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2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2012
We had been on the mega ships before, and had already seen a great deal of the Caribbean, Europe and Alaska. When I saw that the Great American Steamboat Company was beginning voyages up the Mississippi River, I was thrilled. I am ... Read More
We had been on the mega ships before, and had already seen a great deal of the Caribbean, Europe and Alaska. When I saw that the Great American Steamboat Company was beginning voyages up the Mississippi River, I was thrilled. I am not going to rate this cruise or tell you what it didn't have that other cruises do offer. Instead, I will say that this ship is so beautiful, evoking an often romanticized era in American history. To see the big red stern-wheeler turn was remarkable, as was the very corny, but memorable sound of an old-fashioned calliope (a musical instrument that forces steam through various sized pipes to make that circus-sounding music well know all too well). The public rooms included the men's parlor, the ladies card room, a map room, and a sitting room, all decked out in a Victorian style. The dining room offered both a buffet option, as well as ordering from a fixed menu. At the front of the ship is a small, indoor room serving basic food and drink. A door on either side of the small buffet area takes you to the Front Porch of America, an outdoor area with rocking chairs lining the view of the Mississippi. It wasn't the prettiest room, but most people really enjoyed sitting there up front, getting a chance to meet and talk with their fellow shipmates. I am normally a bit more go, go, go when I'm traveling; however, my other half is very content to just sit, relax and enjoy. For those who don't need to be at the casino, jacuzzi or chocolate buffet, and simply prefer to relax, this might be the trip for you. The staff was incredible. The level of service was incredible, as was the ship's follow through. Some might blame that on language barriers with the larger cruise lines, but I truly believe that the staff and crew feel an ownership stake in this cruise line and sincerely want everyone to return again and again. A shout out to my friend, the Dining Room Host, who walked over to Oak Alley with me and, over a Mint Julep, asked me my honest opinion of the ship and its crew. Kudos also to my steward who kept us laughing through the journey. We made three stops: St. Francisville, a small town in LA, Baton Rouge, the Capital of LA and Oak Alley, the site of a former plantation. Due to how low the river was, we were unable to dock at St. Francisville and disembarked instead on the other side of the river. Three big buses (that travel onland along the route of the cruise) picked us up, took us over a bridge and into St. Francisville. It is truly a place time forgot. Small independent stores and art galleries lined the (basically) one business road through town; the other road was a lined with some old stately homes and churches that now sit next to newer, more recognizable ones. Baton Rouge was OK. To be fair, we arrived on a weekend, and the downtown core was almost completely closed up. Some, because it was the weekend, but others because it appears that a good deal of the downtown business has fled to the suburbs. Still, the cruise line proved a hop-on, hop-off bus tour that was really enjoyable and allowed us to cover far more than we might have done on our own. Oak Alley is really not a port town, but a port where the old plantation of Oak Alley stands. They offer a free, very informative tour of the main house, and then have re-built two or three of the slaves' quarters, to show the types of living conditions many had to endure. There was a also a blacksmith's shop, a garage and, of course, a gift shop. The highlight of the trip is the mint julep: mint, simple syrup and rum. I toasted the cruise three times before heading back to the ship. Would I go back? I would, but only on a journey that did not make a circle, like ours did. I would travel, for example, from Memphis to St. Louis. But I will also continue to travel on larger cruise lines. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2012
My other cruise adventures have been on larger, ocean-going vessels, except for a Nile cruise some years back. On this trip I was traveling with a friend and her husband. The friend had made the travel arrangements. My cabin was ... Read More
My other cruise adventures have been on larger, ocean-going vessels, except for a Nile cruise some years back. On this trip I was traveling with a friend and her husband. The friend had made the travel arrangements. My cabin was spacious and comfortable; the cabin attendant couldn't have been more attentive. I enjoyed all of the ports, especially seeing Speyer and Strasburg with their marvelous cathedrals. The day of cruising past castles and the Lorelei was pleasant. We arrived at Basle on time and in good humor. The food was good, but I felt the lack of choices, especially with fresh fruit--something that I always enjoy on the bigger ships. I usually ate lunch at the buffet service, and there I think improvements could be made. Perhaps reflecting a need for more staff, the serving dishes were sometimes empty for a fairly long period, and no one made any effort to keep the area neat. These are small matters, but Viking advertises itself as providing luxury travel and prices itself accordingly. One expects the best. We had booked air travel through Viking's agent. Chicago to Amsterdam was an excellent non-stop flight. I blame myself for being too trusting that the return flight would be as efficient. There is a direct Zurich-Chicago flight, but we were booked on a one-hour flight to Munich, where we waited for the Chicago flight. My friends received decent seats, but I was assigned to the middle center seat in the last row of an Airbus 340. Sandwiched between two strangers on the narrowest seats I've ever endured, I had a confining flight home. I realize now that it is my fault for not checking; I've since learned that for an additional fee Viking will put you on a direct flight, but no one told me that. I was too trusting of the advertising. No more! Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2012
For convenience and accessibility, the small ships are great. We have taken several ocean cruises and the size of the ship was a plus. Although our cabin seemed pretty small, we were not in it much. It was very clean and the bed was very ... Read More
For convenience and accessibility, the small ships are great. We have taken several ocean cruises and the size of the ship was a plus. Although our cabin seemed pretty small, we were not in it much. It was very clean and the bed was very comfortable with premium bedding. The access to ports we would not otherwise have seen was amazing. Heidelberg, Rudesheim and Strasbourg were high spots. Cologne and Koblenz did not have much to offer, we thought, although the cathedrals were beautiful. The included tours are kind of minimal -- walking tours, some guides more interesting than others. Consider doing some tours you pay for. We really enjoyed the Alsace wine tour. The cheese farm in Amsterdam was interesting but I was disappointed it was not a real town, but a museum -village. Consider traveling with friends!! We did not, and only met a few people we "clicked" with. Evening entertainment is minimal so someone we knew to have a drink with or play cards with would have been nice. The evening entertainment is your meal usually. From 7-9 we were dining, small courses served over a 2 hour period. This got old for me. Every night we were sitting with different people, and some you enjoy more than others. In addition I was tired at night and not always in the mood to banter with strangers. The food was good. Breakfast and lunch buffets were really wonderful. At dinner the entrees were varied and interesting and enjoyable. The service and crew were great. Free wine and beer at dinner were good. Embarkation and disembarkation were so simple it was hard to believe. Dress was very casual although the weather varied from 40 - 80. Don't bother to take your computer! I could only get on once in 8 days! We stayed 2 extra days in Amsterdam, Hotel Eshterea, which is lovely and well located. Get your Anne Frank Tickets online before you leave! We walked right in while the line was very very long! That was plenty of time in AMsterdam, and we may have preferred to tack on more time in Switzerland instead. This is a very expensive trip, but we saw things we would never see on an ocean cruise and I think its easier than a bus tour, staying in the same room every night. Would river cruise again, on a different route. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2012
We did the Paris to Prague itinerary. Was wonderful but very busy. Morning tours start at 8:30; dinners finished around 9 pm most days. But you do a lot and see a lot. It being medieval Europe and all, expect hills, cobblestones, and ... Read More
We did the Paris to Prague itinerary. Was wonderful but very busy. Morning tours start at 8:30; dinners finished around 9 pm most days. But you do a lot and see a lot. It being medieval Europe and all, expect hills, cobblestones, and uneven pavements. The breakfasts and lunches were great. The special German lunch on the sun deck was great and fun. The dinners were less than they could be, but the wine was very nice. Lovely ports of call, and Paris and Prague are both so beautiful. Guides were all excellent. Great trip. Only complaint was the smoking all over the outside of the ship - could not get away from it. Wish is was restricted to a smaller part of the ship. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2012
We found this trip quite interesting in the contrast between these recently communist territories and surrounding non-communist countries/cities. Our tour directors were mostly young and were children at the time of German reunification ... Read More
We found this trip quite interesting in the contrast between these recently communist territories and surrounding non-communist countries/cities. Our tour directors were mostly young and were children at the time of German reunification and the Czech "velvet revolution", but told us interesting and very real stories of how their parents and, often, grandparents were affected. Most cruise stops were "quiet" (the whole river is compared to the Rhine or Danube) but interesting. This particulat cruise had about 60% representation from the UK (most others were Americans plus one Aussie couple) and were a generally older (average age probably 75-80), but very "game" and interesting group! We thought the age factor may have been due to the "easy" rating to the tours and possibly because of the WW II history connection to this age group. We ended in Prague which was fantastic, but crowded, as usual. Ship was excellent - well-maintained and clean - and the staff was particulary friendly and helpful. Our program director (a young Czech) was particularly notable. Food was good+, cabin was upgraded and was spacious and comfortable. If you're interested in a cruise with a recent history bent in addition to the usual European history, you might find this one interesting. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2012
We just returned from Uniworld's 15 night Istanbul to Vienna with a Prague ad on. It was so totally different from an ocean cruise. The first 3 days were not what I expected, long bus rides to the towns and a day in the Iron Gates ... Read More
We just returned from Uniworld's 15 night Istanbul to Vienna with a Prague ad on. It was so totally different from an ocean cruise. The first 3 days were not what I expected, long bus rides to the towns and a day in the Iron Gates with not much to do on board. The cabins are very small, not enough room to pass each other around the bed! Also, the French Balcony was wasted when we were tied up next to another river boat. We only had 80 people instead of 130 and I imagine it would feel crowded if the ship were full. Other than the 3 aforementioned ports, we docked in town and were able to walk to things. The included excursions were well done and generally we had plenty of time to be on our own. Days were busy with seeing the sights and we generally went back to our cabin right after dinner. We had 3 days in Istanbul with Uniworld at the start of the trip. The hotel was good as was the room, but the view was non existent. (Same with the hotel in Prague.) We flew as a group to Bucharest to start the cruise. It was nice to just follow directions and not worry about the details. This is the best way to see these cities as you are dragging your hotel and not your suitcase. The food was above average but not divine. Dinner was always on the gourmet side, very small portions. The staff was excellent. The entire experience is like a very mini ocean cruise. Nothing is over the top. Very comfortable but no WOWS from me. However, I would take another because I like being in a new port every day and I am running out of Mediterranean ports to visit! I also loved the complimentary washing machines, so convenient. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2012
We had a wonderful time and a river cruise is an excellent way to see Hungary, Austria, Germany, etc. Not sure if it was because of the newness of the Njord (and some of the crew) but things were just off a bit. Communication being a ... Read More
We had a wonderful time and a river cruise is an excellent way to see Hungary, Austria, Germany, etc. Not sure if it was because of the newness of the Njord (and some of the crew) but things were just off a bit. Communication being a problem, we were left to wonder why our itinerary was different than our documents and what advertisements contain. Port drop off and pick-up sights were changed at the last minute and times in the ports were also changed at the last minute. This resulted in some unplanned bus rides and some very short times in cities. This was quite frustrating to us. Things just didn't run as smoothly as we were told it would with Viking. We were able to use the upper deck only half of the voyage...understandable now but a surprise to us due to no pre-warning from Viking. Yes, they state they MAY need to close it but never let us know this voyage VERY OFTEN has this issue. The interior of the ship was quite crowded most of the cruise due to the closure. The Lounge needs to accommodate more of the passengers...not enough seating. Loved our cabin at water level but we had horrible engine noise at night. The 135sq ft is tight but it worked ok. We don't need a balcony but room for a chair would have been a nice improvement. The shower was nice and large but hated the glass walls of the bathroom. The closet is a nice size but only a few hangers fit due to a bump out in 1/2 of it...crazy!! The TV is in the wall and we had neighbors that watched their's every waking minute at top volume. I asked the person at the desk if they could mention it to them and I was told it was my responsibility...they are not allowed. What?? Other than the TV issue...the crew were wonderful. Especially the dining staff. They all worked so hard to please and accommodate. The food was very good at breakfast & lunch...dinner was sporadic. We loved the size of the ship and very much like the small amount of passengers. The excursions were good and we had excellent guides (except just one). Just wish we had more time to explore on our own. The pace was just a bit slow for us. River cruising is an excellent choice for some. We think we'll wait a bit for our next one. And when we do decide to try again we will try a different line. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2012
