The constant scenery, the ease of travel, the accessibility to cities are just a few of the things I love about river cruises. I have traveled in The Netherlands, Belgium, France and most recently, Germany, with Vantage Travel on Vantage river cruises and find them a wonderful way to see a country.
While I take mother-daughter trips with my daughter, Catherine, every year, it had been a few years since I’d traveled with my son, Christopher. He lives just a mile away from me, while my daughter lives in Houston so I see him much more frequently.
But we were overdue for another mother-son trip. He leapt at the chance to visit Germany, his first time in that country. And I was happy with how easy a trip on a riverboat is to arrange. That’s just one of the reasons I loved traveling with Vantage Travel. Here are several others.
See our video tour of our Heart of Germany tour and what it’s like on board MS River Splendor.
The logistics of travel are handled for you.
Like the smell of paperwhites, the texture of oatmeal and gory movies, I have an aversion to the logistics of travel. I would make the world’s worst travel agent. I am not efficient in my travel research. I start off looking for one hotel, say near Central Park in New York, and 27 hours later I’ve read all the reviews of nearby hotels but still haven’t booked one.
Unlike with some couples where one member happily takes over the logistics, my husband isn’t too big on them himself for our personal travel, probably because he handles so much for his business travel. And he has the same problem with reviews. One day he was going to order socks on Amazon. “There are 1,252 reviews of these socks,” he said. “There goes my morning.”
River cruises are perfect for our family because once you choose your journey, just about all of the logistics are taken care of.
After booking our trip, we could review everything we needed to know about our itinerary on My Portfolio on the website. Right before our journey we got a detailed email from our cruise director giving us the logistics we needed to know, such as meeting our guides at the airport, what to pack and use of our devices on board.
I’m not much of a winging it kind of traveler and like to know details in advance. So I appreciated knowing ahead of time how long it would take to get from the airport to the ship.
River cruises also save you a lot of time on logistics and transportation during your trip. As a fellow traveler said, “When we are on our own, we travel from hotel to hotel and are always on a time crunch. We have to check out of one on time, then can’t check into another until later in the day. It’s time consuming and can be stressful.”
River cruises stop in fabulous destinations.
One of the top reasons I love river cruises is the places you can stop and hop right off the ship. For our Heart of Germany tour, we flew to Frankfort, then took a bus to Mainz where we boarded MS River Splendor. Our ship made stops in Koblenz, Heidelberg, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg and Regensburg.
My favorite stop was in Wurzburg where we toured the Wurzburg Residence and gardens on a gloriously sunny day. Afterwards we wandered on our own, visiting the market, lining up to purchase a delicious German sausage, and spending many of our euros at a chocolate shop.
Hundreds of people roamed the streets of Wurzburg on this sunny Saturday in November, with dozens gathered with drinks in their hands on the Old Main Bridge.
In the afternoon we hopped on bicycles and took off by the river, going as far as time allowed before we had to be back on board.
We could just walk off the ship at a few of our stops and took short bus rides to others. Two days unexpectedly turned out to include longer bus rides – more on that below.
Almost everything is included in one price.
Did you hear about the German family that got home after a short cruise and their son had racked up $14,000 in roaming charges while watching videos on his phone?
No one wants huge unexpected charges after a relaxing vacation. One of the main reasons I find river cruising so relaxing is that you’ve already paid for just about everything. You don’t need to worry about how much a meal is costing or whether you want to spend money on another tour.
Our trip included all meals, wine and beer with dinner, tips for local guides, transportation to and from the airport, onboard lectures and baggage handling. Excursions are included as well, although there was an option for a few additional paid excursions. Airfare is also included on many cruises. Wifi is included and worked pretty well for most of our trip.
The only thing we had to pay for at the end of the cruise was gratuities for the staff.
