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Sail Date: April 2010
April 2010-From the time our flight landed at the quirky half France and half Switzerland airport and we boarded the Viking Sun in Basel, my husband and I had thoroughly enjoyable experiences during the entire Treasures of the Rhine ... Read More
April 2010-From the time our flight landed at the quirky half France and half Switzerland airport and we boarded the Viking Sun in Basel, my husband and I had thoroughly enjoyable experiences during the entire Treasures of the Rhine Cruise. Viking River Cruises had mailed us booklets which contained details of the itinerary as well as brief histories of the places we were to visit. We read the booklets and did additional research on subjects that interested us. We have discovered that the more we know in advance of the city tours and shore excursions, the more we see, appreciate, and enjoy. The Viking Sun is a relatively new ship and comfortable ship. Our room was conveniently located on the middle deck. We were close to the exit exterior doors, the restaurant, the ice machine, and the stairways to the observation lounge and sun deck. The picture window opened which was great to take a quick snapshot without glare and throw a bread scrap to the swans outside when we docked. The room was compact but well designed to incorporate a desk, storage areas, and two chairs with a table between them. The beds were comfortable. Everything in the room seemed new and fresh. Upon entering our room the only odor was the smell of chocolate from the Easter basket, a delightful surprise gift from Viking. Amenities such as free wireless internet were very useful for us. Of course each room has, a TV, phone safe, and individually controlled thermostat. The room was also quiet. We thought the ship had an excellent layout with the restaurant front middle deck for nice views while dining. The reception desk is positioned midship as well as public restrooms which were very convenient for us when going to and coming back from excursions. I personally loved the coffee, hot chocolate, and hot water machine at the top of the stairs of the upper deck. It was free and open all the time. There were pitchers of ice water, ice tea, and Granny Smith apples available there too. Very civilized! The ship was kept immaculately clean. The chef was an energetic young man who met with diners to discover how well the dishes he prepared pleased their palates. My husband and I enjoyed the meals which were very beautifully presented. Considering the size of the staff and kitchen, it was totally amazing the variety and quality of gourmet meals we were served. If a diner did not like the selection of dinners served that evening, a steak, chicken, or Caesar salad could be substituted. The wait staff really hustled and amazingly learned our preferences and names. Lunches and breakfast were a bountiful buffet style. Thankfully, there are no assigned seats so dining companions are a choice. The Aussies and Brits we met and dined with were great fun. On several of the excursions we visited the "old towns". Many of them survived the numerous wars or have been rebuilt or repaired. The art and architecture was beautiful and different from medieval times, to modern especially the magnificent cathedrals. The itineraries included places to taste wine, shop, explore the real surviving medieval Marksburg castle, visit the ruins of Heidelberg castle (beautiful), circle and stare at the huge statue of King William, visit a WWII cemetery and museum at Arnhem, take a canal tour of Amsterdam, stroll through the Keukenhof Gardens with millions of spring tulips, sample Gouda cheese at a farm, marvel at Kinderdijk with working windmills, admire picturesque Brugge and the chocolate shops, listen to beautiful singing in old cathedrals, and enjoy the local markets. There was something new and wonderful each day. The Viking staff on this ship was very knowledgeable, helpful, professional, and efficient. We were extremely impressed by the way the emergency situation with the volcano eruption was handled by the staff. On the day we were to be taken to the airport, the flights were canceled. All passengers on the ship were told that they would be taken care of by Viking. Several of us were scheduled to fly Lufthansa from Brussels. Viking bused us to the airport were we rescheduled our flights and were given hotel rooms in hotels in the airport area as per EU procedure. The other passengers stayed onboard the ship and were taken care of by Viking. The tour guides worked very hard at this time to get everyone on their flight home. This was an emergency they handled well. We are going on our fifth Viking River Cruise tour this summer. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: March 2010
I do not always write reviews for cruises, rather do so only when my evaluation and experience seem to differ from prevailing comments and evaluations by other travelers. I booked "Tulips and Windmills" on Viking Legend before ... Read More
I do not always write reviews for cruises, rather do so only when my evaluation and experience seem to differ from prevailing comments and evaluations by other travelers. I booked "Tulips and Windmills" on Viking Legend before the ship was launched because I'd long yearned to explore that part of Europe in more depth (my paternal ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from Holland in the late 1800's), and because my husband dislikes air travel and the Legend has SINGLE staterooms which were favorably priced on Viking's Early Booking Discount offer. Later on I read negative reports and comments about Viking Legend and about Viking River Cruise company, and had some doubts in the months between booking and boarding my plane for Amsterdam on March 25. However, I knew the ship was going where I wanted to go and that the price was within my budget traveling solo, so I was GOING!! My personal experience was absolutely wonderful. Lovely ship, excellent upbeat and efficient crew, fine dining experiences, good itinerary -- nothing to complain about or really even to criticize. I am happy to give Viking Legend very high marks. A substantial majority of the 177 travelers on board the Legend's March 27 sailing were Viking past passengers, so it seems clear that many other travelers are as happy with Viking as I am. One criticism I had read was that other river cruise lines include wine with dinner, but not Viking; well, so did Viking this year. Wine with dinner had been included as part of the Early Booking package, and apparently the company decided to expand it to include all passengers. The passengers were an interesting, well-traveled, and well-educated group of people. As well as those from the United States, we had travelers from the UK, Australia, and Canada, which added to the interest of shared experiences as folks brought different perspectives to what we were seeing. Although I enjoyed every single part of the journey, highlights for me were Kinderdijk, the Delta Project, and Keukenhof. Europe had had a fierce winter so we were too early for the full tulip bloom, but even so there were some fields of brilliant color, and the pavilions were glorious with the beauty of flowers of all kinds. The Keukenhof grounds are lovely, with statuary as well as ponds and fountains and lovely flora. We were lucky on weather. Several times we heard reports that where we were at the moment was the only place in The Netherlands where it was NOT raining; several days we completed our day's activities and just as we headed back on the bus or were back on board the ship, some rain would start to fall. The two times we did experience rainfall were at the Delta Project and on Easter Sunday at Keukenhof; both of those days it was off-and-on, not ongoing. Overriding "themes" for me were the role of bicycles in this country (human population 16 million, bicycle population over 18 million, automobiles 7 million), and the great energy and cleverness of the Dutch people as they have over time continued to manage their lowlands issues. The Delta Project is amazing, and passing through the locks was both interesting and fun. I took two optional excursions and recommend them both highly: Holland north country with the vegetable auction the afternoon of our day in Hoorn, and the Kroller-Muller Museum the afternoon of our day in Arnhem. In addition to the specific interest of the places visited, both excursions got us out into beautiful countryside, reassuring us that even this most densely populated of European countries DOES have lovely open countryside, with hilly areas in the eastern areas. Viking Legend's on-board presentations were fine: a most engaging and entertaining performance by a group of folkloric Dutch dancers; a presentation on the European Union; and an excellent educational talk on the windmills the evening before our day at Kinderdijk, presented by the daughter/granddaughter/great-granddaughter of a windmill keeper who had spent much time in her childhood in the family's windmill home. Although my photo album is not ready yet, when it is it will be added to my travel photo site: [url]http://fredasphotos1.shutterfly.com[/url] It'll probably (hopefully) be posted by the end of April. If you have any specific questions, post a question in the River and Canal Cruising section of the message boards, with the title, "Question on Legend for Xoe". I booked my own air (Delta has the only nonstop Seattle to Amsterdam), took the Hotel Shuttle Bus from Schiphol to my Hotel Bellevue, a budget hotel booked on EasyToBook for 69 Euros. The hotel is very near Centraal Station so I was able to walk from the hotel to the ship for boarding the next day. All these plans worked wonderfully well, and as hoped. My Cabin 337 was one of 5 single cabins on Legend; there are 2 on the top deck, 2 on Deck 2, and 1 on Deck 1. My #337 was adjacent to the library at the stern of Deck 3, and I loved the location. At a moment's notice, I could pop into the library and out a door to see or photograph anything on either starboard or port side of the ship. I'd guess that the other single on Deck 3, #309, is an equally good location and would mean less walking to the lounge or dining etc. The cabin design and layout are good. Bed is a couch that converts to a bed, but this was very comfortable and resulted in more floor space, which I appreciate since I do yoga stretches each morning. I loved having the French balcony for fresh air when I opened the slider; I had it open a bit every night. The climate control in the room worked beautifully, including an "off" position for times I wanted the slider open. There are outlets for both U.S. and European plugs, so charging camera batteries was no problem, nor was there a need for a converter. Great room! (NOTE -- CORRECTION: This form asks how many ports we visited. We had NINE ports; the maximum choice given on the form is 6 so that's what I marked -- but it's wrong, should be 9.) Read Less
Sail Date: March 2010
Our seventh Viking River Cruise was the "Portraits of Southern France" on board the Viking Neptune a comfortable, spacious vessel of similar design to the Viking Spirit which we had sailed on on the "Tulips and ... Read More
Our seventh Viking River Cruise was the "Portraits of Southern France" on board the Viking Neptune a comfortable, spacious vessel of similar design to the Viking Spirit which we had sailed on on the "Tulips and Windmill's cruise the previous year. Our cabin, one of the 63 deluxe cabins (there are oonly 12 standard cabins)was light and spacious, 170 sq ft, with a comfortable hotel-style bed, a panoramic style window and more than adequate storage. We did the no fly rail option travelling by Eurostar from London to Lille and TGV from Lille to Avignon returning from Chalon-sur-Sa'ne to Paris where a very personable Viking rep met us and took us by coach across Paris to Paris Nord for the Eurostar trip back to London. All the crew were friendly and helpful and eager to please; some of them were making their first trip with Viking. The food was very good but not as good as on the other Viking cruises we have been on. There was a choice of both traditional favourites and regional specialities including 'frog's legs' and 'escargot'. Magalie, the chef, gave a break down of the evening menu during the briefing which some guests found irritating. Magalie served the meat dishes at the light lunches; her servings were miniscule. On board entertainment was varied and included oyster tasting; a music quiz; question and answers with the crew; a cookery demonstration, Fondant au chocolat; French tunes and a silk demonstration by staff of 'Atelier de Solerie' from Lyon. A French lesson on basic phrases on day 4 would have been more beneficial earlier. Claudia, the Program Director gave talks on 'Burgundy', 'Provence and Art' and 'French Food and Culture'. Johanna, a program manager who we'd met on a previous cruise gave a talk on 'Mustard and Dijon' One of the local guides gave an excellent talk on 'France Today'. Our group were fortunate enough to have him as our guide on two occasions. Most of the guides were very good. Details of ports of call can be found in the Viking River Cruise brochure. I am including a few points that interested us: Arles interested us with its links to Vincent van Gogh and the 20,00 seat arena still used for bull fights and plays. Avignon was particularly memorable for us all for getting soaked literally to the skin in an horrendous rain storm. We had chosen the less strenuous of the trips simply because we wanted to visit Pont d'Avignon made famous in school French lessons! The small chapel on the bridge was a surprise. Tournon and Tain l'Hermitage. Here we visited Musee de Tain l'Hermitage, located in the oldest house in the region and the amazing Valrhona chocolate shop. Vienne, another beautiful town with an ancient Roman past. A mini train ride up Mount Pipet affords a great panoramic view of the area. Lyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking through the cobbled streets of the old town, don't miss the fascinating 'traboules', narrow passages passing through actual houses which enabled silk merchants easy access to the river. Beaune. wine capital of Burgundy. The beautiful H'tel Dieu, founded as a hospice in 1443.has an amazing roof, the multi coloured tiles create extraordinary geometric patterns. This was a memorable cruise along two rivers the Rhone and the Sa'ne which flow through some of France's finest scenery. During this cruise we learnt a great deal about the various regions' wine making traditions and we had many opportunities to taste these world renowned wines. If you like French wine don't miss this cruise!   Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2010
We have taken many cruises all over the world, but we particularly like river cruises, and we LOVE cruising with Pandaw. We have taken 3 Asian river cruises with Pandaw in the past 5 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. The Mekong ... Read More
We have taken many cruises all over the world, but we particularly like river cruises, and we LOVE cruising with Pandaw. We have taken 3 Asian river cruises with Pandaw in the past 5 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. The Mekong River was our first experience with Pandaw, and it got us hooked. Everything about this trip was wonderful: the fabulous, personable, ever-attentive staff, the casual atmosphere on board, the very comfortable cabins, the leisurely pace. All of our creature comforts were met, the food was creative and delicious, and we especially liked the all-inclusive arrangement for cocktails. It was a spectacularly scenic cruise, and guides took groups on 2 daily excursions into local villages. The Killing Fields in Cambodia were heart-breaking but a must-see, and Siem Reap was a lovely end to the cruise. We highly recommend that everyone stay longer and tour the magnificent Angkor Wat. All-in-all, this cruise exceeded our expectations, and we look forward to taking more with Pandaw. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
I boarded the River Countess in Nuremberg for the 2009 European Holiday Market Cruise. There were 76 passengers on board,the trip was exceptional. The room spacious and clean. Serviced regularly. the quilt and pillows made sleeping easy. ... Read More
I boarded the River Countess in Nuremberg for the 2009 European Holiday Market Cruise. There were 76 passengers on board,the trip was exceptional. The room spacious and clean. Serviced regularly. the quilt and pillows made sleeping easy. All of the crew from the Captain Jorg Zwaal and his wife the hotel manager, where friendly, thoughtful and helpful. Meals where well presented and plentiful, I especially enjoyed the breakfast and lunch selections. Evening dining was always relaxing. Wine and other beverages where plentiful throughout dinner. A highlight of the trip was being selected to dine at the Captains farewell dinner. The average age of cruisers would have been in the neighborhood of 65, but there where several younger people on board, and many interesting people to meet and visit with. The cruise was relaxing and the sights plentiful. The guided tours in our ports where very well done with the except I felt of Linz, where our particular guide seemed more in a hurry to have us off on our own. She did know the information and history but her presentation was a tad off. Highlights of the trip was the time in Passau, the beauty of the interiors of the baroque churches, the Wachau Valley was lovely, watching the sailors of the boat make a snowman, watching the snow fall gave it a festive air. Vienna at the completion of the trip was another highlight, the beauty of the city and ease of getting around, make it an interesting experience. The extra excusion to the Schoonbrunn Summer Palace was excellent and well worth the time and dollars spent. All the Christmas markets where different with different things to see and eat.Nuremberg sausages, the chai tea at the market in Vienna, Hot Chocolate at the market in Regensburg. The tour guide Woulter went out of his way to ensure that the passengers had the opportunity to see and do the things they wanted to. The evening entertainment on board provided a diversion from a busy day, and a relaxing way to settle down prior to bedtime. My cabin was on the second level,close to the coffee station, I would recommend requesting a cabin farther down the the hallway, activity could be regularly heard from the coffee station. Prior to embarking on the ship I overnighted two nights in Frankfurt, to help with the Jetlag. On disembarkation I spend an additional two nights in Vienna. I would recommend taking a cruise on the River Countess at any time of the year, the staff will make you feel as if your at home and a part of their family. I hope to be able to cruise again on the River Countess. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
