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Sail Date: October 2012
This was our first time river cruising and we did not know what to expect. Before departure there were 2 niggles. Viking were late in sending out information regarding the trip, with the necessary documentation arriving just 3 days ... Read More
This was our first time river cruising and we did not know what to expect. Before departure there were 2 niggles. Viking were late in sending out information regarding the trip, with the necessary documentation arriving just 3 days before departure. We were disappointed that we had to fly via Amsterdam when we could have had a direct flight from Bristol We were met at the airport and quickly transferred to the Hilton in Prague.Throughout the trip Viking looked after our luggage so that there was no carrying. This is a bonus.The Hilton was a lovely hotel but a little far from the Old Town and devoid of any Czech atmosphere. It was a pleasant sunny evening and we joined the exploratory walk. As we had been to Prague previously this turned out to be a little boring so after about 30 minutes we set out on our own. The Old Town Square was full of people and had an exciting buzz with people eating in the restaurants, watching the famous clock and generally enjoying themselves.After a reasonably priced meal we walked back to our hotel. The breakfast in the hotel was excellent with the best fresh fruit salad I have ever had. The guided tour of Prague began at 08.30. Did we have to begin our holiday with such an early start? Unfortunately it was raining very heavily and most of the guests would have preferred to go straight to the ship.The Cathedral was closed to visitors! Could Viking not move the trip by one day either way so that the visit took place when the Cathedral was open? The transfer to the ship went smoothly and soon we were in our compact cabin. After the king size bed in the Hilton the 2 narrow singles did not look welcoming. They did however turn out to be comfortable. The bathroom was quite small but the shower was strong with plenty of hot water. The food on the ship was first class with a good choice. If you did not like what was on the menu you could always ask for something else. Nothing was too much trouble. The waiters were friendly and provided top notch service. Indeed all the crew could not do enough to help you enjoy the cruise.They were superb. I must single out Radim. His commentary and sense of fun will be a long lasting memory. The Visits Our first visit was to Litormice.5 minutes there was too long. Even the visit to a brewery was boring. Viking please give this a miss. The visit to Dresden was amazing. One day there was not enough. We enjoyed the visit to the Meissen porcelain factory but needed more time in the small town. The scenery in Saxon Switzerland was exceptional. On to Wittenburg. Many found this visit, with the great detail on Luther, a bit heavy. The visit to the "enlish garden" was delightful. It was a lovely sunny, autumn morning and the autumn colours were splendid. The rowing boat excursion made this visit highly enjoyable. The visit to Potsdam was a bit rushed. The palace tour was boring but the grounds beautiful. The tours all had excellent guides. Full marks here. Apart from the visits there were many talks on board mainly on the GDR or EU. On the first night there was a good dance group and on one other night a classical trio.Evening entertainment was a bit lacking and after 10pm there were few people in the lounge. Now Berlin. Unfortunately we did not arrive until 5pm. The Hilton was within walking distance of the main tourist attractions. This was a good location with plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby. The hotel was again very good. Although we are not big shoppers it would have been nice to be in Berlin when the shops were open. Shops close on a sunday. We enjoyed this holiday. All arrangements by Viking went smoothly. Nothing was too much trouble. If you want a well organised, informative, relaxing holiday I would recommend this cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2012
Our recent Treasures of Prague, the Main and Rhine cruise on Uniworld's River Ambassador had pluses and minuses. On the plus side, the crew was amazing, very helpful and accommodating. The itinerary was interesting, with guides who ... Read More
Our recent Treasures of Prague, the Main and Rhine cruise on Uniworld's River Ambassador had pluses and minuses. On the plus side, the crew was amazing, very helpful and accommodating. The itinerary was interesting, with guides who sometimes gave us too much information. As seniors with difficulty walking, some of the tours were too long, even though we chose the "Gentle Walking" option. There were few places to sit down and rest. However, having the tours included in the price is a good thing. The food was fine, nothing special but beautifully served with complimentary wine and beer with lunch and dinner, a very nice touch. The minuses on this ship relate to the small size of the cabins and the lack of on-board program. There is no elevator, and even though the ship is only 3 stories, this was sometimes inconvenient. The ship was refurbished recently, but having a full-length mirror in the bathroom facing you as you sit down is quite a turn-off. Someone didn't think it through! There was no place to hang long clothes as there were shelves in the cupboards. After dinner there was nothing planned except one evening when a local band came on board for a 45-minute set. Over all. it was a good experience and we plan to go again, but not on this ship. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2012
Selected this Cruise because we booked late and it was available. Uniworld booked us into the Art Deco Imperial Hotel in Prague, which we loved. If you want to have dinner in their Cafe, reserve a table prior to arrival. After two days ... Read More
Selected this Cruise because we booked late and it was available. Uniworld booked us into the Art Deco Imperial Hotel in Prague, which we loved. If you want to have dinner in their Cafe, reserve a table prior to arrival. After two days in Prague, we took 4 hour bus trip to Nuremburg where we boarded the River Ambassador. We were greeted by the Cruise Director, Ann, and the friendly and professional staff. Everyone could not have been nicer. Our Category 1 cabin (230) was fine, but even smaller than we expected. Pack accordingly because luggage must be stowed under the bed or in the small closet. Without going into too much detail, we found the itinerary to be rather dull. While we loved PRAGUE, we found the Riverboat stops to be repetitive. We could not distinguish the towns. Wurtzburg Miltenburg, or Bamburg, etc. Each had their signature castle or cathedral, Cobblestone streets with similar shopping areas. Many shops do not accept plastic, so have euros in your wallet. The Optional Tour to Weikersheim Palace (45 euros each) was a waste of time and $$. We made really nice friends on the cruise, and many felt the same. There is a fitness room on board, but it was very claustrophobic and not much air circulation. Food was good. and they went out of their way to satisfy any dietary needs. Although there is not much to do after dinner, we socialized in the lounge each night, and retired to our cabin by 11PM. We had a great time, but could not recommend the itinerary. Casual clothes are all you need. For men, a sportjacket is appropriate for 2 nights, but a tie is not necessary. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2012
We chose a river cruise because we have been on at least 20 ocean cruises and we wanted something different. For the most part we really had a nice time, notice I am not saying "GREAT" time. The ship was beautiful, our cabin ... Read More
We chose a river cruise because we have been on at least 20 ocean cruises and we wanted something different. For the most part we really had a nice time, notice I am not saying "GREAT" time. The ship was beautiful, our cabin was clean and comfortable and the crew was wonderful. We enjoyed the smaller passenger count, we had 181 and only having two decks to really have to navigate was quite nice. On the flip side....we were the youngest passengers by 15-20 years and many of these people are quite slow. We had many walking tours, even though we were divided up in 4 groups, many of the "older" passengers could not keep up, hence it slowed the rest of us down. I really think they need to put the passengers in groups by giving them a walking test of some sort. The average age is 70-80, yes they are all well traveled people BUT they are in denial of their limitations. I wish Viking would market to younger people that are more active. We could have used some bikes on the boat to just take out at our leisure, as I know other river cruise lines do this. We missed not having a fitness center even though we walked everyday. Everyday was so structured, you get up, eat breakfast, go to the buses, do the tour, come back and eat lunch and the afternoon may or may not be at your leisure. The best day was when we were actually cruising during the day to see the castles along the Rhine, it was so much more leisurely and we didn't feel rushed in the morning. The headset idea for hearing the guide is wonderful (if they work). That way if you lagged behind to take pictures, you could still hear what they were saying. We had a wonderful cruise director, Tom, he kept us in stitches and was very organized. We had an excellent cabin steward, she kept our room spotless and with plenty of clean towels. The food on the cruise got better with each day, not sure why they did it that way but the dining room was understaffed. Many nights our ordered was taken by the maitre d, one night we didn't even get our meal until 9:00 and we entered the dining room at 7:00. A little short staffed in the dining room. No assigned tables so everyone herds into the dining room at the appointed time. The one nice thing is the portion sizes are quite a bit smaller than a normal cruise ship, the wine was free flowing but god forbid you want a beer at dinnertime...good luck. The buffet lunch upstairs is very nice but sitting at tiny tables with 4 people got to be just impossible. We would go on another, but not for another 20 years or so. Read Less
16 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: October 2012
We booked the 15 day Magnificent Europe itinerary from Budapest to Amsterdam and travelled the last week in October and the first week in November. Our pricing included flights from the UK, transfers, port charges, gratuities, all shore ... Read More
We booked the 15 day Magnificent Europe itinerary from Budapest to Amsterdam and travelled the last week in October and the first week in November. Our pricing included flights from the UK, transfers, port charges, gratuities, all shore excursions and drinks with both lunch and dinner. We booked as a special offer 3 months before our travel date through APT, an Australian company, so the vast majority of passengers were Australian with only a tiny number from other countries. Although we are veterans of ocean cruising, this was our first river cruise. The boat actually exceeded our expectations. Launched in 2011 everything still had a new appearance, all furnishings and equipment were of a high quality and the colour schemes carefully co-ordinated in soft, pleasing tones. It was immaculately clean in all areas that we saw. Our cabin was one of the standard ones on a lower deck with windows but no balcony. Beautifully fitted and furnished with a fridge, bathrobes and slippers, quality toiletries, and the entertainment system available through the monitor had a very good selection of tv channels, music channels, films and free internet access. There was also free WiFi onboard. Complimentary bottles of water in our cabin were replenished daily and we also appreciated the use of umbrellas which we used on several occasions! Shower was excellent and we had no problems with variable water temperatures which we have experienced on some ocean ships. We could also vary the temperature in the cabin to our own preference. Plenty hangers and storage, and we noticed that the safe and wardrobes interiors illuminated when opened in the evenings. There was a pillow menu, and a choice of sheets and duvet or sheets and blankets. Under one side of the bed there was an underbed storage drawer. Public spaces were adequate for the number of passengers and we had no difficulty finding seats in the lounge or in the restaurant at any time during the day or evening. In the main diningroom, through choice, we often had the same table and wait staff. This sailing however, was not full. Our understanding is that there were only 120 plus passengers and the boat can take 160 plus. What it would be like with a full sailing I cannot say. The sun deck was only occasionally used by small numbers of passengers due to the very variable weather we had, most passengers preferring to enjoy the scenery from the warmer lounge, because, at this time of year, even the dry, sunny days were quite cool especially when we were on the move. The main sun deck was closed for 4 days due to the number of low bridges we passed under. As we were docked most days anyway, this did not impact anyone to any great extent. One small area of the open upper deck remained open as it was located at the bow and at a slightly lower lever than the sun deck so it was still possible to go "up top" if you wanted. We thought the food and wines were amongst the best we have experienced with everything made from scratch by a team of 12 in the galley. Having seen a gradual lowering of food quality on ocean cruising ships in recent years, this was a pleasant surprise. Apart from the "always available" and the usual international menu, every day at both lunch and dinner there was an excellent choice of local regional dishes from the various countries we were cruising in, with local and/or regional wines to accompany the meals. Wines were carefully selected and of good quality. Most surprising for us were the Austrian reds. Lovely! It was a refreshing change to be able to try local specialities onboard on a daily basis should we want, as it is an experience we find lacking on most ocean cruises which only give the occasional opportunity to try the food of the countries we are sailing in. Once a week we could choose to experience the Chefs Table restaurant "Erlebnis" where we were greeted with a pre-dinner drink. The menu changes each week and there is no additional charge although you do need to reserve ahead of time. A complimentary range of teas, coffees and hot chocolate were available 24/7 from a machine. These included espresso, latte, cappuchino etc. Staff were excellent in all departments and we really could not fault them. Friendly and professional. Excursions were all included with a reasonable choice in most places. APT call this Freedom of Choice touring. In smaller places with less to offer, there was maybe only a walking tour although several tours included a sampling of local wines, beers, or, in Vienna, Sachertorte served with either coffee or hot chocolate with cream. If you wanted to do your own thing anywhere, you could leave a tour at any time or choose not to go on one at all. Some days there was the option of choosing a "regular" tour, a more "gentle" tour, or even a "late risers" tour. As