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3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2010
July 11-18, 2010, Arles to Chalon sur Saone After 56 ocean cruises, my wife and I decided to try a river cruise. We chose Burgundy and Provence because we especially like red wine, and the only white wine my wife likes has bubbles in it! ... Read More
July 11-18, 2010, Arles to Chalon sur Saone After 56 ocean cruises, my wife and I decided to try a river cruise. We chose Burgundy and Provence because we especially like red wine, and the only white wine my wife likes has bubbles in it! We are wine fans, but were not as familiar with the regions of France, so this itinerary was just right....through the heart of some of the best red wine regions in France. We flew to Marsailles and were met outside customs by the Uniworld representative a little after 10am, and advised that the bus transfer to the ship would be at 11am. We relaxed in the terminal enjoying coffee and french bread and at 11 went looking for the Uniworld bus. Unable to find it, we checked with the Information booth and she advised they left at 10:40. They called Uniworld and the representative arrived and told us they were waiting for a flight due about noon. We finally boarded the bus about 12:40 and arrived at the ship in Arles a bit after 2pm. The embarkation processing was very prompt and we were in a cabin quickly. The luggage arrived a few minutes later. The ship, new in 2006, has a crew of 34, and a capacity of 134. On this sailing there were 125 passengers. The crew are multi-tasked on embarkation and debarkation day, loading and delivering. The ship has one elevator, so it could accommodate a wheelchair, but it would not be able to go up to the sun deck. The sun deck has hot tub aft, and many chairs, tables, and chaise lounges. There are two large awnings, but they must be lowered to pass under some bridges. There are 3 passenger decks, the bottom with portholes, the middle deck with windows, and the top deck has French balconies for each cabin, with a glass door that opens and you can actually step out about 2 feet to a railing. That is what we had booked. Considering they urged us to travel with one piece of luggage and a carryon, the storage was adequate. The bathroom was adequate with a glass enclosed shower. There was a 110 volt razor outlet in the bathroom, and a 110 volt outlet on the dressing table in the cabin. A hair dryer was provided. Bottled water was complimentary. The middle deck is where the dining room is located. Dining is buffet style for breakfast and lunch, and open seating for diner, with tables for 2, 4, 6, and 8. Breakfast included French pastry, omelets to order, a rotating daily choice of fruit filled crepes, or pancakes or French toast. Dairy products and fresh fruit were available. Lunch had salads, hot entrees, small pre-made sandwiches, pasta, and a carving station. Soup was available to order from the waiters. If you sit in the same area each time, you will have the same wait staff. At dinner they offered a 5 course menu with a choice of 2 entrees. My wife, who prefers fish, was happy to be offered halibut, grouper, John Dory, dorado, pike, salmon, and trout. Meat entrees included pork loin, strip steak, lamb shank, veal filet mignon, chicken, beef tournedos, and rabbit. Steak, chicken and salmon were always available as options. This was an Epicurean Adventurer theme, and local recipes, food and wine were featured. Wine at dinner is complimentary, and ranged from Cote du Rhone (Syrah), to merlot, pinot noir from Burgundy, as well as several white wines from the regions. There is also a wine list available with wines for purchase. Dinner was generally at 7pm. I was impressed that at dinner the servings were not oversized. Sometimes on ocean cruises, if I eat the full 5 course meal, I'm stuffed! The portions served in the river cruise were modest and I didn't feel I had overeaten at any time. They also could accommodate special requests at dinner. Entertainment was limited to a pianist and small dance floor in the lounge on the top deck, where a bar is open all day, and continental breakfast and light lunch and tea are available during the day. On two evenings after dinner, a local pianist and vocalist played, and one afternoon a demonstration of silk painting was available. But with a city every day, walking excursions, and fine dining, not much more was needed. There was a flat screen television in the cabin with CNN, BBC, Sky News, and some movies. There is also a fitness room with 2 machines, a massage area, and a sauna, located aft on the top deck, just below the hot tub. Just outside the dining room on the middle deck is a boutique open a few hours a day, and a lounge with 2 computer stations, but no printer. Internet was available for 15 Euros for unlimited time during the week, and the satellite was generally available. In the lounge is a machine that makes instant beverages, including expresso, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. It is available 24 hours a day. There are also 6 bicycles available at no charge that can be used or reserved. They are beach cruiser style but have hand brakes and gears. We did use them in Lyon, the largest city visited during the cruise, to get around in the afternoon. Because the ship docks right in the towns, my wife was able to get up early and walk 5 miles each morning feeling safe and getting an early look at the new towns. Each evening before dinner they have a short presentation about the next day's agenda, including what time the morning excursions would depart. Each day there was a free excursion, all but two walking through the town with a local English speaking guide and a AudioVox set with earphones so we could hear the guide without being right next to them. We would walk through the area, narrated by the guide, and generally there was some time to walk independently before returning with the group, or we could remain on our own. One of the free excursions was by bus where we rode through the Burgundy vineyard areas and visited Beaune, followed by time on our own in the Saturday market, and a ride back. There are four optional afternoon tours available, at reasonable cost, that included a visit to an olive farm, a visit to lavender fields, a visit to a Roman aqueduct and wine tasting in Chateauneuf de Pape, a visit to a working 17th century chateau followed by Burgundy wine tasting, The vessel accounts for passenger leaving and returning to the ship by issuing cards for each person in the cabin. You collect your cards at the purser's desk when you leave, and return them when you return. The mix of passengers ranged from a credentialed chef from a community college in Illinois with a group of students, a group of 20-30 year olds, a good number of 60 somethings from England and Australia, and the rest North Americans, and one German couple. On Monday in Arles we had an informative lecture about Van Gogh, who lived there for 2 years and painted "Starry Night" and others there, before the morning excursion visited a Roman amphitheater, where they still hold bull fights, and other local sites. In the afternoon we walked around the town again, and stopped at a supermarket to purchase wine to take back aboard. We had a day and a half in Arles. On Tuesday we were in Avignon, a walled city to where the popes in the 1300's had fled from Italy and built a place for the popes. It is open for touring and our morning walking tour went into the walled city and to the palace. There was a room where the wines of the area were available for tasting or purchase. The tour then visited an indoor market where every kind of local fruit, fish, meat and cheese was available. In the afternoon we went on the optional tour by bus to the Roman aqueduct and the wine tasting at a winery in Chateauneuf de Pape. Wednesday we were in Viviers and the morning walking tour into this medieval village ended with an organ recital in St Vincent Cathedral. Thursday the ship was berthed in Tain L'Hermitage. The morning tour walked to a local winery for a tour, explanation and wine tasting. We then continued across the river on a pedestrian bridge to Tournon for a guided walking tour. Some of the vineyards on the hillsides here, especially on the L'Hermitage side, were originally planted by the Romans. Friday we berthed in Lyon, the second largest city in France and a city known for its food. The morning tour was by bus to the basilica which is Lyon's hallmark church overlooking the city, and narrated drive through the city. After lunch we rode bicycles back into the town, where we spent several hours. The ship is required to pass through about 10 or more locks sailing up-river on the Rhone and Saone rivers, at least one of which raises the ship 75 feet. Saturday we arrived in Chalon sur Saone, and in the morning traveled by bus through the Burgundy countryside to Beaune. It is a historic, walled city that for centuries has been at the heart of France's wine trade. It was, and still is, an affluent city. The land the vineyards are on is very expensive, and the wines produced, some of the best in France, are auctioned here. We had a guided tour through th Hospices de Beaune, a hospital built to serve the indigent centuries ago, and was still operated until the 1970's. It is now set up as a museum. We were then free to spend an hour on our own in the Saturday market, where vendors offered samples of cheese, sausage, and other wares. We purchased wine for our coming visit to Paris there, including an outstanding local sparkling white wine, a cremant, and a pinot noir. In the afternoon we walked throughout Chalon sur Saone visiting shops, watching two wedding parties, and sampling some wine. There is no need to put luggage out the last night. On Sunday, breakfast was available early for those with early departures. They arranged taxi for us and two other couples that were taking a train, and moved our luggage to the pier for the taxi at 7:45am. The taxi was only 12 euros for 3 couples and all out luggage. I had purchased tickets online from Rail Europe in advance for a train from Chalon to Dijon, and a high speed train with reserved seats from Dijon to Paris Lyon station for $69 per person. There was a long queue for taxis at the Paris Lyon station, but we were at our hotel by 2 pm. I had selected a hotel on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter, just blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral, a brand new Holiday Inn with ultra modern room and bathroom treatments, and a refrigerator in the room. It was a block from Rue St Michele and literally dozens of bistros and a french bakery was half a block away. Also nearby was a bank, the BNP Paribas, with ATM's that Bank of America had advised me in advance would charge no ATM fee for using BofA debit cards to get Euros. I used this bank any time in France I needed Euros, and there were branches all over. With just 2 days in Paris we elected to purchase a 2 day hop-on/hop-off bus ticket for 32 Euros per person. There are 4 routes, and we chose the Paris Grand Tour route on Sunday, which included Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Eiffel Tower, and much more. With the Louvre alone needing most of a day, we left entry for another trip. The other routes we rode on Monday included the Montemarte Grand Boulevards, with a view of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Moulon Rouge, and fashionable shopping districts. Next was the Blue route which included the site of the Bastille Monument, and Bercy, including the national library, the sports stadium, city hall, and the train station we had arrived at. Last was the Orange, Montparnasse - St-Germain route which included the Latin Quarter, Luxembourg Gardens, the Pantheon, and more. We ate the first evening in a bistro. Most offer a 3 course fixed price menu for about 14.50 euros per person. The second evening , we chose a small very nice restaurant overlooking the Seine and Notre Dame and paid a bit more, which with a bottle of Rhone wine ran about the same as a nice restaurant in the US. After dinner, we walked across the Seine, past Notre Dame to a bridge where we could see the Eiffel tower lit at night, and saw the hourly light show at midnight. We had arranged a private shuttle through the hotel from the hotel to the airport, about 20 miles away, about 40 minutes in traffic, and 60 euros. We look back on this trip as truly memorable. We loved the personal attention on the small ship, berthing in town, walking through the small towns sampling wines and visiting markets, and everything about Paris. And I learned much more about French wines and wine production requirements there. We'll do it again, perhaps Paris and Normandy next. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2010
I traveled on the River Beatrice with my parents July 2010. We selected Uniworld and the River Beatrice based on what we new about Uniworld's reputation and the newness of the ship and we abolutely loved it! If you are looking for a ... Read More
I traveled on the River Beatrice with my parents July 2010. We selected Uniworld and the River Beatrice based on what we new about Uniworld's reputation and the newness of the ship and we abolutely loved it! If you are looking for a luxurious hotel on the river, this is your trip and ship. We enjoyed two days in Budapest and then spent the day cruising to Vienna. It was a relaxing day that really made us feel like we were on vacation. The itiniery, the food, the included tours all worked so well and exceeded our expectations. The ship's staff couldn't have been more helpful and we felt pampered without feeling like it was a pretentious or uptight environment. Personally I was one of the younger people on the ship which was about 70% retirees but our fellow passengers became friends to us as we enjoyed the sights of Vienna, Salzburg, The Wachau Valley and Passau. While a riverboat cruise is not a cheap vacation, we found it to be a good value. Our money out of pocket was quite modest once on the ship. I would highly recommend Uniworld and I would highly recommend this trip -- particularly starting in Budapest. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2010
We have just returned from our first trip with GCT. This is not a first riverboat cruise, but the first with this com. First of all the River Harmony is a lovely CEAN ship. We chose the prelude deck and it was quite fine. Husband thought ... Read More