This was my first river cruises and only my 3rd cruise overall. We liked the idea of a river cruise for several reasons.... smaller ships with a limited number of passengers, smaller ports of call, more time on shore and less cruising time ... Read More
This was my first river cruises and only my 3rd cruise overall. We liked the idea of a river cruise for several reasons.... smaller ships with a limited number of passengers, smaller ports of call, more time on shore and less cruising time between ports. The Viking River cruise lived up to or exceeded all our expectations. We took the 7 days Rhine Gateway cruise which started in Amsterdam Holland and ended in Basel Switzerland. We took the Cruise in mid December. Being from Florida we where looking for a cold weather vacation and thought the Christmas season and markets would make the cruise special. It did. We arrived in Amsterdam a few days before the cruise. I would highly recommend this since it gives you a few days to acclimate to Europe, the time change, the weather, etc. Amsterdam is a great city and a good part to start you cruise experience from. The ship was very nice and everything we expected from the brochure and web site. The cabin was spacious and well equipped. The lounge and restaurant where comfortable and offered great views of the river scenes as we cruised along. I really enjoyed how the river cruise put you close to the action. Unlike ocean going cruises where you mostly have ocean views, with a river cruise you see all the towns and cities up close as you cruise pass them. The ship had an expansive top deck. It was a little cold to spend too much time outside for the view, but I can imagine in summer, that would add a whole dimension to the cruise experience. The food was good to excellent. Breakfasts and lunches where basic and served mostly buffet style. But they offered plenty of variety and the quality of the food was good to excellent. There was still plenty of service staff available for anything you needed. The dinners were excellent. Plenty of variety and most of it was delicious. Great service and wine selection to go with it. The cruise schedule was fast paced and offered many shore excursions and stops. Every stop included a well organized shore activity that you could participate in. Or you could choose to go freestyle, plan your own activities, and return to the ship just before departure. Several of the evenings offered very late departures from the port you visited that day, so you could go into town to enjoy the nightlife. This helped keep us from feeling to tied to the ship or its schedule. We took most of the shore excursions, but tended to cut out and do our own thing before the whole tour was completed. This worked fine. We cruised during the Christmas season. The Christmas markets where excellent and fun. It added a nice dimension to the shore experience of each town we visited. The locals really take advantage of the Christmas markets, and most where filled with the local towns people enjoying the festivities. Plenty of lights, decorations, and Christmas spirit everywhere. The staff was very attentive, helpful, and polite. We had many questions along the way and they went out of their way to be helpful. The overall layout of the ship was functional and easy to navigate. Not many frills, but very comfortable as your hotel for the trip. With the advantage of not having to pack and unpack each day you visited a new town. The weather was cold with average temperatures of about 30 degrees. But if you dressed warm if was still very enjoyable and added to the Christmas feeling. The only negative is the ship decor seemed a little dated and plain. I thought it could have been more sophisticated or had more designer touches. The shore excursions sometimes took up a lot of you shore time. But since they are optional, you can still make it work for your tastes or preferences. Overall it was a great cruise experience. I would definitely do a river cruise again, and definitely pick Viking again if the itinerary and price meets my needs. Next time I think we will try a summer cruise that offers some warmer weather and a chance enjoy more out door time during the cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
Just got back from the cruise. I've been on many ocean cruises, including a couple of times in the Mediterranean. But overall, this was the best. Even though river cruising and this particular cruise line caters to the retired ... Read More
Just got back from the cruise. I've been on many ocean cruises, including a couple of times in the Mediterranean. But overall, this was the best. Even though river cruising and this particular cruise line caters to the retired "blue-hair" crowd, my 2 college age children agree this was their best cruise experience. To be honest, even though I have been on a 3-day Yangtze River cruise exploring the 3 Gorges, this was really my first river cruise. So, as a river cruise neophyte, the comments I make may or may not reflect the typical European river cruise line. Please remember this important point as you read. This cruise appeals to a leisurely-paced crowd interested in culture and history. If high energy cruises with Vegas shows,hairy-chest competitions, and drunk, obese nymphs stuffed into bikinis and gatoring on the dance floor is your shangri-lai ideal of a cruise, look elsewhere. Original ports of call included Nuremberg, Bamberg, Wurzberg, Heidelberg, Rothenberg, Koblenz, Cochem, Bernkastle and Trier. Prague and Paris pre and post cruise excursions were available at additional cost. Amalyra's personal service and attention were fantastic. I am a travel agent, and this particular cruise was marketed to attract a number of travel agents (about a dozen out of approx 120 passengers were agents). Although the president and VP of AMA were on board, I sensed the service we received from the crew was the norm. I definitely will travel AMA again and see if this is the case. The cruise started in Nuremberg, Germany and was originally scheduled to end in Trier traveling the Main, Rhine and Mosel rivers. However, due to the high water level of the Mosel, the ship was forced to avoid Bernkastle (which I was most looking forward to due to the local wine country) and Trier. Instead, we went to Koln. The food and port tours were the highlights of the cruise. The food for the most part was as good as many 5 star restaurants I've experienced with a couple of choices in each stage of the meal. I usually went with the "chef" recommendations in the evening. Dinner included free sodas and all u can drink wine. I expected the wine to rival "2 Buck Chuck" or "Yellowtail," but was surprised to find most of the wine selections from local regions quite good. Cocktails incurred a charge at all times, along with wine during the day. Only one night was my food selection typical of the usual cruise mediocrity. Breakfast was a buffet. Lunch a combination of buffet and a couple of menu entree selections. All u can eat cheese selections accompanied each meal. Afternoon tea with sweets and hors-d'"uvres were served every afternoon. A coffee/cappucino/expresso/hot chocolate machine was available 24/7. Since the ship was less than a year old, the cabins were top-notch. Clean & comfortable decorated in the IKEA motif. Although the square footage was only a little bigger than the standard ocean cruise ship cabin, the layout of the furniture allowed more room to manuever than any other ship on which I've traveled. Thus, my wife and I were able to avoid constantly stepping over each other as what usually happens. The bathroom was larger than on other ships. The shower actually had a door (instead of a mere curtain) and actually had enough room to allow 2 people (not that we did that, mind you!) TVs were LCD flat screens and contained free internet (albeit very slow and available only when the ship was stationed in port. While cruising, the antennae was removed to allow the ship to manuever under bridges.) Complimentary bottle water was in the room. Since we received a complimentary room upgrade, our room had a "French" balcony. This is not a balcony in the true sense (since the ship must pass through locks with just a few inches maneuvering room on either side, real balconies would unwisely reduce the living area of the ship). Instead, "French" balconies are merely sliding glass doors that allow you to stick your head out the door for a 180 degree viewing. Protective bars prevent you from falling out. The exercise room was practically non-existent. It had a few dumb bells and a couple of tread mills. AMA's market niche of retirees (think arthritic joints) along with the ship space limitation I assume are the likely reasons. Tour guides and bus transportation were gratis at all ports. All guides were good except one. The one in Heidelberg was outstanding. In fact, she was key to my family's unanimous opinion that Heidelberg was our favorite city. She even provided us with locally made chocolate. Due to space, I won't elaborate on the actual sights of each port as they don't deviate from what you can learn about them from any guide book. AMA usually offered each local port tour in 3 segments: fast, medium and slow paced. My family always selected the fast pace in order to pack more tourism into our time slot. Each person received ear phones and a radio transmitter to clearly hear the guide. AMA sent us a small, multi-color guide book of the regions we visited 4 weeks prior to the cruise. Reminiscent of a Fodors or Frommers guide. Nice touch. Details about the service.......on cruises, I'm used to being constantly accosted to buy stuff -- port tours, alcohol, souvenirs, pictures (a camera being shoved in my face at every turn), massages, beauty treatments, etc. Not so on AMA. What a relief! Of course, a river cruise is considerably more expensive on average than an ocean cruise. This reflects the fact of having 150 passengers as opposed to 3,000 -- more passengers allow more distribution of fixed costs, even with bigger, more expensive ships. Nonetheless, perhaps the profit margins of river cruising forego the necessity to harass passengers with additional purchases. Our airline lost my daughter's suitcase. Upon boarding, my wife asked the ship's purser to make contact with US Airways to ascertain if they found the suitcase to deliver it at a future port of call. Though the suitcase never materialized, the next day the cruise director (whose name is Elke. She's from Belgium and deserves meritous recognition) offered us free laundry service. Please note, we did not request this. The ship merely volunteered to do this in light of our lost luggage, saving us over $200. As I mentioned earlier, due to a rising river water level, the ship was diverted from the originally scheduled last 2 ports. No problem for my family, but it caused a minor level of hysteria for some of the older passengers set in their ways. They were disturbed about making their connections with flights, continuing with their holiday, etc. Elke tracked me down to inquire of my plans at the cruise conclusion. I had reserved a car to drive from Trier at the cruise end to Frankfurt (MUCH less expensive and considerably more flexible than taking the train), where our flight departs the following day. Obviously, with the Amalyra no longer continuing to Trier placed my car reservation in jeopardy. The next day, Elke informed me they had contacted my car rental company and rearranged my reservation to allow me to pickup my car in our final port of call at no additional cost. Moreover, since the car rental office was about 20 minutes away, AMA paid for the cost of the taxi. Clearly, AMA bent over backwards to accommodate its passengers throughout the cruise -- even with the unexpected complications from Mother Nature. From the hallway comments I heard from the other passengers, they felt the same. And when you consider that AMA assisted 120 passengers or so in making alternate concluding cruise arrangements, that's a lot of work for the Amalyra crew 24 hours before the cruise ended. In the end, I heard no disgruntlement from any other passenger. One final note. I do like good wine. And I was especially thrilled at the prospect of going through a German wine experience of visiting Riesling vineyards and wineshops. The unexpected change in the cruise itinerary prevented this opportunity. But as I stated earlier, I cannot blame AMA as this was due to rising river water levels. In the event, though, any AMA personnel reads this critique, I encourage you to incorporate such an experience in future cruises in a more pronounced way. I thoroughly enjoy historical and cultural sights and museums. But incorporating alternative visits, such as wineries or beerhalls which are so endemic to German lifestyle, to the standard sightseeing fare I believe provides a richer holiday experience. BOTTOM LINE: Only superlative comments for AMA. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
With anticipation, we looked forward to experiencing the Christmas spirit in Germany and Czech Republic. The promise of the brochures of the wonderful Viking River Cruise looks great in brochures, but reality did not meet the expectation. ... Read More
With anticipation, we looked forward to experiencing the Christmas spirit in Germany and Czech Republic. The promise of the brochures of the wonderful Viking River Cruise looks great in brochures, but reality did not meet the expectation. First, we allowed Viking to book our flight. Originally booked on another airline, Viking switched us to Air France. In Paris our flight was cancelled as well as the next 3 flights we were booked on. Arriving more than 24 hours late, missing our first port and tour, we were told to take a taxi. Transportation was supposed to be provided. We had no Euros, etc. The worst part is our luggage never did arrive. We had to hammer the ship's managers to call on our behalf, which was an imposition on them to check on our bags. The weather was cold as well as our room. The heater would not warm our room. The electricity went off several times, as did the water supply. The food was average, unlike most of the other cruises we have taken. The menu was set and you had a choice of one of two items. The service was provided by a young staff, much like chain restaurants with high school and college waiters. We did enjoy them however. The plague hit our boat and 90% of the cruisers got sick before the end of the trip! Our port excursions were cut short because the tour guides did not dress properly for the cold weather, and talked faster than an auctioneer. The boat was basic, unlike other fabulous ships we have experienced. Somewhat dated in dEcor, it provided rooms, restaurant and bar.. that's it. We called Viking requesting a partial refund since what we received is not the picture they painted. They promised to get back with us. Had to go before a committee, taking 3 weeks. Never heard back. Called and were promised a call back. Never received it. Said they emailed us. Never received it. They must all be lawyers, as lawyers make the best liars. Suggestion, if you pick Viking, don't have any expectations of a nice trip and you won't be disappointed. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2009
We started our trip with 4 nights in Berlin, a highlight of our trip. Berlin is a fabulous city and anyone interested in reading my very detailed trip report can find it on Trip Advisor and Fodor's - title is "Four Fabulous Days ... Read More
We started our trip with 4 nights in Berlin, a highlight of our trip. Berlin is a fabulous city and anyone interested in reading my very detailed trip report can find it on Trip Advisor and Fodor's - title is "Four Fabulous Days in Berlin". We took an early morning train to Frankfurt to meet the ship. Our designated meeting spot was the Westin Grand. Here there was a hospitality room where we left our luggage and carry on. The cruise director, Nancy, was there along with some other Avalon folks. There was light refreshment available but we were anxious to explore Frankfurt so just checked in, dropped our stuff and headed out. This was our first time in Frankfurt and we frankly did not care for the city. We grabbed a map and set out to see as much as we could in 5 hours. The streets in the pedestrian area had a lot of trash and were just not as nice as what we have come to expect in Germany. We explored, had an ok lunch at Cafe Mozart and headed back to the hotel. Avalon transported us to the ship around 4pm. It was a short ride and the check in process took just a few minutes - a sign of what was to come. We were escorted to our category B cabin, located at the very end of the passenger cabins. The cabin was very modern, immaculate and thoughtfully designed with great storage. We quickly unpacked, settled in and headed out to explore the ship. This was our first river cruise and it was much as we had anticipated though the ship itself was actually nicer than we expected. Colors and fabrics gave it a rich and luxurious look and we found it delightful! It did not take long to check out the facilities and we decided to head back and shower and head to the welcome party. The party was nicely done and we had the opportunity to chat with other guests and meet the crew. Lovely canapEs were served, along with champagne. A welcome talk included some general info about life aboard the Affinity and at the conclusion we headed to the dining room. The dining room was lovely and the only disappointment was that we could not find a table for two. Since we had reviewed the videos on their website, this came as a surprise to us and we do enjoy a table for two but such was not to be on this sailing. We joined three other couples and enjoyed what was to be the first of 5 very nice dinners aboard. The menu had two choices for each course and two standard selections as well. I had emailed ahead that I follow a low fat, low cholesterol-eating plan and they worked with me to provide dishes prepared without fats and sauces, which were fresh and tasty. Breakfast and lunch were buffet with a good choice for most folks but a bit more of a challenge for me as there no eggbeaters or egg whites available for breakfast. I opted daily for fruit and smoked salmon and the occasional slice of turkey breast when it was offered. They offered a small salad bar at lunch, which is what I had when we were not in port. We did dine in port as often as possible in order to enjoy the German foods we have come to enjoy over the years of travel there. My husband and everyone I spoke with just loved the food on the Affinity. Everything was prepared fresh and was served hot. Quality was excellent overall. Fresh fish