Amadeus Elegant (River-Ship) Review

Background

After taking many Ocean cruises, I decided it was time to try European river cruising.

This was my second European river cruise, both with Amadeus. My first was on the then relatively new ship. ‘Silver II’.

This time I picked ‘Amadeus Elegant’ a slightly older vessel, offering a Christmas cruise on the Danube.

There are now a multitude of river cruise lines, cruising Europe’s waterways. I chose ‘Amadeus River Cruises’, which was formed by the Austrian ‘Luftner’ family, 30 years ago. Why? Because they offer a five star product (well maybe 4.5), but their fares are lower than many of their rivals. Although it is worth noting that Amadeus do not include travel-packages, excursions and gratuities in their fares. Wine for diner is included and some deals also get wine with lunch and internet included.

Amadeus at the time of writing (Dec. 2016) has fourteen ships cruising in Europe, one on order (Amadeus Provence) and two of which cruise the Mekon and Myanmar (Burma).

This review will focus on the ship (or is it a boat?) and the on-board experience, drawing out the similarities and differences to ocean cruising. In addition I will look at the differences between ‘Elegant’ and ‘Silver II’.  I will NOT focus on the itinerary or the ports of call.

(My Silver II review features more information about Amadeus and river cruising in general and can be read as a pre-fix to this review).

Embarkation

This was a breeze.

Passau, Bavaria, Germany (two hours by train from Munich) was the starting and end point of the cruise. It is a sort of ‘Miami’ of river cruising, in the sense that I noted 14 berths for river boats but there may be more.

Passau is charming and is know as the “City of Three Rivers” because the Danube  is joined at Passau by the Inn from the south and the Ilz from the north.

 

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Passau, Bavaria (Source unknown)

Passengers tend to arrive for riverboats by various modes of transport, somewhat spread-out. (There were only a maximum of 150 passengers anyway).

The boat was in port over-night, so you effectively had from 16:00 and the rest of the evening to arrive, although dinner was at 19:00.

There is no cruise terminal, no queues and no x-ray machines. You just arrive at the gang way, a sailor takes your luggage and you proceed to reception. They check you passports and give you your cabin key. NO documentation was required, they have your names. Job done. You walk to your cabin (none a very far from reception) and meet up with your luggage. I estimate that it took five minutes.

The Ship Layout

I have enjoyed exploring many ocean ships in the past, including big, small old and new. However a major difference is that river boats are so very much smaller and have less public rooms and facilities. You can explore a river boat in five minutes.

Modern river boats tend to be of a similar length, height and breath.  They often have similar cabin and public room layouts. It is the décor and on-board experience which varies a little.

Amadeus Elegant  is a second-generation Amadeus ship, built in De Hoop shipyard, the Netherlands in 2010.

Elegant is 110 meters in length and 11.4 meters wide. She carries 150 passengers accommodated on three decks, plus a sun deck.

Amadeus Elegant (Courtsey Luftner)

Amadeus Elegant (Courtesy Luftner)

Large amounts of glass are used in her design.  All the public rooms largely have glass walls offering excellent vistas as you are rarely very far from two river banks.

A main staircase serves all of the three internal decks as well as a lift for those with mobility issues. (The lift is almost exclusively available for those with mobility issues, so it is never in high demand).

Elegant has three types of cabin, although these are given seven grades, depending on their location. There are normally no inside cabins on river cruise ships.

All the cabins are for two persons, some river boats river boats have a few singles, but few  have 3-4 berths. River cruise lines have not traditionally aimed their products at multi-generational families. Maybe that will change in the future?

The lowest deck (1), the Hydan deck has 12 cabins in the forward half, which are low in the hull, partially  below the waterline. They are 161 ft sq in size with a VERY small window located high up on the outside wall, above head height, which does not open. The window is right on the water line and provides light rather than a view. They are of course the cheapest grade of cabin on-board. However I would suggest a large panoramic window (or patio door) is essential on a scenic river cruise.

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(Deck plan courtesy of Luftner)

The Hydan deck also has a very small Gym, hair salon and a massage room. The rear half of the deck is divided-off form the passengers and contains crew cabins, crew lounge and the galley which sits below the restaurant above.