We have just returned from our first trip with GCT. This is not a first riverboat cruise, but the first with this com. First of all the River Harmony is a lovely CEAN ship. We chose the prelude deck and it was quite fine. Husband thought one deck higher would have been better. The Captain was next to us so if it is good enough for him it is fine for us. Being at the water level did not create a problem. The only noise was when the barges would pass by and it sounded like water rushing by the boat. When you heard it you then got use to it and knew what it was. It is strange how the boat never rocks with the water motion. Our room was the nices when it comes to storage and though the beds are only 2 twins i think most people know how to handle that. The beds were nice as I liked the idea that you could elevate them, just like a chaise lounge, good for those who do sleep at home with their beds up some. The bathroom was the best size especially the shower of any cabin catagory we have had on a cruise ship. Even if you are large I don't think you will have much trouble with the shower curtain taking a shower with you. The crew and the Captain are just as friendly and nice as you could ever expect. Our captain was always where he could be seen. Even on departure day the first group leaving at 4:30 a.m. he was there to say good bye. Everyone has a bad day but they never show it. They love to talk to you and of course the policy of GCT is for them to call you by name. They do a great job of learning that very fast. program directors are top notch. They are young and I can't figure out how they keep their cool around all the SENIORS. They know their stuff and if they can't answer some question they will let you know they will find out. I do think sometimes people try to test them. Our stops were very nice,you can check out the itinerary for those. Most included tours were of the towns, villages etc. It is nice as the P.D. do give you a good overview. The optional tours which for us was Luxembourg was very good and included a lunch that was very nice. The highlight of this tour is going to the American cemetary,puts tears in your eyes, the sight is just beautiful Other optional was the Delta Works, I did not want to go but was glad I did. Many women think it is a man think, but to see the work and story behind it was worth it to me. Now about food. The presentation is beautiful. Many people think it is good. I would only rate it as fair. I did not starve or go away hungry, but it was not high on my list of best ever food. Plenty choices for breakfast, with lovely fresh fruit. Lunch, salad bar could have had more things to put on the greens. Soup they served and the cold soup was my favorite as it always is on any cruise. Dinner is another story. Two choices for entrees, and all else is the same for everyone. Always on the menu is salmon or grilled chicken. There is a vegeterian choice also. Since at the end of the day dinner should be relaxing I found they rush to clear your courses so everyone is served the same thing at the same time. GCT to to blame for having only a certain amount of servers and believe me they work their tails off. More servers could make for a more relaxing meal. Breakfast and lunch you pretty much wait on yourself so that works out o.k. Evening was nice to be on the sun deck and a few nights they had special entertainment or just a great guy singing and playing the key board on the off nights. After a long day of walking and sightseeing it was good to turn in early for what would be a new adventure on the river the next day. It is a very relaxing way to see Europe along the rivers. Yes I would go again but not ready to sign up for another yet. This was a first for the home visits and that was very interesting. The home we went to the lady went beyond her duty to serve good treats and it was nice to see her home and yard. In fact I have emailed her with a return already. I think they love what they do with the Grand Circle program. Read Less
13 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2010
The river cruise and tour was with GCT on the River Harmony. It was 5 days pre-cruise in the Alps, from Lucerne, then 14 days on the Rhine and Mosel rivers, then 4 days post-cruise in Brugge. The pre-cruise and post cruise were good; nice ... Read More
The river cruise and tour was with GCT on the River Harmony. It was 5 days pre-cruise in the Alps, from Lucerne, then 14 days on the Rhine and Mosel rivers, then 4 days post-cruise in Brugge. The pre-cruise and post cruise were good; nice hotels and good tours, but the river cruise was not my cup of tea. It was very regimented with tight schedules and too many ports. I think we visited 11 or 12 ports but I lost count. I much prefer setting my own schedule, stopping to smell the roses and being able experience each port's uniqueness. In talking with many towards the end of the cruise, few could recall one port from the next. The schedule was; up at 7:00-7:30, go eat breakfast, pick up transmitters, meet guide ashore to do 2+- hour walking tour of each village. Then, back to boat for lunch, then back to village on my own as there was nothing to do on the ship, then meet for the next day's preview talk at 6:45 while we sail for next village, then dinner at 7:00, then nothing to do but go to bed with nothing on TV but 2 old movies which were supposed to be appropriate to the tour; i.e. war movies like Anne Frank. The food, though presented well, was German, Swiss, Belgian food featuring blood sausage, over cooked meat with gravy over everything, sauerkraut, beets, cabbage, over cooked vegetables...you get the idea...old world food! There were no chops, no steaks, and the only seafood was overcooked, previously frozen fish. Both lunch and dinner seemed hurried with standing in line for the lunch buffet. Midway through the trip, I started staying ashore after the walking tour and searching out brew pubs to sample the local beer and then trying to find a pizza parlor for lunch! GCT sells only to Americans so for me, it would have made more sense to serve us the type of food we are used to with a sprinkling of the old world. The wine served with dinner was very poor quality. Even the bartenders remarked about it. I opted to buy a wine package and also buy wine ashore. There was no pool or spa on the sun deck. I was one of only three people who lay in the sun but after the heat wave in Switzerland and part of Germany, most of the time it was cloudy and cool. I believe I was the only person to use the spa on the lower deck but only used it once as only one jet worked. The ship was very well kept and clean. I had a cabin on the top deck with a small veranda. My cabin was small but at least the bed was good. The Captain and other staff personnel were great and so were the tour directors. They were definitely a high point. So, my bottom line is; River cruising is definitely not for me and I doubt that I will ever do another. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2010
Being children of the cold war, we had mixed feelings about visiting Russia. Needless to say, our concerns were unfounded. Not only did we have a great time on the Viking Kirov, but we updated our image of Russia and the Russian people. ... Read More
Being children of the cold war, we had mixed feelings about visiting Russia. Needless to say, our concerns were unfounded. Not only did we have a great time on the Viking Kirov, but we updated our image of Russia and the Russian people. Plus, we met may wonderful people on the cruise some of whom we'll add to our friends list. As for the ship and the crew, they were very professional and accommodating. The food and service were excellent with plenty of variety including local dishes. The guides were exceptional, all native Russians, mostly from St. Petersburg. Their English was excellent and, along with local guides, they provided us with reams of information about Russian history up to the current day. They were open about their recent history and the transition from Soviet to modern day Russia. After may years of propaganda on both sides of the Iron Curtain, it was refreshing to experience the openness. We were impressed with how clean and friendly both Moscow and St. Petersburg were. You've read about the heat and the smog. That was a challenge but we worked around it, thanks to an air conditioned boat and tour buses. This is an education trip, not one that you kick back and snooze ... although you can to that, but you would miss the best parts. When the trip is over, you brain is full and needs a rest. At least mine does. Not everything was perfect. Viking advertises WiFi. It worked sporadically and when it did, the bandwidth was very narrow. I took my new iPad which does not have an Ethernet connection, which was a problem so I had less access than those with net books or laptops. I wish Viking was fix the connectivity or set expectations better. Several people complained of feeling ill. Nothing serious but certainly took the fun out of the trip. We're not sure if someone brought a virus on board or maybe the ships water wasn't purified enough. Although hand cleansing stations were available, Viking was not as diligent as other lines in encouraging their use. I don't know if that would have helped. All in all, the experience was well worth the money. It gets four thumbs up from us. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2010
We sailed on the River Countess on a Rhine and Main Rivers ("Rhine Discovery") cruise in July 2010, from Basel, Switzerland to Nurenberg, Germany. We arrived on our own in Basel a few days early and toured on our own. The day ... Read More
We sailed on the River Countess on a Rhine and Main Rivers ("Rhine Discovery") cruise in July 2010, from Basel, Switzerland to Nurenberg, Germany. We arrived on our own in Basel a few days early and toured on our own. The day of departure, we took a taxi to the dock around Noon. The crew took charge of our luggage. The Hotel desk staff had us checked in (in) less than one minute and sent us to the lounge to wait for our cabin to be ready. There were sandwiches, pizza and cheese for us to snack upon, with free tea, coffee, iced tea and water. Soft (and hard) drinks were available from the bar. Sodas cost about 2.50 (Euros) while drinks ranged from 4.50 to 6.50. We explored the ship as well. As you can see from the floor plans, it is small. It has: Lounge in the bow; a small library with 2 desks with PC's, two 4 person bridge-style tables and two 4 person easy-chair groupings; reception area with "hotel" and Cruise Director desks; 4 decks of cabins; "shop" (10 x 10 feet) with jewelry and kick-knacks; a coffee station with espresso, teas, hot chocolate and iced teas; a fitness room with 2 x each of treadmills, bikes, ellipticals; (free) passenger laundry with 2 x washers and dryers (soap available for purchase at the Hotel desk); massage room; and restaurant aft. We met a few other couples while we waited. The other passenger groups ranged in size from couples to a group of 8 neighbors from the States. There were two families with teens, but I strongly recommend against bringing kids. The company and tours are not geared toward them at all. The age range of adults seemed to start at 45 and went up to 93, with two couples seemingly in their late 30's (or with much better plastic surgeons). There were 138 passengers on board for our cruise. An aside: One couple, from Australia, told us Uniworld had lost their reservation (yes, they had their confirmation paperwork) and had to scramble to find them a cabin. They were booked in a Cat 4 cabin, but were given a Cat 1 for the first ½ of their cruise (7 days). For the inconvenience, they were invited to the captains table and given a suite for the second ½ of the cruise. We were given our cabin keys at around 1:30. The cabin was a little smaller than most other cruise ship cabins we have had. It had 4 large drawers, 2 half-height and one full-height closets...plenty of space for our clothes and a tall space under both double beds for our luggage. One of the closets had a large safe, able to hold a large camera, wallets and laptop. It also included two fluffy robes and a large umbrella. There was a "makeup" area with mirror and stool with its own light as well. The TV was about 13 - 15 inches seemed to have lower resolution than SD, making it very hard to read the daily announcements, menu's, etc. The ship has satellite service which went in and out as we passed bridges, trees, clouds, etc. It worked fine while we were docked. Channels included CNN International, BBC, Discovery Channel, Cartoon Network. Two different recently released to DVD movies which changed daily played as well. For our cruise, they included Alice in Wonderland, Dear John and Shutter Island. As with our other cruise experiences, the bathroom was just large enough for a sink in a small vanity with mirror and lit magnifying mirror, toilet and shower. The shower was surprisingly large, considering the rest of the bathroom. The crew is simply the most cheerful, helpful group we have had the pleasure to meet. Everybody was smiling and seemed genuinely happy to help in any way possible. The Captain and Hotel Manager (married) were professional and very funny throughout our interactions. The Cruise Director (Claudia for this cruise) was very knowledgeable, helpful and kept close track of all 140 of us through our excursions. Unlike most of our other cruise experiences, the food ranged from very good to excellent. Even the breakfast and lunch buffets were of excellent quality. Lunch and Dinner menus were posted the night before on the TV and before each meal at the Hotel desk. Wait staff were all friendly and attentive, serving and refilling drinks at all meals and helping the mobility-challenged of us. Breakfast included a daily special, like crepes or eggs benedict, eggs/omelets cooked to order, a great selection of breads, juices, smoked salmon, cheeses, cereals and a variety of hot foods: scrambled eggs, bacon (crisp AND soft separately), pancakes. All meals were served in one sitting, without any assigned seating. All passengers fit at once(obviously). Tables held from 2 - 8 (10?), all with views out floor to ceiling windows side and/or aft. You could either sit at a table the size of your party or dine with other groups. Each meal most people either sat at tables with empty spaces or asked to sit in said empty spaces. If you wanted to "reserve" a large table for a large group, you simply got there as early as you could to hold it. The variety of people we met made for the best part of the cruise. We met families from US, UK, Australia and Canada. Most people were happy to meet each other, though there were a few groups more insular. Over the course of the cruise, we met about 16 different couples over meals and found a number of friends with whom we plan on keeping in touch. Lunch changed daily and always included a different carving station entrEe, such as a German version of a Pot Au Feu (the best offering, in our opinion), salmon with a lemon cream sauce and carved beef. There were also different soups each day, all made in-house. Every single one was excellent. There were a variety of cheeses, three different salads (changing each day as well...chicken and Caesar salads were great), two different hot entrees, vegetables and starches. Finally, there were always 2 or 3 desserts created by the in-house pastry chef. Her creations were always beautiful and had excellent flavor. Finally, if you did not like her creations that day, there was an ice cream sundae station. Dinner was served, as opposed to the buffets of the other meals. You were given a menu listing the (4) courses, with a choice of entrEe and occasionally a choice in appetizer. Appetizers included I am not going to discuss the tours at any length. They were a good compromise, given the range of passengers. All guides were friendly and easy for us English speakers to understand. Some thought the guides were long-winded, others thought they gave an excellent level of detail. Our only real complaint: Internet access was as close to useless as I have ever seen. At least dial-up provides you with a consistent connection, slow as it may be. The wifi network was only usable from the lounge and library (and on the rear sundeck, I think). Once you signed in to get access, you were usually unable to get any further to the Internet. There are also two desktop computers to share, which had exactly the same lack of Internet service. While I understand the spotty nature of Satellite Internet service, it should have at least been available while we were docked. The whole week, all of us would stick our heads into the library and ask the current set of frustrated EMailers if the "Internet was working". 75% of the time it was not, 10% of the time it seemed to move at 1 Kbps (Yahoo/G/Hot- mail would take about 5 minutes to load), and 5% of the time it was "normal". Mind you, that 5% of the time, maybe 2% gave us speeds fast enough for ANY media access. One poor woman worked for an hour to view pictures of her grandson and family online. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2010