ours was a Platinum cruise, we had an additional number of complimentary "Signature Experiences" along the way and personal highlights for us included a tour of the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest and an evening concert in Vienna. At both, glasses of sparkling wine were served. There are also a number of complimentary bicycles and helmets available for anyone to borrow. Entertainment we thought was a bit hit or miss. We enjoyed some of it but not all of it. It is low key and mostly consists of either one, two or three entertainers who are mostly singers and/or musicians. Apart from those, one evening there was a glass blower, another evening we had a music quiz, another we enjoyed a 60's themed evening. Some evenings you could go ashore if we were sailing late. As we were usually docked in a very central location it was often easy to do this. APT actually impressed us a lot. There were many small details which we noticed and appreciated, we were extremely well looked after throughout, the little gifts we received both pre-cruise and in our cabin were also quality items and useful, and our overall impression was of a company which knows what it is doing and does it well. We would book with them again. As for the itinerary, it was a wonderful way to cruise the Rhine, Main and Danube. The fabulous larger cities were nicely balanced with medium and small sized towns, with many of the smaller ones having well preserved medieval centres, cobbles and half timbered or pastel painted buildings to great effect. The scenery in some sections was stunning, with vineyards, forests, castles and attractive small towns on both sides. Several of our stops were in places ideal for exploring at a leisurely pace. Local street maps and info were handed out at almost every port so that you were not restricted to the tours. As for timing, we would advise careful consideration. We had the advantage of the most stunning autumn colours more or less throughout this trip with the Wachau Valley being a particular highlight amongst many others. We had anticipated some colour, but not the dramatic sights we enjoyed. Another advantage was that traditional high season crowds had gone and everywhere was only either moderately busy or quiet. As for disadvantages, before we left, we knew that one downside would be dusk and darkness falling in the late afternoon and this impacted on some of our sightseeing. It was worsened by the clocks changing by an hour a few days after boarding. European weather is also notoriously unpredictable, and our dates this year brought us everything from bright, sunny but cool days, to more rainy and/or showery days than we wanted, and even sleety/snowy showers for one of our two days in Vienna. On the other hand, summers can be extremely hot in these areas, the majority of these towns and cities will be full of tourists, and the glorious autumn colours will be missing, only green everywhere. It is quite a difficult decision to make. Best advice is to pack for everything and anything in terms of weather. And be prepared for the locks. Over 60 on this itinerary. Choose your cabin carefully as weather could impact on potential use. And with close cruising, it is usually preferable to be out on deck or in the lounge where there are views of both sides. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2012
This was our 6th river cruise and first cruise with Viking. We chose this cruise because we've done all the rivers in Europe and the chance to see the Great Wall and Terra Cotta Warriors was exciting. Definitely go in the fall! ... Read More
This was our 6th river cruise and first cruise with Viking. We chose this cruise because we've done all the rivers in Europe and the chance to see the Great Wall and Terra Cotta Warriors was exciting. Definitely go in the fall! First thing I should mention is that you will find few "western" style toilets. I had read the previous reviews and knew to take paper with us..but no one had mentioned that even in the tourist locations, you would be required to squat over a "moat". The name of the game is "hole or bowl?". And it was usually a hole unless you chose to wait in a long line for that one western toilet. I won't go back to China unless they use some of their money to improve the bathroom facilities in all of their public buildings. They continue to build thousands of new skyscrapers and luxurious hotels yet can't improve the toilets, even with all the thousands of new western tourists! It's not only disgusting, it's unhealthy. Most of us river cruisers are 50 and older and some are not physically capable of squatting down low. Yes, we may not be as healthy and agile as the Chinese, but that's no excuse for their bathroom facilities. I don't want to review day by day. I'd rather just mention a few things that I think are important for you to know if you take this cruise. From Beijing to Shanghai, be prepared for some strenuous and hectic days. If you aren't accustomed to long walks, start exercising. The first day in Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City, be prepared to walk about 3 miles. As others have written, there are uneven surfaces and many steps. The internal flights were handled superbly by Viking. We simply boarded the bus to the airport and they handled all the luggage, boarding passes etc....it was an easy process but those days were hectic and precious time was spent flying instead of sightseeing. We didn't realize how fast paced those first days would be. It was rush, rush, rush until we were able to board the Emerald. Everyone we spoke with had the same sentiments...they were all exhausted and just wanted to relax. As far as the ship...in fairness, the boats in China do not compare to the river boats in Europe. The emerald is advertised as being only 2 years old. Personally, I think it's older than that and just rehabed. For all I know it could be the older "Century". The rooms are standard size but appear to be dated. The closets are very shallow and there is little storage for hanging clothing. The beds are HARD..not simply firm but hard! The first night was miserable and a fellow passenger suggested I let the front desk know, which I did. I usually don't like to complain but I had no choice. Housekeeping came immediately and added more comforters under the sheets. It helped just slightly and I woke up with a backache each night. I'm used to a firm memory foam mattress, but as I said, this wasn't firm, it was hard. I used to take a cheap foam topper in a space saver bag which helped but I assumed this "newer ship" would have a foam mattress..wrong! The bathroom was also dated, and there was mold and crud around the bottom of the shower stall. Yes, there is alot of wear and tear in these rooms, but the quality did not compare with the three companies we've used in Europe. You had to step over thresholds in the hallways and in the entrance to your room. You could feel slopes and rises in areas under the carpeting in some places. Again, I've heard Viking's European longboats are beautiful so it may just be a "China" problem. The food...again I could only compare it to the other cruises we have done. It was not as good. Breakfast was typical and good..eggs to order etc and bacon, sausage, hash browns, cereals, yogurts...yadda yadda, there was something for everyone. Lunch buffet however, I felt was lacking. Salad bar was decent with fresh butter lettuces, deli meats, a small variety of cheeses, breads, a daily soup which tasted the same but just a different color, a choice of three entrees that had to be ordered at the table. There were no other types of salads, such as pasta salads, tuna or chicken salads, vegetable salads. If there were, they were Asian style/flavored. In the 5 previous cruises, at dinner I ordered the "always available" chicken/steak just once. On this trip, I ordered a chicken breast or steak four nights. It seemed as though we had more Chinese food than western, but hey, we were in China. Service was good, staff was good and had a sense of urgency which is always appreciated. I was impressed that they remembered our names, even without name tags. Hard working kids. The amount of building going on in every city in China is unbelievable. I stopped taking pictures. You have to see it in person. Our mouths were wide open as our buses drove through Beijing, Chongqing and Xian. It's like a futuristic scene from a science fiction movie.Skyscraper after skyscraper..thousands in rows, cranes all over building tops...Unbelievable! and the landscaping!!! everywhere! lush and green. All along the streets in all the cities, there are trees and parks and beautiful landscaping. Amazing. I forgot to mention that the hotels were excellent! all 5 star. The breakfast buffets in all were above average. The Westin in Shanghai was luxurious with huge rooms. Location to shopping in Yu Garden was excellent. I did not realize that the jewelry is all 24K in the jewelry stores and is good value. Bought a wedding band to replace mine lost years ago. We struggled when packing for this trip due to the strict weight limits on the Chinese internal flights. When I mentioned to our guide that I did not want to buy things because of the limit, he assured me that those limits were for individual passengers, not for Viking passengers. I wish I had known that before we left. However, I can understand why Viking doesn't advertise that fact. Needless to say, we were then able to stock up on all sorts of junk and souvenirs. The day before we left the boat for Shanghai, I noticed a passenger trying on a silk robe on the 4th floor where clothing is sold. I commented on it and she said she just had it made and was making sure it fit. I had no idea there was a tailor on board. I asked if it was possible to have one made and they obliged in about 5 hours. It was a cream on cream pattern and beautiful. Cost was 220.00 US, which I thought was reasonable, considering. I know that a similar item in a high end dept. store in the states would be at least twice that amount, if not more. Nope, I wouldn't be able to find one in Marshalls or TJMaxx! So I splurged for once. Take more than one adaptor if you are taking a phone and Ipad/netbook. No plug in the ship's bathroom for the hair dryer. You'll have to sit at the desk mirror or on the bed to dry your hair. I've always had an outlet in the bathroom for a dryer on all previous river cruises so again, is this a China thing or is it what I suspect, an older boat? Be prepared to eat Chinese everywhere other than on the boat. Tables for 8, large glass lazy susans, family style which is nice. Beer and sodas included but I asked for water at one lunch and had to pay 5 yuan! I was craving a burger and managed to get my husband into a McDonald's. My mistake was ordering the chicken sandwich instead of the burger. Wasn't a breast..was a thigh with the skin. Yuch. But the fries were great! I took enough knit tops so that I did not have to use the ship's laundry. Another passenger was complaining about the cost of two pounds of wash and fold. They do not have dry cleaning so if you use the laundry, make sure they hang to dry or you may get something back that will no longer fit! One more hint...when a group of us were standing in line in the bathroom at the airport in Beijing, young Chinese girls walked right past us and jumped into a stall when the door opened. They have no respect for lines..I elbowed the young woman when she came out of the stall which I had been waiting for...so be prepared..stand your ground ladies and don't let them cut in front of you..anywhere, in any line! Have specific questions? texastart@aol.com In ending, I will say we had the most articulate, educated, considerate guide of all the 6 river cruises! Aihua was fantastic! He herded us like little sheep, kept close watch on all of us and it did not go unnoticed. He was a wealth of information and his personal stories were very touching. Without Aihua, the trip would not have been nearly as enjoyable. We were fortunate to have him as our guide. 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2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2012
This was my first River Cruise, after about 15 ocean cruises. I went with my sister, both of us in our 50s. Usually we travel with our husbands and/or children, but this was our "practice" River Cruise, just to see if we would ... Read More
This was my first River Cruise, after about 15 ocean cruises. I went with my sister, both of us in our 50s. Usually we travel with our husbands and/or children, but this was our "practice" River Cruise, just to see if we would like it. This was also our first time in Switzerland, Germany, eastern France and the Netherlands, and our main objective was to get a good look at this part of the world. We chose the Avalon Visionary, a new 128-passenger boat, for a 7-day Rhine 500-mile cruise due northward from Switzerland to Amsterdam, 9 to 16 September 2012. We traveled directly from JFK (NY) to Zurich overnight, Delta Business Class, with tickets purchased through Avalon. I got a lower airfare from Avalon than I could get on my own. We took the hotel shuttle--very easy--to the Zurich Airport Moevenpick, also booked through Avalon. The hotel was awesome, because the room was clean, modern and spacious, we got into the room at 8:30 am, and the hotel was easy walking distance to the tram that goes into Zurich, which we saw later that afternoon on our own. I would strongly recommend getting to your embarkation city a day early, because of 3 factors: (1) you have an extra day to handle the time change; (2) you have a cushion day in case your luggage is late (happened to me before, and I was lucky for the extra day); and (3) delayed flight can mean missed vacation time--we met a wonderful couple from South Carolina who had to "catch up" with the boat on Day 2. It is colder in Northern Europe on average in early September than it is at home (I live near DC), by about 10 degrees F. After all, Zurich is at the same latitude as Quebec, and we travel north from there. We had some unusually warm weather in Switzerland and France the first 3 days, but the temperature sank to normal fall temps (55-70 degrees F) the rest of the time. The highest marks I would give for the trip are for the tours. I think Avalon did a fantastic job, providing plenty of room in the tour buses and making all of the tours easy to follow. My sister and I are physically fit, but we were impressed that Avalon offered "slower walker" groups on each included walking tour. The first tour we took was a non-included pre-boarding tour, to Mt. Pilatus and Lucerne, and it was the best. Do not miss it. We took cable cars up Mt. Pilatus, and a rail car down. At the top was the most amazing view of Alpine peaks, along with people hang-gliding and hiking. We had a crystal clear day, so we were lucky to get such a great view. Lucerne is a postcard resort city, with cobbled streets and picture-perfect buildings. We then traveled to the boat. Visionary was very clean, crew was great, decor was simple and streamlined. Tour Director, Robert, was a hoot, explaining each night the planned activities for the next day with a rare mixture of insight and sarcasm. My sister and I had a Royal Suite, which was the last suite available when we booked for that sailing. I would not recommend this larger room; unlike large suites on an ocean-going cruise, there are no perks, just more square footage, which is basically not needed. Getting on and off the boat was so easy--you just pick up your laminated room card in the lobby and walk in and out. Zero hassle. The cruisers were 100 percent English-speaking. There was not one person under 40, I think, and most of the group was a least late 50s and beyond. This is a very easy-going and comfortable way to travel if you are "getting up there." Because there are so few passengers, you get to know a lot of them right away. By the end, you can recite first names for about a third of them. That's not at all like an ocean cruise, right? We met sisters from NC, sisters from MD, couples from all over--everyone very nice, and very relaxed. The food I thought was typically good cruise quality, with an understandably smaller selection for our small river boat than on a big cruise ship, with healthy alternative choices every night. There is no assigned seating, and we sat with many different traveling groups. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style. Good news for wine drinkers--the included wine at dinner flowed, and a different specialty wine offered every night--nothing stingy about Avalon how did this on our cruise. Entertainment--well, it was basically a piano-player every night and the crew talent show one night. The best was the Captain of the ship singing "New York, New York," with a heavy Dutch accent. I have no complaints about the entertainment, because a river cruise will not have a Broadway-style musical, right? The first portion of the Rhine was straight, calm and maybe a ½-mile wide, and descending from the higher elevation in Switzerland to the lower elevations in France and Germany by many locks. The first night, we must have gone through a half-dozen locks. There are very few large towns directly on the Rhine, because this river until a century ago was untamed and flood-prone. There is a lot of cargo and river cruise ship traffic on the river, all shallow-draft, flat-bottomed boats, nothing too big. Our first included tour was Strasbourg, France, which we saw by canal boat. This is another beautiful town, but with a sad history, as it changed hands back and forth between Germany and France over the years. Heidelberg was next, and is obviously very wealthy town, with a wonderful medieval castle. Heidelberg was our second-favorite stop. Mainz and Rudesheim (2 separate stops) were a nondescript industrial-modern town, and a quaint storybook town, respectively. We did the optional German dinner in Rudesheim, which was held at a regular restaurant, for a change of pace. It was good, but not amazing. After Rudesheim, the Rhine itself gets interesting, around the 30 mile or so (just guessing) section around the Rhine River Gorge. Our boat Visionary traveled mostly at night, but of course traversed the Gorge in the daylight, so that the cruisers could take it in. The river is wider, there are a lot more bends and rocks, and there are so many castles, every mile or so, I think. We had a cold and misty morning, but this part of the cruise was awesome. It is also famously dangerous, and one bend in the Rhine has a huge rock hill and the statue of the legendary Loreley, the maiden who distracts sailors and causes them to crash. Next was Koblenz, at the intersection of the Rhine and 2 other rivers. We had a walking tour here that started right at the boat, and it was our only boring tour, so my sister and I ditched it. There is a new cable car strung high above the Rhine at Koblenz, crossing the river to an old, very large and very high-up fort. We did the cable car ride and toured the fort on our own instead, and that was a great decision. The next day we saw Cologne, large, commercial, cold, windy, and, well you can tell, not my favorite. But, it does have an immense and impressive cathedral, and the best shopping strip on the whole tour. Finally, there was Amsterdam, which I love/hate, very strongly, both feelings. We did a long included canal tour, and saw the gorgeous homes and mix of both nice and decrepit houseboats lining the canals. We even floated past Anne Frank's house. Avalon does not offer an Anne Frank house tour, and tickets have to be ordered well in advance. I regret not getting my own tickets before the trip. We took 2 of the optional tours offered in Amsterdam, Van Gogh museum during the day and the Red Light tour at night. The first was just okay--even though I love Van Gogh, there is only so much one can see there. The Red Light tour was depressing and demoralizing, as we should have known. Sorry we took that tour. And sorrier still it was the last tour of the vacation! The next morning we took a pre-purchased bus transfer to the airport, which was another hassle-free trip about an hour from the boat. Upon reflection, this was a very relaxing vacation, and I think I want to do this again, but maybe after I have finished the more challenging stuff on my bucket list. If I were 5 to 15 years older, I think it would be right in my wheel house. I think Avalon is a good, straight-shooting company, and I will seek them out next time! Read Less
Sail Date: August 2012
Flying into Paris on Air France we then continued to Nuremberg and upon arrival found both of our luggage did not arrive with us. The flight was arranged through Viking river cruises. We reported our missing luggage which took about 15 ... Read More
Flying into Paris on Air France we then continued to Nuremberg and upon arrival found both of our luggage did not arrive with us. The flight was arranged through Viking river cruises. We reported our missing luggage which took about 15 min. We looked for the driver Viking had hired only to find out he had left for the ship with passengers whom had arrived on earlier flights. My first tip is to locate the Viking rep BEFORE reporting your luggage missing. We ended up waiting 4 hours for another couple on the next flight since the drive would not return for us. We found out the driver had left info at the Information Desk at the airport. Another tip is to let Viking take care of the airport transfers. Our transfer is a prime reason why. It turns out the ship had moved 30 miles down the river from the transfer prior to the one we got on. It had to do with compensating for a problem on the river. Had we taken a cab to the original location there would have been no ship and we would have been stuck finding out where it was and then getting there on our own. Upon arrival the staff at the Viking Sky couldn't have been nicer. The "hotel manager" called Air France to attempt to expedite things. The cruise itself was very nice. This is NOT a cruise for young people. The average age might have been pushing 70. By 10:30 PM there probably were 3 couples listening to or dancing to the music being provide by the man playing the piano which simulates multiple instruments. I brought along a voltage reducer which did not work at all. The ship was able to provide one which did work. The tours were handled by guides that were very knowledgeable and interesting to be with. Two of he tours included a lunch. One was forgettable and one was very nice. If you are on a tour which includes lunch you will be able to have a "toilette" break. This will be free. Particularly if you are a first time visitor to Europe don't be caught by surprise with the .50 Euro charge to use the facility. If you are near a McDonald's or perhaps a similar restaurant there is no charge. The dinners on the ship are not as extensive as an ocean cruise but most people should be quite satisfied. The beer, wine and soda are included in the cost and I can only speak to the wine but your glass will be refilled quite regularly. If you eat at the lunch buffet upstairs near the bar at the front of the ship don't forget the wine and beer are available for free but you must walk over to the bar and ask for it as there won't be someone walking around with a bottle which is the case in the dining area. An example of activity on the ship in the late afternoon to the evening was a talk on the history of the European Common Market. While he was knowledgeable, it would make most young people want to throw themselves overboard. One evening there was a glassblower who demonstrated his skills and had his wares for sale. Local dancers in costume entertained and got some audience members up. Stay out of the first few rows of chairs if you don't want to be among those considered. Don't bring an umbrella as they are available on the ship. They are red with the Viking logo and name so they are happy to lend them out. We ended up with the last available cabin which was on the lowest level at water level. A side benefit is having 5 or 6 swans swim up to the window and peer in. At least I hope they were swans! When you leave the ship for a tour or to just walk around on your own they would like you to leave your room key in exchange for a stub with you name and cabin number on it. The idea is they are more likely to know if your back on the ship. Return the stubs for your key when you return. Announcements are made over their PA system but do not come into the cabin. You will have to hear them through the door. The next days activities are spelled out on papers that are slid under your door. Also news of the world with emphasis on your area of the world are also put under your door during the night. Our transfer to the Frankfurt airport ended with a Viking rep meeting us at the drop off point. She led us to priority boarding for Delta which appeared to skirt a long line. A nice finishing touch. I apologize for the rambling thoughts but posted them as they entered my mind and wanted to get in key experiences which you might find helpful. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2012
This was our first European River Cruise. It was the Grand European Tour from Budapest to Amsterdam on the Viking Longship Njord. In our case, we had a very enoyable cruise. The crew was friendly and efficient, food was generally quite ... Read More
This was our first European River Cruise. It was the Grand European Tour from Budapest to Amsterdam on the Viking Longship Njord. In our case, we had a very enoyable cruise. The crew was friendly and efficient, food was generally quite good, and cabin cleanliness was exceptional. Our cruise cost a base of about $16,000, and we paid about $20,000 including airfare, shore tours, onboard spending, etc. For that money, you expect things to be close to perfect. In our case, not too far off. But, people on the identical ship Idun sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest were complaining a lot in the couple ports that we overlapped. So, we concluded that crew makes a BIG difference. Here are some quick comments: Good: Cabin cleanliness was the best we have ever seen. The waitress we used most of the time for meals (Lucia) was also exceptional. The crew kept everyone well informed on activities and issues in a daily briefing. Also, the airfare deals were super (we booked our own, however). Basically, $199 roundtrip from several Eastern airports, and $399 from elsewhere in the U.S. The general scenery and ports were fabulous -- many many UNESCO sites. Some of the theme lunches were great - especially the German one. Additional land tour to Rothenburg was great and well worth the money.Embarcation and disembarcation were both wuite easy and efficient.program director (Darinka) had boundless energy. Not so good: Food quality uneven at times; Captain's dinner a big disappointment; Crew members all spoke English, but were often hard to understand; land tours were mostly walking around, and often not going into key museums,etc. Add on tours were rather expensive, although some were worth the money (like Rothenburg and Mozart concert). Also, although airfare deals were good, pre and post cruise hotels had to be booked through Viking if you used their airfares, and the hotels were very expensive (lots of complaints from fellow passengers about this). Finally, recommended daily gratuity of 12 Euros per person was high (but, the crew probably depends on it, as we suspect their salaries are quite low). Bad: Avoid the drink package, which is way way overpriced. Think about how many drinks a day you would have to consume to get your money's worth !! And, beer and wine were free at lunch and dinner anyway. Also, what they don't tell you upfront is that either too high or too low water levels (on the Main and Danube rivers) can result in the cruise turning into a bus tour. We came close to that for a period of time, but it rained, and our ship was able to get through. In addition, the sundeck was closed for 5 days in a row due to low bridges -- again, not something they tell you upfront. A few other tips: Travelers checks were very hard to use (apparently due to instances of fraudulent ones -- even most banks would not exchange them). But, U.S. credit cards were generally accepted, although there were often minimum charge amounts. If you start in Budapest, and arrive a couple days early to see the city, the Sofitel Chain Bridge is a very good hotel, only 200 meters or so from the dock (and two blocks from the hop on, hop off bus starting point). The ship currency is Euros. when you pay your bill at the end, you can pay by credit card (or cash) in Euros or dollars. The ship charges 3% to convert Euros to dollars (and your bank may well have an additional charge). So, use a card like Capital one that charges no conversion fee. Finally, nearly all of the passengers are retirees,with average age in th 65n to 75 range. do Not book a cruise like this with children or especially, teenagers! Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2012
Normally we are independent travelers. Even on cruises we do the ports on our own or hire a private guide. This was our first experience where the tours were inclusive. We chose this method as it was the most efficient way to see many ... Read More
Normally we are independent travelers. Even on cruises we do the ports on our own or hire a private guide. This was our first experience where the tours were inclusive. We chose this method as it was the most efficient way to see many countries that would have been less accessible on our own, plus doing the river cruise down the Danube covered Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, all of the Eastern European countries we had the strongest interests in. Overall we were glad for the mode of travel we chose for this particular trip, however I don't think we would do it again. Although the tours and guides were very well done and informative (with some lovely surprises in between), being forced to travel enmasse with a large group of folks was not appealing in the long run. In particular the demographics on this particular cruise were much older than we expected and we did not anticipate the slow pace of travel. Also, a lot of the tours included events we would never have chosen on our own (particularly shopping excursions) so some time was wasted in our opinion. On the positive side, the MS Treasures was a beautiful cruiser, the staff was friendly, efficient and accommodating and the food was exceptional. Although at the end of the cruise we missed a day on the river due to the Danube being too shallow to continue on, Tauck made an impressive turn about to keep everything on schedule by shuffling buses and hotels without a hitch. Tauck is a very impressive company and does an excellent job for what their intended purpose is. They gave us an opportunity to see a difficult part of the world in comfort and ease. If you are still very agile and motivated, however, this type of tours may be a bit too stodgy. We enjoyed everyone we met as they were all well traveled and interesting, we just needed to move faster! May try Tauck again down the road when we are looking for a more leisurely experience. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2012