The local guides were excellent on Vantage river cruises
Our guides were really good, knowledgeable and spoke excellent English. I especially enjoyed our guide in Nuremberg, where our sightseeing was a bit more somber as we were revisiting Germany’s World War II past.
I had wondered how the children in Germany are educated about the country’s Nazi past. “There is very intense education in Germany about it,” he told us. “Children visit a concentration camp and many come to Nuremberg. They learn about the Nazis in history class, but also in other classes. For example, in English class, they learn how the Nazis twisted language to serve their purposes and in art class, how they used art for propaganda.”
We visited the Documentation Center & Nazi Party Rally Grounds and saw several German army and navy cadets in uniform taking the tour. Our guide told us they have to learn about German’s Nazi history as part of their training.
The selection of food was good.
We were pretty pleased with the food on Vantage river cruises. Breakfast was always a buffet with an omelet station and a breakfast special of the day. One day it was a muffin with feta cheese, spinach, onion, rosemary.
You had to order lunch from a menu and I would prefer to have the option of a buffet at lunch as well as breakfast. There is a salad bar and a soup available every day, but most of the soups were super heavy on the cream so I avoided them.
I did love the soup that was served the day we were docked in Wurzburg. After a morning tour, we walked back to the ship for lunch where we enjoyed carrot ginger soup with a view of a castle perched high on a hill. That’s one of those moments you just delight in being exactly where you are.
Dinner entrees were good and always includes a vegetarian option like mushroom risotto and healthy choices like grilled chicken or salmon.
There are two options for red and for white wine available each night. You are usually only offered one selection but can ask for the other.
Our favorite dinner was a delicious quiche, French onion soup and rack of lamb. The dessert option was chocolate cake or ice cream on top of a slice of pineapple. On more than one occasion chocolate and pineapple were combined – an combination we found curious. A cheese tray was an option for dessert every night and I ordered that a few times.
A delightful High Tea was served one day. It included sweets, ham and cheese sandwiches, ice cream and a chocolate fountain with fruit.
There’s a gym on board.
While we did do a lot of walking on our excursions, sometimes it wasn’t enough to get my 10,000 steps in. Yes, I’m a Fitbit addict. Plus, unlike my son who has the metabolism of a marathoner and has never needed to restrict his calories, I have to watch my weight very carefully.
There’s a small gym on board with weights, treadmill, elliptical machine and bicycle. A sundeck on the roof offers additional walking opportunities, however the weather wasn’t great when it was open and then due to low bridges, it had to be closed for most of the journey.
There’s plenty of time to explore on your own with Vantage river cruises.
While you can always opt not to go on the guided tours, I enjoyed them and the opportunities to learn about the destination and places we visited. Although I had been to a few of our destinations just a few months prior, I knew I’d learn more and wanted to experience them with my son.
[See related story: Emerald Waterways: Stress-Free Way to See the World]
We generally had plenty of time to explore on our own after the guided tour. In Heidelberg we visited a Student Prison where from 1823 to 1914 students at Heidelberg University could be held for infractions such as late-night carousing. It didn’t seem too much of a hardship as they could still attend classes and passed time drawing murals and writing on the walls.
In search of more sausage, in Regensburg we visited the Old Sausage Kitchen, which claims to be one of the oldest restaurants in the world, serving customers since 1146.
It’s not due to their pleasant personalities. We got fussed at when standing in line, when ordering and when daring to venture into the wrong room. It’s the German equivalent of the soup Nazi restaurant in New York City. Proceed at your own risk.
It’s a great option for multi-generational travel.
“Not many people could spend eight days in a small cabin with their mother and get along,” my son said on the last day of our trip.
I thought about that and realized how right he was. We are blessed in that we’ve pretty much always gotten along. I remember minor irritations we’ve had with each other, but never an argument. I feel really fortunate in that respect. Of course, if we had a volatile relationship I wouldn’t have chosen to spend eight days in a small cabin with him. You have to choose your traveling companions carefully, right?