was available nightly and I enjoyed each of the varieties offered. Desserts were also a big hit with everyone at our table but I will leave that for others to review, as I did not partake. Our itinerary was: Miltenberg-Wertheim Wurzburg. Excursion to Rothenburg Bamberg Nuremberg Of these we most enjoyed Bamberg and Wurzburg, followed by Miltenburg and Rothenburg. Nuremberg was our least favorite except for the fact that we had the most time there and were able to stay out as long as we wanted. We only took the included tour in Wurzburg, which included the Residence and was lovely - our tour guide was excellent! In the other cities, we grabbed a map and headed off on our own to explore, as that is what we prefer. Avalon did a great job with organizing, with providing as much detail as was needed and in taking care of the various needs of the guests. There were some who were very active and another component that used walking sticks and had to go at a slower pace. Though there not always tours available for all abilities, as we had expected, no one was left behind and the quality of their shore program was very good as were the guides we met. We were quite late getting into Bamberg and they quickly rearranged their plans and had the ship stop before we reached the port - buses were there to take us into town. We ended up only having 3 hours there but they did extend our departure time as much as possible to allow us that. Happy hour was offered nightly and was quite popular. We were so impressed with the staff of the Affinity overall and especially David at the main bar, Dan the Hotel Manger and Claudio in the dining room. The service overall was very personal and professional and so much better than the rushed, impersonal service we have come to expect on mass market cruise ships. Entertainment was minimal as expected. The house piano player, Vasco, was enjoyable and played every night in the main bar. One night they brought a zither player aboard and on another the crew joined the guests for carols and Santa came to visit. That night was the most fun as everyone got in the holiday spirit. There was a small fitness center, which made keeping up with basic cardio workouts possible. The beauty salon also stayed quite busy. The aft lounge offered coffee and tea throughout the day. Fellow passengers came from as far away as Australia and Hawaii and most were quite friendly and personable. There were three young girls aboard who were very well behaved and who seemed to enjoy their experience. Downsides for us were short times in port and the "dead" time when the ship sailed during daylight hours. While I am sure many enjoy relaxing on vacation, when we are in Europe, we really are interested in our destination more so than downtown. Some improvements that Avalon could make in my opinion would be to provide robes in the rooms for guests and more choices for those of us who need to watch their calories on vacation. Otherwise, my husband and I really enjoyed the Affinity overall and made some wonderful new friends over the course of the cruise who we are staying in touch with. For us, that was a real bonus! We love Germany and especially over the Christmas season. We left the ship in Nuremberg and headed by train to Munich for a couple of days after the trip, which was a perfect finish to the trip. I can recommend Avalon and the Affinity for those looking for a very good quality experience overall. The staff was exceptional and we plan to return, this time knowing what to expect. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2009
Victoria Queen By Jim Thornton China November 10, 2009 This was our sixth river cruise in contrast to our 13 ocean cruises. Our cabin was a deluxe cabin, called the Shangri-La Suite, on the port side of the second deck near the bow of ... Read More
Victoria Queen By Jim Thornton China November 10, 2009 This was our sixth river cruise in contrast to our 13 ocean cruises. Our cabin was a deluxe cabin, called the Shangri-La Suite, on the port side of the second deck near the bow of the ship and close to the bow stairway. We sailed on a four-day about 500-mile Yangtze River cruise from Yichang upstream (towards the west) to Chongqing. Each day there was something new to see like the controversial Three Gorges Dam, which is more than three and a half miles wide, and created a 20-mile long lake displacing over one million people and submerging their 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1,352 villages. Ship: Is one of the larger ships on the river. It and its identical Victoria Cruise ship (the Victoria Prince) were originally built in 1995, rebuilt in 2003, and refurbished in 2008. The ship has four passenger decks without elevators and carries 206 passengers with a crew of 121. Cabin: Our room was larger (622 square feet) than on the previous river cruises that we sailed on. There are two of these deluxe suites each consisting of a bedroom with king size bed with two nightstands and large outside windows on two sides of the cabin on the entire port and bow sides; a large private balcony over looking the bow, a couch, a small table, a small desk and chair, a TV set with two English language channels - CNN and HBO and lots of Chinese language channels and DVD player, two small clothes closets, a small refrigerator and mini-bar, and a large bathroom with a western toilet, two sinks, shower, and a bathtub. The ship has 93 standard cabins (211 square feet) with two single beds on the second deck; six junior suites (294 square feet) with two single beds on the second, third, and fourth decks, and two deluxe suites (458 square feet) with king size beds on the second deck. All cabins have and private bathrooms with separate showers, and balconies. The ship's electrical voltage is the same as the country's 220 volts at 50 Hertz. Laundry: A fee-based same day laundry service is available. Dining Room: There is a single dining room where breakfast and lunch is a serve yourself buffet and the buffet lines get very long and the food in mainly Chinese with a little western. At dinnertime, the individual Chinese courses are brought to your table and placed on a large common circular plate that rotates so that you may serve yourself. Chopsticks are always provided but so are forks. Tips: A suggested $10 (US) per passenger per day is suggested for the entire ship's crew, plus a separate $4 for the "River Guide". Evening Entertainment: Varies as the crew provides live music, dances, and acrobatics. Internet: There are several for-a-fee computers for passenger use to access their e-mail accounts, the Internet, etc. Bars: There is a bar on the fourth deck and it is a full bar. Meeting Room: Is on the fourth deck in the same large room as the bar. Tours: Visiting and seeing the Three Gorges, the relocated villages, the Three Gorges dam, the large ship locks, and the Xiling Gorge. These tours are included in the overall price of the cruise. Doctor: A Chinese trained medical doctor is onboard. Overall Opinion: This was our second Yangtze River cruise. The previous non-Victoria Queen cruise was on the Princess Sheena, a German built ship that contained a working German-standard water purification and sterilization system meaning that you could drink the water from the cabin's sink. On the Victoria Queen all your drinking water came from small commercial plastic water bottles. Each day in your cabin, one bottle was provided per passenger. In the dining room, you could order only a single small glass of water but there are no refills. Thus I could often take my bottle of water from my cabin to the dinning room. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2009
In November, 2009 my husband and I headed out on the most unique and wonderful cruise we have ever experienced - a wine tasting river cruise with AmaWaterways on the AmaLego through the wine region of the Mosel River in Germany. We have ... Read More
In November, 2009 my husband and I headed out on the most unique and wonderful cruise we have ever experienced - a wine tasting river cruise with AmaWaterways on the AmaLego through the wine region of the Mosel River in Germany. We have been on a number of ocean cruises with a variety of cruise lines, but we had never experienced anything quite as exciting, entertaining, relaxing and culturally informative as this cruise. I am a travel writer so I was particularly interested in experiencing a river cruise for the first time, since we are avid ocean cruisers. We are now also avid river cruisers, especially if it means cruising with AmaWaterways! The AmaLegro began cruising in 2007, so it is one of the newest, state-of-the-art ships that AmaWaterways offers. All river cruise ships in Europe are the same size since they have to pass under beautiful, ancient bridges and through locks, but the design and the amenities of the AmaLegro are what makes it different. We boarded the ship in Amsterdam in the late fall afternoon, so it was dusky dark and the golden lights of the ship were gleaming and welcoming. It was mid-November, so Christmas decorations were festooned everywhere and a Christmas tree brightened the lobby as we stepped aboard. Never had it been so busy to board a ship before! Just walk up a small gangplank and you are there! The crew was very welcoming and helped us settle into our lovely stateroom. Beautifully decorated and comfortable, there was white-on-white plush bedding, and a cozy sitting area with a French balcony that ran from floor to ceiling, where we spent a lot of time watching the scenery roll by. All staterooms and junior suites are outside and over 80% include a French balcony so you never have to worry about missing the view! Staterooms include a hair dryer, safe, terry bathrobes, individually controlled air-conditioning and plenty of closet space. One of the coolest things about the AmaWaterways ships is their unique Infotainment Systems. Every stateroom is equipped with monitor, keyboard with Internet access, English language TV stations, a large movie selection and numerous music programs. We had our own laptops, but we took advantage of the free wi-fi and were very pleased with this amenity. Especially since we had always paid for it on all our other cruises! They also have a satellite telephone system that lets you to call home for a nominal fee. We peeked in the open doors of one of the junior suites and were impressed at the size. They are 255 square feet and have a comfortable sitting area with a sofa and two chairs, floor-to-ceiling windows with French balconies and large bathrooms with bathtubs and showers. A bathtub was the only thing I missed on our cruise, so maybe next time we'll book a suite! Then it was time to explore the ship - something we always do when we come onboard. This one was pretty easy to explore since it was nothing like the huge ocean liners, but we came to love the cozy and intimate feel of the AmaLegro. This was the first time in all our years of cruising that we actually made friends that we kept up with after the cruise. We headed out of our stateroom and explored the Wellness area in the after part of the ship. It has a small, glassed-in exercise room with a few pieces of equipment, a massage area and beauty salon, and a nice lounge area with wicker furniture, French doors to enjoy the fresh air and a bar area with an ice machine. We also noticed an elevator onboard, which is unusual on river cruise ships. Next, we headed through the lobby and into the large and comfortable lounge at the bow of the ship. Furnished with overstuffed love seats and comfortable chairs, this ended up being the place where most of the passengers congregated. There was a bar and a nice little buffet area set up with free coffee, tea and hot chocolate. They also usually had some sort of snacks and even offered a light late breakfast every morning and a light lunch as well. In the evenings, there was live music in the lounge area and local entertainment was brought on at many of the ports. This was also where we had our port talks which were very interesting and informative. Soon enough, it was time to head down to the dining room for dinner. Surrounded by windows so you were never deprived of a view, served by genuinely kind and friendly servers, and partaking of wonderfully prepared local specialties at every meal, the dining room soon became our favorite place. Because the atmosphere of the ship was so congenial and the group of passengers quite small compared to the behemoth ocean cruisers, we soon made friends with two other couples and had every meal with them. The food on the AmaLegro was truly one of the best things about the trip. Since this was also a wine-tasting trip, we had a variety of wines with lunch and dinner and often had wine experts talking to us and extolling the virtues of the particular wines we were sipping. At each of the ports, we watched as the loaded on fresh produce, local meats and cheeses so we were not surprised that each meal was better than the last. When we returned to our stateroom, it has been cleaned and the bed turned down for us. What a nice way to finish a lovely evening! During the entire cruise, our room was kept immaculate and the service was excellent. In the morning, we had the first of our delicious breakfasts. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style, but you were also able to order from a menu for breakfast if you preferred. For lunch, you ordered part of your meal and the rest, such as salad and dessert, was served buffet-style. Dinner was more formal and everything was ordered from a menu. They always had a variety of choices, including a vegetarian entree and, if you did not see something you liked on the menu, they would prepare whatever you wanted. All meals are included in your cruise, but unlike ocean cruising, wine and beer are also included with dinner at no extra charge. Then we left the ship to tour Amsterdam, our first port where we had been berthed for the night, before we headed out on our cruise. One of the things many people don't realize about river cruising is that all your shore excursions are included in the price. This is an incredible savings, since shore excursions on an ocean cruise can add up very quickly. We immediately appreciated the QuietVox audio system that AmaLegro uses for its shore excursions. At the beginning of the cruise, you are given a set of headphones and, as you leave the ship, you pick up a small, rectangular box into which you plug the headphones. Then you can hear everything the tour guide is saying - what a fabulous idea! We boarded one of the ubiquitous canal boats and spent several hours touring beautiful Amsterdam, and then did a little bit of walking through the flower market. We headed back to the ship for lunch which we ate as the AmaLegro slipped out of the harbor and headed down the river. After lunch, we had the easiest safety drill I have ever experienced - since we are in sight of land during the entire cruise, most of us could just swim to shore! Cologne: After cruising all night, we arose to a beautiful view of the river, another fabulous breakfast and an invitation to visit the wheelhouse anytime we wanted. We were fascinated to see the Captain casually piloting the ship and welcoming passengers in to visit anytime! Before we landed in Cologne, were treated to a presentation by Burt Wolf from PBS who was onboard the AmaLegro filming a special about river cruising. He talked at length about the gorgeous architecture we would see on our cruise and he was proven right on our walking tour of Cologne. We walked around and then took a tour of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral. Our small group finished up the day with a tour of the Lindt Chocolate Factory, which I recommend if you like free chocolate samples! Rudesheim: Today was "castles day" on the AmaLegro and, as we cruised down the Rhine towards Rudesheim, we saw beautiful castle after beautiful castle. It was incredible! We also passed dozens of vineyards, many of which sloped so deeply, it was amazing to think they could gather the grapes at that angle! We embarked in Rudesheim and it was just so easy! One of the nicest things about this river cruise was that you could almost literally step from the ship onto the main street of town. So much easier than the long lines to embark from an ocean liner! In Rudesheim, we visited Siegrfried's Musical Cabinet Museum, which was fascinating with all the music boxes, ranging from very tiny to room-size! In the evening, we were transported in a wee train to a castle where we had dinner. It was such a treat to have an interesting meal in town - and have it all included in the price of our cruise! Koblenz: We docked in Koblenz very early and were offered the opportunity to take a walking tour, but we opted to sleep in and make our own way about the town. This is always an option; you never have to go on the tours if you choose to do something else. One of the most interesting things about the AmaWaterways ships is that they have a bunch of bicycles onboard - not 2-3 like most of the river cruise ships, but around 30. This was a great way to explore the small river towns and, if you want, you can even ride the bikes along the river and meet the ship at the next port. We thought about biking around but it was pretty chilly, so we just strolled around town. Then we headed back to the ship to get ready for the Captain's Gala dinner - a chance to really dress up! Cochem: This was truly one of our favorite stops, because we got to tour a real castle! With gorgeous views and beautiful cathedrals, this town was special in its own right but the tour of the castle really made it wonderful. Bernkastel: My husband decided to spend the day lazing about on the ship, so I decided this was the perfect opportunity for a shopping day! Every one of the lovely little river towns had interesting shops. There were bakeries and local chocolatiers, shops that sold locally bottled wine, plenty of shops with fashions, and even more with souvenirs. Loaded down with beautiful scarves, lovely handmade table linens, and a few souvenirs, we headed back to our home away from home. Trier and Luxembourg: Our lovely little ship docked for the last time in Trier where our luggage was speedily loaded on a comfortable bus and we headed to Luxembourg for our last walking tour. Luxembourg is an ancient city and we were thrilled to walk around, taking pictures and marveling at the Archduke's beautiful palace. Then it was on to Paris for the extra time some of us had added on to our cruise package. Paris: AmaWaterways made sure she were comfortably situated in our hotel and, for the first time, we found ourselves on our own. We spent some time walking around Paris but also decided to sign up for the optional tours of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. These are not included in your cruise package but are well worth your time. It was so much quicker and easier to get into the Eiffel Tower with our group and the Seine River cruise was fascinating! We were sorry that our river cruise on the AmaLegro had to come to an end - we could have easily done another week! Every single thing on the cruise was perfect. The service, the food, the entertainment, the shore excursions, and our beautiful stateroom. If you are thinking about a river cruise, I strongly recommend AmaWaterways. If you have more questions, I'll be happy to answer them; just contact me at janross53@gmail.com. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2009
