Vantage Deluxe World Travel caters to older and solo travelers similar to Grand Circle but with some newer, shinier ships (the two companies are actually owned by members of the same family but they are completely separate entities).
Aggressive Prices: Vantage is all about throwing out the 2-for-1 deals and free airfare to motivate bookings.
Lots of American Niceties: Expect North American power outlets, English-language news programs on television, and meals that are European in nature, adapted for the American palate. Yes, you can have a hamburger if you’d like to.
Gimmicky: The onslaught of 2-for-1 sales and free-airfare deals have a pushy and gimmicky feel and leave you wondering, What’s the catch? And once you sail with Vantage you can expect a never-ending supply of said deals.
Uneven Fleet: Each of the company’s five owned river cruise vessels are very different, and may not necessarily have the same amenities, or even look alike. River Venture, for instance, sports a bright-red hull and cream superstructure that is unlike anything else in the fleet.
Relatively High Gratuities: Vantage automatically adds gratuities to your onboard account, and the recommended amounts are higher than most of the company’s competitors: 17‚ per guest, per day for standard staterooms, and 20‚ per guest, per day, for those occupying top-of-the-line suites.
Founded in 1983, Vantage Deluxe World Travel started life as an organized tour company but quickly branched into both ocean and river cruising. Traditionally, the company catered solely to American guests but in 2016 began expanding to include travelers from Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as multi-generational families. Its fleet of seven river cruise ships includes five company-owned ships and two chartered ships, the latter of which operate on the Elbe and Douro rivers. The company’s newest vessel, River Voyager, introduced a successful new jazz theme and substantially upped the quality of the company’s river cruise product.
The price leader among most American-based river cruise lines operating in Europe, Vantage offers a decent river cruise at an affordable price. It’s definitely nothing crazy fancy but its newer ships especially shouldn’t be ruled out and present a great value for what you get they provide many of the amenities that have become common on the rivers, such as French balconies on the majority of staterooms, and Wi-Fi and bicycles on board.
Vantage relies almost entirely on a consumer database of several million potential travelers that it markets and sells its river cruises to. The company has an aggressive customer-referral program, offering customers a discount off their next trip if a referral books, and about two-thirds of its business comes from repeat clients. So if you haven’t heard of Vantage, it’s probably because you’re not in the system yet. But don’t worry, getting in the system is no problem (and there will be plenty of enticing deals and incentives to do so).
Because of the deals and incentives, a lot of people who sail with Vantage get hooked and become Vantage loyalists. Vantage is also big with solo travelers as it sets aside a handful of cabins on each vessels as dedicated single cabins with no single supplement, and has a cabin share program whereby it will pair up solo passengers willing to room with other solos.
Because Vantage was a tour operator first and foremost, it knows how to handle the logistic of group travel. It provides mostly inclusive river cruise packages (often bundled with appealing air deals, in fact some of its river cruise pricing is only offered as such if air is purchased together with the cruise) comprised of most meals, excursions and transfers.
While the core Vantage river cruise experience is fairly consistent, major differences in the company’s river cruise fleet makes for a somewhat inconsistent onboard experience. Guests sailing aboard the line’s newest ships (River Voyager, 2016; River Splendor, 2013) will find more modern decor and better fit-and-finish than some of the company’s other vessels, which can vary wildly in terms of accommodations, size and amenities. Still, the overall experience is a positive one, with friendly service, good (if not adventurous) cuisine, and well-designed programs ashore.
The typical Vantage passenger used to solely consist of American retirees that had previously travelled with the line, but that’s changing. Expect to see a healthy mix of American, Canadian, and UK guests, along with multi-generational families during the summer months. Vantage also gets a lot of solo travelers, as it’s one of the few lines that specifically caters to that demographic.
Vantage currently operates European river cruises that sail the Danube, Rhine and Main rivers in Europe, along with the Rhone and Saone rivers in France. Vantage charters two ships that sail Portugal’s Douro River, and the Elbe River from Berlin.
Vantage makes sure to have safe options on its menus, items that are familiar and perhaps not too exotic, something its customers appreciate. It does offer local specialties as well, but always alongside food that we would know or can get in the U.S. too (such as dinner salads and hamburgers, for instance).
Meals are served in the main dining room, where both breakfast and lunch are served as a buffet
The lunch buffet will always have a salad bar. The dinner menu typically includes an appetizer, soup and/or salad, choice of entree and choice of dessert. Don’t expect a ton of variety, and food is adequate but nothing overly memorable. Wine is included with dinner.
Vantage offers a wide range of onboard and on-shore programs intended to inform cruisers (in an insightful fashion) about the destinations its ships sail through. There are often themed talks and lessons on board, which could be an art history lecture during a Seine sailing (an itinerary that includes visits to Monet’s studio and the Giverny Museum of Impressionism during a port call in Giverny) or a Portuguese language lesson on a Douro river cruise. Vantage also offers local craft-making workshops (you know you have always wanted to try your hand at making your very own santon doll, the terracotta figurines that are popular in Provence). Most Vantage ships come equipped with a fleet of onboard bicycles for self-guided cycling around the many pathways of Europe.
Kids 8 to 18 can cruise for free when their traveling companions reserve a category B or higher stateroom (subject to availability), but only on Family Cruise sailings (which is also the only time the younger set is welcomed aboard). All of its Family Cruise sailings take place either during the summer or winter holidays and include kid-friendly activities such as arts and crafts and local school visits, and kids will receive a complimentary travel journal. These sailings also feature kid-friendly menus.
Onboard entertainment, if any, is typically limited to a piano act in the main lounge. Special sailings sometimes feature an onboard jazz band; check the Vantage website for themed sailings.
Vantage has a 4:1 ratio of crew to passengers. The industry average is probably around 3.5 passengers for each crew member, with higher end lines getting closer to 3 passengers per crew member and even 2.5 passengers to crew member (on some of the Asia river cruises it can get close to 1:1). So know that a company like Vantage isn’t really about coddling its customers. And when you’re paying these kinds of prices, you really shouldn’t expect it. You should expect a very friendly staff that is busy making sure food is being served on time, itineraries are running smoothly and cabins are being refreshed. And for some people, that’s really all that matters (butlers schmutlers). Gratuities are not included and Vantage provides passengers with a nine-to-11 euros per person per day guideline for tipping on its river cruises, which includes all of the onboard ship staff, save for the cruise director and concierge. The recommended gratuity for him/her is between three and six euros per person, per day. Five euros per person, per day is automatically applied to passengers’ onboard account, but it is optional and guests can adjust the amount. All gratuities can be charged to your onboard account if you so choose. The company also recommends one to two euros per person, per day, for local guides and drivers.
The Vantage fleet consists of five company-owned ships that include River Voyager (2016); River Splendor (2013); River Venture (2013); River Discovery II (2012); River Navigator (2002); as well as two chartered ships: Douro Spirit (2011) and Frederic Chopin (2002).