I admit it: my husband I are hooked on river cruising. Once upon a time we thought it was fun to schlep our suitcases around by underground and walk for miles in search of unique destinations. Now we've discovered the joy of being ... Read More
I admit it: my husband I are hooked on river cruising. Once upon a time we thought it was fun to schlep our suitcases around by underground and walk for miles in search of unique destinations. Now we've discovered the joy of being met at the airport by a friendly face and having our suitcases taken to our room where we can unpack them for a whole week. A small floating hotel will take us to those unique destinations while we sit on deck and enjoy the scenery. And when we arrive, we can just walk off the boat and new delights are right at hand. We've discovered Viking River Cruises. Take, for example, the point of embarkation for our most recent cruise: Avignon. The cruise was named "Portraits of Southern France" and Avignon was a perfect starting place. We arrived in the morning and our room was not yet ready, so we decided to go out and explore. This was easy to do because our boat was docked directly across from the old city walls and quite close to the famous bridge. After visiting the bridge (though not dancing on it), we headed for a small museum which was not on the official itinerary but which has an excellent collection of medieval and early Renaissance art. Then we returned to the boat for a nap and a general introduction. After dinner we were free to go ashore again, because we did not sail until midnight. We happened to be there during the theater festival so the whole city was bursting with activity, and we strolled happily past mimes and jugglers and dancers, a beautifully illuminated carousel, and a multitude of cafés doing a lively business. There was even a giant Ferris wheel set up across from our boat. What a wonderful welcome! Southern France is very beautiful, truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. We had several half days when we were just cruising past vineyards and farms and villages. You could work on your tan or read a book in the shade and soak up the peace and tranquility. On one excursion in Burgundy we passed through ancient towns which looked little changed by the years. We saw dark forests and private chateaux and fields of sunflowers. I dream now of spending a vacation in a little cottage or B&B in Burgundy or Provence and getting to know the whole area better. Then there are the wine and the food. We had several opportunities for wine tasting and enjoyed learning more about the different wine growing areas we passed through: Provence, the Rhone Valley, Beaujolais, and Burgundy. I even brought a bottle of crème de cassis home in my suitcase. Naturally the boat had a French chef and what joy she was. Every evening before dinner, Magalie would lovingly describe the food she had spent the day preparing for us, especially the desserts. In Lyon, a small number of guests were given the privilege of accompanying Magalie to the market while she did her shopping. Also in Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France (so they say, the Parisians would beg to differ), we were given the option of having dinner at one of the famous restaurants. One of the things we love most about Viking is the mix of the well known and the not so well known that they provide. We saw the Palace of the Popes in Avignon, the café in Arles made famous by Van Gogh, and the remains of the abbey at Cluny. But we also visited places that I never would have expected and certainly never would have found on my own. In the town of Tain l'Hermitage we visited one of the wineries and tasted some of the wines. Then we stopped at the showroom of Valrhona chocolates. I had never heard of Valrhona, but now I know what my friends will be getting for Christmas! Our final stop, though, was a very special treat. The daughter of the painter Pierre Palue has purchased a lovely old house in which to display the paintings left to her when her father died. She welcomed us personally to this small museum and talked to us about her father and his work. We had never heard of this painter, but felt so honored to find out about him in this way. Then there was the little town of Viviers. We visited it at night, starting off down a shadowy tree lined avenue. And then we climbed, all the way to the overlook and church at the top, up and up the narrow twisting cobblestone streets, under the glow of golden street lamps. We could hear a party behind closed doors and we met a few cats out hunting, but mostly it was quiet, as our wonderful guide shared her stories. She lives there, in the oldest part of the town; she pointed out her house to us and gave us a little glimpse of a private life in southern France. All our guides were outstanding. Viking works with local guides who live in the places we visited, so they know more than the facts about the history and culture. They know the inside jokes and the local color. Several of them had come from other countries and married locals and stayed. Their enthusiasm for their adopted country was contagious. We joke that we actually took two trips in one, the one Viking planned for us and the one we planned for ourselves. France included three important Roman provinces, so major Roman ruins abound. Of course, the very biggest ones were on the official agenda: the impressive amphitheater in Arles and the Temple of Augustus and Livia in Vienne. But we wanted more, and because of the way Viking arranges the schedule, we could have it all. At almost every destination there are both a guided tour and some free time. They always tell you that you can use that free time for shopping or to stop for some pastry with coffee or a glass of wine. What they don't tell you is that you can run off at the first opportunity and see Roman ruins. The city of Arles has a wonderful antiquities museum and they even provide a free bus to go there, so that's where we spent our free afternoon. (I even found time to purchase a Provencal table cloth for our back porch.) In Vienne archaeologists have discovered a Roman suburb of villas and shopping districts. When we asked our guide if we would have time to go there, he looked at his watch and said, "If you hurry!" We hurried. We did not have time to visit what looked like another outstanding museum, but we did tour the well presented site. And finally, in Lyon, there is an amazing museum built into the hillside adjacent to a well preserved Roman theatre and smaller odeon. You can take a funicular up the very steep hill and visit both. But our biggest do-it-yourself adventure was the Pont du Gard, the massive bridge-cum-aqueduct near Avignon. I was a bit shocked to discover that this was not included as even an optional tour. It is one of the outstanding Roman achievements in the area. But I do understand that it is not possible to include everything and Viking has very strict timetables they must follow because of the locks on the rivers. Nevertheless, we were not going to get that close and not see it, so we booked a taxi ahead of time to pick us up and wait for us there. It was absolutely worth every euro, even in the nearly 100 F. heat. Our Roman ruin fixation, however, did mean that we were not able to participate in most of the optional tours, another Viking feature. Realizing that not all travelers want to be on the go all day, they provide some optional excursions. Among the ones we missed were the Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards, Lyon by night, and the villages of Les Baux and Saint Remy. And we missed out on a lot of pastry eating and coffee or wine drinking too. So I have told my husband that we should just do the same trip again. It would be more restful and we would get to enjoy more of Magalie's superb cooking. What more could anyone want? Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
Although Viking states that the Pakhomov has been remodeled, it's hard to find evidence of any renovation on this 20-year old vessel. The standard cabins have very small beds that are uncomfortable even for a normal sized person. The ... Read More
Although Viking states that the Pakhomov has been remodeled, it's hard to find evidence of any renovation on this 20-year old vessel. The standard cabins have very small beds that are uncomfortable even for a normal sized person. The cabins have a "yacht style" bathroom with a shower incorporated into a very small space containing a lavatory (usually cracked) and toilet AKA-a Wet bath. Storage is minimal with but a single small drawer per passenger and insufficient space to store empty luggage. Standard cabins have no TV and even the few deluxe suites that have a TV have no TV service except in Moscow or St. Petersburg. News aboard was handled via a "daily newspaper" with as much space devoted to sports scores as was devoted to news. These four-page papers were produced in Brit, American, and Aussie editions. Housekeeping service was good. Food service and quality was average to good although the breakfast buffet was underwhelming. The shipboard staff was usually able to handle routine requests without difficulty. Anything more than a routine request was generally met with a blank stare and a nebulous quasi-promise to "look into the matter". Shipboard cleanliness is good, but there are few amenities aboard these Russian river cruise vessels. The six guides travel aboard and are augmented with local guides in each port. Our guide was very difficult to understand and consistently spoke in a low monotone so that it was hard to differentiate the important information from the general patter. She also seemed to have somewhat of an "attitude" problem with some of the passengers in our tour group. Choose your guide wisely because the guide you choose on the first day's tour will be your guide for the duration. Having taken and been very impressed with the Viking China Cultural cruise previously, we were big Viking fans coming to this cruise. Now - we would be hesitant to recommend this cruise to anyone other than a person with a strong interest in cathedrals and religious icons. The museums, palaces, ballet, and symphony were interesting, but many of them charge an additional fee to take photos or videos. There are also 6-8 optional excursions to fill in "free time" in Moscow and St. Petersburg. These optional tours are expensive and they offer poor value for their cost. Viking seems intent on wringing every nickel out of each passenger on this Russian river cruise. All in all, we found this cruise to offer inadequate value and this opinion was shared by a majority of the other passengers we spoke with. Bottom line - even with a 2-for-1 deal, nearly free air transportation, and complimentary dinner wine, you will likely not get a "warm, fuzzy feel from this Viking river cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
The brochure says "professional staff" but we had college students on their first cruise. Most of the wait staff had never waited tables before! I have been a "training tourist" at a resort and received better service. ... Read More
The brochure says "professional staff" but we had college students on their first cruise. Most of the wait staff had never waited tables before! I have been a "training tourist" at a resort and received better service. Food was so bad that I sent back three plates and I have NEVER sent food back to the kitchen before. Oysters Rockefeller were a solid mass encrusted to the shell. Many items were overcooked or burnt. Eggs were consistently undercooked even when ordered medium or hard. Some food was quite good, but for the price I expected every meal to be outstanding. Our cruise director had never been to three of the six ports of call and couldn't answer questions about them. Rooms were OK, but sort of felt like hospital room decor. The illustration of the room in promo materials appears much more spacious than reality. At least there was adequate storage--however bathroom storage was awkward. The main activity on this ship is small talk with other guest, especially at meals. The acoustics in the dining room made this difficult (impossible at times). This cruise was quite expensive. I would have been disappointed at 1/4 the price. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
This was our first big river cruise and we are so happy that we chose Viking. Our cabin was small, but adequate. We had a wonderful view of the river (unless we were tied up next to another ship in port). I brought my computer and internet ... Read More
