As with most river ships, the River Splendor price includes a daily city walk or excursion, which you take in groups with your program director or a local guide. Personal headsets are issued at the beginning of the cruise, and you bring them along on group excursions. While your enjoyment of the River Splendor -- and river cruising -- could depend on how you feel about group travel overall, we found that Vantage did seem to encourage independent-minded travelers more than similar lines, by offering more free time and longer port stops.
No more than three optional excursions are offered on a Vantage cruise. As with an ocean cruise, passengers should compare prices when possible to see if they can do the activity for less money on their own, particularly in larger European cities.
Lectures and programs called Cultural Connections are also an important part of a Vantage cruise. On our cruise from Antwerp to Amsterdam, we were treated to a demonstration on Belgian chocolate, complete with tasting, and an excursion to a diamond purveyor. Vantage also seems to offer more lunches off-site than other river cruise lines, which allow passengers to sample local cuisine.
Onboard, the main lounge, Latitude 52 Degrees, is on the Navigator deck. The line designed the red-and-blue lounge so it wouldn't feel as cramped as it was on older ships. It has a reasonably sized dance floor, plenty of seating and the proper equipment for the enrichment programs and lectures held there.
As with most lounges, the bar is a big draw. European beer is on tap, and drink prices range from 3.10 to 15 euros. A 24-hour station with water and coffee is at the lounge entrance. A moderately sized outdoor area -- with heat lamps, comfy wicker chairs and tables -- is at the front of the lounge, and the doors can be taken out during nice weather. This forward area is partially covered and has protective walls that are specifically designed so people can take pictures over them without standing on chairs. (This is more important than you think; on a cruise on a different river line, we saw many people risking their necks to get that perfect shot.)
In the evenings, local performers occasionally come onboard; otherwise, the staff musician plays standards and light rock in the lounge after dinner. As you might expect, the line does not attract a late-night, partying crowd, although the bar does stay open until passengers go to bed.
When entering River Splendor, passengers walk into a two-deck atrium, featuring a metal and crystal chandelier. The ship has a modern look overall, similar to what you'd find at a boutique hotel, without pretention or fussiness; Vantage seems to have a good handle on the current tastes and expectations of its aging Baby Boomer audience.
The ship's hotel-style front desk on the Explorer Deck is open 24 hours. As on many river cruises, passengers check in and out there when they leave the ship. A boarding card system allows the crew to keep tabs on who is onboard. The nearby hospitality desk allows passengers to confer with their program managers. An elevator runs between the cabin floors, and a hydraulic chair lift brings passengers with disabilities to the open-air Solaris Deck on top. An ice station is behind the hospitality desk, and a small store sells scarves, souvenirs, postcards and logowear.
A small library, with books and games, is beside the Latitude 52 Degrees lounge on the Navigator Deck. Because Vantage caters almost exclusively to American travelers, the books are in English. All announcements are made in English, too.
As mentioned earlier, the Captains Club is also on the Navigator Deck, at the aft of the ship. While this airy lounge is primarily billed as an alternative place to eat, I saw quite a few people on my cruise using it as a place to read or keep in touch with folks back home. (Several people had their laptops out.) There's also a flat-screen TV, which could make the room suitable for small group gatherings or even a meeting. The roof is retractable, and an adjacent outdoor space is furnished with a handful of chairs and tables.
Downstairs, the Odyssey Deck has a computer room with two PC's, two Macs and a printer. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the ship (and actually works, at least on our trip). Vantage seems very cognizant that today's traveler wants to stay in touch, and it promotes passengers' ability to access Facebook as a selling point on its Web site.
The top deck, known as the Solaris Deck, has a small walking track, as well as a chess board and covered seating. One small area there is designated for smokers.
The ship has a well-designed fitness room on the Odyssey Deck, with a treadmill, stationary bicycle, free weights and a step machine. A small walking/jogging track can be found outside on the Solaris deck. There is no spa or beauty salon on River Splendor.
Families with young children or teens would not be comfortable on River Splendor, as the cruise is geared toward post-retirement couples and singles, and the line does have an age minimum of 12. Occasionally, a couple or adult child might travel with an older parent.