Arrived in Amsterdam on first day of cruise coming from Copenhagen where we had just completed an 11 day Baltic Sea cruise that day. With the long, expensive flights from the US, we decided to do the 2 cruises back to back. The dates ... Read More
Arrived in Amsterdam on first day of cruise coming from Copenhagen where we had just completed an 11 day Baltic Sea cruise that day. With the long, expensive flights from the US, we decided to do the 2 cruises back to back. The dates worked out for us & I booked both over the internet directly with the cruise companies with no problems. Avalon did great job getting our documents to us early and answering all my questions pre cruise. Arriving at the airport around 4:00 PM & collecting our luggage, we expected to see an Avalon representative holding a sign to transfer us to the ship. After walking around for about 10-15 minutes, we finally found the red & white object where they were standing; after the driver finished his coffee, we left for the ship, about a 20 minute ride. At the ship, we got on immediately & went to our room with no further waiting. The ship is beautiful and the room was very comfortable with plenty of space for everything. The room seemed small with only had 2 small windows; when we booked in June, no balcony rooms were available. However, with the great weather, there were plenty of public viewing places so didn't spend much time in our room. The ship ride was very smooth and our room very quiet. Beds were very comfortable. Dress was casual during the day & dining room at night most dressed up a little more but no ties or sports coats. Saw a few men in tee shirts & shorts at night. There are no activities on the ship as with large cruise ships, which didn't bother us as we do not participate in those anyway. Viewing the scenery along the river and the ports are the focus of this type of cruise and these did not disappoint. Likewise, there is no shopping on the ship and no photographers. Entertainment in the evening is primarily a piano player which we listened to a few times. One night 3 local musicians were brought in & they were excellent. By evening after dinner & sightseeing all day, we were ready for bed as most days begin with the included walking tour around 8:30 AM. Dining: The breakfast & lunch buffets offered a nice variety & food was good. Two days a bar-b-que lunch was also offered on the top deck outside but you had to signup the day before which wasn't made very clear so we missed the first; apparently they only had space for about 40 people, so if you weren't on the list, you couldn't have that. Dining: Dinner was at 7 PM in the dining room, a sit down dinner with no other option. I was disappointed in the entree options several nights as well as the desserts at lunch & dinner. The brochure information makes it sound like there is a bistro on the top deck for casual dining as an option & there wasn't. Seven nights of sitting through a long drawn out dinner was too much after sightseeing all day. The unlimited wine & beer was nice & the service was great. The self serve coffee, juice, cookies & fresh fruits in the Club Lounge all day were nice. The ports were wonderful & beautiful cities. Some of the walking tour guides gave us a little too much history but most of the included tours were good and the headsets worked well. Nice to be docked usually right in towns where we could walk around. Really enjoyed the Rhine River gorge scenery but got tired of listening to hours of history over the loud speaker on the ship; for us, an occasional break would have been nicer as we began to feel like we were in a history class. At the rear in the Club Lounge, it is quiet (no speakers) but we wanted to sit outside at the front of the ship. Rudisheim was charming & enjoyed the musical museum & included wine tasting. Really enjoyed the bus tour to the Black Forest area which also was included; very pretty & interesting. We took the optional tour to Alsace for the wine tasting, plus got to see the beautiful countryside along the way. Would recommend this tour. I would recommend this ship for this type of cruise if your primary focus is the ports & their history which they did very well. For us, the lack of evening dining options, plus the cost of a balcony room compared to the ocean cruise ships would be a factor in booking another river cruise. Also, if possible, we prefer to do our own sightseeing at the ports which gives us more options. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2012
Viking Prestige - Budapest to Amsterdam August 26 - Room 127 This was our first experience with a river cruise. We are a couple in our early 60's. As such we were among the youngest cruisers on our trip. We were traveling with ... Read More
Viking Prestige - Budapest to Amsterdam August 26 - Room 127 This was our first experience with a river cruise. We are a couple in our early 60's. As such we were among the youngest cruisers on our trip. We were traveling with four other couples. Embarkation: Could not be easier. We rolled our luggage from to Sofitel Chain Bridge to the Viking Prestige. It was a 5 minute walk only because we had luggage to get over curbs. We dropped it off at the ship about 10:30AM and were given two cards with our room number. After pocketing the cards, we took off to explore Budapest on foot. We returned about 2:00PM and grabbed a light lunch of salad and prepared sandwiches. Shortly after we finished lunch we exchanged the cards for keys and were given access to our room. Stateroom: I found the cabins to be well thought out. They were a decent size for a river ship (we understand). It was about the size of an interior room on an ocean cruiser. Surprisingly, no one was able to tell us the exact size of our cabin. We were given estimates from 155 to 175 square feet. Although, we were in one of the "basement" rooms, it was identical in size and furnishings as the French balconies on the 2nd and 3rd deck. We chose the 1st deck cabin at a savings of approximately $1000. During our 14 days aboard, I only missed the larger window on rare occasions, definitely not $1000 worth. If I were to sail again I would probably book a 1st deck cabin again, however I would choose one closer to mid-ship for convenience. I will not again be startled by opening my drapes to find a group of ducks staring in at me. Our room was the last cabin aft, immediately before the staff area. We heard absolutely NO noises from the staff area or the hallways. There was intermittent noise from the vacuum plumbing system. On two different occasions for about 15-20 minutes we did notice sewage smells (both times while in port), but not enough to be bothersome. We could hear water lapping the side of the ship (and sometimes our window) and my spouse was sometimes awakened briefly by the engines and thrusters as we were entering or leaving locks. Although the bathroom was small, I thought it was very well designed. The quarter circle shaped shower occupied a good portion of the room, but the cleverly designed doors which could be swung into the shower area increased the floor space. The shower had good pressure and HOT water. The shower also had a retractable laundry line which we made use of almost daily. There is a mirrored storage cabinet with 3 shelves which easily held all our toiletries, meds, razors, etc. As others have commented, the location of the magnifying mirror is awkward in location and height...not in a good position for a 62 inch tall woman. On each side of the bed above the night stand, was an adjustable reading lamp and also an electrical outlet. I'm sure those were handy for those with CPAP machines...I just used mine to charge my tablet. There are two electrical outlets at the vanity -- one European and one 110v. We had a converter, so had more outlets than needs. The cabin had plenty of storage. The two closets originally provided 10 wooden hangers, but our request for 5 more was quickly answered. There were two hooks on the cabin door, two hooks on the bathroom door, and two hooks in the bathroom which were handy. The beds were comfortable, but seemed shorter than a standard queen sized bed. They are two 30 inch beds pushed together so there is a crack between the two which was not a problem for us. The room size could be a problem when two of us were trying to dress at the same time. My using the hair dryer blocked any access to the two chairs by the window. As a result, my spouse would have to roll across the bed to get to the chairs to put on his shoes and socks. Our room steward, Snezana, provided all the services we have come to expect from our room stewards. Ship Design & Decor: The ship is quite simple. Deck 2 center is the desk area, open stairwell, concierge, "gift shop", and primary entry to the ship. Deck 2 forward is the dining room. Deck 3 forward is the lounge, a small serving area for buffets, and a small open viewing area. Deck 3 aft is a small library. Deck 4, when available, is the sun deck, wheel house, and aft is the staff smoking area. There is no elevator, but each flight of stairs only has about 14 stairs. The lounge area serves as cocktail lounge, meeting area, entertainment area, and gathering area. It meets each of these needs just adequately. The furniture is a little heavy and bulky making it difficult to rearrange to meet each of these needs. Unlike ocean liners, the tables can also be moved. Our group liked to play cards and there wasn't a suitable area that we could use and not disturb other guests. The decor of the ship is what I would call Danish modern. The overall appearance is somewhat stark and plain compared to the newer Viking Ships we toured. We were happy with the decor, until we saw the others! We thought ours looked cheap by comparison. Dining & Food Service: Being part of a group of 10, we wanted to eat our meals together. Because there are just a few 10 top tables, this meant one member of our group had to go to the dining room early to stand in line to snatch our table. Not having assigned seating was one of the frustrations of our trip and we were not alone. There were several other large groups who also wanted to dine together and had to go through the same process. The staff recognizing a need for more large tables, at dinner would pull two tables together for a large group. Unfortunately, because so many formed these groups for meals, others traveling alone were placed in a position to have to go from table to table to beg to be allowed to eat with others. They told me they found this process to be uncomfortable. I recognize that Viking wants their guest to mingle and visit over meals, but on our cruise that just didn't happen at dinner. I believe they should consider assigning tables for dinner. Because we had the same table for all meals we also had the same server for all our meals, Damir. Damir was an excellent server. He had 10 years of experience on the large ocean liners and used that experience to help us adapt to the difference in service. Specifically, he gently directed our orders toward the specials for that meal, rather than ordering the "everyday" offering as that slowed down preparation and service. He also kindly prodded us to make our selections promptly. The first evening we might have felt rushed, but we quickly realized the reward was our table consistently received our courses ahead of some others. Damir and his co-server Svetlana never let our wine glasses get empty and anticipated orders of soft drinks and beer. When time allowed, Damir would visit with our table and share stories of Romania. Food portions at dinner were generally somewhat smaller than what we have experienced in the US. Initially, we were concerned with portion sizes, but we never wanted for more. Those with larger appetites adjusted by ordering two starters (soup & salad). At times the kitchen would have more portions of an item than was ordered and the maitre d' would offer additional servings. Dessert portions were also sometimes small, for instance a serving of apple cake about the size of a brownie. But again, most of us were not used to having dessert at every meal and found the portion size to be adequate. The ice cream portions were consistently generous -- several scoops with topping and whipped cream. Every evening we walked away from the table very full. Ports & Tours: This being a 14 day cruise makes it almost impossible to comments on each port individually. Overall we were extremely fortunate; the Danube River was at a level that allowed us to cruise the entire 14 days. The cruise immediately preceding ours was not as lucky. Viking provided tours at each port. Busses were used (based on my memory) in Budapest, Bratslava one way, Vienna to transport us to city center, Melk one way, Nuremberg, Bamberg to transport us to city center, Wurzburg to transport us to city center and on to our optional tour of Rothenburg, and to the Marksburg Castle and on to Koblenz. Outside of our optional tour to Rothenburg the bus trips were 15-20 minutes each way. Tour group sizes were 25-30 if walking, more if a bus tour. Group sizes were not an issue as much as the number of groups. Normally there were other several ships in town and the tours competed for sidewalk and viewing places. This also affected the operation of the transmitters and receivers used on the tours. We enjoyed some ports more than others, but mostly it's a matter of personal taste and the weather conditions. The only major disappointment was Nuremburg. There was a bike race and other activities in town, so it seemed like we only did a quick drive by of a couple of major sites, with a stop at a cemetery which was pretty but of limited significance and then back to the ship. There were several times we chose not to do the walking tours, but to set off on our own. We might not recognize the historical significance of what we saw, but we got to see some lovely sites. Some of our more enjoyable experiences were on our own. Debarkation: At 9:00AM we contacted the front desk to send someone for our luggage. We followed the porters, paid our outstanding bill at the front desk, turned in our keys, grabbed our bags and walked to the train station where we caught a tram to our lodging in Amsterdam. Overall Cruise Experience: Viking is not the "fun ship". Entertainment leans toward educational. Music is closer to classical than contemporary. I enjoy the symphony, but I also like rock and roll also. I thought Viking could do a better job with frivolous entertainment. The only mindless entertainment offered was guessing what item was hidden in each of 10 socks. What about a scavenger hunt? I would like to have had one night of music from the 60's on the sun deck. Although I'm not a karaoke fan, a group sing-a-long a couple of times for an hour would have been fun. The piano player, Christo, seemed to play the same songs every evening. The crew did put on two excellent luncheons on the sun deck -- a "Taste of Austria" and "Taste of Germany". Both were very well done, although the weather affected the Germany lunch. On small suggestion would be to have a longer loop of music played while cruising the Rhine. The staff was outstanding and worked constantly. A corny, but nice touch was the staff gathering before dinner to wish you well or gathering on the deck to welcome us as we returned from tours. Aggravations: This cruise crosses the continental divide of Europe. As a result there on more than 60 locks the ship goes through. The first few are interesting, but they do become tiring. Although we may have sensed the ship going through locks as we slept, they did not disturb our sleep. This cruise also goes beneath some very LOW bridges. As a result for 6 days the sun deck is closed. We were aware of this before we cruised, but were still disappointed. There were outdoor spots in various locations other than the sun deck that allowed about 50 people to sit outside. I normally found my desire to sit outside could be met. Conclusion: We had a great experience. We would recommend Viking and the Prestige to other cruiser. We plan to book future river cruises. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2012
