Hats off to Viking for once again providing a fabulous river cruise experience. Budapest was one of those destinations to which I probably would never have visited had it not been on the itinerary. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city ... Read More
Hats off to Viking for once again providing a fabulous river cruise experience. Budapest was one of those destinations to which I probably would never have visited had it not been on the itinerary. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city on my own as well as the shore excursion from Viking. As usual, the tour guides were quite knowlegable and interesting.
The cabin was nice and roomy. I just wish the windows had been larger like those on the Sky. Our cabin steward was exceptional.
The two most outstanding memories aboard the ship were listening to the talented pianist and being able to enjoy the wonderful dining experiences offered by the remarkable chef. Both of those men are treasures.
This was the second time I had traveled to Vienna, and I was able to see it from an entirely different perspective being on a river cruise. My biggest regret is that I did not choose to attend the evening concert while in Vienna. Very few of us were left aboard the ship. My husband and I had thought about signing up for that excursion so many times, but in the end decided not to do so. When we heard such outstanding reviews from those who attended, we were very disappointed that we had not gone. Anyone who takes this cruise should definitely attend the concert in Vienna.
This was only my second river cruise, and we have booked another one for later this year. I must say that I'm hooked! The atmosphere aboard the smaller river cruises is far superior to that of the huge ocean cruise ships. It's a delightful experience getting to know the staff, and Viking Cruises hires extremely professional and personable staff members. Here's hoping that I get to enjoy many more relaxing vacations with Viking. Read Less
This cruise was generally quite enjoyable. We embarked in Portland, Oregon, then cruised downriver to Astoria Oregon. did a tour of Astoria and a second one of the Oregon Coast. We then proceeded upriver, and did tours of MT St Helens (~90 ... Read More
This cruise was generally quite enjoyable. We embarked in Portland, Oregon, then cruised downriver to Astoria Oregon. did a tour of Astoria and a second one of the Oregon Coast. We then proceeded upriver, and did tours of MT St Helens (~90 minute bus ride each way), the Bonneville Dam, Multnomah Falls, Indian Cultural centers, etc. Unfortunately, the Snake river was running too high, and we were not able to go up the Snake, so spent 1 1/2 days at Richland, Washington -- the cruise director did arrange a couple of special tours there (at no charge!). We had a roomy suite in the front of the boat. Room maintenance was quite good, although the bathroom was typically small.
One thing to be aware of with this cruise line -- the passengers were mostly age 65+, with only a handful of people not yet retired (we are in our late 50'3), and almost no one under age 40. Having said that, the passengers are generally a very well traveled bunch, and we enjoyed the discussion at meals. People also were very good at getting back to the tour bus on time (best we have ever seen on a cruise).
Pluses: The informality of the check-in and check-out process, friendliness of the crew, hosted cocktail hours every night, free cookies, snacks, coffee, soda all day, and an absolutely terrific port lecturer (Laurence).
Minuses: Only one key to the stateroom; food was very average the first few days, although it improved over the course of the cruise; small bathroom; cruise was pricey; several crew members were brand new and "learning the ropes". Some tours were not so great & didn't allow enough time at stops (i.e., Mt St. Helens)
This was our second cruise on American Cruise Lines (the first being the New England Islands in 2010), and we have already signed up for the Charleston to Jacksonville cruise next year. If you enjoy smaller ships (~100 passengers), older well traveled passengers, convenient access to ports, and the informality of a smaller cruise line (vs the often frustrating experiences aboard the large ship cruise lines), you should consider these cruises. They are also adding Alaska and Mississippi river cruises next year. Read Less
Experienced river cruisers (we had done three before this one- Danube and Rhine (both on Viking) and the Douro (Uniworld)) will find familiar things to like on the Waterways of the Czars journey, but overall our experience did not hold up ... Read More
Experienced river cruisers (we had done three before this one- Danube and Rhine (both on Viking) and the Douro (Uniworld)) will find familiar things to like on the Waterways of the Czars journey, but overall our experience did not hold up well to our five star experiences in Western Europe with Viking and Uniworld.