This was our first big river cruise and we are so happy that we chose Viking. Our cabin was small, but adequate. We had a wonderful view of the river (unless we were tied up next to another ship in port). I brought my computer and internet access, though spotty, was adequate. Meals were fabulous. Each one was a winner, some better than others. The restaurant staff, all Filippino, were excellent. We loved Mary Jane, our waitress. The ship staff was pleasant, though not all spoke English and sometimes I met a blank stare when I attempted to get information at the front desk, but someone else was along soon enough to answer my question. There were varying degrees of competence among the tour guides. Some were excellent performers, others were not, though they had great command of the information. (Sadly, we did not have one of the better performers). There were several activities, including lectures, Russian lessons, a Gershwin concert, a talent show, a couple of special dinners, lessons on buying gifts, and of course the vodka tasting. Special notice must be given to Victoria's lecture on Gorbachev...best lecture of the whole trip. Material I read before the cruise said there were spa and massage (and hairdressing) facilities on board. We never saw sign of those, but the ship had been recently renovated and perhaps those were eliminated with the remodeling. Most of the optional excursions were well worth the money, though Moscow by night was less spectacular than I expected. I loved the opportunity for all the musical performances. This was our first trip with Viking and from reports I have read, people are not all satisfied with it. If this is one of their "less satisfying" cruises, I look forward to one that gets high marks from everyone, because I certainly give this one high marks. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2010
The purpose of this review is to explain why, after our recent cruise in Russia, my husband and I will avoid Viking River Cruises in the future, and why we will advise others to avoid Viking, too. We are experienced travelers, and we ... Read More
The purpose of this review is to explain why, after our recent cruise in Russia, my husband and I will avoid Viking River Cruises in the future, and why we will advise others to avoid Viking, too. We are experienced travelers, and we understand that no trip is going to happen exactly as planned. We do, however, expect that as conditions change we will be kept informed. The number of variations between what was sold and what was delivered, coupled with the failure to keep us informed of significant changes in the itinerary (detailed below), were significant enough that the term "bait and switch" kept coming to mind. A certain amount of trust between the travel vendor and the traveler is necessary for a good travel experience. After this Russian cruise, we do not believe we can trust Viking River Cruises. In addition, in spite of three attempts to contact Viking about these issues (twice via e-mail and once by letter), no one at Viking has responded. This leaves me feeling that, once they have your money, they lose interest in you. First: The condition of the ship was not as described in Viking brochures. When I made the booking with Viking in November 2009, I was advised by the Viking agent that the Pakhomov was an "excellent choice because it has just been renovated," something which figured heavily in my decision to book this cruise. In fact, per Stephan Busch, Hotel Manager, the Pakhomov had been scheduled for renovation in late 2009, but this renovation was not done. Mr. Busch told me on June 13, 2010, that he and others had made Viking Cruise Lines aware of the discrepancies between the ship as it was and the ship as it was described in Viking literature, but that "nothing had been done." In my view, therefore, we were sold something that did not exist. Second: Viking withheld information from us. In November 2009, I also booked the Helsinki extension, mainly for the "scenic ride though the rolling landscape," described in the Viking literature. Two or three days before that extension was to start we were informed that there would be no trains running between St. Petersburg and Helsinki on the day the extension began, and that we would be flying from St. Petersburg to Helsinki. Since our primary reason for booking the extension was to see more of the countryside, we would have preferred to fly home instead of going to Helsinki, but by the time we were informed only very costly alternatives were available. However, our air tickets for St. Petersburg to Helsinki were purchased by Viking BEFORE WE LEFT THE U.S. TO BEGIN OUR TRIP. In addition we were finally told, again just before the Helsinki extension began, that we would be in Finland during a National holiday, and almost all museums and restaurants in Helsinki would be closed. No optional tours were offered to take advantage of the holiday: we were simply left with a lot of free time in a virtually empty city. We were told in Helsinki that this Holiday had been celebrated for over 50 years - so Viking should have been well aware of it, but they didn't share that information. Third, there were numerous small things that, individually, would not have been of much concern but added up to irritation: • The "Itinerary & Departure Information" brochure states on page 6 that "Porters will...take your luggage to the transfer buses. Instead, one of the Viking guides pointed to luggage carts saying that we would have "a ways to walk before we got to our bus." When the bus finally came, one of the Pakhomov sailors loaded our luggage into the bus as we brought it to him. When we were in the bus, the Viking guide reminded us to tip the sailor. • The brochure states on page 25 that dinner is "generally" at 7:00 p.m. In fact, dinner was at 7 p.m. only once. Dinner was at 7:30 seven times, 9:30 once, 8:00 once, 7:20 once and 5:00 once. • The brochures states on page 26 that smoking is not permitted indoors on the ship. This apparently does not apply to the crew area. Heavy cigarette odors almost always emanated from the crew's quarters. Happily, this often served to cover-up the smell of raw sewage that wafted through the ship on a regular basis. • Again on page 26, the brochure indicates that staterooms aboard the Viking Pakhomov have safes and telephones. They don't. • From page 27, "staterooms aboard...Viking Pakhomov have televisions featuring channels with some U.S. or English programming." There was a television in the room, but most of the time - even in port - there was "no signal" and nothing on the television except the channel advertising Viking cruises. • Per page 28 of the brochure, "when possible, we will notify you of changes to your itinerary prior to departure; when not possible, your Program Director will advise you of changes. See discussion above about the Helsinki land extension. • The on-line description of the Category A Deluxe stateroom (the kind of room we booked) says that each has, "hotel-style beds (can be separated); large picture windows that open; private bathroom with enclosed shower; air conditioning; space under bed for storing suitcases; roomy wardrobe with wooden hangers; converter in the bathroom outlet." In fact, most hotels would be ashamed of the beds, which were small and furnished with thin mattresses. There is a large picture window, but we were advised never to leave it open because of the mosquitoes. There is a private bathroom in the stateroom, but the only thing that "encloses" the shower is a plastic shower curtain; thus it is nearly impossible to take a shower without getting the rest of the bathroom wet, too. There is an air conditioning unit in the room, but the desired temperature can only be approximated. There is space under the bed for storing small suitcases, but the "roomy wardrobe" isn't very roomy, and we had to sign for extra hangers if we wanted more than the few supplied with the room. There is no converter in the bathroom outlet; in fact, there is no outlet in the bathroom at all. And one more thing: there are only two public rest rooms on the boat. That was not an issue until the last day when all of us were required to leave our rooms early in the day, but many of us were not taken to the airport until late afternoon. I do wish to emphasize that the crew of the Pakhomov were friendly, helpful, and well-organized. I do believe that is very unfair to the crew to expect them to deal with a number of customers who have promised something by "the head office" which the crew cannot deliver. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2010
This past summer I had the pleasure to be a passenger on the Inaugural Cruise of American Cruise Lines newest ship, the "Independence" with an itinerary which included New England and Maine ports of call. Over the past 10 years I ... Read More
This past summer I had the pleasure to be a passenger on the Inaugural Cruise of American Cruise Lines newest ship, the "Independence" with an itinerary which included New England and Maine ports of call. Over the past 10 years I was also fortunate enough to cruise on the "Maiden Voyages" or "Inaugural Cruise" of all of their other ships. This trip was the 10th cruise I had taken since ACL resumed operation in 2000. If you are want a relaxing informal "Small Ship" experience sailing within US waters with a great US crew, one of the American Cruise Lines ships will be the ship for you. Many of the passengers I have met on the ACL cruises feel the same as I do as they too have been repeat passengers. We always enjoy discussing our previous experiences, trips, and itineraries with American Cruise Lines. Many of the cruises have had a local historian or naturalist on board, who keep the passengers well informed about the local history of the areas we visited. ACL also arranges for sightseeing tours in most of the ports they visit, however if you are free to arrange you own "shore excursion" or just stay on board and relax. While underway, my favorite "on board" activity is to sit on the sun deck and follow along with the Waterway's Charts for the area. Just think of a "Chart" as being your Roadmap if you were driving your car. I like to pin point exactly where we are by watching for the Channel Markers and buoy Markers as well as to try to locate the various Light Houses, Towers, Steeples, and Bridges which are marked on the charts as navigational aids. The ships also have an "Electronic Chart" or GPS in the lounge so that the passengers can follow along if they wish. All of the crew members go out of their way to make your cruise a memorable experience. The staterooms are roomy, and comfortable with individually controlled heating and air conditioning. Each room also has Satellite TV, and large pictures windows. Many of the staterooms have a small balcony where you can sit and enjoy the scenery. All of the ships are equipped with a small passenger elevator and the crew members are always willing to assist with wheelchair operation on and off the ships. In the past, I had always cruised with my mother and in some cases, other family members, however this most recent trip I felt completely comfortable traveling alone as a single lady. If you are looking for a casino, swimming pool, or nightly "show" entertainment, American Cruise Lines is probably not for you, but if you want a nice relaxing vacation aboard a small cruise ship with other passengers who have the same interest, they cannot be beat. Most of the passengers are seniors, many of whom are retired. I have already signed up from my next ACL cruise which will be the Potomac to Philadelphia itinerary in the spring of 2011 and I know I will sail on the Mississippi River aboard ACL's new boat in 2012. Can't Wait!!! Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2010
I am an American who have lived in China for many years, and a frequent cruiser. I finally got around to taking a trip in my own backyard - the Yangtze River. I booked online through one of the government owned travel agents and the price ... Read More
I am an American who have lived in China for many years, and a frequent cruiser. I finally got around to taking a trip in my own backyard - the Yangtze River. I booked online through one of the government owned travel agents and the price was excellent, and the travel service was good. I speak the language so getting to and from the boat was easy - albeit expensive by Chinese standards. In Yichang the boats dock outside of town in a scenic area and there are few taxis. Outside the gate and a few hundred yards up the hill is a pretty canyon with restaurants dug into the cliffs, and some outstanding food. Some others on the ship complained of the places their travel agents took them. The night we arrived we were told to board before 8, which we dutifully did, only to be told the boat would not leave until the next morning. We then left the boat, after signing a waiver, and went into town. They asked us not to return too late - before midnight. No problem. The boat is sizable and comfortable. The staterooms are of typical size for a cruise ship, with two single beds, and the public rooms are clean and simple. The air conditioning in the stateroom was too strong and even at the highest setting was freezing. The passengers were about half Chinese and half foreign (although many of Chinese were from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but there was at least one group from a textile company in Shanghai). It was a holiday weekend in China and that might have attracted more Chinese guests than usual. The foreign group included a fair number of expatriates living in China and the typical geriatric set on the cruise as part of a longer tour of China. It was a good combination of people and they mixed well. Dining tables were mostly assigned by tour group, while I think most people would have preferred to have mixed things up a bit. Tours were well organized, interesting, and mostly included in the cruise price. There were two add-on tours with a modest charge, but only one ran and it was worthwhile. Passengers were divided by language into tour groups and the local guides spoke English well. The dam tour was most interesting as was going through the five locks. Meals were in the main dining room. The separate menu dining mentioned on this site seems to have stopped. The food was well prepared, but the quantity was barely enough - plates were scrapped pretty clean. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style, and you needed to hit the line early or you would miss out. Although they said they ran breakfast from 7:30 to 8:30, we came down the first morning at 8:15 only to find them hauling off the last of the food. We asked for coffee, only to be told there was none. A complaint to the front desk resulted in quick action, with apologies all around and a fruit basket to the room, and great service from that point forward. The crew is all Chinese, most everyone you come into contact with speaks good English. I need to put a word in for the pastry chef - this guy could work at Crystal Lines. The cooking was good - a mix of Chinese and Western that went together well. They are not spending enough money on quality and quantity of ingredients, however. I felt like a poor kid whose mother knows how to make the best of very little - it was quaint, but not what I expected. China has come a long ways in service in the last decade. This line is not keeping up. The experience was very much like a 3 star hotel in most major cities. It is comfortable, but not up to the standard that modern Chinese and foreign tourists have come to expect from someone advertising a five star experience. There really is a niche here for a more upmarket offering. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2010
