My wife and I recently took the Great Rivers of Europe cruise with Grand Circle. Grand Circle asked us to make comments on the website about our recent river cruise. At first I wasn’t going to bother because I had read other’s comments and they reflected ours. I started thinking about why we felt that our Grand Circle river cruise was by far the best cruise or trip we had ever been on. I think it first starts with the size of the ship. In relative terms the ship is very small in relation to an ocean going cruise ship. The small size of the ship did not mean small rooms or other common areas. It didn’t need to be big and couldn’t be big because we were on a river not the ocean. Land was always in sight. The small size meant very few passengers and crew. I think we had approximately 140 passengers and about 40 crew members. This number of passengers and crew resulted in our getting to know everyone on the ship by the time the cruise was over. Tables were not assigned in the dining room so we just sat at a table that had space or one we liked. Sitting at different tables allowed us to meet different passengers and crew members. We all wore our provided name tags so we didn’t have the embarrassment of forgetting someone’s name. By the end of the cruise we were like one big happy family.
Eating is one of the most important aspects of any cruise or tour. Most ocean cruises we have gone on always had good food and plenty of it. I must comment that the quality of food on ocean cruises has seemed too have gone down over the years in my opinion. Maybe it was just the ships we went on. Eating on Grand Circles’ River Concerto was much more, it was a dining experience. The presentation of the food was so well done that you hated to ruin the look by eating it. We were given a tour of the kitchen and I was amazed at how much work they did in such a small space. Wonderful organization and coordination. One thing that personally impressed me was the preparation of the fish. I have done my share of cooking and to be able to prepare fish for 100 or so people and not overcook or undercook the fish is amazing. The same was true of everything that was served. It was like they were making it for a table of 6. Portions were normal by European standards but with all of the different courses they were more than adequate and I am sure they would have given you more if you asked. No one went away hungry, if fact the opposite was usually true. Returning home and going to one of our typical restaurants was a letdown.
Assigned tour guides were a unique and outstanding aspect of our cruise. Generally, on other cruises or tours we would sign up for tours and when we arrived at a port or city we would be assigned a tour guide for the attraction or city we were going to see. With Grand Circle we had a dedicated tour guide from the moment we arrived on the ship. He/she went everywhere with us. They would be our guide in any of the cities that we stopped at each day but would also accompany us if we went on an optional tour. In some cases a specialized guide was provided but that but it was in addition to our tour guide. Our tour guide, a young man by the name of Thijmen Katt (pronounced Tymon), impressed me with his knowledge and enthusiasm about the history of the cities and buildings we toured. He seemed to genuinely want us to enjoy and learn. Walking is a big part of the tours and most did quite well. In some cases with a quite elderly couple and a few with minor disabilities it was difficult. Tymon always tried to include them without slowing the main group down. He would have them stop and rest while we went on and then come back and pick them up to continue on. They may not have seen everything but they were part of the group.