The previous three Vantage Deluxe World Travel river cruises I had taken in Europe were with my mom, and they were on boats that have since been retired from their fleet.  Vantage had three new boats built, and we boarded the newest of the fleet in Budapest.  Introduced into service this year, we were about to embark on the 14th sailing of the River Voyager.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I thought about the new, modern feel of this boat; but, once we had a good look around, it was love at first sight.  The jazz theme of the décor definitely hit a soft spot in my jazz-loving heart, and the additional outdoor seating in front of the forward Blue Note Lounge as well as behind the Cotton Club café was a nice surprise.  (In retrospect, given the high water level in the rivers these extra outdoor lounge areas on the lower decks were a huge benefit, because the captain had to close down the top sun deck of the boat while cruising under low bridges.)


Aft deck of Cotton Club Cafe


Cotton Club Cafe


Mid-ship stairway




Along the wall leading into the Blue Note Lounge


At the far end of the lounge, there were floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the forward deck.  The drapes were closed at this moment in preparation for a lecture.


The top deck of the ship was closed during portions of the cruise due to low overhead bridges.



The cabins were wonderfully appointed, and the bathrooms were actually larger than those on the older boats.


I didn’t photograph the cabin; however, I did get this (distorted!) shot of the bathroom.  The lower right is a very large drawer with a pull-out trash can beside it.  There was plenty of counter space  (on the left), and a shelf full of wonderful toiletries.  There was plenty of room in the shower, and I loved the adjustable shower head and glass door.  The toilet was to the right, and towel racks were located on the walls to the left.  It was actually quite roomy in there!


This is a public restroom located mid-ship.  Nice!


The other side of the same public restroom.

Technologically, the River Voyager was very modern, and a great WI-FI system was accessible from anywhere on board.  The front desk staff even loaned out iPads at no charge as well as brand new bicycles with saddle bags and helmets.

The staff on board was fabulous!  Not only were they unfailingly friendly and warm, the service was outstanding.


Captain Ziggy & Hotel Manager, Enio (and Renata’s husband)


Concierge, Renata (Enio’s wife) & Tour Director, Vicky


Our cabin steward, Bowo.  We named our towel dog after him and kept him throughout the cruise.



The dining room had open seating, so we always gravitated to Robert’s section, because he was our favorite waiter.


Our favorite assistant waiter, Halil


A well-deserved break for the crew!  That’s the head chef on the far end.

The food?  Fantastic!  Our Balinese chef did a wonderful job with his staff in his surprisingly small kitchen, and we found ourselves raving at every dinner over the food and presentation.







Chef Ketut (“Chef”) had a great sense of humor, too, as well as a wide, cheerful smile.  Later in the cruise during the galley tour, when asked how long it took to cook the whole pig they brought out during our traditional Bavarian lunch buffet, he replied, “Cooking the pig wasn’t the problem, it was catching it!”




As it turned out, that lunch was quite a highlight!  Complete with soft pretzels graciously handed out by Chef, flowing beer served by the staff, and a buffet of sausages of every description (with sauerkraut, of course!); it was fabulous!  (Thinking back, I don’t think I had eaten sausages and sauerkraut since my last cruise in 2011!  Meat isn’t a normal part of my daily diet, but as they say, “When in Rome…”)

Although the previous river cruises were on ships with a maximum capacity of 145 and the River Voyager could cruise with 175 passengers, I would say that is the only negative of the newer river boats.  I like the intimacy and quaintness of small boats, but the trend is going towards larger boats (and larger ships) for economic reasons.  Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to book a cruise on this very same boat again!

As for the passengers, in general, I have found them to be much more experienced travelers than mega-ship cruisers.  Conversations over meals or around the ship were always lively and interesting with plenty of travel stories to go around.  I especially enjoyed hearing about other river cruise experiences, and the advice we received about itineraries was very helpful.


Marg & Wendell, our dining partners for lunch in Heidelberg, and a few times on the ship.


We first met Betsy and Mary on our pre-cruise tour, and then in Vienna, Betsy and I ended up going to the hospital together with Renata as our escort and interpreter.


Betsy, Renata, and Me at the hospital


Partying it up during the Captain’s farewell cocktail party.

Over all, I can’t say enough good things about our experience.  The best part?  Seeing Bruce enjoy it so much that he already has our next Vantage river cruise picked out!



It was 2007 when my mom and I took our second Vantage Travel river cruise (Belgium & Holland was our first), and we had chosen Eastern and Central Europe as our destination.  We enjoyed the countries we visited very much.