This was the 3rd sailing of the Viking Idun. We sailed on the Tulips & Windmills River Cruise in April 2012. Our cruise had people from the US, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and a few other places, but the bulk of the passengers were ... Read More
This was the 3rd sailing of the Viking Idun. We sailed on the Tulips & Windmills River Cruise in April 2012. Our cruise had people from the US, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and a few other places, but the bulk of the passengers were clearly from North America. The ships staff was very international, with folks from the Netherlands, Philippines, Slovakia, and many other places. English was widely spoken in all ports, and was the language used by the cruise ship staff. Ship was brand new, so cleanliness and decor were excellent. Cabins are located on decks 1 (main deck),2 (middle deck), and 3 (upper deck), with a large sundeck on deck 4 (sun deck). Most cabins are on deck 2, along with the hotel desk and restaurant. The lounge/bar and small library are on deck 3, with an elevator and stairs to move between floors. On deck 3, outside the lounge, was an open air area on the bow of the ship named the Aquavit Terrace, which had table and chairs used to eat, read, etc. It became our favorite part of the ship when weather allowed. We did not use the sundeck much due to weather, but I can see it being a popular spot in the summer months. Free Internet access was available, but was sometime very slow. A limited number of 'loaner' laptops were available to check email, etc. Cabins are relatively small, but remember this is a river boat vs. a large cruise ship. We had a french balcony room (2nd deck, with a large floor to ceiling patio door, which opened... but no balcony) which was nice and offered a great view. Bathrooms had a shower with removable wand type head. Cabin service and cleanliness was excellent. Closet space was limited, and included a safe and 4 shelves. There were also 4 drawers and a mini-refrigerator in the cabin. Space under the bed was open for suitcase storage, etc. We had no issues with cabin storage... but it's definitely challenging for 2 people moving about in the cabin at the same time. But we simply used the cabin to shower, dress, and sleep, so it was not an issue. Cabins had multiple 110V and 220V power outlets, so we used all our US devices without converters. Each room had individual heating/air conditioning controls, and a large screen TV with TV, music, and movies. Restaurant food quality was very good. Portions were more towards the European side vs. the huge American style, but there was always plenty offered to meet any appetite. Dress was casual (open collar shirts for men, pants/skirts for women). The last night was the captain's dinner, were some folks dressed a bit more, but most followed the causal dress of previous nights. Breakfast was a buffet, with some additional 'order from the kitchen' menu options each day. Buffet had fresh fruits and breads/danish, made-to-order eggs and omelette's, various bacon and sausage options, etc. Some days there as also beans, mushrooms, etc. Buffet also has hot oatmeal with fruit topping options, extensive meat/cheese choices, salmon and herring on most days, yogurts, and many more choices. There was even sparkling wine each morning for mamosa's! The 24 hour coffee/tea/hot chocolate station also had danish in the early morning, and cookies in the afternoon. Lunch was served in both the restaurant and upstairs on the Aquavit outdoor deck. The restaurant lunch was more extensive, but the experience on the outdoor deck was outstanding. When weather permitted, we always sat upstairs in the outdoor area. Beer, wine, and soft drinks were available at lunch for no extra charge. Dinner in the restaurant always had at least 3 starter/appetizer choices, 3 main courses, and 3 dessert options. And there was always steak, salmon, and at least on other option available if the days menu did not suit your taste, and a cheese plate was always offered as well. Beer, wine, soft drinks, and tea/coffee were free flowing at dinner, at no extra charge. We drank the the wine included for free, and found it to be very good in nearly all cases. Beer choices were good... we had 1 draft bear and at least 5 bottle beer choices. Tables were not assigned in the restaurant... first come, first served. But there is space for everyone, and after a day or so, people seemed to settle into the 'standard' table for the balance of the cruise. The wait staff was attentive and friendly, but there may have been a bit understaffed... 3 or 4 more waiters may have been helpful. But dinners were leisurely, and the room load and lively with everyone having a great time. The bar was good, and the bar staff very attentive and friendly. The bar/lounge area was a bit small for 190 passengers, so be sure to get there few minutes early for schedule events to ensure a good seat. There was always a pianist playing during the evening hours. Outside of the meal times, beer and drinks cost extra.. from 5-7 EUR typically, as I recall. The Program Director and staff were outstanding, dealing patiently with endless questions and the need to repeat themselves for folks who didn't listen or comprehend the information the first time around. They were friendly, informative, and displayed a good sense of humor to diffuse the little situations that inevitably pop up on cruises. Shore excursions were interesting, and generally led by local guides. Tipping of the local guides was optional, but most people gave guides 3 EUR per couple, and when bus/coach transfers were included, about 1 EUR for the driver. A Viking staff member was in every group to insure guide quality and handle and passenger issue that might arise. Many city walking tours allowed a 2nd, later return to the ship, to allow even more time for individual exploration of the city. By my estimates, this was largely a 60+ crowd, with only a few people in the late 40's and 50 range. They did offer 'leisure' excursion options at each port to accommodate folks with more limited mobility, but the pace of the regular tours was generally slow. There was always free time on the excursions, so that allowed the more mobile to explore on their own, at their own pace. Each person had a small receiver and earpiece to hear the guides on shore excursions, which was outstanding. Evening entertainment was modest, in the form of cultural/educational lectures and local folk demonstrations (wooden shoe carving, folk dancers, folks singers). This was not a late night party crowd... it was generally very quiet by midnight. We did not experience extravagant after dinner entertainment of a lot of partying after dinner. In Amsterdam, the ship docked just west of the Central train station for embarkation, which made arrival and the first 2 days exploration in Amsterdam very easy. We walked everywhere, but many folks took the public tram system to get to the southern portions of Amsterdam (it was about 2.70 EUR for a trip, or just over 7.00 EUR of a day pass on the trams, as I recall. You bought tickets directly on the tram from the conductors). For dis-embarkation, we docked at the PTA terminal, which is definitely a bit farther west than were we embarked. Probably an extra 15 minutes of walking vs. the original location. At embarkation, I pre booked and prepaid a car with Amsterdam Taxi Services (www.Amsterdamtaxiservices.nl) for 60.00 EUR. The driver was waiting for us outside of customs with a name card. A short walk across the driveway to a waining car that held the 4 of us plus luggage easily. For departure, the ships desk booked us a normal taxi, which costs a total of 58.00 EUR for the rise to the airport. Both transfers were fast and easy with no issues. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2012
The overall picture was good, but some work needs to be done. The executive team was onboard taking notes in order to make changes. The staff was great and very attentive to all especially those that had difficulty getting around. The ... Read More
The overall picture was good, but some work needs to be done. The executive team was onboard taking notes in order to make changes. The staff was great and very attentive to all especially those that had difficulty getting around. The entertainment was outstanding. The common areas of the ship were very luxurious and yet very comfy and inviting. The only thing I can think of they need to add are some throws to cover your feet when you are reading. The waitstaff were all very eager but working out their kinks in the service. Food was good, varied, and presented well. I don't drink wine, but I heard it was good. We enjoyed the ports. Two were right on the levee and at the others they provided continual hop on hop off buses to various stops so that you could see the towns and the sights. They have 3 of their own buses that follow the boat around and they have local tour guides on the buses to give history and answer questions. Very well thought out and implemented. I have to say the "Bob" the guy in charge of the tours is one of the best assets on the boat team. He knew the answers to everything and always had a moment to chat. Rain or shine his smiling face would greet you as you left and as you returned. Some of the towns had a welcoming committee to greet the ship. They are all very thankful that she is back on the water. We only took one "premium" tour which we had to pay extra for and it was the highlight of the trip. It was to chef Regina's home for cocktails and goodies. She is the picture of Southern hospitality and her home is just lovely. Most rooms have twin beds, but we pushed ours together. Our room was about the size I expected but very classy and well laid out with plenty of space for hanging and folded clothes. The bathroom was small, but the one thing there is plenty of is HOT water. The dress code was very casual with resort casual for the dining room. You never had to worry about being hungry. The Front Porch always had something to eat whether it was lite breakfast, hot dogs, popcorn, cookies, soft drinks, coffee, ice cream, etc. I don't think that I would recommend this for families with kids. There seemed to be nothing for them to do unless they can entertain themselves. They did have a good supply of games. They had a theatre, but I never saw where they showed a movie. They played Bingo one time. The Riverlorian talks were excellent........very informative while being entertaining. Be sure to watch the lowering of the stacks. On our cruise, the box seats for the entertainment were first come first serve. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2012
Embarkation was a nightmare as the ship docked about 100 yards from where it was supposed to be. Taxi driver frustrated. He finally went to a tourist information office who called the number in the Viking pamphlet provided to us by the ... Read More
Embarkation was a nightmare as the ship docked about 100 yards from where it was supposed to be. Taxi driver frustrated. He finally went to a tourist information office who called the number in the Viking pamphlet provided to us by the cruise line and found out the new docking space. Meter kept ticking along! Strongly urge buying the transfer from the airport from Viking! We did so, on the ship, for the return to the airport and it was less expensive and more comfortable than a taxi. There is so much storage space it is hard to believe. Don't worry about closets and drawers, there are plenty. Same for bathroom, which is roomy for a little boat. Staff is friendly and efficient. Captain did not circulate at all but all the other officers did. Ship is very clean and neat. Wine and beer free at meals. Take the galley tour, quite interesting and head chef very personable. The Normandy beaches and American cemetery were the highlights of the trip. Even though we've all seen the movies and documentaries it is marvelous to walk around there. We all wished for more time in the museum located at the cemetery, otherwise it was a perfect excursion. Viking charges for only four of the land tours. We didn't take them as those were places we had been to before. Walked around the towns while the others were gone. It was surprisingly cold and windy for April, we were prepared with extra sweatshirts, etc. Surprisingly it never rained, although it was forecasted for almost every day. The piano bar was open every night. No other entertainment to speak of. It is one of the major things we missed, as well as real gourmet food. Because of that we will stick with the major cruise ships. Other passengers very freindly, a little younger than we've seen on other cruises. Only one child aboard, no special activites for her at all. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2012
The Idun is brand new and Viking has done a great job with the ship. The staff is well trained and tries hard.We really liked the itinerary, the pace and attention to care and detail.Guides were excellent.The entertainment brought on board ... Read More
The Idun is brand new and Viking has done a great job with the ship. The staff is well trained and tries hard.We really liked the itinerary, the pace and attention to care and detail.Guides were excellent.The entertainment brought on board was very good. Unfortunately we felt the food was inconsistent and rather mediocre. Very bland. Cuts of meat were often not choice. We were disappointed after experiencing something much better on our previous Viking tour. There is no security on board whatsoever. People got on board who did not belong there. Noone was checking any kind of id or contents of pkgs. Sanitation was at times lacking. Hand sanitizers were present but noone was watching that this was done. About 1/3 of our ship was sick which was very disconcerting. Returning to the ship, hor doevres were sometimes served with no care for who touched what. This was a maiden voyage for this itinerary and this ship. There was a lot of confusion disembarking and a lack of knowledge on setting up the ramp to disembark. The crew was not prepared for this. If doing another river cruise we will probably look at and compare other companies. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2012
I was not sure about this trip....once we got into our embarkation point - we were told that Mekong river was too low and we had to take a bus to another point on the river...3 hrs later our bus gets a mechanical....it is hot, we are tired ... Read More
