Name: Brenda Lantieri
Trip: Morocco’s Imperial Cities & Saharan Sands
We just recently returned from this cruise and enjoyed it very much. We chose this cruise because we would be put up in hotels in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, rather than being bused in to the city every day from a remote river port.
Unfortunately, it was the rainiest September in Moscow recorded history! The only reason we went this late in the year was because we were to go on a Holy Land cruise afterwards, and this was the only date that would coincide. The rub was that the cruise was moved to the Black Sea due to unrest in Egypt and we cancelled it.
The traffic in both cities was horrendous! One day, as we were returning to our hotel, a lady in a maroon coat, was walking in the same direction as our bus, and she passed us three times!
We were put up at the Grand Marriott in Moscow and the Raddison in St. Petersburg. Both hotels were very comfortable, but their dining room prices ($25 for a hamburger) were ridiculous. Our Tour Managers distributed lists of nearby inexpensive restaurants in both cities to ease the pain. In St.Petersburg we ate 3 nights at the Soviet Cafe, right next to our hotel and enjoyed it thoroughly.
MOSCOW Our tour included a visit to Red Square and to Arbat Street, a shopping street. We were told that prices were better in the smaller cities. On our way to the ship, we visited the Kremlin, which included visiting 2 churches and the Armory.
The Armory was fantastic, with the displays of jewelry, Faberge eggs and royal coaches
We arrived at the ship, and were very happy with our junior suite. The dining room was unusual, as it was U shaped with the kitchen in the center. This way all the tables had windows, which was nice. As were were cruising, we had a number of lectures and activities. There were lectures on Russian history, warts and all (not propaganda), Russian language lessons, and a matrushka doll painting class.
We visited the church of Saint Dimitri, then went to a small museum for a men's choral concert. I purchased a CD of Russian folk songs they had made.
We visited a convent and saw a video on the making of their enamelware. The next day we were taken to the Governor's mansion where we had a concert of choral and chamber music. Following that there was a demonstration of formal dance, and at the end, 4 of our group were invited to dance.
This was a shocker! as we pulled into the dock, it started snowing! Not just a gentle snowfall, but blowing snow also. We got off to look through the shops, and bought a hat for my wife.
This island was a museum of wooden structures. Most impressive was a cathedral made totally of wood with no nails used!
This was basically a shopping stop. There was a huge building holding all manner of folk art and souvenirs. I bought a replica of a Faberge egg at a very reasonable price. There was also a lady taking people around in a horse cart, and we took it also. It was a nice way to see the island. The lady dropped us off at the hall where we had a barbecue lunch put on by the ship.
We were taken from the ship to our hotel, stopping at a convent under restoration, then to the iconic Church of the Spilled Blood.
Our next stop was at the Peter and Paul Fortress. It was fantastic to see the crypts of Peter the Great and a chapel dedicated to Czar Nicholas II and his family. That night we were taken to the Hermitage Theater to see the Swan Lake ballet, which we both enjoyed. During our stay in the city, we also visited the Hermitage, Catherine's Palace and Peterhof.
All in all, we enjoyed the trip in spite of the weather. We would recommend this Vantage cruise to anyone interested in visiting Russia.
The complete trip story and pictures are on our website www.stevekathytravels.com
Name: Steve Goch
City: Santa Paula
Trip: Imperial Russian Waterways: Moscow & St. Petersburg
Our Vantage experience began when our flight landed in Nice, and our group was met at the bus by Anna, who turned out to be our guide throughout our adventures from Monaco until Paris. After an interesting introduction to the other 160+ travelers, we travelled from Monaco through Nice to Tarascon where we joined our riverboat, Discovery II. The trip up the Rhone and the Saone and eventually to Paris via the TGV was exciting, illuminating, enjoyable, and delicious. Each stop on the way north was as interesting as the stop of the day before. Highlights included the Roman aqueduct, the Pont in Avignon, the wines at Chateau Neuf du Papes, vineyards along the way, local cheeses, more wines, a wonderful organ concert in a village church, and the friendly French citizens. Needless to say, our fellow adventurers also helped to make the trip fun and entertaining, and the guides provided through Vantage were outstanding--both informative and skilled. However, I must add that our "personal" guide, Anna, was superlative. She is knowledgeable, concerned, and caring. Many of our group were older and less capable than my wife and I (We walk with canes.), and Anna made certain at all times that we were able to make some of the more strenuous climbs, and then she attended to the travellers who needed more assistance. Of the four guides--provided by Vantage--who travelled with us for the duration of the trip, Anna was by far the most skilled and the most attentive. We were most happy that Anna was "ours." The riverboat was excellent, once we mastered the air conditioning in our stateroom. That dining room staff were outstanding, and they made each meal both delicious and fun. This was our second Vantage river adventure--we did Budapest to Amsterdam several years ago--and both trips were outstanding. Hopefully our next Vantage trip--wherever that one might be--will be at the same level of excellence.
