Our letter to Viking following the cruise was 2 full pages and was practically ignored. They offered us $500 each credit on a future cruise with them (which will never happen). I will reduce it here for you. My wife has been in the travel ... Read More
Our letter to Viking following the cruise was 2 full pages and was practically ignored. They offered us $500 each credit on a future cruise with them (which will never happen). I will reduce it here for you. My wife has been in the travel business for 30 years and this is the first negative review we have EVER written. Some problems were minor but altogether, this was just bad. By the way, the cruise started in Antwerp and ended in Basel - a nice itinerary.
They sent us information prior to the cruise for the wrong cruise. Rather than courier the correct info, they mailed it and we were already on our way to catch the cruise.
The food was of the lowest quality, not cooked well and there was little choice. Dining room service was fine as long as you didn't require anything extra or different, such as a second glass of water. The boat was understaffed to the point that staff would not meet your eyes fearing you might ask for something. There was no maitre d', leaving guests to line up prior to dining room opening and rushing for a choice table - like high school.
Not once in 14 days were we called by name and this ship had only 200 guests.
They skipped one stop on the itinerary because another Viking ship had the dock that day and they would not pay for a second spot. We had a 2nd Viking ship docked alongside us on 4 days, which meant that we could not open our blinds of our rooms or lose all privacy from the room literally 3 feet away on the other ship. Also, that side of the dining room was dark on those days as that ship blocked all light.
There was no security to get onto the ship (there was a warning to Americans in Europe the day before we set sail).
Almost all excursions were to "the old town" and to "the cathedral". Very little diversity. Tour guides were anywhere from 2 out of 10 to 10 out of 10.
The main lounge was too small for everyone to fit in and the design was not condusive for ease of listening to lectures.
The staterooms were small but fine. Nothing special but not a problem.
There was the occasional smell of fuel at night while the ship travelled. For others, it was every night and their bed was like a massage bed when the engines started up.
They advertised that the fares were 2 for 1, which was a total lie. If so, this would have been a $700 per day per person cruise, more than what you can pay on a 6 star cruise today.
It seems like Viking is in trouble and cut corners where possible, lower quality food, less staff, cheap tours (places with no entrance fees).
Do yourself a favour and book another river cruise line. I'd be concerned with losing your deposit. Read Less
Viking Sky. We booked directly with Viking. The staff were courteous and efficient and communication was good.
After a hellish experience with Lufthansa, things went well from the airport to the ship. As expected, our cabin was ... Read More
Viking Sky. We booked directly with Viking. The staff were courteous and efficient and communication was good.
After a hellish experience with Lufthansa, things went well from the airport to the ship. As expected, our cabin was smaller than one gets on an ocean cruiser, but was adequate.
Water in the bathroom was inconsistent. On hot it sometimes ran cold, and on cold it was often scalding hot. This made taking a shower hazardous
The dining room was fine, but not the workers therein. It was evident that the wait staff were recruited from the part of Europe which had suffered Soviet control and so some of them had little idea of civility. Three of them were appallingly rude or offhand. Some passengers complained to the hotel manager about one of them.
The staff were not used to the idea that westerners like coffee and were reluctant to offer it.
The better staff kept us plied with free wine at dinner, so we were happy.
Breakfast was adequate, the same every day. Main features were cold scrambled egg, hash brown patties cooked so hard as to be unchewable, brittle bacon. But there was porridge and lots of fruity-salady stuff.
Lunch and dinner were ho-hum, but one cannot expect an extensive menu from the kitchen of a small boat.
Shore excursions were walking tours, buses used only to take us to some of the sites. In such cold weather this proved to be too strenuous for us geriatrics, so we missed quite a bit. It would be helpful if the program staff would give some indication of the difficulty of the excursions (as does Holland America).
Value for money -- with the free air fare and off-season prices -- one could not do better.
Answering the criticisms would improve things greatly and not cost Viking anything. Read Less
We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon.
Although you can book ... Read More
We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon.
Although you can book travel to/from embarkation/disembarkation and can also book add-on packages, we chose to make our own travel arrangements. We flew to Siem Reap from Bangkok, easily obtained visas at the entry airport and stayed 3 nights in Siem Reap visiting many temples and seeing the local sights - this is not to be missed. Most cruisers had already done associated tours of varying lengths and stayed at Le Meridien in Siem Reap but we stayed at a really good small hotel called Pavillon d'Orient where the local staff were really friendly and helpful.
There was some confusion for us about exactly where we would embark and neither AMA Waterways nor Fred Olsen Travel (the UK Agents) distinguished themselves in this regard. Apparently, just after the rainy season and for a couple of months thereafter, embarkation takes place on the Tonle Sap Lake about 20 mins drive from Le Meridien. At other times there is not enough water in the lake and you have to be bussed to a more distant embarkation point downstream which can be up to 5 hours away. We received several letters from AMA/FOT advising us of a change of departure point and time but never one with the actual ones. It was left to us to discover this in Siem Reap!
We were located on Tonle deck and there seems little difference between this and the one above (Saigon) apart from price. Both were identically sized and have a large picture window and a smallish balcony which houses the next cabin's a/c so is not very suitable for standing on - not enough room to sit! Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, particularly the bathroom (larger than Princess for example) although storage space was a little limited. It was a little on the dark side due to the wood inlay but was tastefully decorated. The rooms were quiet with little noise from the corridor - the doors were quite thick. Beds were comfortable if a little on the firm side. Double or twin could be requested prior to the cruise although our request was not fulfilled. However, it was soon altered once on board. Towels were changed rather unnecessarily frequently even if you hung them up.
Our fellow passengers were mainly from N America, Australia, Switzerland, France and the UK. The ship can take ca. 90 passengers but on this occasion there were about 80. There are about 25 sunbeds and 20 assorted chairs on the sundeck which surprisingly seemed to be adequate.
The service on board was excellent. The restaurant staff were very attentive and helpful. The dining room did tend to be somewhat noisy, depending on where you were seated (free seating arrangement) and the a/c could be quite a cool breeze. The food was first class with plenty of choice (International and local cuisine). There was a good supply of free beer and soft drinks, although spirits were limited to local rum and brandy. Other brands could be purchased. House wine was provided at meal times although the quality seemed to be a bit variable (one night the red was almost undrinkable). Wine could also be purchased by the glass or bottle (20USD upwards). Bottled water in a handy carrier was provided on all excursions. A nice feature was the provision of an International newspaper several times during the week. Wi-Fi was free in the library and there were 2 PCs for general use, although one or two individuals did tend to over-use them. There was no booking system. Connection speed was variable depending on the position of the ship but remember you are in the middle of the country most of the time. There was a very small exercise room which seemed little used on this cruise.
The Cruise Director made a presentation about the next day's programme each evening and often sang (badly) to round things off. He was a much better (Vietnamese) guide than a cruise director. The guides were very knowledgeable and made all the shore excursions very interesting. All excursions were voluntary. However, the Itinerary was a good mix of visiting small towns, floating villages, markets, craft workshops, local industry and temples. There were also a couple of interesting talks about the history of Cambodia and Vietnam. Whilst we realised the extreme significance of the Killing Fields and associated history, it was a bit laboured at times.
You do need visas for both Cambodia and Vietnam - an important point not communicated to us by AMA till it was almost too late. As mentioned previously you can easily obtain one for Cambodia at the airport - much cheaper than using an agent prior to the cruise. Vietnamese visas need to be obtained at the relevant embassy prior to leaving home. Be careful to check that the arrival date on the visa is correct. We didn't and ours had the departure date instead and we had to pay 30USD each to have this amended on board at the border. Apparently this is not an uncommon experience!
The disembarkation was smooth in spite of the fact that people had flights or onward travel at different times. Disembarkation takes place at My Tho port from where it is about a 1 hour 45 mins coach trip to the centre of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon is the name of the city centre).
All in all this cruise was well organised and the itinerary should provide something for everyone. Despite some of the frustrations experienced we would thoroughly recommend it. Read Less
We opted to have Viking River Cruise book everything for us on our Amsterdam to Basel trip, the ship accommodations and the air travel to Amsterdam. All we had to do is get to and from the Philadelphia airport on our way to and back from ... Read More
We opted to have Viking River Cruise book everything for us on our Amsterdam to Basel trip, the ship accommodations and the air travel to Amsterdam. All we had to do is get to and from the Philadelphia airport on our way to and back from the cruise. The accommodations on British Airways were great; and our cabin on the Helvetia ship was very comfortable and more than adequate for our needs.
The food served on board the ship was superb, more than anyone needed to eat. The wait staff were friendly and always willing to accommodate any of our special requests. The chefs did a superb job in preparing foods native to the area we were traveling by.
The other ship personnel were great from the captain on down to our room steward, very friendly and always willing to stop and talk and answer any questions we may have. The tour guides who met us in each city and/or bus tour spoke perfect English and gave us more information about the area than we could ever hope to remember. We met many friendly people on board the ship; and we especially liked the fact that the ship could only hold less than 100 people so it was not too crowded. Everything on board the ship was perfect and we had a wonderful time exploring some new areas of Europe. In fact, we enjoyed the trip so much that we have booked another Viking cruise for the spring of 2012 to celebrate a milestone in our marriage, 40 years. Cannot think of a better way to celebrate such an event. Will be sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest. Looking forward to seeing parts of Europe that we have not yet explored.
It is hard to imagine a better way to see the world than with a Viking River Cruise. In summary, taking a Viking River Cruise will not be disappointing; and let them handle all of the arrangements for a worry-free travel experience. Read Less
The included tours of the various ports were done by local guides and were, by far, the best part of the cruise. The tours were around 3 hours long, mostly walking, and included historical aspects, local color, humor, and loads of ... Read More
The included tours of the various ports were done by local guides and were, by far, the best part of the cruise. The tours were around 3 hours long, mostly walking, and included historical aspects, local color, humor, and loads of information. The sites we toured were varied--Papal Palace, medieval charity hospital, winery, chocolate store...to name a few.
If only I could say as many nice things about the other parts of the tour. The room was quite spacious with lots of storage, but nothing out of the ordinary. The food, although prepared by a chef with lots of skill and personality, was fair, mostly because the provisions were obviously not bought from local markets in France but rather bought in bulk at the beginning of the cruise and probably frozen or at least refrigerated.
But the absolute worst part was the customer service provided by Viking, starting with the contacts in the US and ending with the desk crew on the ship. They messed up our air tickets at least three times and it took 5 calls from my TA and myself to get it straightened out. The other couple we were traveling with had an even worse experience with the air booking.
Then the Viking concierge on our pre-cruise stay gave us incorrect advice, telling us the only way we could visit the places we wanted to visit was by booking a local private tour for 525 euros. The tourist info in Nice showed us the way to do exactly what we wanted for a total of 72 euros.
When we had questions of the personnel at the desk about places in the port, or about our transfer, or about the strikes in France, we were told that we would be given the information later when we needed it. I guess it didn't matter that I wanted to know then; they would decide what I needed to know.
The optional tours and the beverage package are outrageously expensive.
The "straw that broke the camel's back" was what happened to a couple I didn't even know on a transfer to the airport to return home. We had early flights, 6:30 AM from an airport about an hour away. That meant we had to leave the ship about 3 AM. We had "bitten the bullet" and arranged the expensive transfer before we left the US because we knew the times would be difficult. In the 9 passenger van, there were 4 of us and the driver. When we got to the airport there was another couple from our tour. Viking had made them arrange for a taxi from the city, a VERY EXPENSIVE transfer, because they had waited too late to book the transfer. I don't know how late was too late, but we had plenty of room in our van. I don't know why Viking couldn't have worked something out to help this couple. They just don't care.