I was not sure about this trip....once we got into our embarkation point - we were told that Mekong river was too low and we had to take a bus to another point on the river...3 hrs later our bus gets a mechanical....it is hot, we are tired and no place to go....but after using a hammer in the most effective way, the bus driver got on its way. Necessity is the mother of invention! La Margarite is a lovely boat, we had a super spacious two room, two bathroom suite with all the amenities possible. Cambodia and Vietnam were just beautiful - the tours touched in some rural areas where the children were not allow to beg. The river is just so very interesting along with the locals that make of the river their home - either to fish, to wash clothes or to wash their hair. The locals are just beautiful. I like the service of the staff, always friendly and with a willingness to assist. The choice and quality of food was very good and I loved that fact that everyday there was an "asian" choice - in the buffet or the menu.   Read Less
Sail Date: March 2012
This being our first trip to China, we had no idea what to expect. I strongly suggest anyone that is a novice cruiser to read reviews, comments and hints via Cruise Critic. It was so helpful for us with all the questions we had. It was ... Read More
This being our first trip to China, we had no idea what to expect. I strongly suggest anyone that is a novice cruiser to read reviews, comments and hints via Cruise Critic. It was so helpful for us with all the questions we had. It was a very fast paced tour//criuise with so much to see and do. We did not get much sleep and were always up early. (Our choice, did not want to miss a thing). The most challenging for us was my slow walking and some limitations. However, our tour guide was always watching out for me, and getting me a wheelchair or access to elevators whenever possible. The embarkation onto the Emerald at Chongqing was a nightmare! Narrow crumbling 100+ small steps with no railings. I had a porter under each arm and carrying my carry-on luggage down those steps. We were quoted a price and then the porters held us "hostage" for 10 times that amount. Viking needs to make sure that the guests that need this assistance keep them honest! The Viking Emerald was a very nice ship - liked having our own balcony. There was a nice variety of foods - the waitresses were very attentive and quick to get you anything special that you might need. The staterooms were a comfortable size. Seems that everyone on the ship was getting colds - after being told to leave the door to the balcony open rather than using the air conditioner - guess spreading bugs around, would help. A little late for us, we had to visit the ship's doctor - which our tour guide helped translate our illnesses for the doctor. I loved walking on the Great Wall with snow on the ground! Slippery, but what a site. We saw so much, too many to mention. Our guide was adept at getting us to the tour locations early, to avoid the long lines and crowds of people. The local food was good, lots of variety - just need to watch out for the very small bones in a lot of their local fish. Not a lot of activities on board the ship, but a nice selection - from Chinese lessons to a wonderful performance by the staff! It was definitely a trip of a life time for us - glad we were able to see so much of China and the extended trip to Guilin and Hong Kong. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2012
I am a single male senior, apparently the only one on this cruise. I am told that only 6 of the 90 cabins were occupied singly. I have sailed on over 30 ocean cruises, but this was my first river cruise in Europe. The flights, ... Read More
I am a single male senior, apparently the only one on this cruise. I am told that only 6 of the 90 cabins were occupied singly. I have sailed on over 30 ocean cruises, but this was my first river cruise in Europe. The flights, arranaged by Viking, involved a change of plane in Madrid, which was not how I expected to get from New York to Amsterdam. My transfer to the ship was in a Mercedes. Embarkation was very smooth. Unfortunately, because of the flights selected, it was too late for lunch aboard. The dock was convenient to Central Station for those who wished to explore on their own. The stateroom, though small, was very attractive, all in light woods with translucent doors for the closet and bathroom. There was a mini-refrigerator and both 110v and 220v outlets. The bed was very comfortable. The flat-panel tv was excellent, but there were frequent interruptions in the signal. Since I was on the bottom deck, my window was only half-height. Closet space was ample and there was a room safe. I wish the cabin had a chair, but there was really no space for it. The bathroom, while compact, made good use of the space and had all the essentials. The vacuum system broke down one day, but was fixed within several hours. The ship is beautiful. Everything is light and airy. The dining room is very attractive. There is also an outdoor area for casual dining forward of the dining room, which would be very pleasant in warmer weather. The lounge is lovely, but a bit too small for full-ship gatherings. The sun deck has ample seating in sun and shade and even an herb garden and solar panels. An elevator connects the middle and upper decks, but not the bottom deck or the sundeck. There is no spa or exercise room. Internet is free, but not always working. There is no assigned seating in the dining room. Breakfast and lunch are primarilly buffet-style, with other items available to order. Dinner was waiter-served. The level of the food was very high, among the best I have encountered cruising. Portions are small by American standards, but enough for healthy eating. There was complimentary wine and beer at lunch and dinner. Premium beverage packages were available for purchase, but seemed ridiculously expensive. I was surprised how few men wore a jacket for the captain's dinner. There were very few organized activities onboard except for an early morning stretch class in the lounge. This is really not a problem, because so much of the time is spent either on shore excursions or on enjoying the view. There are no programs for children, so it would be an unsuitable choice for them. The international staff, mostlly eastern European, were topnotch -- friendly and efficient. The cruise director was very good at her job. There was a concierge, but I did not have occasion to use her services.After dinner, there was low-key entertainment in the lounge. One night there were clog dancers and another night there was a sea shanty singing group. The shore excursions ranged from good to excellent. In Amsterdam, the tour included a wonderful canal cruise. Unfortunately it was bitter cold the morning we visited Kinderdijk. The walking tour of Antwerp was excellent. I was disappointed that the tour of Bruges did not include the canal cruise. The optional tour to the Kroller-Muller Museum from Arnhem was excellent. The visit to the Delta Works was very interesting and Hoorn was quite picturesque. Since I use a cane, I was grateful that there was a "gentle walking" group on most of the excursions. The wireless earphone systems that each passenger received greatly added to my enjoyment of the tours. Disembarkation was well-organized, but I was unhappy to have to leave the ship at 4:45 a.m. to catch a flight to Madrid, where I had to wait several hours for my connecting flight to New York. I wish Viking River Cruises' air arrangements were at the high level of the rest of their operation. All in all, I was very favorably impressed with Viking River Cruises' first-class operation and sold on the pleasures of a river cruise. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2011
My overall rating for Viking is a 95 out of 100 but with no other river cruise to compare it too. That being said we were fairly worried about the water levels on the Danube prior to out departure of this trip. We departed from Orlando ... Read More
My overall rating for Viking is a 95 out of 100 but with no other river cruise to compare it too. That being said we were fairly worried about the water levels on the Danube prior to out departure of this trip. We departed from Orlando on Dec 16Th with air booked through Viking Air. Although we took the scenic route from OIA to Detroit to Amsterdam to Budapest. All went well and all of our connections went as planed. We arrived in Budapest airport and were greeted by Viking Prestige staff after retrieving our luggage and were loaded on buses to the ship. We were greeted on the ship with an abbreviated buffet lunch and were allowed to our room (123) one hour prior then stated @ 2:00 PM. Our room was new and modern as compared with any ocean cruise that we had taken. We were on the bottom deck (the cheep seats) but the only difference was the size of the window compared with any other rooms with the exception of the suites. Food was generally very good with the exception of a couple of meals that we didn't prefer and we ordered the optional ( standard) steak which was a very good option. Salad dressings were watered down and could use improving but the baked goods and breads were very good. The crew was very good and service was for the most part exceptional. Our cabin steward was great and we did not have to ask for anything in the entire 11 days on the ship. The cruise director was fantastic and very entertaining. All cruise activities were well organized although limited as compared to ocean cruising. The tours that were included were very good and the tour guides that were used were very informative and professional. We had a couple of guides that I would say were exceptional. The one optional tour we took was the Mozart Strauss Concert and I did not think it was a good value for the money! We thought it was to take place at a "Theater" with real acoustics etc. but it was not. Others that I talked to were disappointed with this tour as well! The weather on the cruise was as expected during the winter months and the Christmas markets were very nice but we are not big shoppers. The food and wine at the markets were the highlight for me.Of course during Christmas day and eve, the markets and shops were either closed or closed early. We met many wonderful people on the ship and found this type of cruising very intimate and a great way to meet new friends. Water levels were very low prior to leaving on our trip and towards the end of our trip our ship was having difficulty getting under some bridges do to high water levels( go Figure)! Obviously water levels change very quickly on the Danube. We also went through many "Locks" which was very interesting and different! Our return trip home was from Nuremberg Germany to Paris to Atlanta to Orlando. Although very long we had no problems and all our connections went smoothly and with no loss of luggage. This was a very good trip and I would highly recommend river cruising and I would highly recommend Viking. Happy Sailing, Frank & Lynn Read Less
Sail Date: December 2011
As this was my third trip with Viking, I expected an excellent time on my trip, and that' s exactly what I got. The on shore trips were quite enjoyable. The amount of free time that we are allowed has extremely improved from the ... Read More
As this was my third trip with Viking, I expected an excellent time on my trip, and that' s exactly what I got. The on shore trips were quite enjoyable. The amount of free time that we are allowed has extremely improved from the previous trips that I have taken (Russian Czar Trip and Danube Christmas Markets) The romantic Danube trip was great since it coincided with the Christmas Markets so actually it was better than the previous Christmas on the Danube trip the previous year, except we didn't get to go to Linz. I would and have highly recommended Viking to my friends for these reasons. 1. Great for history and art lover. 2. Easy traveling for all age brackets. 3. Friendly ship personnel for the most part. (Russian the best) 4. Beautiful scenery and choice of cities visited. 5. Great breakfasts. 6. Wonderful entertainment aboard. 7. History on board has been so-so. Needs work!! Russian cruise was good. 8. Dinners need improvement. Too much like hospital food. 9. Modified walking trips for those who cannot keep up with rigorous paces. 10. Clean and good size rooms. 11. Internet not so great, so don't depend on for urgent communication. Too few computers also. 12. The pianist have been spectacular! 13. Front desk personnel could be friendlier. Waiters are "stuffy" except for the Philippian waiters. Housekeeping are quite and polite. Overall, I enjoyed my three trips with Viking and would do it over again. I also want to do future trips with them. I also have a family member that has gone on three cruises with Viking. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2011
This is a rather long journal of our AMA Waterways land/cruise to Vietnam and Cambodia. The trip was taken in November 2011. Within the daily entries are some dining suggestions, travel hints and information about the sites that were ... Read More