Our TA indicated that the time period was when the France were on holiday. Some think that places would be closed but we did not find any place closed nor did the time period effect our travels. With one exception, one of our guides in ... Read More
Our TA indicated that the time period was when the France were on holiday. Some think that places would be closed but we did not find any place closed nor did the time period effect our travels. With one exception, one of our guides in Paris was surprised when we were driving in Paris that the traffic was so light--due to the French being on holiday! I read one of the reviews on this website which may have been during the time we were on the River Baroness but we had a different experience. The person indicated that they were in one of the four suites. The suites are equal to two of the other staterooms. We were next door to a suite and got to peek in and see the difference. The extra cost would definitely be worth it for the suite. We had the Cat. 1 stateroom which has the french balcony, otherwise it is the same as the other catagory rooms. We did enjoy having the balcony. The stateroom itself is cramped and the bathroom difficult to move around in - I'm not a big person 5'4"; 145 lbs. We agree with the decor of the lounge - it could've been better. The food was great - you couldn't possibly go hungry. If you didn't wish to eat in the resturant you could order something from the bar menu. As far as the staff we did not encounter anyone that was not pleasant and helpful. One pacritic indicated that you could send emails for a charge. That must have been in the past as three laptops were available for passenger use in the lounge area (this was due to the location of the wifi signal). The weather was perfect. Enjoyed the small number of passengers (the ship was sold out). The guides were very informative as well as the cruise director. We chose to stay in Paris for a few extra days at the end of the cruise. We would recommend the river cruise experience to anyone and are looking forward to planning another in the near future. This was an adult only cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2012
Our 17 day trip to China included Shanghai to Beijing offering. It is a trip not to be missed... the boat was fine for river cruising, meals were excellent and lots of variety. Being in August, the river was low so I personally found it ... Read More
Our 17 day trip to China included Shanghai to Beijing offering. It is a trip not to be missed... the boat was fine for river cruising, meals were excellent and lots of variety. Being in August, the river was low so I personally found it difficult to get from the boat to the buses for excursions (too much climbing stairs) but once on board the bus, totally enjoyed all the scenery and the planned day. For the days that we were on land (2 days in Shanghai, Overnight in Xian and 3 nights in Beijing), the hotels were first rate, clean and extremely beautifully decorated with excellent window views. Of special mention was the Crown Plaza in Xian. The only negative I found was a bit of disappointment at disembarkment in Chongqing where helpers were gouging the tourists for assisting them up the many steps from the ship to the buses. Also, the lack of 'personal' time to do shopping - each excursion takes you to 'the government shop' where one may not find the special gifts they would like to bring home. Travel on tour buses and China airways within our trip was clean and comfortable. Finally, a special mention for our tour guide (Mother Hen). This job was very well executed by Mr. Joshua Wu from Beijing. He took great care of us and we will never forget all the great stories he told us over the 17 days we spent together. We made many new friends from all over the world and still keep in touch with some, trading our everyday life stories through e-mails and pictures. Thank you, Viking! Where can you take me this year? I'm ready to go again. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2012
I have cruised 68 times, but only once on a riverboat, in France, and never on a traditional steamboat. I had a opportunity to sail on the newly rechristened American Queen recently. The American Queen was built in 1995, but completely ... Read More
I have cruised 68 times, but only once on a riverboat, in France, and never on a traditional steamboat. I had a opportunity to sail on the newly rechristened American Queen recently. The American Queen was built in 1995, but completely refurbished in 2012 before being reintroduced to service at the end of June 2012. Based in Memphis, the ship carries 436 passengers in 222 staterooms and suites. Six decks high, it has inside single, double, and triple inside cabins, window staterooms, outside staterooms with French doors that open onto the deck or onto a private veranda, and some suites with verandas. All are furnished with Victorian style furnishings, most with bathtubs and showers, and flat screen TV?s. Bedding is ultra-plush pillow top mattresses. Meals are served in the dining room, either ala carte or buffet for breakfast and lunch, and 2 traditional dinner seatings, 5:15 and 7:45. Meals have a New Orleans influence, thanks to the New Orleans based chef. Five course dinners include a choice of 3 entrees, which included such as prime rib, lamb chops, chioppino, shrimp Creole, and lobster stuffed with crabmeat. Crab cakes were available often. Wine and beer are included at dinner. Bottled water and soft drinks are included. Specialty coffees from machines are available at all hours. In addition to the dining room, the Front Porch serves light breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Another venue, the River Grill is available on deck when the weather is more moderate. Breakfast buffets included alternating waffles or omelets. Food was excellent. They had 3,000 applicants for 300 staff positions, of which 172 are shipboard staff. The service was very good, with attentive wait staff. Some had worked previously on the Delta Queen or American Queen. Entertainment during our voyage was focused on the music of the 60?s, with one night with a group called the Memphis Sons, who were superb, the original Loving Spoonful band, two nights with the ship?s 4 talented entertainers and orchestra, and the last night B.J. Thomas and his band, including 2 entertainers that have been with him over 30 years. The Grand Saloon is designed to resemble Ford?s Theatre in Washington, and there is even a Lincoln box. It provides for a more intimate show than a large venue. Those with the late seating attend the shows at 6:45, and those with early seating attend the second show at 8:15pm. In the evening there is a lounge called the Engine Room Bar, where the band tended to jam and play some dance music after the shows. There was some ballroom dancing in the Grand Saloon after the late shows. The itinerary for my trip was the last 5 days of a 7 day voyage from Louisville to Pittsburg. We boarded in Cincinnati, right downtown by the Reds stadium and Bengals field. Boarding is 3pm, no exceptions, but they have a fleet of 3 buses, 2 of them wrapped to emulate the American Queen, and they provide a hop-on/hop-off route in each port, with free entry to some of the museums included. In each port they also have some premium excursions available at additional cost. Other stops included Maysville, Point Pleasant, Marietta, Wheeling WV, and finally downtown riverfront in Pittsburg, within sight of the Pirates and Steelers stadiums. Each day when departing, they play the steam calliope for a while to the delight of the crowds on the riverfront. Traveling at 8 knots provides a leisurely trip up the river, with people on the river banks coming out to wave and take pictures as we passed. Without bingo and all the activities of a cruise ship, there is time to sit and unwind, read, and watch the scenery from the promenade decks or the front porch. There is also a small swimming pool on the top deck, and a very small fitness center with weights, a cycle, and treadmill. They also have bicycles and helmets available for use in port. The demographic is definitely mostly 60+ boomer and boomer?s parents, retired, who respond to direct mail rather than email, and have traveled to Europe, done river cruises there, and been to Alaska and National Parks. While traveling the Ohio in mid-summer, they move to the Upper Mississippi for fall foliage trips up to St Paul, and then back down mostly doing Memphis to New Orleans sailings through the end of the year and until late June 2013. Price point is premium, but there are some value sailings, and the availability of the single occupancy staterooms is valuable, too. I definitely enjoyed it and look forward to another opportunity. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2012
A few weeks ago, Carol and I had the pleasure of sailing on the American Queen Steamboat as it sailed on the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh. Our cruise was an extremely enjoyable experience in virtually every respect, and it was ... Read More
A few weeks ago, Carol and I had the pleasure of sailing on the American Queen Steamboat as it sailed on the Ohio River from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh. Our cruise was an extremely enjoyable experience in virtually every respect, and it was definitely a wonderful way to enjoy the scenery along one of America's most beautiful rivers. It was also an excellent way to explore and learn about the history of numerous small towns and mid-size cities as well as a superb way to view and learn about the intricacies and challenges of navigating on a river as opposed to sailing on an ocean. The American Queen Steamboat Company began service this past April and the line is being operated by the same executives who ran the highly regarded Delta Queen back in the 1990's. Headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee, this is an American company with a warm, friendly, and enthusiastic all-American staff who were recruited from that area and also from many other parts of the country. The line offers cruises on the Ohio, Mississippi, and Tennessee rivers and their itineraries range from 4 to 10 nights in length. Many of the guests to whom we spoke during our trip were sailing on back-to-back voyages and many of them had previously sailed on the Delta Queen and were extremely excited about the relaunch of the line. As I have described in a few of my recent weekly bulletins, the line is offering a tremendous selection of special theme voyages during the year such as Blues & Barbeque, Louisiana History & Culture, Mystical Krewe of Steamboating Mardi Gras, Dixie Fest, Southern Spirits, Gardens of the River, In the Good Old Summertime, Baseball Legends, Manifest Destiny, The Great Steamboat Era and the first annual Delta Queen Steamboat Company and Paddlewheel Steamboat Society Of America Reunion voyages. On a category-by-category basis here is additional information about our American Queen river cruising experience ... WHAT'S INCLUDED? The American Queen is an authentic paddlewheel steamboat that enables 436 guests to truly step back in time to the golden age of river travel in the United States. Your cruise fare includes complimentary bottled water, soft drinks, specialty coffees, soft-serve ice cream, hot dogs, popcorn and snacks throughout the day. American regional cuisine with menus designed by famed chef Regina Charboneau is served in the J.M. White Dining Room, the River Grill, and on the Front Porch of America. There is complimentary wine and beer with your dinner, and buffet or full menu service for breakfast and lunch. All guests also receive an overnight stay in a luxury hotel in the city in which your cruise originates, breakfast and the transfer to your ship, and the pleasure of a very relaxed casual onboard atmosphere. Complimentary shore excursions are also included in your cruise fare and the company uses a flexible hop on -- hop off routing system with their own motor coaches to allow you to see what you like, for as long as you like, at each of the stops along the route. There is also free wireless either in your stateroom or in any of the public areas. The boat does not have an Internet cafe with computers so you will have to bring your own laptop to take advantage of the free service. In addition, the boat has bicycles which are available at no charge should you wish to explore a town on your own and get some exercise at the same time. Professional entertainment in the Grand Saloon is provided by four singers who are backed by an excellent six-piece band. Depending upon the theme of the particular voyage there are also many renowned guest entertainers who give solo concerts, and numerous late-night jam sessions where members of the band join individual entertainers in the Engine Room Bar for an impromptu evening of great musical entertainment. There are daily lectures and impromptu discussions by the Riverlorian who graciously imparts his extraordinary knowledge of the history of America's towns and rivers. There are also calliope concerts, and an open engine room and pilot house which provide an in-depth look into the operation of the boat and the special navigational skills that are involved in both daytime and nighttime sailing on a river. THE BOAT The boat has been completely refurbished in order to provide its guests with all of the modern amenities of a luxurious boutique hotel with all of the charm, history, and ambiance of a lavish Antebellum mansion. Upon boarding you immediately step back in time as you enter a foyer with the beautiful Ladies' Parlor on one side and the Gentlemen's Card Room across the hallway. Decorated with period furnishings, wallpaper, antiques, lamps, paintings, photographs and historical memorabilia both rooms are wonderful areas for relaxing at any time during your cruise. You then enter the spacious and truly stunning Mark Twain Gallery whose dark wood floor and walls are accented by comfortable arm chairs, more historical artifacts, a collection of incredible historical books and the fascinating daily newspapers from the small towns along your route. There was a table set up with a large jigsaw puzzle allowing anyone who wanted to assist