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Cruise Directors & Adventure Leaders

Vantage's Cruise Directors and Adventure Leaders are friendly, knowledgeable professionals who journey with you, providing expert service and local insight along the way. Always English-speaking and typically native-born or long-time residents of the area you're traveling, our Cruise Directors and Adventure Leaders will provide that authentic dimension only available from traveling with a true insider.

Vantage Cruise Directors sail with you on Vantage river and small ship cruises, providing briefings about upcoming ports, coordinating social and cultural activities, answering questions, and generally making sure that your experience is the best it can be. They also coordinate with the expert local guides who lead sightseeing tours and shore excursions.

Vantage Adventure Leaders are with you every step of the way on adventures by land — leading sightseeing tours, sharing insights, and removing the barriers that exist between resident and visitor. You can count on your Adventure Leader to smooth the way, take care of the details, and turn your Vantage journey into an unforgettable experience.

Complimentary Deluxe Concierge Service. Vantage is proud to offer the most complete Concierge service in the industry, available on all journeys. As soon as you make your reservation, you can make a request for expert advice and assistance on everything from additional sightseeing to on-shore restaurant reservations, spa appointments, event tickets, and more. Once you're onboard, you just stop by the Concierge desk! To contact our worldwide Concierge service, log into MyPortfolio, email, or call 1-888-982-6824.

Erna Hoek, European River Cruises

Originally from the Netherlands, Erna originally studied journalism, but began a professional career as a tour guide in the U.S. after backpacking through the country on a six-month journey. Erna believes that the key to her success as a Program Manager is her firsthand knowledge of both American and European cultures. "I can draw many comparisons between the two," she says. "Although in many ways our ways of life may seem the same, there are huge and very interesting differences to learn about." Erna loves to travel and is an avid reader.

"Erna was very articulate, knowledgeable and pleasant. She was accessible plus ready to answer all questions, and provided a great cultural experience because she has lived in the U.S. and the Netherlands."

George Bihoi, European River Cruises

Born in Romania, George attended to a bilingual high school where French was the second language. As a result, he is both fluent in the language and quite knowledgeable about French history and culture. Then, living in Paris during his university years, he fell in love with the city’s vibrancy, history, and culture — all of which he enjoys introducing to Vantage travelers. Over the years, George has also taken more than 50 trips to the south of France, during which he also discovered the wonders of French cuisine. And, while his favorite meal is coq au vin served with a nice Beaujolais, he’s especially fond of some of France’s nearly 250 varieties of cheese. “Alongside wine and bread, cheese is the country’s culinary holy trinity,” says George. “I’m more than pleased to share this with travelers as we cruise along the Saône and Rhône rivers." Vantage travelers often compliment George Bihoi’s “wonderful bedside manner,” which is no surprise, since he happens to have a Master’s degree in Health Care and Human Resources. Beyond his love and knowledge of all things French, perhaps George's best qualification to lead you along the French Waterways is his strong desire to give travelers the opportunity to discover new worlds.

Manuela Cunha, Portugal River Cruises

Manuela, who is from Portugal, has served as an international tour guide since she was 19 years old. Speaking six languages, Manuela holds a degree in German Literature and Culture and holds certificates in travel guidance and interpretation. Leading tours in her home country, South America, and Europe, Manuela advises her groups to fully enjoy and appreciate the food specialties of the countries they are visiting. When not leading tours, Manuela enjoys spending time with her family, hiking in the mountains, and sun-bathing at her island home.

Vilim Bugarin, Adriatic Escorted Tours

Vilim Bugarin has a unique connection to America’s heartland: he graduated from Derby High School in Kansas. Despite a travel resume that includes Tunisia, Sri Lanka, and Germany, he prefers sticking close to his home country of Croatia, where he can sail and snorkel the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea. Knowing the region so well, he can take Vantage travelers off the beaten path to browse colorful local markets, visit schools, and even help harvest Croatia’s bountiful olives, grapes, and tomatoes if they so desire. “My goal,” he says, “is to create a happy, relaxed, and friendly atmosphere for my travelers … with a nice blend of local history, culture, food, and yes … good local wine!”