Somewhat seasoned travellers, my wife and I are in our late 50's and residents of a small village in Eastern Canada. We wanted to visit Asia while our health still permitted it. We decided on an extended 8-night cruise on the Yangtze ... Read More
Somewhat seasoned travellers, my wife and I are in our late 50's and residents of a small village in Eastern Canada. We wanted to visit Asia while our health still permitted it. We decided on an extended 8-night cruise on the Yangtze River from Shanghai to Chongqing with a few days in Shanghai at the beginning and some time in Hong Kong to end a 16-day trip. We had experienced river cruising in Europe in 2007 with Uniworld from Basel Switzerland to Amsterdam and we absolutely loved that cruise. Aboard the River Ambassador, we had a small but very comfortable stateroom, excellent meals, visits to scenic sports and nice scenery along the way. We were then confident of receiving the same type of quality service since Victoria Cruises is used by Uniworld for their China river cruises. Also, if one looks at their promotional advertisement on U-Tube, Victoria Cruises appears like a vacation of luxury, relaxation and gastronomy. They tell you about executive chef Walter Stade preparing their gastronomic adventure and about the mixture of Chinese and western food to please all palates. They talk of great wine, of personnel trained to meet your every need, etc. Lovely indeed... We boarded the Victoria Prince leaving Shanghai on May 2, 2010 and arriving in Chongqing on May 10th. The ship is relatively well maintained. The staterooms are small but comfortable. The beds and linen are good. We had a mini fridge and a small balcony with 2 chairs that we enjoyed a lot. Each cabin had a HDTV with HBO and CNN. The public rooms were well appointed and quite comfortable. It was very acceptable if not quite the same quality and good taste as the Uniworld European fleet. The first very unpleasant experience was morning coffee followed quickly by food. I generally go to bed early and get up early, around 5 a.m. When I get up, in a comatose state, I need 2-3 coffees to become human again and help me wait for breakfast. Cruise Ships (including Uniworld) and hotels usually have coffee available around the clock. I never had problems before anywhere. On the Victoria Prince, it was impossible to get a coffee before "coffee hour" which varied every morning according to their precisely managed daily schedule, generally around 7 a.m. I tried everything to get coffee. I got myself a thermos of hot water delivered to my cabin at 11 p.m. at night but could not get a thermos of hot coffee delivered the same way, even by begging or bribing. For some unknown reason, this small need could not be accommodated. I then tried to buy some instant coffee from the ship store but they had none (as a matter of fact, the food section of the ship store consisted of only a few chocolate bars such as M&M or Snickers - no chips, no peanuts, nothing unless you wanted to eat a t-shirt!). I was not the only coffee hound on the ship. A smart Australian oman found a supermarket in Nanjing and was kind enough to let me have a third of a Nescafe jar. I am forever grateful and in debt. With that, I managed to get a small cup of milk from the bar every day that I kept in my mini-fridge. With my hot water delivered at night, I could make myself some very bad coffee every morning but that made me happy. The food was also a sorry affair. Far from the promised adventure in gastronomy, as described in the publicity, it was below par and could not be compared with anything I had in the past. Generally, I am not a fussy eater if I can manage to get some decent proteins and a bit a carbohydrates. ON large cruise ships, I rarely visit the dining room and I am quite satisfied with cafeteria-style food. And I have had many mals in very good Chinese restaurants, mostly to m y liking and often to my delight. I lost a lot of weight on that trip because the food was simply lousy. The first morning, I was pleased to see that they had scrambled eggs and bacon, my saviour food when I don't like what is served at other meals. The following day, the bacon was gone, replaced by a milky white tube they called a port sausage. Certainly did not taste like pork or anything I have ever tasted. And I did not see bacon for another 4 days, then sporadically only. When there were potatoes, they were fried in very old dark oil, leaving an overcooked burnt oily taste in the mouth. The soup was a corn starch base with finely cut vegetables in it. It tasted like glue, cold and repulsive. Their designer chef Walter Stade must be quite pleased with this new gastronomic wonder! For meals, we were assigned to a table of 9. Our table companions were 4 Australians, 2 Americans and one German gentleman and they were all very pleasant. We used to re-order 5 to 6 baskets of bread and butter per meal. The bread was good and so was the butter. We tried the 10 different plates served family-style at every meal. Ate a little of this, a little of that, in an attempt to feed ourselves. Most of it was vegetables covered with thick bland starch thickening agent or what was called marinated vegetables, which was basically just lumpy and tasteless. The quality of the meat was also very poor, chewy and nerdy. No fish, Small breaded shrimps once. They had good fresh green salad with what they called ranch dressing. Once during the trip, we had small slices of beef in a pepper gravy with mashed potatoes. That emptied in seconds and everybody was smiling for a day. Once we had one spring roll each, very oily and not very good but to us, it was better than the usual fare, so we emptied it. Most of the food went back to the kitchen at every meal but nobody every asked us why. So I guess they knew why... And with poor food on a cruise, you start feeling like a prisoner in a camp very quickly. You look for possible alternatives but there are none. You wonder why you have a mini fridge in each room with nothing in it. Daily excursions bring you to museums, temples, mountaintops, not to a store where you can buy something to eat. Contrary to Europe, there is very little free time to mix with the Chinese or try local restaurants. You are in and out of buses and back on the ship. Everyday you always hope that things will improve but they never do. At the end of the trip, you have no appetite left. You feel like a zombie. Thank God the last day has come,Fengdu temple, the temple of the dead, how fitting! But there were some positive things on this trip. The ship hotel staff, all young and willing, are impressive in their funny way. They are more than willing to please but they don't know how and the management is drilling them into little patterns like military personnel. When you shop up for morning coffee, for example, there are 3 of them standing around the coffee machine, white shirts and black suits. One welcomes you, the other one give you a coffee or a tea, the third one wishes you good day. Every morning, same routine, same personnel, same method. When you get off the ship for an excursion, there are 10 to 20 young employees in uniform, every 25 feet or so, everyone taking turn in wishing you a good day. The same is true when you come back. They are all lined up, everyone in turn welcoming you back. I guess this is what their management tell them is good customer service. This line up is important but still no coffee in the early morning just the same. On each floor on of the ship, in front of the stairs, there is one of those young employees sitting behind a desk 24-7. As you go by, he or she gets up and says hello. Strange again. There is a pone in each cabin but no room service. If you need ice, they say you should ask the attendant on your floor. When you ask your attendant, he/she does not understand. If you say "bing kwai tchii" or "ice please" in mandarin, he/she does not understand because of your poor pronunciation. You then make a little ice cube with your hand and then shiver, they get it and literally run to get you ice. They are bored but quite willing to be of service and somebody should teach them what ice means, or a few simple words, like towel, or sop, basic things like that. But what they know how to do, they do extremely well. Our stateroom was made up the minute we stepped out of it in the morning and again during supper and was kept spotless. Just as the hotel management of the ship leaves to be desired, the junior attendants to wonders. I figures that after months or years in the corridor, when they have enough English, they graduate to the dining room. We had 2 attendants in the dining room that we could have basic conversation with. They also taught us some Chinese sentences and it was very enjoyable. They serve 3 meals a day, then do floor shows cabaret style during the evenings. They really have full days and work hard but are always smiling. Like I said, great staff, very poor hotel management. I still can't believe this company is owned by Americans. There were some interesting excursions on this cruise but everything in China seems to come with a lot of stairs in it Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum 392 steps, Huangshan mountain 380 steps, Fendu 700 steps (thank God there is a chair lift that solves that one by 80%). The highlights are definitely the 3-Gorge and the Dam, very beautiful and impressive. The low point is that you meet so few Chinese people outside the government appointed guides giving you the official story. You always seem to be kept away, isolated, in tourist land. We had to use the ship doctor, also the tai chi instructor. My wife developed a bronchitis, due to uncontrolled air conditioning, high level of humidity and constant diesel fumes. The doctor identified a small throat infection and suggested administering antibiotics through an IV. She flatly refused so he gave her some throat losanges. He did not have any syrup or anything to make her sleep and she kept coughing all night which added to the lack of sleep. The problem got easily fixed in Hong Kong a week later. Do not count on the ship doctor, bring lots of medicines for various ailments as some of the other passengers did. They can be useful. Finally, let me say that it was an interesting trip but not a pleasant one. We thought the cruise would be the highlight of our trip to Asia. It was not. We enjoyed Shanghai a lot at the beginning and the cruise was quickly washed away in Hong Kong, where I had possible the best meal of my life or so it seemed after a week on the Victoria Prince. If you choose to do a cruise on the Yangtze, choose a short cruise (3 or 4 nights) to visit the 3 Gorges and the Dam. Stay away from the long 8-night cruise. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2010
The Avalon Felicity is a brand new vessel just launched in March 2010. Based upon my observations of other river cruise vessels it's exterior is not stylish or very modern in appearance. However the interior is very clean in ... Read More
The Avalon Felicity is a brand new vessel just launched in March 2010. Based upon my observations of other river cruise vessels it's exterior is not stylish or very modern in appearance. However the interior is very clean in appearance and comfortable. The 138 passengers fit easily into the forward lounge and restaurant. The only time we felt crowded was during the lunch buffet. Avalon boasts that their cabins are the largest for river cruises, at 172 square feet. They feel a little smaller possibly from the lay out. They are adequate though considering the limited time one spends in the cabin. Storage capacity of the cabin in my wife's opinion was wonderful and in fact we did not use it all. The cabin has French doors but we missed having a balcony as on an ocean cruise. The food was hit or miss. Dinners were quite good with free wine. Service was basically good though they confused orders at times and there was a delay serving soft drinks. Breakfast buffet meats and eggs were cold, though my wife told me the omelet station was good. Disembarkation was the easiest I ever had. Was off ship and onto a bus to the airport in minutes. In all the cruise was enjoyable though one should consider carefully the differences between an ocean cruise and a river cruise before committing to a river cruise.   Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
We have travelled on over 15 ocean cruises but wanted to experience the river cruise. We chose Uniworld and the River Duchess, mostly for the ports in Eastern Europe. Not knowing river cruising companies we were somewhat ... Read More
