WE arrived atthe ship (which was quite difficult to find) at 11 am. Embarkation was quick and easy, and our cabin was ready. The buffet lunch was laready set out, attractively arragned - soup, a couple of types of sandwich, a hot entree, ... Read More
WE arrived atthe ship (which was quite difficult to find) at 11 am. Embarkation was quick and easy, and our cabin was ready. The buffet lunch was laready set out, attractively arragned - soup, a couple of types of sandwich, a hot entree, salads, and two desserts plus a fruit and cheese tray. Th guies on the thexcursion were really escellent, and the itinerary excursions were very good. Hoorn was very picturesque. In addition to the excursion, we walked into town the night we docked there, and enjoyed the play of the lights on the canal waters.Volendma was a disappointment - no longer quaint, and rather dull. We took the optional battlefield excursion to Arnheim - definitely not worth the euros. Unfortunately, although the museum has a treasure trove of artifacts, they are not well displayed, and there is virtuallyu no signage, or any explanatory placards or maps. We also visited the cemetery, and an overlook of a samll part of the battle area. But overall, we got no feel for how the battle progressed. Antwerp was fascinating. We had a morning tour, then free time in the afternoon, so we visited several of the churches that were open (you can pick up a brochure describing the churches when you visit the Curch of Our Lady during the morning excursion) e original paintings in these hurches are amazing, as is the sculptural work After the Brugges excurtion, you can stay in Brugges or take an afternoon walk in Ghent. We chose to stay in Brugges, and enjoyed the local french fies, a narrated canal boat cruise - fascinating to see the city from the water, and a little shopping for chocolate. Our room steward Ilya did a wonderful job, keeping the room in perfect condition. After the first 3 or 4 days, we made sure we sat at the tables that Jana served - her cheery greeting and smiling face were truly a day brightener!! The team that handled excursions, headed by Verona did a great job. Overall, we enjoyed our cruise very much. Read Less
River cruises are wonderful and Uniworld thinks of everything to make your trip smooth and relaxing on board. This was our second Uniworld cruise and we loved it. Christmas market cruise was fun and beautiful. Uniworld provides all the ... Read More
River cruises are wonderful and Uniworld thinks of everything to make your trip smooth and relaxing on board. This was our second Uniworld cruise and we loved it. Christmas market cruise was fun and beautiful. Uniworld provides all the tours and each person has their own headset so you can walk at your own pace. The tour guides all speak perfect English and are very knowledgeable about their town. Only two extra tours were offered one was opera in Vienna and was wonderful. The other a trip to diamond factory was not great. Food on this cruise was just alright. Where as the last cruise in Paris the food was so far above average, it was to die for! Uniworld adds some great touches like serving you a warm drink when you come back from a cold tour on land, wine with dinner as much as you can drink. Nice captains dinner with free drinks. This cruise had wonderful holiday entertainment and the ship was decorated really nice for Christmas. I love the fact that they are docked in town and stay in town many times until 1 or 2 am so you can come and go from the ship as you like. They have a warm relaxed atmosphere and very great customer service. One day my mom really wanted a small gift from a town we were not visiting, but we were docked in the town, my mom asked the hotel manager if their was anyway to get her friend something with the town name. While we were out on our all day tour the hotel manager went out and purchased the gift and left it on my mom's bed in her room! They always went out of their way to make our visit special. I highly recommend the Christmas cruise as a wonderful way to spend the holiday. The other cruise we took with them to Paris and Normandy was fantastic! They just go out of their way to make you enjoy it. When we went to the American cemetery in Normandy they gave us flowers and the name of a solider from our home town so we could place flowers on a grave. No cost to us, but a moving experience for all of us. I would recommend Uniworld to anyone who loves service, but does not need the wild life of the big box boats. Only 100 people on board and a very relaxed atmosphere. No shows, circus, shopping or ice shows, just the local towns and quiet relaxing time. Read Less
Day 1: Leave Denver on Lufthansa at 5:15 bound for Frankfurt. Two nice meals, drinks with the dinner (2 glasses good white wine), and arrive a bit early at 10:30, local time. Try to avoid the Frankfurt airport! - we landed out in the ... Read More
Day 1: Leave Denver on Lufthansa at 5:15 bound for Frankfurt. Two nice meals, drinks with the dinner (2 glasses good white wine), and arrive a bit early at 10:30, local time. Try to avoid the Frankfurt airport! - we landed out in the outskirts, climbed down the stairs, and boarded a bus for the terminal. Even though its a secure area, we passed through a passport check, a customs check, and another xray security line. About 50% of the passengers got pulled out for individual wanding. I'm 2 for 2 on the inspection, since my carryon has batteries, digital camera, binoculars, and various electronics - all nice suspicious stuff on the xray machine. Watch the signs carefully to find your connecting flight in the airport. Off to Vienna. Customs a breeze (nothing to declare line). Viking rep meets us just outside the customs room, follow the driver to a VW van with 6 other passengers for transfer to ship (20-30 minutes). Onboard (staff handles bags), turn in passport in the European fashion. Ship exchanges euros at same rate as the exchange in the Denver airport, minus the $5 fee. Same rate in Vienna exchanges - figure on a 5% screwing on the exchange. ATMs are always the best bet, but only do that the first time outside a bank that is open, just in case something messes up. If it does, go inside and they will assist you in getting your ATM card back. Next time, call your ATM provider before you leave for Europe, eh? Tea/pastries in ship every day around 4, always good. Light snacks for early arrivals around noon. Meeting 6:15 and every day thereafter on "your schedule tomorrow". This one sells the 3 sidetrips on the voyage, have to buy today for arranging the buses. Dinner excellent pork/fish, shrimp and celery root mousse (good, unusual), clear oxtail soup, pastries. Captain's reception at 9, captain buys a champagne toast. Good musical entertainment with Otto, who has a very good synthesizer and knows a lot of songs. Off to bed, jet lagged. The ship: Viking Europe was built in 2001, and shows a need for some rehab (stained carpets, mostly). The cabins are 150 square feet for the main decks, and 120 square feet for the lower deck. Ample storage space on the main deck, with the suitcases stowed below the beds. Usual small bathroom - just imagine taking your half bath in your house, having the door open outward, then fitting a shower into the leftover space. Lotion and shampoo provided, nice thick towels. "Snot in a bottle" provided, but if you're not into shower gel, bring some soap. Usual confusing shower controls, this one is pretty standard for cruise ships, with the left knob giving the amount of water and the right knob adjusting the mixing temperature. Shower drained somewhat slowly. Ship is VERY UNFRIENDLY for handicapped - you must negotiate stairs for any movement around the ship. Then again - all the cities you're going to visit are also difficult for someone not able to walk a quarter mile and climb a couple of flights. All the streets of Europe feature cobblestones, uneven and inclined and often slippery. Choice of cabins - the center cabins are often blocked by the dock that the ship is moored to, noisy. No clock in cabin, bring your own - the bus will leave on time if you're not there. There are announcements a half hour and 15 minutes prior to bus tours. 115/220 dual switchable outlets in cabin, it works because I charged my camera and IPOD successfully.