Fredrik Kase, Norwegian Small Ship Cruises

A world traveler with nearly 40 years experience as a professional tour guide, Fredrik has led tours from Norway to Antarctica, and even visited 46 of the 50 Unites States. His past vocations are quite varied; he is a former school teacher and Norwegian Intelligence officer. When not leading tours Fredrik enjoys hiking, skiing, and continuing his own worldwide travels. What's the one souvenir Fredrik recommends travelers purchase before they leave Norway? "A real Norwegian troll to remember me by."

Karin Jans, Norwegian Small Ship Cruises

Karin is a lifelong learner, interested in music, art, Scandinavian architecture, and the Italian language. Though she has traveled extensively in the Far East, South America, the United States, and Europe, Karin – a self-described people-person – loves passing along her knowledge of Scandinavia. Educated in Sweden, Karin graduated from the Teacher's college in Malmö and completed training with Scandinavian Airlines to be a flight attendant. She became a licensed tour guide after graduating from Roskilde University in Denmark.  

"Karin was professional, personable and very well informed. She went above and beyond her duties to us and we all agree that she is a gem – we would come back just to see her again."

Jacqui Goodwin, African Safaris

Jacqui came to her knowledge of Africa’s wildlife from a different perspective than most — she earned a PhD in molecular biotechnology, focusing on the marine life in African waters. During her career in science, she was involved in genetic studies of dolphins off the coast of Southern Africa and assessed coastal conservation for the Kenya Wildlife Service. She even served as an expert witness on DNA for the courts. Then, in 2000, she says, “I fell into tourism and haven’t looked back!” Jacqui plays no favorites, bringing her natural enthusiasm and love of Africa to every aspect of the tours she leads, from the elephant herds of Chobe National Park and the rainbows that hover over Victoria Falls to the natural beauty of Table Mountain and the Cape region. In fact, she even earned a wine tasting certificate, the better to speak to the fruits of South Africa’s wineries.

Hoti Fortunas, African Safaris

A native of Kenya and Tanzania, Hoti greatly enjoyed growing up in these peaceful countries, where he took advantage of the opportunity to earn a Bachelor’s degree in philosophy. A former secondary school teacher, Hoti has spent many years both traveling abroad and leading tours in his native region. When speaking of the beauty of his homelands, he advises his travelers to "bring enough memory cards for their digital cameras, since you can never have too many! 

"Hoti was amazing – very knowledgeable and willing to share his culture and country in a very personal, down to earth style. His every day was spent making sure all of us were happy, comfortable, and satisfied. His warm personality and humor were infectious."

Enrique Virto

"Traveling for me is like breathing." So says Vantage Adventure Leader Enrique Virto, who was born in Cuzco, Peru, and has led travelers to 30 different countries on five continents. Enrique studied Peruvian history in Cuzco, Philosophy and Psychology in Paris, and ultimately received a degree with licensure in tourism. As an avid outdoorsman, Enrique says his favorite places are those where he can introduce travelers to natural wonders and variable terrain, among them Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, and Lake Titicaca. When asked what his travelers should take back with them, Enrique answers "the tastes of typical food, the sounds of local music, the spirit of our celebrations, the colors of our textiles, the moments of interaction with local people. These are the souvenirs that last forever."

Jue Zhang, China Small Ship Cruises

Jue has traveled around the world -- from France to Florida and Monaco to Malaysia – but there is no place like home for her. “China is my favorite place to take travelers,” she says. “I enjoy not only showing the famous sights of my country, but also introducing the people here and showing travelers the ‘real’ China – the one not many outsiders get to see.”

An avid swimmer and biker, Jue is a graduate of Shanghai Institute of Tourism and has been working in the travel industry since 1983. This experience is just a part of what makes her so endearing to travelers. “Jue was fantastic with being organized, knowledgeable, warm, sincere and extremely efficient,” says five-time Vantage traveler Barbara Levy. “Everything was perfectly timed and ran smoothly.”