This is a rather long journal of our AMA Waterways land/cruise to Vietnam and Cambodia. The trip was taken in November 2011. Within the daily entries are some dining suggestions, travel hints and information about the sites that were visited. Friday, October 28 We left from San Francisco (SFO) as this airport, even though 90 minutes away, permitted us to use our Oneworld frequent flier miles for business class travel. We arrived at the airport around 10pm and checked in at the EVA counter. We were a bit apprehensive about our luggage moving through different airlines and airports with a final arrival in Hanoi. The EVA counter staff indicated that the bags should arrive with our plane in Hanoi as there was sufficient time between flights. Our flights would take us from SFO to Taipei to Hong Kong and, finally, to Hanoi. With our business class tickets, we were able to use the EVA platinum lounge. The lounge is a nice way to kill time while waiting for your flight. The lounge served drinks and a number of Chinese food selections -â€" soup, sandwiches and was relatively full of travelers waiting for the 1:30am flight. Sunday, October 30 Disembarking in Taipei was a breeze. We had a couple of hours to wait and then it was off on flight #2, to Hong Kong. The flight duration was a little over an hour. In Hong Kong, we had a four hour layover before our final flight to Hanoi. The air quality was very hazy and smoggy and reminded us of Shanghai. You couldn't see the hills surrounding the airport -â€" each disappeared in a foggy haze. We hoped that the air quality would be better in Vietnam. We finally arrived in Hanoi around 4pm. A bus took us from the plane to the terminal. At the terminal, we quickly passed through a visa check and to the luggage carousel. With bags in hand, we found an ATM to withdraw Dong . There are several bank ATMs at the Hanoi airport. We used the formal taxi stand near Vietnam Airlines for our transfer to the Sofitel. Be aware of taxi driver approaches from inside the terminal or at the information desk. The taxi stand near Vietnam Airlines was $16 one-way compared to $30 one-way for independent taxi drivers for a downtown trip. The Sofitel will provide a limo pick-up but the fee is even higher. The roads from the airport to hotel were filled with scooters, cars and trucks, each of which weaving in and out of lanes to move forward. It was surprising that we didn't see more accidents. We arrived at our hotel after a 30 minute drive. At the Sofitel, a receptionist met us at the taxi door and checked us in -â€" no need to wait at the counter. On our way to our room, we were given a brief tour through the old and new hotel sections. Our room was in the newer wing. The hotel had very plush décor and the service was very good, right from the start. We ended our long day of travel with drinks and bowls of Pho from the hotel's Bamboo Bar, near the pool, and then headed in to take showers, read a bit and get some sleep. Monday, October 31 Despite being tired and going to sleep early, we found ourselves up at 4am. We reviewed plans for our day tour during the early hours. We walked a few blocks around the Metropole before breakfast to check the weather and see what was around our hotel. At 7:30, we had breakfast at the buffet in Spices, an on-site restaurant. It was a great breakfast, combining western and Asian foods with particularly sweet local watermelon, papayas and mangos. After breakfast, we returned to our room to get ready for our day of touring. We met Kien and Yien, from Hanoikids, in the Sofitel lobby and started our walk to the Old Quarter. The first site we viewed was the Hanoi Opera House. Along the walk, we observed a growing number of scooters zooming along the city surface streets. Crossing the streets in the Old Quarter was an exercise of both caution and confidence. We stopped at several stores and temples in the Old Quarter and at a communal house at Ma May Street. We also stopped for egg coffee (that is, whipped eggs in the coffee) at an obscure second floor location in the Quarter, likely only known by local city residents. Our guides said that the recipe is a secret and only two stores in the Quarter serve this drink. Leaving the Old Quarter, our guides called for a taxi to Hao Lo Prison, or the Hanoi Hilton. This was a bleak prison, run first by the French to incarcerate and torture Vietnamese political detainees. The fate of American prisoners was perhaps only slightly better. In contrast, the prison's history displays reflected humane treatment for the American prisoners. For lunch, we stopped at Quan An Ngon, a local #2 rated restaurant in Tripadvisor, for traditional Vietnamese food. Our guides selected the dishes and they were very tasty but it is hard to recall the names of any of the dishes we ate. With lunch and beverages for five, it cost us about $15. After lunch, we decided to call it a day -â€" it was around 3:30pm. After a five minute taxi ride back to the hotel, we separated from our guides. Dinner was at the Green Tangerine. We considered walking to the restaurant but, upon advice from the hotel, took a cab. It was a good suggestion and we're glad we took it. The walk looked short on paper but was seemed longer. However, the taxi ride was only $1. The restaurant was on a 'shoe' street on the edge of the Old Quarter. A two-story building, it was nicely furnished and appeared to attract tourists, rather than locals. The price, although moderate for us, could have been the reason. We ate at the first floor table and quickly read through a menu that reflected a French influenced creative menu. I ordered the boneless chicken legs stuffed with currants, almonds and black mushrooms, served with artichoke and lotus root. My wife ordered the duck breast covered with roasted mushrooms, cep and tamarind sauce, with a tartlet of asparagus, crème patisserie of cardamom and ricard. Our traveling companion ordered the rack of lamb in spicy couscous broth, with surprise balls, and a polenta made with tiny lotus seeds and raisins. Quite creative dinner dishes were available. We shared a dessert of mango cake and ended the day with a cab ride back to the hotel. Dinner was about $75 for the three of us. Tuesday, November 1 We were joined by Lin, from Hanoikids, and jumped into a taxi to see the Ho Chi Minh residence and HCM museum. The first stop was Ba Dinh Square, where we viewed the external of the HCM mausoleum building. It was large and built to be very imposing. Unfortunately, it was still closed -â€" opens after 11/5 - so we continued our walk to the Presidential Palace. Built by the French government, it too was imposing and painted a royal yellow. This building is used for offices currently. We continued our walk past HCM's vehicles towards his more humble wooden residence. Built for his birthday, the residence is constructed from stained wood planks. Underneath the structure is a meeting table, fish tank and resting chair. Above this area, were a small study and a bedroom. We learned that as HCM became unable to climb the stairs, he moved to a one-story concrete building. It was there he died in 1969. We continued our walk towards the HCM museum. The first floor of the museum contained numerous photographs of HCM and his peers. Walking up the stairs to the second floor, were more contemporary displays. After leaving the museum, we caught a taxi to the National Museum of Fine Arts. There, we toured several floors of early to current paintings and sculptures. One interesting observation was how war time experiences affected many of the more current art paintings. There were so many paintings, we soon were walking a bit faster -â€" the amount of art works was overwhelming. Exiting the art museum, we decided to have lunch. We were taken to a restaurant, Quon Chim Sao, that is known for countryside cooking. There we took off our shoes and headed upstairs to the second floor. The square tables were about three inches off the floor and there were cushions for us to sit down on the floor. With creaking limbs, we edged down. Lunch included a soup dish with rice and noodles, pork pieces, papaya salad and rice paper wrapped cold spring rolls. After lunch, we took a taxi to the hotel and there we remained for the afternoon. The lunch (about $22) for four was more expensive than the yesterday's lunch. We also agreed that the food was tastier the day before at Quan An Ngon -â€" perhaps we enjoy more of the city street food selections. Overall, we recommend engaging Hanoikids for guide services and learning about life in Hanoi. As there were no fees for the assistance (other than snacks, lunch and entry fees), we purchased t-shirts from the research university where I work to give to the student guides. With an earlier return to the Sofitel, I visited the hotel gym. Later at the Bamboo Bar, we learned that a bunker was found under the Bamboo Bar and two wine bottles were pulled up. While sitting at the bar, hotel and news representatives were going into a hole in the ground. Two news teams were present to interview a Sofitel executive. Interesting find -â€" we later learned that the bunker was used in the Vietnam War but the exact location was unclear over the past 30 years. This evening we headed out to The Verticale for dinner via a short taxi ride to the Old Quarter. The Verticale is located in a side alley, not far from the Metropole, in the Hoa Kiem District. We noticed that many of the restaurants are located amidst other retail offerings, many of them offering moderate to low priced goods, such as shoes, clothing items, bike parts and plumbing goods. For visitors, it would be hard to find a restaurant without a taxi as street names were hard to find and, when found, difficult for us to read. Master Chef Didier Corlou, the Sofitel chef for many years, owns and operates The Verticale. Our table was located on the first floor, a short walk up the exterior stairs. We were the first diners, arriving at 6:30. Soon, more customers trickled and all the tables on the first floor were occupied. We started with a small plate with a small container of liquid tasting a bit like rice vinegar and celery pieces. Next were small soup servings, our appetizer, sorbet and our main entrees (I had the seabass wrapped in banana leaves). We pre-ordered an apple dessert so that it would be done after we completed our dinner. For the three of us, the bill, with wine and dessert ran about $125. Try this restaurant for wonderful food selections, beautiful presentation and good service. Wednesday, November 2 We joined our AMALotus fellow passengers for an 8:30am orientation briefing in the morning and, shortly afterwards (around 9:30am), started our morning city tour. We loaded onto a bus and stopped at Ba Dinh Square and toured the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum area, Presidential Palace and HCM residence. Afterwards, we stopped at the One Pillar Pagoda and Temple of Literature. There were several high school graduates at the Temple, celebrating their graduation. Some of these stops were duplicates of our previous tour with Hanoikids. This occurred as reading the AMA brochure we were unsure of actual AMA stops versus a bus drive-by view. We returned back to the Sofitel for lunch. We decided that we would rejoin the tour group at the water puppet show, at 4:50pm, and miss the Old Quarter walking tour and rickshaw ride since we had already visited the Old Quarter. This made the afternoon more relaxed. We arrived at the puppet show a bit early and met our tour group as they were walking through the quarter. It was an interesting sight to see such a large group move through the crowded Old Quarter streets. After the puppet show, we had a light dinner on our own at the Bamboo Bar and returned to our room to complete our packing for the motor coach ride to Ha Long Bay. Thursday, November 3, 2011 We were up at 5am, showered and completed the packing of our larger bags. We placed them outside our door at 6:45am, for the bellman, and then went down to breakfast. On the bus at 8am, we were on our way to Ha Long Bay. The bus trip was part way on a highway, but much of the time was spent driving through small towns, on a two lane road. Faster vehicles periodically passed us with a honk. We stopped half-way for a bathroom break after two hours. The stop was a large retail operation that appeared to cater to tourist and travelers. We purchased a number of lacquer plates for gifts and boarded the bus after a 45 minute stop. (Note the tour stops at a high-quality lacquer shop in Saigon). The remainder of the drive took about 90 minutes and we arrived at Ha Long Bay at 12:30. We grabbed our carry-on luggage and walked onto a small tender that brought us to the larger junk. The interior of our junk cabin was quite nice. A moderate sized room, with marble shower and bathroom. After a short briefing, we dropped our luggage in the cabin and had lunch. Although described as a buffet, the lunch was actually served by wait staff. Lunch was several courses, starting with a pumpkin soup, papaya salad, cooked vegetables, sea bass and rice. Dessert was fresh fruit with yogurt. Right after lunch, the junk stopped at Ti Top island for a short, but steep hike, to a look-out point. It was a bit warm and humid, and resulted in a bit of deep breaths and perspiration to reach the top. As we only had 45 minutes for this stop, we rested for a few minutes, took a few pictures and then headed back down. The tender met us within ten minutes and we were shortly back on the junk. We were pleased to see some blue sky during our bay cruise and hike. We now had about an hour to rest before our next activity, a sampan visit to a floating village. We transferred from a ship tender to a sampan in groups of four. A woman manned the sampan oars and guided us through her village. We were able to view fishing platforms, a school, fishing boats and floating houses. There were electric generators for the floating houses and we were told that fresh water is delivered to each house on a daily basis. We wondered what the village thought of us -â€" 80 or so visitors with cameras in hand. Regardless, we realized that our visit was helping the economy of the village. Remember to bring a few $1 bills for if you would like to tip the sampan guide. The buffet dinner offered a number of Vietnamese dishes. During dinner, a ship director stopped by and chatted for a few minutes. It seems that Indochina Sails, a private company, owns the junk service and also owns/leases the AMALotus and AMAMarguerite to AMA. He mentioned that some of the Ha Long Bay fishing village members are now working as Indochina Sails staff. In particular, these local employees are very familiar with the Ha Long Bay waterways. Friday, November 4 Coffee and pastries were available at 6:30am in the junk, with full breakfast at 9:30am, after a visit to the Surprise Cave. After breakfast, we will be departing Ha Long Bay by bus to the airport. This could very well be a multiple shower day -â€" after our cave visit and this evening. The warmth and humidity seems to encourage showering -â€" plus the use of insecticide also is a factor. Note that during our trip we never saw any mosquitoes but still applied deet before many stops -â€" particularly near still water. We went up to the third deck at 6:30am for coffee and breakfast pastries. The junk pulled up its anchor around 7am and we enjoyed our slow cruise through the limestone islands. At 8am, we boarded a tender with about 22 fellow passengers to visit the Surprise Cave. The ride took about ten minutes and soon we were mesmerized by each of the three large caves, each one leading to a larger cave and each separated by narrow passageways. The guides pointed out rock structures that appeared to resemble animals and religious icons. At 9am, we were exiting the caves and back on the tender. Upon arriving at the junk, we quickly showered (the caves were warm/humid). We had about 30 minutes to shower, complete packing our hand-carry luggage and meet for breakfast at 9:45am. (Note that our check-in luggage remained locked overnight on the bus). Breakfast was a typical buffet with Vietnamese and western fare. After brunch, we had time to relax and settle our drink bill -â€" only $18. We vacated our cabin before breakfast so that the crew could start preparing for the next group of junk cruisers. At 11:30am, we departed the junk on a tender. Upon landing we quickly boarded the bus and were on our way to the Hanoi airport. About two hours into the drive, we stopped at a large private golf course for lunch. There was a large restaurant at the course and this provided a good opportunity for serving the approximately 100 individuals traveling with AMA. After lunch, we boarded the bus and finally arrived at the airport at 4pm. There we quickly passed through immigration and the airport security check. The flight was delayed a few minutes and experienced one gate change. With only an hour flight, Vietnam Airlines still found time to serve drinks and a meal. AMA collected our passports during the flight to Siem Reap. AMA used the passports to arrange a quick entry into Cambodia, so we didn't need to stop at immigration. We simply picked up our luggage and headed for the bus that would take us to the Sofitel hotel in Siem Reap. During the bus ride, we received some basic information from Savon, our local guide. When we arrived at the hotel, we were met by musicians, cold towels, and a ginger drink. We also received our keys and dropped off our hand-carry luggage in our room before dinner. Dinner was a large buffet, with local dishes. Despite the food selections, we weren't too hungry after snacking on the plane. With the return to our room, we showered and did a few hand wash items. In general, we rarely wore any of the long-sleeved shirts or long pants we packed during this trip. Wearing light weight clothes that could dry overnight was a big advantage. Saturday, November 5 We had an early breakfast and headed out to the buses at 8:30am. The hotel is located close to the Angkor Wat area, so the ride was about 15 minutes long. As the road that continues to Angkor Thom passes through narrow gates, we transferred from our larger bus to two smaller vans. At this transfer location, we were able to walk up and view the gates, wall and river surrounding the road into the city of Angkor Thom. Shortly arriving at Angkor Thom, we saw a large city structure, with remnants of several tall towers with faces. At the highest tower was what was left of a lotus flower. We were told that several of the pieces were stolen over time and the structures were originally covered with gold and silver leaf. The tour of the city area required climbing over several steps. It was quite warm in the areas unprotected from the sun. Every so often, we passed through an area in which cool breezes could be felt. Many of the wall carvings could still be seen quite clearly. