... and the price was right
"I would like to invite you and a guest to be our guests on the inaugural cruise of MS River Odyssey, leaving Amsterdam on the 24th, all expenses paid."
This was the message on the answering machine - I couldn't believe what I was hearing, but, after playing it about six times, I believed. As a past traveller with Vantage Deluxe World Travel, I (and others) were invited to take a cruise on the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim and Emmerich, Germany and return to Amsterdam.
My friend, Margie, and I left Logan Airport on Wednesday, March 20th, arriving at Heathrow, London to transfer to Amsterdam. We would cruise and tour for four days, and return home on Monday, March 25th.
I told everyone it was a shake-down cruise, they wanted to know if the plumbing worked, if there were any leaks, or anything that needed to be fixed. Believe me -- I was wrong. It turned out to be a promotional tour with tourist agents, hotel people, etc., everyone involved in tourism. There were several people being trained to be Program Managers for the European Tours and, of course, about 30-40 past travellers. Beautiful accommodations, wonderful food - a truly luxurious cruise.
As it was the inaugural cruise we gathered alongside the 410 foot vessel for the Christening. As we all raised our glasses of champagne, Mrs. Henry Lewis, the wife of the Vantage president, swung the bottle of champagne, which was attached to a line, and the River Odyssey was officially launched. Unfortunately for me, someone said to look out for a car, I did and missed the whole thing, but the champagne was good.
We left Amsterdam the next morning and, during a meeting for Past Travellers (there is no such thing as a free lunch--we were asked to attend three meetings so that they could get our opinions) held in the restaurant, we were aware that the vessel was doing a u-turn (all 410 feet of it) in the middle of the Rhine River. It seems that heavy rains, along with melting snow in Switzerland and Germany, had caused the river to rise over six feet, and while we might get down to Cologne we might have trouble getting back under some of the bridges. So, as they explained to us, we now go to "plan B".
We cruised into the small shipbuilding town of Lobith where the vessel had been built. Some of us walked through the town and some took a tour of the shipbuilding facilities, and that afternoon we walked through the town of Nijmegan.
They had planned a performance with the Cologne Shanty Choir the evening we were in Cologne, but, seeing that we never made it, they had the choir of about 30 men, bussed to us. They were a group of retired navy or seamen who sang sea shanties, some like "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" were in English, but most, of course, were in German. They were very entertaining and funny as they acted out the songs while singing.
The next day three busloads descended on Delft, a pretty, old town, where we toured around and did some shopping. Then off to the Delft factory and showrooms where they demonstrated the process of making Delft pottery.
Back on the busses, we rode around The Hague and then to Scheveningen on the North Sea where we were treated to dinner in the Kurzaal, in the Kurhaus Hotel - a 5-star hotel overlooking the sea.
The impressive room is described as "majestic" and so it is. There were many people in evening gowns and/or beautifully dressed, and then this motley crew arrived. How, on a Saturday evening, they were able to get reservations in this glorious restaurant for about 100 people is beyond me, but it was a fantastic experience.
Although we did not have a choice of entree, the food was excellent, but the dessert bar, which ran the full length of the middle of the restaurant, was fabulous.
We cruised back to Amsterdam Saturday night and as Sunday was Palm Sunday, several of us went to Mass in the Cathedral, which was, of course, in Dutch and they sang the Passion. We almost missed lunch before we started off for the Rijkmuseum and its famous paintings where we spent the afternoon.
Margaret Crowson, Kay McCarte, Vantage V.P, Richard Genovese and another Past Traveler Couple enjoyed our Farewell Dinner at the Captain's Table.
Very early (5:00 a.m.) Monday morning, we were off to the airport, back to Heathrow, and then back to Logan.
It had been a whirlwind tour, Plan B worked for us -- and the price was right.
Thank you VantageTravel.
August 2, 2002