This was our third trip with Vantage. We chose this itinerary for a few reasons, length of cruise, VALUE, and the opportunity to visit Christmas Markets later in cruise and still be home for the holidays. Oh, and did I mention I love locks. Our Trip was Bonn to Budapest. “Affectionately called, Route 66…there are 66 Locks. At the highest point the ship is 1332 feet above sea level, how cool is that??? If you asked us what was the best thing about the cruise – we would be baffled! We’ve talked about it for a week now and we just loved all of it. This cruise was a perfect balance of ship time/excursion time. Probably had the most shopping time of the 3 we’ve done. A plus, since hubby forgot to pack a hat, it was cold and windy, and first stop in Cologne was to find him a knit hat. (The ship sells Vantage branded merchandise too… ) Wish the weather was better, but we were well prepared for Europe in late November. Sailing the Rhine & Main has many low bridges so the top deck was closed the first week of the cruise, but it was chilly, damp and rainy many days anyway – no issues. The Main-Danube Canal is amazing.
This trip is ideal for couples and singles. Median age was mid 60’s-70. This is a moderately active itinerary! Most days we hit 12-15K steps on our Fitbits! This itinerary they actually had a ‘less-active’ group for those who couldn’t keep up, and some folks were taxed by that as well…. so it’s very important when choosing an itinerary that you research it well. There were 150 passengers on the ship, usually broken into 4 groups for excursions. As usual, there were a handful of constant complainers….never happy no matter what, and a couple were not physically able to keep up with the sightseeing, and of course, it was the cruise line’s fault, not theirs – REALLY? And they constantly complained about the Cobblestone Streets – well, reality is you are visiting old towns in Europe – there isn’t perfect pavement, and there are also hills along the river banks…. We are fortunate to have our health, but we would never consider booking a trip that included activities beyond our physical abilities, and this is something you really need to think about when traveling! Recommended that you research your itinerary before you book – especially if you have physical limitations!!
We chose Vantage because we’ve had two great experiences with them before (Russia & a Culinary Cruise in France) and had the same expectations. We did the complete package, preferring they arrange the flights and transportation, and we chose the insurance. We also booked the Budapest Extension after the cruise. A few days before sailing we had the opportunity to upgrade to a suite for a very reasonable fee. We decided to splurge, the allure of a tub sold me… I love having a tub, and this was a long cruise….I didn’t even realize all the other Suite perks.
For those concerned with motion sickness – forget about it….calm as can be and most times I had to peek out the window to assure myself we were sailing!
Our United/Lufthansa flight from Newark was non-stop to Frankfurt. We were greeted at the airport by a Vantage representative. There were a total of 23 people meeting at 9 am ish. Once together, we took a very long walk in the rain, pulling all our own luggage to the bus. We managed fine, even after a long sleepless night of flying, however it was an issue for some of the older folks in the group. This never happened to us before on Vantage trips….there was always a skycap to take the bags to the bus. Wasn’t happy about this, especially since, we circled the airport and stopped to pick up 5 additional group members with bags right by the terminal door. We traveled less than 2 hours to Bonn where we boarded the boat before noon. We were first group there and it was amazing to board the boat and be greeted like family – we were traveling with a hotel manager & concierge we met and sailed with 2 years earlier in France. After meeting the available crew members and captain, we were escorted to the lounge where they had a light lunch buffet available for the early arrivals. This was wonderful and we began to relax.
Within a short time they announced the cabins were ready and we were escorted to Suite 411(Dinah Washington Suite) on the Navigator Deck. There are 12 suites on the River Voyager. The suite has adjustable beds, a pillow menu to chose your preference from, a complimentary mini bar (but restocked at a small fee), daily fruit basket, additional large bottle of wine replenished every 5th day, plenty of room – I immediately reorganized the sitting area to have the couch facing the french balcony so we could sit and look at the view when we wanted to. The bathroom was huge for a river cruise ship. Double sinks, plenty of storage, a large walk-in luxury shower with a rain head and six spa jets, and a deep jetted bathtub with 8 nice powerful jets…..which I enjoyed nightly! All I hoped for was a tub….oh my! There were adequate safety handrails strategically placed for support if needed. The L’Occitane ammenities are always wonderful too! I have long, thick hair and always have issues with hair dryers….not here, the powerful 2100W dryer was awesome! Oh and did I mention….we always had complimentary laundry – which I had no idea of until day 5…I stuck the notecard in the book I borrowed from their great little library! The suite also comes equipped with a nice pod system coffee/tea etc that is replenished twice a day…I wish I had more time in my room! There is an American Outlet, so you can charge all your items without needing adapters….nice. There’s even an IPOD clock for your phone. The WIFI was very good considering the itinerary. Only real issues were thru the locks, it did get jammed up when we all returned from our daily excursions and wanted to check in with home/upload pictures, etc. but that’s to be expected. You can google River Voyager and the initial reviews all show our cabin!