I never thought I would have the opportunity to return, but I was delighted when my suggestion to Bruce of going on a river cruise was met with enthusiasm.  Bruce suggested I choose the itinerary, so I opted for one that combined portions of two river cruises I had previously enjoyed and thought Bruce would enjoy.  The itinerary also included unfamiliar stops in Germany that would be new to both of us.

Germany was featured on the third river cruise I did with my mom, and I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and beautiful it was.  The country surpassed my expectations so much in every way that I wanted to share it with Bruce, especially since one side of his family was of German heritage.  My last name is German, so it is somewhere in my family tree as well.


Our journey started with a pre-extension in Prague, a post-cruise destination of my 2007 adventure.  I loved the city and couldn’t wait to share it with Bruce.

Upon our arrival from our red-eye flight from Atlanta, we immediately hit the streets to explore the old town, and St. Charles Bridge area.  Although it had been nine years since my previous visit, my memory served me well as I led Bruce through the cobblestone streets.  For a bit of a chuckle, we stopped on the hour to see the astronomical clock put on its little “show” for the tourists.  I’m not sure which was more fun—watching the clock or watching the crowd photograph the clock!







Prague has never suffered a major natural disaster or been the victim of an attack, so the architecture from hundreds of years ago remains intact.  If you enjoy seeing old architecture (and I mean, OLD; “New Town” buildings are from the 14th Century, and “Old Town” architecture dates back to the 13th Century!), this is the city for you!  Just be prepared for a neck ache from constantly looking up at the beautiful details on all the buildings!








The following day, we joined the others in our group for a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter, Old Town Square, and the St. Charles Bridge.  Prior to World War II, 120,000 Jews lived in the area; however, 80,000 were hauled off to concentration camps never to return alive.  The cemetery was so space challenged that bodies were buried 12 layers deep.  Today, there are only 2,000 Jews living in the Jewish Quarter of Prague.




Following our fascinating tour, we hiked up to the castle to enjoy views of the city and admire the architecture.  On the way back, we enjoyed casually meandering the streets on each side of the bridge along the river.







In lieu of lunch, we opted for a snack of “Trdelni’k,” a donut-like pastry shaped like a hollow coiled tube.  It was placed on end in a cup, filled with ice cream, and topped with Nutella.  It was the tastiest $4.50 treat we have ever shared!



Dinner in Prague was at a little restaurant along the cobblestone streets where they serve traditional fare—cuisine that is completely opposite of our normal healthy diet.  Bruce ordered duck which was served whole along with red cabbage and sauerkraut.  I opted for goulash served in a hollowed out small round of bread.  We also shared an appetizer of potato dumplings as well as a basket of bread served with pate.  Pilsner Urquell on tap was our beverage of choice for three reasons:  It is Czech Republic’s national beer, it has been voted the best pilsner in the world in major beer competitions, and it was less expensive than mineral water!  We enjoyed it all for a reasonable tab of $37.



Our next destination:  Bratislava…


I have completed my photos from my European river cruise and would love to share it with you!  Check out my photo-sharing website at: www.ExquisiteCards.fototime.com

Scroll down to the bottom of the “Welcome” page to view the last two albums.  If you would like to read the captions, click on the first photo of each album, to view a larger image.  Click through from there and enjoy! 

If you prefer to view it as a slide show, click on the album then select “Start Slideshow”, under “Tools”.

I hope you enjoy the show!





We have left France and Germany behind (sort of) and are now in Basel, Switzerland, for the last day aboard ship, before departing for our post-extension in Bern and Lucerne.  I say “sort of”, because Basel is in the northwest corner of the country, just across the river from France and next door to Germany.  Each day, 30,000 commuters come from France and Germany to work in Switzerland, then return to their countries in the evening.

Although Basel, the third largest city in Switzerland has a population of only 90,000, it is quite a cultural mecca, with 30 museums, a symphony, and a large theater.  It is also home to Switzerland’s oldest university.

In addition to being an important banking center, Basel is also known for its chemical and pharmaceutical industries, as well as publishing.

I found it interesting that Basel has three railway stations; one French, one German, and one Swiss!

What I wasn’t surprised about  and definitely expected was the high cost of EVERYTHING.  The Swiss Frey chocolate bars I bought at Migos, yesterday, in Germany, were actually cheaper than at the Migos, in Basel!  And, a Toblerone bar that was on sale for 5.49 Euros (regularly 10 Euros) at the German Migos was priced at anywhere from 16-19 Swiss Francs (CHF), in Basel.  Keep in mind that the exchange rate was 1 Euro = 1.20 Swiss Francs.