Day 2: Vienna Breakfast 7-9, early starter at 6 (pastries, good). Coffee and tea available 24/7, fruit on the table usually. Tea is not too good, bring your own if you're picky. I don't do Lipton or hisbiscus... Breakfast is typical cold cuts, muesli, oatmeal, granola, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and bacon always, some other meat and side. Excellent rolls, whole grain breads, orange juice, tomato juice, something called vitamin juice that tastes like V8 Fusion in the States, and champagne if you want to add a little to your juice. You can also order omelets to order, eggs, french toast. Bus leaves at 9 for city tour, ends at 10:15 at Stephan Platz in the center of Vienna for free time. Go down street for shopping at Billa, buy candy for kids and wine for cabin (bring a corkscrew in your checked luggage), then to Kleiml on Graben Strasse for gourmet candy. Bus arrives at 12, back to ship for lunch. Pumpkin soup(very good), salad bar (good), spaghetti or lamb roast, brownie with pistachio ice cream for dessert. Afternoon shuttle to Xmas market at Rathaus, spend 2 hours. Best drink is with schnapps for 2.50 euros for the cup, 3.50 euros for the drink. Nice cup, keep it for collection. Very good for pictures, see it in late afternoon for lights. Good selection, but didn't buy much. Lot of Lebkeuchen (gingerbread). Side note on shopping: I had hoped to buy some Swarovski binoculars here, but with the exchange rate, the 2% credit card fee, the 20% VAT refund - would save a grand total of $12 on a $1900 pair of binoculars! Not worth the trouble... If you spend more than $100 in a store, remember to show your passport and demand the freedom from the VAT - you have to ask for this! Back to ship for tea time, then the briefing, then dinner. Dinner is cream of herb soup, salad, wiener schnitzel or trout, apple pancake with ice cream. Waiters in Mozart wigs for atmosphere. My wife attended the Mozart concert ($55) and liked it, but hall was overheated. Some Goulash soup for a late night snack when the concert goers return. Ship leaves at 11.
Day 3: Budapest Awake to cruising on the Danube. Breakfast features Nurnberger sausages today. I opt for the usual smoked salmon, muesli, and fruit. Wheelhouse tour at 9:30 - fun, and remember to ask about the wheelhouse collapsing to get under bridges in times of high water - that's interesting. Passing large cathedrals, and a ruined castle on the Danube, but I forgot the names. A guidebook on the sights would be handy, but I didn't buy one - I did get Baedecker guides to Austria and Budapest used on Amazon, and a pretty much worthless copy of Fodor's for Czech Republic and Slovakia. Use the Virtual Tourist website instead for city guides. Lunch has cream of vegetable soup, salad bar, Goulasch and spatzle, tiramisu for dessert. Arrive at 1:00, be on top deck portside for best views of Budapest. Usual city tour from 2-6. The Hero Monument is really good, read the history beforehand. 45 minutes of free time in the Christmas Market, not enough time - all handmade crafts, good prices. Budapest freely takes euros, US$ maybe - but the ATMs give forints only. Vendors I dealt with gave an honest exchange. Any forints left over can be given out as tips, or the coins make nice souvenirs for grandchildren. Hungary is switching to the euro on January 1, so this comment is soon outdated. St. Mathias cathedral is good, the view from the Fisherman Bastion is very good at night, but the spotlights are distracting and you really have to work to take a picture. Dinner is shrimp cocktail, celery soup with mussels and barley, turkey roll or butterfish, pumpkin cake or rum ice cream (Chef made some changes to celebrate American Thanksgiving) Developing an appreciation for Chef Ronny's work with soups and fish dishes, and the bread is nice and crunchy. Sailaway at 8:30, nice to watch with the city lit up.
Day 4: Bratislava Up early to birdwatch from the lounge. Lock into the Danube Canal east of Bratislava. Breakfast of the usual, except the fruit today is mandarin oranges and the bonus meat is sausages. At 10:30, cold cuts and free wine spritzer (not that good) in the lounge. Lunch of cheese soup, pork roast or fried fish, good chocolate mousse. City tour 1:30 - 3. Free time - prices in Bratislava very good, selection of wood items and porcelains a specialty. A lot of grilled foods. Jewelry store near the inner market has impressive amber - necklaces with pieces the size of eggs, all kind of tacky looking costume jewelry type (I think they're fake ones). Warning: 15 steps up and 15 down getting through the customs house to the ship. Liquor store in the customs house, try the apricot brandy. Christmas mart is about a 1 km walk from the ship, and a map would be handy. Viking has city maps on the reception desk for all the cities, generally good. Dinner is artichoke soup or borscht, pike-perch or good beef, hummus or salad nicoise, mousse for dessert. At 9:00, talk on 2009 cruises, $1100/cabin savings with down payment now, date to be selected later. Free drink and egg roll as a reward for listening, but we don't bite on the deal.