The big one is that for both Moscow and St Petersburg, the ships tie up about an hour out of city center so if your idea is to enjoy a night time stroll after dinner in Red square or at a Moscow club before returning to the ship, forget about it. Every day in these two cities required many hours on the bus just getting to/from city center attractions. On free days we took the subway which was a cab or shuttle ride from the boat. That of course is part of the adventure. Toughing it out on the bus is one thing; it also means you have significantly less time to spend enjoying attractions (e.g. less time in the Hermitage). The city tour option takes you by the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood and St Isaac's but not inside. Luckily we went there by subway for our free time one afternoon. They are both amazing, but the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is a lifetime don't time. Google it up and see what I mean.
Also be aware that Russia has more than its share of thieves and our luggage was gone over by someone between the plane arriving and its having been brought to our cabin. When we reported our losses to the purser, he lamented that while their security was getting better, this is Russia and it is a big problem. So be forewarned not to carry anything of value in your luggage (good advice for any destination).
Cabins are fine and up to western river cruise standards. The layout of Russian river boats is not as good as those that ply the Danube and Rhine but acceptable for sure. Food is fine, but a tad below the Western Europe offerings. Lectures are excellent as well they might be as they provide a nice respite from the monotonous scenery -- endless stretches of birch trees.
Moscow and St Petersburg are well covered elsewhere and you will enjoy them as we did (once you get there). I recommend that you use the subways on your own; it can be a bit of a challenge but Russians are very helpful and it will help you create good memories.
There isn't a lot to see along the way between the two cities (no castles and charming towns like in Western Europe) as you gently sail between destinations. The destinations though are all fun though a couple exist to please tourists -- Mandrogy and Kizhi come to mind. The former is essentially a manufactured tourist attraction (think Disney Expo) that simulates an old style Russian village. It is principally populated with superior artisans at work on on high style matryoshkas, wood carvings, metal work etc. Cart and Buggy rides are fun. I highly recommend that you spend your best souvenir dollars here. The quality here far exceeds what you'll see at the ubiquitous souvenir stands throughout the rest of your journey.
Kizhi island, a UNESCO heritage site, is a photographer's paradise. They have preserved the most beautiful wooden Churches (think 22 wooden domes on one church) and other structures which date as far back as the 17th century. It is stunning and uncrowded because of its remoteness on Lake Onega.
The other stops in Kirilov-Belzersky, Yaroslavl and Ulglich are also very good.
If your goal is principally to see the world famous offerings of Moscow and St Petersburg, I recommend that you do a land tour and stay in hotels close to the attractions. If you've see the two cities before and the river experience is always a big attraction for you (unpack once, etc.), you'll ertainly enjoy this trip. Read Less
Brand new ship, Amaverde, and it lived up the the descriptions put out by APT. First night tried to get a glass of red wine. Bar attendant could not find a cork screw. Fifteen minutes later when up to get my wine. Same bar attendant ... Read More
Brand new ship, Amaverde, and it lived up the the descriptions put out by APT. First night tried to get a glass of red wine. Bar attendant could not find a cork screw. Fifteen minutes later when up to get my wine. Same bar attendant looked at me with a vacant stare wondering what I was talking about. Still no corkscrew. Bar menus on every table. Its a shame they did not have half of what was on them and some items, brandy for one, none at all.Some of the crew had a work ethic of doing everything as slow as possible or not at all. I think APT should review their training of crew as this ship had a few who needed more.Service at meals very slow as only four crew serving meals to 159 passengers. Long wait for meals at times. Food service area needs a redesign. People lined up at breakfast waiting to get eggs cooked by the chef blocked everyone else from trying to get other things from hot boxes or benches.Guides at all stops very good but felt rushed at times when we had free time. Had to get back to the ship. Meals were very good but would have liked more variety at lunch. For the money you pay to go on the Concerto class ships NO VALUE FOR MONEY. Go Aria class for better value and hopefully a better crew.Beautiful public lounge area but all windows covered by gauze curtains. When questioned personnel at reception did not have a clue that we would want to look outside to see the magnificent views as we sailed along the rivers. Every time we opened them they were closed the next day. Why curtains at all?? Read Less
My husband and I just returned from Cambodia and Vietnam -cruise portion was from Jan 23. Unfortunately I had fallen several days previous and was in pain so had to forgo some of the shore excursions. Have to note that people with some ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from Cambodia and Vietnam -cruise portion was from Jan 23. Unfortunately I had fallen several days previous and was in pain so had to forgo some of the shore excursions. Have to note that people with some mobility problems will have difficulty making some excursions. Often there is no dock, the ship just pulls up to river bank and you clamber up the dirt bank. But the excursions we both or my husband went on were all worth the effort and are all included in the one price for the cruise. Bring some balloons to charm the children. By some school supplies while you are there as you will visit at least one school which was so pleased by our gifts.