And that is why I will not be on another Viking cruise--the customer service is simply abysmal. Read Less
This was our first ever river cruise. We have taken about 10 ocean cruises, so we wanted to see how a river cruise compared. What's nice about cruising on a river is the fact that you can always look out and see something and not just ... Read More
This was our first ever river cruise. We have taken about 10 ocean cruises, so we wanted to see how a river cruise compared. What's nice about cruising on a river is the fact that you can always look out and see something and not just open ocean. Plus you stop a lot, sometimes twice in one day. And since the river boats don't hold as many people (ours had 140 passengers), it's easy to get on and get off. And the ships are designed to hold the required number of passengers. In other words, there is a seat for everyone - in the lounge, in the dining room, etc. Our trip was the 7-day Blue Danube Discovery from Budapest to Nuremberg with a pre-cruise extension in Budapest and a post-cruise extension in Prague. All we can say at this point is that we are really glad we went on this trip. It was very enjoyable. Would I say it's better than an ocean cruise - in some ways yes, in some ways no. Each has it's pros and cons. Would we do a river cruise again, you bet. With AMA? YES! The hotel in Budapest was the Sofitel Hotel sitting about 200 feet from the Danube. Our double room overlooked the river and the beautiful castle/fortress on the hillside on the other side of the river. The bridge over the river and the this castle/fortress were lit up at night giving an impressive view out the hotel room window. It was a very comfortable hotel and we were in want of nothing. The room package included a big buffet breakfast each morning. Usually we ate enough at breakfast that we only needed a snack during the day to keep us going until dinner. Food in Budapest is what we called rather spicy because the Hungarians seem to like putting paprika in everything and in every conceivable way. But you still have to try it just for the experience. We tried the Hungarian Goulash which is different from Czech Goulash in that the Hungarian variety is like a soup served in a bowl and the Czech Goulash is meat and dumplings served on a plate and not as spicy. The included city tour of Budapest was quite good hitting all the highlights of Budapest with its rich history. Of course, the bus doesn't have time to stop everywhere, but the guide points out the sights of interest to most visitors and you can always go back somewhere with your free time of which there was plenty. We're not going to go into all the details of every stop we made on this 7-day trip down the Danube, but what we will say is that you should take advantage of all the included excursions as they are quite informative and enjoyable and you did pay for them. As for the optional excursions, we would suggest the evening concert in Vienna for those who do not normally have the opportunity to attend such classical events. We think it was probably the best of all the excursions we took. Another one that was fun is the optional Folklore dinner in Prague. It was a different experience than anything we have seen before. The food was good, the beer and wine flowing freely, and the entertainment very enjoyable from the Czech/Slovakian musical players, singers and dancers. As for the cruise itself, the ship was comfortable and the crew outstanding. One thing we did notice is that during our 7-day cruise, the ship never once rocked from side to side or bumped or anything else. It was a very, very smooth ride! Everyone was so very friendly. We upgraded our cabin by one category so that we would have a large window and sliding door so as to see the scenery as we cruised along the Danube. We're glad we upgraded after seeing the inside of one of the lower cabins. You would have to be at least six feet tall to see out of one of those windows. I think they're simply designed to let in light as opposed to offering any kind of view because they are high and small. Our cabin was quite comfortable with a queen size bed, lounge chair, ottoman we used as another seat, a flat-screen TV/computer, makeup desk, in-room safe, and plenty of closet space. The bathroom was well-equipped and modern. We were very comfortable during our week long journey. Internet in your room is included with your cruise. We only used the internet when we were in ports as the reception was always better. There is a large lounge and bar on the main deck with enough seating for everyone. This is also the entertainment area when performers come aboard for evening entertainment of which there was a lot. And it was all good. The dining room is directly below the lounge area at the front of the ship. There again there is enough seating for everyone at the one and only dinner service at 7:00 p.m. -- dinner has no assigned seating. There is no alternative restaurant or eating venue on these ships, but they do offer a number of different dinner choices each evening. The dinner choices are normally things from the country or area where they are transiting that day. As are the included wines. It was amazing how many different wines they served on a 7-day cruise. And they always had both red and white wines at dinner. If you are not a wine drinker, you can have beer or soft drinks if you like at no charge. They also had main course staples each evening - steak, chicken, fish, chef salad - for those not wanting to brave the local cuisine. A vegetarian dish was also on the menu each night. We had the chicken one night and it was very good. Breakfast was always buffet style with a lot of choices, but you could also order eggs cooked to order, omelets, pancakes, etc. Food is served just about every 3 hours. Coffee and tea are available 24-hours. Early risers can nibble on pastries and toast until the breakfast room opens (times vary but usually by 7:30). A cookie tray is put out about 10:30. A light lunch (soup, salads, one hot menu item, and dessert) can be eaten in the lounge or you may partake of the full lunch in the dinning room. After lunch the cookie tray appears and around 3:30 finger sandwiches and small pastries appear. We had some laundry done on the ship because we didn't want to pay the airlines $90 for another suitcase. The cost to have roughly a week's worth of underwear washed for two of us was 24 Euros (about $34). They picked it up at 8:00 p.m. and it was back the next morning by 10:00 a.m. The boat also had a very nice aft lounge that always had fresh fruit and water available. Board games and a computer with a printer were also available in the lounge. Just off the lounge was the exercise room. Although small, it had something for everyone -- sauna, free weights, treadmill, and bike. Bottled water was also available. For nice days, the sun deck had a walking track, sun chairs, small Jacuzzi, and large chess board. Our cruise ended in Nuremberg, Germany where we stayed overnight on the ship and then boarded motor coaches the next morning for our trip to Prague. Each motor coach had a local Czech tour guide on board who provided narration on our journey to Prague. The trip to Prague was pretty much an all day affair with a restroom stop at the German/Czech border and then another stop for lunch in the beautiful little town of Karlovy Vary. It's a picturesque little spa town with a river running through it. There is a fancy hotel there where some of the scenes from the movie Casino Royale with Daniel Craig were shot. After a short tour of the town, our Czech tour guide suggested a local restaurant for lunch. That's where we sampled the very good Czech Goulash along with a good Czech beer. Our lunch stop was two hours and then the rest of the trip to Prague lasted about another one and a half hours arriving at the hotel about 3:00 p.m. Our hotel in Prague was the Intercontinental Hotel located right in the old town area and just a couple blocks from the Charles Bridge and five minutes from the central plaza. The hotel is a 5-star hotel with all the amenities we could want. The room included a large breakfast buffet each morning. There are too many items to mention, but suffice it to say they have everything - meats, cheeses, eggs to order, pancakes, cereals, breads, juices, fruits, etc. Prague is a beautiful old city. It's easy to walk to most of the tourist attractions, shopping areas, and restaurants of which there are many. Prague is where we did the optional Folklore dinner. We had two full days to explore, but it wasn't enough so we'll have to go back someday. Our cruise director, Csaba, from Budapest was absolutely outstanding. He was there at the hotel when we first arrived and stayed with us all the way through to Prague. He was very professional, knowledgeable, and most of all he was very friendly. He's a 36-year old single guy who loves his job and you can tell by the way he goes about his business. We'd love to see him again on another cruise. Csaba also used his computer to check everyone in 24-hours before our flight departed Prague. He could not print out boarding passes, but you could get your seat assignments and do pre-check-in. Although you may initially be taken aback by the price of a river cruise, you must remember that a lot of things that may not be included in an ocean voyage are in included here such as local tours with transportation provided and local tour guides. You are also given an audio box with ear pieces so you can hear the guides as they take you through these old towns without having to be two feet from the guide in order to hear something. They really work quite well. They also have three different paced tour levels - fast, regular, and slow. Join whichever group you want. Free bottled water is also provided in your stateroom each day. Postcards are mailed for free by simply dropping them off at the front desk on the ship. It doesn't matter where they are going - U.S., Europe, etc. All in all, we were very pleased with our first river cruise and would not hesitate to do another one. Read Less
This is first river cruise, and probably the last! Get to fly home tomorrow! The brochure was very misleading and this has been very frustrating for all aboard. The internet has been "not working" for 95% of the cruise. I've ... Read More
This is first river cruise, and probably the last! Get to fly home tomorrow! The brochure was very misleading and this has been very frustrating for all aboard. The internet has been "not working" for 95% of the cruise. I've only been able to log on between 3 and 5 A.M each morning. The cruise line has done nothing to help and just given flimsy excuses. It could've offered a 10-15 minute ship to shore phone credit so travellers could contact loved ones, etc.
I believe river cruises are meant for those folks that are older, need nothing but a lounge and a bar while being herded around. Here are the main differences I noted.
1. No evening entertainment or shows, AT ALL.
2. Excursions are nearly non-existent with only choice in most ports is to take the ship offered excursion, or stay on the ship!
3. Eat only at the 3 scheduled meal times. No pizza spot, dessert spot or other offerings.
The staff was great and the ship was clean and organized. After 33 cruises, I'll stick to ocean cruises which have more activities, excursion options etc. Maybe when I'm 90, I'll try this style. I'm no rookie at cruising. I'm 62, have visited 92 countries and taken 33 cruises. Viper Read Less
This was our first river cruise and our first cruise with Viking. We sailed from Budapest to Passau on the Viking Sky. I had read several of the reviews before we left and I have to admit that I was quite concerned about many of the ... Read More
This was our first river cruise and our first cruise with Viking. We sailed from Budapest to Passau on the Viking Sky. I had read several of the reviews before we left and I have to admit that I was quite concerned about many of the comments as they were so poor. Based on our experience, I cannot believe that the other reviews were for the same ship we were on. We had an excellent trip and found only a couple minor deficiencies.
We spent 4 nights in Vienna and one night in Budapest on our own prior to the cruise and then 3 nights in Munich and 2 nights in Fussen post- cruise. We did our own planning, air arrangements, and train transfers to and from the ship. Since we were in Budapest a day early we were able to talk to some of the people who were currently on the ship sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest. Their impression of their voyage was extremely positive.
The Viking Sky was docked at the foot of the Chain Bridge. We boarded and checked in about 11:00am and had no problem leaving our luggage with the staff until the staterooms were ready around 3:00pm. We then spent a couple of hours wandering around the 'Buda' side of the city. There was a small buffet with soup, salads, sandwiches, and chicken paprika with pasta set up in the lounge. We grabbed some lunch about 2:00pm and relaxed until we were able to get into our room around 3:00pm. The bathroom and shower were larger than what we've had on the big ocean ships. It was especially nice to have glass shower doors instead of having to deal with a curtain. The bed, pillows, and down duvet were very comfortable and we slept well every night.
After dinner the first night our fears of poor food and service were put aside. The meals were excellent and reflected the cuisine of the country in which we were docked. Based on our experiences in restaurants both pre and post cruise, the food on the ship was as good and sometimes better. The house wine was included. They had a white and a red each night and basically poured as much as you wanted during dinner. Specialty wines were always available by the bottle but we saw no need to order any additional wine. We felt there was plenty of choice at dinner and it wasn't pork every day. I had duck, venison, veal, lamb, and beef over the course of the week. There was always a fish choice and others at the table said it was very good as well. Soups, appetizers, and desserts also had a local and cultural flair. We didn't find anything at any meal that was bad or poorly prepared. Even my steak at the Captain's dinner was cooked medium rare as I requested.