My wife and I booked our honeymoon on Viking Cruise lines in October, a nine day cruise down the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel with daily stops along the way. We had never tried river cruising before but had heard good things about ... Read More
My wife and I booked our honeymoon on Viking Cruise lines in October, a nine day cruise down the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel with daily stops along the way. We had never tried river cruising before but had heard good things about it and were anxiously looking forward to the trip. After much research we were down to choosing Viking River Cruises or Uniworld and in the end decided on Viking because their itinerary included the Black Forest which my wife had always wanted to visit and Heidelberg which I had always wanted to visit. Unfortunately the cruise did not turn out as we had expected; after leaving Amsterdam we cruised for just two days then stopped in Koblenz Germany and were informed that the water levels on the river were too low and we could go no further. Viking then did a one day cruise down the Mosul River to a beautiful little village, unfortunately we had roughly two and a half hours to explore before we had to rush back to the boat and return to Koblenz were we remained tied up for the remainder of the week while they bussed us to various locations were had been scheduled to visit. Because we spent hours on buses we only got to visit two of those locations, missing out on the remaining three. And even at the two we did visit; Heidelberg and Strasbourg, were very brief, we had just a few hours free time in Heidelberg and less than two hours in Strasbourg. We were then buses to our final destination; Basel, a day early and that was that. Needless to say, I realize that Viking River Cruises has no control over the level of the river and no reasonable person could blame them for that. I do however blame them for the way in which they handled the entire trip; The company later admitted that they knew before we ever left Amsterdam that we would almost certainly be unable to complete the cruise due to the low water levels, yet they still got us on the ship where they could control us and cruise for at least a day or two, thus being able to state that they had tried their best. And during the cruise itself they lied to us about this, claiming that they had thought the river levels would rise due to rain! It was only after we'd returned and I wrote to the company that they admitted the truth. They never gave us the option of deciding what we would like to do (they cancelled the cruise the following week and gave those passengers the choice of re-scheduling their trip or receiving a refund). I would have gladly taken even a partial refund and left the ship in Koblenz. We paid a handsome sum of money for an 8 day river cruise and instead received a three day cruise and a series of long bus trips and short visits to only a few of our scheduled stops. For this the company offered us 30% off another cruise but only if we took it within the next year. I might add that this was at a time when they were offering two for one deals and large discounts in airfare to anyone off the street! The crew paid no mind to what we, the paying passengers, wanted to do. During an on board meeting when they finally admitted that we could not continue on the river the majority of passengers expressed the desire to visit the Black Forest instead of Strasbourg, this was ignored by the crew because Strasbourg was more convenient for them to then bus us to Basel and be rid of us. So Strasbourg it was, for an hour or so anyway! The crews demeanor throughout the trip was abrupt to the point of being rude, this was so apparent that it became a running joke among the passengers, not a funny one either. Their attitude was; "this is what we are doing so be quiet and like it". And on a more general note; the food was just fair and the service at meal times left much to be desired, the wait staff was undermanned and did little more than put the food in front of you and run off. If you asked for anything extra you would have thought you had asked them to move the earth for you. The ship was obviously understaffed. Upon returning home I wrote a long, thoughtful letter to Viking expressing my displeasure and pointing out that basically, my wife and I had paid $9,000 for a short cruise and a series of very long bus trips. And that I did not think their offering 30% off another cruise IF taken within a year was sufficient compensation for that. Several months later I received a form letter explaining how the water levels on the Rhine work and basically saying that they were sorry but it is what it is, get over it and hey, we hope you sail with us again very soon! Viking sends out DVD's and brochures and letters from their chairman touting their high level of service and how much they care for their passengers. This was a far cry from the Viking that we experienced. I would urge all of you to take their claims of sterling service with a very large grain of salt and, if you should be planning a river cruise then seriously consider Uniworld or Globus and avoid Viking all together. Our experience may or may not have been the norm but, do you want to spend that kind of money to find out? Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
My sister and I took the Viking River Cruise, "Waterways of the Czars," September 3-15, 2009, traveling on the newly renovated Viking Surkov. Our experience was extremely positive. The ship, decorated in Scandinavian Modern ... Read More
My sister and I took the Viking River Cruise, "Waterways of the Czars," September 3-15, 2009, traveling on the newly renovated Viking Surkov. Our experience was extremely positive. The ship, decorated in Scandinavian Modern style, was clean and attractive. It offered a large reception area, library, Internet cafe, two bars, sundeck, coffee/tea/hot chocolate service area, and a well appointed restaurant. In addition, a doctor traveled on board. There were some 180 travelers and about 100 staff members, including crew, receptionists, cabin stewards and stewardesses, tour guides, program director, kitchen staff, and waiters/waitresses. Our cabin, though small, was well laid out and we had a TV, small refrigerator, and safe in addition to the usual furnishings. Two large bottles of water were provided each day even though we were told that the ship's water supply was filtered and therefore safe to drink. Tours and excursions were well planned, and most were included in the basic cost of the cruise. In addition, while we were traveling from St. Petersburg to Moscow there were extra activities on board such as lectures on Russian history, a demonstration of how to cook a Russian dish, a tour of the bridge, Russian lessons, and a formal Russian tea. The quality of the food served was somewhat uneven. Breakfast was wonderful, with a bountiful buffet; it was also possible to special order hot cereals, omelets, poached eggs, and egg benedict. The lunch buffet always included a delicious salad bar and one or two hot entrees as well as soup. Dinner was a 5-6 course meal with two or three choices per course. It was also always possible to order a grilled rump steak, grilled chicken breast or Caesar salad as an entree. Dinner was always adequate, but some dishes--especially fish--were over cooked at times. I have to add that I had major dietary restrictions--allergic to wheat, eggs,and mil--and the kitchen staff bent over backwards to accommodate my needs. They even managed to procure some special gluten free pastries for me to eat at the Russian tea. All in all, the cruise was an outstanding experience, and one that opened our eyes about many aspects of Russian history and Russia today. Our second port of call was Mandrogy. Mandrogy is a work in progress--a village where traditional Russian handcrafts are practiced and taught. The structures are also built in traditional Russian village style. Unfortunately, we arrived an hour late and it was pouring rain. I think that this port will be fascinating in about five years, when the village and handcraft programs are more complete. It's a good place to buy typical Russian souvenirs. Our next port is --Kizhi Island. This is an open air museum which has on display an old Russian Orthodox Church with 22 domes, built entirely of wood without a single nail. It also has examples of village houses with their furnishings and the guide explains how the people lived in such villages. This was fascinating! Kizhi is on an island in Lake Onega, and the scenery is very picturesque, too. Our next port was Goritzy, where we visited the monastery of St. Cyril of the White Lake. It is now basically a museum although there is a new and small community of five monks now. This was very interesting because we got to see the different churches that made up the complex. The gardens were beautiful, and again since the monastery is situated on a lake, the natural setting was superb, with ducks swimming up to the shore and almost ready to eat out of our hands! I'm grouping our fifth and sixth ports together as we visited 7 in all. Our last two stops before Moscow were Yaroslavl and Uglich. Yaroslavl is a city of 600,000 with an impressive collection of churches, monasteries, and public buildings. We also visited a display of lacquered papier mache boxes--and this is the best place to buy them as there is a wide choice of different styles and good prices. We had some free time here and were able to visit a market, and stroll the streets of a Russian city. Yaroslavl is beautiful, and has lots of restaurants, cafes, shops, etc. Uglich was next; it's much smaller with a population of 40,000. However, it's probably the best place to buy real Russian handcraft souvenirs. The unwalled Kremlin of the city is full of beautiful churches and government buildings and also has nice gardens. We had a lot of free time to shop here. Our last port of call was Moscow. You probably have a stereotyped image of Moscow--drab, dull, shabby, grim. Put all those ideas aside! Moscow is a beautiful, vibrant, cosmopolitan city on the level of Paris or Venice. If you are interested in architecture, you will love Moscow! The city is full of beautiful structures of many different time periods. Moreover, there are many gardens, parks, museums, a couple of rivers, seven hills. . .in short, everything needed to create a beautiful city. Even very mundane structures have been made beautiful. For example, many of the Metro stations were designed by top-notch architects and artists and are part of any thorough tour of the city. And let me assure you--the Metro is spotlessly clean, as is all of the city that we saw. (And, for that matter, Russia generally. . .think Switzerland.) For a final example, we docked at the North River Terminal and it struck me how beautiful the terminal was and how attractive the gardens around it were. I went out for a stroll one morning and took a lot of pictures. I thought that the beauty of this terminal was my own little discovery because none of the tour guides mentioned it. However, I bought a book about Moscow while there and when I read it after I arrived home, I discovered that this terminal is considered an architectural masterpiece. But, it's just one of thousands in this very beautiful city. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
We just returned from AMA Europe's Heartland Cruise. We sailed on the new Amalyra and did the reverse itinerary from Prague to Paris. I sailed with my DH and another couple. We had all been on ocean cruises, but this was our first ... Read More
We just returned from AMA Europe's Heartland Cruise. We sailed on the new Amalyra and did the reverse itinerary from Prague to Paris. I sailed with my DH and another couple. We had all been on ocean cruises, but this was our first river cruise. A few general remarks about AMA and the Amalyra. First class all the way. The ship was beautiful, the staff was wonderful, the tour guides in every city were knowledgeable, and we enjoyed our trip very much! Food - despite several reviews I had read on these boards which criticized the food on AMA, we found the food to be fantastic, actually considerably better than on our ocean cruises. Admittedly I am not hard to please, but one of our traveling companions is a gourmet cook and a "foodie" and thought the food was outstanding. We especially loved the daily soups. Everything was fresh, cooked to order and hot when it was supposed to be hot, cold when it was supposed to be cold. The presentation was really well-done and the chef was very inventive. Breakfasts were not particularly creative, but had something to please everyone. Both breakfast and lunch were also served in the lounge, in a more limited way, for those who slept in or who didn't want to eat in the dining room. Dress was casual, except for the Captain's Dinner on the last night. I was actually surprised that a lot of people dressed up quite a bit. However, there were still several men (including my DH) who did not wear a tie or sports coat, just nice pants and a button-down shirt. We were in cabin 205 on the Cello Deck and had a French balcony. I have to admit, however, that we barely used it. When we were sailing through the Rhine Gorge or on the Moselle River, we were always on the top deck enjoying the panoramic views. The cabin was small, but well organized. We were able to put all our clothes away and slide the suitcases under the bed. The bed was very comfortable and the cabin was kept spotless. We flew into Prague on our own and were there for just a day and a half (2 nights). If we had it to do all over again, we would have flown in a few days earlier. Prague is beautiful. There were a lot of things we did not have time to see and we would like to go back. AMA put us up in the Hotel President, which was a very nice hotel, right on the river and close to everything. It included free breakfast. In Paris, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza Republique, which was ok. It wasn't situated in the best spot for sightseeing, but the rooms were ok and the free breakfasts were very good. When I saw how much the normal rates were for the hotels there, I was satisfied with the accommodations. A couple of thoughts about the pros and cons of doing this itinerary from Prague to Paris instead of the other way round: Coming into Paris, which is so bustling and hectic, would have been difficult as jetlagged as we were at the beginning of our trip. Prague was much more laid back and this made it easier to adjust. However, we would have liked more time in Prague as well. Another drawback was sailing through the Rhine River Gorge very late in the afternoon, which meant that we missed some of it when darkness fell. The Gorge is absolutely stunning, with castles at almost every bend in the river, so we wished we could have sailed through it earlier in the day. As mentioned earlier, all our guides were very knowledgeable and informative and the audio head sets really added to the experience. I did not see other tour groups with these head sets. We went on almost all the included tours, but note that this left us with little free time in most towns. But this was our choice and we could have gone off on our own if we had wished. We did take the bikes for a ride along the river one day when we had extra time. It was very enjoyable. One caution about internet availability. Internet access is available in all cabins for free. However, because the ship went through many, many locks and under low bridges, the satellite dish had to be lowered and internet was not available at these times. When it was available, it was very slow. So do not rely on this mode of communication to keep in touch with family members, etc. Thoughts on river cruises in general - as has been said before, do not go on a river cruise expecting fancy entertainment or casinos. The ships are small and intimate and there is not a lot to do onboard. However, if you like personal service, the opportunity to really get to know the other passengers, and visiting wonderful towns and villages and enjoying spectacular scenery, you will like this trip. We enjoyed it very much and would love to travel AMA again! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
we just got back from a Viking Cruise , 14 days, from Brussels to Basil. This was our first Viking experience and it will be our last. They advertise as a 4 star but are maybe a 2 star. The reason for this rating by me is mainly due to ... Read More