Cabin was comfortable and public areas quite adequate. There was free Internet when reception allowed. Meals were excellent with a mix of Western and regional food. Breakfast and lunch were bountiful buffets with stations for making omelets, noodles soup, etc. Soft drinks were included but wine and beer extra. We had 76 on the cruise and were divided into 3 groups each with a tour guide. They all spoke good enough English and were delightful.
This isn't a trip for entertainment so evening programs were low key. Crew put on a show - they love to sing.
It was wonderful to just sit and watch river life happening. You think about the history of the Vietnam war and are amazed that now we are friendly tourists enjoying these lovely countries.
If you are going to Cambodia and Vietnam, would recommend doing a land tour from Saigon up to Hanoi, fly to Siem Reip and then take the cruise back down to Saigon. Read Less
We returned late Saturday night from our 16 day trip to Germany and Austria which included a cruise from Frankfurt to Vienna on Avalon's Luminary.
We were thrilled to have no rain and LOTS of snow and only a few times were the ... Read More
We returned late Saturday night from our 16 day trip to Germany and Austria which included a cruise from Frankfurt to Vienna on Avalon's Luminary.
We were thrilled to have no rain and LOTS of snow and only a few times were the conditions icy and/or slushy, making walking unpleasant. The snow covered scenery was magnificent and really added to the ambiance. This was our 4th visit at this exact time of year and the first time we had snow in every city we visited, except for our 4 days in Berlin at the very beginning of our trip.
The Luminary is a new ship and she is elegant and understated. The highlight was the outstanding staff who was among the very best we have encountered on any cruise line. Gabriel, the utterly competent Maitre'd, managed a dining staff that was not only professional but also warm and gracious. Stand outs were Charlie (Perdang), Laszlo and Norbett. Our chef, Stefan, had been with us on our Affinity cruise last year and he was delightful, always smiling and very visible at meal times.
Timea and Daniel at reception were always helpful and pleasant.
Hans lived up to his reputation as an excellent cruise director, handling both the day to day aspects of his position along with the additional issues he faced due to weather challenges. We had about a dozen passengers unable to get to the boat due to weather problems in Frankfurt that disrupted flights and was on the phone constantly working to get them to the boat at the next ports of call.
We had 4 in our group delayed and were surprised to learn that even though Avalon had booked their air and transfers as a complete package, Avalon's air department does not track flights at all to let the ship know of any delays. I had to let Hans know what was happening as he was unaware and told me that it is the passenger's responsibility to call him directly with any flight delays. Be aware of this if you expect to have your air issues handled by Avalon.
The excellent bar staff of Vladimir, Bibi and Radu made before and after visits to the forward lounge very enjoyable.
Rooms were well appointed and beds very comfortable. We had to go to the front desk to request a robe and it would have been nice to have these in the rooms when we checked in.
The quality of food was excellent and we enjoyed a galley tour one afternoon with Stefan. The food is freshly prepared and was consistently cooked properly and served hot. There was a special offered each day at breakfast and several menu items that could be ordered at lunch if one did not want the buffet. The variety was very good for a ship of this size.
Avalon advertises they offer a variety of low calorie options but this is really not accurate. At both breakfast and lunch, the choices for those choosing to follow a lower fat diet were very limited and the kitchen was not able to accommodate special requests for these meals. Hot soups at lunch were consistently cream based and though there was a small salad bar, there were limited items that were prepared without additional mayonnaise, etc. Veggies were prepared with butter and meats with sauces. This was not an issue at dinner when the two people in our group - including me - that prefer low cal options were well accommodated.
