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.)
The cabins were wonderfully appointed, and the bathrooms were actually larger than those on the older boats.
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.
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.
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!
Our cruise didn’t actually conclude in Cologne, but it was the last city we visited on our journey before cruising to Bonn for disembarkation. We had one last day in Germany, so like most of our “port” days, the morning was spent on a walking tour, and we enjoyed the afternoon on our own.
Cologne was different than many of the towns and cities we visited in that it (mostly) had a modern feel and look to it. Being that 90% of the city was destroyed during World War II, there wasn’t much left standing in Germany’s most-destroyed city. Cologne Cathedral did survive the bombing, though, and it is now the most-visited German landmark with an average of 20,000 visitors entering its doors each day!
Although construction of Cologne Cathedral began in 1248, work was halted in 1473 leaving it unfinished. Work restarted in the early 1800’s, and it was finally completed in 1880. As it stands now, it is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe and has the second-tallest spires.
The city of Cologne is so proud of those tall spires that building restrictions require other buildings in the city center to be shorter in height than those spires. As a result, the cathedral can be seen from all around the city.
Like all old cathedrals in Europe, it is constantly undergoing renovation; so, there is a permanent workshop on site and 65 full-time employees doing the work. I’m quite sure their jobs are very secure…
Speaking of “65,” the cathedral still has 65% of its original stained glass windows, and they are absolutely stunning when the sun shines through!
Beyond the cathedral, Cologne is a TV and media hub for Germany as well as an important cultural center. It is also home to one of the oldest and largest universities in Europe.
On a personal note, one of my favorite things about Cologne is the Lindt Chocolate Museum. When my mom and I visited Cologne on our 2011 river cruise, we spent a very rainy afternoon there, and it was fabulous! It was a gorgeous day during this visit, so Bruce and I opted for just a quick look in the café and gift shop.
The remainder of our afternoon was spent walking and taking in the sights.
We were a bit sad it was our last day of the cruise! Our day in Cologne ended with enjoying the sunset on deck and sharing a last evening with our new shipboard friends, Margaret and Bill.
My next and final cruise post will be about life aboard our ship, River Voyager. Stay tuned!
August 7, 1986; I remember it like yesterday. Thirty years ago, Bruce took me on our first date. We dined in Del Mar, California, at Bella Via and listened to the Bruce Cameron Jazz Ensemble. It was a perfect night.
Three years later, we bought a house (coincidentally!) down the street from Bruce and Betty Cameron, and we married three years after that.
It has been a wonderful thirty years!
What better way to celebrate our thirty years together than cruising the romantic Rhine River through the Middle Rhine Valley? Rolling hills of lush wine vineyards, fairy-tale castles, quaint towns—there isn’t anybody else in the world I would have rather shared it with than my amazing husband and best friend, Bruce.
After departing Rudesheim, we spent our afternoon on deck enjoying the beautiful scenery along the Rhine Gorge on our way to Cologne. Castles dating back to the year 1000 amazed us, and the twists and turns of the Rhine delighted us. It was a day to remember…
Shonburg Castle, located above the town of Oberwesel (known as the “City of Towers”), is a bit of a mix of architectural styles. Originally built in 1149, the castle was destroyed in 1689. Since 1885, it has been built bit by bit into its current condition. The newer section houses a famous hotel.
We completed our cruising journey for the day in Cologne where our ship tied up for the night and following day. Check back for my next post on Cologne!
What a charming wine-making town! It’s no wonder Rudesheim am Rhein is one of Germany’s most visited tourist attractions. Only the cathedral in Cologne (our next destination) draws more visitors from other countries.
Located on the Rhine Gorge, this quaint town of 10,000 residents is just too cute! The Old Town is so adorable, I just wanted to wrap my arms around and hug it.
My mom and I had visited Rudesheim on our 2011 European river cruise, and I remembered swooning; it was love at first sight.
Riding the cable car up to Niederwalddenkmal (Niederwald Monument) was a lovely way to take in the views before returning to ramble around the town. Built in 1870’s to 1880’s, it commemorates the Unification of Germany.
There is a lot more history to it than that, but you’ll have to Google it if you want to know more. I was too distracted by the beauty of the vineyards below to pay much attention to our excellent guide who went on, and on, and… well, T.M.I.
After returning by cable car to town, we enjoyed a leisurely ramble around. The River Voyager was tied up along the riverbank in town, so it was very convenient to maximize our time without worrying about not returning to the boat in time for our afternoon departure.
Coming up next: Rhine
“Modern” Heidelberg can trace its beginnings to the fifth century (according to Wikipedia). Is that “historic” enough for you?
Given the relative youth of the U.S.A., I am always amazed when I go to Europe and hear the age of the places I am exploring. Greece blew me away!
Heidelberg may not be as old as Greece, but it’s old enough!
Located in the Rhine-Neckar Metropolitan Region, Heidelberg is a city of approximately 149,000 residents and is very picturesque! We visited Heidelberg Castle, and the views down across the city and river were spectacular.
Check out the views from up here. Amazing!