Kelly Wei, China Small Ship Cruises

Kelly, who leads our popular tours to China and the Yangtze River, gets extremely high marks from Vantage travelers for her cheerful, easygoing personality and for her extensive knowledge of the history, culture, and local customs of all regions in China. When she's not leading tours, Kelly enjoys mountain climbing. 

"Kelly was well organized. She watched after everyone’s physical comfort and safety. She made herself very available to everyone and was attentive to their personal needs. She had very good communication skills, kept us on time, has a good personality, and is very responsible and mature."

Yan Zhang, China Small Ship Cruises

Yan has trained in opera singing and cooking, but her true passion is travel. She’s been all over the world, but she does have a favorite destination. “I have traveled to the USA more than 10 times, and most times stay with American families,” she says. “I like to visit to learn more about the culture there. It also helps me to learn about what Americans are interested in seeing when they travel to China.”

Yan’s 20 years of experience in the travel industry helps as well, and it’s one of the reasons Vantage travelers are so impressed with her. She has stayed in touch with many of them, including one with whom she has collaborated on a book translation. “We are already planning on cooperating on another book,” Yan says.

Phan Minh Hai, Asia Small Ship Cruises

Born and raised near Hanoi, Hai is the perfect “insider” Adventure Leader, ever ready with a quick lesson on Vietnamese etiquette (pass things with both hands and never cross your arms), pointers on specialty (and sometimes weird!) food for the adventurous, and tips about little-known museums and local markets. He’s always thinking up new ways to introduce his “American guests” to the real Vietnam — such as arranging an impromptu meeting with a high school English class eager to converse — and even after nearly 20 years of being a tour guide, still looks forward to every Vantage cruise like it’s his first trip. 

“I do not stick to routines, but always brainstorm new things for my groups to hear, see, taste, feel . . . and have fun!”

Soe Hlaing Tun, Asia Small Ship

Soe Hlaing Tun (the U stands for Mr. in Myanmar) hopes visitors to his newly "unlocked" country will not only learn more about its history, ethnic groups, natural resources, and religions, but perhaps also, by example, learn how to be self-content. "I like this job very much," he says, "because it allows me to present my wonderful country internationally, and tourism brings direct support to our people."

This may sound high-minded, but Robin — the nickname his mother gave him as he grew up in a British colonial hill station (Maymyo) near Mandalay — is not without a sense of humor about Myanmar's "unspoiled" culture, which is one reason he is so popular with his beloved passengers. His favorite story is about a bus journey he planned as a student. "I left quite early in the morning for the bus terminal, but when I got there the tickets were sold out. I asked the ticket seller whether I should come back another day, but he assured me he could get me an upper class seat on the bus. Finally the bus arrived, packed with passengers and even goats, while I sat on a bench waiting for my upper class seat. The ticket seller suddenly came out waving his arms and pointing at the bus roof. 'This is our upper class, with air-conditioning and a great view!' he said. 'We also have sitting, standing, and hanging classes, but you've got the best. Now get on!' So if you get offered upper class in Myanmar," says Robin, "think twice!"

Ajay Paliwal, Asia Small Ship

Ajay has been to just about every important destination in India, from Mumbai to Varanasi. When he is not working, he loves to go to the mountains to be surrounded by that most essential aspect of India – the land and the natural world. Which is not to say this handsome, quiet man is aloof – far from it. An avid newspaper reader, Ajay is very actively interested in the tides of history around him, and will turn that same focus and passion to his travelers, giving them the kind of one-to-one attention and patient guidance that can make a journey to India transformative. A native of Rajasthan, Ajay holds degrees in geography and history from Agra University.