Breakfast was terrific. There was a huge buffet with cereals, breads, meat, cheese, pastries, scramble eggs, bacon, sausage, and smoked salmon every day. In addition you could order Eggs Benedict, omelets, French toast and blueberry pancakes. The service was efficient and excellent. Lunch also had a huge buffet plus a couple of choices for appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Generally it was way too much - especially after a big breakfast.
After doing quite a few ocean cruises, we felt there were two really big benefits to a river cruise: being docked right in the main part of town and the ability to walk around the ports after dinner. Some nights there was local entertainment on board such as a gypsy band in Budapest. There were also some great lectures and demonstrations while cruising during the day - such as the bridge tour, strudel making, EU history, and especially the Program Director's personal experience growing up behind the iron curtain.
The included tours with local guides in each port were outstanding - especially the tour of Melk Abby and the all day tour to Salzburg. We did the optional tour to Cesky Krumlov since we were not going to Prague after the cruise. It seems like we were busy all the time and the week just flew by. We met some really great people whom I'm sure we'll be in contact with and see again. The Program director arranged for a taxi to the Passau train station and we were off to Munich.
The only criticisms we had were the lack of refrigerator and noise between cabins. Although we were really lucky and didn't have noisy neighbors, we heard several complaints from others about the noise and snoring coming from other cabins.
This was an excellent experience and we look forward to taking another river cruise. Read Less
We have just returned from a trip which started in Prague as a precruise add on to our Viking Pride Budapest to Amsterdam River Cruise.
We used Viking for all of the arrangements, flights, transfers and hotel. It couldn't have ... Read More
We have just returned from a trip which started in Prague as a precruise add on to our Viking Pride Budapest to Amsterdam River Cruise.
We used Viking for all of the arrangements, flights, transfers and hotel. It couldn't have been smoother. We stayed at the Hilton Prague and had the use of a Viking representative for information whilst we were there. Included was a morning tour which was in depth and were free to explore on our own for the rest of the three days.
We were transported in a comfortable coach to meet the boat in Budapest,our check in went very smoothly and we were unpacked and settled into our very nice stateroom. There was plenty of room for our two weeks worth of gear and clothing. The bathroom was bigger than I had expected and the bed was quite comfortable. So after a trip through the lounges, library etc. we were ready to enjoy the first of meals in the dining room. The waiters were friendly and very good at what they do. Each dining experience beginning with breakfast and ending with dinner was tasty and presented in a very attractive manner.
The reception desk was manned by very competent personnel and the program director made very interesting presentations and port talks during the pre and post dinner cocktail times. She also arranged for various personalities to speak to us about the European Union, we had a glass blower from Wertheim, some gypsy musicians, a Bavarian comedian and always on board a talented musician. Our port tours were led by very competent local guides and we were always given time on our own after. In most ports the boat was docked close to the towns and it was easy to come and go as we wished.
This particular itinerary is through five countries and many beautiful cities and towns along the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers. I would recommend this trip enthusiastically and especially with Viking they were wonderful hosts. Read Less
My wife and I took the 7-night Portraits of Southern France river cruise departing from Chalon-sur-Saone on Oct. 31 on the Viking Neptune. We both had a wonderful time. The itinerary was a primary reason we chose this cruise and the towns ... Read More
My wife and I took the 7-night Portraits of Southern France river cruise departing from Chalon-sur-Saone on Oct. 31 on the Viking Neptune. We both had a wonderful time. The itinerary was a primary reason we chose this cruise and the towns and tours all met or exceeded our expectations. The local tour guides were excellent and there was always some free time to explore on our own. The one tour which surprised me the most was in the small medieval town of Viviers. Since we were only there after dark, I took the after-dinner tour through the narrow, cobblestone streets, up to the 12th century cathedral. There was just enough light and the tour guide did a terrific job. All the crew who we dealt with were very professional, helpful and friendly. But the chef, Magdolie(sp?) stands out. Each night before dinner, she would give an enthusiastic, 5-10 minute description of the dinner options which made our mouth water, Even better, the meals met our high expectations. And, in almost all cases, the dishes weren't basic recipes but rather her own presentation. We've been on 10 river and ocean cruises and we can't remember having better dinners than we had on this cruise.
We made our own pre- and post-cruise arrangements, but the embarkation and disembarkation were both simple and easy. One of the crew took our bags to our rental car on disembarkation even though we had not made arrangements with Viking. Our room was a typical good river cruise room with plenty of storage - we didn't even use some of the shelves. We had taken our first river cruise on Viking last year to Holland and Belgium and enjoyed it so much we decided to take this cruise. We were not disappointed. Read Less
Every five years, we try to plan a special trip for our anniversary. In 2010, we decided we wanted to come back to Europe. I wanted a relaxing river cruise in France with great food and wine but my husband also wanted more of the ... Read More
Every five years, we try to plan a special trip for our anniversary. In 2010, we decided we wanted to come back to Europe. I wanted a relaxing river cruise in France with great food and wine but my husband also wanted more of the excitement and history of the cities of Europe. With our trip on the River Beatrice, we got everything we wanted.
We started in Prague. We did not do the add-on from Uniworld. We arrived a day early so we could see some things in more depth than would have occurred on the tour (the Jewish Quarter, Terezin). However, our travel agent recommended the Art Deco Hotel where the tour stays. We were not disappointed. The location was great as was the hotel. We absolutely loved Prague. The culture, the history, the architecture. We went to the symphony or a jazz club almost every night. And we walked everywhere. We took the subway and the streetcars just to try them out. Very clean and modern. We arranged our own tours which suited us well. We also stayed an extra day in Budapest at the end of the trip which we also booked on our own, this time at the Intercontinental on the river across from the ship.
On Sunday, we were able to take the bus with the tour to the ship. We enjoyed the ride through the Czech and German countryside. We arrived in the late afternoon in Passau, Germany to embark on the river cruise. It didn't take long to get acclimated since a river ship is necessarily not a large vessel. The rooms are not wide since the ship must be able to sail into the many locks on the river (you can touch the walls of the locks when you are at the bottom of the locks, it's that close and precise). Our cabin was in the middle of the ship in the middle level of cabins. We had a French balcony, which means that the doors open like French doors and there is a railing but nowhere to stand. We did not find that a problem since it was October and the weather was often in the mid-30s to 40s. (Bring sweaters, warmer coats, hats, gloves, scarves in October. Central Europe is like being in Northern Michigan or Minneapolis. You are on about the 45th or 50th parallel. The warmest day was 50 degrees, the coldest, about 35F.)
The furnishings were very comfortable, especially the bed. Again, not a lot of room to move around, but the space was used well. We didn't spend much time in our room anyway so it didn't matter. We enjoyed having a full window with the French balcony as opposed to a window closer to the top of the wall in the lower level cabins. However, on some days, be prepared that there may be another river ship docked right beside you, making for possibly an interesting view for you and the people on the other ship. The bathroom was small, as we expect on all ships. The shower was excellent and the toiletries were first rate (L'Occitane). The cabin was spotless and kept that way by Ester, our young and hard-working attendant from Budapest.
There are three indoor public places on the ship: the lounge on the upper deck, the dining room on the middle deck and the library, also on the middle deck. All were comfortable and we felt like it was very cozy, especially having been on larger cruise ships with a few thousand people. It was very nice to have only 150 people so that everyone could eat together and meet in the lounge for port talks, rather than doing things in shifts. You also recognized everyone on the ship, even if you did not actually meet everyone. The atmosphere was very friendly. We also spent time on the top deck outside as we cruised to the various ports. The dress was casual and even at dinner there was never a formal night. I did bring one dressier outfit for the last night of the cruise, but nice pants for women and dress slacks and a sweater for men were just fine, even at dinner. If you plan to go to the symphony or opera, a jacket might be appropriate for men and a dress or nice pantsuit for women.
This is not a ship to go on if you expect a large fitness room and lots of shops. There is some fitness equipment and one or two shops. However, the shopping is incredible on shore (Vienna, Budapest). For fitness, you will be walking a lot each day on the excursions, which are very good. We also walked into the towns at night on several evenings after dinner. The Uniworld ships also have 6 bicycles on each ship which can be used at no charge. It was one of the major reasons we chose the River Beatrice and turned out to be the highlight of our trip. (See my description of Melk, below.) The other public area is the laundry room, which is very helpful to have when you take an extended trip.
The food on the ship was wonderful and plentiful. Breakfast and lunch were buffet. Dinner was sit down (You could also eat in the library on select evenings in a more intimate setting.) The menus reflected the food of the countries we were visiting. We had goulash, weiner schnitzel, Sacher Torte, etc. You rarely see the chef on a large cruise line interacting with the guests except at a cooking demonstration and the captain's cocktail party. On this ship, the chef was there at almost every meal - dishing the ice cream, pouring soup, making sure that everything was going smoothly and that we all liked what we were eating. His outgoing personality really added to the experience. Wine was included with dinner. The wine was very good and we had to tell our waiter to stop pouring.
The cruise manager, Ingrid, was outstanding. We had some very specific places we wanted to visit in the various ports and she went above and beyond to give us information and to assist us, often without anything more than telling her what we wanted to see. She also helped us on our port-to-port bike ride (and the kitchen staff made us huge box lunches for us for the bike trip). All this while arranging for the day-to-day tours and excursions for all of the passengers.
The daily port tours were very well done. Hearing a guide is often an issue, especially a guide who might speak English with an accent. The ship uses a system that allows the guide to speak into a mic on a radio frequency and you use earphones to pick it up. It was very effective.
The entertainment on the ship after dinner is very low-key. Zoltan played the piano and other instruments in the lounge and a few nights, in addition to port lectures, there were performances by local musicians or dancers. We enjoyed all of it. We liked schmoozing with the other passengers and the low-key entertainment was perfect after a day of touring. We didn't need a big show.
The service on the ship was excellent. You really got to know most of the crew that works with the passengers since there just aren't a lot of them. We learned that one of the women at the front desk lives in Bratslava in Slovakia and each week as the ship passed by, she would call home on her cell phone. Another crew member suffered an injury and we all were concerned for her since we saw her all the time as we passed by the front desk.
We greatly appreciated the river experience over cruising in the ocean. The waters are calm and the ship moves slowly so you can take pictures and see the little towns on shore. You can wave to people on shore and they will wave back. As I mentioned, since the ship docks in town, we enjoyed going out after dinner and taking a stroll. We walked in town in Passau and Linz and along the river in Vienna. We were among the locals, which we thoroughly enjoy.
We were concerned a bit that we would be among the youngest passengers on the cruise since we are in our early 50's. It was true that we were, although a few were younger. Many were retired. However, we met a number of people in our age group and made some very good friends (with whom we are going skiing in a few weeks). Our fellow passengers were interesting, well-traveled and well- educated.
Tipping was a bit difficult just in that the tips cannot be added to your account. You must pay them in cash. Keep that in mind. Also, because you have so much interaction with the crew, you may tip the cruise director, for example, on this ship when you wouldn't on, say, a Celebrity ship.
Our biggest quibble was that the Internet service was very poor. By the end of the trip, they opened it to everyone and didn't charge for it. This is one thing they need to work on. (We learned that best free Internet access in Central Europe is at McDonald's. We also learned that in Austria, they have McCafes that serve delicious-looking pastries.)