Among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps, the castle (and its ruins) is THE landmark of Heidelberg. Originally built in the early 1200’s, that poor castle has had a miserable history of demolition. In 1537, a lightning bolt destroyed the upper castle. By 1650, the castle underwent an expansion, but it was later damaged by wars and fires. Then, in 1764, another lightning bolt caused a fire which destroyed some of the rebuilt sections. Misery.
Fortunately for us and the throngs of other tourists, there was plenty of intact structure to see while touring the exterior of the castle on foot.
There was so much to take in, and I was happy to be able to zoom in with my camera to see the details of the façade. (We were also happy the threatening clouds didn’t burst into a full-assault rain storm!)
Following the castle portion of our walking tour, we rode the Heidelberg Bergbahn (Funicular) down to Old Town, a beautiful city full of baroque-style architecture. Our tour continued, touching on the highlights, and ended at a restaurant where the River Voyager’s passengers enjoyed an organized lunch banquet.
Not wanting to lose out on time to explore the town on our own, we got down to business, ate, and left. After all, we figured we could always socialize with the other passengers back on the ship!
Our tour in historic Heidelberg concluded with a bus ride back to Frankfurt and the River Voyager, but our day was not done. After all, we still had fantastic Frankfurt to explore on foot!
Not wanting to lose time before sunset, we ate a quick dinner in the Cotton Club Café and headed back out. The following are scenes captured during our walk around town and the riverfront:
Coming up next: Rudesheim
Our day in Marktheidenfeld wasn’t rapturous in the way Rothenburg was, but it was mellow (no miles of walking today!) and enjoyable.
The passengers aboard River Voyager were split up into four groups, and it was a “surprise” as to which group we were assigned until we were on the bus for departure. One group went to visit a gentleman who was a pianist and collected antique pianos. They were treated to a demonstration and performance on the various pianos. Another group learned about paper-making at a paper factory. The third group toured Johannes Deppisch Winery where all of us were going to meet up for lunch (with wine or beer) after our tours. They were the ones that had all the fun! Our group drew the short stick—at least in my personal estimation. We got to visit a blacksmith and the Hammer Museum at Kurtz Ersa Corporation.
We visited the museum first, and actually, the tour was quite interesting. One of the family members of this 7th generation, family-owned company dating back to 1779 conducted an informative tour.
Initially, the company produced tools, household items, railway castings, and machinery for agriculture. Industrialization in the 19th century led to a decline in their business due to lack of demand for their products, so they had to adjust to remain relevant.
From 1971 forward, the company refocused and started producing machines for EPS (expanded polystyrene) processing. EPS is a thermoplastic, closed-cell, lightweight, rigid-foam plastic used in a variety of products, including coolers, bicycle helmets, and athletic footwear. Today, its foam material machinery has made the corporation a world market leader.
They’ve come a long way from the old blacksmith days! This is what their machinery can produce now:
After our museum tour, we went back to the year 1779 to see how the family produced tools seven generations ago. We were shown how the blacksmith makes a plow, and how the waterwheel generates the power for the equipment.
Following our tour, we enjoyed a short, scenic bus ride past the vineyards to visit Johannes at his winery. By the time we arrived for lunch, the group of passengers from the ship that had toured the winery were already hammered from a morning of wine tasting. From what I understand, heavy-handed Johannes had them “drinking” rather than “tasting.”
Johannes was a real character! He wore lederhosen with a bow tie—but, the bow tie was made of wood. He had a huge collection of wooden bow ties on display in the winery’s lobby, and some were for sale.
We enjoyed a delicious catered buffet of traditional German fare paired with as much Johannes Deppisch wine we wanted to drink. If wine wasn’t your thing, there was beer—and plenty of it.
As we dined, a band entertained us with traditional German music. Later, we they transitioned to performing American rock classics, and the River Voyager passengers kicked up their heels. What a scene. It was a P-A-R-T-Y!
If there ever was a good time to spend the extra money for an optional tour, Wurzburg was the place. As I have mentioned before, Vantage includes more tours in their river cruise price than other companies, and in Wurzburg, we could have taken an included tour that featured just Wurzburg. Rothenburg ob er Tauber (translation: “Red fortress above the Tauber”) sounded too good to pass up, though, so we opted instead to see the well-preserved medieval town of 12,000 residents.
Located in the middle of the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany, it is well known for its beautiful old town that dates back to the late Middle Ages.
Rothenburg is also noted for its university, alma mater to 13 Nobel Prize winners. In addition, production of fruity, dry white wine dates back 1,200 years. The hills surrounding the town are covered with vineyards, and it is very picturesque.
For yogurt fans, the Danon Activia plant is located in Rothenburg, and 70% of the sugar in Germany is produced in the area. Most of that sugar goes into producing Coca-Cola.
I was pleased to hear that clean energy is a priority in Rothenburg. Wind and solar power has replaced nuclear energy, and the locks produce the water power energy to round out their clean energy production.