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and we found ourselves on the van to Te Prohm. During our van ride, Savon mentioned that about half of the 4 million land mines have been cleared from Cambodia. These mines placed as defensive measures have been found in areas long forgotten. In fact, some of the individuals reportedly forget where they placed their mines and, ironically, lost their lives from their own mines. Mines were found/removed near the checkpoint area where we received our temple visit badge. The Te Prohm temple is often known as the "Tomb Raider" temple. It was the site of the filming of this movie. The buses parked in an area with small souvenir stands. After departing from the vans, we walked along a dusty path to the temple. The first sight was a small moat or pond and the first external wall. We entered a small courtyard and soon could see areas where the roots of the trees extended to become part of the building structures. We couldn't determine if the roots strengthened the wall with support or were destructive. As we walked through the temple, paths were cleared but there were crumbled fragments of the structure in jumbled formations. Again, the temperature was warm and shady areas were popular as well as the stops where a cool breeze could be experienced. With our tour completed, we walked back to the vans along the same path we used to enter the temple area. There we boarded our buses to return back to the hotel for lunch and a short rest. We stopped for an a la carte lunch at the hotel bar. Meal service at the Sofitel was extremely slow and we were glad we decided to have lunch first and then return back to our hotel room. At 2:30, we boarded a bus to Banteay Srei, a smaller temple about 20 miles outsite of Siem Reap. Along the ride, we saw rice fields and small villages with houses raised on stilts. We were told that the raised housing protected the inhabitants from wild animals. The tigers and wild pigs were more prevalent before loss of the dense forest. At Banteay Srei we could see surrounding reconstructed pieces of temple walls but less formed that the previous larger structures at Te Prohm or Angkor Thom. The entrances into BS were intricately carved. It was surprising to us that the carvings were so clear. The temple walkway led us through three (as I recall) areas. Small, shallow pools were seen along the pathways. Towards the rear, we could see smaller building structures. Exiting the temple area, we walked along the path that led us to the parking lot and small stalls selling food and crafts. We purchased some silk scarves and a young boy offered to run and purchase a cold beer ($2 each, regular price $1) for us. This offer was welcome and taken. On our return to the hotel, we stopped by a small orphanage that helped about 25 young boys and girls to acquire life skills and learn English reading and writing. Given the relatively young age that adults live to (52 men and 55 for women) and the large number of children each couple may have, you could see that there is a strong need for this type of social service. This particular school is financed without public dollars and only with support from some of the larger tour companies and visitors to the school. We watched a short dance presentation by the girls and boys and then visited the gift area, where student artwork was offered for sale. We purchased some hand painted postcards and delivered some writing supplies we brought from the US. The bus returned us to the hotel at 6pm. We had about an hour to clean up and rest before a fixed course dinner, hosted by AMA. The dinner service was extremely slow and we finished at 9:45pm. A very long time for a hotel dinner with fixed menu items. Sunday, November 6 Today it's off to Angkor Wat and then back to the hotel by 12noon. We will then have the afternoon to ourselves in Siem Reap. We were looking forward to going into town for an unstructured visit. It was a familiar bus ride to Angkor Wat as we had passed this temple yesterday on our drive to Angkor Thom. We started our tour along the walkway over the moat surrounding the outer walls of the temple. Angkor Wat has three levels and we visited each. The first level was surrounded by a moat, which served as a cleansing area for the public to wash before entering the temple. At the higher levels, there were pools, but these pools were reserved for the monks and high officials. The last level was reached by a number of steep wooden stairs. These stairs, unlike many others, had a handrail which helped ensure steady footing. At the top level, there was a broad area in which visitors could walk and see the view from several window areas. With the heat and humidity, our clothes and bodies were sticky. At the base of the first level, there were many local villagers selling scarves, shirts and other tourist items. We purchased several additional scarves for office gifts. It was almost walking through a gauntlet of local sellers as we returned to our group meeting location. We returned to the hotel at 11:30. This permitted us to grab a quick shower and change into some dry/clean clothes. We also met with our cruise manager to pick-up luggage tags for the morning. During our free afternoon, we took a tuk-tuk ride from the Sofitel to town. We stopped for lunch at the Blue Pumpkin and explored Pub Street, Old Market, FCC stores, and the McDermott gallery. At the gallery, we purchased a photograph of five faces at Bayon, Angkor Thom. As it was close to 3:30pm and our travel companion had a helicopter ride planned (about $100), we returned via tuk-tuk back to the hotel. At the market areas we visited during the trip, you can purchase jewelry and stones at 'bargain' prices. Some vendors will use some type of meter to confirm the authenticity of the stone. One of our local guides mentioned that these meters should not be trusted. I also saw several watches (marked as Omega, Rolex, Piguet, etc) at these open-air markets. In regards to shopping for locally produced items, we purchased lacquer ware, silk scarves and silk table-runners to bring back as gifts. We also purchased a few silk clothing items for ourselves. Before our 7pm dinner, we stopped at Garden of Desire, a downtown jewelry store, where my wife purchased a ring and earrings. Dinner reservations were next door at the AHA Bar and Restaurant. I ordered a taro based soup that had a split pea flavor, salmon encrusted with jasmine rice and we shared three desserts -â€" a chocolate cake with raspberry sorbet, ginger ice cream and a banana fritter with palm ice cream. After dinner, we looked around local shops and the night market. My wife purchased purse along the way. Ending our evening out, we flagged a tuk-tuk to take us back to the Sofitel ($1 per person). We returned to hotel at 9:30pm to finish our luggage packing. Monday, November 7 A morning bus ride was necessary as the high water levels prevented the AMALotus from picking us up in Siem Reap. The bus ride took about 4.5 hours, with a bathroom break two hours later around 10:30. Along the way our local guide shared his knowledge of the sights we could see from the road and life in Cambodia. We could see that life along the drive was hard - aged wood houses on stilts and transit largely limited to scooter and pedal bicycles. Often times, dirt from the sides of the road covered the center of the road, giving the appearance of a dirt road. The break area was wet and required walking over several feet of narrow wood planks. The planks took some careful steps, though the mud below the planks wasn't very deep. A few individuals walked carefully through a packed muddy path. Once we arrived at the structure, the rest area had a large bathroom area and a small gift store. Apparently, there weren't too many bathroom break areas along the road to Kamchong as there were many buses that pulled over at this stop. As we drove through Kamchong Cham town, the AMALotus soon appeared in sight. Although the boat has stopped at this port previously, it is hard to imagine the thoughts of the local town residents about the luxury boat appointments and the passengers on the boat. Lunch was served after we boarded and we received cabin keys thereafter. The standard cabin was a bit larger than the junk cabin and nicely accented with dark woods. Storage space within the cabin was sufficient. The cabin storage area included a safe. The stateroom balcony was small and contained a single chair and table. The public lounges and sundeck were nicely decorated and there was a small fitness room with one treadmill and one elliptical. The cabins were well-insulated from noises generated within adjoining units. A brief introductory safety and itinerary discussion was held at 4:30pm. With dinner at 7pm, we had a quiet evening. Dinner selections included a pineapple -â€" shrimp salad, broccoli cream soup, swordfish and a cheese plate for dessert. Dinner was similar to other river/cruise ships -â€" hotel quality food selections. Local wines and well drinks were provided without additional fees. What was intended for a quiet evening didn't quite turn out that way. I must have picked up some intestinal bacteria that didn't agree with me. I ended up taking four Pepto Bismal tablets, spaced through the evening, which seemed to help. Although I had Azithromycin in my bag of packed drugs, I decided the issue wasn't severe enough to use it. On a side note, I was aware of several people on the tour that became afflicted with some gastric distress during the trip. Where the problem was picked up was completely unknown as bottled water was used throughout the trip. We were alerted not to drink the cabin tap or shower water. At the end of the trip, one of the travelers in our group was brought to a local hospital ($75) for a check-up due to a continuing bout of intestinal upset -â€" I heard it was possibly a parasite infection. AMA was very helpful in providing assistance and support for this passenger health issue. Tuesday, November 8 I decided to stay in this morning rather than take the short walking tour excursion at 8:30am. I asked my wife take pictures and fill me in on the sights. At 9am, my wife disembarked to take a walking tour of Peam Chi Kang, a river village. I hung out in the lounge and checked email and browsed the Internet. After an hour, the walking tour group returned to the ship. The weather this morning was hot and humid and the returning travelers looked a bit wilted. Regardless, within minutes we gathered for a safety drill and then a presentation on Cambodia from the tour guides. Lunch was at 12:30pm and included salad, a "hot item action station" item (sweet and sour prawns with rice), main course and dessert selections. At 3pm, the next stop was a walking tour of Chong Koh. I was feeling better and participated in the activity. Part way through the walking tour, a heavy rain fell, making the mud slippery. Nonetheless, we waited under cover for the downpour to stop and then continued where the mud was less dangerous for walking. The side benefit of the rain was that the weather became cloudy and cooler as we were protected from the sun. We watched a couple of silk weavers and saw sights around the village. This had to be a previous stop along the river, as children and their mothers were pressing for visitors to purchase scarves and cloths. We purchased a couple to help the families out as we could see that life is hard and tourist dollars really assist these families with their lives. We returned to the ship at 4:30pm, swapping our muddy shoes for slippers at the gangway, and decided to take showers and clean up for dinner. These afternoon showers have been a good way to remove the daily dose of deet spray, as well. Our cleaned shoes were later returned to us at the registration desk. Wednesday, November 9 Today it's off to visit the Royal Palace at Phenom Penh, Cambodia and,later, a killing field and prison of the Khmer Rouge. The bus departed the port and within 15 minutes, we arrived at the Royal Palace for a photo opportunity. There was an issue with the schedule, so we moved to the National Museum as our first formal stop. At the museum, a guide discussed a number of major exhibit pieces. The visit was somewhat rushed to permit us to visit the Royal Palace. Apparently, the King is in residence and this alters the time when the palace grounds are open. The grounds were beautiful and we stopped to visit the interiors of the throne room and silver pagoda. Our afternoon trip was to a killing field and, a Khmer Rouge prison, known as S21. Both were rather gruesome to visit and it was difficult to grasp how such atrocities could occur and what happened to the high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials. We started to read "First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers," during the trip to learn more about this time in Cambodia. We returned back to the ship by 5:45pm, which left us enough time to shower up and catch up on some Internet updates. Thursday, November 10 We decided to stay in rather than take the organized morning tour to a pagoda and oxcart ride. This made for a leisurely breakfast and time to catch-up on email and Internet browsing. During the morning, we took a short walk on our own to Wat Phnom. We couldn't