Wednesday, March 20, 2013

River Splendor, Arrival & Antwerp, Belgium

Antwerp skyline from River Splendor
There’s the river, but where’s our boat? We could be forgiven for our confusion after a long flight from New York to Brussels, Belgium and a coach transfer to Antwerp to board Vantage Deluxe World Travel’s brand-new River Splendor. Stepping off the bus we saw Captain Roger Spoor standing level with the dock—no, he wasn’t walking on water, he was on the top deck of River Splendor waiting to personally greet every passenger as they boarded. Despite the snow and cold wind—a rarity this time of year in Belgium—it was a warm welcome.

We later learned that Antwerp’s River Schelde rises and falls with the tide. By mid-afternoon River Splendor was completely visible from the shore and our starboard side 4th deck cabin with a French balcony had a splendid view of the city, including the Cathedral’s spire, rather than the side of the concrete dock that was our earlier “view.”

River Splendor—top deck level with
roadway ashore at low tide
No one likes air travel these days and we are no exception. Delays due to New York weather kept our flight from Atlanta to JFK on the ground for more than an hour and we barely made our connecting flight. Fortunately, we did and our suitcase was the first off the plane in Brussels—meaning it was probably the last one to make it to the plane. Despite a somewhat rocky start to our trip due to the airline, once we were in the hands of Vantage’s personnel we began to experience the care they provide their guests. During the four-night Grand Inaugural Sailing aboard the new River Splendor they literally took care of everything to make the voyage enjoyable.

A welcome light lunch was served buffet-style in the Compass Rose Restaurant and the afternoon activities included classical music in the Latitude 52° Lounge, followed by a welcome briefing hosted by Captain Roger and Hotel Manager Laci. Like other river vessels, River Splendor doesn’t have life boats, but during the safety briefing we were instructed on the use of life vests and how to proceed in case of an emergency. Afterwards, the Vantage Program Managers (our hosts onboard and ashore) gave a port talk before the Captain’s Welcome Diner in the restaurant—a delightful set menu with choice of entrée. The men at our table enjoyed the veal with risotto so much that they requested, and were served, a second portion!

For the Grand Inaugural Sailing we were entertained by Richie “Rich” & 24Karat Funk  in the Latitude 52° Lounge each evening; however, most voyages feature local entertainment brought on board and music provided by a DJ for dancing.

While we were able to catch a nap between lunch and the welcome briefing, we retired early in order to be well rested for the next day’s adventure—a walking tour of Antwerp that included the gorgeous Cathedral where four magnificent works by the Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens are displayed. Three of the masterpieces, including the famous triptych, The Decent From The Cross, were created especially for the Cathedral (pictured here). When the tour concluded there was time to explore the city independently and shop for necessities—such as Belgian chocolates.

Tours were conducted using audio headsets that enabled us to hear the interesting facts, customs, and stories recounted by our English-speaking guides. Even Mel, who tends to bring up the rear while taking photos, was able to follow the commentary with the headset... and not get lost.

Back on board River Splendor we were treated to a “Cultural Connection” lecture about Belgian chocolate and sampled fruit dipped in dark or milk chocolate as well as chocolate Easter eggs. Then we went ashore to attend the naming ceremony (see our story at Vantage Deluxe World Travel Christens ms River Splendor) before attending a celebratory dinner at the Grand Café Horta in Antwerp.

Follow along tomorrow for more of our voyage!

Photos ©

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