The small chocolatiers were outrageous, so I passed on making any purchases.  One chocolatier was charging 26 CHF for 250 grams of chocolates; about one half pound.  The exchange rate for U.S. $1 = .75 CHF, so do the math and those are some expensive chocolate!

How about paying 5.90 CHF for 100g of salmon?  100 grams is only 3oz.!

Rather than return to the boat for lunch, following our walking tour, Mom and I stayed in town to do more exploring, then took the shuttle back later in the afternoon.  But, we passed on dining at one of the cafes.  Instead, we split a bratwurst at the Market Square; a 6 CHF purchase.


After lunch, we continued our exploring of the downtown streets.  The following are pictures taken during our morning walking tour, as well as during our free time.


















Although we enjoyed our day (and it was a beautiful one at that), Basel doesn’t rate at the top of my list for favorites on this cruise.  The highlight, by far, was our day spent exploring the Alsace wine region’s quaint villages.  My next favorite would be Bernkastel-Kuse, in Germany.

Overall, this was a fabulous cruise and we were lucky to have mostly terrific weather.  The food was excellent on board and the service and friendliness of the staff was fabulous.  Where else would the Executive Chef pick up special chocolates for a passenger, just because we had a conversation about it and he knew I was crazy about chocolate?  I returned the favor by sharing my Bernkastel truffles with Chef and my mom, two nights ago, in a makeshift tasting session in the lounge, after he was finished with his dinner duties.  And, during our tasting, he couldn’t say enough good things about Vantage Travel, their management, and the staff; his “family”.  I agree! I will always choose Vantage Travel for my river cruises.  There were several people on board who have traveled with Grand Circle, Uniworld, and Viking, however, they all preferred Vantage Travel by a long shot.  And, in the end, it is less expensive.  Everything is included with Vantage, however, the others nickel and dime you to death, so we were told.  In the end, although the cruise was less expensive at booking time, by the time they were done, it had cost them more per day.

So, tonight, we spend our last night docked in Basel, and then depart for Bern in the morning.  We will spend one night in Bern, followed by two nights in Lucerne.  Originally, we were supposed to spend all three nights in Lucerne, however, there is a huge music festival, so none of the hotels were available for the 40 of us doing the post-extension.

I sure hope this gorgeous weather holds out!

European River Cruise Itinerary- One Week Until Departure!

After my last lengthy post, I thought I would give you a break with a shorter one!  I only have one week to go before my upcoming river cruise, so I will have to return to posting excerpts of my past travelogues at a later date.  Instead, I thought I would post the itinerary for my upcoming trip.

My third European river cruise with Vantage Travel (and my mom as my travel partner) begins with a three-night pre-cruise visit in Bruges and Ghent, Belgium. Next, we join the River Navigator, in Amsterdam, for a 16-day river cruise. Finally, we will wrap up our adventure (and photography/ chocolate buying trip) with a post-cruise visit to Basel, Bern, and Lucerne, Switzerland.

The following is our itinerary:                                                                                              August 20, 2011 – Fly to Belgium for pre-cruise extension                                            August 24 – Arrive Amsterdam / Embark ms River Navigator                                         August 25 – Amsterdam                                                                                                   August 26 – Cologne, Germany                                                                                      August 27 – Cologne and Cochem                                                                                August 28 – Piesport (Luxembourg)                                                                               August 29 – Piesport and Trier, Germany                                                                      August 30 – Trier and Berkastel                                                                                       August 31 – Rüdesheim                                                                                             September 01 – Rüdesheim and Mainz (for Heidelberg): Depart for Speyer in the evening September 02 – Speyer and Rastatt (for Baden-Baden): Depart for Strasbourg, France, in the evening                                                                                                                      September 03 – Strasbourg                                                                                    September 04 – Strasbourg and Breisach, Germany                                                        September 05 – Breisach (For Freiburg) and Basel,Switzerland                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         September 06 – Basel                                                                                                              September 07 – Basel/ Disembark ship / Begin 3-night Lucerne extension

I have been doing some research on our cruise stops and it sure looks like it is going to be a fascinating (and gorgeous) cruise!  If/when time permits, I will blog along the way, so stay tuned!

Meanwhile, If any of you have any chocolate recommendations for these countries, please let me know!  As I posted earlier, I collect wrappers and labels of chocolate from around the world.  And, I also savor each and every chocolate I purchase, so I seek out the best!  (See “CHOCOLATE!” for a complete list of what I have already collected.)