Name: John and Loretta Lord
State: New Jersey
Trip: French Waterways: Highlights of Burgundy & Provence
A most pleasant journey led by a stimulating program manager. A very nice way to "see a lot" on a yacht that has all the comforts of a large cruise ship and yet much more intimacy. Food was splendid and served with perfection. Enough time was spent in each port for us to get a good picture of the sites and people. The ballet in Odessa was great.
(photos are at ballet in Odessa and in front of Potampkin Steps also in Odessa).
Name: Roger/Barbara Shatanof
City: Coral Gables
Highlights of this trip were our return to Sorrento, an enjoyable afternoon in Amalfi, a great boat ride along the coast of Capri, returning again to Taoramina and the amazing Aberobello! Really ejoyed the free time each day. Well balanced !
Hotels, except for Palermo were well located. Palermo hotel was superb but you couldn't really walk anywhere and the city was pretty dirty but the palace well worth the stop! Sorrento was excellent location but many of the group's rooms were so small you tripped going from one side of the bed to another.
Overall this was a great tour and the extension to Bari and Alberobello, where the hotel was newer and excellent is well worth it - BUT - only if your program manager is as creative and well connected as our Ned was. Not on the tour was a tour of Bari's old town which Ned arranged with a great lunch, as well as a visit to intriguing Monopoli, also not on the tour for some reason. Both were well worth it.
So, great trip, excellent Program manager, good hotels and locations. The Godfather excursion wasn't worth the day long trip to get there and back.
The best of the home visits was the farm outside Aberobello which was just outstanding. The best lunch ever!
Name: Michael Jones
City: Chula Vista
Trip: Sicily & the Amalfi Coast: Discover the Culture & Cuisine of Southern Italy
We thought we knew French wines. . . we thought we knew France pretty well, having lived there for five years. . . then we took this Vantage trip and learned so much more - all in comfort and luxury.
Meeting people was easy on the excursions, at the bar and in the dining room and when we wanted to be alone, that was easy also. Roomy showers and free wi-fi were unexpected additions to our comfort.
Did you know that Chateaneuf du Pape wines grow on stones? The ground is naturally covered with large pebbles brought by glaciers years ago. The vines must not be watered, and the roots go down 7 - 8 feet to seek water, absorbing trace minerals from the stones as they go that give amazing flavor to the wines. The strict rules of the appellation stipulate exactly when the grapes have to be harvested. No wonder the quality is so good and dependable year after year.
We had such good food and wines, so much fun, so much enjoyment that we are planning on taking a group of 20 friends on our next trip next year: Majestic Rivers of Europe.
Name: Susan Ryan
City: Old Greenwich
Trip: French Waterways: Highlights of Burgundy & Provence
We have made 18 trips with Vantage and while looking through my many photo albums I came upon our favorite trip of all times. It was titled In the Footsteps of Alexander and I do not believe it is offered anymore. It was an opportunity to visit countries that are not offered through too many travel agencies. Albania (especially the capital Titrana) was a wonderful learning experience and the visit to their city hall and town officials were very enlightening. The local students were so excited about sharing their lives with us. My mother was so excited about us traveling to Macedonia ... a part of the world she was so familiar with through her Bible. Ohrid lake vicinity was magnificent. We visited the ancient site of Pella which was the childhood land of Alexander the Great. We visited the tomb of Alexander's Father, Peter, which was one of the best preserved tombs in history. Then on to Bulgaria. We stayed at the beautiful ski resort of Bansko and traveled on to Plovdiv and Nessebar (World Heritage site).
The history in this part of the world was fascinating and the landscapes were magnificent.
We are sorry the trip is no longer offered because we would certainly revisit to see if there have been any significant changes since our visit in 2006.