We actually checked out the lower level fitness area of the ship – small, but well equipped! We knew we would be getting plenty of exercise and probably not have time to ‘work out’. There is also an on-board Masseuse service.
The Blue Note Lounge is the main gathering place for all ship activities, entertainment, lectures, etc. There’s a well stocked library with books/ puzzles, games too. There is also a 24 hour coffee/tea expresso station right next to the bar. Cookies available every day at 3, and there’s always a well stocked fruit basket up there too! You will not go hungry on this ship!
The River Voyager offers a Buffet Breakfast with omelet station in the Bourbon Street Bistro (Dining Room), a traditional served lunch with a buffet salad bar and pasta station, and a full dining experience at dinner. There is also optional lighter fare at the Cotton Club restaurant aft. We only ate in the dining room. We are traditionalists….are were traveling with our ‘Outlaws’….our daughter’s in-laws. This is the 3rd river cruise we’ve done together. We found a table we liked in the dining room and always chose it for lunch & dinner….mornings we sat at larger tables and mingled. Our servers, Nikki & Romulus were awesome! They quickly learned our names & preferences and service was exceptional! The Chef’s menus were great, always a choice of meat, seafood or vegetarian/pasta, there are also healthy choice option menus and ‘standard fare’ ie always available, steaks, chicken, fish or burgers. 99% of the time we ate from the daily Chef’s menu, as the selections were wonderful. The Head Chef was a young personable fellow who also did a kitchen tour for those who wanted to see where his team works. He also shared with us that the head office selects the daily menus, he has some leeway, but not much. He doesn’t decide what we eat, when. They take advantage of local markets and offerings, and a few times we witnessed the crew unloading trucks of produce and food and bringing it onboard – truly a team effort, everyone involved – and it was very nice knowing our food was so fresh! The soups were outstanding! Ice cream magnificent….and the breads awesome! We had a great selection of wines and beers daily too! Vantage tried to incorporate many of the local vineyards we passed in our travels. We loved it all! If you didn’t enjoy the included wines, there is an option to purchase different wines from all regions. The wines/beers suited our palates just fine!
The entertainment was very good WHEN we had entertainment, we had a number of quiet nights with only a jukebox in the lounge….this was the only area we felt lacking a but…..we needed a couple more nights of Bavarian entertainment to liven things up….too often everyone just retired early. We also had a very full schedule, so some really needed the time to rest. We are 60 going on 21. I think we just had a very nice balance of passengers who enjoyed traveling together and having fun, so we were looking for a little bit more partying time!
Our cabin ‘angel’ Doni kept our suite sparkling! His service was impecable….at least twice a day he magically made beds, cleaned and turned down beds, usually when we were eating. The suites have a BUTLER button for personal service, we didn’t require additional services, everything was perfect!
The front desk reception was always available, friendly and able to make change, and take care of any issues we may have had.
Our concierge and Cruise Director worked very hard to ensure everyone was having an excellent time and always aware of what the next day had to offer thru port talks, shopping recommendations and hand outs. There were always maps available for those who wanted to explore on their own too. And the River Voyager had a nice fleet of bicycles ready for those who wanted to pedal around the towns.They also hosted a pub crawl and entertainment night on-board as well. I don’t know if they ever find time to sleep – they were always available with a smile!
The Hotel manager, Enyo, really runs a great ship – the crew is excellent….they work as a team and everyone does their best to ensure you are having a great time. The Captain, Ziggy, took us safely down the river and very wisely made some adjustments to the daily schedules to ensure we reached all our destinations safely.