Day 5: Durnstein/Melk Breakfast today adds turkey sausage (weird tasting) and hash browns to the buffet, and pears to the fruit. Arrive Durnstein at 9:00, walking tour at 9:30. 1 Km walk, mild incline over cobblestones. Great overdecorated church, gilded like crazy. Nice town - half open in the off season. Lots of old walls, surrounded by vineyards. 2 hours total, with a 20 minute organ concert tossed in. Organist good, organ ordinary. Not quite enough time for serious shopper, but we buy some artisan chocolate and excellent Marille Apricot brandy. The one in the round squat clear bottle. Back on ship, leave at 11 for the cruise through the Wachau gorge. Narrative is good on the ship, but Baedecker has more details to follow along. Lunch of cream of broccoli soup, rice and pork, baked apple (very good, I had a religious experience and ordered a second). Arrived at Melk at 2:30, bus to abbey. Abbey tour - museum pretty ordinary, but the abbey is on my top church list, right up there with San Maria Maggiore in Rome and St Marks/St Lawrence in Venice. Choice is bus back or walk into town down hill and back to the ship (a bit less than 2 Km). Christmas market is small, nothing of great impact, run mostly by town non-profits (hospice, soccer, volleyball, etc). Most stores open, interesting and inviting. There's a good artist coop store with a woodcarver who is very good. Hungarian dinner of marinated veggies, cabbage soup, sauteed pike perch, some kind of crepe for dessert. Talk at 9 - questions to captain, hotel manager, chef, etc.
Day 6: Linz/Salzburg Breakfast features McDonald style hash browns this morning. For me, it's day #5 of the smoked salmon. Chili sauce is good on the scrambled eggs, assertively hot, peaches for fruit today. Off to Salzburg - 1 ½ hours bus ride, one potty stop on the way near the MondSee for good views. The WCs are downstairs, exit through the giftshop with a long line. It's possible to squeeze thru the turnstile at the entrance backwards if you're skinny. Continue on the Salzburg, 1 ½ hour walking tour. Group 1 goes in back of the cathedral and see St Peter's cemetery, we get a guide that loves Mozart and shows us everyplace where Mozart had his diaper changed, etc. Go to the cemetery if you get a chance, it is really something. Lunch at St Peter's restaurant - oldest in town - near the cathedral. Warning: this takes over an hour! If you're a serious shopper, skip the dessert like we did or the entire thing and get some street wurst for a snack. Big Christmas mart around the cathedral, and others scattered around town to find on your own. Loden clothes in the mart, 20% less than the stores. Steiff animals in the mart also. Selection is really nice, prices decent. Hats, scarves, lot of candy/cookies, wooden ornaments, toys, nutcrackers and smokers. It's open on Sunday, because we were there on Sunday, but most stores in town are closed. Bought a bottle of apricot brandy in a violin shaped bottle. Remember the rule about "buy no wine in a bottle shaped like a fish"? Add the violin bottles to that rule. Town and tour very unfriendly to handicapped. ! ½ hour bus ride back to ship. If you opted out of the Salzburg tour, you got a walking tour of Linz during the morning and free time in the afternoon. You could with some research, take the train from Linz to Salzburg cheaper and faster if you're comfortable in Europe. If you took the side tour to Salzburg, you have no time to see Linz - the ship leaves a half hour after the buses return.
Day 7: Cesky Krumlov Don't remember what the special breakfast addition was and didn't write it down. Smoked salmon, again and the mandarin oranges are back. Bus to Cesky Krumlov leaves at 9:30, 1 ½ hour trip on winding narrow two lane roads. Most beautiful town, with views down every alley. Avoid gypsy stores - easy to tell, ask your tour guide. Avoid exchange booths with the best prices, they cheat you too. Most of the amber in town is fake - if you want some, study up beforehand (helpful hint: look for bubbles). Just enjoy the plentiful sights, and skip most of the shopping. The toy stores in town were good. Lunch at Tornado restaurant beside the river - good, slow. No Christmas mart in town. The ATMs give korunas again. The castle tour only accepts korunas, so you're stuck. Another hour and a half to meet the ship in Passau. The Passau Christmas mart is ordinary and small, but has some different things to look over. Try the Apfeltrum (cider) with a shot of Calvados in it, I had two and was buzzed quite nicely. St Stephan's Dom was nice, excellent painted ceilings, molded/carved column tops. Photographing and filming is forbidden, I think, and I don't want to go into "How to cheat the system and still take pictures". Since it was sprinkling light rain, my wife stayed in the cabin and read. "Bavarian Entertainment" in the lounge at 9 - only poor thing on the trip, proves to be a bunch of young girls (12-16?) playing traditional tunes, mostly not that well.
Day 8: Passau Early breakfast available at 3 AM in the lounge, since some passengers are getting transfers at that time. Breakfast is somewhat extended in the restaurant, since transfers are continuously leaving. This morning features weird tasting vienna sausages and that old American breakfast favorite, baked beans (in the English style, a lot of tomato sauce). My last day of smoked salmon, celebrate with a double helping. Leave the bags outside the door and go off to see the sights of Passau. Walk around, visit St Peters church (nice dark wood altars, carved), walk the river borders to see some birds (swans and gulls a feature), and go to the Christmas mart again. Buy nothing, but its the idea.... Back in the ship, settle up the bill in the usual fashion. Tips on Viking are split among the crew, which is nice for the dishwashers. We were introduced to the dishwashers during one of the dinners, which is a nice feature. All the crew pitches in for luggage transfer - I saw the head chef out there hustling luggage to the bus, the hotel manager, etc. Bus to Munich airport takes a couple of hours, we get checked through with a minimum of hassle, except for one thing! Once again, we pass through the regular security/xray, the passport check, then enter the airport. Suffering from the lack of some peasant food, we have some roasted wurst at AirBrau (very good). Passing the duty free shop, my wife pops in a buys a bottle of water for the plane. When we get to the overseas gates, there is another security line/xray, and that 1.20 euro bottle of water gets confiscated. She's still fuming over that - thankfully, I had passed up the purchase of a liter of Grand Marnier. Once again, down two flights of stairs to board a bus, then up a lengthy flight of stairs to board the plane - what are these airports like in the summer rush? Two meals on Lufthansa again, wine and beer to go with them, and the meals are wurst again - I sacrifice and eat it gratefully. I guess the bottom line for flying into Germany is to take Lufthansa and avoid the German airports. Good luck on that one. Read Less
Since this was our first river cruise after many ocean going cruises, we did quite a bit of research prior to making our decision. Some of the key elements that we were looking for were a company and ship with a good reputation, the ports ... Read More
Since this was our first river cruise after many ocean going cruises, we did quite a bit of research prior to making our decision. Some of the key elements that we were looking for were a company and ship with a good reputation, the ports (hitting a variety of Christmas Markets), the length (10 days or so), good - but not necessarily gourmet food, and finally a cruise early in the season so that we might have the best weather possible. We decided on Uniworld and the River Duchess. They have an impeccable record and the cruise itself met our criteria. It was 11 days long - 10 on the ship and 1 travelling. The cruise started in Budapest and ended in Regensburg with stops in a variety of locations, each with different Christmas Market offerings. The only glitch that we had was that our travel agency went out of business after we made final payment. Uniworld had already sent them our cruise packet and couldn't have been more accommodating when I notified them of the problem. They immediately overnighted us a completely new packet. Absolutely outstanding service from the Uniworld main office. We flew from the US to Munich for five days of "pre-shopping" and touring. We hit all the beer halls and hotspots and made day tours to Ludwig's Castles, Garmish, and a variety of other locations. I'm