Name: Jim & Bonnie Doherty
The Okavango River in Botswana is the most peculiar river in Africa. It doesn't’t end in an ocean, it runs dry in the Kalahari sands, forming on its way a myriad of waterways going in all directions.
The Delta, as we call it, is the most pristine and best-kept secret on the African continent. It is quiet, serene and the last Garden of Eden on earth.
There we go, in a mokoro (a dug-out canoe) through the reed beds and the white and purple water lilies. Close by we hear the grunting of the hippos ! Scaryyyyyy! But the poles men who wade our mokoro silently through the reeds, know what they are doing, they keep us safe. Tiny little reed frogs on the reed stems welcome us to their miraculous world.
Look, there on the island, there, there, a lonely bull elephant munching away on the branches of one of the few high trees in the delta. Lechwes, beautiful maroon antelopes who live close to water, are keeping the elephant company. As the mokoro is silent, we can come soooooooooo close. Talk about up close and personal!
We stop on a tiny island, not bigger than a termite hill, for a cup of coffee and some biscuits. Yes, the poles men take good care of us. After stretching our legs, we continue our safari.
All we hear is the sound of the reeds in the wind, the cry of the African Fish Eagle and the shouting of some baboon playing in the trees.
Completely relaxed and de-stressed, we arrive back at the lodge where the most scrumptious lunch awaits us. A few hours for a siesta and then we go again, this time by little motor boat for a sunset cruise.
Our dedicated guide is a master in avoiding the reeds coming into the propeller of the outboard motors. They know all the waterways as the back of their hand. Unbelievable, as to us, it seems an endless maze of canals, little islands and reeds. He takes us onto “Hippo Highway”, a corner where the hippos like to gather. The grunting welcomes us from far. They must feel the vibration of the outboards.
There they are, popping up one by one. You think it is only one, but then, all of a sudden, there are 2, 3, 4 up to 9 specimens. The bull has a harem of 7-9 females. Lucky man! He is in charge and shows us a mouth with teeth, the size of elephant tusks. We keep a safe distance and look at them and they look at us. When they see that we are no threat to them, they go about their business.
We stop on a little island for a sundown drink with snacks in the bush. The guide takes a table out and a tablecloth and serves us a drink in the best bar ever. Standing there, looking at the most exhilarating sunset, sipping white wine, we all fall silent. No need for words, everybody is still and contemplating.
Then, one of the guests, says all of a sudden : “The Delta is …… a feeling”.
Vantage Program Manager
Best of Africa: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia & Victoria Falls
We are in Brittany, France staying in the lovely town of Dinard. Today we visited Mont Saint-Michel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This island commune is built into a mountain and home to an abbey and monastery that sit at the top. It was very interesting to walk along the old walls of this ancient site. It is definitely a must-see for anyone traveling to Normandy and Brittany.
Name: Jackie Lewis
Trip: Treasures of France: A Grand River Journey from Normandy to Provence
Rating: 5 stars ★★★★★
Last February we made the long flight to Africa to join 18 other congenial people on this safari. Our guide was Keith Martyn, who not only was a terrific guide, but was just fun and enjoyment to be with. The highlight of our trip was the two mobile tent camps in the Okavango Delta and the Chobe National Park. We stayed in tents with wooden cots, portable toilets (ours, the spit water out the pump) and bucket showers on a pole, in uncut grass, no lights or water. Not for everyone admittedly. The inconvenience of it all was absolutely great. We were in the bush not some luxury lodge. The sounds of animals at night, the darkness that you really felt surrounded you, torches on poles, and a central camp fire. It just doesn't get any better if you want to be on a real safari.
One day we sat along the Chobe river and watched three different family groups of elephants crossing the river to an island and returning, playing in the water all the way. We felt privileged to just be there and be a part of their lives even though they did not acknowledge us. We saw a leopard for the first time not 15 feet from our vehicle. We stayed also in the Victoria Falls Hotel, a delightful dowager of a hotel, and a safari lodge much like a Best Western Motel. It was many animals and birds we saw on the game drives that delighted us to no end. The thunder of the Falls still lingers in our ears sometimes. The grin of Keith when something funny happened, or was about to. There is lots more that could be told, but this is just some comments, not a book. We have also been on safari in Kenya, and have returned both to our list of places to return to someday. If you have not been, just go.
Name: Harold & Mary Lewis
Trip: Best of Africa: South Africa, Botswana, Namibia & Victoria Falls
Rating: 5 ★★★★★