We have travelled on over 15 ocean cruises but wanted to experience the river cruise. We chose Uniworld and the River Duchess, mostly for the ports in Eastern Europe. Not knowing river cruising companies we were somewhat intimidated,however we lucked out in choosing Uniworld. Everything was great. Uniworld assembles mostly english speaking passengers for some of their cruises so we were able to enjoy all the people aboard. The main countries represented were US, Canada and Australia. River boat passengers seem to be very well travelled and welcome meeting new people. The dining was open and we never ate alone. The food was outstanding and after the big cruise lines, it was so refreshing to have the variety we experience there but not the massive quantity. To my view, the river boats are not beautiful because of the specifications they have to follow re bridges etc. but the interior of the River Duchess was quite luxurious. Our stateroom was a little smaller than we had experienced on the ocean liners but very adequate and well appointed. We thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of river cruising. We simply walked over a small gangplank and we were in a place to easily access the heart of the town or city. We were able to get on and off several times a day, at our convenience. One time we simply wanted an ice cream cone and a stroll in the shady park! The included tours were very good, although we do like to do things on our own and that was very possible. Probably the most interesting tour was the visit to the home of a resident of Croatia for lunch. It is alway wonderful to be able to see how others live. The staff went our of their way to see to our needs. Instead of the night tour in Budapest, my husband and I wanted to hear some gypsy music with a glass of wine. One of the staff found us a restaurant and when we arrived, a table had been reserved for us. We had a lovely evening enjoying the wine and the gypsy music. You would find that the staff is a little more laid back than the ocean liners, but very friendly, professional and helpful. The entertainment was really enjoyable. We had a piano player all the time, supported by a singer at times on board in the lounge. The entertainment brought on board at several ports was very high quality. No night club acts but really good entertainment. I do have to say that the cruise director Rick was excellent. He was helpful and informative at all times. All together, a really great experience. We love river cruising. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
We debated long and hard whether or not to spend the money on this trip. We believed all VRC advertised and decided that it would be the trip of a lifetime. It WAS...the worst trip of our lifetime. We were on the Pakhomov. We are WELL ... Read More
We debated long and hard whether or not to spend the money on this trip. We believed all VRC advertised and decided that it would be the trip of a lifetime. It WAS...the worst trip of our lifetime. We were on the Pakhomov. We are WELL heeled world travellers and had SOOO many problems with Viking. They claimed they "didn't know about the closings for Russian Independence Day"???????? They are in Russia, how could they not know that. We had a Cat A Deluxe cabin. Lots of problems with heat and air regulation-no A/C as advertised, windows that wouldn't open,almost no TV reception and internet spotty at best. Our deluxe cabin advertised as comparable to the finest hotel room was shabby, old and not at all what was promised. The bed was AWFUL!!! Some had plumbing problems the whole cruise. And everyone had issues with the cleanliness...not how it looked, but that is was not at all sanitized-several of us watched carefully because we were concerned. Many of us watched and never saw anyone wiping down the handrails. OK, maybe it was done at night, but should have been done continuously. The stairs on the ship are very risky to navigate, especially for anyone with mobility issues. The room maid wiped everyone's in room glassware out daily with a dry cloth (the same one)...we checked it out. At least 2/3 of the passengers on the ship were very ill with a virus (us, too, but not as much as some). Some were even hospitalized. The common areas were toatally inadequate for the number of people on the ship. Sometimes they asked that only one person from a cabin come to briefings. WHAT!!! The included ballet performance was specifically aimed at tourists and performed by an amateur troup. We were very pushed to buy souvenirs and several times "taken" to where we were encouraged to buy. These trips were included tours. Worst of all were the included tours. They were literally "tourist herds". I am not exagerrating. For the money we paid I really expected much much more. I have done tours for less money and been in small groups of 20 or less. Too many optionals...more should have been included for the price. Sure we could have gone off on our own...some did...but we paid so much for the cruise that it seemed it would have been adding insult to injury. VRC states with them there is no standing in line or sitting on busses. Total lie!!! Every time we tried to politely express our concerns to someone on the staff, we were told "Sorry, there is nothing we can do". On the plus side-we had wonderful servers at dinner-who spoke almost no English. The food was adequate...nothing to rave over at all but nice presentations. VCR promised 5 couse gourmet meals. We had exactly 2 and in my opinion they were NOT gourmet. We were assigned a dining room so did not get to mingle with everyone at meals as touted. But...best- we made some wonderful new friends and have all agreed that we will travel together again...just not on Viking. We all agreed on that. VRC deletes all negative posts on Facebook so all you read are the positives. Oh...and Helsinki. $900 apiece for 3 nights in a mundane hotel room, a 2 hour walking tour and a 6 hour uncomfortable train trip to St. Petersburg. Everything in Helsinki was mega-expensive, so be prepared to drop a wad if you go. FYI...I have been travelling worldwide for 30 years-2 or more trips per year-my travel partner also. We are not just griping. It was a VERY disappointing trip. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
This was our first River Cruise, and we loved it! Our cabin was very well laid out, and very comfortable, with a large window which could be opened. The bed was very comfortable, which was important to me because I have sciatica. There ... Read More
This was our first River Cruise, and we loved it! Our cabin was very well laid out, and very comfortable, with a large window which could be opened. The bed was very comfortable, which was important to me because I have sciatica. There was only one seating for dinner, and it was free-style with no reserved tables. This meant that we could share mealtimes with new people. The menu was small, but provided a variety of choices for appetizers, first course, main course, and dessert. The food was beautifully presented, and small, perfect portions. Fotr the "meat and potatoes" type, one could always order steak, chicken,or fish in addition to the daily entrees which were offered. The cruise included at least one tour in each port, and when we boarded, we were assigned a number from 1 to 4. This was our tour group number throughout the cruise. Our tours were very well organized. We disembarked the ship as our group was called, and boarded the tour buses which were waiting for us. They use local tour guides, and all but one were excellent. They also offered some tours in addition, for an additional cost. In the evening, on board, we enjoyed lectures about the European Union, or discussions about the history of the next day's port. Unlike the large ocean cruise ships, there are no casinos or theaters on board. Entertainment was a very talented keyboard player/singer who played in the lounge each evening after dinner. We found this quite acceptable, as we were usually tired after the day's activities. The staff on the Viking Sun always had a great attitude, and all spoke excellent English. Many were bilingual, or trilingual. Each afternoon, the chef walked among the tables, asking us if there was anything he could improve upon, or if we had any suggestions for him. The only thing missing from this cruise was sunshine.....it rained the entire cruise, which was very disappointing. (I nicknamed our cruise "Castles of the Rhine in the Rain") Even the locals were complaining. But, one can't control the weather. I'm really looking forward to our next river cruise, and would definitely choos Viking again. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
I have to admit that my husband and I chose this cruise because of a vacation time slot first and the destination second. Russia was not one of those places that I had a longing to visit. And in fact I must admit that I had a certain ... Read More
I have to admit that my husband and I chose this cruise because of a vacation time slot first and the destination second. Russia was not one of those places that I had a longing to visit. And in fact I must admit that I had a certain concern about what it might be like, all the way from what airline the Viking folks may have put us on (Aeroflot?) and what we might get for food onboard (borscht and boiled potatoes?) My husband remarked that for me, a successful cruise would mean simply surviving it. But my misgivings were all unjustified (well, with the possible exception of the cabin, see below) and I count myself lucky to have gone on this adventure. I would go back in a minute. We arrived in St. Petersburg on a cold rainy day. As promised we were met at the airport by the Viking folks, our luggage gathered up, and we and a number of other fellow cruisers were bused to the Pakhamov. We found a money exchange place right at the luggage area of the small airport so were able to convert dollars to rubles very conveniently. If you plan to buy anything at a souvenir stand or out in the countryside, have rubles. You can find an ATM in some towns but it isn't too convenient to spend your time trying to find them and seeing whether your card will work. We checked into our Category C room (90 square feet), which appeared to be a pre-fab style room with 2 sleeping pallets. We were told that the ship was built in East Germany during the Soviet era. We were lucky that our configuration allowed us to have one suitcase at the foot of one of the "beds" and we had enough room to move a table from between them to an area next to the closet. The "beds" were attached to the wall, so when someone in the next cabin got into theirs with gusto, you could expect yours to have a kind of rebound effect. Only one of us could get dressed or move about in the room at a time. The "yacht-style" bathroom was interesting but worked for showers just fine. It was not a great place for anything to dry, however. There was plenty of storage space in the cabin and a nice window. There was no in-room safe. We quickly adapted to the cabin and spent little time there at any rate. The ship was advertised as having been renovated but we could not see evidence of that. The common rooms were clean and comfortable, although not large. The dining room for our part of the ship was bright with windows on three sides. We had an Austrian chef, and the food was very good. There was a breakfast buffet and a menu from which you could order a few options. At lunch and dinner there were always choices and one could order more than one choice or multiples of the same choice. On our cruise we had complementary wine, red or white, of a very reasonable quality and as much as we wanted. The service was very good. Most of the crew spoke very good English; those that did not did their best to understand and if necessary went to another crew member for help. These young people were a highlight of the cruise for me. The destinations are described on the web site so I won't go into them here. We missed Kizhi due to dense fog. I was fascinated with everything. I was delighted that we arrived at about the same time as celebration of the Great Patriotic War, or World War II. For the first time American, French and British troops marched in the parades. This war is very much in the close memories of people, and those in St. Petersburg and Moscow had very different experiences of it than anyone in the US. On the outskirts of Moscow our guide pointed out a tank trap at the side of the multi-lane street, indicating where the barriers had been set. Seeing Red Square was something I could not imagine, having grown up watching the military parades on May Day with the tanks and missiles and goose-stepping soldiers. Moscow was most surprising to me with its constant traffic jams and cars everyone would recognize, high rise buildings and the very extensive metro system. Most of the port excursions were included in the trip. The Russian English-speaking guides were excellent and the audio system the best I have seen. Some onboard lectures on Russian history, language, and souvenirs were well-done and interesting. I for one was glad to have been given some time to shop and pointed at places where Russian objects and souvenirs of higher quality were available. I fell in love with the traditional Russian shawls and bought several. If you want souvenirs they will be lowest cost in the countryside, more in Moscow, higher on the ship and highest at the airport. The end of the trip arrived all too soon. We were transferred to the airport very efficiently. If you envision this trip as an adventure rather than a high-amenity opportunity you will have a wonderful time. I learned a lot, met many interesting people and did a lot more than just survive this trip! Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
To give some background to our trip - I was born in Odessa Ukraine, and have been contemplating for some time to introduce my wife to the city and the country of which she heard so much. The Odessa-Kiev cruise on Viking Lomonosov provided ... Read More