we just got back from a Viking Cruise , 14 days, from Brussels to Basil. This was our first Viking experience and it will be our last. They advertise as a 4 star but are maybe a 2 star. The reason for this rating by me is mainly due to the food quality, the unfriendly ship crew, and the total over all service, and the lack of help under some unusual medical situations. First, breakfast is breakfast but they cannot even make an omlet without burning it, the pancakes and waffles come cold without butter, the eggs cannot be prepared as asked and the eggs in the buffet are spongy and over cooked, the bacon is baked and overcooked stinking together in 3's and 4 pieces, people line up at the 1 toaster and wait, and the butter at the buffet come in individual packages that are not soft but frozen or cold. The lunch preparation is by far the best of the 3 meals. The lunch in the dinning room is good and the variety of choices are good but the upstairs buffet is below average with poor choices of small sandwiches and salads. The soups are very good but the rest is below average. You cannot get a hamburger or hot dog at any time. You can not get good mustard and mayonnaise is not offered and cannot be ordered. I did not know the procedure at this upper buffet the second day and walked up to get a beer and saw the assortment of cheeses next to the bar, I got myself a plate and started to put a few pieces of cheese on the plate and the bar tender jumped all over me for taking cheese before the noon time opening. I was shocked at his attitude and put the plate on the bar. He actually said to me "Now what am I to do with that".. I wanted to tell him he could put it where the sun does not shine but being my second day kept my mouth shut. Sorry, back to dinner. The dinners were just plain bad. The main chief was off ship for the first 7 days but this is no excuse for serving main course meals that would not make it in Denny's. When the chief came back it did pick up a few notch's. Service, before I get into the negatives, let me give the positives. The cabin service, even though there is no room service for food or drinks, the cabin cleaning person was very very good. The service in the dinning room was very good but very rushed as they are completely understaffed and have to use outside bar staff and wait staff to man the dinning room. This lack of qualified serving help surely shows in the dire rush to help the passengers. They try very hard but one can see the drain on there faces for extra request for more bread, butter, wine, drinks, gravy, ect.. The bar help, except for one exceptional young women, seem to be doing you a favor rather than you being the customer. One passenger actually was told that he had already gotten ice for his room and he could not get more. The ship has no help up on the sun deck for drinks, and if you take your lunch plate up there to eat you must usually bring the plates downstairs to the lounge yourself. The lounge chairs and tables are old and weathered. The ship is so understaffed on ratio to passengers, they cannot keep up. It must be also told they false advertise in the brochures and letters. The first is in their advertised Alcohol package. They sell it cheaper on the ship, do not sign up 15 days in advance. I think my space is out. No I can keep going. They will not credit you for paying more early. About a $100 cheaper on the ship. They do not offer Premium Wines in this package as advertise. It is there private label wine and two cheap others. The free bottle of champagne is a sparkling private label. We signed up as we were told that they serve premium regional wines, NO THEY DO NOT. A Fellow passenger took a terrible fall and hit her head badly at the end of a tour. The lack of concern from the help was appalling. They would not stop at the hospital emergency when requested, even though we were at a stop light right in front of the hospital. They told her she could walk to emergency, about a half mile from the ship. They offered no taxi or help to accompany her , She did go to emergency and was checked out by a wonderful doctor but the ship offered no help. This lack of concern was inexcusable. I could go on but will stop. Do not take Viking, there are a lot better river cruise lines out there. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
Just Returned We just returned Sunday from the Moscow to St. P on the Surkov and it was a most pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable trip. You do get your fill of churches though, it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." ... Read More
Just Returned We just returned Sunday from the Moscow to St. P on the Surkov and it was a most pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable trip. You do get your fill of churches though, it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." I thought perhaps we could have done with a few less Churches and some more time in Museums. Only spending 3 hours in the Hermitage is ridiculous.....you can't even begin to get a taste of it....more like a lick! I would like to see them offer a full day there and skip the city tour half of the day because you see the city when you are doing other tours like the Peter Paul Fortress or the Canal Tours. - We were in cabin 402 (very near the back of the Upper Deck) It was a very quiet room because the hall is a dead end. We could at times very clearly hear the women in the next cabin talking but fortunately that usually didn't last long as they must have been as tired as we most nights. The cabin looks very nice, window opens and had an unobstructed view. Beds were very comfy, cabin was always clean and no strange smells from anywhere. My only complaint on the cabin is that they need to some how in-corporate another chair. There was only the one straight back at the desk and it would be nice for the other person to be able to sit comfortably (I was usually hogging the desk chair using my lap top.) Other only major complaint was the slow, slow, slow internet connection but when we got to St. Petersburg they worked on it for several days so maybe it will be better. At least it's free and having your own lap top is a good idea as it's hard to get on the ship's two free lap tops. If you are taking this cruise for gourmet food you might be disappointed. That is not to say that the food wasn't adequate and plentiful. The breakfast and lunches are quite good and the dinners were a bit more hit and miss, some strange offerings but nicely presented. My husband opted for the steak about half the nights because he's not a very adventuresome eater and the steaks were well cooked smallish but tasty, always served with a baked potato which I thought they could have varied. I had the steak only one night and one night I choose the chicken breast (both the steak, chicken breast and Caesar Salad are always available.) I tried the other options the rest of the time. Only the Lake Perch was inedible.....the rest were just sort of mediocre but with the salads, soups and desserts you never go away hungry....just not fantastic food. The steak was quite nice the chicken pretty dry and chewy so probably best to not opt for that. I do wish they would be a bit more inventive in the dessert area. The service by the Filipino waiters was fabulous. We usually opted for a table for 2 and were served by Leith and Jun and they were so very very attentive, pleasant and made dining, even with not always such great food fun. Breakfast was probably the best meal of the day, the buffet had lots of wonderful options and you could order omelette's, Eggs Benedict, French Toast, pancakes and hash-browns served to your table. There was always Russian Champagne on the buffet and several options for juice.....it was a great breakfast. Lunch was always green salad with many choices for toppings, several cold salads and sandwiches and two or three hot dishes plus soup and dessert (two options one always being ice cream) was served at the table. The 24 hour coffee and tea bar was really nice as well and was directly below our end of the ship. They serve a light tea most afternoons in the Panorama Bar. The tours were good, we had Tatiana for our guide and she is fabulous. So look for her, pretty blonde lady in her 50's. Whom ever you choose at the beginning is your guide for the whole time and whom ever is on your bus the first day is with your group for the entire time as well.....your new family for the next 13 days. The boat itself is very nicely laid out, good viewing areas on the top deck and in the Panorama Bar on the front of the Upper Deck. It would be nice if there was more comfortable seating somewhere on the boat but I guess you can't have recliners on a vacation ;-) I should add that the dress on the ship was very informal and I probably wouldn't pack a lot of dressy clothes. Men mostly wore jeans, khakis and polo shirts and the woman wore more slacks and jeans than anything else. There were lots of men and woman in jeans at dinner and even some in sweat pants (which I thought was a bit too much) but what ever. I didn't wear about 1/2 of the dressier outfits I brought, because I would have felt over the top except for the Captains dinner and one other night and I really don't bring that fancy of things as dressing up for my husband is nice pants and a sweater he is not a suit guy so if he was comfortable you know it was informal. I think Viking does a good job of making your time as pleasant as possible and I don't have any big earthshaking complaints.....it was an overall success. We were not as taken with Russia as we have been with Asia and New Zealand but it was good to check it off the bucket list. Pictures from the cruise (including room & photo's of food) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/quiltsa...7622305559005/ First stop on the river was Uglich and it was very interesting as well. Toured the Cathedral where Ivan the Terrible's son was murdered. Walked to it from the boat (easy walk through a very good street market.) Unfortunately the guide had told us that their would be better shopping on the last stop of the river cruise portion and wait to buy our souvenirs there.....that turned out to be bad advise unless you were looking for very high quality hand crafted things as every thing at the last stop fell into that category. If you are looking for trinkets for the grandkids or small things for friends...stick to the street markets the prices are much better than the craft shops. The first port was Moscow......what a mess that city is. Absolutely horrendous traffic. Two hours from the airport to the boat dock, and a good hour and a half to two hours into town from the dock (about a 20 min drive in normal traffic I would think.) So for a day trip to town a good 3 to 4 hours or more was in snarled up traffic.....and then if you signed up for a night excursion add another couple of hours. I really think that Viking should feed people at a restaurant in the city on days that their are all day tours and then night events. We skipped the folk music concert because we couldn't face getting in the bus again for yet another drive into the city. We had the opportunity to use the bank ATM in Moscow to get Rubles. We were charged $105 for 3000 Rubles (this turned out to be a much better deal than the next ATM in a smaller city were we were charge $136 for the same 3000 Rubles so plan ahead and get your rubles in Moscow.) We did do the Moscow by night but it was really beautiful seeing Red Square after dark (even though it poured rain, luckily it was only one of two rainy episodes on the whole trip.) We enjoyed the tour of the Armory and the Kremlin and took the optional 1/2 day tour of the New Maiden Nunnery and Cemetery on the day of the Moscow by Night tour. The New Maiden Nunnery was really lovely and the cemetery where Kruschev and Gorbachev's wife were buried was fascinating as well. Yaroslavl was the next port and it had some gorgeous churches and cathedral's as well (go figure) and we were bused into the center of town and did a walking tour from their. After touring the churches we were given about an hour and a half to shop. Very interesting local fruit and food stuffs market that I really enjoyed taking pictures of but we were warned to not eat anything (they offered dried fruit and nuts at the stalls.) The guide said it might be our last place to get Rubles till St. Petersburg so we found an ATM machine and got really taken because of course unless you read Russian you have no idea what it says about exchange rates or fees for using the machine and our guide was off doing her own thing, not where we could ask her to translate. Goritsy was the next stop where we were bused to Kirrilov where we visited the Monastery of St. Cyril. It is known for it's remarkable collection of icons but frankly we were iconed out so we spent the time strolling the grounds which were really beautiful and enjoying the flowers and the local parishioners who were coming out from church services. I wished we had more time to just soak up the ambiance of the little towns and less time being lectured to about the icons and their significance (but that's just me....not very interested in religion.) Then it was on to Kishi Island on Lake Onega. It is the famed open-air Museum of Russian Architecture. The beautiful Church of the Transfiguration an ornate structure of wooden ribbons and 22 domes in 3 tiers built entirely with out nails. It was really cool and the examples of local life from the early 10th century that were being acted out were fascinating as well. Great stop. We also had one more stop on the river the next day and that was Mandrogi which was suppose to be the big place for buying souvenirs but for the most part we all felt it was very expensive although their were some lovely things. Unfortunately it was pouring rain at this stop and not much fun to tromp around and look at the buildings....it is sort of a Russian Epcot Center for life in the olden days. There was a pavilion with berry pies that were quite tasty. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2009
Paris to Normandy Trip Report We were docked at Port de Javel Bas, Pier Quai Andre Citroen, by Citroen Park with it's tethered balloon ride (good landmark). I arrived at the River Baroness at 10 am and since check in was 1:00 - ... Read More
Paris to Normandy Trip Report We were docked at Port de Javel Bas, Pier Quai Andre Citroen, by Citroen Park with it's tethered balloon ride (good landmark). I arrived at the River Baroness at 10 am and since check in was 1:00 - 1:30, I headed out walking along the Seine until I reached the Eiffel Tower - 40 minutes with photo stops. The first part of the walk is a little commercial, but the rest is very pretty. You walk right by the French Statue of Liberty and get a great close-up of the statuary on the bridges. From the Eiffel Tower I walked through the Parc du Champs de Mars until I was in front of Ecole Militaire, and then headed left for a few blocks until I came to Rue Cler. This is a fantastic pedestrian area - oh the smells of cheese and pastries. A man was playing delightful music on a hand organ and the sidewalk cafes were full. After a few blocks I made a left on Rue St. Dominique, right on Avenue Bosquet, and came to Pont de l'Alma. I crossed the bridge on the left hand side and came to the torch (replica of Statue of Liberty's) which is situated over the tunnel where Princess Di was killed. On the wall around the little plaza where the torch is, folks have written their sentiments. Back over the bridge and back to the ship - 3 hours in all. Let me mention that if I had been too tired for the walk back there is an RER station right at the beginning of the bridge, and a ticket agent there where you can buy metro tickets if you haven't purchased them from reception on the ship. Take the RER to Blvd. Victor and you will be very close to the riverboat. It's the C line. Very easy - we did it the last day from the Musee d'Orsay station. Checked in and found we were upgraded to cabin 137- our original "least expensive category" cabin (109) was being used as an adjunct to the laundry room. The cabins have three small drawers in the closet, a huge drawer under each bed, shelves next to the beds and over them. You get rather cumbersome, heavy keys for the room. The safe is a combination requiring 4 numbers. There were two bottles of water, and a large glass carafe to refill them, but to refill the carafe cost 2 Euros, so we just filled the bottles from the "patio" where there was coffee of all kinds, including cappuccino, hot water for tea, hot chocolate, an ice machine, and water. Also there were always pitchers of water and sweet and unsweetened iced tea. Those up before the scheduled time for breakfast were invited to help themselves to a beverage and pastries. Across from this area was the one computer. Since something went askew with their billing on the computer, we could use it or personal laptops free all week. Usually costs 5 Euro an hour! I headed for the deck and 74 degree sunny weather where the friendly passengers for this cruise were already meeting each other and toasting our good fortune to be on this fabulous trip! Our wonderful cruise manager named Tony held briefings every night, gave us the predicted temperature for the next day, organized everything, wrote up everything for the bulletin board, etc. After the embarkation talk on deck there was a briefing in the lounge describing our next day in Les Andelys. There would be 4 groups walking the 20 minutes uphill to the ruins of Chateau-Guillard and one bus for those with difficulty walking. This company utilizes Vox technology, so you take a unit every time you get off the ship, attach it to the earpiece which you keep, and you can hear the tour guide beautifully, even when wandering away to take pictures. You turn the units back in along with the boarding card given when you leave the ship, at the end of every tour. The boarding cards have cabin numbers on them, so they know everyone is back onboard. Evenings we had either local entertainment or Laszlo who took the whole trip with us and played piano for tea and most evenings. We didn't get French lessons or play French trivia as mentioned by another poster. They must have had another Cruise Manager. There is a game and book section of the lounge and I saw many take advantage of that, although we felt we were kept busy enough! Also small newsletters for USA, British, Australian and Canadian passengers. I had difficulty sleeping that first night. The twin beds are narrow, and the duvet was heavy and kept falling off the bed! You can request a regular sheet and blanket if it bothers you, but I stuck with it for the week. Then, finally asleep, at 4:30 the alarm in the room went off - apparently left on by the previous inhabitants. After pushing all the buttons and finally getting it to shut off, in five minutes on it came again - I must have pushed the snooze - so out came the batteries, and I was never able to set it correctly since the clock didn't match the instructions in the info in the room. I had a travel alarm with me though, and one particularly early start we had a wake-up call, too. So that misty first morning I was on deck at 7:30. We were docked right in the town and the Chateau was easily visible at the top of the cliff. I took a delightful stroll through the charming little town of Petit Andely taking pictures, and got back as the groups were forming for the tour. After a short tour of the little village including the old church, Eglise Saint Sauveur built in 1202, and the half-timbered houses, we started up. It was a tough uphill climb, but we stopped frequently to catch our breath. Unfortunately a woman in another group badly broke her leg coming down, and the ambulance and first aid workers had to take her to a hospital. Lunch was 12:30 - 2:00 in the restaurant, or you could have a light lunch in the lounge with live piano music by Laszlo the very talented pianist. Took another walk in town and then attended a lecture at 2 o'clock on the Impressionists by a guest speaker. We enjoyed time on the deck as we sailed for Rouen. Every day there was tea time around 4 o'clock with piano music, but we only stopped by a few times for a tiny sandwich or dessert. We were having such nice weather we preferred to be on deck and have a drink there. Such a different experience from a riverboat trip I took in May one year