glad we went that early since we were wide awake with no jet lag problem when we boarded the River Duchess. We stayed in the King's Hotel First Class while in Munich. It was an excellent choice; good hotel, good staff, 5 minutes from the train station, and 10 minutes walking from Marienplatz. We took the EC63 train from Munich to Budapest the day before the ship sailed. We had booked our tickets on the German Railway website months before. About a week before we left, the website showed a 60% reduction in 1st class reserved seats on that train so we booked another set of tickets and turned in the more expensive ones in the Munich train station. More shopping money. The train took about 7 ½ hours to get to Budapest and was very comfortable. The car was about 2/3rds full from Munich to Vienna and there were only four people in the car from Vienna to Budapest. We stayed in the K+K Hotel Opera in Budapest. Another good choice. Good hotel and centrally located. One bit of advice that I would give would be to check out the prices of taxis from the train station to the hotel before getting in. We met people who paid 5 times what we did because they didn't ask first. We took a taxi to the River Duchess on embarkation day and from that point, the crew took care of our every need. We selected a Category 1 cabin since it had the biggest windows and weren't disappointed. The cabin was spotless and well laid out. It was easy to store everything. Uniworld obviously used an experienced ship designer when they built the River Duchess. Our cabin attendant, Nicolette, was great, as were all the others. She would appear as soon as we left the room and did her magic. It didn't matter how long we were gone or what time of day; the room was always straightened up by the time we got back. The meals on the ship were unbelievable. While we weren't looking for gourmet meals, we got them. The chef and his team did an excellent job throughout the cruise. The meals were buffet for breakfast and lunch with an omelet station at breakfast. Food was always the right temperature and the serving lines were kept clean at all times. I read on other posts that some river cruises had problems with people hogging tables and not inviting others to dine with them. That was definitely not an issue on this ship. We got to meet a lot of new people at the meals. Dinner was particularly good. Most meals we had Martin as our waiter. He was, without a doubt, the best waiter we have ever had on any of our cruises. He mixed and matched meals for anyone who wanted, was lively and professional, and kept the free wine flowing. We couldn't have asked for a better dining experience. The bar/entertainment staff was equally good. By the second day, the bartenders knew what we would order and mixed good drinks. They were quick to respond and always friendly. The on board musician, Zoltan, kept the room entertained into the early hours of the morning. We would try to stump him with song requests but he always seemed to come up with the song. The ships nautical staff and pursers' staff were equally professional. We would wake up early just to watch the sailors dock the ship. They obviously liked their jobs and enjoyed entertaining the passengers. As a final comment about the ship, it was well laid out, spotlessly clean, and professionally run by an outstanding group of people who were dedicated to making the trip enjoyable for all the passengers. From the captain down, all should be commended. Tony was our cruise director and did an outstanding job. Everything ran according to clockwork - no glitches at all. Buses and guides were always present on time and at the right location. All did a great job. I am sure because Tony made sure that they knew what the standards were. He ever arranged an extra free tour one night. Our first port of call was Budapest. The Christmas Market in Budapest was predominately hand crafted goods sold by the artists who made them. The weather was good, with a little rain once or twice. We docked across the river from the market but it was an easy 15 minute walk. Uniworld also arranged for a free ferry for people who didn't want to walk. Highlights of the market were the sausages and a type of cake we had never seen before. It is wrapped around a wooden roller then baked over a charcoal fire, dipped in sugar, nuts, or something equally as good, and sold for about 3 Euros. Totally addictive. The city tour took us to all the highlights by bus. Easy walking when we got to the sites. Next stop was Bratislava. It was a very interesting town and we will probably go back. The Christmas Market was newer that the others but it had some of the best food. We really liked the walking tour and could have prowled the streets of the town for hours more. The local tour guide there was very good. After Bratislava it was on to Vienna. We had been there before so we skipped the optional Schonbrunn Palace tour. Uniworld had a great new option. Instead of the normal city tour, people who had been to Vienna before could take a different tour which hit a few of the Christmas Markets (Tour was free). The tour guide was great and even bought all of us Gluwein. We took a horse drawn carriage ride around the town and had a great time. We returned to the ship for dinner then the Concert Tour. Uniworld had great seats reserved for the concert - right up front and near the wine stand!!!! All in all Vienna was a great stop. We got up early the next morning to see the Wachau Valley enroute to Melk. The weather was pretty good for this time of year but a little bit foggy. We will take the cruise again in the spring. There were a lot of passengers on deck taking pictures and drinking coffee so it was an enjoyable morning. The Melk Abbey was an interesting stop. After leaving the abbey, a few of us walked down to the little town and found a small cafe for beer and apple strudel. The next day was Linz and Salzburg. We didn't have any time in Linz in the morning since we had to take a bus to Salzburg. (More about that later) Salzburg was great. Super tourist area. Tour guide was really funny. It appears few tour guides from Salzburg like the movie, "The Sound of Music", but they go out of their way to show where the film was made. Mozart is the big attraction from his house to the candies. Took another carriage ride and had a great time. Uniworld's tour include a lunch at the fortress but they offered a cash rebate for people who stayed in the town and ate their. I have never heard of a tour company doing that before. It is another example of how good Uniworld is! Another example is that Tony arranged for the Linz "Night Watchman" to take people on a free walking tour of Linz during the evening. Another plus for Tony. Passau, Deggendorf, and Regensburg were great stops. We had good local tour guides in each of the locations and had plenty of time on our own. Sunday is a tough day to plan for tourists during this time of year. Everything is closed, but Uniworld brought us to a small mountain town where we had refreshments in a local pub, carriage rides through the forest and a trip to a glass factory. All in all these were three great days. Disembarkation was particularly easy. No "put out your bags the night before leaving" like on an ocean cruise. Tony and the staff made arrangements for everyone to get to the Munich Airport, Prague, or the train station at whatever time they needed to leave. This is a rather long review and could have been pages longer. Bottom line is that Uniworld is a top notch company that runs a great ship and hires outstanding personnel. We are sold on Uniworld cruises and will book with them again. Read Less
We were very apprehensive as we flew from Buffalo to Washington DC then to Frankfurt Germany and finally to Basel, Switzerland to board The River Symphony from Grand Circle Travel. However, all our tension eased as they promptly delivered ... Read More
We were very apprehensive as we flew from Buffalo to Washington DC then to Frankfurt Germany and finally to Basel, Switzerland to board The River Symphony from Grand Circle Travel. However, all our tension eased as they promptly delivered our luggage to the room that would be our home for the next week. We loved floating north on the Rhine viewing the countryside and towns from our room or on the deck (although chilly. Our directors were top-notch, the food was first class (every meal and what choices, our cabin was spotless....My husband was especially impressed that we had the choice of joining the tours offered or just staying on board or walking to town on his own if his arthritis was bothering him.