This cruise is not for everyone. It is for a couple or a group of friends who want to see the cities up close and personal in a small setting. It is quiet and relaxing and full of history. It may not be for everyone, but is for us and we can't wait for our next river cruise. We boarded the ship in Passau, Germany. The ship was docked on the outskirts of town for easier embarkation and then moved to a pier in the old town in the city later. We wish we had another hour or two there. We enjoyed the cathedral concert, which is spectacular. However, I heard they have a wonderful glass museum which we did not get to see. We did enjoy shopping in the old town and seeing a bit of the more modern Passau as we shopped. The boutiques were very nice and pretty reasonable. Be sure to leave room for a warm pretzel at one of the bakeries. Our second port was Linz. We did not spend a lot of time in Linz since we went to Salzburg for the day, although we did a take a walk through the shopping area near the ship to see the town and buy a few things (including a Linzer Torte).
One of the advantages of Uniworld over other river cruise lines is that the excursion to Salzburg is included rather than an add on. As a Sound of Music fan, I really wanted to see Salzburg. The scenery is magnificent and we really enjoyed it. There is not enough time to do the complete Sound of Music tour unless you take a train back to the ship on your own. However, I felt I got enough of the Sound of Music on the tour and our guide, who was the best and most interesting of our cruise, told us how the movie was largely fiction. Nevertheless, it is fun to walk through gardens where they sing "Do-Re-Mi."
The walking tour was excellent. We enjoyed seeing the birthplace of Mozart and how the signs on the shops depicted the wares sold by the shopkeeper (including the Golden Arches). We found one of only a few "stumble stones" in Salzburg that commemorates someone who was taken from that particular place by the Nazis, which was very moving. Because our guide happens to lead tours and seminars for European high school and college tours in the off-season to teach them about the Holocaust, we got a very good lesson that day on some of what took place in Salzburg during the Shoah.
In the marketplace there were a number of elaborate wagons selling all kinds of local foods. The most delicious chocolate pretzels, for example. However, I found a stand selling fresh and prepared fish and had a very inexpensive lunch with fresh fish chowder and a sandwich of smoked sable. The sandwich would have cost $10 in the U.S. (if you can even buy it here). There it was about $4 or $5.
Linz/Salzburg was a great port. We would definitely go back. Our next stop was Melk. I was very impressed with the Abbey, especially the very contemporary way that the museum was presented. It exceeded my expectations.
However, the highlight of the entire trip came after our excursion. We rode on the bikes available on the ship with another couple. We rode from Melk to Durnstein, the next port, through the Austrian wine country, while the ship sailed on the river. "Picturesque" doesn't begin to describe it. We saw the tiny towns with the creeks running through them to the river. We saw the carts laden with just-picked grapes and the workers in the fields harvesting the grapes. It took us about 3-1/2 hours to ride 20 miles just because we kept stopping to take in some of the towns or to take pictures.
The Danube has a bike path that runs along the entire river. It is very well marked and it is empty in October. We were able to use a few maps and make our way quite easily. The bikes were the reason we chose the River Beatrice over another cruise line and we would do it again. While everyone else on the ship saw the towns as the shipped passed by, we were in the little towns. We loved it.
By the time we got to Durnstein, it was raining and we were getting cold and hungry. Therefore, although we heard it was a great town, we'll have to go back and see it another time. It was worth it. Vienna was incredible. The architecture and the cosmopolitan nature of the city. It is clean and well-organized.
The tour was the only slight disappointment. We went to the library, which I enjoyed, but we had just seen the famous library in Melk. Perhaps there were other sights that would have been better. We happened to see the Lippazanner stallions as we walked by and were fortunate that we could actually watch them for a few minutes. But a more comprehensive tour may have been more interesting.
We enjoyed our free time in Vienna. The shopping is haute couture with the finest of designers. On the other end of fashion, even the H & M is in a building off the main square that is worth seeing, with an old-fashioned elevator and wood cornices. For us it was all great window shopping and people watching.
In the afternoon, with our cruise director's assistance, we were able to devise our tour of Jewish Vienna. We wanted to see the Stadt Synagogue that was spared on Kristallnacht and other sites. It was a very meaningful part of our trip.
We decided to forego the symphony since we had gone in Prague. We heard it was a great evening. We were happy to take a walk that night into one of the neighborhoods with our friends.
The next morning, we were back on the bikes for our own tour of Vienna. We did not see the palace with most of the rest of the group. Instead, we saw what the locals see. Vienna is beautiful. Many parks and wide sidewalks for walking and well-marked, double-bike lanes. Better than any I have seen in any major city in the U.S. And you learn quickly that bikes stay in the bike lanes and pedestrians walk next to the bike lanes and stand behind them at intersections. What a fun way to see the magnificent buildings and parks of Vienna. Read Less
We started our Viking River "Cities of Light" cruise four days early by visiting friends in Western France trekking all Brittany and the Normandy Coast. Then on to Paris for the official start of the tour. The Paris Pullman ... Read More
We started our Viking River "Cities of Light" cruise four days early by visiting friends in Western France trekking all Brittany and the Normandy Coast. Then on to Paris for the official start of the tour. The Paris Pullman Tour Eiffel hotel we checked in to was delightful. The rooms were large, the beds comfortable, the food excellent and the service superb. We spent two days seeing the sights of Paris (we had been there many times before) and this beautiful city again didn't fail us. Then on to Trier to board our ship Viking Fontane to begin our true river tour. What a WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE!!! The stateroom was excellent, the food magnificent, the wines with meals excellent, and the crew service was without peer. The Viking crew never failed to amaze with their willingness to cater to our needs and their cheerful demeanor. The itinerary sailing the Mosel to the Rhine to the Main to the Danube Canal to Nuremberg and then on by motor coach to Prague was well selected and filled with places to see and things to do. Sailing at night from port to port that left days filled with walking tours of German cities like Cochem, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Wurzberg, Bamberg, was enervating as well as enabling us not the gain the weight we normally might have eating all of the wonderful shipboard fare! Even the breakdown on the bus ride to Prague we fun -- we spent the time exploring a local industrial park and found "Hans" and "Fritz," two German Shepherd guard dogs who didn't appreciate our arrival.
Arrival in Prague was late but our rooms at Prague Hilton were ready and were of the same high quality as those in Paris. We decided to extend our trip by three days and found Prague to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We changed our hotel to the Best Western Prague Palace and would recommend this hotel to any who visit Prague. The view out our window was the Presidential Palace and St. Vitus cathedral lit beautifully at night. This small, intimate hotel with its lovely lounge, dining room and lobby is made even more wonderful by the service and smiles of its employees. Roman the Bell Captain would make any guest's experience a comfortable and happy one!
In all aspects this tour and Viking River Cruises are "bucket list" experiences. Read Less
My husband and I have cruised on ocean going vessels before and have travelled extensively. We are both in our sixties and are pretty active. When we were on a hiking trip to Germany a few years ago, we ran into some folks who were just ... Read More
My husband and I have cruised on ocean going vessels before and have travelled extensively. We are both in our sixties and are pretty active. When we were on a hiking trip to Germany a few years ago, we ran into some folks who were just off a riverboat and they raved about what a good time they were having. It put the idea in our heads to give it a try. After a lot of research, some of which used this web site, we decided on the Waterways of the Czars itinerary of the Viking Riverboat cruise company. We also chose to add the Helsinki pre-cruise extension option. Usually, we make our own air arrangements but we decided to let the cruise company take care of it for this trip.
The tour company advised us that we would have to arrange for a Visa to visit Russia. We were given to option of using a company that would arrange for the Visa for us for a fee. After checking on the internet, we opted to arrange for the Visa ourselves. The tour company sent us an Invitation to Visit Russia form that we would need. We downloaded the application form from the internet and followed the directions exactly. They give you a list of items that must be submitted to their embassy. In just 3 weeks we had our Visas.
We flew to Helsinki at the end of August and enjoyed 3 nights at the Radisson Blu Plazza in the heart of Helsinki. It was a great place to get over jet-lag and to see a new city. It isn't a five star hotel but it is clean and quiet and very central. A Viking Representative met us at the airport and whisked us to our hotel.
Our first day in Helsinki we were given a walking tour of the city. We had free time that afternoon and all the next day to explore on our own. A Viking representative was at the hotel every day to give us advice about where to go and how to get there. We got very comfortable using public transportation and enjoyed our stay in the city.
On our day of departure the Viking rep. met us in the lobby of the hotel. Our luggage was whisked away for us and taken to the train. We all walked over to the train station, only a couple of blocks away. Our Viking rep. took us to the train and got us on the right car. She made sure we understood the procedures for crossing the border into Russia and gave us our tickets.
We realy enjoyed the scenery of the 6 hour train trip. Food and beverages are available on the train but we took our own. The train is stopped for about an hour at the Russian border while the guards take all the passports away and get them stamped - or whatever it is they are doing with them.
We were met at the train station in St. Petersburg and taken by bus to the ship. The journey that usually takes 30 minutes took almost 3 hours. The St. Petersburg traffic jam had to be seen to be believed. Car ownership has exploded in Russia in the past 15 years and the city wasn't prepared for the resulting congestion. Russian drivers are not the best in the world either. It is the first time I have seen people drive along on sidewalks and pedestrian paths. Pedestrians need to be careful. I think that Russin drivers believe that the white lines indicating pedestrian crossings are only some weird form of graffiti.
We liked the fact that most of the tours arranged by the tour company are included in the cost of your cruise ticket. There were a few optional tours offered so that we had the opportunity to tailor our cruise to our own interests. We were also given free time and lots of information on how to get around on our own. We had lectures on Russian history and the Russian language. I found that the information in the lectures really helped us to get the most out of our trip. On the first day of the cruise, you pick your guide from 6 that are available. That guide is with you for the entire cruise. Some days a local tour guide is comes along as well in order to add their expertise on the area you are visiting. All the tour guides were excellent.
After three very busy, very long days touring St.Petersburg, we sailed down the Volga-Baltic waterway to Moscow. Along the way we stopped at 5 very different ports and had tours at all of them. Usually, the tours to these small towns and cities were half-day tours so we had time for our Russian lessons. We also had around table discussion with all our guides one afternoon as they answered all questions about modern life in Russia and Russia under the Soviet regime. They were very frank in their answers. It was obvious that they are very proud of their country and are very aware of the challenges that they face.
The scenery along the way was lovely. The ship glides slowly along the canals with hardly any felling of motion at all. The captain said that on the big lakes there can be some bigger waves. The lakes were like a mirror when we sailed.
We ended the cruise with 4 nights in Moscow. It's a good thing that we rested up while sailing on the canal, because we were really busy in Moscow. We had come a long way and we wanted to see as much as we could. We had three very full days seeing the city and enjoying every minute of it.
The ship was very comfortable. It was refurbished in the last couple of years. The decor is Scandanavian Modern. There is one sitting in the dining room. The food is not as varied as on a cruise ship but it was very good and there was plenty of choice for everyone. The food was beautifully presented and the portions were small. There was coffee, tea and hot chocolate available 24 hours a day. Even though the dining room was open seating, we all sort of gravitated to our favorite spots fairly early on the cruise and the waiters learned our preferences remarkably quickly.
Staterooms are a little smaller than on an ocean going cruise ship but there was plenty of room for our belongings. Our room steward was perfect. She kept our room beautifully and we never saw her. She was the majic genie that just did her job invisibly.