To give some background to our trip - I was born in Odessa Ukraine, and have been contemplating for some time to introduce my wife to the city and the country of which she heard so much. The Odessa-Kiev cruise on Viking Lomonosov provided a possibility to do so with an added bonus of "highlighting" Crimea as well. The ship is very simple -â€" library, 2 bars (one forward and one aft), 2 restaurants (while we were assigned to Kiev restaurant the seating is open for all meals which gives you a chance to mingle with fellow passengers) and a sun deck -â€" otherwise just a hallways with cabins on both sides (4 decks total). Our cabin (229) was 90 sq.ft -â€" the TINIEST we've ever seen J but we were able to get everything out of suitcases and store them away with no problem so it was quite cozy and comfy (besides its not like we spent TOO much time in it) Actually it turned out to be a good location since all the cabins have a large window but all are overlooking a given deck so one has to be mindful of the situation least some fellow cruisers will catch you de-flagrante J The Main deck is "Crew" deck -â€" so we hardly had anyone moving past our window and we were literally steps away from the Front Desk and the disembarking doors (proves a good thing when the crowds begin to gather to go ashore) BY FAR -â€" it is the most passive cruise EVER! There is no "activities" on board for those mornings\afternoons that you are cruising -â€" I reckon the idea is for you to sit on the deck and soak up the scenery...but then you kinda ease in into this "lazy" lifestyle...and if need be -â€" there are books and games in library, they were showing movies on TV (mostly tapes not live but that's OK) and there were appropriate lectures on Ukraine History in general and ports-of-call when appropriate. Food was AWESOME (surprisingly I did not gain an ounce case you KNOW I was eating like a pig (or make it 2 pigs) J). They are also liberal with that wine that comes as a part of the package -â€" once its starts flowing you can ask for refills and they will give it to you no questions asked. The drinks at the bar are good (the best LIIT I've ever tasted) and they use top shelf brands (drink of the day was about 55 UAH). Draft beer (Slavutitch -â€" Ukrainian Beer) is very good and actually is cheaper than Coke (28 UAH vs 30 UAH for the same size glass) Speaking of Coke -â€" all soft drinks are charged even during the meals. At the same - water and iced tea are available with meals, 4 juices are there for breakfast and there is a coffee machine on Middle Deck that works 24/7 (and like I said -â€" wine is flowing during the dinner) so we were not hurting for soda. They also give you a 1 liter bottle of water in the cabin (if need be -â€" replenished every day). And there is no limit on stuff you can buy while in port and bring back into cabin (there is a small fridge). You KNOW some folks were dragging booze in on daily basis J If you want to serve it at the dinner though -â€" its 80 UAH cork fee charge. The stuff is very friendly and helpful but their English is limited -â€" if you "overstep the boundaries" by asking some unfamiliar question -â€" they will give you a blank look and say Yes (with the same friendly smile.... But that's about it) The weather while in Odessa and Crimea was just perfect! Couple of showers but kinda "passing by" or we hit everything at the right time (rained while we were in transit or inside the building) so that was not an issue aside carting the jackets with us some days and the temps were in upper 70s to upper 80s The 1st days into the river it did change to cooler (upper 50s -â€" mid 60s) but bearable. Unfortunately 1 day was a complete wash out - we were lucky that we just finished watching the Cossack Horse Show when the skies literally opened up and we were shooed-in back onto buses thus cutting short the rest of the visit (kinda was a bummer since this was on Khortitsa Island where Ukrainian (Zaporozhye) Cossacks started from as I was looking forward to view some of the fortifications and such) and the next 2 were kinda gloomy as well (it would periodically drizzle on and off -â€" just enough to be a slight nuisance here-and-there). But by the time we got to Kiev it was all nice and sunny again The "included" tours...well... they just cemented my reason of trying to stay away from organized tours (but then it is exactly the reason why I DO stay away from them). You are assigned the bus in the beginning of the cruise so the same driver and guide will be with you for duration. There were 28 people on our bus (it does not seem like the cruise was sold-out) and most of the folks are in their 70s so... time to get on get off... and pretty much running through museums and other exhibits -â€" not much you can do just go with the flow. (Be prepared to hear & see a lot of WWII (or as they call it The Great Patriotic War) stuff esp. since they are celebrating 65 years of VE Day this year) That said I was only too happy that I hired a private guide for all 4 days in Crimea. He was a great guy, had his own A\Cd little car (which did come handy in some places that the bus would not even DREAM to go through), very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and ... just everything you want to ask for in a guide! To make a long story short -â€" we hit EVERY place that Viking advertized as "optional" tours (even when one had to choose between "tour 1" or "tour 2") and THEN SOME! He got us into places that are closed to tourist crowds and pretty much I got everything I wished for (the only thing that was on my list that I didn't get to do was to take a cable car to the top of Ai-Petri (St Peter's) Mountain but that's only because Viking told me that the ship would be leaving Yalta at 2:00 pm and it actually did at 1:00 pm -â€" which lost us that hour and is not in any way Sergey's (the guide's) fault). All in all I paid him $510.00 $50.00 of which was a tip and was also paying whatever the entry fees to places were. So maybe the whole experience ran me $600-650 (tops) but again it was well worth it for me because of what we saw & did vs what the rest of the crowd did (or, obviously -â€" didn't). If you are interested -â€" contact him at sergo22yalta at gmail.com (again his name is Sergey). You most certainly can tell him that I recommended J To highlight one examle of what I just told you -â€" I have photos of me sitting in Stalin's cabinet behind his desk and Sergey and I in Molotov's quarters - both are taken at Yusupov's Palace which was where Russian Delegation was HQ'd during Yalta Conference (US Delegation was at Livadia (White) Palace (included in Itinerary) and Brits were at Vorontzov's (Alupka) Palace -â€" optional tour). The place originally belonged to Prince Felix Yusupov's parents and the big claim to fame here is that Price Felix is the one who murdered Rasputin In any case -â€" nothing that any other fellow cruiser even dreamt of remotely seeing.... There is not much to see & do in Dnepropetrovsk and Kremenchug -â€" they are just "1/2-dead monuments" to Soviet industry and I honestly have no idea as to why they are on the itinerary (I'd much more to skip one or both of them and spent that time in Kiev) but I'm not the one who makes the itinerary. No matter what -â€" the time in Kiev is simply NOT ENOUGH so make the best of what you'll see on organized tours! The ship arrives in Kiev shortly after lunch and you practically immediately carted off onto the tours of St. Sophia Cathedral and the Kiev_Pecherskaya Monastery of the Caves (once more - NOT ENOUGH TIME AT ALL!!!!) Upon the reurn - you have a choice -â€" either free time (shopping etc) or take a Jewish Kiev tour (to Babi Yar and the Main Synagogue). The tour is not advertized in Viking brochures and is 330 UAH pp; lasts approximately 2 hours and is a somber experience if you are familiar with the Babi Yar (done with a very knowledgeable English speaking local guide) I spent about $300.00 in tips all around (ship personnel and local guides) and ran up perhaps a $150.00 bill on board which included the above tour and some souvenirs. -â€" again PITTANCE since it was all in Hrivnas I also have to mention that they take away your passports for the duration of the cruise (no reason to make any scenes or protests as that wont help any) they give you some tail of a whale about customs but it's a lie -â€" probably a left-over appendix from "good old" Soviet times. In any case -â€" they give you a card (one per person) with your name, cabin # and bus # instead and it serves as your ID and also a "whereabouts" tool inasmuch as that you have to give them your cabin key for these cards every time you go ashore and thus exchange back upon return -â€" so they can see if anyone is "still out". They are not computerized at all in that sense -â€" all on board stuff is still done via signing individual purchase receipts. Once your bill is settled (last "cruising" morning on the way to Kiev) -â€" you get the passports back. At the last day I simply decided not to go through the hustle of haggling with either cab drivers or hackers about the fare to Borispol Airport and just let the Front Desk order me one of their "affiliate" cabs. The taxi was there 10 mins before the scheduled time - nice, clean & comfortable car. The trip took about 40 mins and the fare was 300.00 UAH (+ 30 UAH tip). Thus - as far as my "transfers" go I think I beat the Viking price hands down.... So in conclusion -â€" there are some setbacks but on the overall -â€" a very worthy experience. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
Our trip on the Scenic Sapphire was great, it totally surpassed our expectations. The ship is beautiful, with very comfortable accommodations. The crew was very friendly and very professional. Captain Costel did a great of job of ... Read More
Our trip on the Scenic Sapphire was great, it totally surpassed our expectations. The ship is beautiful, with very comfortable accommodations. The crew was very friendly and very professional. Captain Costel did a great of job of maneuvering the numerous locks and getting us to our destinations, usually ahead of schedule. The hotel manager, Arthur was great, he has a wonderful sense of humor and was always there with a smile to help in any situation and his staff did a tremendous job too. Cruise director, Tadej did an excellent job both with the on board activities and the shore excursions. Purser, Katrina and her assistant handled every request efficiently with a smile. Executive Chef, Chadvar and his staff turned out some amazing meals from very tight quarters. Maitre d’Hotel, Vitor and his staff, especially our waiter, Zoltan did an excellent job of serving the meals and seeing that our wine glasses were never empty. Housekeeper, Teodora and her staff did a wonderful job of keep the Scenic Sapphire spotless from stem to stern. Maria who serviced our cabin did an excellent job, cleaning at least three times a day and leaving some delightful arrangements of towels. On Mothers Day she saw the card I gave my wife and made a heart of towels around it on the bed. For a relatively new company in a very competitive market Scenic Tours really did their homework and got it right, right from the start. I couldn’t imagine a better experience in river cruising. I had never heard of Scenic Tours but while researching riverboat cruises on the internet I came across it on the website riverdiscounts.com. I was first of all impressed with the beautiful new boats. When I looked in to it further I liked the fact that the all gratuities were included and complimentary wine was served with lunch and dinner. There was even a bottle of Prosecco on ice along with Champagne flutes if you wanted a little bubbly with your breakfast in the morning, which was pleasant surprise. Another bonus was the fact that unlike most European tours, which make all announcements in 3 to 5 different languages, all announcements, were in English only. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2010
When Volcanic ash stopped air traffic to and from Europe, we were on Uniworld's River Baroness sailing from Paris to Normandy and back on the Seine. Since our flight home had been cancelled, it was an easy decision to repeat the week, ... Read More
When Volcanic ash stopped air traffic to and from Europe, we were on Uniworld's River Baroness sailing from Paris to Normandy and back on the Seine. Since our flight home had been cancelled, it was an easy decision to repeat the week, again aboard the River Baroness as we so enjoyed the initial week. It is difficult to describe how wonderfully managed the cared for this boat really is. The crew is great in every way. Caring, warm, friendly, and never, ever did I see or detect an "attitude". They work hard but do not complain and are eternally cheerful. One can't think of a better place to be for two weeks and that is without talking about the scenery, tours, and all of the other wonderful things that go on on this itinerary. It is truly a memorable trip which includes Paris, the Normandy Beaches and the American Cemetery, a visit to Giverny and Monet's home and famous gardens, a stop at Honfleur, where Impressionists often painted, and two days in Rouen, a beautiful city with many interesting attractions, great shopping, and excellent restaurants. All that in a week? What could be better...two weeks! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2010
Just wanted to make a comment before starting on the review. Avalon includes bottled water in the cabin each day on most ships. The soaps, shampoo, etc., were very nice and definitely an upgrade from our Magnificent Europe of two years ... Read More
Just wanted to make a comment before starting on the review. Avalon includes bottled water in the cabin each day on most ships. The soaps, shampoo, etc., were very nice and definitely an upgrade from our Magnificent Europe of two years ago. Coffee, tea, juice and water along with fruit and cookies are available 24 hours a day in the back lounge. Each afternoon there is a coffee/tea and cake offering in the main lounge. There is a beauty shop on board. They added head massages to their list of offerings. I had mentioned on last year's survey that it would be nice to have someone who could give manicures on board. This year on the Creativity, Sandra was able to shape my nails and cuticles and then give a hand massage. Again, I mentioned on the survey that further nail service would be nice. We did not use the onboard fitness room as we were walking quite a few miles each day on the tour. The hot tub was on the top deck and was used by quite a few people. We boarded the Creativity after taking an optional trip to the Eifel Tower. It was so nice to see one of our bartenders from last year, Radu. Always nice to have a familiar face to greet us ... This trip had 123 passengers as I recall. The Creativity is a fairly new ship and its layout was familiar to us as we were on the Affinity's maiden voyage last year. I have been asked by several Cruise Critic members to talk about the included and optional tours. On the Paris to Normandy portion of Grand France there were two included tours most every day. You were given the choice of one or the other. Sometimes we made a good choice and sometimes we didn't ... here are the choices that we had for tours and optionals: Paris: There was an included sightseeing tour of Paris. In the afternoon there were two optional tours: Louvre and Versailles. Last year we took the Versailles tour and really enjoyed it. Those who took the Louvre tour said it was good but not much time to just stand and enjoy the artwork. In the evening there was an optional trip to the Moulin Rouge. We didn't go either this year or last year but those who went had a great time. Conflans: The included tours were a trip to the village where Van Gogh spent his last three months or St. Germain to visit the home of Josephine Bonaparte. We did the St. Germain trip and it was OK but wish we had done the other one as we heard good things from those who took it. Vernon: The included tours were a trip to Claude Monet's home and gardens or Chateau de Bizy which is a 'small Versailles' ... we did Monet and loved it. That evening there was onboard entertainment by Valerie and Alexis, which was OK but not a group that I would want to hear again. Rouen: There was a walking tour of the city in the morning and then two optionals in the afternoon: Homfleur and Calvados Distillery or visiting several Abbey's, which is the one we did (I graduated from a Benedictine University and wanted to visit a Benedictine Abbey) and we had a great time. Those who went to Honfleur said it was nice and that they enjoyed the distillery. We stayed in Honfleur while we did our own Normandy trip so I wasn't interested