All in all, we can not say enough about this wonderful trip and all the ports--Kayersburg, Riquewihr, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg, Speyer, Heidelberg, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Brugge....all with their wonderful Christmas markets. I know I forgot some but we have many very fond memories of this trip! (We purchased the post-extension to the trip and traveled by bus from Ansterdam to Brussels and train to Brugge)
We are now looking at the Danube! Hopefully soon. Read Less
We cruised from Nurnberg to Budapest-8 days in September 2008- with 2 Aussie friends. The ship had 140 out of 150 and was 50+ age group, mainly Americans, some Canadians, Australians and others. Points- * cruise-the top deck is closed ... Read More
We cruised from Nurnberg to Budapest-8 days in September 2008- with 2 Aussie friends. The ship had 140 out of 150 and was 50+ age group, mainly Americans, some Canadians, Australians and others. Points- * cruise-the top deck is closed for the first 1.5 days due to bridge low clearances,most cruising of a night, only 2 afternoons cruising-limited scenery,very quiet. sum:fair * food was extensive, varied, reasonable portions, catered for preadvised special requirements,a variety of wine and price, no fixed seating so your choice.sum: 4 star * cabins-good size, quiet except for neighbor flushing, mirrors, sliding window, good storage space, well serviced.sum: very good * excursions- quite a few, local guides generally OK,preset bus allocation,too much emphasis on churches & the slowest moving person(did cater for special needs)and fixed in sites shown-needs 1 of 3 buses to do something different on shore, time allocated was fine.sum:OK but room for improvement * cruise staff-captain needs to at least speak 6 words in ENGLISH(advertised as english speaking tour), tour director focuses on favorite people,assistant director more people orientated, hospitality staff very good,some pressure for acceptable gratuity. sum: improvement necessary *overall-good value for money, basically OK but needing only some refinements to get a higher grading
General:cruise is not a "rest" style, is OK if you like a sample sightseeing of main cities-Nurnberg, Vienna, Budapest,the scenery is nothing special(the Rhine is more interesting), the ship seemed above average of other lines. Read Less
WINDMILLS AND TULIPS CRUISE Viking Sky, April 16-28, 2008
It was with some concern that we boarded our flight to Amsterdam to begin our Windmills and Tulips cruise since the weather reports for the previous month had been consistent: ... Read More
WINDMILLS AND TULIPS CRUISE Viking Sky, April 16-28, 2008
It was with some concern that we boarded our flight to Amsterdam to begin our Windmills and Tulips cruise since the weather reports for the previous month had been consistent: cloudy, rainy with temperatures in the 40s and low 50s. How could flowers bloom in this weather? But, optimism is a must when traveling, so after packing warm and rainproof items, we left for Amsterdam where we had made our own arrangements for a 3 day pre-cruise stay. We flew Lufthansa, one of the few good airlines left, because we could get a direct flight from Charlotte, NC to Munich, connecting to Amsterdam, thus avoiding the plague of Philadelphia, Newark or JFK Airports.
Our flights were right on time, and we arrived in Amsterdam around 1 pm local time. We opted to take the train into town, since a taxi ran about 45 Euros while the fare for two on the train was a little over 7 Euros! (That may have been the only bargain that we found the entire trip!) The trains run to the central station 4 times an hour, and the trip takes only about 20 minutes. Other than the hassle of schlepping our bags down the escalator and onto the train, the trip was convenient and easy. A short cab ride to the hotel completed our trip.
In Amsterdam, we stayed at the Ambassade , a lovely small hotel on the Herengracht Canal. The hotel rooms are in several buildings, restored on the inside but maintaining the traditional look and style of old Amsterdam on the outside. Our room was light and airy, overlooking the canal and in a quiet location. Service at the hotel was excellent, and the breakfasts were tasty and convenient.
We hit all the usual tourist highlights, museums and canals. The Ann Frank House is always crowded during the day, but we went around 6 one evening and walked right in. We also wanted to make sure that we saw Keukenhof Gardens thoroughly, so after checking out of the hotel (they held our bags), we took an excursion to the Gardens. This worked out very well because we couldn't check onto the ship until mid afternoon.
Keukenhof was one of those infrequent attractions that not only lived up to expectations but far exceeded them. My companion Barbara is the flower person, and while I'm not a flower nut, I do like photography, so we were both euphoric with what we found at Keukenhof. Not only were the flowers, landscaping and scenery unspeakably beautiful, but the grounds went on and on, with a new breathtaking scene around every bend. I brought 3 cameras, with two sets of batteries for each and was down to my last emergency battery when we had to leave. We were really glad that we would be back in another week with the ship's tour, because there is way too much to see and absorb in one visit.