The cruise is not appropriate for children. There are no facilities for them and they would not be very interested in the lectures and tours. There is no casino and no glitzy entertainment. If you are looking for evening excitment on board, you are doomed to disappoinment. There is no gym or exercise equipment but the activity director leads exercise classes on deck on mornings when there is no early tour. There are always a dozen or so hardy souls keeping him company. There were two computers available for passengers. They were very busy. There is free wireless Internet available in your room although there it was a bit slow. There were a couple of times on the trip when we had no Internet service.
On disembarkation day, we had our luggage outside our rooms 30 minutes before the shuttle took us to the airport. Unfortunately, our flight was at 5:50 AM. We had to get up at 1:45 AM. That is pretty early when you are facing a very long trip home. However, one of the guides was with us on the bus. He escorted us to the right check-in counter and made certain that we understood where we had to go to navigate the check-in and security procedures. Since all the signs were in the Russian alphabet, it would have been pretty confusing without his help.
We were very happy with the whole riverboat cruising experience and are going to do it again next year. We have already booked the cruise!
Our expectations were certainly exceeded by this cruise. We thought the service was outstanding. It is a very different experience than ocean cruising. We like the smaller number of passengers and made some really great friends over the two weeks. Read Less
As we had heard from others that traveled with Viking was of the same quality and service as AMA Waterways and they had the itinerary that we wanted, we booked a cruise with them. On 9/3/10 we embarked on Viking MS Maribelle in Lyon on ... Read More
As we had heard from others that traveled with Viking was of the same quality and service as AMA Waterways and they had the itinerary that we wanted, we booked a cruise with them. On 9/3/10 we embarked on Viking MS Maribelle in Lyon on their Southern France Serenade 8 day cruise on the Rhone and Saone Rivers. Our first impression of the ship was that it was an old ship and that it did not have the luxury appearance of their Neptune ship. When we got to our stateroom, we were disappointed to see that it did not have a bed, but had two small couches which turned into separate small twin beds with hard mattresses. This was the same setup throught the ship. My husband who is tall could barely fit and if you turned too quickly, you hit the wall. Next came the very small shower that when you turned on the water, the curtain stuck to your body.
The dinning experience can be described as the same level and quality as eating at a Denny's restaurant. The food was without taste and of poor quality. They added so much ice to their orange juice that when it melted, it was more water then orange juice. They served their left over smoked fish from the night before for their breakfast. You got the feeling that they were rationing their food throughout the trip, not that it matter as it was of poor taste that you did not want large portions anyway. They offered wine with dinner at no cost, but it was cheap wine, so you were not too eager to drink much of it.
The cruise director though friendly, provided minimal service. He did not go out of his way to provide more service then required. Some of the waiters had a difficult time understanding English and made it hard to get service from them. The maitre'd came across as very rigid and strict with rules that it made you feel uncomfortable asking for service. The stateroom cleaning staff, however, were very good. They service your room efficiently and left your room sparkling clean.
The entertainment was very poor. The one musician aboard played the same beat to every song in a Hungarian tone. This was not conducive to wanting to stay and enjoy hearing him play or enjoy dancing to the music.
The one thing that was good about this cruise, were the port and shore excursions. We saw some very beautiful areas of France and sites.
During the cruise, we heard that Viking leased the ship Ms Maribelle and it's crew as there was a high demand for this itinerary. In my opinion they were more concerned with making money, then providing quality and excellent service. Throughout our trip, we heard the same complains from a number of passengers and it became a joke to talk about the quality and service of the ship. We could not wait to get off the ship. It was very upsetting to feel this way after having travel so far and having spend the money and receive this kind of treatment.
In summary, we would not recommend this cruise to anyone and would not recommend Viking as it appears they cared more about making money and little about the service and quality they provide. Read Less
I have wanted to cruise in the 1000 Islands and on the St. Lawrence River for some time, so I have been looking at this cruise line for years! We finally got a date that worked! The cruise met all my expectations and then some. The small ... Read More
I have wanted to cruise in the 1000 Islands and on the St. Lawrence River for some time, so I have been looking at this cruise line for years! We finally got a date that worked! The cruise met all my expectations and then some. The small crew was fantastic!
Although the cabins are very small, they are certainly adequate. And who wants to stay in the cabin when there was so much to see and do?
The ports of call interesting. We learned a lot of history and fascinating facts about the areas. All the shore excursions were well organized. The Cruise Director joked about our "stretch limos". They were really school buses, but the rides were short.
The food was delicious. They offered 1/2 portions, so that was a plus. I only gained 5 pounds!
This is not a cruise for a family with small children. Most of the passengers were in the 60 to 80 range, most quite active. They were an interesting collection from many locations -- Canada, Texas, Australia, Hawaii, Florida, California, New York. Read Less
We were aboard the River Beatrice for seven nights from Budapest to Passau and then took Uniworld's extension to Prague. After several ocean cruises, this was our first river cruise and the best cruise ever. The suite was luxurious, ... Read More
We were aboard the River Beatrice for seven nights from Budapest to Passau and then took Uniworld's extension to Prague. After several ocean cruises, this was our first river cruise and the best cruise ever. The suite was luxurious, with lots of room to move around as well as plenty of storage and a nice size bathroom. The food was great, especially at the special events such as the captain's dinners. The level of the food would rival many of the excellent restaurants we have here in the SF Bay Area, and the wine poured with dinner was of good quality. The fact that the wine and excursions were included in the initial price meant that you didn't have to worry about buying a wine package or standing in line to sign up for excursions as we have done on all of our ocean cruises. Each Uniworld employee went out of their way to make our trip enjoyable. The cruise director, Christine, is exceptional in every way - she has an extensive knowledge of the area and is very articulate, patient and warm. And the people we met on the cruise were interesting and fun to be with for a week.
Regarding the excursions, the local guides were almost always excellent, and the QuietVox system allowed everyone to hear the entire presentation. On some of the city tours, after we tired of regimentation and buses, we were able to break away and find our way back to the ship on our own. This was especially easy in Vienna especially, where the Metro line can take you within a 10-minute walk to the ship.
The Prague extension was enjoyable as well. Getting there was easy because a bus picked us up at the ship and took us to Prague, and Uniworld's guide Jana in Prague was exceptional. She offered a private optional tour of the theatre where Mozart first performed Figaro, conducted by the 85-year-old former symphony conductor, as well as a tour of the beautiful second floor of the Municipal Building. Her included tour of Prague Castle was very well done, and she took very good care of the Uniworld group throughout the stay, including handling everyone's airport transfers.
All in all, this was a great trip, and we will definitely use Uniworld in the future. Read Less
My husband and I enjoyed our Uniworld cruise, "Castles on the Rhine". This was the third river cruise we have taken, the first being an Avalon cruise from Prague to Budapest and the second a Uniworld "Tulips and ... Read More
My husband and I enjoyed our Uniworld cruise, "Castles on the Rhine". This was the third river cruise we have taken, the first being an Avalon cruise from Prague to Budapest and the second a Uniworld "Tulips and Windmills". We began with a day on our own in Amsterdam, an attractive and interesting city in which to relax and catch our breaths after the flight over, never a favorite part of travel.
The River Ambassador, while the smallest and oldest ship we have cruised on, was attractive and well-maintained. While the cabins were the smallest we've ever been assigned to, we ended up spending more time in the comfortable lounge. The crew could not have been better, and the cruise manager and hotel manager were terrific. There were excursions included every day, and the local guides did a good job. We felt that the food was the best we have had, and decent wines were poured freely with dinner. The breakfasts offered good variety and an omelet station. Lunches were very good with a variety of salads, soups, a couple of hot entrees, sandwich-making possibilities and always a tempting dessert table.
The itinerary offered by this cruise included a day and a half in the Alsace region of France. We enjoyed a canal cruise in Strasbourg and a full day visiting the charming villages of Riquewihr and Kaisersburg. Speyer, Germany was also a favorite town along the way.
Our fellow cruisers included other Americans, many Canadians, and a few from "down under". The average age was, perhaps, 60, and it was a very congenial group. River cruising is a great way to go for a relaxing holiday visiting interesting places while enjoying good food and companionship. Uniworld does an exceptional job of providing a quality experience. Read Less
My wife and I (until I lost her to cancer six years ago) made it to Europe some 8 times over the years. The first trip was pretty much on foot, then by rail, then with friends in their car. We stayed in tiny, cheap hotels and ritzy places ... Read More
My wife and I (until I lost her to cancer six years ago) made it to Europe some 8 times over the years. The first trip was pretty much on foot, then by rail, then with friends in their car. We stayed in tiny, cheap hotels and ritzy places (one time when I won the trip in a contest.) Each time we seemed to step up in class.
I really regret that I was not able to share with her my trip (with wonderful, loving friends) on the Viking Legend from Amsterdam to Budapest last August.
I have never known an outfit to be so organized, yet so comfortable. The staff was beyond belief...they were not happy unless they were doing something for us.
The food was superb, selected to reflect the area in which we were cruising at the time and prepared in such a way that you felt it was the absolute best, but not to "gourmet" that you failed to recognize the food. Once again, the staff in the restaurant was friendly, but super efficient.
When it was announced that a group of buses would leave the ship at 1 pm, they left at exactly that time. Staff members were always within sight in case we needed directions or help (I suspect they had a portable defibrillator in that little red backpack.)
I was having some trouble walking and was using a cane. Special groups they called "leisurely" (a nice word for SLOW) were assembled at each tour spot. The included excursions were excellent and the couple of optional ones were well worth the small extra charge. I never felt left behind or made to feel I was causing a problem with my handicap and I really appreciated that concern on their part.
The only complaint I had was that there was no elevator on this boat.
The tremendous variety of speakers, musicians, glass blowers, cooks, etc. that they offered on the ship most afternoons and/or evening were also excellent.
I could not believe how spacious my cabin was and the sliding glass doors allowed me to photograph many sights and sites without having to shoot through the glass. As a professional photographer, I really appreciated that, too.