in going there That evening we had onboard entertainment from La Strada, which is a trio of violins and keyboard synthesizer who performed classical music. This was our third time seeing these performers and they just get better each time. We did purchase their CDs so that I can enjoy then here at home. Rouen: This day there were three included trips: Landing Beaches for the American Landing Beaches for UK and a Taste or Normandy which included the Bayeux tapestries. My husband did the American landing beaches while I stayed on the ship and relaxed. Everyone enjoyed their tours. Normally there would just be a trip to the American Landing Beaches but there were 20+ folks from the UK who were there especially to see the UK beaches as many of them had served in the military in World War 2. Les Andelys: The included tours were basically the same. One did a tour of the city and then went up the hill to the ruins of Richard the LionHeart's castle and then walk back to the ship or take the bus up and back from the castle and then tour the city. That afternoon we had a tasting of several French cheeses. We arrived back in Paris and those who only took the Paris/Normandy trip leave to go home and the others of us went on to the start of the second cruise. NOTE: This trip was affected by the Iceland volcano and a little over 100 of the folks had to find alternative ways to get home. Some of them decided to go along on the Burgundy and Provence portion of the trip and then leave the ship to get back to Paris for their flights back to the US. Just a quick word on the Creativity. It was a great ship with good staff. The food wasn't as good as what we have had on our two previous cruises and we were sure that the CD knew about it and also put it on our survey forms. We had a limited number of people on this cruise as the volcano prevented many folks from getting to Paris. I believe that we had just 51 of us on this portion of the trip. Then those who were continuing on the Burgundy and Provence trip were put in a small van and began our journey to Chalon. On our way there we went to Beaune to either do Burgundy Wine Tasting or tour the Hospices of Beaune (we did the wine tasting). There we met the others group who would be joining us on the cruise. Lunch was on our own. We arrived at the ship to find out that one of the waiters was also on the Affinity last year (Lazlo). Chalon: Walking tour of the town and then sail to Tournus where you could walk to St. Philibert Abbey (beautiful place). There was an optional tour to Chateau Cormatin which we did not do. Macon: No tour just cruising on the Saone. The weather was beautiful so we enjoyed Lyon: City tour which includes the painted walls and the Basilica ... can't miss the Basilica ... Lyon is a wonderful place to tour. Lyon: There were two optional tours scheduled but they wound up being put together which is going to the silk mills and then to the market. Afternoon there was an optional to the Beaujolais vineyards ... we didn't take either one but heard great reviews on both of them. Tournon: Walking Tour and then a little free time before going to Viviers where we took a walking tour through the city and then went up the hill to the Church/Convent area and had an organ concert at the church ... for those with problems walking, transportation was provided up and down the hills. My husband took the transportation but I walked. Avignon: Included tour of the town and the Pope's Palace. In the afternoon there was an optional trip to Pone du Gard and Uzes which we again did not take. Arles: City walking tour and then optional to St. Remy, Van Gogh and Nostradamus ... again we did not take the optional. We took the extension and wound up in Nice where we did take the optional trip to Monaco ... which was great!!! The Scenery is a little older than the Creativity and has had some updating. Rooms, service, etc., were great. The food was better than on the Creativity but as with most ships, there was too much salt in the prepared food. This was a fantastic trip. We were so fortunate to have Yvette Laurent as our CD. She is so pleasant, organized, and nothing seems to 'rattle' her. She did such a great job in helping those who were stranded in Paris, both those who booked their air, etc, through Avalon and those who didn't. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
A friend and I went on our first river cruise in April 2010. We took Uniworld's "Tulips and Windmills" cruise of Belgium and Holland on the River Dutchess. We did not know what to expect and were totally pleased with our ... Read More
A friend and I went on our first river cruise in April 2010. We took Uniworld's "Tulips and Windmills" cruise of Belgium and Holland on the River Dutchess. We did not know what to expect and were totally pleased with our choice. The only thing wrong was that the weather was a bit colder than usual and prevented us from enjoying the upper deck. Also the tulips were not at their peak, although still lovely. The cabin was not large but adequate with very comfortable beds. The meals were fantastic. Huge buffets for breakfast and lunch with a set menu for dinner with 2 choices of appetizer, soup and dessert and 3 choices of main dish--one meat, one fish and one vegetarian. If none of these suited, you could have steak, chicken or salmon. Meals were at a set time and open seating with tables for 6. Wine was included. At 4 in the afternoon one could have "tea" in the lounge with your choice of type of tea and several little canapes. There was also an area with 24 hour self-service of all types of coffee, tea, iced tea, and ice water. There was entertainment every evening, nothing elaborate but fun. The staff were nearly all Eastern European, spoke excellent English, and were friendly and helpful. The shore excursion were all very interesting with the Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam being the highlight. I have mobility problems and was concerned that I would have difficulty with the shore excursions but found them not too difficult and twice our Cruise Manager established a "gentle walking" group. There were actually 8 of us with canes and 2 with walkers. Some excursions were "optional excursions" which required an additional charge, others were included. The places we visited were established along the rivers and so the centers of town were not too far. If you did not want to participate in the organized activity it was easy to go into the town on your own. The Cruise Manager had maps at every port and was happy to give you instructions. Our Cruise Director was Tony and he was absolutely wonderful. There was nothing we did not like about this river cruise and we intend to do another with Uniworld next year. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE AND PARIS ~ APRIL 12-24, 2010 Friends, I've just returned from two memorable weeks in France, one of my favorite countries, and Paris is definitely my favorite city in the world. I've been ... Read More
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE AND PARIS ~ APRIL 12-24, 2010 Friends, I've just returned from two memorable weeks in France, one of my favorite countries, and Paris is definitely my favorite city in the world. I've been visiting France for 35 (yikes) years, and after this 12th visit, I'd like to share with you some observations and suggestions from this recent experience. PROVENCE (the South of France) The trip began in Nice, glittering capital of the Cote d'Azur, and a delightful and absolutely beautiful town on the French Riviera. Highlight here was the market, held daily, in vieux Nice (old Nice). Wonderful opportunity to shop for local specialties like Provencal soaps, herbs, pottery, textiles and watercolors by local artists at reasonable prices. Walk the town...she's a treasure. Onward to Arles to board our ship for the 7 night river cruise, which proved to be one of my most treasured travel experiences ever. Arles is memorable for its connection to Van Gogh and Cezanne, and the ancient Roman Amphitheater, still in use today. From Arles to my favorite town in Provence, Avignon. On three past occasions I'd sat in the town square, enjoying lunch and a good Provencal rose wine and soaked up the local color. I did it again this trip, and the experience did not disappoint. There is an excellent chain of wine stores all over France, called "Nicholas" and they offer a wide range of French wines (many local) at excellent prices, so stop in for your wine provisions. Also be aware that ATMs are available everywhere, even in the smallest villages, so just get cash with your debit card as needed and don't carry wads of Euros with you. Onward to the tiny town of Viviers, whose Cathedral was magnificent, but quite a trek up a very steep hill, then to Tournon a great example of a medieval city, and Vienne, where we rode a little train to the top of the town with a lovely view of the Rhone River below. Then, to Lyon, the 2nd city of France, and her gastronomic capital, and home of the renowned chef, Paul Bocuse. Thanks to an invitation by our shipmates Carl & Carolyn, we enjoyed a splendid lunch at Paul Bocuse's bistro "Le Sud"; highly recommended and it won't break the bank. This was my 1st visit to Lyon, and I loved this city. A great cathedral on Fourviere Hill with panoramic views of the city below, and then again down to explore "old Lyon" with the "traboules"...small little covered passage-ways from medieval times when the silk traders needed to cross the city and avoid bad weather. This part of Lyon was truly fascinating and well worth a serious visit. The river cruise towns ended with Macon and Chalon sur Saone, nothing too notable here, but then we visited beautiful Beaune, and ooh la la, what a town, and well worth a visit. DO NOT miss the incredible Hotel-Dieu, one of France's architectural highlights, and a joy to explore. This was a charity hospital, founded in 1443. The main part of the hospital is now a fantastic museum, but a portion of the building is still in use today as a retirement home for the impoverished elderly. Fantastic shopping and wonderful cafes and bistros in Beaune. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Brasserie le Carnot. From here it was on to the incomparable city of light, Paris. Having done (several times) the mainstays of Paris....Arc d' Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Opera, and the Louvre, I wanted to explore some off the beaten path places. So, let me share those that struck a chord, and I think are noteworthy, and worth your time and effort, and in some cases, money! 1st off, for those of you who don't know, the "hot spot" in Paris these past few years is an area called "Le Marais". This is district in Paris that has been gentrified and fluffed of late, and retains an enormous amount of historical significance. Steeped in royal & Revolutionary history, this village in the heart of Paris offers medieval streets, museums-filled mansions, and the city's oldest and most beautiful square. 1) to get there get off at Metro St. Paul. Walk over to the enchanting Place des Vosges, that lovely square, and don't miss Victor Hugo's house and a museum on the southeeast corner of the square. 2) Sadly the Picasso Museum is closed for renovation until 2012. 3) Shopping in the Marais is a dream...to wit: Fun, fun handmade toys at "Tumbleweed" 19 rue du Turenne, Paris 75004 DO NOT miss the olive oil experience of a lifetime at O & Co....this shop specializes in Mediterranean olive oils, soaps, herbs, and vinegars. If you're looking for reasonable gifts to take home to friends and family, here's your spot! 47 rue Vielle du Temple Paris 77005 My absolute favorite shop in Paris is called As' Art...an African import gallery with fantastic objects of every type...the only time I've spent money in Paris the past 3 visits is at this shop. Also, it's in a wonderful little area called "Village St Paul" full of delightful shops of all sorts. As' Art: 35 Rue St Paul, Marais, Paris 75004 Where to eat in the Marais? Some ideas: Le Petit Fer a Cheval 30 Rue Vieille du Temple Paris 75004 Good food, cheap wine and adorable. Cafe des Musees Bistro 49 Rue de Turenne, Paris In the heart of Marais, a good Parisian bistro, reasonable What else in Paris: Do not miss a totally unknown shop opposite the Jardins Luxembourg, the Library/Book Shop of the Senat, located near the entrance to Luxembourg Gardens at 20 Rue de Vaugirard, Paris 75006. This shop has beautiful post cards and very fine gifts in leather (wallets, credit card holders, etc) are remarkably good prices. I always go here and am always rewarded. You must do the Montmartre area and see Sacre Coeur, and do ride the funicular up beside the long, long steps. (You can use a metro ticket for this ride) Speaking of metro tickets, the best value is to buy a "carnet des billets" a group of 10 metro tickets at a reduced price, you can buy with a credit card or Euro cash at the ticket machine in any metro station. I find this a better buy than the "Metro card"... Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, and the view is beautiful from the Sacre Coeur cathedral. This is also the area that attracted many artists in the 19th century. The "Place du Tertre" is a bit touristy, but fun with shops and cafes. I've enjoyed 2 good meals here: A sweet little restaurant at the top of the hill, is Chez Plumeau, the typical outdoor cafe setting, and it's charming inside too. Chez Plumeau 4 Place Du Calvaire 75018 Paris, France . Check out a delightful little street in Montparnasse area, called Rue du Cherche Midi Paris 75006...shops, restaurants galore, and a joy to experience. Another good restaurant bet is a small chain in Paris, called " Chez Clement" with locations all over Paris. I enjoyed 2 very excellent meals here at good prices. I was staying in St Germain area, and I ate at Chez Clement's St. Michel restaurant, not 100 yards from the St. Michel metro stop. Check their website for a location near you... www.chezclement.com. Ok, let's do the Palais Royal, metro Louvre/Palais Royal. A BEAUTIFUL square with whimsical sculptures, fountains, and gorgeous shops along the arcades that line both sides of the square. This is at treat indeed. Keep your pocketbooks closed here, but it's a great place for the French experience of "window licking!" One block away is another exceptional find, the Galerie Vero-Dodat Arcade, linking the Rue du Bouloi to Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau. These are 19th century, renovated shopping galleries, the oldest in Paris, with magnificent, covered glass ceilings and beautiful carved wooden fronts on the shops. In my book, this is a MUST SEE with shops, cafes, art galleries and magnificent architecture. Read Less

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