Deck 2, Strauss deck has 32 ‘standard’ cabins in its rear half.

decks

The cabins on this deck also measure 161 sq ft and have a large floor to ceiling window/patio door. (On Silver II the standard cabins are 188 sq ft.) 

Amadeus Elegant, Std. Cabin 161 sq ft.

Above: Elegant Std. Cabin 161 sq ft. (Courtesy Luftner).

The front half of this deck (Strauss) features the reception desk amidships, in a small atrium with a staircase to the deck below and up to the deck above.  A lift to all decks is located here.  In addition there is a very small shop selling a few gifts, postcards and toothpaste etc. Forward is the Restaurant with its many panoramic windows. This can seat all of the guests in one sitting (normally 7.00pm). It has a buffet station in the middle.

Silver II had a rear staircase which allowed passenger to ascend to the Mozart deck and the ‘Amadeus Club’, a small aft  lounge above. Elegant does not.

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Deck 3, Mozart deck, features 32 cabins, but two types.  First there are 8 suites which are 236 sq ft. (Silver II suites measure 284 sq ft.) The suites have space with an extra seating area and more window space, plus a bath. Behind the suites are 24 standard cabins which are the same as the ones on Deck 2 (Strauss).

Amadeus Elegant Suite, 236 sq ft (courtesy Luftner).

Amadeus Elegant Suite, 236 sq ft (Courtesy Luftner).

At the stern is the ‘Amadeus Club’, a 35 seats lounge.  This offers a nice view over the stern of the ship. It is not normally staffed and does not normally serve alcohol, but does have a complimentary 24 hour tea/coffee machine. The room also contains a small selection of books and some board games and jigsaws. Occasionally the room is  closed for private functions.

The Mozart deck features the large ‘Panorama Lounge’ forward, which once again has many floor to ceiling windows, contains the only bar on-board and a small dance floor. The musicians perform adjacent to the dance floor.

At the bow is the small open air ‘River Terrace’ with seating and is accessed from the Panorama lounge.

The sun deck features the booth which is the ‘Captain’s Bridge’. There are enough sun loungers for every passenger – how many ocean ships can claim that? There was also shuffleboard, a giant chess board and three holes of mini-golf. There is no plunge-pool.  Smoking is only permitted on the Sun Deck. Being a winter cruise the sun deck did not get much use.

The wi-fi is generally chargeable, but may be included in some passengers fares.  In the Receptionist’s own words “it could be unreliable and slow”.

Cabins 229, 231, 232, 234 at the stern of the Strauss deck are sold a little cheaper as they are nearest the engines. I had wrongly assumed that a river boat’s engines would not create so much noise and vibration as their ocean counterparts. However I am informed that there still can be some unpleasant noise pollution, especially in the rear two cabins port and starboard.

Everything on the sun deck including the navigational bridge can be retracted to pass under low bridges.

dsc_0204Demographics

The ship uses  both English and German languages and sometimes French, depending on the passenger mix.

I would estimate that the cruise passengers on my cruise were 60% German and 30% English speaking (UK, America, New Zealand and Australia etc). French and other languages made up the remaining 10%.

The vast majority of the passengers were probably in their 60’s and 70’s, but there were some in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. River cruises rarely attract families with children.

The crew were mainly from Eastern Europe (Hungry, Romania etc.), but some other countries were represented.

This international mix of passengers and crew worked very well.

It is worth noting that different extras are included in the cruise fare, depending with who you book with and if you pay the Euro or Sterling rate.  Some passengers were part of a larger group, I was an independent booking.

The Cabin

My wife and I were allocated cabin 228 on the Strauss deck, which is conveniently on the same level as the Reception and the restaurant.

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228 Strauss Deck

The cabin was a little disappointing. It was 161 square feet and not 188 sq foot as on the newer Silver II.  This made the cabin very compact, with the bed/s taking up much of the floor space. The gap between the end of the bed and the cupboards/wall was so tight that two people could NOT easily pass each other. This made the cabin feel congested. Two occupants had to effectively coordinate their movements or have a row.  Even opening the bathroom door would prevent the other person looking in the wardrobe.