I could go on for many pages, but will sum it up this way: I got much more than I expected for my money in every way and will never forget the experience! Read Less
The ship, Viking Neptune, was clean and comfortable and we were very glad to reach it after a very tiring journey from St. Pancras to Chalons-sur-Saone. A change of trains at Paris was organised by a Viking Representative, but at the ... Read More
The ship, Viking Neptune, was clean and comfortable and we were very glad to reach it after a very tiring journey from St. Pancras to Chalons-sur-Saone. A change of trains at Paris was organised by a Viking Representative, but at the second change in Dijon we were left to manage trains, platforms and luggage with no help or inforamtion. At first the food seemed plentiful and good, but we quickly realised that none of it was really fresh. As we stopped at towns with some of the finest food in France, everything we ate came from the freezer. Fruit was unripe and bread was sometimes still frozen at the centre. Tours were organised daily, but half of them were 'optional' and extra fees were charged. Guides were knowdegable, but a great deal of walking was involved, and this prevented many of the older and less able passengers from participating. On-board entertainment was minimal, with little attempt to create an atmmosphere of enjoyment, and lectures were less than gripping - a talk on mustard, for example. TV offerings were minimal and old. The majority of the crew were German, as were most of the pasengers, and announcements in heavily accented English were difficult to understand. Those crew members managing the reception desk were often less than courteous, and quite unhelpful at times. Cabin and waiting staff were very pleasant and efficient. This was our first river cruise, and will be our last with Viking. Read Less
This was our first River Boat Cruise (though not our first ocean cruise) .. however it certainly will NOT be our last! We found it just delightful! In our opinion and for our taste .. FAR superior and FAR more interesting than ocean ... Read More
This was our first River Boat Cruise (though not our first ocean cruise) .. however it certainly will NOT be our last! We found it just delightful! In our opinion and for our taste .. FAR superior and FAR more interesting than ocean cruising! We found the smaller AMA Amalegro ship of 75 cabins and open dining seating to be much more conducive to a very friendly outgoing atmosphere onboard. Now to details .. good but uneven service and staff.. Some with great attitude, always ready with helpful suggestions, answers and smiles .. others .. with an actual response to a courteous request .. "I only have two hands.". This said .. we especially were impressed with the professionalism and fun attitude of the restaurant's Maitre de, Mr. Gabor Lukacs .. he made up for a lot! The same could not be said of the Second Captain, Ludovic Schrepf, .. I do believe I never once saw him smile on the entire trip! I was shocked to see a smile on his "gallery of staff" photo .. my goodness .. he DOES know how to smile. Quite a sour .. or shall I say dour personality for a ship of this type. To progress in the travel industry I think he needs to be sent to "Charm School"! The food itself needs improvement .. not in quantity but in quality. From chatting with the other guests (and the fact that we are seasoned travelers ourselves) it is obvious the ship is dealing with some fairly well developed palates. For such a small ship there is no excuse not to be putting out a cuisine to astonish .. this experience was pedestrian to be honest. Sounds good on the menu but so so on delivery most often. Quite frequently overcooked vegetables and meats, soups that taste primarily of stock .. could hardly tell one from the other, horrific cookies presented in the Lounge in the afternoon that were an insult to the taste buds! Just no excuse not to have excellent pastries available in this area of the world! I was shocked at the lack of creativity, imagination, flair in terms of the taste .. all presentation and no taste! The waffles I had the last day for breakfast would be a perfect example. I swear you could have taken a photo of the plate for a food magazine! Darling heart shaped waffles surrounding a mound of whipped cream with a beautifully carved strawberry in the center .. all dusted with powdered sugar .. truly a wonder to behold! Yuck! Dry .. tasteless .. like eating cardboard. I had two bites and left the rest .. what a disappointment .. again .. all presentation and NO FLAVOR! I will be frank with you .. we spoke with several couples who said they would NOT consider another AMA Waterways River Cruise based on the food experience of this cruise. Since you are essentially a "captive audience" onboard and food is an important component of any cruise .. PLUS since a River Cruise is not exactly cheap compared to an ocean cruise .. they are going elsewhere. One couple said they have been very happy with Avalon River Cruises .. we are going to check into them next. I don't know if the food problem is with the lack of imagination with the current Executive Chef or poor decision making in upper management but it really is too bad. Just because they are running a business with a "full ship" .. word gets around if you take advantage of people and don't deliver as expected. Clean cabin, adequate storage space, good bedside reading lamp, #322 had a lovely view of passing sights, one very comfy easy chair (would be nice to have the space for 2!) however the space is SO tight that to even uncover your duvet at night is a struggle .. not a half inch of spare space, small but adequate bathroom with an electrical outlet which was nice, very nice shower with 3 heads. Only downsides were the free internet NEVER worked in our room and only occasionally in the Lounge .. but most of all .. the beds were TERRIBLY hard! Merely a thin mattress on wood slats! Upon the ship's next remodel they MUST do something about the mattress situation. Anyone with a shoulder/hip/back would be in trouble! Housekeeping was very helpful in accommodating me by adding 2 duvets to my mattress .. that helped immeasurably for my back but onboard the supply of duvets would be grossly limited so ask EARLY if you have such a limitation! We felt the land Day Trips in total were excellent. We especially liked the method of individual earphones connected to the Tour Guide Leader .. didn't miss a word of any guided tour. I'm sure most of you know .. but prepare for all kinds of weather! The last week of August on this cruise .. many didn't prepare with the weather rainy and in the low 50's to barely 60's. Layer .. Layer .. Layer .. bring at least one turtle neck sweater and jacket. Also be VERY careful stepping down at all times .. we had several twisted/bruised people after wet slippery steps were misjudged! AND quite a few colds .. bring cold medicine and wash hands frequently! Sure enough my 2nd night dinner companion (delightful fellow!) gave me a bad cold bug that I am still fighting! EXCELLENT onboard entertainment and organized activities upon arrival at some ports! We really enjoyed many of them .. very well done! Especially the local talent in port towns! The Tour Director, Lilo Lehmann, could not have been better. While quietly VERY efficient and professional .. she was just so friendly, helpful and outgoing .. making everyone feel welcome and a part of the happy little group. Just perfect for the job .. I'm sure they don't pay her enough! Overall we were delighted with our first experience and it will not be our last! We have fallen in love with the concept and may even rearrange future travel plans to accommodate more River Cruises .. just probably not with the AMA because of the quality of the food .. unless we read on TripAdvisors.com that they have improved it GREATLY! If it is at all possible for you .. fly into Prague EARLY! It is a GORGEOUS city! We flew in 9 days early and it could have been longer .. we just LOVED it! We stayed at the Hotel Paris and it was a delight .. book directly for a good rate with a WONDERFUL buffet breakfast (room #307 is VERY quiet and a small but nice balcony)! http://www.hotel-paris.cz/ Read Less
This review is mainly about the ship details. As far as the itinerary and excursions they were second to none. We found out that the ship was scheduled to be renovated at the end of the year which left me concerned as to the appointments ... Read More
This review is mainly about the ship details. As far as the itinerary and excursions they were second to none. We found out that the ship was scheduled to be renovated at the end of the year which left me concerned as to the appointments and whether Uniworld would let the ship get run down. They did not disappoint me there.
The ship was very clean and nice but not to today's increased standards and competition. Hence the renovations. One inexcusable critique though is directed to the dining room. The first presentation to me was a appetizer served in a chipped bowl. I thought at first maybe it was something overlooked but when I looked over to my husband's dish and saw 2 chips in his bowl I became very disappointed. I didn't say anything but stewed over it for the evening. The next day at lunch I was served a glass dish with chipped all around the edge. Well that blew it for me and I call the dining room manager over and told her that dish belonged in the garbage. Then I went to the center of the dining room where the chef was dishing out ice cream and went through the stack of bowls and told them to get rid of all the chipped bowls. On on other incident my wine glass was chipped around the lower part. So I am no sure what was going on. The kitchen manager was very young and only 2 weeks on the job in fact many of the crew were relatively new to the job. No excuse for it though. That was my only complaint for the whole cruise.
Uniworld tried to make everyone as comfortable as possible. Our rooms were always clean. We never did meet the room attendant though. The bar stayed opened until the last person left. The musician was very good but he couldn't sing very well. We didn't seem to mind much. This was our first river cruise and I would definitely do another one. I don't believe it is for everyone though.
The average age on our cruise must have been 65 years. There are not many activities on the ship as the tours can keep you going all day. You have the option of staying on board or doing places yourself. The tour guides were excellent as were the tours. But if you are more interested in sitting around by a pool and drinking this would not be for you.
We took the pre-cruise extension in Amsterdam and it was very good. The hotel room was OK but not North American standards. Our room was very small and overlook the air conditioning unit. So it was very expensive $500 each for 2 nights. We did have a tour included as well and the use of the guide. Breakfast was also included. Read Less
VIKING RIVER CRUISE - ELEGANT ELBE CLARA SCHUMANN AUGUST 27 - SEPTEMBER 6, 2010
After 25 sea cruises, we decided that our "cruising life" would not be truly representative of the genre until we did a river cruise. ... Read More
VIKING RIVER CRUISE - ELEGANT ELBE CLARA SCHUMANN AUGUST 27 - SEPTEMBER 6, 2010
After 25 sea cruises, we decided that our "cruising life" would not be truly representative of the genre until we did a river cruise. "We" are my wife Edith, a homemaker and retired health care worker from Phoenix, AZ and I am a retired city attorney from that City also. We considered the many standard cruises down the Rhine or Danube, but chose the Elbe cruise from Prague to Berlin for several reasons. We liked the cities on the trip; Prague, Dresden, Meissen and Berlin in particular. Edith is German born, and enjoys a language advantage in the German portion of the trip. All of the stops (until West Berlin) were under Communist rule until the wall came down in Germany in 1989, followed by the "Velvet Revolution" in Prague, which liberated the former Czechoslovakia. All of this promised a unique experience which was largely borne out by our trip.
Preparations and Getting There
Viking is the only cruise line offering this trip. They offer a discount if paid in full by wire transfer, and we opted for this. Due to the fact that one day in Prague is included as well as one day in Berlin; we thought it better that Viking make the air arrangements, which probably were slightly cheaper than if we bought "open-jaw" air tickets going to Prague and returning from Berlin.
Fortunately I remembered to check the weather reports, and found out that the temperatures would run between the low 50s and low 60s, with the strong probability of rain for at least the first 6 or 7 days of the cruise. This led to a thorough reconsideration of what we would bring as clothing, which proved to be a blessing. The last time we had been in that neck of the woods, in 2003, the temperatures had been in the 80s and 90s, in early August. It is really important to check the weather on any river cruise because the chief attraction is the time spent ashore.
Our outgoing flight involved only one stop in Atlanta and then on to Prague, arriving at about 9:30. While we had early wake-up call, our flight to Atlanta left Phoenix at 7:20 A.M., this was a pretty straight forward and routine trip.
We were met by a Viking representative and taken to one of the two Hilton Hotels in Prague. It is a new structure, slightly outside the "Old City", but within easy walking distance of that part of town. For a review of this hotel, you can go to Tripadvisor.com; but suffice to say - do not eat at the hotel restaurant The prices are outrageous, unless you like to pay more that $5.00 for a bottle of water. The breakfast brunch, included as in all European hotels, was quite good however.
Viking provided us with a nice tour of the Palace area and the Old Town the next day after arrival. This was our introduction into being divided into three groups, and being provided with Viking's Quietvox tour audio system, in which we were provided with a small radio receiver and an earpiece connection for listening to our guide. It works pretty well, although it requires a short warm-up period. Each guide "broadcasts" on a different frequency. The next day we had lunch at a local restaurant suggested by Patrick, one of Viking's staff assisting at the hotel. It was hearty Czech food, quite good and very reasonable, about half what we had paid at the Hilton. Patrick also had led a non-scheduled, informal walking tour the night before which Edith enjoyed, but I skipped.
We were instructed to mark our luggage with one of three different colored ribbons, and they were transferred to one of three busses by color. At about 3:30 we started departing for Melnik, Czech Republic, mostly by freeway, which took about 45 minutes. There we were simply handed real keys to our staterooms - no plastic, thank you
When we entered our cabin, which had been designated as Class A Deluxe, we were shocked to find out that it was not the enlarged cabin pictured and described in the Viking brochure. Instead of a reasonable sized, 180 square foot cabin with a double bed and space for a dresser and decent sized closet, we had a standard 120 square foot cabin. The other seven couples who had purchased and expected the same accommodations were similarly outraged. We were told that the refurbishment was still In the future, even though the brochure had said the ship and cabins were "Fully Refurbished". The upper third of the window tilted open, but with the cold weather we hardly ever opened it.
But the only other choice was to take a taxi back to Prague and fly home, so we were stuck with our cabins.
Clara Schumann is small for a river cruiser, and is specifically designed for the Elbe River. It has no propellers, only a "water-jet" system which sucks in river water and spins it back out. This is a design attributable to the fact that the Elbe is a very shallow river in parts, and could be getting shallower each year. On some occasions the actual cruising has been abandoned since the ship had insufficient water and would have become stranded. Bus trips were substituted. Fortunately 2010 had a somewhat rainy summer, and we never experienced a problem.