THE VIKING SKY
After retrieving our bags from the hotel storage, we took a taxi to the Viking Sky. This ship is middle aged by ship standards, having been built in 1998, but it has been well maintained and is clean and attractive. The advantage of this ship, and one of the reasons we booked it, was that all the cabins (except the suites) are identical in size and layout, except for the windows. Thus by booking one of the 3 lowest category cabins, we saved over $1000 compared to the cabin right next to us. We found the cabin comfortable and adequate in size, but the bathroom lighting was terrible, according to Barbara, and the walls were paper thin. We heard our neighbors cough and even identified the sound of a digital camera powering up from the cabin next door. This was definitely not a crowd of party animals, however, so noise from adjoining cabins was not a problem.
What was a problem was the air conditioning unit for the ship that was located near our cabin. The compressor cycled on and off regularly and annoyingly, but thanks to ear plugs, sleep was not compromised. Other than these annoyances, the cabin was fine.
We found the food very good, with an ample breakfast buffet and a choice of a light lunch in the lounge, or a more complete meal in the dining room. Dinner was single seating with a choice of two entrees, plus a vegetarian offering and the always available chicken or steak. The service was excellent.
The ship remained overnight in Amsterdam our first night, and an included canal cruise and Van Gogh museum excursion were scheduled for the next morning. The Van Gogh Museum was excellent, and it was nice to bypass the throngs of people waiting to buy tickets. The included headphones provided an excellent narration for us culturally impaired tourists, but the throngs inside the museum made it difficult to see and appreciate all the paintings. Nevertheless, the excursions were interesting and good.
That evening we sailed for Horn, arriving late in the evening. The next morning we had a walking tour of this picturesque fishing village, huddled against the cold on a raw, windy day. As the morning progressed, however, the weather improved and a glimpse of sun appeared, giving us hope for the rest of the week.
The ship sailed in the afternoon for Volendam. This is the Costa Maya of Holland. A completely rebuilt city designed to attract and cater to tourists, this was a crowded and forgettable place. The ship offered a free excursion to a local wooden shoe and cheese manufacturing site, which we took for lack of anything better to do. It was predictably touristy, but the price was right.
The ship sailed that night for Arnhem. Unfortunately, the scheduled tour to the Palais Het Loo was not available since the palace and grounds are closed on Monday. An afternoon tour of the Arnhem battle grounds was substituted, which left the morning available. The ship offered an optional tour to an open air market, but we opted to take a local train to the picturesque town of Nijmegen. This was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed seeing the local countryside and browsing a local market in the town square, surrounded by a majestic church. The efficient and convenient train service had us back in Arnhem in time for lunch on the ship. In the afternoon, we took the included tour of the battlefields and museums associated with Operation Market Garden of "A Bridge Too Far" fame. Being a World War II buff, I found the tour interesting and the cemetery moving, but I suspect the majority of passengers would have preferred the palace tour.
The ship sailed late in the afternoon for Nijmegen, where we had visited earlier in the day, but it arrived late at night where a group of local performers embarked for a mediocre display of local dancing in wooden shoes. Whoopee! A few hard core gamblers went ashore to a local casino, which, interestingly, required a foreign passport to gain entrance. I guess they didn't want to take advantage of the locals!
The next day we awoke in Dodrecht for our tour of the windmills at the village of Kinderdijk. One windmill was open for the hoards of tourists while a host of other windmills lined up for photographs. Unfortunately, our guide got the time confused, and we had to be back at the bus well before we actually left, severely curtailing our free time and photographic opportunities. So much for his tip!
The afternoon was at our leisure in Dodrecht, so we climbed the tower of the Grote Kerk Church for scenic panoramas, and strolled through the streets of this picturesque city. We sailed around 4 under sunny skies for our next stop, Antwerp, Belgium. The trip to Antwerp was not particularly picturesque - imagine a watery New Jersey Turnpike near Newark - but it was nice to be sailing and moving into new territory.
The included tour the next morning was to Brussels. After a 10am departure to avoid morning rush hour traffic, we visited the Automaton, symbol of the 1958 World's Fair, and spent time in the central square of Brussels. The emphasis there was mostly on the stomach: loaded Belgium waffles, Belgium chocolate and Duvel (Devil) Beer.
Overnight, the ship relocated to Ghent in preparation for our next excursion to Brugge, Belgium. Other than Keukenhof, this was the highlight of the trip. This lovely, historic town built within a river (moat), was picturesque and interesting. We opted to stay in town for the afternoon while others went back to the ship after the morning tour. We climbed the church tower, ate lunch at an outdoor cafe, drank Brugge Blonde Beer, bought chocolate - not enough - at Dumon's, and generally had a delightful tourist day under unseasonably warm and sunny skies.
That night we sailed to a small yacht harbor where we disembarked the next morning for a tour of the Delta Works Project. This ambitious and expensive flood control project was undertaken by the Dutch after the devastating floods of 1953, and is truly an engineering marvel, designed to control the sea under all conditions. After the tour, the bus drove to a new port where the ship met us for the remainder of the trip to Rotterdam. That evening, the ship stopped briefly in Rotterdam to pick up a local group of singers called the "Sea Chanters." They were actually very good, and performed just for the enjoyment of singing - and the free Heinekins!
The Viking Sky sailed for Amsterdam after disembarking the Sea Chanters, arriving early in the morning. That morning, Saturday April 27, was the day for the ship's tour to Keukenhof Gardens. The good news: the weather was warm and sunny, and the flowers were at or close to their peak. The bad news: this was a weekend, and a weekend that featured the world famous flower parade that passed directly in front of Keukenhof Gardens. The result: crowds of indescribable magnitude. Fortunately, our tour arrived relatively early in the morning, and the beauty of the flowers and trees exceeded the increased people count. It was amazing the difference one week meant. The grass has greened up, the trees had filled out and the flowers were just magnificent. We opted to stay at the gardens after the tour bus left and made our own way back to the ship via the bus/train from the airport. The extra time was well worth it, but by the time we left, the crowds were so large that it was almost impossible to even walk along the trails.
And now, an editorial note. I hope there is a special Hell for those tourists who are never content just to take pictures of a beautiful natural site. THEY HAVE TO BE IN IT! So, while you are trying to take a photo of a beautiful flower grouping, there is a tourist tromping on the grass (despite the "Stay Off" signs) in front of flowers grinning foolishly and totally ruining the picture! There, I've vented.....
Back on the ship by mid afternoon, we relaxed on deck, rested and started the always unpleasant job of packing. Surprisingly, the captain's farewell dinner was scheduled for this, our last day on board, which was somewhat unusual but was still enjoyable. No tuxes or formal gowns were seen, but the dress was a notch above the other days.
