more visible on this cruise, and he was very gracious.
7. In regard to dining, my husband and I are both fairly good cooks, so I would say that we are somewhat fussy eaters. We found Vantage’s food to be mostly on par with its competitors, and found the food to be well-prepared and delicious. Hats off to Chef and his staff. They did an amazing job!
(a) Breakfast: There is a buffet along with an egg station. Hands down, Vantage wins the prize for the best egg station. There was a young lady chef who cooked the best eggs to order – by far – on any cruise (ocean or river) that we’ve taken. She actually asked HOW you wanted your omelette, or your eggs cooked, and she cooked them to perfection. Last year’s river cruise on the Danube produced over-cooked BROWN omelettes (even after speaking with the Maître d’hôtel, I finally gave up!) She was always very pleasant and constantly smiling. On the last morning of our trip, I inquired if the eggs next to her where hard boiled. She responded that they weren’t. A few minutes later, I had hard boiled eggs delivered to my table. Now, THAT is Service!
(b) Lunch: Also served as a buffet with many hot items offered as well as a daily soup, a variety of salads, sandwiches and desserts.
(c) Dinner: Full-service dinner with menu options served with wine or beer.
8. Added Meals: What took us mostly by SURPRISE were all the additional meals that Vantage included with our tour. These were really NICE restaurants that included a starter, entrée, and dessert, along with beer or wine. Meals in Europe are fairly expensive, so this was a very NICE added touch.
9. Tour Guides: The guides are Contractors. Honestly – hands down – the Very Best Guides we have ever had on any vacation, bar none, and we have taken literally hundreds of tours. These guides could easily have worked at these vineyards, museums or historical sites. They were so knowledgeable of the history and art. Their English was beautiful. They were articulate, good-humoured, patient, kind, and kept the cats herded. Also, Vantage included MORE tours in our package than our previous river cruises. There were only 4 “optional” tours; we took three out of the four. They were EXCELLENT tours; very affordable. Also, something else to consider when making your river cruise carrier selection. In our two previous river cruises, we spent literally hundreds of dollars more in just tours alone. Also, please do note that in Europe you will need (.50 Euro) for public bathrooms. Having said that, not ONCE did I have to pay for a bathroom as Vantage made every effort to locate facilities for us that did not require payment. But, do keep a couple coins on you just in case.
10. We were traveling with two other couples. One couple had their Lufthansa flight cancelled due to a strike. Fortunately, they had purchased their flights through Vantage, and Vantage took care of everything. Having said that, I found that Vantage did an excellent job with our flights from cost to providing the most “direct” flights. Therefore, I highly recommend booking your flights through Vantage. Also, as a side note, always, always, always purchase travel insurance when traveling abroad either directly through Vantage, or your preferred carrier.
11. In summary, the Douro is truly one of the most memorable trips we’ve taken to date. The landscapes are truly breath taking, and I can’t tell you how many rainbows we counted along the way. It was truly magical. Are we going to choose Vantage again for a future trip? The answer to that is simply -- yes. Practically every passenger that we spoke with on this trip had travelled with Vantage at least one other time. Many of our fellow passengers had travelled with Vantage multiple times, and all spoke very highly of the brand. We were so pleased with this experience that we are already looking to book a future trip with Vantage.
Our cabin was kept meticulously clean. Included were very nice toiletries, hair dryer, loads of storage, and very comfy bed. We really liked the electric up/down French balcony.