always find the street name signs, so following the ship provided map was not easy. A few tuk-tuk drivers followed us around, hoping to get a fare. We stayed in after lunch for the rest of the afternoon. Friday, November 11 Today was our rest day as we cruised the Mekong River and were not making any port stops. We got up a little later and went down to breakfast at 7am. There were fewer passengers at breakfast as they were likely sleeping in. We watched our departure from Phnom Penh from the upper deck and then moved to the lounge to read and use the Internet service. During the morning, we used Skype to make a family call. The connection was pretty good. For about 10 minutes of conversation, the Skype charge was only $0.32. Before we knew it, lunch time arrived. After lunch, my wife read on the sundeck and I read in the room (much cooler there). At 3pm, we gathered in the lounge to watch the cooking demonstration. There, we learned how to make pho soup and cold rice rolls. An ice cream social in the lounge followed afterwards. Saturday, November 12 We arrived at Tan Chau this morning and we had a bicycle rickshaw ride into town, with stops at a mechanized silk factory and rattan factory. Departing at 8:30, we got our excursion cards and entered a tender to go to shore. On the shore, we were met by our Xe Loi drivers. On the ride through town, on roads too narrow for cars or buses, we were able to view the town and residential life. We saw a broad range of residences -â€" from shelters to very well maintained houses. The silk factory was an interesting site. The equipment seemed almost historic but was fully functional and provided the town residents with needed commercial industry. The second stop at a rattan mat factory that gave a similar feeling -â€" almost historic machinery with manual reed dyeing but fully functional and successful. After the rattan factory stop, we transferred to the pier, where we boarded a small tender to floating fish farm and walking tour of the village. We returned to the boat for lunch by 12noon. This afternoon we cruised 90 km to Sa Dec. This part of the cruise took take the better part of the afternoon, so we had a relaxing afternoon to read and use the Internet for messaging. Sunday, November 13 This was a busy day with a tour in the morning at Sa Dec and in Cai Be in the late afternoon. However, the tour start times were pushed back 30 minutes to 9am and 3pm, respectively. We started our tour with a stop at the Sa Dec market via a tender to shore. During the tender ride, we could see a brick factory along the shore. After disembarking the tender, it was a short walk to visit a Chinese temple. We backtracked a bit and stopped at Huynh Thuy Le's house. This was a small house amid the busy water front area. We returned to the boat by walking through an open-air whole sale market. At the market, we saw fruits, vegetables, seafood, poultry, snakes and rat. After lunch, we disembarked the ship via a tender for our Cai Be visit, at 3pm. Along the way, we saw the floating markets. In this area, individual boats display their wholesale item on a long bamboo pole in the front of the ship. Shoppers negotiate their wholesale purchase ship to ship. We didn't linger in this area of the river and continued to dock near a food preparation factory. At the factory, we watched popped rice candy, rice sheets, rice wine, a local toffee and salt being manufactured for retail sale. We walked along a river pathway and found ourselves at the oldest Catholic Church in Vietnam. Service had just completed so we could peek in a see the interior. After returning to the AMALotus, we cleaned up and starting packing for our departure from the ship the following day. Reaching a packing point for which we couldn't proceed much further, we retired to the lounge to relax, have a drink and use the Internet. For dinner, we joined our travel companion and new friends for our farewell ship dinner. It was interesting to learn about their experiences and reflections on board, as well as everyone's past travel activities. We shared many common recent observations. It was a fun evening and a great was to end the river cruise with newly made travel acquaintances. Note that your bill is settled on this last cruise date. You can add a gratuity for the ship crew and/or cruise manager to this bill -â€" which is helpful if you wanted to pay tips via your credit card. You can also settle your bill with cash. Monday, November 14 The ship pulled anchor from Cai Be at 5am, started its engine and made its way to the Saigon port. The anchor pulling is a noisy activity and the diesel engines tend to vibrate the ship. Thus, we were awake at 5am and finished packing our check-in luggage. At 6:30am, we placed our luggage out the door and went to an early breakfast (breakfast is usually starts at 7am, but on departure day opens at 6:30am). Once our luggage was placed in the hall, we felt that this portion of the trip was really over and ready to move to Saigon. We had a light breakfast, packed our carry-on and gathered in the Saigon Lounge to be called to our bus, at 8:30am. The bus ride provided familiar views of rural farms and countryside and took about two hours to reach town. We stopped at a Chinese pagoda, Reunification Palace, lacquer manufacture/store and reached the Indochine Restaurant, by 1pm, for lunch. We shared a table again with our previous dinner companions and had an enjoyable time discussing travel. Our cruise manager gave us our Sofitel room keys at the restaurant and the bus ride from the restaurant to the hotel was only about five minutes. After a brief rest, we walked over to the Hard Rock Cafe and returned to the lacquer store for purchases. Both were within a couple of blocks from the Sofitel. We bought a large 22-inch contemporary plate at the workshop and hand carried it on our return flights. Dinner was on our own and, with the late lunch, we decided to eat dinner at the Sofitel's casual restaurant. Tuesday, November 15 This morning, we met Zoom in the lobby at 8:30am for our first city tour of Saigon. This was a busy day with over a dozen stops. We started our tour with a stop at the Post Office and Notre Dame Cathedral. The cathedral was rather simple in decorations. Both buildings were constructed in the early 1800s. Our next stop required a drive to Chinatown to visit the Giac Lam Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Saigon. Established in the 1700s, we visited the exterior gardens and then entered the temple. The interior was ornately carved and contained funerary displays. From the pagoda, we drove to the Chinatown market, where Zoom assisted our travel companion to purchase a suitcase ($60 down to $20) and we toured the large wholesale market area. We continued our drive back to the downtown area and had lunch at Pho2000 and, afterwards visited, Ben Thanh market. We really didn't need anything, but purchased a small bottle of snake wine (very touristy). We then drove by Westmoreland's and Ambassador Cabot-Lodge's residences on our way to Dong Choi Street, the Opera House and the Khai Silk store. We shopped for about an hour, acquiring a shirt and sweater and then drove to the Rex Hotel. At the Rex Hotel, we refreshed ourselves with coffee, iced coffee and a glass of wine on the rooftop lounge. It was in this lounge that the 5pm daily US armed forces briefings were held. Zoom mentioned that the Rex, Majestic, Caravelle and Continental Hotels (historic properties) are government owned. The iced coffee was terrific at the Rex and is recommended. Our next stop was at the Trung Nguyen coffee store to purchase Vietnamese coffee beans for gifts to bring home. These roasted coffee beans are grown in the central highlands ($35 for 2,000 grams of whole beans). Note that weasel coffee is available in Vietnam but the cost remains prohibitive. We learned that the weasel coffee sold in the local markets is likely chemically treated at best. Our final tour stop was at the War Remnants Museum, with displays and photos largely from the Vietnam War, but a few exhibits from the war leading to Vietnam's independence from France. The photos were hard to view, at times grisly and raised questions about the advance knowledge about the danger from dioxin. Given our understanding of the hot, humid, swampy rural landscape, it is hard to imagine fighting and survival in such a harsh environment. The photo journalist entries in the museum reflected a pictorial history of the Vietnam War. After the last stop, it was now 5pm and time to wind down. We returned to the hotel for showers and a dinner at Cuc Gach Quan, at 7pm. The cab ride was about $2 and it was hard to determine where exactly we were. Regardless, the traditional Vietnamese dinner was very good, with menu selections by the waiter. We had family style servings of pork in claypot, crispy sea bass in passion fruit sauce, stir-fried zucchini buds, fried soft-shelled crabs, steamed rice and fried tofu. We also tried a mango juice with honey drink. This was definitely not a purely tourist restaurant as we could tell it was popular with local residents. Dinner for three, with drinks, ran about $50. With dinner complete, we returned to the hotel for the evening. Wednesday, November 16 The 8:30am drive out to the C? Chi tunnels with Zoom seemed to hit morning traffic and took about 90 minutes. The trip started on city roads and shifted to a single lane country road through several small farming villages. The tunnel parking lot contained several buses but the site was not crowded. We saw demonstrations of lethal traps, B52 bomb craters, lookout spots, cooking areas and techniques to permit air to the tunnels. My wife and our travel companion walked through a small section of the tunnels. Afterwards, we watched a short video that discussed the 'crazy American devils' and the havoc they wrought on the Cu Chi village area and the valiant fight waged by young village women and men. Most surprising to me was the close proximity of a former US base to the tunnel system. The bus ride back found less traffic and took about 70 minutes to return to the hotel. We had a light lunch at the hotel at 2pm. Since our room still needed a housekeeping visit, we walked down Dong Choi to view a few retail shops and peek into the Continental and Caravelle Hotels. By 3:45pm, we returned to the hotel and our room was ready. I jumped in the pool for about 30 minutes to cool off and talk with some folks from our AMA trip that were out on the 18th floor pool deck. For our last evening dinner, we went to Quan An Ngon for dinner. The menu contained photos of many of the dishes. The food was great but a little different that the food we had in Hanoi (at a similar restaurant). The shrimp and sweet potato pancakes weren't served with rice paper -â€" not sure if this was due to our ordering. We also ordered water spinach with garlic, beef in five spices, spring rolls, steamed rice, beer and a coconut drink. The entire dinner for two, with small tip, ran $17. The cab fare each way cost about $1. After dinner, we met our travel companion for a drink on the Sofitel pool deck (18th floor) overlooking the city and then finished packing for our flight the next day at 11:30am. Thursday, November 17 This day was a long day of travel, starting with a cab ride to the Ho Chi Minh International airport and ending at LAX for today and a short flight to northern California on Friday. We had breakfast at the hotel and departed for the airport at 8am. My wife was concerned about the traffic and wanted to start off early. Surprisingly, traffic was light and only took about 20 minutes (the ride was estimated at 30 to 40 minutes, depending on traffic). The taxi from the hotel was $10, which was considerably lower than reserving a Sofitel car, at $50. Starting the final return from our travels to Vietnam and Cambodia, we felt that the trip was over despite the need to complete three flights. We'll have great memories of this Asia visit. Of all the hotels we stayed in, the most memorable were the Metropole and Siem Reap Sofitels. The Sofitel Saigon Plaza was more of a business hotel and somewhat indistinguishable from the many hotels that I use for domestic business travel. The junk and AMALotus accommodations were fine. AMA did a great job at organizing the overall trip and daily activities and supporting travelers in the group. We also recommend contacting Zoom if you'd like to use a knowledgeable local guide with vehicle support in Saigon as well as contacting Hanoikids when visiting Hanoi. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2011
This was our very first cruise experience of any type (we've never even been on an ocean cruise). So, we have nothing with which to compare it but, bottom line, we enjoyed it and would go on another river cruise. We did the Viking ... Read More
This was our very first cruise experience of any type (we've never even been on an ocean cruise). So, we have nothing with which to compare it but, bottom line, we enjoyed it and would go on another river cruise. We did the Viking Cruise on the Rhine from Basel to Amsterdam where you hit four countries (Switzerland, France, Germany & the Netherlands) and many different cities. The cabins are small but very well engineered with lots of closet and storage space such that you don't feel cramped. They each have a large picture window that provides a nice view of the river and the towns along the way (see photo). The staff, for the most part, are friendly and helpful. The included excursions are, with few exceptions, well run and professionally guided. The only optional tour we took was the excursion to Colmar and that was worth it - the rest seemed like a waste of time (do you really need to tour another vineyard?) The main complaint concerns the meals. The breakfast is fine with both hot and cold items that are well prepared and tasty. They will prepare some special orders, e.g., I ordered an egg white omelette. Lunch always includes an extensive salad bar plus one hot items such as a hamburger or sandwich. Dinners were a problem. First, the menu is limited to a choice of only 2 entrees (meat or fish) plus a vegetarian option (e.g, pasta). In addition to the limited choice, the quality was poor to mediocre at best. So, while I was disappointed, I was not surprised since I had been warned by previous travelers and, quite frankly, I did not take this cruise for the cuisine. One more thing: if you are looking for extensive night life, e.g., shows, gambling, dancing, you will not find it on this river cruise. This mattered little to us since we were pretty tired after a day of sightseeing and ready to go to sleep early. Yes, there was some evening entertainment such as a glass blower one night, a classical music group another night and some other limited activities. Another point to be aware of --- during the early part of the cruise, at various stops, you disembarked and then boarded a bus to take you to a city (e.g., Heidelberg) or area (Black Forest). This was at odds with what some people (including us) expected which was that the ship would dock at a port and you would be able to walk to the town or site. To be fair, this did happen at later stops on the Rhine such as Rudesheim and Cologne. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2011