The cabin had two single beds pushed together to form a double. This of course does not entirely work because of the gap in the middle. The linen, mattresses and pillows were all of very good quality, although the two single duvets were not quite wide enough to allow much body movement, without the air coming in at the sides.

The beds themselves were quite narrow – I’m not a big man, but larger framed passengers may find this a challenge.

The two small wardrobes were adequate for a one week trip. However if you were on a two week cruise and did not travel lightly, hanging-up all of your accommodating your clothing might be impossible. The safe was quite small so would probably not accommodate cameras and I-pads etc.

The bathroom was compact, but adequate.  However it was very plain in terms of décor (unlike Silver II) almost utilitarian, with no real design features. It was not unlike the bathrooms on-board older ocean ship.

The shower had a hose and good water pressure.  The cubical had a concertina glass door and not an annoying curtain. The shower products provided were ‘Rituals’ and were of a good quality and replaced daily if required. I really liked their  ‘Sweet Orange & Cider’ shower gel.

There was no mini-bar in this grade of cabin. Two bottles of still water were provided daily, but a  0.75 cl bottle of sparkling water was provided with a price label of €3.90. Given the cost of the holiday I thought that this was extremely mean. Shore-side I could buy 1 litre of water for €0.80.

There was no in cabin kettle, but nobodies cabin was far away from a 24 hour tea/coffee machine in the Amadeus Club lounge. No ‘room service’ (food or drink) was offered, but once again it was unnecessary.

The room had a patio door forming a Juliette balcony and two chairs and a small glass table were provided opposite. However the chairs were more likely to  accommodate my clothing items, than me.

The LCD TV had none of the interactive features that you now find on most ocean ships as standard. For example you could NOT use it to check your on-board account or to book excursions. However reception (for account information) and the Cruise Directors desk (for excursion booking) were not very far away from any cabin.

The only English speaking channels on the TV were CNN and BBC world news. There was a Bridge Camera channel. There were no movies in English.

Additional pillows were available on request. Bath robes were originally only available for guests in suites (how mean), but I believe they were now available for all cabin grades, if you requested them. (This was not actually documented anywhere).

The air-con/heating seemed to work O.K, but on older ships it is never as responsive as on-board newer ships.

A chocolate was occasionally put on your pillow of an evening during the turn-down. The nautical tradition of towel animal also appeared on occasions.

I could not hear the passengers on either side of the cabin until they flushed their toilets. There was  some faint engine hum in my cabin location, but nothing serious. No water movement was ever felt, river boats just ‘glide’ along, making river cruising is ideal for those who suffer from sea-sickness.

Dining Service

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The Panorama Restaurant

Most river cruise lines claim to offer five star dining and Amadeus really did.

With Amadeus, meal times are fixed and you sit at the same allocated table for the whole cruise. There is only one sitting, normally at 19:00, although this can vary a little around the ports of call.

All meals were served in the same restaurant, the Panorama, although hot snacks appeared in the Panorama lounge at 10.30pm each evening.

The dining room was attractive.  Even if you sat in the middle you could still see out of the many big panoramic windows, port and starboard. The tables were all a reasonable spaced apart. Most seated four people or more.

The official dress-code is smart-casual, but I saw some jeans and T-shirts on occasions. There are no ‘official’ formal nights for those who enjoy dressing-up, but during the ‘Gala’ dinner most passengers made an effort. Some formal style dresses appeared on a few occasions, some suits and one Tux!

The food was very consistent across all meals and all courses. It was very good at worst and excellent at best.  This categorically proves that it is not possible to server consistently excellent food in a restaurant catering to 1,000  passengers or more. Elegant only has to cater for 150 passengers.

There was only eight galley staff, working in a tiny galley and two of whom specialised in washing-up. The food was prepared in a galley below the restaurant and brought up a staircase in the centre. It was never luke-warm.

There were no queues to eat, no buffet ‘scrum’. It was all very civilised.

Unfortunately the service at my table was sub-standard which affected the dining experience a little. My young waiter had never worked aboard a ship before and had only been working as a waiter for three weeks.  Menus, knifes, forks and spoons were often missing from my table. Service was often slower at our table than others.

When he asked “What would you like to order Sir” on some days my reply was ” A menu”.

I appreciate that everybody has to learn their trade, but he was clearly not supervised very well. For example, my table set-up should have been checked by a senior person before I arrived for breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.