Included wines were good. We did want to purchase better wines on a few nights but they were completely out of about 75% of the red wines offered on the wine list, the same situation we had encountered last year on the Affinity. I am not sure why they offer an ala carte list if they are unable to stock for it. We tried to order no less than 7 different reds by the bottle and not a single one was available. We were limited to the German wines and this was disappointing as we would have preferred some variety and were happy to pay the extra. By the next to the last night, they had also run out of vodka and Kahlua, which I found strange as well.
There were some negatives on this trip for us:
There was lots of sailing time and virtually no in cabin entertainment was available. There were three English channels and this is a cruise line that caters to North American passengers and Aussies so this is something Avalon really needs to address. Often CNN did not even have sound available. Avalon really needs to add some movie options and music channels. One can only watch progress through the locks so many times and after dark which comes very early in winter, there was no scenery to enjoy.
Only twice were we docked in any reasonable proximity to the city we were visiting. I consider reasonable a 20 minute walk at a good pace. This mean taxi fares to get us back when we chose not to take the scheduled bus transfer.
Walking groups were not grouped by physical ability and this was a hindrance in my opinion. There were most always 4 groups so it would have been easy to designate a group of slow walkers and another for those who wished to walk faster.
Internet service was more unavailable than available. I had issues sending but could receive. The people in the cabin next to us to us could send but not receive.
On this 11 night cruise, menus were much the same for the second half and more variety would have been welcomed.
There was not much in the way of evening entertainment, even for a river cruise. The onboard piano player, Ivan, had a very limited repertoire. We were scheduled to be in port late in Regensburg so looked forward to being off the ship there but the heavy snowfall caused the river to rise very rapidly and instead of leaving at 11pm we had to pull out at 4:30pm. The evening entertainer was unable to get aboard that night. Last year we really enjoyed a Christmas evening put on by the crew but this was missing this year. For a Christmas cruise, there was nothing to distinguish the season in terms of any events or entertainment.
A highlight for us was the crew show where about a dozen of the crew put on a series of skits that bordered from amusing to hilarious. Stefan and the gang of Roman bell ringers took top prize judging by passenger reaction. On the night of the 2nd crew show (a repeat of the first) we happened to be docked next to the River Countess and noticed their show taking place at the same times as ours. There was a young lady dressed in traditional Bavarian attire signing which made up the bulk of their entertainment and we noticed a number of their passengers peering over into our lounge where our staff had us bursting out with laughter at some of the antics. We were very happy to be on the Luminary with its very special crew.
Overall we enjoyed the cruise but will next year we are booked on AMA for a wine themed cruise since they offer some of the things Avalon is missing, like walking groups organized by capability, bicycles and in room entertainment. The itinerary we chose for 2011 also has 4 of the 7 nights (enough for us we decided on this trip) either as overnight stays or very late in port which will give us the opportunity to spend more time in the cities we visit. Read Less
This review is mainly about the ship details. As far as the itinerary and excursions they were second to none. We found out that the ship was scheduled to be renovated at the end of the year which left me concerned as to the appointments ... Read More
This review is mainly about the ship details. As far as the itinerary and excursions they were second to none. We found out that the ship was scheduled to be renovated at the end of the year which left me concerned as to the appointments and whether Uniworld would let the ship get run down. They did not disappoint me there.
The ship was very clean and nice but not to today's increased standards and competition. Hence the renovations. One inexcusable critique though is directed to the dining room. The first presentation to me was a appetizer served in a chipped bowl. I thought at first maybe it was something overlooked but when I looked over to my husband's dish and saw 2 chips in his bowl I became very disappointed. I didn't say anything but stewed over it for the evening. The next day at lunch I was served a glass dish with chipped all around the edge. Well that blew it for me and I call the dining room manager over and told her that dish belonged in the garbage. Then I went to the center of the dining room where the chef was dishing out ice cream and went through the stack of bowls and told them to get rid of all the chipped bowls. On on other incident my wine glass was chipped around the lower part. So I am no sure what was going on. The kitchen manager was very young and only 2 weeks on the job in fact many of the crew were relatively new to the job. No excuse for it though. That was my only complaint for the whole cruise.