Arrived one day early in SPB. Stayed at Alexander House, which I highly recommend. Amusing atmosphere, very nicely serviced, small restaurant with good food at a reasonable price. They also sent a car to get us at the airport which was ... Read More
Arrived one day early in SPB. Stayed at Alexander House, which I highly recommend. Amusing atmosphere, very nicely serviced, small restaurant with good food at a reasonable price. They also sent a car to get us at the airport which was inexpensive and fantastic! Staff speaks English, free WIFI, great breakfast and quiet location. Anna at the desk is wonderful.AMA KATARINA :Generally enjoyable. Room smaller than expected but immaculate and well kept and supplied by Daria. extra towels pillows toilet tissues were always full. Rooms aft of the lobby suffer vibrations, engine noise and fuel smells. Very nice bedding and comfy bed. Bathroom adequate. One night of rough seas. Rooms without opening balcony doors and windows suffered greatly with uncontrollable heating & air conditioning..we had a balcony (235) so were fine.The doctor on board does the massages and does not show much expertise in that field, although kind and accommodating.The food was mediocre. Soups and salads were great, assortment of cheeses and breads quickly vanished from side table. Pastry and desserts were less than acceptable. Breakfast porridge is a highlight. Seating in the big dining room is noisy, difficult and cramped. Special requests are mostly ignored. Unimaginative and dull menu....Russian rules and regs have nothing to do with limited varieties and too many fried entrees. Think root vegetables 3x a day.On board entertainment: limited.Public areas: Uncomfortable furnishings consider the age of the travelers and every chair,couch is low- slung and sits too hard. I don't know how to manage space hogs and allowing groups to dominate these rather limited areas. The music in the bar is too loud for a small space and prohibits any conversation.Tours and excursions: ExcellentMarina does a good job of handling issues and keeping things moving. We LOVED our on board guide, Inna, and were very sorry to hear she is leaving the ship. SPB guide, Elsa, was the best guide we have ever had anywhere. Tours and visits went smoothly (except for stragglers) and I feel we got an excellent overview of all places visited. Do the Yusupov Palace Tour, it is wonderful, and of course Pushkin and Peterhof. We loved visiting the Tsar's burial sites and much time was saved in transport by the use of hydrofoils for transport. Nevsky Prospect uninspiring, but I live in a big city where all this shopping is available every day. The shops at Pushin are fantastic and offer the best quality in amber jewelry that I found. Evening at the Ballet was less than expected. Go to the Marinsky on your own.The small stops along the way were pleasant and relaxing. Uglich and the home visit are not to be missed. Lots of fur items to be had. Souvenir shopping gets more expensive the closer you get to Moscow, but Uglich had some good quality items and a very nice market.Moscow:Unexpectedly, loved it. A beautiful, cosmopolitan city, panoramic views from Sparrow Hill. Red Square...."Swan Lake", St Basils....all unforgettable.GUM is a shopping mall with overpriced and glamorous shopping...wander thru the food court on the first floor. Smaller than Harrod's but just as much fun! On Arbat Street, do go to the "Pushkin" souvenir store (right next to Pushkin House...it's a "better " tourist trap!) I paid less than half of price on the tag.Remember ..prices are negotiable, especially if you are paying cash ( dollars, rubles and euros accepted almost everywhere)This is a city where money can buy you anything...but that's not always a good thing.Port transfers: Went smoothly and without incident. Duty-free shops at Domodevonot so good.Weather: Changes from minute to minute. Rains most days at least once. Take layers (silk undies, sweater, jacket) and good rain gear, sturdy umbrella that stows easily. Good, sturdy walking shoes.Overall, we had a very good time and feel we have seen what we wanted to see in Russia. For anyone wanting to see the two major cities and a little country life, this is the way to do it. Based on what we saw and heard, AMA KATARINA IS the best boat doing the Russian WATERWAYS, but know in advance that Russia is Russia and things will be different.Experience 4+Boat 4+ ( By Russian riverboat standards)Staff 4+ Read Less
Sail Date: September 2011
AMA Waterways, Rivers & Castles on the AmaLegro This was a first river cruise for the 4 of us and AMA Waterways was selected because of previous reputation and the recommendation of our travel agent. We had looked at other ... Read More
AMA Waterways, Rivers & Castles on the AmaLegro This was a first river cruise for the 4 of us and AMA Waterways was selected because of previous reputation and the recommendation of our travel agent. We had looked at other product but decided on AMA based on itinerary, timing and reputation. We were not disappointed. We started our adventure by heading to Prague 2 days ahead of the AMA Waterways pre cruise start so that we had 4 days in Prague. Even that was not enough to cover everything. Booked air separate from AMA with Lufthansa and used a local airport transfer that we booked ahead online. (would definitely use Lufthansa again). We chose to connect in Dusseldorf rather than Frankfurt and that was a very wise decision. Absolutely no issues other than the fact the gate for Prague was in the bowels of the airport and we had to take a bus to the plane parked out on the tarmac. Prague: Our stay at the Intercontinental Praha was delightful, in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, across the road from the synagogues and cemetery. Lovely river side room, well appointed with good bathroom, tub and shower. Tea/coffee making facility as well as the provision of an adapter for charging N. American appliances. On our own for breakfast the first two days and found a great little spot a few blocks down to the left of the hotel next to the Spanish Synagogue called Lambourgini's...very good and reasonably priced. The second two days were at the hotel with the typical buffet breakfast, good and substantial (expensive if purchased separately). The hotel staff were friendly and efficient. We walked everywhere the first two days and then took an all day bus tour to Cesky Krumlov, of course the only day it rained all day. This trip was booked through the same company that did the airport transfer and while the tour itself was good, the pickup at the hotel was on time, the organization of the buses at their central location, was less than efficient or organized. Check out the rooftop deck at the hotel, great wine bar and a fabulous view of the city. We had dinner on this terrace one night and while expensive, it has a great atmosphere. Had lunch at Kolkovna one day (it is across the street from Lambourgini's) , highly recommend the food, had one lunch at Bohemia Bagel, good food not so good atmosphere. Beware the restaurants around the Old Town Square who charge you a cover charge if you order a main course. Ask first if there is a cover charge and whether gratuities are included. Plenty of places to rip you off. Several good restaurants around the hotel. We found the Czech currency very difficult to use. AMA Waterways: Our local representative at the hotel was wonderful and efficient. Our Cruise Manager for the cruise was Elke and she was absolutely fantastic, a wonderful representative for AMA Waterways who went out of her way to make sure everyone was happy. Very organized, efficient and most of all she cared about her passengers. Not everything went smooth with the transfer from Prague to Nuremberg, one of the buses failed to show up so a group ended up leaving 3 hours later than planned. The local tours were very good, the optional to Terezin was well worth taking although depressing and sobering. The bus ride from Prague to Nuremberg was about 5 hours with a short restroom break at a McDonalds. As a previous poster had mentioned, use the restrooms in the gas station rather than McDonalds as there is not a big lineup. The bus drivers must by law take a 30 min. break every 3 hours so beware on long excursions, there has to be a rest stop. Everyone was anxious to get onboard the ship and the tour of Nuremberg seemed to go on forever in a great deal of detail. Made for a very long day. The Ship AmaLegro: Embarkation was very smooth and efficient. Everyone went to the Lounge after getting off the buses, drinks and snacks were available. They start with the upper deck and work their way down to the lower deck. Took no more than 15 minutes to get everyone in their room. The luggage was off loaded from the buses within 10 minutes and was at your door shortly after. We were on the middle deck, midship, very convenient to everything and serviced by an elevator if needed. Rooms were small but efficient, plenty of storage for two women who overpacked. The bathroom shower was far better than the showers on either of the two large cruise lines we have sailed with. The suitcases went under the bed for storage(unless you have the new hard sided luggage that is a tad too thick to go under) or in the cupboard (providing you didn't bring long dresses). Very casual atmosphere, no need for a jacket or tie although many men did dress for the Captain's Farewell Dinner on the last evening. Several people wore jeans at dinner especially if they had been on a long excursion during the day. Most ladies wore dark pants and a nice top or capris and a nice top. No one cares what you wear, just enjoy yourselves. The cabin staff came by to introduce themselves, they were efficient, kept the room clean and stocked early every day (usually cleaned while we were at breakfast). Bring a powerbar if you have lots of things to charge as the outlet on the desk is used to charge your Audiovox sets each night. There is an outlet by the night table as well. There was an alarm clock in the room. Food/Dining: We found the food to be excellent and plentiful. Breakfast was buffet style with eggs, bacon, sausage, cereals, yogurts, fruit, smoked salmon, cold meats, cheese, omelette station, plenty of breads and pastries and you could also order from the menu things like oatmeal, special eggs etc. Early risers had pastries in the lounge and coffee/tea was 24 hrs. Lunch was buffet for the soups and salads, cheese and breads and you could order from the menu for the main course. Same food served in the lounge, buffet style. Dinner was from the menu with free flowing wine, beer, soft drinks. We thought the cream soups to be excellent. Our only complaint was that the dining room and the Lounge were kept very cold so be prepared for a warm sweater or jacket. Entertainment was limited but what they had was excellent. Really enjoyed the glass blowing and the two groups they brought on board. The last night La Strada was entertaining and they were excellent. The days are very long with all the touring and walking and many retired before the entertainment started. Staff: very friendly and efficient, worked very well as a team and everyone pitched in to get the job done. Even the Captain was moving luggage. I believe it is the total effort of all the staff that makes or breaks a cruise and everything, but everything, is overseen by the Cruise Manager to make sure everyone is happy. Our Cruise Manager, Elke, did an outstanding job and she was given several challenges to deal with, having to dock in 'no man's land' and getting the buses to that location when another ship was in our docking space and refused to give us access, finding another bus for the people left stranded in Prague because one of the buses failed to show. She really cared about her passengers and is a tremendous asset to AMA Waterways. She is moving soon to the Paris to Arles cruise. Tours/Ports of Call: Loved all the small towns and villages. Terraced vineyards were amazing all along the rivers. Outstanding scenery. Coming in the direction from Prague, we entered the Rhine Gorge very late in the afternoon so only got a taste of the Castles before the sun went down and the Lorelei Rock was quite a disappointment. Tour guides were excellent for the most part, some better than others and the ones in Paris were particularly good, especially Isabel. Several in Germany were very, very detailed in their explanations which could become quite tedious and boring if one was not all that interested in the history. Lots of locks to go through and plenty of low bridges so the Sun Deck was not open for most of the week. Sometimes going through the locks you would feel a 'bump in the night' but nothing worrysome. The last couple of days the sundeck was open and fortunately the sun was shining. Two of our party took the Heidelberg excursion, two did the walking tour of Mainz and Rudesheim, both fascinating. Loved the castle ruins in Heidelberg but the free time shopping was disappointing. Too many cafes and souvenir shops but quaint alleys to explore. Every town had something different to see. Disembarkation again went smoothly. Luggage outside your room by 7:30 colour coded by bus. Sufficient time for a leisurely breakfast. On the road by 9. After a tour of Luxembourg, including some free time, we arrived at the train station to take the high speed train to Paris. Seats are preassigned a couple of days before and our Cruise Manager came through the cars passing out the tickets after we boarded. Luggage is the major issue since there is no luggage car, it is merely loaded into the seating areas in the overheads, on the floor, wherever there is space. As a result, getting it off the train in Paris took some time. Paris: What can you say about Paris? The hotel, Le Meridien Etoile, was in the western end of the city but very close to the Metro. Lots of good restaurants within walking distance. The room was somewhat dated, some peeling wallpaper and the bathtubs are so deep that it is hazardous getting in and out of. Service was good and the included breakfast was very good as well. Thought the hotel was overpriced for what was provided. No coffee/tea making facilities. We took all 3 of the optional tours with AMA and were not disappointed with any of them. The Cabaret was fun and the food was fine and the show was very good. Montmartre and the Illuminations was great. The view from the Eiffel Tower was fantastic . Lots of walking in Paris. Particularly liked the Latin Quarter, very quaint and plenty of reasonably priced restaurants. We had lunch, 3 courses, for 10 euro and everything was very good. Will definitely be going back to Paris. Transfer to Airport: We purchased the transfer to the airport, luggage out by 6:15, breakfast at 6:30. You had to identify your luggage outside the bus and then it was loaded on board by 7. Trip was about 25 minutes to the airport with dropoff at the Air Canada counter. Unfortunately the counter did not open for another 30 minutes so the line just got longer. The boarding pass machines were not working properly and people were getting annoyed. The Air Canada flight was wonderful, plenty of leg room and attentive service with wine or beer provided at lunch. Overall, we were very happy with AMA Waterways, the itinerary and the ship the AmaLegro and would recommend this Rivers & Castles cruise although I think it would be better to do it from Paris to Prague. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2011