in its completion to take a seat and spend a few minutes working on the project. The Purser's Lobby includes a well-stocked boutique that had ample supplies of sundries and lots of American Queen logo wear and other souvenirs. The lobby flows around a lovely staircase that descends to the Main Deck Lounge and then into the J.M. White Dining Room. Further back on that deck you enter the Grand Saloon which is the main show lounge that has been designed to replicate the famous Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. The orchestra of the theatre includes chairs and banquette sofas and on the second level there are private boxes that each seat four individuals. The boxes offer a fantastic view of the entertainment and they always filled up very quickly for the shows. On the higher decks you will find the River Grill bar and dining area, a large outdoor seating area, a small pool, a small fitness center, and the Pilot House where visits to the Captain are always welcome. Another very interesting and popular area is the Chart Room which is located forward on the Observation Deck. The Riverlorian gives many of his presentations here and it is a great little library with large leather tables and comfortable chairs along with lots of fascinating historical books and detailed navigational charts of the river where you are sailing. All of the staterooms are decorated with similar furnishings, lamps, wallpaper and fixtures. While not overly spacious they are certainly adequate as far as storage space is concerned. Suitcases fit easily under the comfortable bed or beds, there is an armchair and footrest, a small desk, a closet with nominal space for hanging your clothes, and a number of shelves and drawers. There are smaller single-occupancy inside cabins and some of the outside cabins will be converted for single passengers in the near future. One interesting feature of the boat is that the staterooms located forward on the Texas and Observation Deck are entered from the outside promenade rather than from an interior hallway and there are two chairs and a small table located outside of each door. Staterooms in the rear half of the ship on the same two decks have a balcony which is semi-private as opposed to the ones whose balconies are actually public walking areas. There are also some suites on the Promenade Deck which provide more spacious accommodations and which have their own large private verandahs. DINING The J.M. White dining room is light and airy with large windows, wooden shutters and draperies, beautiful chandeliers, and very well spaced tables. The menus have been designed by Regina Charboneau, noted cookbook author and owner of the Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast in Natchez, Mississippi. Ms. Charboneau was sailing on our voyage and has been doing so quite often since the line began operation this past April. Breakfast and lunch are served in the dining room and both meals can be enjoyed buffet style or you can be seated and order from the more extensive menu. Overall the food in the dining room ranged from very good to excellent. The menus focus on southern American regional cuisine which gave us the opportunity to try many dishes which we had never experienced previously. Breakfast specials such as Andouille Hash and Bananas Foster French Toast were absolutely superb, while lunch and dinner items such as Peppered Brisket, Shrimp and Grits, various oyster preparations, and lots of other down-home goodies were also very enjoyable. The Front Porch of America includes an indoor area where cereals, fruits, muffins, juices, pastries and Starbucks coffee are available for breakfast. Starting at lunchtime the aroma of hot dogs and popcorn fill the room and small sandwiches, cookies, and other treats are brought out periodically during the afternoon. This venue is open twenty-four hours a day and the espresso/cappuccino coffee maker in the Mark Twain gallery is always available. The outdoor area of the Front Porch, which is located at the very front of the boat, includes tables and lots of traditional rocking chairs where you can relax, enjoy your meal or a snack and a beverage at any time, and get a great view of both sides of the river as you glide along at no more than 8 or 9 miles per hour. There is also an alternate dinner menu available every evening which is prepared by a great chef who hails from Memphis and who has operated his own catering company for many years. Depending upon the weather, this meal is either served in the Front Porch, where you can dine indoors or outdoors, or at the open air River Grill which is located at the rear on the Promenade Deck. The River Grill is a very popular gathering place during the day where one will find a lively bar, a great view of the river, and the calliope which is played by the Riverlorian on most days when the ship is sailing away from town. Excellent drinks and great bartenders, by the way. Afternoon tea is accompanied by a large display of excellent pastries and baked goods and can be enjoyed daily in the Main Deck Lounge while listening to the melodies of a piano player/singer. ENTERTAINMENT Many of the American Queen's voyages have a unique entertainment theme and on our short cruise the focus was on the music of the 60's. The ship's superb band, known as the Steamboat Syncopators, accompanies the ship's singers and the production shows, which, while they have themes such as the Memphis Music Story or a Showboat Jubilee, are basically music, singing and a little bit of dancing with no special lighting or scenery. The theatre is lovely, the sound is superb, the view from the private boxes is wonderful, and the production shows are performed before the late dinner seating and after the first seating. The band also put on its own shows during the cruise and they perform nightly in the Grand Saloon for everyone's dancing pleasure. The other 60's related musical shows during our cruise were excellent. On the first evening a five-piece band from Memphis put on a rousing performance that consisted of songs by Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. The music and singing were fabulous and it was a shame that this group disembarked the following day since I would have loved to see them perform throughout our cruise. The guest entertainers during our cruise were The Loving Spoonful which currently includes three original band members who have been playing together for almost 40 years. They put on a terrific show that had the audience singing along to all of their biggest hits. Another featured entertainer was award-winner B.J. Thomas whose most popular songs (Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head and More Than a Feeling) were delivered with a voice that has not diminished at all in the forty years since these tunes were first recorded. One final superb performer was Joe Hurley, a Kentucky-born recording artist who is an exceptional singer, keyboard player, saxophonist and harmonica player. He has recorded two albums and played with countless musical legends in his career. His shows in the Engine Room Bar, whether solo, accompanied by a terrific banjo player, or jamming into the wee hours with members of the ship's band, were an unexpected treat as was getting to know Joe personally throughout our cruise. DAILY ONBOARD ACTIVITIES Information about the upcoming port of call, and everything that is scheduled on the boat for the next day, are provided with the daily delivery of the River Times to your stateroom. Typical onboard activities include tours of the Pilot House and open chat sessions with the Riverlorian in the Chart Room or his complete presentations in the Grand Saloon. There are scheduled games such as Bingo or the Match Game, a different movie is presented each day in the theatre, and the schedule of individual musical entertainment, calliope concerts or production shows is also detailed as they are in every cruise line's daily program. SHORE EXCURSIONS Shore excursions are included in the price of your cruise and The River Times includes a full-color map of the next town along as well as some overall information about the history and prime sightseeing locations in that town. The map illustrates the route that will be taken by the hop-on, hop-off busses as well as the location of the various points along the route where you can explore a particular location. There are two or three motor coaches that follow the boat's route and they are used for the sightseeing tours in each town. There is a local historian or guide onboard each bus who narrates the entire route and provides lots of information about the history of the town, the specific sights along the route, and details about any famous figures who hail from that area and who played a major role in the development of the town and the westward expansion of our country. The hop-on, hop-off idea works extremely well and the tour guides were excellent. This type of sightseeing enables you to spend as much time as you like visiting a specific museum, park, restored mansion, aquarium, historic cemetery, government building or farmers market as you wish. With the busses operating every 15-20 minutes you will never have to wait too long for the next one and then take the short drive to the next point of interest that you would like to visit. There are also Premium Choice Tours available at many of the stops at a nominal extra cost for those guests who want to enjoy a more in-depth exploration of specific historical sights in a particular town or city. STAFF & SERVICE As is typical of any newly launched ship and/or cruise line, where the onboard staff has recently been recruited and where training is an ongoing process, the level of service that is provided will vary somewhat depending upon the particular person's previous experience in the hospitality industry. On the American Queen there are many individuals who have worked on other river boats or on larger cruise ships in the past, and whether they were assigned to the dining room, the housekeeping department, the bar staff or at the front desk the speed and accuracy at which they carried out their tasks were top notch in every way. In other cases, where a person may have previously worked in a hotel or in the restaurant industry in some capacity but is working on a boat for the first time, their performance and the pacing of their assignments could vary from day to day. Fortunately, under the direction of a very experienced head housekeeper and three exceptional dining room managers, the training process is ongoing and I would expect the service that is provided at every level on the ship to continually improve over time. When it comes to the training and coordination of an onboard staff, these types of growing pains will, of course, be found on any new ship or cruise line. We experienced similar situations last year when we sailed on what was then the fourth voyage of the upscale Oceania Marina when there were obvious staffing and service problems that needed to be refined and coordinated. From all reports any kinks that needed to be fixed a year ago on Oceania have been worked out superbly since that time, and despite some periodic omissions or other minor faux pas on the American Queen none of these items in any way affected our enjoyment of the cruise. When you sail on the American Queen and take the time to have conversations with many of the staff, you will find people who are extraordinarily friendly, helpful, excited and enthusiastic about working on the boat. They are having a great time in what for many of them is a brand new endeavor and they are obviously thrilled at having the opportunity to meet people from other parts of the country and to visit places where they have never been. Every request is taken care of promptly and cheerfully and every employee seems to really enjoying taking the time to chat with the guests about their home town, their lives, and to find out more about you and your background. OUR ITINERARY CINCINNATI We arrived in Cincinnati the day prior to our cruise and if you ever travel to the Queen City we can highly recommend the Cincinnatian Hotel, which dates back to 1882, and Scotti's Italian Restaurant, currently operated by the great-grandson of the founder of this unique establishment over 100 years ago. If Cincinnati is a stop on your cruise the hop-on, hop-off bus tour would include stops at the Underground Railway Freedom Center which is located along the Ohio River in between the stadiums where the Cincinnati Reds and the Bengals play. Other points of interest are Fountain Square, a mid-city dining and entertainment venue that was located only one block from our hotel, the Krohn Nature Conservatory and Observation Point, and the Cincinnati Art Museum. The tour also crossed the river to the town of Newport, Kentucky where there are stops at the Newport Aquarium and the Newport on the Levee shopping center. MAYSVILLE, KENTUCKY This town is the gateway to Kentucky's Bluegrass region. It was an important stop on the Underground Railway, and, most notably, is the birthplace of Rosemary Clooney. Founded by Daniel Boone among other noted pioneers, one of its distinct features are the ten incredible painted murals along the flood wall facing the river which trace the history of the city. It is a very easy town to stroll around or you can explore and get some exercise at the same time by using the bicycles which are available at no charge on the boat. Stops along the tour route are the Floodwall River Mural Museum, the Opera House, the Kentucky Museum Gateway Center, and the famous, Spanish-style Russell Theater where Rosemary Clooney's movie The Stars are Singing premiered in 1953. A more extensive optional Underground Railroad Tour is also available. POINT PLEASANT, WEST VIRGINIA This diminutive town is located at the confluence of the Kanawah and Ohio rivers and was originally settled by the French in the mid-1700's. The town also gained nationwide notoriety as the site of the collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967 which killed 46 people. The bridge collapse played a role in the 1975 book called The Mothman Prophecies which was turned into a 2002 film starring Richard Gere. There is a store devoted to the Mothman theme and a presumably haunted hotel but few other notable sights in the tiny downtown area. The Riverfront Park features a series of beautiful murals on the flood wall that depict scenes of local history. There is a four-acre state park at the junction of the two rivers, a small town museum, and the Mansion House which was erected in 1796 and includes displays of antiques and heirlooms of that era. A Premium Choice Tour is available to Fort Randolph and Krodel Park and checking the town out on bicycles is also recommended. MARIETTA, OHIO Unquestionably our favorite stop during our cruise, Marietta is a beautiful city of approximately 15,000 people located at the junction of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers. The area was first surveyed by George Washington in the 1770's and the town was actually founded and laid out in detail by a group of 48 men from Massachusetts in 1788. The town's name, incidentally, was chosen to honor France's Queen Marie Antoinette for her country's assistance during the Revolutionary War. The main shopping district is beautified by baskets of colorful flowers that are hung on all of the light posts, and there are lots