My waiter even disappeared one evening after starting the evening meal service. The rumour was that he had arrived drunk to dinner and was sent back to his cabin.

Nautical traditions such as the ‘Captains Cocktail Party’, ‘A Gala Dinner ‘and the ‘Baked Alaska Parade’ were carried out and enjoyed by all.

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Rocco Santopietro

Interestingly Amadeus has recently employed Rocco Santopietro as the Hotel Manager on-board Amadeus Elegant. He has extensive work experience in Europe, Far & Middle East and Caribbean managing iconic properties and city hotels.

I spoke to Rocco extensively and he plans to bring his considerable experience running five star hotels like the ‘Dorchester’ and the ‘Sandals’ resort to the river cruise industry.

Dining Times

Breakfast (normally 7.30-9.30) featured a very wide range of self-service buffet items. The fruit was fresh and the pastries and bread were freshly cooked. Eggs and omelets etc. were available from the menu and cooked to order.

Lunch (12.30-14.30) featured both buffet items and menu items. The soup and fresh salads were particularly good. (A light lunch alternative was provide daily in the Panorama-Bar.)

Afternoon Tea (16:00-17:00) coffee, tea and fresh pastries were served but I was generally too full to attend or exploring the ports.

Dinner (19.00-21.00) was a five course affair taking around 1.5 hour or more. Several Gala meals were served which were six courses. The salads were always very fresh, the soups tasty. There were some exotic meats on the menu such as wild boar and duck as well as beef, pork, lamb and various fish. Chicken was always available. An interesting vegetarian option was always on the menu. The sweets were excellent.

There were no traditional German options on the menu, but I suppose these do not fit in with the fine-dining ethos, but would have been fun for us non-Germans.  Americans beware: there was no Lobster Tail or Prime Rib.

Complimentary red or white wine was served with the meal. It was effectively unlimited for the duration of the meal.  The wines were from Germany, France and Chile. All were acceptable, with most being very good.

Other brands of wine and cocktails could be purchased. The draught beer was ‘Bitburger’.  Drink prices seem quite reasonable, even with a weak pound.

Christmas Dinner Menu (Click to Enlarge) Luftner

Christmas Dinner Menu – Click to Enlarge (Luftner).

Passenger communication could be improved a little: Luftner’s brochure has contained some small inaccuracies for a couple of years now. Complementary bicycle hire was promised for both my winter cruises, but in reality these are not offered in the winter for safety reasons. Complimentary hot-chocolate is also stated in the brochure but was not available on-board Elegant.

The ‘Daily Program’ is surprisingly spare when compared to the ocean cruise variety. Information about on-board procedures is located in an in-cabin folder, although the information was very general; as already stated different passengers (Sterling or Euro payments) had different ‘perks’ included in their fares.  These were not documented, so passengers should make  sure that you know what they are entitled to.

The cruise director has to deliver much of the information verbally. However being an intimate ship you do have plenty of opportunity top talk to the Cruise director personally.

A Daily Program - click to enlarge

A typical Program – click to enlarge (Luftner)

Entertainment/Cruise Director

Entertainment was the most disappointing aspect of my previous ‘Silver II’ cruise.

I did appreciate that river boats do not have the facilities to offer big production-shows like most Ocean ships do. However they could do so much better.

Now maybe I was better prepared in what to expect this time, although I genuinely think the standard of entertainment was better on-board ‘Elegant’ compared to my ‘Silver II’ cruise.

The cruise Director Christian Birner was brilliant and his assistant “Anna” was also very friendly and competent. Christian fluently made announcements and jokes in English, German and French.

Once again the main stay of the entertainment was a musical duo : a female singer (Erika ) and male keyboard player ( Christian).  They were genuinely very friendly and mainly played both English/American pop music, plus a little German and French. Their repertoire of five-hundred songs ranged from The Blue Danube (how appropriate for this cruise) to The Carpenters, The Stones (Satisfaction) and even to Gangnam Style! Much was performed on an electronic keyboard with programmed drums and accompaniment. However when Christian did occasionally play an afternoon solo piano set, it was clear that he doid not need all of the electronics to impress.