Uniworld tried to make everyone as comfortable as possible. Our rooms were always clean. We never did meet the room attendant though. The bar stayed opened until the last person left. The musician was very good but he couldn't sing very well. We didn't seem to mind much. This was our first river cruise and I would definitely do another one. I don't believe it is for everyone though.
The average age on our cruise must have been 65 years. There are not many activities on the ship as the tours can keep you going all day. You have the option of staying on board or doing places yourself. The tour guides were excellent as were the tours. But if you are more interested in sitting around by a pool and drinking this would not be for you.
We took the pre-cruise extension in Amsterdam and it was very good. The hotel room was OK but not North American standards. Our room was very small and overlook the air conditioning unit. So it was very expensive $500 each for 2 nights. We did have a tour included as well and the use of the guide. Breakfast was also included. Read Less
VIKING RIVER CRUISE - ELEGANT ELBE CLARA SCHUMANN AUGUST 27 - SEPTEMBER 6, 2010
After 25 sea cruises, we decided that our "cruising life" would not be truly representative of the genre until we did a river cruise. ... Read More
VIKING RIVER CRUISE - ELEGANT ELBE CLARA SCHUMANN AUGUST 27 - SEPTEMBER 6, 2010
After 25 sea cruises, we decided that our "cruising life" would not be truly representative of the genre until we did a river cruise. "We" are my wife Edith, a homemaker and retired health care worker from Phoenix, AZ and I am a retired city attorney from that City also. We considered the many standard cruises down the Rhine or Danube, but chose the Elbe cruise from Prague to Berlin for several reasons. We liked the cities on the trip; Prague, Dresden, Meissen and Berlin in particular. Edith is German born, and enjoys a language advantage in the German portion of the trip. All of the stops (until West Berlin) were under Communist rule until the wall came down in Germany in 1989, followed by the "Velvet Revolution" in Prague, which liberated the former Czechoslovakia. All of this promised a unique experience which was largely borne out by our trip.
Preparations and Getting There
Viking is the only cruise line offering this trip. They offer a discount if paid in full by wire transfer, and we opted for this. Due to the fact that one day in Prague is included as well as one day in Berlin; we thought it better that Viking make the air arrangements, which probably were slightly cheaper than if we bought "open-jaw" air tickets going to Prague and returning from Berlin.
Fortunately I remembered to check the weather reports, and found out that the temperatures would run between the low 50s and low 60s, with the strong probability of rain for at least the first 6 or 7 days of the cruise. This led to a thorough reconsideration of what we would bring as clothing, which proved to be a blessing. The last time we had been in that neck of the woods, in 2003, the temperatures had been in the 80s and 90s, in early August. It is really important to check the weather on any river cruise because the chief attraction is the time spent ashore.
Our outgoing flight involved only one stop in Atlanta and then on to Prague, arriving at about 9:30. While we had early wake-up call, our flight to Atlanta left Phoenix at 7:20 A.M., this was a pretty straight forward and routine trip.
We were met by a Viking representative and taken to one of the two Hilton Hotels in Prague. It is a new structure, slightly outside the "Old City", but within easy walking distance of that part of town. For a review of this hotel, you can go to Tripadvisor.com; but suffice to say - do not eat at the hotel restaurant The prices are outrageous, unless you like to pay more that $5.00 for a bottle of water. The breakfast brunch, included as in all European hotels, was quite good however.
Viking provided us with a nice tour of the Palace area and the Old Town the next day after arrival. This was our introduction into being divided into three groups, and being provided with Viking's Quietvox tour audio system, in which we were provided with a small radio receiver and an earpiece connection for listening to our guide. It works pretty well, although it requires a short warm-up period. Each guide "broadcasts" on a different frequency. The next day we had lunch at a local restaurant suggested by Patrick, one of Viking's staff assisting at the hotel. It was hearty Czech food, quite good and very reasonable, about half what we had paid at the Hilton. Patrick also had led a non-scheduled, informal walking tour the night before which Edith enjoyed, but I skipped.