We were visiting Peter Island in the British Virgin Islands one time, and a staff member at the resort told us that sometimes a boat will come close to the shore, a person with luggage will get off and come to the front desk, begging for a place to stay because they couldn’t stand being on the boat any longer. Or else their companions threw them off. Hard to tell.
Anyway, if you do like traveling with your family, river cruising is a great option for multiple generations. You may not necessarily want to share a cabin, but you can travel together with no problems arising from what you’re going to do, where you’re going to eat or your next destination.
Unless the itinerary is geared towards the younger set, I wouldn’t recommend a river cruise for small children, but with adult children? Fantastic!
The most fabulous cruise director.
Renata Lovrovic was born to be in the hospitality business. She has a 100-watt smile, easygoing personality and is just genuinely warm. She really cares that the guests on board MS River Splendor are having a fantastic experience. Every time we saw her on board she had a huge smile on her face.
My favorite encounter with Renata was when we were touring the main street of Heidelberg on our own after a tour. We ran into her on the street and she insisted we get some hot chocolate in a local shop. While the woman helping us was a bit abrupt – “Do you want whipped cream?” “Maybe just a little.” “Yes or no!” she demanded. Renata never stopped smiling, insisting on paying for us and escorting us back to the bus as we slurped every sip of our incredibly rich custom-made cups of steaming hot chocolate.
Chris said the hostile hot chocolate lady and Renata were two highlights of the trip for him. (The other was seeing the world’s largest wine barrel at the Heidelberg Tun.)
On the last morning I woke up super early and relaxed in the lounge as we waited to disembark to make the long journey home. I looked outside the lounge and saw Renata checking on the luggage for departing busses, even though she was up late the night making other arrangements for disembarkation.
Unexpected problems were handled seamlessly.
Like with any trip, things can go wrong on a river cruise. Water levels may be too high or too low for the riverboats to cruise safely, an accident may even damage a lock. That happened this summer when a riverboat ran into a gate and rendered it unusable for a while.
Towards the end of our cruise the ship had engine problems and we had to stay an extra night in Bamberg rather than continue to Nuremberg, disrupting the schedule for the last few days of our trip.
I’m sure there was much scrambling behind the scenes and a huge big pile of logistics to arrange, but the staff kept smiling and informing us of the changes.
Rather than continue by boat, we would be boarding busses for Nuremberg and eat lunch there instead of back on the boat. For the next two days we spent more time on the busses than planned, but they were comfortable busses and the scenery was pretty.
A nice touch was the 20 euro they gave each of us to spend on lunch. The ever-delightful Renata passed through our bus passing out the bills, claiming, “I printed them last night.”
While it was disappointing we couldn’t sail to Regensburg, we still had a fabulous trip, thanks to the quick work on the part of the staff.
Vantage Travel gives back to the community.
While the generosity of Vantage Travel doesn’t change the quality of your cruise, it makes me feel better to patronize a company that places an emphasis on helping others.
In 2002 Vantage Travel started Vantage Cares to support communities around the globe and in its home state of Massachusetts. Then it started the Vantage Heroes Program to invite those affected by tragedy to help heal by inviting them and their loved ones on a free river cruise.
They have invited Gold Star military people, families of fallen firefighters and first responders to the Boston Marathon bombings.
We were on the cruise with the Vantage Heroes and loved seeing the families enjoy the sites and bond with each other during the week. This year they were families of police officers who had been killed or injured.
Vantage Heroes Program is an extension of Vantage Philanthropy, which has raised more than $7 million to benefit various charitable organizations since it began in 2002.
Vantage River Cruises has a lot of ways to save money.
River cruising can be pricey, but Vantage river cruises does what it can to reduce the cost for its guests. The website has a page devoted to Ways to Save. For example, free airfare on some cruises at some levels and an option to book in advance to get a discount. Singles can also get free or discounted single supplements.
– Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief, has written about river cruises extensively.