The ship has two fully enclosed decks and an open deck topside, which also held the wheelhouse and was partly covered. The upper deck had cabins aft, the reception area and the lounge, with bar forward. The lower deck had cabins aft, a small sauna, and the dining room forward. One could not go from the lower cabin area directly to the dining room, but was required to go up the stairs to the reception area and then down to the dining room.. We were told that this was a safety design decision. The dining room and lounge would each hold the full complement of passengers.
The cabins all had a couch which turned into a single bed, and another bed opposite which pulled down Murphy Bed fashion. There was a small table between beds in front of the single window. There was one small closet and two shelves. The pull down bed had a narrow shelf above it, and there was another overhead shelf towards the door. The bathroom was small and the shower had a curtain with no division between the shower floor and the rest of the bathroom, so that water would flow out into the general bathroom area. One had to put the floor mat up on the toilet, and then put it back down when one emerged from the shower. There was some room in a cabinet, which proved to be sufficient for most toiletries. There was no room for suitcases, but ours were taken away by our room attendant and returned the last night for packing. We asked for and got a few extra hangers.
We met at 6:45 for a safety briefing that had an aspect quite different from our prior cruises. We were told that if the ship sank, simply go to the upper deck, since we would still be high and dry as the boat rested gently on the bottom of the shallow Elbe River. Our "Cruise Director" Martin Caco, is called "Program Director". He introduced the Officers and the other major players. With all the kitchen and attending staff, the crew amounted to only 34 people. Our next day tours were outlined, as they were every day, by Martin, who is from Slovakia, and speaks six languages
We then went to dinner, which of course is open seating. The dinner menu included a specific vegetarian menu, which pleased Edith. For everything else there were basically two choices for salad, "starters" which included a soup, entrEe and dessert (with a cheese plate option). Beer and wine were served without charge at dinner, and not limited to one glass, but freely poured as requested. Edith said the wine was not bad, but since I do not drink I have no opinion.
Luncheons we partly buffet, with a few options which could be ordered. The buffet had sandwiches and one hot entrEe, as well as a salad bar.
The breakfast buffet was very good indeed, with several hot options, lots of fruit, cereal, and the ability to order pancakes, waffles and egg dishes including omelets. The coffee was pretty good by cruise ship standards. I would like to single out the baker for the highest marks, well up there in the tradition of fine European bread and pastry making.
Overall I would rate the dinner meals at three stars+, the lunches at two stars+ and the breakfasts at four stars+. These ratings are by way of comparison with our prior cruising experiences, which include the superlative Crystal Serenity experience (twice), ten Celebrity cruises and three Oceania trips; all at four+ to five stars, not to mention Princess and HAL, both at four stars in most cuisine categories. If one was to compare Viking with normal restaurant dining, their rating would be higher. The main reasons for my opinion are the limited selections available (a necessary result of the ship's size) and a certain lack of imagination. The dining room service was largely cheerful and pleasant, hampered, as is so often the case, by some language difficulties, varying from one staff member to another.
But I imagine that no one goes on a river cruise expecting cordon bleu cuisine, so I would not downgrade our overall experience too much by the limitations in the food area.
The Riverboat Cruising Experience
This is what we came for, and this is where we had the best experiences, despite the poor weather. With one exception, an optional visit to a concentration camp near Litomêrice, Czech Republic, our first stop, all tours are included in the cruise fare. The various stops are governed by the distances between the towns involved, and to some extent by the sights available. The ship does not exactly move with lightning speed, and I would imagine the trip back up the Elbe from Berlin to Prague varies a little in its timing of stops and sailing because that portion is against the river current, while we went with the flow. In some instances we spent a morning traveling, in others the afternoon, and on other occasions, all day in town.. Sometimes we remained docked overnight, but sometimes we sailed at night.
The Elbe is not very wide, varying from probable less that 100 yards across (my estimate is calculated by what golf club I think I would need to get across this "water hole") to perhaps 250 yards. As noted, it is very shallow. One can stand behind the wheelhouse and see the depth gauge, which normally read about 2 to 3 meters, with the draft of the ship being one meter. While there are a number of towns, ranging from hamlets to one large city (Dresden), there are many stretches in which we were gliding in absolute silence between farm lands, hearing sheep bleat, to forests where one passenger spotted a deer, and we all saw lots of waterfowl, egrets, cranes, ducks and swans. The silence of our passage was due to our unique propulsion system, which had no turbine whine or propeller noise. It was extremely restful, albeit a tad chilly and damp, sitting on the upper deck watching everything flow quietly past us.
Ports of Call
Our first stop was LitomErice in the Czech Republic. As in every stop, we landed close to the center of town, and we simply followed our guide on a walking tour of this pretty little place. The guides were evidently supplied by local tour companies, and met us at each stop. Dagmar, our first guide was extremely talkative and repetitious, (we really did not want to know the history of her name) and we were pleased when the weather, for which she was not dressed, persuaded her to return to her bus early and left us to wander around on our own. I was even able to spend most of the 100 Czech korunas left from our supply exchanged easily for euros at the Hilton in Prague. This was about a four hour afternoon stop.
The next day we crossed into Germany and stopped at a small town called Bad Schandau in a hilly region called the Saxon Alps. Just a trifle ambitious since the hills maxed out at about 800-900 feet. However we rook a bus ride of about 40 minutes back and around into the hills until we arrived at a tourist stop with a hotel and restaurant close to the ruins of a fort overlooking the river from about 850 feet. Here many of us paid all of 1€ to extend the tour over some steel grate bridges and up stairs out into the escarpment where we had stunning views of pinnacles rising up from the ground, and then into the ruins themselves. The views out across the river were also grand. We went back to the main part of the site and had coffee in a restaurant with a panoramic view of the countryside. This was really a high point of the cruise. When we returned and cruised away, for a few minutes, we could look back at where we had been, and even see the restaurant. The sun came out briefly and the whole experience was delightful.
The next day (and in fact the next night) were spent in Dresden. This is the city which was almost destroyed completely in a fire bombing air raid in January 1945. The rebuilding has been virtually completed, and it is certainly worth visiting. A highlight was being able to listen to a ½ hour organ recital on a magnificent instrument in the Dresden Cathedral. We also had the chance to do some shopping in a new shopping area, and to buy some euros at a Deutsche Bank ATM. It started raining very heavily on us, but with Edith's umbrella and my rain jacket, we got by pretty well.
Edith and I both love good china ware, and we looked forward to Meissen, our next stop and the home of Meissen porcelain since about 1708. The factory "tour" was a staged trip showing us a few details about how the china is painted and prepared, but not really how it is produced. This was disappointing, but the Porcelain Museum attached was not. The work that has been done here over the centuries is amazing. There also was an "outlet" store and a regular store. One or two of our fellow passengers actually made a purchase. The prices are quite high to say the least. We also had a chance to walk around town for a short while.
After a brief afternoon trip we came to Torgau, a town noted for the meeting between the American and Russian armies in late April, 1945, the virtual end of the European phase of WWII. We had a quick tour and although we remained docked there overnight, I do not think anyone went back into town.
The next day, after amorning of travel, we reached Wittenberg, the seat of Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation, including the church where he nailed the 95 theses. The original wooden door has not survived. The tour of his home was interesting and the town has a large central square with a strikingly beautiful Rathaus, or City Hall.
The next stop, Dessau, was marked by a tour of a striking, 17 square mile garden built by a ruler in the 1800s. This visit included what was called a "gondola" ride, powered by a pleasant young oarsman, around a lake forming part of this park. Actually, in lieu of the gondola trip, one could enjoy a tour of the main castle building.
Our next stop was Magdeberg, but only for docking purposes since we arrived in the early evening with just time for the Captain's Farewell dinner and re-packing. This last exercise meant we had to take turns in the cabin to deal with our own suitcases, since there was nowhere nearly enough room for both of us to operate at the same time. We did have the Baked Alaska parade however.
The next morning we boarded our buses to travel to Potsdam, about an hour away, for a tour of that suburb of Berlin. We viewed a couple of castles including a short tour of one castle, the last home of "Kaiser Bill"; Kaiser Wilhelm II who led Germany through WWI and fled from this building in 1918 (with 20 boxcars of furnishings) to exile in Holland where he died in the late 1930s. After that we were dropped off in town to have lunch on our own, which we did at a nice, reasonably priced, sidewalk cafe, Afterwards we visited (but did not enter, the castle where the 1945 Potsdam Conference between Stalin, Truman and Clement Atlee took place in August 1945, effectively dividing up Europe into East and West. This building is now partly a hotel, but it was occupied by Kaiser Wilhelm's son until he fled the Russian Army in the spring of 1945. The Hohenzollern family is still around.
After this we drove into Berlin which began virtually next door to this site, and to the Hilton Hotel in what was once East Berlin. This was a much nicer hotel that the Prague Hilton. After dinner on our own (where we ran into and joined some fellow passengers) we went on a walking tour guided by Patrick from Viking. He had been on vacation for a week and went to Rome to assist our departure.
The people joining the ship for the return trip to Prague had actually passed us in the parking lot in Potsdam. The walking tour took us to Check Point Charlie and down a nearby street where we could see a remnant of the Wall.
After a good nights sleep, and an excellent buffet breakfast we left for the airport at about 8:45 for our return to Phoenix via JFK, again with only this one stop.
A note on "castles". This term simply means a building which served as a residence, usually one of several residences, of the family which happened to be ruling at one time or another. The buildings were not the fortified warrior homes that we usually associate with the word castle, and which are more common in England and Scotland. Our "castles" were usually only palatial residences constructed in the 1700s and 1800s, with a few being occupied until the end of WWI, which signaled the end of Central European Royal family ruling dynasties. One exception was the Konigsberg castle near Bad Schandau, high above the Elbe, which was a true fortification, at least when viewed by us from the river.
There were 108 passengers out of a possible 110. With the exception of two couples, the median age was somewhere in the 60s (to be kind). We discovered that nearly everyone we talked to had done other river cruises. The open seating enabled us to meet a large number of fellow travelers, and this was very enjoyable, although we could not meet everybody. The homelands ranged from New Zealand and Australia to Canada, Germany, the UK and the United States, with the last being the best represented of course.
I should note that some people had taken advantage of Viking's pre-cruise two day tour of Prague and more remained for their two day extension in Berlin.
Attire is quite casual. Only a few of the men wore jackets and fewer yet wore ties for the Captain's Farewell Dinner. The ladies dressed up a bit more for that event. As you might imagine, good walking shoes, an umbrella and a lightweight rain jacket are necessities. I often wore my Tilley hat, but wearing any kind of headgear in Europe immediately identifies you as a tourist from America.
Tipping was suggested at $9.00 to $11.00 per person per day. I paid by credit card, but since the on-board currency was the Euro it ended up as an odd figure.
Tipping of guides at the rate of 3-5 €s per couple was the norm. My guide book said that a 10% tip for restaurant servers in the Czech Republic was the norm, but in Germany a service charge is often included in the bill.
The Crew and Other Matters
As noted, Martin was a very good program director and was visible and available almost all the time. The Captain spoke little English, and was pretty inaccessible and distant. Most of the restaurant servers and cabin attendants had a working knowledge of the English needed for their jobs, There was entertainment in the form of Vladimir, who played an electric type piano in the lounge in the afternoon. Tea was served every afternoon, with a few goodies, but all other food was available only at regular meal times. Coffee and tea wer always available at a station in the lounge.