The next morning we took a cab to the airport, coordinated by the ship, for which we shelled out 45 Euros. Since we were flying to Munich to connect for our flight, the process time at the airport was less than for the flights flying directly to the States. We were there about 2 hours early, which on a Sunday morning, was more than enough time.
This was a most enjoyable cruise, with the flowers at Keukenhof clearly being the star of the trip. Timing the flower's peak in the notoriously unpredictable Dutch weather is a challenge, and if you can allow yourself an opportunity to go more than once, at different times, as we did, that can be a good hedging strategy. The primary downside to this itinerary is the fickle weather (we lucked out, no rain at all, but it was cool early in trip) and the atrocious exchange rate of the Euro. Fortunately, booking the cruise well in advance and paying in dollars insulated us somewhat from the full impact of the weak dollar. Oh, one other downside: once you have seen Keukenhof, every other garden you visit the rest of your life will suffer in comparison.
If you are interested in viewing some of my pictures of Keukenhof Gardens, you can log onto www.dutchgardenofeden.site.shutterfy.com. Any questions - drop me an email at email@example.com. Read Less
The Uniworld sailing "European Serenade" is a 13-day cruise that alternates Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Holland with the reverse itinerary. We chose the Vienna to Amsterdam itinerary and enjoyed it greatly. We were able to ... Read More
The Uniworld sailing "European Serenade" is a 13-day cruise that alternates Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Holland with the reverse itinerary. We chose the Vienna to Amsterdam itinerary and enjoyed it greatly. We were able to purchase our trip during one of Uniworld's buy-one-get-one-free cruise fares and discounted airfare specials. Upon arrival to Vienna Austria, we went through customs and immigration, and collected our luggage. In baggage claim a representative from Uniworld was waiting for us and took us immediately to our bus that transported us to the pier where we boarded the River Duchess where a lunch buffet had been set out. Check in took a little bit of time as several passengers had arrived at one time, and there were only two crew completing check-in procedures, but we were served wine and were able to have light lunch while awaiting check in and for our cabins to be prepared.
Cabins: The were adequately sized with a typical cruise-ship sized bathroom. All cabins have a view of the river, and we were in a category 5 stateroom, the lowest of the categories. Our view of the river was very close to the waterline, but we enjoyed hearing the water hitting the hull at night. In the literature that we received from Uniworld prior to leaving, we were instructed to pack lightly as there isn't much storage space for luggage. This is true, and there is a laundry room on the ship that was convenient to use. I had brought some laundry soap from home in one of my little travel bottles, and found this to be convenient as well.
Food: Breakfast and lunch both consisted of a buffet and dinner had a menu service with a few choices. The food was very good and well-prepared. I never had a meal that I found to be inedible or bad. Food is prepared in the typical European fashion, so desserts are not as sweet as our American palate is accustomed to eating. The soups were excellent, as were the warm breads at each meal. We were able to try some interesting things that we had never eaten before, and I would recommend trying all the soups available, even the sauerkraut soup. The house wine is also fine to drink with meals. Of course, part of the fun of travelling to a new country is to try local delicacies in each port of call, which my husband and I did each time we got off the ship. I had no idea there were so many ways to make wurst and sauerkraut, and discovered how yummy real gelato is.
Crew: The crew on the ship was excellent. They were all very friendly and personable and eager to help us with any questions or concerns. The cruise director was very knowledgeable about the areas that we were visiting and I especially enjoyed cruising the romantic Rhine seeing all the castles and hearing the history of the area. The captain and second captain were personable as well and interacted with the passengers on a daily basis.
Shipboard life: On several evenings of the cruise, local entertainers would board the ship and provide the evening's entertainment. We heard a polka band, watched a glass blower, and heard a group with medieval musical instruments. On other evenings, the cruise director gave a presentation on the history of the areas we were visiting, and there was dance music for the tiny dance floor in the lounge.
Excursions: The optional tour in Vienna of a ballet and seeing the Schonbrunn Palace were well worth the extra money. We were given directions on how to use the subway system and were able to do a little exploring on our own, and went to the Hofburg Palace and Mozarthaus. St Stephen's cathedral on the included tour was magnificent. At each stop during the trip, we were able to go on a tour that was included in the cruise fare. These were all led by English speaking local tour guides and the tours included many of the highlights of the towns that we were in. There was usually time for exploring on our own, which we greatly enjoyed. My husband and I took several weeks before we went on our trip to learn German so we could converse with the local inhabitants, which we found greatly enhanced our interactions. We especially enjoyed the medieval town of Rothenburg. We happened to be in Wurzburg during a music festival and were able to hear several choirs practicing in the cathedral, which was amazing. We also purchased a cuckoo clock in Regensburg, which was shipped to us a few weeks after we arrived back home.
We extended our stay in Amsterdam with the optional cruise extension, and are glad that we did. The Uniworld guide was very knowledgeable of the area and took us around the city, introducing us to interesting foods and showing us the historical areas and the Red Light district. We had a tour one day of the windmills, a wooden shoe factory, and farm where Gouda cheese is produced. Amsterdam was chilly and rainy, even in July, so be prepared for this with a rain jacket and umbrella. The Ann Frank house is a do-not-miss, and the Rijksmuseum had a lot of very interesting works of art.
Recommendations for anyone considering this trip: Pack lightly. You can wash laundry in the evening as the ship is sailing down the river.
Buy a Frommer's Guide to the area. This gives you an overview of the town and the history of what you're going to see.
Learn the language. The Pimsleur Method is excellent for learning conversational German (or French or whatever language you need to learn) for travelling. We learned basic greetings, how to ask for directions, how to ask for the bathroom, how to order food and drinks, and to say that we speak/understand a little of the language. As soon as someone realized that we were truly trying, they would typically switch to English, or speak slowly to help us understand what we were trying to find out.