Michael Matthews, Australia & New Zealand Escorted Tours

Michael knows a thing or two about what travelers expect during their journeys, having traveled to more then 35 countries himself! A native Englander, he now holds two passports, a dual citizen of Great Britain and Australia. He is proud to have been working in the travel industry for more than 40 years, currently leading Vantage travelers through Australia and New Zealand. “I love to see the look of delight on travelers’ faces when they see our sparkling cities and beautiful parks and gardens,” he says. “And they’re pleasantly surprised by the easy friendliness of Aussies and Kiwis, whether in restaurants or even just walking down the street.” Michael most enjoys showing off Australia’s red-hued Ayers Rock and the Great Barrier Reef, and New Zealand’s Milford Sound. “The natural beauty is just amazing here.” And if you care to take some of the region home with you, he recommends opal jewelry or blue pearls. And if you bring home a boomerang, he says you’re sure to fly back one day!

Cindy Wilson, National Parks Escorted Tours

Cindy has a BS in Wildlife Biology. She has been to all 7 continents and about 70 countries and visited all 50 states of the U.S. When not tour directing, she travels for her personal enjoyment. Combining her enjoyment of people with her knowledge about the outdoors and nature on National Park tours is what she enjoys most. Cindy says, "When I found there was a job where I could do both together, I was hooked. Helping passengers get the most out their vacation is what I love about my job." What Vantage Travelers enjoy about Cindy's tours is her enthusiasm for the outdoors and the history of the West. Some of her favorite things to show Vantage travelers are the wildflowers of yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, the amazing wildlife, and the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets.

Cheryl Kobayashi, National Parks Escorted Tours

About leading Vantage's National Parks tour, Cheryl says, "My job is to help my Vantage guests appreciate the beauty spread before them by giving them an understanding of the culture, geology, trees, flowers, plants, and the amazing wildlife." It's no wonder she has earned 100% "excellent" ratings from the folks that travel with her! 

"Cheryl is beyond excellent. She is supremely organized, left nothing to chance, had all bases covered and a lot of fun. She is one of the best Program Managers I've ever experienced."

Michele Darby, Canada Escorted Tours

The daughter in a Canadian railroad family, Michele is the perfect Tour Director for this rail adventure. She's spent more than 20 years providing customer service excellence in tourism and hospitality, 15 of them serving Vantage travelers. Michele is a conscientious, resourceful, and enthusiastic leader who prides herself on working hard for her travelers from the first day of the journey to the last. She particularly enjoys sharing the wonders of British Columbia and Alberta, her home provinces growing up. Her travelers can also look forward to being entertained by her true-life "tales of the rails."

"I think the best part of leading Vantage groups across Canada is that Vantage travelers are enthusiastic participants," she says. "They love the adventure of seeing and getting to know more about their neighbor to the north." Michele looks forward to saying "Welcome and all aboard for your Canadian Rail Adventure!"

Rajneesh Vaid

A former middle school teacher with a major in Indian history, Rajneesh is an avid traveller and experienced tour guide who believes that India is truly an incredible destination. He's been described as an interpreter of India's varied cultures, and a terrific travel companion who is full of stories. Rajneesh has extensive experience introducing American travelers to India, and loves to introduce Vantage travelers to places they would not go on ordinary tours, such as village schools or to the workshops of local craftspeople and artisans. In addition to English, he can converse in three Indian languages, Hindi, Punjabi, and Rajasthani.

Zoran Antonic

A nimble traveller at heart, Zoran is a gifted and natural leader. He has worked for Vantage as a successful program manager for several years and is fondly remembered by his guests, mostly for the friendliness and enthusiasm which he unfailingly adds to his professional and organized approach to work. A university graduate, Zoran's passion for travel and the travel industry has, over the years, further developed his many abilities and customer service skills –– not least those in foreign languages. About his job with Vantage, Zoran says, "I think we get the balance right with the content of our Croatia & Other Hidden Treasures of the Adriatic tours –– a good mixture of organized sightseeing and free time so that customers can explore independently. I concentrate on making all our touring days interesting and fun, with enough of leisure time so customers really feel that they have a full appreciation of the area they're visiting."

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