When our bus arrived, all we could see across the street was a massive (very OLD!) stone wall. I couldn’t wait to see what awaited us on the other side. All it took was one look, and it was love at first sight! I had just laid eyes on the most beautiful medieval-period town I had ever seen.
As our guide led us around, I didn’t know which way to look first; it was all so incredibly gorgeous. Zooming in on the details of the architecture with camera made me appreciate it even more. I saw beauty my naked eye had missed. As I sit here right now editing my photos in between writing, my eyes light up all over again.
Rothenburg was easily THE highlight of our journey.
Selecting which pictures to include in this post is too difficult; I want to include them all. I no longer care if I need to purchase more space on WordPress; I’m not cutting any more corners. It’s worth it.
My friends, strap in, because I am about to unleash dozens upon dozens of scenes of Rothenberg, as seen behind the lens of my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40. I hope these inspire you to make the journey to the “Red fortress above the Tauber.”
More scenes from street level (looking up!):
After leaving Rothenburg, we returned to Wurzburg to tour Wurzburg Residenz (Prince Bishop’s Palace). Photography wasn’t permitted inside, so the following are exterior shots:
Back at the River Voyager in Wurzburg, these are scenes photographed from the top deck looking across the river:
An incredible day we will never forget!
Next up: Marktheidenfeld
Ahhh, another day of river cruising; a day relax while enjoying the sights of the Bavarian countryside as we meander the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, the most environmentally friendly canal in the world. Seven miles per hour is the maximum speed permitted for boats to prevent erosion.
Water quality on the canal is so good that fishing clubs have stocked the canal with fish! I sure would have enjoyed swimming in it…
The canal connects the Danube to the Main, and it crosses the European watershed. It is up hill from the Danube to the Main, so the stair-stepped locks are necessary for boat passage. At the summit, the canal elevation is 406 meters (1,332 feet)!
The locks are 45 feet wide, and riverboats vary between 35-40 feet wide, so that explains why the crew keeps busy re-painting the sides of the riverboats while passengers are off touring at the next city!
Although the canal was built to transport cargo, transporting passengers via riverboat has become all the rage—something that was never predicted! These days, forty-two percent of the boats on the canal are touring riverboats.
Transiting the canal is quite a bargain. Compared to the fee cruise ships must pay to transit the Panama Canal (typically $500,000!), the cost for the River Voyager to pass through the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal was only 184 euros. Not bad! The fee is per passenger, and transit is on a first come, first served basis.
In our case, we were traveling from the Danube to the Main. The Main River (pronounced “mine”) is the longest river lying entirely in Germany, and the scenery along the hills rising up from the riverbanks is breathtaking.
Having a day to reflect on our travels and anticipate Wurzburg (as well as Rothenberg for our optional tour) was wonderful! Although the weather during most of the day was cloudy and rainy at times, we thoroughly enjoyed kicking back in the lounge or out on deck when the weather cooperated.
Sea days—um, make that “river days”—are also a great time to enjoy the ship (or boat) and other passengers. (I haven’t yet mentioned much about life aboard the River Voyager, because it will be the subject of my final trip blog post; but, suffice it to say for now that it was fabulous.)
On this day, the pastry chef and her assistant worked extra hard preparing an afternoon “tea” for us all to enjoy. I didn’t see much tea being drunk, but there sure was an enthusiastic crowd around the dessert table! As if we didn’t get enough to eat aboard ship… Sheesh.
Count me in as one of the guilty ones having an extra dessert (or two) that day. Who could resist all that delicious chocolate?
Check back for my next post on our optional tour to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (from Wurzburg).
To be quite honest, just the mention of “Nuremberg” used to turn my stomach, given all the history I learned at Jewish religious school about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Actually, I used to have just as negative of a reaction to hearing the word “Germany.”
As time marched on, I grew up, the Berlin Wall fell, and Nazi Germany was further in the past, I became more open-minded about the place I had vowed never to visit.
It wasn’t until my first river cruise in 2002 when our program director, Tia, raved about Germany and said it was her favorite river cruise itinerary. I remembered thinking to myself, “Really?”
I ended up loving Germany so much when I visited on that very river cruise itinerary (in 2011), that I so eagerly wanted to return—even to see Nuremberg. After all, I have met so many wonderful Germans since then, and most of them are so terribly ashamed of that darkest period of their history. I also reminded myself I am an open-minded liberal Democrat who firmly believes in this current election cycle’s favorite DNC slogan, LOVE TRUMPS HATE. (I need to buy the t-shirt!) Why should I paint a wide brush of hate against all Germans and all of Germany when the vast majority of Germans are just as repulsed by the thought of Hitler and the Nazis as I am?
As it turned out, Nuremberg is a charming, beautiful, and delightful city to explore on foot, and we did just that. In addition to our excellent walking tour that begun outside the walls of the Castle of Nuremberg, Bruce and I hoofed it all around the old city, walking in and out of the cobblestone streets to explore the beautiful architecture. What a fabulous and memorable day!
An interesting bridge on our way to Nuremberg
Coming up next: Cruising the Main-Danube Canal and Main River.