Who would enjoy this trip: Anyone who ever fantasized about being a princess living in a castle. The castles along the Rhine are the things that fairy tales are made of. Also anyone who enjoys history, seeing Roman ruins, and medieval towns. Read Less
Holland at Tulip Time Uniworld Cruise aboard the River Empress May 1- 8, 2005 After taking many traditional cruises, decided to explore Holland about a river cruise ship, the Uniworld River Empress. Although quite different than typical ... Read More
Holland at Tulip Time Uniworld Cruise aboard the River Empress May 1- 8, 2005 After taking many traditional cruises, decided to explore Holland about a river cruise ship, the Uniworld River Empress. Although quite different than typical cruise ships, it was nonetheless a terrific experience and a great vacation. Approaching the ship in Amsterdam, the first thing that occurred to me is that there were "no people" waiting to board!! We walked right up the short gang plank into the lobby where the Uniworld crew welcomed us with warm smiles and keys to our cabin. Check in was quick and easy and we were in our cabin within only a couple of minutes. The ship holds 138 passengers, and has 5 passenger decks. Deck 5 is the "Sun Deck" which is mostly an open air viewing deck with chairs and lounges. There is also a glass covered sitting area so that even in inclement weather you can have a panoramic view. This is where the "bridge" is located as well, and towards the very front are tables and chairs. We often brought drinks to this part of the deck and watched the countryside slowly pass us as we relaxed. Deck Four is where the beautiful dining room is location (more on food later!). Also, all of the ship's suites (4 of them) and top-graded cabins with floor to ceiling windows are on this deck. Towards the front is the bar/lounge which is the meeting place for port talks, captain's welcome aboard party, etc. Deck Three is cabins, and Deck Two is cabins, along with an area (indoor patio) for 24 hour coffee and tea, a small boutique shop, the gym/sauna and the hairdressers. Deck One is cabins, along with the small launderette (2 washers, 2 dryers which are free—soap is available for $2.50 for 2 loads). From top to bottom, the ship sparkles. Although much smaller and cozier than a cruise ship, they have all the bases covered with great cabins, a spacious and bright dining room and the services mentioned above. The Itinerary: Holland is really beautiful at tulip time. The trip begins in Amsterdam, sails north to Hoorn and Volendam, then heads back south to Rotterdam, Delft, Arnhem, and Schoonoven. I won't go over each and every detail of the ports (Uniworld's brochure does a terrific job of that!), but instead will provide some of our favorite activities on the trip. Amsterdam: We were lucky that the cruise spent a night in Amsterdam at the beginning of the trip, and 2 nights at the end. There is a lot to see and do, so don't worry that there is too much time there. We boarded the ship about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and spent an hour on board getting unpacked and touring the decks. Went to visit the Anne Frank House (well worth the 15 minute wait to get inside) and walked around central Amsterdam. We had tried to go to the Anne Frank House earlier in the day, but the lines were too long. At 5:00, they had diminished quite a bit and I had heard that the later you go, the shorter the wait. The next morning, Uniworld took us to the world's largest flower auction just outside of Amsterdam. It is called the Aalsmeer Flower Auction and it is similar in many ways to the New York Stock Exchange, except that in place of stocks, the product is flowers. This place is HUGE and you walk ABOVE all of the action and look down at flowers, the actual auctions (where the prices are set for flowers WORLDWIDE) and the logistics of getting the flowers in and out of the auction center. We returned to the ship midday and as we were eating lunch we sailed up to Hoorn. Zaanse Schans is an outdoor windmill museum and they also give demonstrations on how to make wooden shoes. Great photo opportunities here, and also on the bus ride through the multi-colored fields of tulips that extend as far as your eyes can see! In Delft we toured the Delft pottery factory and then spent time downtown. Many old and interesting churches, and a huge plaza with nice outdoor cafes. The Dining Room: Open seating at all meals. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style. However, at breakfast, you can order an omelet of your choice from the buffet and at lunch, you are offered soup and and desert from your waiter. Dinner includes a starter (every night is different, and they are really creative!), soup, a main selection (either meat, fish or vegetarian), a nice desert choice and cheese and fruit from the buffet. The food was all outstanding and there is something for everyone. If you cannot find something, they will make something for you e.g. steak. The food overall was high quality, tasty and delicious. The cabins: At 154 square feet, not overly spacious but certainly adequate. The cabin layout was very nice and they managed to fit in bedside tables, a sitting chair and table, and a bathroom with nice shower (that consistently had great temperature control and water pressure). Very clean and new, and the cabin service is excellent. Ten reasons to choose a river cruise over a traditional cruise: To begin, I believe there is a market for both types of cruises. However, here are 10 reasons why I would travel on a river cruise again with Uniworld: 1. The crew. They can make or break a cruise, and hands down this crew (of only 36) did an outstanding job in every way. We had great service from the cruise manager, the officers, the front desk personnel, the cabin attendants and the dining room staff. 2. The ship. Although much smaller than traditional ships, the River Empress had a great deck plan and above all, was sparkling clean. Everywhere. 3. The food. I was never disappointed with any of the meals. There was a lot of variety, and portions were the right size (although you could order seconds if you wanted). 4. The destinations. Although Amsterdam is a large city with an adequate port, most of the other destinations we went to were too small for traditional ships. This trip gave us an opportunity to experience, and explore, ports that we otherwise would never go to see on a cruise. 5. The tours. Every one is included with your cruise fare. Just show up when they tell you to, and a first class tour bus is waiting for you just a few feet from your ship. Not only did they leave and return on time, every one had a knowledgeable and friendly tour guide, along with an experienced driver. Do not underestimate the value of having all your tours covered in your cruise fare, particularly when the conversion rates for dollars to euros are so poor! 6. Easy on, easy off! These river ships are more like hotels when it comes to arriving and departing guests! Whenever the ship is in port, it is easy to just walk off and on without great fanfare...it reminded me of going to and from a hotel. Quick and easy, in and out! 7. Other passengers. With such a small group, it is easy to meet others and we found that over the week we made many new friends. 8. Relaxation. There is something remarkably soothing about sitting on the top deck and watching the nearby land go by. 9. The other itineraries. Uniworld has many ships sailing throughout Europe and other parts of the world. Now that I've had my first experience with them, I'll definitely be back to another river cruise. 10. The small things. Umbrellas in the cabin should it be raining out. Juice, coffee and pastries at 6:00 a.m. for us early risers. A small vase of fresh flowers in every cabin after the cruise begins. Free washers and dryers. Welcoming smiles from the crew in the lobby every time you come back on board. What a wonderful week we had seeing Holland on the River Empress. I'd do this trip again if there weren't so many other places I want to see first! Read Less