when, because of rain, I only got to sit out once, and it was cool and drizzly at that! We dressed up a little since this was the Captain's Welcome dinner. All the men I saw had on jackets and ties, and the women were very nicely dressed, including some long skirts. On this ship everyone dressed nicely for dinner every night! At 6:30 was the welcome drink (champagne) in the lounge, followed by a Port talk and crew introduction. By 7:00 we were seated at the Captain's Table, an unexpected treat. We had a delicious dinner followed by an after-dinner drink courtesy of the captain, of Calvados, a rather strong brandy-like drink made from cider. By then we were docked in Rouen. We left the ship, turned right and up the steps and straight across the street. Within a few blocks we came across the Cathedral bathed in light, although the light show that had been going on all summer had ended several days before. This is a breathtaking sight. No wonder Monet was entranced by this Cathedral of Rouen. We walked around for awhile before making our way back to the ship and music and dancing in the lounge. The next morning after a great buffet breakfast (specials each morning included such treats as a pancake, a waffle, eggs Benedict, etc.), and always omelets made to order, we picked up our Vox unit and found our tour leader. Up the steps and across the street, and we were back at the Cathedral of Notre Dame for a thorough tour inside. There was bombing damage both from the Germans and the Allies, but one chapel survived intact. Inside are 16th century stained glass windows, 14th century statues. Richard the Lionheart has his heart in a tomb there. Outside we saw the carving of the apparently famous "Philosophical Sow". This Cathedral has the highest spire in France. We then walked through the streets admiring the half-timbered houses, some houses leaning, some windows crooked! We learned that for tax reasons houses were built with an overhanging construction because they were only taxed on the size of the house at street level. Unfortunately, the city caught on and they were outlawed after 1520. We then entered what was the fortified city of Rouen under a big astronomic clock. From there we walked through the old market square where fresh fruits, vegetables and meat were being sold. Beyond that was Joan of Arc Church fronted by the Cross of Rehabilitation erected after her exoneration. We headed back to the ship for lunch, and then we walked back into Rouen on our own. Unfortunately we didn't turn left when we should have, and wandered for hours outside of the old city. Eventually though we found the area around Joan of Arc. We bought scarves along the way, and two bottles of wine from a grocery store. Important: take the map provided at the reception desk for each city! We made it back in time for Tony's lecture on Normandy and a tour overview at 4:30. At 6:30 he continued with a Port Talk about the beaches of Normandy. All the Canadians on board were asked to be on Bus 3 because they would have a stop at Juno. We had a French dinner that evening complete with escargots and Beef Bourguignon. The other entrEe choices were mussels from Normandy and as always a vegetarian dish. If nothing appealed, every night there was also steak or chicken. In the lounge that night was a local entertainer Monsieur Philippe de Nemours who sang and played keyboard. The Normandy day starts early - we were to be on the buses at 8 am. After 1 ½ hour ride and one comfort stop, we were at Gold Beach where the British invaded. We could see the Mulberries (breakwaters) there that were towed in to form a harbor. Next stop was Arromanches for lunch. We ate at a table next to a stand - I had a ham & cheese (jambon and fromage) baguette and a cider. Money wasn't provided for this lunch, although other posters mentioned it was. Guess that changed. Then it was on to the American Cemetery which is a U.S. territory. At the entrance, we were each given a flower to lie at a grave of our choice. We walked through and picked our graves and then walked to the Memorial Chapel. Beyond it is the other half of the cemetery - so many young lives. We then walked along and at the bluff, saw where the soldiers who landed at Omaha Beach finally made their way up to land. Steep! From there I went to the Museum and saw the film and then went to the Wall of the Missing. Next stop was Omaha beach which is only 1/3 of the size it was on D-Day. I walked on the beach and filled three small bottles with sand. There is a beautiful steel sculpture there. The final stop was Pont du Hoc where the Texas Rangers climbed the steep cliffs to get the German gunners. You could see the bunkers and the bomb craters. It was suggested we go to the far viewing platform and notice the curve of the land. Apparently, the cliffs are deteriorating and falling into the sea. We drove directly back to the ship arriving at 6:30 to hot chocolate and warm face towels, and the ship sailed at 6:45 for Caudebec. The weather wasn't the usual cold and windy at the beaches, but beautifully warm with very little breeze. So although the hot chocolate was delicious, cold iced tea might have been better that day! At 7:00 Tony held a port talk in the lounge and at 7:30 dinner was served. I had the roasted lamb for dinner that night, although everything, including the vegetarian, was tempting. The desserts were wonderful, too! We had a good time in the lounge after dinner with Laszlo at the keyboard. Coaches left for Honfleur at 8:30 and it took about an hour. Interesting ride past thatched roofed houses with irises planted on top. After the walking tour that included Sainte-Catherine church we had a choice of staying there and going back by bus at 3:15. We opted to stay although it was the only misty, drizzly day. It's a charming town, often painted by the Impressionists, and still populated by many artists painting along the banks. We enjoyed just walking around. First we headed for the Eugene Boudin museum because everything closes from 12 - 2 there - I guess in most of the towns. Found a sidewalk cafe called Le Marin along the Vieux Bassin and fortuitously took a table against the restaurant. When the rain came we stayed dry! My friend had the best mussels she has ever had. They came in a big pot, and were in a cream sauce. I had a Croque Monsieur . By the way, your ticket to the Musee Eugene-Boudin also entitles you to go into the Clock Tower of Sainte-Catherine. We were back early enough to check out Notre Dame de Caudebec before the 6 pm sail-away to Vernon. After a drink of the day (White Russian) and Tony's port talk about Giverny, we went to dinner and were joined by two couples from Australia. More great choices - desserts: Normandy style apple tart with Calvados custard, bourbon vanilla ice cream and whipped cream OR Chocolate and Mocha ice cream with eggnog, caramelized walnuts and whipped cream. Decisions, decisions! Left for Giverny at 9 am Friday. Seems like the schedule changed, unfortunately, and instead of the Riverboat heading to Port of Mantes la Jolie where the Giverny tours would return for lunch onboard, the ship stayed in Vernon. That meant sailing to Mantes after lunch, the Versailles group meeting us there, no time to spend in Conflans-Ste-Honorine as indicated in the tour itinerary, and a very long sail to Paris, arriving too late to stay up to see the lights of the City. I loved seeing the small towns, and had really looked forward to time in Conflans. As it was, I got 30 minutes in Vernon - just time for a church visit and a little bit of shopping. But Giverny. . . what a beautiful place. We started in the water garden where the famous bridge over the lily pond is. Then walked to the gardens surrounding the house. The gardens were reconstructed from Monet's paintings, and with the advice of a gardener who was still alive when the renovation was being done. This was only done in the 1980's. After touring the house on our own we could spend an hour in the gardens, go back to the water garden, go to the gift shop, or walk up the street to the Impressionist Museum. If you make a left on the Rue de Monet outside the gift shop exit you will come to a cafe for a coffee, and a few gift shops. Further along is the Impressionist Museum which also has lovely gardens. You get a discount with the Monet House ticket, but I just enjoyed being among the flowers and the sunshine! Then it was back to the bus, and to Vernon and lunch onboard After the folks going to Versailles left at 1:30, we left Vernon for a lovely, long afternoon on the ship, spent mostly on the deck, with some commentary by Tony, until we reached the Port of Mantes la Jolie. We weren't permitted off the boat and just waited there for the buses to come in from Versailles. Then it was off for Paris and the Captain's farewell reception followed by the disembarkation briefing and port talk. Dinner was served at 7:00 pm and we had French entertainment with Jean-Louis and Marie in the Lounge. Everyone enjoyed them, and there was a lot of dancing! Saturday morning after breakfast the City Tour started around 9 am. We had two stops, one at the Place du Tracadero to view the Eiffel Tower, and the second at Jardin du Luxembourg a huge park with a lot of activity, children's playground, tennis courts, bocce courts, etc. It was also a rest stop. We saw a great deal of Paris from the bus and it was a good orientation for those who hadn't been before or were staying on for a few days. Tickets for the Musee d'Orsay were available at the reception desk of the ship, and in the interest of time, we bought them as well as metro tickets. The bus made one stop at the d'Orsay before going back to the ship for lunch. We had a quick bite at a little cafe by the museum, and then were able to skip the line and go right in the entrance for those with tickets. Well worth the 1 Euro surcharge. After an hour exploring mostly the Impressionist collection, we left and went over the nearby pedestrian bridge to the Right Bank. We walked through the Tuileries Garden another lovely park. Following Cruise Critic advice, we tried to find the Arc du Carrousel entrance to the Louvre, but no luck - maybe we should have tried it from the Rue de Rivoli. We did go downstairs and were under the pyramid. Following billet signs we bought our entrance tickets at the Virgin store, and paid a surcharge. But, still, we were pressed for time, so I guess it was worth not waiting on the line outside. Once inside, there are signs pointing the direction to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Winged Victory is in front of you as you actually get into the museum. Confusing, but if you go in downstairs, look for the salon you want (I had the Rick Steve's map from the internet) and take that escalator. We spent an hour there, of course seeing a lot of art on our way to both masterpieces. From there we walked through Ile de la Cite having crossed a pedestrian bridge to get there, stopped at a cafe for a soda, and then came upon Notre Dame. The line looks long to get in, but it only takes 5 - 10 minutes and is free. After walking around inside, we walked around the back to see the buttresses and more gargoyles. We crossed the bridge to the Left Bank, and got Line C of the RER at the Musee d'Orsay stop in the direction of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. I hadn't noticed the flyer at reception giving very good instructions on using the Paris Metro to get to the River Baroness. It may not have been out in the morning. Do take their map of Paris which will be at reception in the morning. There were two optional excursions in the afternoon, one to the Louvre, and the second put together by Cruise Manager, Tony for a Seine Cruise. He arranged for a bus to take folks to the boat for a ride on the Seine past all the major sights. Tickets for the boat were available for 10 Euro, cash only for the boat. Since we were trying to see more of Paris, and particularly the d'Orsay I thought we'd buy the tickets later and use the RER or Metro to get there for a night cruise, but that didn't work out as I had worn my friend out running around Paris all afternoon! We did go on deck for the Eiffel Tower "show" at 9:00 pm. Overall this was one of the best trips I've ever been on in terms of itinerary, fellow passengers, tour leaders, Uniworld staff, and food. Tony confirmed all our flights for us, arranged for the transfers to the airport. We had early afternoon flights so our van left a 10:00 o'clock. Our bags had to be out by 8 am and we had to be out of the cabin by then. But we were free to stay aboard, use any public room, plus the deck, and of course eat breakfast. I'd recommend this cruise to anyone, and envy those 50 or so from our cruise that were on the Grand France tour and headed out Sunday morning for a cruise of Southern France. Maybe next time! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
The company we chose was Uniworld - based on recommendations from friends and some special 'last minute' discounts for cruises starting in September. The 17-day cruise we eventually signed up for was on the "River ... Read More
The company we chose was Uniworld - based on recommendations from friends and some special 'last minute' discounts for cruises starting in September. The 17-day cruise we eventually signed up for was on the "River Princess" from Paris to Vienna, including 2 nights in a hotel in Paris at the start, the coach transfer from Paris to Trier where the 'river' part began, and the 15 nights on the 'boat' (this is the term Uniworld uses for its vessels, and I will do likewise). This boat can accommodate a maximum of 136 passengers. The cruise passed through four rivers - the Mosel, Rhine, Main and Danube, and one canal - the Main-Danube canal built as recently as 1992. In summary, we couldn't have asked for more! Uniworld claims to be a "boutique" operation, and while there is no ready definition of what this means, they really lived up to our expectations of personal service and catering to individual needs - which the big ocean cruise lines cannot possibly match - or even come close to. If you want to find out the details which led us to this conclusion, please read on. Staterooms: Definitely smaller than on an ocean cruiser, but all the basics were there and the quality of the beds, sheets, duvets and towels couldn't have been better. The toiletries provided were from L'Óccitane and the shower mixer was thermostatically controlled (a step up from the common hot/cold mixers which never seem to be able to maintain a constant temperature). There were five categories of staterooms starting from Cat 1 to Cat 5 and included 4 suites. All staterooms were the same size (except for the suites) and the main difference was deck level and the size of the window - ranging from a shoulder high narrow window on Cat 4 and 5, to a floor to ceiling picture window in Cat 1. We had a Cat 4 stateroom on the lowest deck and did not hear any engine noise or vibration, and hardly felt any movement. The only 'disturbance' came from fellow passengers having noisy conversations in the passage way! Facilities: The boat had excellent facilities including a laundry (you pay only for the detergent), a fitness centre with a sauna and 3 exercise machines (didn't seem to be used much, especially considering the amount of pastries consumed!), free bicycles for riding at each port, a well-equipped and reasonably priced shop, and 24-hour coffee and tea. Internet: The most popular service on the boat seemed to be the on-board internet. The charge was very reasonable - €20 for unlimited use over 14 days. Having signed up, you could use either one of the boat's two terminals or log-in with your laptop using WiFi. The WiFi was only available at the front of the ship and not from staterooms. This is probably the only service that could be improved - the speed of the internet connection was consistently slow and often unreliable. While being able to provide any internet at all on a moving vessel is commendable - considering the difficult terrain, frequent entry into locks, passing under bridges, and passage through some almost uninhabited stretches of river - there were times when even in the middle of cities, the internet was down. The boat seemed to rely on satellite links for the data connection; perhaps, a combination of 3G and satellite may bring about an improvement, since our GSM mobile phones always had a good signal. Extending WiFi coverage to all the cabins and improving the speed and reliability of internet will be a worthwhile investment for the company. Entertainment: The on-board musician Fredy provided excellent music in the evenings and the small dancing area was frequently occupied. He had an excellent repertoire from waltz, to rumba, to fast and furious disco and rock. On some 4 occasions a local musician came on board for a short performance. They were all good and gave Fredy a well earned break - and the passengers some variety. On one evening, I hasten to add, when the ship was docked for the night, the Captain assisted Fredy with some good Satchmo imitations. Excursions: At every city or town visited (including Paris) there was some kind of included tour - making a total of 15. Often it was a walking tour, sometimes a bus tour, and once a wine-tasting expedition. Each tour was allocated a specialist local expert guide - and all tours included the use of a Quietvox receiver for each participant - which meant that every word was heard. The guides, without exception, were all very knowledgeable, and the majority spoke good English. These 'íncluded' tours sometimes involved a fee, which Uniworld always paid. In addition to the included tours, Uniworld offered some 'optional' tours which had to be paid for. There was no pressure at all to join these and some passengers only did 2 or 3. We joined two of these optionals - and they were really fantastic value for money. For instance, there was a concert at the Kusalon, Vienna, on the last night which cost €49 each and this amount included return transport by coach, entry ticket to the concert, and a glass of wine during the intermission. The return coach journey back to the boat was diverted to include a mini Vienna-by-night tour to re-visit some of the city's main sights at night. To top it off, on return to the boat there was a lovely cup of hot goulash soup and a bread roll waiting! It was touches like this that made us very appreciative of Uniworld's policy of never cutting corners, and instead of adding many extra small but generous touches throughout the journey. Cruise Manager: We all know what a difference the experience, knowledge, dedication, and passion of the CM contributes to the experience. The CM on our cruise was Piet who not only excelled in all these departments but also had a cheeky sense of humour! He took it upon himself to be