We were in Regensburg on a Sunday, meaning shops and museums closed, the river was rising rapidly and running fast. The Captain decided we will sail early, lunchtime instead of dinner. So we left early, couldn’t do much anyway, and this great decision let us be the ship last to sail for a couple days because of river issues. Other cruise lines had to bus their passengers around to the next couple ports because the boat had to stay safely tied to shore in Regensburg. Great decision by our captain….Safety is the priority.
We had many stops along the way….each one offered something special. This is an ACTIVE adult cruise with moderate amount of walking, a lot of it is on cobblestone streets and there are hills. If you can’t walk 1 to 3 miles at a good pace, you probably wouldn’t be able to enjoy the excursions. There were a few towns that we hopped on a bus and we’re taken to our destinations, but this itinerary had more walking tours, which was fine for us. The Rhine, Main & Danube have so many interesting Riverside towns, it was truly amazing!
Some of the highlights for us were Siefried’s Musickabinet in Rudesheim, unbelieveable collection! Marktheidenfeld German Village Life tour, we had an awesome visit at the Paper Mill learning how to make paper and that was followed with a great BBQ with entertainment at Johannes Deppisch Winery, what a great guy & outstanding hospitality ; we had a very nice Glassblowing demo on-board, Visiting Nuremberg & the WWII Documentation Center could have been an more than just a one day excursion. Tour of Würzburger Residenz with wine tasting in the Residenz Cellar, delicious and we definitely had to bring some of their special Reisling wine home, the Schönbrunn Palace was beautiful with a great Christmas Market. We had an exclusive concert at the Kursalon in Vienna with champagne! Outstanding lecture on the Rhine/Main/Danube Canal, this man was very professional, organized and knowledgable, his lecture was wonderful and we learned so much! The National Library in Vienna needed more than just a quick stop, it was beautiful and there was so much to see! The Heidelberg Castle and view of the town were beautiful; Funicular ride…fun! After exploring the beautiful town of Passau, we chose Passau to buy our beautiful Black Forest Cuckoo Clock and a great Beer Stein. We had these items shipped home, and they arrived in perfect condition within a couple weeks. The Vienna Christmas markets were great, especially the one by the Townhall. Our last day on board was in Budapest. We had a full day tour while still ‘sailing’, and then continued our Budapest touring for a few more days. The hotel for our extension was the Intercontinental Budapest right on the Danube overlooking Castle Hill and the Chain Bridge. Central location, easy to walk to everything and very nice. Our Vantage City host was our Cruise Director and he very kindly continued to share the wonderful sights of Budapest with us and continued to make sure we had a great trip. We even found time for a pub stop in Budapest!
Lufthansa decided to strike the last few days of our cruise (This isn’t Vantage’s problem, but they worked hard to take care of their customers) and the Vantage team went above and beyond to ensure all those leaving the cruise Thanksgiving weekend were able to get home safely, if not a bit later than planned. There were a few who couldn’t get home and had to join our group in Budapest for an ‘unplanned extension’. Vantage really went the extra mile to ensure these folks were well taken care of and able to return home as soon as flights were available. The Christmas Markets in Budapest were great! One of the unfortunate issues with travel today is the airline weight limitations…..there were many beautiful crafts and souveniers I would have liked to bring home, especially from the markets, but we couldn’t… Since Hubby bought a hat early in trip, I thought it only fitting that I go home with a hat too – a nice Silver Fox Bubble Fur hat worked just fine for me and I could wear it and not worry about ‘added weight’.
My local bank was able to exchange US $$ for Eurors, We brought some with us for the trip, and we used the hotel ATM for Forints in Budapest. The Christmas markets took both in Budapest, but more favorable if you used local currency. Compared to Germany & Austria, Budapest prices more favorable – this was the place to shop! There’s a great market in Budapest that carries everything you can imagine on 3 separate levels. Prices were very fair.
One of my goals was to dance on the Danube and we did, at night on the Sundeck – our Bluetooth speaker was playing Keith Urban’s Blue Aint Your Color…..chilly evening, silly dreams… another item to check off the bucket list!
We were gone 20 days and not ready to go home. Our airport transportation was right on time, hotel took bags right to the bus, flights home on time, no issues.
We think the Vantage rep in Frankfurt airport dropped the ball not getting skycap for the bags, and making us walk so far on a rainy morning, but in the scheme of things, it was a minor inconvenience and reminded us we need to make sure we can carry what we pack!!
We are already thinking about our next Vantage trip.