The duo played until 12.00pm each evening although less than 10% of passengers stayed up later than 10.00pm. On the final night of the cruise three of us (me, my wife and a zany New Zealander called ‘Cliff’) were dancing until the end, being the only passengers in the lounge.

The cruise director did an excellent PowerPoint lecture  (in two languages) giving us a virtual tour of the ships engine rooms, galley and bridge etc. He also hosted a tombolo completion which was fun. In addition the crew sang a few carols for Christmas and a guest classical quartet performed a set on another evening. All this provided a little more diversity in the entertainment program than I have experienced before on-board ‘Silver II’.

The brochure did mention cookery demonstrations, but these were not offered.

I am convinced that a broader entertainment program would attract passengers who are a little younger (or at least young at heart) and would encourage the passengers to stay up later and socialize/drink more.

How about movies on demand on TV. How about using the Amadeus Club as a Cinema, occasionally. Another musician should be standard on-board – how about a guitarist/singer. How about a dance demonstration – there is a small dance floor.

The Danube

Large parts of the Danube are very attractive with picture-postcard churches and the beautiful scenery of Germany and Austria. Other smaller sections are quite industrial and although interesting, are not so attractive.

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Some of the actual cruising took place over-night, so river views were sometimes limited. However this was a necessity to reach ports in the morning for a day-time explorations.

We passed through ten locks in 7 days, although some were at night. I was once woken in the middle of the night by a slight bump as the boat entered a lock. It was quite bizarre to look out the window and see the brick wall of the lock completely obscuring  the view.

It should be noted that river boats sometimes dock next to each other. Passengers may have to pass through one or two vessels to reach the shore. This is not a problem, but you could find your sea-view or port-view from your cabin, being blocked by another vessel while berthed. Remember not to undress with the curtains open, another cabin on another ship might be right opposite yours.

Ports of Call/Excursions

The beauty of river cruising is that the ship can normally dock right near the heart of the city/town.

Ocean cruise ship often arrive in each port early evening and depart at maybe 17:00 or 18:00. River cruising has a much less predictable pattern.

River cruises do not normally have ‘sea days’, every day has a port of call.

In fact given the closeness of towns/cities along most rivers, the boat will sometimes make two stops on some days allowing you to explore two different places . Ocean ships are not generally able to do this. River boats may arrive at a town at 18:00 and berth overnight.

On a river cruise you will find yourself visiting at least some lesser know towns that you have probably never heard of as well as the bigger/famous cities.

Berthing takes a matter of minutes. There are no tugs needed, the boats have bow thrusters so can move sideways very easily as then are not battling against the open sea.  Within ten minutes of docking you can be ashore – there is no long wait like on-board an Ocean ship.  There is never any tendering.

Most of the excursions offered were two hour city walking tours, priced at around €15-20 per person. Half and full day Full day excursions involving coach transfers were considerably more expensive at around €50-88. (Luftner do not include excursions within their fares.)

Headsets and receivers are supplied free of charge. These are excellent as  you can hear your tour guide even if you are not in ear shot. Unfortunately our guide, while on a Vienna city walk, forgot he had his switched on and went to a public toilet.

River Conditions

Unfortunately, the chances of a river boat itinerary being seriously affected by weather is considerably greater than you might experience on an ocean cruise. After all Captains of ocean ships can steer around storms and pick alternative ports, if necessary.

On some rivers, low water conditions can affect the usability of some berths and high water levels can affect the ships ability to pass under low bridges. In the worst case scenario, It has been know that a river ship has been totally  unable to move. In this scenario the boat is used as a floating-hotel and the passengers are bussed to every port of call.

However, if river conditions are good, and mine were, it’s a real pleasure to wake up alongside an attractive riverbank, with trees, rather than an industrial dock, as often used by ocean ships. It’s also a pleasure not to see a line of ten coaches waiting.

Fares and the Hard Sell

Let’s be honest – River cruises are rarely cheap and this fact had always concerned me. In fact they can easily cost more than twice the price of ‘standard’ ocean cruises. Remember, you are paying for an intimate experience and hopefully a high quality one.

However there are some deals to be had.