of restaurants, art galleries and quaint shops within easy walking distance of where the ship is tied up. The district includes numerous brick-lined streets with many mature shade trees and beautiful historic mansions, museums and the lovely campus of Marietta College. The boat made a full day stop in Marietta which gave everyone ample time to explore many of the towns sights and features. WHEELING, WEST VIRGINIA Wheeling is comprised of an island in the middle of the Ohio River while the downtown district and suburbs spread out into the hills on the other side of the water. The city is the starting place for vacationing in this area of West Virginia and it also is a cultural center with award-winning events and big name concerts throughout the year. For sports fans there is auto racing not too far out of town and the Wheeling Island Stadium, located just down the block from where the boat was tied up, is the home of the Wheeling Nailers, the Pittsburgh Penguins' minor league hockey team. The tour of the downtown area included stops at Independence Hall, the Eckhart House (a Queen Anne style townhouse which dates back to 1892 and is located in Millionaire's Row), and the historic Capitol Theatre which hosts a variety of Broadway shows and theatre productions. We spent some time visiting the Artisan's Center which includes an incredible selection of unique regional gourmet foods, fine artwork, ceramics, and a wonderful selection of blown glass pieces all made by local West Virginians. Across from the downtown area on the island part of the city one will find a football stadium, hotel, casino and racetrack. Not too far out of town is the Oglebay Resort & Conference Center which is a very popular vacation resort that features 72 holes of golf including courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and Arnold Palmer. In total, while the downtown area is by no means a feast for the eyes the city and surrounding area are an incredible place to start a vacation experience in West Virginia. PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA Pittsburgh is a visually stunning city that is located at the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. The American Queen docked before dawn and the boat was tied up directly in front of Heinz Field which is the home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Heinz's world headquarters were right down the block and the PNC Stadium, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, was another few blocks away. The city features dozens of bridges spanning the three rivers and towards the south are the dramatic cliffs of Duquesne Heights and Mount Washington. There is an authentic tram (The Duquesne Incline) which dates back to 1877 and takes you from the riverside to the top of the heights, and that vantage point, especially at night, has been described as one of the most beautiful and dramatic views of any major city in the entire country. We decided to spend an additional day and night in Pittsburgh before flying back home to Florida and that was not nearly enough time to enjoy the many sights, sounds, and tastes of this incredible culturally diverse city. Should you head there in the future our highest recommendation goes to the Omni William Penn Hotel. This historic property dates back to 1916 and its breathtaking main lobby will simply blow you away the minute that you enter the hotel. We checked out a wide swath of the downtown area and ended up spending the late afternoon and evening in Market Square which is a lively plaza that features dozens of restaurants and periodic live entertainment. Having done quite a bit of research in advance of our stay we selected a restaurant called La Cucina Flegrea for dinner and our meal was truly superb from start to finish. THE RIVER CRUISING EXPERIENCE Our cruise on the American Queen was an extremely enjoyable, fun-filled, nostalgic, and educational experience in many ways and it certainly is recommended as a truly unique and memorable vacation. River cruising in Europe, of course, has become extremely popular in recent years because it enables you to enjoy continuous, ever-changing, beautiful scenery, get an up close look at many historical sights, connect personally to the people of a town or village, and see, touch and taste many aspects of modern-day life. The American Queen sails year-round on the Ohio, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers. There are other small ships that are currently offering cruises on the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Erie Canal, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, Chesapeake Sound, the Columbia and Snake rivers in the great Northwest, and various other waterways around the country. Cruising on a river, of course, is very different from sailing on the open ocean where most of the time you see absolutely nothing but water in every direction. As we discovered while sailing on the Ohio River, the scenery in many places is quite beautiful as you travel through the Allegheny Mountains, and the changing colors and textures of the water and the hills and the trees at sunrise and sunset are extraordinarily dramatic. We stopped at small towns where word of the arrival of the steamboat spread like wildfire through the community and where dozens, even hundreds of people take time from their daily routines to come down to see the boat. Our boat tied up at places where the photographer from the local paper came down to set up his tripod to take pictures of the boat, and you know that your arrival will be the top headline in tomorrow's edition. We passed small communities along the river where families stopped in the middle of dinner to run outside because "hey, the steamboat is coming" and for them and their neighbors this is a really, really big deal. You cannot help but smile when you see the flash from hundreds of cameras and the kids jumping up and down and frantically waving. We always got a kick waving back at them, of course, and you just know that the five minutes that it took for your boat to pass by their home is something that they will remember for a long time. We stopped at towns where women from the Ladies Auxiliary set up tents and tables at the dockside and handed out their local newspaper and other literature and welcomed us in the most gracious way possible. We visited diminutive communities where the modern-day economic reality may not be much to look at, but as we learned these are places where important people were born and where significant historical events occurred during the westward expansion of the United States. We passed spots on the shoreline where we saw teenagers race down the river bank, grab a rope that hung from a tree, swing out over the river and then splash down for an afternoon of swimming and fun. Many evenings we passed spots where a couple of fellows had taken their boat out after dinner to spend some time fishing along the shoreline until dark. They waved and shouted hello, and we waved back, and once again this brief connection to a different and slower lifestyle than ours was something that simply cannot be experienced elsewhere. Our experience on the American Queen was a very enjoyable one and the combination of the boat, the staff, the dining, the entertainment, the time sailing on the river and the places that we visited made for a terrific time. In many ways this type of cruising will take you back to a time and lifestyle that has vanished in many places. You will travel back to the days of Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and what you see and experience during your journey is even more meaningful because you are sailing on a boat that genuinely reflects, expresses, and appreciates another place and time and the remarkable history of this great country of ours. Obviously, this type of trip will not meet everyone's criteria for a cruise vacation. If you are primarily interested in sophisticated food and elegant service, lavish production shows and ultra-modern perfectly decorated cabins and public rooms, then this boat is not for you. On the other hand, if you want to just "kick back" and enjoy down home Southern cooking and service, and watch America go by in a very casual atmosphere, then you might want to give the American Queen Steamboat a try. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2012
First I want to say that the ship was exceptional. I can't think of one thing they could have done to make it more comfortable. The staff was great and the food excellent. That being said, I want to explain why this cruise was not for ... Read More
First I want to say that the ship was exceptional. I can't think of one thing they could have done to make it more comfortable. The staff was great and the food excellent. That being said, I want to explain why this cruise was not for me. I felt the activity level of the tours was for a much older crowd. Face it, most of the people were 20 years older than I was. So things went pretty slowly. After the first few days I just took a map of the town and ditched the guided tours. I highly recommend it. I saw more and was able to do what I wanted. As long as you get back to the boat before it sails, you can stay as long as you want on shore and eat there too. Don't rush back for lunch if you don't have to. Some ports you need to stay with the group though, to get into a museum or a church that requires tickets. I really hated the main dining room experience. (Not the food, I rate the food a 5+.) BUT there were no assigned seats and no tables for two or even four where you could unwind and relax after a full day of touring. Instead, you are seated with new people every night at a table of 6 or more. You are basically ON, having to interact, be pleasant and introduce yourself over and over again every night to new people. I am an introvert and this was just torture for me. Several nights and every breakfast I escaped to the Cafe on the Aquavit terrace where they had tables for two. But they also had a very limited menu with only 4 main course items that never changed. That would have been fine but none of the choices was just a basic salad. You could order Cesar salad in the main dining room anytime you wanted it but it wasn't available in the Cafe, which made no sense at all to me. Plus they always put out bread plates and knives but never gave you any bread! What was that all about? Not that I needed bread but it seemed so silly to have the plates there for nothing, LOL. I did eventually find some regulars to sit with in the main dining room, so I didn't need to escape to the Cafe as often. Well, some people must think I'm very anti-social after this post! But really, I went on the cruise to relax and this just wasn't relaxing for me. I was ready to go home after a week, I was so stressed out. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2012
My favorite way of travelling now that I am no longer a young person is River Cruising. No hassle, no getting up at the crack of dawn to have your luggage outside to catch the bus for the next City. I have done 3 of the trips I am now ... Read More
My favorite way of travelling now that I am no longer a young person is River Cruising. No hassle, no getting up at the crack of dawn to have your luggage outside to catch the bus for the next City. I have done 3 of the trips I am now enjoying, and if you want to see lovely towns, villages, as well as major cities, this is the way to go. Viking has done a wonderful job on the two trips I have taken with them. Staff on board, helpful and friendly, sightseeing tours just long enough to have you flavor the City or Village you are visiting. Food more than satisfactory. Only criticism I have is that I would enjoy a little more activities on the ships while sailing between different ports, especially if the cruise is a bit longer between points. Viking seems to attract very interesting clients, and I personally look forward to joining them again on another trip. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2012
From being met at the airport in Amsterdam, to being delivered to the airport in Budapest, the Viking experience was first class. We loved our cabin, the small community feeling of the ship, the coffee/capuccino machine! The tours were ... Read More
From being met at the airport in Amsterdam, to being delivered to the airport in Budapest, the Viking experience was first class. We loved our cabin, the small community feeling of the ship, the coffee/capuccino machine! The tours were well coordinated and well timed, with enough but not too much time to see the key sites and have some leisure time in most places. The service was very good. Nice to have free internet service and laptop loaners available. Food was 3-4 star, with good options each evening, not too much, just enough. Very nice to have beer and wine at lunch and dinner. The sites along the Main, Rhine and Danube were amazing, just beautiful scenery, castles, towns, vineyards at every turn. We are already scheduled for the next Viking trip! Note that only one of the ports we stopped at are listed in this review template, and there is a limit of 8 ports, when we were in at least one port every day and on one day two ports! Each town we stopped at was lovelier than the last, Vienna was a real treat, and the biggest surprise was Budapest. We went two days earlier to Amsterdam and had a lovely time there, even with rain. The hotel was very nice and in a convenient location to walk or take the canal boat or bus anywhere we wanted to go. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2012
We are both retired and decided to try a first time river cruise. We booked a Rhine River Cruise, Amsterdam to Basel, with Viking River Cruises, first week in June 2012 aboard the ship Viking Sun. We did our home work before we booked ... Read More
We are both retired and decided to try a first time river cruise. We booked a Rhine River Cruise, Amsterdam to Basel, with Viking River Cruises, first week in June 2012 aboard the ship Viking Sun. We did our home work before we booked and selected Viking River Cruises based on the advertised quality of the holiday package we could expect. The total holiday cost was £4,500.00 for 1 weeks cruising. The ship, Viking Sun, offered a warm and welcoming atmosphere. We found all the staff to be polite, courteous and very friendly, nothing was too much trouble. The friendliness of the staff was a most welcoming feature. Our grade "A" stateroom was very clean and well presented, exactly as advertised. Our cabin was serviced very efficiently with a good level of attention being given to detail of presentation. The only negative comment justified is the restrict number of hangers in the wardrobe, only 4/5 each -- would have liked a couple more at least. The lounge and bar was well presented and comfortable with excellent friendly service from the bar staff. The lunch time and evening entertainment from the resident pianist created a relaxing atmosphere. The dining room is light and airy, and well staffed. Could not fault the buffet breakfast, ( 7-9am ) every conceivable breakfast item, hot or cold was available to meet any guests needs. Lunch ( 12-2pm ) could be taken in the dining room ( 3 course formal ) or the lounge where a buffet selection was available -- once again cannot fault the food selection available. The evening meal is at a fixed time, 7.0pm which consequently generates a "school meal" queuing approach followed by a mad dash for a table ( tables are not reserved ), once again the dining experience was enjoyable as was the complimentary wine. Our main gripe of the holiday centred around the dining room. We did not like the fixed time for dinner for the reasons mention above, 7.0 -- 7.30pm would have alleviated some of the uncomfortableness associated with mature adults queuing and vying for a place to eat. We also noted that though the dress code for dinner was "casual smart" we were somewhat surprised to find that some guest ( mature adults ) could not progress beyond jeans, tee shirt and trainers. The worst aspect of the dinning room experience was what appeared to be the determined need by the dining room staff to clear every glass, plate, dish the minute it was finished with, consequently plates were being cleared from a table while other table guest were still eating, - we found this unacceptable, and unprofessional. We thoroughly enjoyed our river cruise and would consider booking with Viking River Cruises again. We would rate the Ship, Accommodation and the Service as a "4 star" experience, but still consider that value for money the weeks cruise is over price. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2012
