Black Sea to Rhine valley with Vantage

By Philip A. Shart
This item appears on page 24 of the May 2016 issue.

I took the “Grand European River Cruise – Black Sea to Rhine River Valley,” plus a pre-cruise option in Transylvania, with Vantage Deluxe World Travel (Boston, MA; 888/514-1845; I flew from Miami, Florida, to Bucharest, Romania, on Oct. 22, 2015, boarded the ship on Oct. 27 and returned from Frankfurt, Germany, to Miami on Nov. 21, the day the cruise ended.

I had reserved one of the River Splendor’s eight single cabins, and there was no single supplement. With early booking, a discount for having taken trips with Vantage previously and because I was taking back-to-back cruises (Bucharest-Budapest for 10 days/9 nights and Budapest-Frankfurt for 15 days/14 nights), my ticket price was reduced to $6,633. The company even provided free international airfare to and from Miami! Adding the optional five days in Transylvania, taxes and the cost of insurance, the total trip cost came to $9,173. 

The 176-passenger River Splendor is a very clean ship and caters to American tastes. Accommodations are all “outside” cabins and feature glass-enclosed showers. There is a small elevator on board plus a small but adequate gym and a massage room. A small library is off the lounge, where we could get tea and coffee. 

Meals were open seating, with meat, fish and vegetarian main courses. If we didn’t want a full meal, we could go to the Captain’s Club for the hot and cold buffets. Wine, beer or soda were free with evening meals. The food and service were perfect.

Social life centered around the lounge. Cocktail hour was 6 to 6:45 p.m., followed by a briefing as to what would happen the next day. Some nights, we had local entertainers perform prior to sailing.

Both the crew and staff were very friendly. There was a concierge as well as a cruise director. 

Our riverboat cruised up the Danube, across the Main-Danube Canal, down the Main and up the Rhine. We passed through more than 70 locks, sailed through the Wachau Valley and visited seven countries: Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia, Austria and Germany. Because of the Danube’s low water levels, we also spent time in Slovakia.

The weather was fantastic. Temperatures were usually in the low 50s, and we had only two days of light rain. 

One of the joys of travel is meeting new people. We had lunch with university students in Ruse, Bulgaria. That evening in Ruse, we were entertained by the Children’s Folk Dance Ensemble Theatre.

In Croatia we visited a school, where students performed songs and dances. Also in Croatia, we had lunch in people’s homes in Vukovar. The family our group visited had arranged for some neighbors to join us after lunch, one of whom brought a guitar. They sang songs and even performed a local dance.

Excursions were included in the fare. For the sake of those who had difficulty walking, some walking tours they offered were more leisurely, taking in the major sites at a slower pace.

Among the places we visited was the People’s Palace in Bucharest, Romania, with its sprawling, stunning architecture. Inside the palace — built by at least 20,000 workers — were high ceilings; huge carved doors made of oak, elm and cherry wood; gigantic crystal chandeliers; parquet marble floors, and handwoven rugs. Some rooms were bigger than a football field!

In Arbanasi, Bulgaria, it was thrilling to hear the Eastern Orthodox Choir perform. 

In Vienna, Austria, we were allowed to choose between the Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury) and Schönbrunn Palace. I chose to revisit the palace. On all of the tours, we each had headsets so we could always hear the guide.

Lectures enrich our lives. In Vienna we heard Professor Edward Kudlak (the concertmaster who worked with the Vienna State Opera, Haydn Orchestra and Vienna Baroque Ensemble) speak on “Vienna, City of Music.” Afterward, we attended a classical music concert at the Kursalon Wien.

In Germany we saw the Nürnberg Nazi Party Rally Grounds, where military demonstrations were held and where people amassed to be harangued by Hitler. All that remains are the concrete stands and platform.

Nearby we visited the Documentation Centre, housed in the unfinished Nazi Congress Hall. The displays were primarily photos and illustrations. Headphones were available and films ran continuously — a chilling display. The tour ended with a visit to the courtroom where Nazi officials were tried as war criminals.

The ship’s cruise director gave German-language lessons and delivered lectures. We also heard commentary from the bridge as we cruised the Iron Gates gorge, passed the huge, carved-rock face of the Dacian king Decebalus and sailed through the Main-Danube Canal. (It was strange being in a boat sailing OVER a major highway!)

Because of the low level of the Danube, the captain told us we would have to get past Budapest, Hungary, before the water level fell any further or we might have to return home. Therefore, we sailed past Kalocsa, Hungary, and Budapest and docked in Komárom, Slovakia, from where we were taken by bus, on two separate days, to Budapest and Esztergom, Hungary. We also bypassed Passau. 

To make up for these changes, the company changed the Rothenburg, Germany, visit from an optional, extra-cost excursion to a free tour. 

Several optional excursions had to be called off, in fact. I had prepaid for three of them. When I returned home, I found that the company had already credited my credit card account.

This was my fifth trip with Vantage. I believe you really get your money’s worth with them.


Tamarac, FL