River cruising is distinctly different, and to enjoy it you must be prepared to do a lot of off-boat touring which will involve walking and listening to guides talk a lot. Like any cruise, there is some free time, and not much by way of on-board entertainment. The actual "Cruising Down the River" part is relaxing, and you have countryside to look at, not just ocean. Our cabins were exceptionally small according to fellow passengers who had done more river trips, and we did not sleep all that well on our narrow beds. But this (and the weather) were the only significant drawbacks to what was otherwise a very pleasant, relaxing and refreshing cruise as well as being a very new experience. We believe that we will do at least one more river cruise, in Europe rather than Russia or China, in 2012, since 2011 is pretty well planned already. We would definitely recommend river cruising.
Phil and Edith Read Less
Oh, no - cruise was slated for an Amsterdam-Budapest voyage. Had to be rerouted to Rotterdam as a sailing event that takes place every year in Amsterdam consumed all mooring spaces. Something the cruise line failed to let anyone know at ... Read More
Oh, no - cruise was slated for an Amsterdam-Budapest voyage. Had to be rerouted to Rotterdam as a sailing event that takes place every year in Amsterdam consumed all mooring spaces. Something the cruise line failed to let anyone know at the time of booking. A coach trip was not anything we had signed up for - thus, why we choose cruising. On arrival a mediocre dinner was served, which began two weeks of the best meals being purchased off the ship. Quite a disappointment. To compound, the food quality, was the attitude of servers. Seemed most irritated that we were there most of the time. Very regimented, if you asked for 1 egg in morning, you were told, "only do 2 egg orders". Coffee was slow in coming with regularity, so asked for a carafe of coffee for table, told "we don't do that, we serve". Of course, that was only every 15 min or so they "served". Which you would have to find them or flag them down. In there defense, I would say they were understaffed. Cabins were kept clean, wonderful hot water and pressure. No complaints. Beds on the other had were miserable. When stated after first night that we were uncomfortable, were told "all beds on ship the same, nothing can be done". I pointed out their 24 satisfaction policy, and the "hotel manager" said "well it is because the ship is new and the mattresses are not broke in",surely they did not buy the mattresses with that in mind. I suggested they put 4 duvets across our bed with sheet on top, they did and it was better,never really comfortable. One reason being they only have linens in twin for bed,even though it is a king size variation. So every night we got caught up in the sheets, my husband said it was like camping. Not something you would expect in "luxury" cruising. Two of the things I love about cruising - good food and a comfortable bed. Never been disappointed before. This cruise was not the best. Europe, though, is still beautiful and we loved that. Read Less
My husband's and my 12-day AMA Enchanting Rhine land/cruise began in Zurich, Switzerland, where we spent 2 nights at the Marriott. Peter Whitehead, our outstanding Amalyra Cruise Director, was in the lobby when we arrived (we booked ... Read More
My husband's and my 12-day AMA Enchanting Rhine land/cruise began in Zurich, Switzerland, where we spent 2 nights at the Marriott. Peter Whitehead, our outstanding Amalyra Cruise Director, was in the lobby when we arrived (we booked our own air and took a taxi to the hotel--CFH46.80, paid by cc, no tip required) and directed us how to begin exploring Zurich as the day was free. We found no ATM at the airport nor did the Marriott have one, but Peter directed us to the train station, where we got CFH100, which was plenty to get us through our time in Switzerland. Zurich is a lovely, easily-walked, clean, and quite enjoyable city, as well as having clean (and free) public toilets. We found Switzerland to be rather expensive but did have some lovely meals at not too exorbitant prices. The Marriott's full breakfast was included and very good. The first day we had a delicious bratwurst from a stand in the train station for lunch and that night a wonderful dinner in the Marriott's Thai restaurant, White Elephant. That may sound crazy, but we were bleary-eyed from our overnight flight and following exploration of Zurich on foot. The next morning we had a very nice city tour which began on buses through the University area and Lake Zurich Marina and ended with a walking tour of the Old Town. We had the afternoon to ourselves and had a very nice inexpensive buffet lunch at Limmatblitz near where the Limmat River, which divides Zurich, spills into Lake Zurich. That evening we had a nice dinner at Ruden Bar along the river walkway not far from the hotel. I should stop here and say that throughout we were blessed with nice weather in the 70's, mostly sunny with a shower here and there only. We were told along the way that it had been terribly hot in June and July had been awful, but August arrived with glorious weather. Weren't we lucky?! The next morning we were transported by bus toward Lucerne with breathtaking scenery along the way. We stopped at gorgeous Brunnen on Lake Lucerne, where we had a sandwich lunch (on our own) on the waterfront. We then boarded a ferry that took us across Lake Lucerne to our hotel (Radisson Blu) in Lucerne. (Luggage had been brought by the buses.) After settling in at the hotel, we struck out to explore Lucerne. What a lovely place! The Chapel Bridge is amazing! Again, very walkable, clean and just gorgeous with the Lake's blue water and surrounded by the Alps. That night we had a delicious dinner outdoors at Fritschi, a restaurant with a colorful fresco facade. I would suggest, however, if you go there, make a reservation as we saw them shooing people away for no apparent reason to us. The following morning after breakfast (included) there was a walking tour of Lucerne, then a free afternoon. We had a delightful and inexpensive lunch of Swiss "canapEs" at Baeckerei Hug, a sort of deli place we discovered while walking around. After lunch we continued exploring areas we had not been to before and ended up on the Lake's waterfront park opposite the hotel, where we were treated to a really fun rock concert at the bandshell by the JayCee's. We had a fondue dinner that night at Hirschen, once again, a place we discovered while walking around earlier in the day. The next morning we left by bus to head toward Basel, where we would board the Amalyra. On the way, we made a stop to see Lucerne's emotional Dying Lion deep relief carving in the sandstone cliff above the town, a tribute to the Swiss Guard who died in 1792 trying to save the life and honor of Marie Antoinette. (Note: Do NOT use the public toilet at this site! Gross!) We arrived in Basel in time for a walking tour before lunch, after which we had a wonderful wurstwegge (sausage roll) from one of the carts in the Marktplatz. The thing I enjoyed most about Basel was watching the ferry cross the Rhine (from the bridge near the museum). The ferries are hand-operated by tiller, crossing the river by tacking against the current, held in position by a rope suspended above the river. We met the buses at the Kunstmuseum, which took us to the ship after a stop at the Switzerland, France and Germany crossroads monument. Check-in was a breeze and our luggage was already in our room 214, which was 170 sq. feet with French balcony, well-located, nicely appointed, with ample storage space, lovely toiletries, and a very comfortable bed. We did, however, ask for a top sheet rather than the heavier duvet provided (too much for us). That evening was the Captain's Welcome, at which all the ladies were given a long-stemmed red rose, perfect for the budvase in every cabin, and which remained fresh throughout the cruise. The next morning we had the choice of an included tour to Colmar, France or Freiburg, Germany. We chose Colmar and can't help but think it was the right choice! We started at an Alsatian wine tasting at La Cave Wolfberger in the village of Equisheim, which proved to be an unexpected gem! What a whimsical and delightful place! We then moved on to Colmar, which also was a delight--colorful, picturesque medieval town dating back to 823 with canals throughout, and the birthplace of Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. The next day we had a wonderful canal cruise and walking tour of beautiful Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace region of France. The afternoon was spent cruising to Speyer, one of Germany's oldest towns, where we had an evening walking tour after dinner. The next morning we toured the Castle and Old Town in Heidelberg, and in the afternoon Worms (full of ancient history as well as the Reformation), then cruised to Rudesheim overnight, where the following morning we visited Siegfried's wonderful music museum, filled with his collection of fascinating music boxes. Do not miss doing this! After Siegfried's we went into the hillside vineyards for a wine tasting, after which we walked around the charming town of Rudesheim on our own. This afternoon we cruised through the scenic Rhine Gorge, which is lined with innumerable castles. That night we arrived in Koblenz, where we had an evening tour after dinner. The following morning we continued cruising to Cologne, where we had an Old Town walking tour after lunch including the magnificent Gothic cathedral. Afterward we walked around on our own and had a glass of Kolsch, Cologne's beer specialty, at an outdoor cafe. Cologne was under construction everywhere it seemed (building a subway!) but was still an enjoyable place to visit. That night we were treated to the excellent La Strada trio, whom we had fallen in love with on our AMA Danube cruise last year, as the evening's after-dinner entertainment. We cruised overnight and the following morning into the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, arriving in Amsterdam midday. After lunch we had an afternoon canal cruise through the heart of Amsterdam followed by a bus tour of surrounding areas. We left the bus near the flower market for free time. We chose not to return to the boat by bus but rather to walk around on our own and then walk back to the ship (easily doable). The main thing we did while on our own was to walk through the Red Light District. Very interesting indeed! We flew home the following morning. Peter pre-booked a taxi to the airport for us, for which we paid €35, tip included. It was a truly wonderful trip from beginning to end. I would say that with the exception of the Rhine Gorge, the scenery along the Rhine was not as generally gorgeous as the Danube, but the ports were truly wonderful. I highly recommend this trip and I can't say enough about AMA! My husband and I are completely "hooked" on their excellence. As after our Danube cruise, a few days after coming home we received a thank you postcard, handwritten and signed by Peter (CD), Oliver (hotel manager) and Rein (Captain). Nice touch, don't you think! I would be happy to answer any questions you might have by e-mail - email@example.com. Note: You might also be interested in reading my review of our August 2009 AMA Legendary Danube on the Amadante. Read Less
My husband and I enjoy traveling usually on a tour, but packing and unpacking and being bused from one city to the next becomes taxing after a while. Now comes the beauty of the "river cruise." Most of the time we didn't ... Read More
My husband and I enjoy traveling usually on a tour, but packing and unpacking and being bused from one city to the next becomes taxing after a while. Now comes the beauty of the "river cruise." Most of the time we didn't know that the ship was actually moving. It was a lovely smooth sail and the sights of passing ships and barges, not to mention the farms, livestock, and vineyards, were picture perfect.
How delightful it was to drop our luggage in our room, unpack, and begin a wonderful cruise down the Rhine, beginning in Amsterdam, cruising through the locks to Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Heidelberg, Speyer, Strasbourg, Breisach, and disembarking in Basel, Switzerland. The price of the cruise is inclusive of all meals, ever flowing wine and beer at dinner, and all morning excursions. The choice of food offered at all meals (breakfast and lunch buffet-style) will satisfy even finicky palates. Afternoon excursions are optional and I would steer clear of the wine-tasting tour. Our group was offered wines that were no longer in production so even though we tasted a 2008 Riesling, we could only purchase a 2009. Then we had to sit through a boring film. Only the scenery while traveling was beautiful. The only bright spot was that when you returned from a tour, the staff was in the lobby with tea and hot towels to refresh you.
The ship was spotless and the rear lounge that offers coffee, tea, fresh fruit, and cookies 24/7 was always maintained by staff. Since we were continuing our journey after the cruise we took advantage of the laundry service which was extremely fast.The desk personnel were helpful and accommodating regardless of how many times you asked the same question. Robert, the tour director, reminded me of Billy Crystal's impression of Fernando Lamas. He was funny and charming, but when it came to business, he was knowledgeable and professional.
We were transferring after the ship to another excursion and the Avalon staff made the transition effortless. We cannot extol enough accolades on Avalon for making this a great trip (despite the BA strike). I would cruise down any river with Avalon! Read Less