This is our 3rd small ship cruise with American Cruise Lines in the last 4 years. We enjoy the cultural, educational aspect of these cruises and the small ship ambiance. The average age of their passengers range from the mid-50's to ... Read More
This is our 3rd small ship cruise with American Cruise Lines in the last 4 years. We enjoy the cultural, educational aspect of these cruises and the small ship ambiance. The average age of their passengers range from the mid-50's to 80's. Seasoned travelers for the most part. Everyone seemed to enjoy the itinerary, nightly happy hours, presentations by the on-board historian who travels with you throughout the cruise giving information that you would never know about and in this case, this cruise was all about the Lewis and Clark Expedition from 1803-1806. Local entertainment joins you for happy hour and sometimes after dinner. Experiencing going through the locks on this cruise was quite a sight if you have never done this before. American Cruise Lines has an all american college age crew. On the Queen of the West ship that we most recently sailed on we had a female captain. She was very personable and knowledgable. You are served 3 sit down meals per day, no buffets.For the most part, the meals ranged from good to very good. This particular ship, Queen of the West was purchased from another company that used to do this itinerary and is no longer in business. This being said, the cabins were not of the size of the other American Cruise Line ships. Each port has 1, 2 or 3 excursions throughout the day. There is something for everyone's taste. When going on your excursions, you are met at the dock by the same bus company and bus drivers who were excellent not only when it comes to your personal safety, but also their sense of humor and knowledge of the area. Although American Cruise Lines does a very good job,there is always room for improvement. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2011
We had a lovely time and would happily sail with AMAWaterways again, but in this review I am going to be very specific re pros and cons. Route was great but we would have liked 1 more day in Moscow, which Viking does offer on its similar ... Read More
We had a lovely time and would happily sail with AMAWaterways again, but in this review I am going to be very specific re pros and cons. Route was great but we would have liked 1 more day in Moscow, which Viking does offer on its similar cruise. Cabin very comfortable; beds good, balcony spacious, nice flat-screen TV, turn-down service till last couple of days (not sure why it stopped). We loved sitting on our balcony but know that some people with balconies had 4 nights out of 12 sandwiched in against another ship because they line up in a row to dock; our cabin on the starboard side never did back up against another ship but I don't know if that's always true. Docking and hydrofoil in St Petersburg wonderful, as was lunch in the city. Wifi terrible and very frustrating. Food offered many opportunities to try different Russian dishes (which our friends on Tauck did not experience); do not expect the ice sculptures and food orgies you find on an ocean cruise, and try to eat like a European rather than expecting a juicy sirloin and you will be happy. It's very possible to eat healthily on this cruise -- soups, salads, lots of very good fish. The dining rooms offer tables of various sizes, which makes it easy to either sit with a large group or a medium group or even have dinner for two if you like. Transfers worked out beautifully. Entertainment was mostly simple but enhanced the cultural experience -- a very popular lecturer on history, a folk group, a talent show that included staff and guests. Excursions excellent -- fascinating and beautiful -- except for Yaroslavl, an island that offered shopping and assertive panhandlers. Cruise manager and associate manager very responsive to requests for transportation to specific sights and to the city center in St P for free time. One difference from our Viking cruise in China last year was the quality of the tour guides. With Viking in China we had our own extremely informed and articulate group leader throughout who was assisted at various ports by local guides. With Amakatarina each group had a young staffer, mostly student age, responsible for making sure no one got lost, but except for one of them these young ladies did not provide any information; instead, at each destination we had a different local guide. The quality of the local guides varied way too much. Some of the older ones (middle-aged) were outstandingly knowledgeable and on a par with our China group leader from last year. On AMAKatarina, several of the local guides were poorly informed and spoke very little English; they insisted on remaining "on script" and most of us found them tedious to follow. As a result there was a fair amount of jockeying for position in the groups with the better guides. AMAWaterways needs more uniformity in this very important aspect of the trip. Sometimes, as I've mentioned, when the ship is docked you get a chance to see the other cruise ships. Most of them smelled bad and had miniscule cabins resembling sleeping compartments in European trains. AMAKatarina is a massive step up from these. You can't compare it with an ocean liner but it is a very comfortable way to see varied parts of Russia. We really enjoyed our cruise, fell in love with Russia, and would recommend this trip to anybody. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2011
I sailed on the River Beatrice from Budapest to Passau. The single occupancy surcharge is outrageously expensive, but my travel agent in the UK got me a deal which essentially cancelled it. Given the number of singles on the cruise, ... Read More
I sailed on the River Beatrice from Budapest to Passau. The single occupancy surcharge is outrageously expensive, but my travel agent in the UK got me a deal which essentially cancelled it. Given the number of singles on the cruise, Uniworld must be coining it. The welcome on to the ship was friendly and efficient: due to British Airways' inability to feed their passengers, we arrived having missed lunch. A lavish and varied buffet was available as soon as we boarded. The crew started as friendly and efficient and remained so until the point of departure where the First Captain Tom Buining was helping unload luggage. The Cruise Manager, Georgji, was brilliant: informative, cheerful, helpful and unflapable, and stunningly well-organised. She was admirably supported by the Concierge, Tanya. The stateroom had an extremely comfortably bed and a well-equipped shower room. It was a joy to find 20+ hangers in the wardrobe, all of which could be taken off the rail. The television was discreetly positioned and efficient. The decor however had never been elegant, sludgy browns and pseudo-tweed, and was distinctly showing signs of wear. Other staterooms were significantly more elegant. Meals were always a scramble to find your acquaintances, though the large tables accommodated larger groups and allowed some interesting conversations with other passengers you might not otherwise have met. The quality of food was consistently good - highlights were the crispy bacon each morning at breakfast, the soups at lunch and dinner, the range of fish served and the lunchtime puddings. There was an excellent selection at every meal. The weaknesses here were dull wines served at dinner - poor for the price of the cruise - and an astonishing inability to deal with vegetarian and religious diets. Bacon is never acceptable in a vegetarian salad, especially not when served to a Jew. Tours were uniformly good. Highlights were the optional concert of Strauss and Mozart at the Hofburg in Vienna, the included day tour to Salzburg with an outstanding guide, Sylvia, and ample free time for lunch, other visits and shopping, and the included visit to the Parliament and Market Hall in Budapest. The only weak guide was a lady on the included Vienna city tour who was dull and did not keep her group together. This was an outstanding cruise overall though only fair value for money. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2011
After exploring Vienna and Budapest on our own, we boarded the River Beatrice on Saturday, July 31st. We were warmly greeted by the assistant captain (he helped with our bags!) and the concierge, upon arrival. We picked this ship because ... Read More
After exploring Vienna and Budapest on our own, we boarded the River Beatrice on Saturday, July 31st. We were warmly greeted by the assistant captain (he helped with our bags!) and the concierge, upon arrival. We picked this ship because it was newer (2009) and we were quite happy with the result. What we liked about the ship: - Friendly staff. - Great Cruise Director, Gionji. - Great concierge, Tania. - Good food, especially breakfast & lunch. - Excellent guided tours. - Nice ports of call. What we found lacking: - No wine or beer for lunch. - Small portions for dinner. - No bottle water for guided tours. - No snacks (like nuts for evenings) other than cookies. - Number of and quality of bikes. Our impression of river-cruising in general: - Passengers not as old as we thought. - Interesting people - Great way to see Europe. - Need more things to do at night. - Longer stay at major ports like Vienna.Vienna was our favourite city, and we're glad that we spend an extra three days there. High lights were our trip to the wine district and the evning concert with Uniworld. Salzburg was also nice but very crowded. Great shopping. All in all, we enjoyed our stay at the River Beatrice and may return to river cruising if the itinerary is right. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2011
This cruise was our first river cruise (following 7 "ocean" cruises) and we enjoyed it. Yes to the question will you go on another river cruise. We were told many times by fellow passengers that this cruise was not as luxurious, ... Read More
This cruise was our first river cruise (following 7 "ocean" cruises) and we enjoyed it. Yes to the question will you go on another river cruise. We were told many times by fellow passengers that this cruise was not as luxurious, for lack of a better term, as their previous river cruise experiences in Europe. But the same people agreed with me that in Russia AmaWaterways' AmaKatarina offered the most luxurious, the most upscale option. I could see this with my own eyes as we traversed through some of the other ships that our ship was connected to in port, or as we passed other ships along the way. There were several passengers who had travelled on Russian river cruises before and confirmed this as well, that the AmaKatarina is the most deluxe choice today for a Russian river cruise. All of this is our opinion, nothing more, not proven rocket science for sure. As for how the cruise went for us, I refer you to the review by Kellie Poodle as I agree wholeheartedly with all that she wrote. I'd add that the service on board was excellent, made more pleasant by the obvious desire to please on the part of all the staff members we were in contact with. The tours on shore were well planned, guides were first class, schedules were adhered to and what's even more important, all sites were interesting and worth visiting. Bring your own earphones as I found the ones provided to be very painful. Also bring one or two bars of soap as only one is provided...they forgot that we have two places to wash up, the sink AND the shower! Our air conditioning in the cabin worked powerfully well; less effective was the a/c in the dining rooms...dress lightly. As Kellie suggests, bring a travel clock. The onboard activities were fun and well-attended: Music and dance, blini making and tasting, Vodka tasting, Matrushka painting, learning Russian, excellent lectures on the history, culture and politics of the Russian Federation, and more. The real reason I'm writing this review is to offer a piece of advice to anyone planning to book this cruise. Besides Go-ahead-and-book-it, my advice to you is to stay in Moscow three nights prior to embarkation and 3 or even 4 nights in St. Petersburg post disembarkation (or vice versa if you sail the other way). While the excursions on the cruise offer a lot of exposure, there is much more to do, see, view, hear, walk through, enjoy in these two major cities. You're going all the way there, sink in a bit longer and you won't regret it. We booked 3 star local European style hotels booked online and were very satisfied. You can try more or less expensive ones as you see fit. We hired private guides in both cities. They arranged our transfers from airport to hotel to port and from port to hotel to airport. We worked out full-day itineraries with them; they arranged for all entry tickets, metro tickets, etc. We opted to use public transportation during the day so as to reduce our costs, i.e. bus and metro, but you can arrange to use the occasional taxis or have a car and driver for the day, entirely your option, depending on what you want to see and your fitness and energy level. With this additional time we visited more fine museums, cathedrals, saw a ballet in Moscow, saw an opera at the Miriinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, took a canal trip, ate at Stolle many times in St. Petersburg and oh how we miss those savory "pies". In sum, we feel that we got closer to the people and the history of Russia in those extra days. We always felt safe with our guide, and she was able to advise us on where to walk safely in the evenings, which was most places incidentally. But taxis are plentiful in the evenings, no problem. Moscow: The guide I used in Moscow is Elena and her website is: http://www.yourmoscowguide.com/ Her email address is: moscowguide at rambler dot ru Elena provided us with an excellent guide, Alexandra, for part of the time we were in Moscow. St. Petersburg: The company I used in St. Petersburg is "I Travel SPb" (formerly Anastasia) and their website is: http://www.anastasiaworld.com/ Their email address is: info at anastasiaworld dot com Our guide's name is Olga Nesterovskaya and by the time we left her it felt like we were leaving family behind. You must contact the company first and request Olga. All their guides are of similar experience and quality, I have been assured by Eugenia and Irina at the office. If I can be of further assistance just email me at: oneputt at sympatico dot ca Please put Info on Russia in the subject. Bon Voyage to Shoshona2 and to all. RiSSa Read Less

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