This was our first River Boat Cruise, so we really did not know what to expect. We have been "big ship" cruisers for 20 years. The staff, cruise director and captain of Visionary are exceptional. They are all very involved ... Read More
This was our first River Boat Cruise, so we really did not know what to expect. We have been "big ship" cruisers for 20 years. The staff, cruise director and captain of Visionary are exceptional. They are all very involved with you and your cruise. The captain played his trumpet as we passed the Lorelei and the crew did a talent show which was such fun! The meals onboard were very good with a nice variety. One tip, check the breakfast and lunch specials each day before going to the buffet. Dinner was great. Six of us travelled together and were able to sit together without a problem each night. Wine at dinner was wonderful and we had more than our share. The included excursions were great. I was in a walking boot due to a foot problem but was able to keep up without a problem. You will receive earphones and a receiving device on each excursion. The guide then transmits the details of the excursion as you walk. This enabled all of us to hear without a problem and was excellent for my husband who wears hearing aids. My only regret was that we didn't have more "free time" in the cities. Our guides were fun and informative. I would strongly recommend the optional trips to Alsace and Colmar. For the small cost, these excursions really gave you a flavor of the area. Also, make sure you are on deck when going through the locks (at least one). We travelled through the Panama Canal on a "big ship" and enjoyed the locks. But on this small vessel, it is really "up close and personal", a real treat. I have three minor "complaints". The bar did not stock bourbon, only CC and Jack Daniels. But since the wine was so good, it really didn't matter. Rafting is a real bummer, but necessary evil. On the third day of our trip, I awoke and opened our curtains only to be looking at the vessel we had rafted with. This occurred 4 times for us so basically rendered our French balcony worthless. Finally, it would be nice to know a basic time for the itinerary. Example, we had a flight delay to Amsterdam (7 hours!). We arrived at 4PM versus 9AM on Sunday 6/10. However, from the brochure, I thought we had all day in Amsterdam on Monday. No, the boat left at noon so I only had 4 hours in Amsterdam. I would strongly recommend adding a day (minimum) to the front of your cruise. Post cruise, we spent 3 days in Lucerne. We all had a marvelous time with Avalon and I would recommend them highly. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2012
Cruise was nearly perfect. Food was generally good and crew was wonderful. Our tour guide Sasha was very entertaining. The 3 days in Moscow were eye opening. City is NOT dark and Stalinistic. Red Square and Krelim were interesting. ... Read More
Cruise was nearly perfect. Food was generally good and crew was wonderful. Our tour guide Sasha was very entertaining. The 3 days in Moscow were eye opening. City is NOT dark and Stalinistic. Red Square and Krelim were interesting. GUM dept store, really a Mall, great to walk around...all up scale Western European/American Stores. Beautiful parks. Recommend the Moscow by night river tour. Only issue with Moscow, is that the boat docks about 1 hour from Moscow sites (heavy traffic). Stops between Moscow and St. Pete were Ok...nothing too exciting but fills the days...pleasant scenery from the veranda. Visit to a Russian family in Uglich was fun. 3 days in Saint Petersburg were as expected with visit to Hermitage, Peterof and Catherines Palace...all very beautiful. Recommend that you do NOT visit during the summer...crowded and NO air conditioning in the Hermitage. We opted for optional "Jewish" tour which featured a visit to the beautiful Saint Petersburg Synagogue which was refurbished in 2002..worth the visit. Only major criticism is that the back of the Viking Rurik is noisy with engine noise and vibration. If you book, stay away from the back of the boat. We lucked out and were moved to a different cabin and Viking did give us a 'credit' to compensate for our 1 day of discomfort and the annoyance of moving to another cabin Read Less
Sail Date: June 2012
We embarked in Paris and spent the first full day and a half in the City of Lights. Our stateroom, not in the highest category, was superb. Lots of room! In fact, the highest category stateroom was the same size as ours. The staff did ... Read More
We embarked in Paris and spent the first full day and a half in the City of Lights. Our stateroom, not in the highest category, was superb. Lots of room! In fact, the highest category stateroom was the same size as ours. The staff did their best to help in any way they were able---friendly and informative. They began with a short tour of the area near the docking point in Paris (where we could see the Eiffel Tower from the deck!). This tour was an orientation to getting around the city--how to find the Metro; buying tickets for the Metro; how to read the Metro maps; grocery stores; drug stores; cafes; money. I found it very helpful. We took an optional tour of the Louvre which was my least favorite part of the week! Why? Sunday afternoon at the Louvre is best described as a madhouse! I know trying to convince someone NOT to see the Mona Lisa is futile but prepare to be jostled about. You will feel as if you are the midst of a cattle-drive. But the rest of the week was great! The meals were good, the service was good, the tours were good but highly dependent on the tour guide--- make sure you fill out a opinion card after your tours. We visited Monet's garden at Giverney--don't miss it! But I turned off the earphones for the guide--imagine hearing someone babbling the entire time you want peace--like at the pond area. The optional tour to Versailles was very good. We had an excellent guide who made things alive for us. We traveled from town to town sometimes in the morning or overnight. It was a really nice way to travel!! The only downside to this trip was a virus that went through the boat the last night. They brought a MD on board to see folks (at 120 euros each). At that point things became unpleasant as guests began to find fault with staff (i.e., "I saw someone cough into their hand" or "They should have ....you fill in the blank"). I work in healthcare and unfortunately, people get sick. And if you are in a confined area, more people get sick. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2012
Cruise accommodations on Viking Emerald excellent. Food was best of any cruise we have taken. Ports of call were poor - visiting a school as the only stop that day was inadequate for those who want to see as much of China as possible in ... Read More
Cruise accommodations on Viking Emerald excellent. Food was best of any cruise we have taken. Ports of call were poor - visiting a school as the only stop that day was inadequate for those who want to see as much of China as possible in this short 12-day excursion Three Gorges Dam was unimpressive, not seeing any of the mechanics of how it operates as we would see in other countries. Meals served off ship were institutional quality, trying to emulate western perception of Chinese food rather than authentic Chinese. Guide was excellent, but why have separate guides for each tour in addition to primary guide? 12 days is too short a time. Staff on board was excellent in every way, a highlight of the cruise along with food and service generally on board. Anxious to try another Viking Cruise without pre and post cruise tours. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2012
14 Day River Cruise: Hungary-Holland PREAMBLE: After many a sea cruise, we finally did our first major River Cruise. We are two very seasoned travelers, both work paid and "on our own dime". In our late mid 60's, we have ... Read More
14 Day River Cruise: Hungary-Holland PREAMBLE: After many a sea cruise, we finally did our first major River Cruise. We are two very seasoned travelers, both work paid and "on our own dime". In our late mid 60's, we have been retired for over a decade (on average). Leslie does the photo work and I do the write-ups. We try to provide great detail of our trips and lots of pictures of the places we go. You will not find many pictures of us in the lot. This write-up is meant to share with our friends and family, help others who may consider a similar trip, to "payback" in some way the help we get from Flyertalk members to plan our trips and in some lesser way to entertain and inform those that for any number of reasons will not take such a trip. We have changed our format at bit this Report. Rather than do the trip chronologically, sneaking in various details of sideline issues, this Trip Report is in 5 sections. The content and extent of the coverage will vary based on my notes, time and both my interest and my perceived interest of the various readers. The sections will be clearly marked, so feel free to skip those that might not interest you. The pictures can be found by the link at the end of Report. The pictures were taken from buses (seat, window, wires, wrong side, weather, and etc. being factors). Others were taken as we walked in groups on tour, or from the boat as we cruised down the 3 rivers and one canal. The Sections include: 1) Ground Transport; 2) Flights; 3) Avalon Panorama River Boat; 4) Our Trip, from boarding to disembarkation; and 5) Pictures. We have tried to minimize the overlap and repetition. A note to those afraid of sea cruises or the "water", the river cruise described had no waves, feeling of boat movement nor should anyone feel "sea" sick. Further, the depth of much of the river was such that you could stand on the top deck and have water no higher than your waist IF the boat sank!!! Great alternative to sea cruises for those with such problems. GROUND TRANSPORTATION: We live in Escondido and flew out of San Diego Airport (SAN). Our flight departure was scheduled just past 6AM, so we were concerned about taking a regular shuttle to SAN. For a bit more ($200 total, RT with tip) we took ExecuCar. This assured us of a non-stop drive to the airport in comfort, with perhaps an upgraded driver (it was!). The driver had our schedule, was on time and did not break the speed limit (much). He handled the luggage and offered us water. We were questioned as to our temperature comfort a couple times along the route. Our pickup on the return was a worry for us. We do not carry a cell phone, so we could only hope the driver made the adjustments for picking us up on July 4. Our plane out of Washington, DC was late about an hour. We should have been back before the fireworks started, but because San Diego had the 18 second embarrassment show, we arrived as people were leaving and traffic was a mess. We were grateful our driver was well versed in the street options and we did not have to make stops for other riders! We usually do not pay the extra for this service. FLIGHTS: We booked our cruise with air included. During the 9 months between booking and the actual flight, the airline group (DL) we were originally booked with and the final flights (UA/LH) were changed. The time also changed from a comfortable departure from SAN of almost 9AM to just after 6AM. Our seat assignments on UA, I had made online, had been changed. The three hour "rule" for arrival would put us there before the door to the AP would even open? Even 2 hours was well before the UA counter was open. A couple of days before the flight, UA sent us an e-mail inviting us to check-in on line. I tried this several times, but to no avail. The system said there was a problem. We called UA with that information. They assured us that there was no problem, but we would have to check in with an agent and show our passports. Upon arrival (3:45AM) at the airport we went to the roped line and became first in line. Others joined us for the wait, as employees arrived and went into the back room. There was a separate area labeled for those who were going to check-in on the machines. At 4:20AM, someone came out and told us that we should move to the other line if we wanted to check in by machine, that the agents would not be out for a while. We did not move, all the others in line did. The employee asked us why, and we told him our story. He told us that the agents would not be out in time for our flight, and therefore we should now move to the other line as guest number 80 or so!!! From first!!! We stayed. The people in the other line started to go to the machines to check in. There was a lady helping those people, so I talked to her. She took our paperwork and handled everything. One bag each was free, as this was part of an international flight. TSA went easy. Got machine scanned and never touched. Our first leg was to Chicago (ORD). We had modest advanced boarding with my UA Explorer Card. The flight was 100% full and therefore left a little late. Those in the boarding area with "BIG" carry-ons were offered free checking at the gate! (that saved a lot of people $50 per bag). Many standbys were denied boarding. There was no food serviced on this leg, except for what you wanted to pay for. We brought sweet rolls to eat and used our 1-k drink tickets (from the past) to have some wine. Our layover in ORD was long. We took the time to handle our eye drops (glaucoma), and I switched from my contacts to my glasses. We also took the time to have some lunch," just in case". Our next leg was from ORD to Frankford (FRA), Germany. We were in aisle 41 (no recline). The woman in row 40, with three kids managed to make our space even smaller by reclining all their seats. We had two aisle seats in the center section assigned for us by Lufthansa. The two girls between us were part of a larger group and were up and down like yoyos, but pleasant otherwise. Two babies in our area took turns screaming thru most of the 10 hour flight. It was a miserable 10+ hours (oh, for the days of first class and business class seats!). Our FF points have been whittled down and the Read Less

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