Extras such as drinks, excursions (and even flights) are often included in the fare by many river cruise lines, so this needs to be taken into account. Some lines even offer a door-to-door travel service from passengers homes. Obviously  all of these ‘perks’ do not really come “free”.

Amadeus fares are rather complex. They have fares in euros, dollars and sterling.  They also have several different web sites ‘Luftner Cruises’ and ‘Amadeus’.

I have noticed that the fares in Euros were a little cheaper (2016) than the sterling ones, but some additional perks (wine with lunch and internet) were included in the sterling fares.

Amadeus do not include travel-packages in their fares, excursions or gratuities.  In terms of grats. the rate of 5-7 Euros per person, per date is suggested, but not compulsory. Tips were not automatically added to the alcohol prices, as on-board many ocean ships.

Wine is included with the evening meal.

With Amadeus there is no hard-selling; in fact they did very little selling at all. I found this very refreshing. However due to the high fares that river cruising often commands, they already have the passenger’s money.

There was no photographer or casino. The on-board shopping on offer was very minimal.  Massage and hairdressing were available but not ‘pushed’ either.  The bar staff/drinks waiters generally waited for you to request a drink.

(Amadeus do not include tips in their fares. The rate of 5-7 Euros per person, per date is suggested, but not compulsory. Tips were not automatically added to the alcohol prices, as on-board many ocean ships. Excursions or flights are also not normally included.)

Disembarkation

This was as stress-free as the embarkation process was. You are asked to put your luggage outside your cabin and vacate it at 9.00am on the disembarkation day. (Not the evening before like on an ocean ships). There was no dedicated luggage room, the reception-foyer was used.

You can go to breakfast and you are invited to disembark by 9.30am. Reception will call you a taxi if required. There are no queues to get off, no cabins numbers/colours are called.

The cruise director actually carried my luggage to the cab. That would not happen on an ocean ship.

(If you have ever cruised on a mega-ocean-ship it can take half a day to disembark all of the passengers. You can spend hours sitting around waiting for your colour to be called.)

A busy Danube - Three Amadeus vessels (Click to enlarge)

A busy Danube – Three Amadeus vessels (Click to enlarge)

Advantages of River Cruising

  • Most river cruise ships hold no more than 200 passengers, often less; you get a more intimate experience.
  • The river ships are small compared to all ocean ships, so ideal for those with mobility problems. (Town’s with cobbled streets my prove more of a challenge).
  • Most cabins have a large panoramic window/balcony, so you get constant views of the passing scenery.
  • River ships normally berth in the heart of each town/city, so coach transport is not a necessity, you can just walk into town. (No tendering ever required)
  • Most river cruises are five stars so the standards of food and service are normally very good indeed.
  • Some river lines include alcoholic drinks, excursions in their fares even flights or coach travel to/from the boat.
  • On-board surcharges and the need to spend money on-board a river ship are minimal, compared to many ocean ships.
  • Seasickness is not normally an issue.
  • The dress code is smart-casual, so there is no need to pack a tux or ball gown, although some passengers did like to dress up a little for dinner.
  • River cruises are more scenic than many ocean cruises,  with constant views of two river banks, while underway.

In Conclusion, most aspect of my second river cruise were very enjoyable and of a high quality.

Only the restaurant service  at my particular table was sub-standard.

Being an older ship, the size of the standard cabin was a little too tight for comfort.

The ship was ‘Elegant’ and functional. The atmosphere was definitely more intimate and relaxing than on-board most ocean ships.

I particularly enjoyed the constant scenic views of the river while cruising and the convenience of berthing in the heart of the towns/cities. The food was very consistent and some of the best that I have experience on-board any ship, since Silver II.

Some of the things that are annoyances on-board ocean ships do not exist on-board  river ships. They do not have thousands of passengers, rock-walls, water slides, casinos, tendering and no hard sell.

I had expected very low key entertainment and a lack of variety of entertainment and activities, from my previous Amadeus cruise experience. However the quality and variety was better on-board Elegant.

I think anybody would enjoy a river cruise, apart from the young and those who need a high level of on-board activity.  Like ocean cruising, it does have a very addictive quality.

I’d recommend Luftner too. River cruising is rarely cheap, but Luftner’s cruises are certainly competitively priced when compared to many of their rivals.

Malcolm

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