ever present on all the tours and was never impatient with the many questions and difficult situations that arose. For example, when a passenger developed a severe eye infection, he not only arranged for the passenger to be seen by a doctor and an eye specialist at the next port - but also went along to act as interpreter during the consultations. Whenever the boat traversed an area with some historical or other significance, he was always in the wheel-house giving a commentary. Meals: In the restaurant, Uniworld again proved they had every right to call themselves 'boutique'. The breakfast buffet had a choice which was equivalent to a 5-star hotel. And every day there was a made-to-order specialty - on one day it was my all time breakfast favourite - Eggs Benedict (If this was a specially planned manoeuvre to hook this particular traveler - they certainly succeeded!). Wine was included with dinner - and it wasn't just basic wines - it was always high quality - according to some of the wine connoisseurs on board (I am sadly not a wine drinker). Seating was open plan - which meant you often shared a table with complete strangers. And by midway, you had established some good friends from the USA, Australia and Canada. Tipping: We have never been fans of the ocean cruise liners' policy of debiting your onboard account a set amount for gratuities (Carnival claimed the daily rate was set with the help of Amex??) and you were free either to lower or to increase by visiting the Purser's Desk at the end of the cruise. The Uniworld policy is to suggest some daily rates and then leave it to individual guests how much they contributed - in cash, and in two envelopes - one to be shared by the whole crew and the other for the CM. These envelopes were dropped into a box at reception on the last day; the whole process being quite anonymous. This is by far a fairer method but would probably favour those who wanted to sneakily opt out and not partake in this gesture of appreciation for a job well done. While I have no idea what the final outcome was on our cruise, there was much evidence of passengers passing folded notes to frontline staff in all departments in the last 2 days of the journey. Without exception, every staff member we came across showed genuine concern and went out of their way to meet our needs. For example, when it became known I only liked ice cream for dessert - it simply appeared in front of me at every meal - irrespective of what exotic dessert was on the menu. Timing: Deciding on how much time to spend at each port, whether to visit one or two places each day, whether to sail at night or by day, and at what time to leave a port, are some of the tricky decisions a river cruise operator has to make. Uniworld seems to have mastered this well. For instance, those parts of the river with scenic stretches - with important castles, or the vineyards of the Wachau valley - were traversed during the day, and at the ports that had some good nightlife (e.g. beer halls in Rudesheim) departure times allowed plenty of time for late night revelers to get back on board (e.g. at Rudesheim, the boat left at 1 a.m. and not at the usual time of 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.). This is another example of Uniworld putting the passengers' needs as the first priority. While it is hard to compare ocean and river cruises, there is definitely huge advantages in being on a small boat with a small number of fellow passengers - and having the thrill of being in a different place every day. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
Uniworld has proven again that it runs a top notch cruise line. Even though the River Ambassador is the oldest ship in its fleet, the boat was in absolutely great condition. Everything was spotless from the cabins to the dining facility ... Read More
Uniworld has proven again that it runs a top notch cruise line. Even though the River Ambassador is the oldest ship in its fleet, the boat was in absolutely great condition. Everything was spotless from the cabins to the dining facility and lounge to the common areas. The crew is happy, helpful and proud to be members of the Uniworld team. Every interaction we had with any member of the crew was positive and friendly. Although the cabins are smaller than on the other Uniworld boats, they are well laid out and more than sufficient for this length of cruise. The bed was extremely comfortable and made/turned down twice a day. Bathroom amenities were high quality and plentiful. The meals on the boat were much better than the high expectations we had for them. The chef's were GREAT and funny. The dining room manager made sure that everything ran smoothly and our waiter (we tried to get the same one every day) was super. Food at every meal was plentiful and no one should go away hungry. Uniworld provides free wine at dinner and you didn't have to ask for a refill. As soon as your glass was 1/2 empty, it was refilled. There was a wide variety of passengers on the cruise with an average age in the mid - late 50's (I guess). It was a lively trip with a lot of new friends made. Check in and check out was very easy and totally transparent. When we arrived, our suitcases disappeared and reappeared in our cabins. At checkout, our suitcases were taken directly to our taxi that morning. No "put out your suitcases the night before departure." Our cruise manager was EVERYWHERE! He made sure everything ran smoothly and kept on top of all the off boat activities. Tour guides he arranged were very good, knowledgeable, and friendly. Anyone traveling with Marcus will be pleased with his service. I have to give a special commendation to the Captain and his navigation crew. The Rhine was at the lowest level it had been in 6 years. Other ships were putting passengers on buses to take them to ports, but our captain was able to safely get us to every port without problem. I can't say enough good things about the navigation staff's professionalism. Bottom line -- definitely take a Castles on the Rhine cruise on the River Ambassador. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2009
This was on Uniworld's River Ambassador "Castles Along the Rhine" cruise, September 27 to October 4, 2009. The itinerary was "up the river" from Amsterdam to Basel. I had Trafalgar/Uniworld book my flights to ... Read More
This was on Uniworld's River Ambassador "Castles Along the Rhine" cruise, September 27 to October 4, 2009. The itinerary was "up the river" from Amsterdam to Basel. I had Trafalgar/Uniworld book my flights to Amsterdam and handle my airport/boat transfers. Both were flawless. Cruise check in was very quick, no waiting. My bag was quickly carried to my cabin. Cabins were on two decks, first and second. All were window cabins with a common corridor down the center of the boat. Mine was on the first deck, one flight of stairs down from the reception area. The cabin was very clean, bright and cheerful, but small. Closet space was somewhat limited but sufficient. The bathroom was in very good condition, but the shower was small. All bed linens and bath towels were monogrammed with "uw," Uniworld's logo, giving a nice classy touch. Bath towels were thick but a little rough because fabric softener apparently was not used. Bathroom amenities featured quality body lotion and shampoo, both could be purchased in the gift shop. The bed was very comfortable. A flat screen TV was mounted on the wall at the end of the bed. I'm a single male senior citizen, and I was traveling alone. I chose this river cruise specifically because Uniworld had dropped their single supplement on many cruises to help fill their boats due to the bad worldwide economy. I think the maximum passengers on the boat is about 128. There were 103 on this cruise of which 21 were singles. I can imagine how many cabins would have been vacant without singles. The dining room was on the first deck at the front of the boat. The lounge and bar were on the second deck immediately above it. Breakfast and lunch were buffets. The breads were all baked on the ship, typically German and European types, and I found the whole grain loaves to be exceptional. At lunch there were two entrEe offerings plus a daily pasta. A dessert table often featured regional specialties, and a good selection of cheeses was offered as well. Dinner was served from 7 pm to 9 pm. There was only one seating, and it was open seating. You could sit with someone different every night, or sit with the same persons. This was a great way to meet and create friendships. Waiters were efficient and helpful. Red and white wines were always complimentary with dinner. All courses covered a spectrum of cuisines and were presented in creative ways. Dinner was usually preceded with a presentation of the next day's activities by the Program Director in the lounge. And dinner was followed by keyboard entertainment and dancing there, as well. On our second night in port at Strasbourg, France, we were treated on board to local talent of a very humorous accordionist and a very talented female vocalist, presenting predominately French music. Much was lively and fun. Outside the lounge entrance was a small coffee and beverage area open 24/7. Complimentary coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate and several teas could be freshly brewed by the cup on demand. Usually fresh fruit was available, too. In the morning there were pastries and in the afternoon dessert pastries and small sandwiches. Two small tables with eight chairs provided a comfortable place for a relaxed snack or casual conversation. The top deck was open air with seating for viewing and relaxing. A roofed area with all glass sides and an open end was situated near the front just behind the bridge for protection from the weather. The bridge was glass on all sides, and one could view the activities of the captain and his assistants as they monitored radar of the river, river depth and traffic, and navigated the boat accordingly. The Rhine River was suffering from low water depth (9/2009), a two year problem from insufficient rainfall. Numerous river boats of other lines were stranded, unable to complete their voyages due to shallow water. But because of the unique design of Uniworld boat's underside, we were able to complete our journey from Amsterdam to Basel without a problem. Of interest to some is the fact that the boat passes through 14 locks between Amsterdam and Basel. At each port an included walking tour with a local guide was provided to orient passengers with city history, famous sites, etc. Detailed maps of the areas were provided. Uniworld also provides receiver sets and headphones for all passengers and a mike and transmitter for guides to use so everyone can clearly hear the guide's commentary, even if one lags behind the group taking photos. This is a nice feature, not always offered by other companies. At some ports optional tours were offered for purchase. The only optional tour I did was to Heidelberg with a visit to the castle ruins and included a set German lunch in town, plus free time to explore and shop. The tour was worth doing. NOTE: Climbing some of the inclines from bus parking to the castle can be a little challenging for some. On the morning we cruised through the Rhine castle region most everyone was on the top deck with their camera. Over 40 castles are along the river. At 10:30 am the deck was turned into a German party with oom-pha music courtesy of the resident keyboardist. The kitchen staff set up a buffet with German sausages, kraut, mustard, and freshly baked soft pretzels and beers. At Rudesheim an included tour transported us to Schloss Vollrads' centuries' old palace and winery. Wine production dates from 1211 AD. Their vineyards grow only Riesling grapes from which quality wines are produced. Only a limited amount is exported to the USA. A resident guide informed us of Schloss Vollrads' history and wine production, and treated us to three wine samplings as we toured various areas of the palace. Strasbourg was an interesting port. Bordering on the west bank of the Rhine in the Alsace province of France, it's in close proximity to the Black Forest region of Germany, on the east bank. Strasbourg has changed national ownership six times in history between Germany and France. We were here two days. On our arrival we had an included canal boat cruise around the city, and then a walking tour to the cathedral. We also had free time to shop. One could tell they were in France from the abundance of pastry shops and the beautiful pastries and breads in their windows. The following day we had a full day excursion via motor coach along the Alsatian wine road with 27 thousand acres of vineyards and several wineries. Grape harvest was in progress. We visited a small town having a wine harvest festival. One could smell grapes being crushed at the town's winery. Local organizations were selling local food specialties, pastries and "neu vin" (lightly fermented grape juice. The cafes were busy serving lunch to attendees on their outdoor terraces. In the afternoon we journeyed to Colmar for more historical sightseeing, and then joined up with our cruise boat. The following morning we woke up in Basel, Switzerland where we said our good-byes to our new friends and the Rhine. Ship personnel efficiently handled transfers via coach to airlines and railroads. In conclusion, Uniworld did a great job with service, room keeping, food and sightseeing. The program director was exceptional and very thorough, plus being a lot of fun. Ages of cruisers ranged from 40 and up. Because there are no elevators on this boat, I would not recommend it for handicapped cruisers. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
We cruised on the Avalon Creativity in late September. We got really lucky and had fantastic weather. I absolutely fell in love with river cruising. It was awesome that any time you looked out the window or over the rail, there was ... Read More
We cruised on the Avalon Creativity in late September. We got really lucky and had fantastic weather. I absolutely fell in love with river cruising. It was awesome that any time you looked out the window or over the rail, there was something to see. You were always within yards of the nearest shore. All of the rooms on the ship were large compared with most of the ocean going ships. The bathrooms even had a decent size shower. We were a group of 4, so we had two rooms. We had a Jr. Suite, but the other couple had a standard room. The food was absolutely fantastic. One person in our group had some allergy considerations, and the kitchen always made sure that they had appropriate food that was just as good. One thing we really appreciated, was that the price of the drinks on board was reasonable. They also had happy hour each evening, where drinks were two for one. With all dinners, wine beer and soda were included. They only had one sitting for dinner, and it tended to take 2 hours... or longer if you liked. During this time the wine and beer were flowing freely. They were almost insulted if you declined a refill. Since we ultimately did not spend all that much money on drinks, and all the excursions are included in the price of the cruise, this is actually a pretty affordable vacation. Do be warned though, if you are into partying all night, and then sleeping till noon the next day, stick to the big ocean ships. They don't offer much in the way of entertainment, and by 11:00 it is pretty much down to sitting in the lounge for drinks. Most of the excursions are also quite early in the morning, and you do need to be at breakfast by 7:00 most days, if you were planning to participate. Due to the small size of the ship, however, by about day 3, people begin to know each other, and the evenings in the lounge and the happy hours start to turn into parties. I loved the intimacy of being in this environment. I do have to say though, that being in our early 40's, we did get labeled as the young people. That being said, the so called "older" crowd were no couch potatoes. Just try and keep up! I definitely did not feel out of place, and would go sailing with this group again in a heart beat. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2009
This was our first experience with river cruising. We have done 5 ocean cruises on Regency, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. We were not sure what to expect on such a small ship but we were VERY pleasantly surprised. Our biggest ... Read More
This was our first experience with river cruising. We have done 5 ocean cruises on Regency, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. We were not sure what to expect on such a small ship but we were VERY pleasantly surprised. Our biggest concern was whether or not we could survive in a cabin that was 8 x 13. It turned out to be a non-problem at all. Yes, the shower was small and yes the cabin was small but we spent so little time there that it was never a problem. The cruise itself was absolutely wonderful!! Mother nature did not always cooperate but that did not deter any of us from having a good time. The ports of call were very interesting and there was a good amount of time allocated for excursions. You did not have a plethora of excursions to choose from but the ones that were there really highlighted the items of interest in the ports we visited. We stopped in Kingston, NY, Troy, NY, Sylvan Beach, NY, Oswego NY, Alexandria Bay, NY, Montreal and Quebec. From our point of view, Quebec was the highlight of the trip. Very interesting city. Will definitely go back there. Our ship had a capacity of 100 and there were 56 of us on board so we were really spoiled from that perspective. Without a doubt, the highlight of the cruise was the food. How the staff could prepare the variety of meals that we were served and the quality of food is a real testament to the chefs on board. Let there be no doubt that we will cruise with ACCL again. The service was friendly, courteous and wonderful. The food was great and the total experience was MUCH better than many we have had on BIG ships. Hooray for ACCL. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
Upon check-in at the hotel in Berlin the cruise director told us that due to the low water level on the Elbe we would not embark in Magdeberg as scheduled but be bussed to Dresden instead. Upon arrival in Dresden we were told the chances ... Read More
Upon check-in at the hotel in Berlin the cruise director told us that due to the low water level on the Elbe we would not embark in Magdeberg as scheduled but be bussed to Dresden instead. Upon arrival in Dresden we were told the chances of sailing were not good and since the prospect of rain and/or release of water by the Czechs could not be ensured we had to adopt a day to day wait and see posture while Viking did what they could to salvage the "sailing". We ended up staying in Dresden for the entire week and were taken by bus to Wittenberg and Torgau, Saxon Switzerland/Bad Schandau, and Meissen. We missed Magdeberg, Melnik, Litomerice, and Dessau. Viking cancelled the following Elbe itinerary. Viking awarded us with a 40% credit toward future cruising through December 2012 as compensation (some restrictions may apply but we'll have to see how that unfolds). One member of our group is 91 and whether or not he is able to make the trek to Europe remains to be seen so the credit may not be a good deal. Viking says the credit could be transferable to a family member. I understand a fellow passenger has opened a lawsuit against Viking alleging Viking knew well enough in advance to provide us with the option for a full refund or rebooking on another voyage. We were lucky as Dresden has immense importance to our family from World War II and we were able to make connections there that otherwise would have been impossible. We enjoyed multiple days in Dresden on our own initiative without a lot of help from the cruise director who could have found more activities for our group in that city. If we did not have the Dresden connection I would have been very disappointed with Viking's treatment of us. Bus rides to some of the scheduled stops were long, not very comfortable, and the reduced time at those stops detracted from our enjoyment of them but Viking was trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Food and staff were good but the cruise director was stressed and surly at times. The assistant cruise director was very nice and helpful. Our D category cabin was small (120 square feet) and the twin bed setup wasn't very romantic. The food was OK but nothing special. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
We did the precruise extension in Prague. Prague was probably my favorite place to see on this vacation. We stayed at the Imperial Art Deco which was a lovely hotel within easy walking distance to old town. The concierge was very ... Read More
We did the precruise extension in Prague. Prague was probably my favorite place to see on this vacation. We stayed at the Imperial Art Deco which was a lovely hotel within easy walking distance to old town. The concierge was very helpful in finding places to have dinner. Our tour guide was Jana who was great. One night we went to a restaurant called Ceruna Tabulka which was recommended by the concierge. It was a short walk from the Art Deco and was very quaint and charming. The food was great. The next night we went to the magic black night theatre which was a fun cheap evening entertainment. Not what I expected as a great deal of vaudeville comedy was included. The black light segments were very nice. I don't know if I would go again but it was an experience. The following night we had dinner at Kolkovne, a traditional Czech restaurant. The guys loved all the sausage and cabbage dishes. It was a little heavy for me so I had a risotto which was okay, not great. One night we went to the Opera at the State Theatre and saw Carmen. The production was very good and the Theatre was beautiful. Do walk to the Charles Bridge at night it is quite beautiful all light up and the view of the castle outstanding. We walked through the Jewish Quarter, but it was a Saturday and everything was closed. Other than the tour of the castle and old town, we just walked all over the city and enjoyed the sights. Our transfer to the ship in Passau was good and efficient. The cruise director Christine was wonderful and ran very well run tours at each stop. All our stops were on time and we had no trouble with the river water levels. Although on some of the previous cruises they did run into delays and problems with the Danube flooding. The weather was so so, we had some good days but overall it was cool and unfortunately foggy while cruising the Wachau Valley. We had some rain in Budapest in the morning but then was okay in afternoon. It has been a very unsettling summer there as far as weather was concerned. The tour in Salzburg was dissappointing. We just walked from place to place with a lot of commentary from our tour guide but did not go into any venues and in fact the tour took up so much time that we were upable to do the fortress on our own. It was a full day tour driving from Linz to Salzburg and we either had time to stop for a bite to eat or tour the fortress and after walking and standing for long periods we chose to take a break. The few people who started to go up to the fortress only got halfway and were afraid they would run out of time and turned around. The tour in Vienna was good and left plenty of time to do things on our own. We took a tour of the Imperial Apartments and the Sissi Museum which was good. Then we had time to go to a cafe and walk to a market after which we took the underground (metro) back to the ship. Very easy. We chose not to go to the concert but the people who did go enjoyed it very much. We also had a half day tour to the Schonbrunn Palace which is beautiful. I wish we had more time to explore the grounds more. It really is a full day kind of place. I'm jumping around a bit I know. Just writing things that come into my head as I go. The stop at Melk was beautiful, the Abbey outstanding. We walked back to the ship through the town which was very nice. I would advise anyone to not take the bus back. Our stop at Durnstein included a tour of a winery which I enjoyed. It's not for everyone, but we had a nice wine tasting and tour of cellars which of course wound up at their store. The guide was knowledgeable and entertaining and also included a tour of the Chateau. We again walked through the town of Durnstein back to the ship. Another cute and charming town. In Budapest we did the optional tour to the village of Szentendre. I was disappointed in the town. After seeing so many beautiful areas I guess I expected too much but it had great little shops which I enjoyed and purchased several items to bring home. Wonderful knits and boiled wool jackets for the ladies. Overall we had a very good time. It was our first experience on a River Cruise and it is very different from the Med cruises we took in the Med and Baltics. More laid back and the average age of the passengers was older but I would do one again in the future. Oh and the food was wonderful on the River Beatrice, must not forget to mention that to the foodies. Hope some of this was helpful as I have had great advice from reading cruise critic in the past and wanted to pay back a little. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
We decided to do this at the spur of the moment and were very lucky to get our visa's out of the Russian Embassy in less than a month, also our flight from Seattle to Dulles was a real squeaker. Everyone on board and about to pull ... Read More
We decided to do this at the spur of the moment and were very lucky to get our visa's out of the Russian Embassy in less than a month, also our flight from Seattle to Dulles was a real squeaker. Everyone on board and about to pull away from the gate on time when TSA stopped the flight and made everyone get off the plane along with any and all carry ons. Then they brought out the dogs to sniff the whole plane and all the passengers before we were allowed back on (makes you feel really comfortable huh!) So we were an hour late leaving Seattle and the cruise line had only given us an hour and a half when we got to Dulles to change planes. Very fun to watch me with two artificial knees and my husband with his artificial hip sprinting (I use that term loosely) through the airport along with a handful of other passengers and when we finally got to the gate for the Moscow flight the door was about to close. About 8 of us were the last passengers on board and I was sure we would never see our luggage again when we got there but after they boarded us we sat for about 1/2 hour waiting for the luggage and we all arrived with our bags in Moscow.....so that was the beginning of the good luck. There were only a couple of cabins left when we booked and we had no idea what was good and what wasn't and we went with cabin 402 (very near the back of the Upper Deck) It was a very quiet room because the hall is a dead end. We could at times very clearly hear the women in the next cabin talking but fortunately that usually didn't last long as they must have been as tired as we most nights. The other Cabin that we were offered was up front by the main bar and lounge and I think it must have been quite noisy. All the cabins on the upper deck looked very nice, windows opens and had an unobstructed view. Beds were very comfy, cabin was always clean and no strange smells from anywhere. My only complaint on the cabin is that they need to some how in-corporate another chair. There was only the one straight back at the desk and it would be nice for the other person to be able to sit comfortably (I was usually hogging the desk chair using my lap top.) Other only major complaint was the slow, slow, slow Internet connection but when we got to St. Petersburg they worked on it for several days so maybe it will be better. At least it's free and having your own lap top is a good idea as it's hard to get on the ship's two free lap tops. I could have also called this the Church and Icons tour as well. Who knew a communist country would have so many Churches, I would have thought that they would have been destroyed in the Stalin years but many were just turned into storage sheds but not harmed. You do get your fill of churches , it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." I thought perhaps we could have done with a few less Churches and some more time in Museums. Only spending 3 hours in the Hermitage is ridiculous.....you can't even begin to get a taste of it....more like a lick! I would like to see them offer a full day there and skip the city tour half of the day because you see the city when you are doing other tours like the Peter Paul Fortress or the Canal Tours. - If you are taking this cruise for gourmet food you might be disappointed. That is not to say that the food wasn't adequate and plentiful. The breakfast and lunches are quite good and the dinners were a bit more hit and miss, some strange offerings but nicely presented. My husband opted for the steak about half the nights because he's not a very adventuresome eater and the steaks were well cooked smallish but tasty, always served with a baked potato which I thought they could have varied. I had the steak only one night and one night I choose the chicken breast (both the steak, chicken breast and Caesar Salad are always available.) I tried the other options the rest of the time. Only the Lake Perch was inedible.....the rest were just sort of mediocre but with the salads, soups and desserts you never go away hungry....just not fantastic food. The steak was quite nice the chicken pretty dry and chewy so probably best to not opt for that. I do wish they would be a bit more inventive in the dessert area. It was almost always ice cream with some sort of sauce or little cookie. The service by the Filipino waiters was fabulous. We usually opted for a table for 2 and were served by Leith and Jun and they were so very very attentive, pleasant and made dining, even with not always such great food fun. Breakfast was probably the best meal of the day, the buffet had lots of wonderful options and you could order omelette's, Eggs Benedict, French Toast, pancakes and hash-browns served to your table. There was always Russian Champagne on the buffet and several options for juice. Lunch was always green salad with many choices for toppings, several cold salads and sandwiches and two or three hot dishes plus soup and dessert (two options one always being ice cream) was served at the table. The 24 hour coffee and tea bar was really nice as well and was directly below our end of the ship. They serve a light tea most afternoons in the Panorama Bar at the other end of the ship. This consisted of tea and an assortment of cookies and cakes. The tours were good, we had Tatiana for our guide and she is fabulous. So look for her, pretty blond lady in her 50's. Whom ever you choose at the beginning is your guide for the whole time and whom ever is on your bus the first day is with your group for the entire time as well.....your new family for the next 13 days. The boat itself is very nicely laid out, good viewing areas on the top deck and in the Panorama Bar on the front of the Upper Deck. It would be nice if there was more comfortable seating somewhere on the boat but I guess you can't have recliners on a vacation ;-) I should add that the dress on the ship was very informal and I probably wouldn't pack a lot of dressy clothes. Men mostly wore jeans, khakis and polo shirts and the woman wore more slacks and jeans than anything else. There were lots of men and woman in jeans at dinner and even some in sweat pants (which I thought was a bit too much) but what ever. I didn't wear about 1/2 of the dressier outfits I brought, because I would have felt over the top except for the Captains dinner and one other night and I really don't bring that fancy of things as dressing up for my husband is nice pants and a sweater he is not a suit guy so if he was comfortable you know it was informal. I think Viking does a good job of making your time as pleasant as possible and I don't have any big earthshaking complaints.....it was an overall success. We were not as taken with Russia as we have been with Asia and New Zealand but it was good to check it off the bucket list and I'm glad we went. The traffic and smog in Moscow was appalling and the people seem a bit grumpy. Pictures from the cruise (including room & photo's of food) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/quiltsa...7622305559005/ First stop on the river was Uglich and it was very interesting as well. Toured the Cathedral where Ivan the Terrible's son was murdered. Walked to it from the boat (easy walk through a very good street market.) Unfortunately the guide had told us that their would be better shopping on the last stop of the river cruise portion and wait to buy our souvenirs there.....that turned out to be bad advise unless you were looking for very high quality hand crafted things as every thing at the last stop fell into that category. If you are looking for trinkets for the grand kids or small things for friends...stick to the street markets the prices are much better than the craft shops. The first port was Moscow......what a mess that city is. Absolutely horrendous traffic. Two hours from the airport to the boat dock, and a good hour and a half to two hours into town from the dock (about a 20 min drive in normal traffic I would think.) So for a day trip to town a good 3 to 4 hours or more was in snarled up traffic.....and then if you signed up for a night excursion add another couple of hours. I really think that Viking should feed people at a restaurant in the city on days that their are all day tours and then night events. We skipped the folk music concert because we couldn't face getting in the bus again for yet another drive into the city. We had the opportunity to use the bank ATM in Moscow to get Rubles. We were charged $105 for 3000 Rubles (this turned out to be a much better deal than the next ATM in a smaller city were we were charge $136 for the same 3000 Rubles so plan ahead and get your rubles in Moscow.) We did do the Moscow by night but it was really beautiful seeing Red Square after dark (even though it poured rain, luckily it was only one of two rainy episodes on the whole trip.) We enjoyed the tour of the Armory and the Kremlin and took the optional 1/2 day tour of the New Maiden Nunnery and Cemetery on the day of the Moscow by Night tour. The New Maiden Nunnery was really lovely and the cemetery where Kruschev and Gorbachev's wife were buried was fascinating as well. Yaroslavl was the next port and it had some gorgeous churches and cathedral's as well (go figure) and we were bused into the center of town and did a walking tour from their. After touring the churches we were given about an hour and a half to shop. Very interesting local fruit and food stuffs market that I really enjoyed taking pictures of but we were warned to not eat anything (they offered dried fruit and nuts at the stalls.) The guide said it might be our last place to get Rubles till St. Petersburg so we found an ATM machine and got really taken because of course unless you read Russian you have no idea what it says about exchange rates or fees for using the machine and our guide was off doing her own thing, not where we could ask her to translate. Goritsy was the next stop where we were bused to Kirrilov where we visited the Monastery of St. Cyril. It is known for it's remarkable collection of icons but frankly we were iconed out so we spent the time strolling the grounds which were really beautiful and enjoying the flowers and the local parishioners who were coming out from church services. I wished we had more time to just soak up the ambiance of the little towns and less time being lectured to about the icons and their significance (but that's just me....not very interested in religion.) Then it was on to Kishi Island on Lake Onega. It is the famed open-air Museum of Russian Architecture. The beautiful Church of the Transfiguration an ornate structure of wooden ribbons and 22 domes in 3 tiers built entirely with out nails. It was really cool and the examples of local life from the early 10th century that were being acted out were fascinating as well. Great stop. We also had one more stop on the river the next day and that was Mandrogi which was suppose to be the big place for buying souvenirs but for the most part we all felt it was very expensive although their were some lovely things. Unfortunately it was pouring rain at this stop and not much fun to tromp around and look at the buildings....it is sort of a Russian Epcot Center for life in the olden days. There was a pavilion with berry pies that were quite tasty We ended the cruise in St. Peterburg and I love that city......could have spent a week there. The Hermitage is gorgeous, Catherine's Palace, fantastic and just the city in general was lovely with all the canals and beautiful buildings. Again we were docked a bit of a drive out but it wasn't as bad a commute to the sites as in Moscow and the smog wasn't as bad either. Both Moscow and St. Petersburg had subways which I think should have been made use of instead of busing but I suppose that is hard with large groups. But it would have been a nice option. Again Russia is probably not somewhere I would go again but I did love the experience and would love to take another Viking Cruise (say the Grand European one.) Read Less

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