We were instructed to mark our luggage with one of three different colored ribbons, and they were transferred to one of three busses by color. At about 3:30 we started departing for Melnik, Czech Republic, mostly by freeway, which took about 45 minutes. There we were simply handed real keys to our staterooms - no plastic, thank you
When we entered our cabin, which had been designated as Class A Deluxe, we were shocked to find out that it was not the enlarged cabin pictured and described in the Viking brochure. Instead of a reasonable sized, 180 square foot cabin with a double bed and space for a dresser and decent sized closet, we had a standard 120 square foot cabin. The other seven couples who had purchased and expected the same accommodations were similarly outraged. We were told that the refurbishment was still In the future, even though the brochure had said the ship and cabins were "Fully Refurbished". The upper third of the window tilted open, but with the cold weather we hardly ever opened it.
But the only other choice was to take a taxi back to Prague and fly home, so we were stuck with our cabins.
Clara Schumann is small for a river cruiser, and is specifically designed for the Elbe River. It has no propellers, only a "water-jet" system which sucks in river water and spins it back out. This is a design attributable to the fact that the Elbe is a very shallow river in parts, and could be getting shallower each year. On some occasions the actual cruising has been abandoned since the ship had insufficient water and would have become stranded. Bus trips were substituted. Fortunately 2010 had a somewhat rainy summer, and we never experienced a problem.
The ship has two fully enclosed decks and an open deck topside, which also held the wheelhouse and was partly covered. The upper deck had cabins aft, the reception area and the lounge, with bar forward. The lower deck had cabins aft, a small sauna, and the dining room forward. One could not go from the lower cabin area directly to the dining room, but was required to go up the stairs to the reception area and then down to the dining room.. We were told that this was a safety design decision. The dining room and lounge would each hold the full complement of passengers.
The cabins all had a couch which turned into a single bed, and another bed opposite which pulled down Murphy Bed fashion. There was a small table between beds in front of the single window. There was one small closet and two shelves. The pull down bed had a narrow shelf above it, and there was another overhead shelf towards the door. The bathroom was small and the shower had a curtain with no division between the shower floor and the rest of the bathroom, so that water would flow out into the general bathroom area. One had to put the floor mat up on the toilet, and then put it back down when one emerged from the shower. There was some room in a cabinet, which proved to be sufficient for most toiletries. There was no room for suitcases, but ours were taken away by our room attendant and returned the last night for packing. We asked for and got a few extra hangers.
We met at 6:45 for a safety briefing that had an aspect quite different from our prior cruises. We were told that if the ship sank, simply go to the upper deck, since we would still be high and dry as the boat rested gently on the bottom of the shallow Elbe River. Our "Cruise Director" Martin Caco, is called "Program Director". He introduced the Officers and the other major players. With all the kitchen and attending staff, the crew amounted to only 34 people. Our next day tours were outlined, as they were every day, by Martin, who is from Slovakia, and speaks six languages
We then went to dinner, which of course is open seating. The dinner menu included a specific vegetarian menu, which pleased Edith. For everything else there were basically two choices for salad, "starters" which included a soup, entrEe and dessert (with a cheese plate option). Beer and wine were served without charge at dinner, and not limited to one glass, but freely poured as requested. Edith said the wine was not bad, but since I do not drink I have no opinion.
Luncheons we partly buffet, with a few options which could be ordered. The buffet had sandwiches and one hot entrEe, as well as a salad bar.
The breakfast buffet was very good indeed, with several hot options, lots of fruit, cereal, and the ability to order pancakes, waffles and egg dishes including omelets. The coffee was pretty good by cruise ship standards. I would like to single out the baker for the highest marks, well up there in the tradition of fine European bread and pastry making.
Overall I would rate the dinner meals at three stars+, the lunches at two stars+ and the breakfasts at four stars+. These ratings are by way of comparison with our prior cruising experiences, which include the superlative Crystal Serenity experience (twice), ten Celebrity cruises and three Oceania trips; all at four+ to five stars, not to mention Princess and HAL, both at four stars in most cuisine categories. If one was to compare Viking with normal restaurant dining, their rating would be higher. The main reasons for my opinion are the limited selections available (a necessary result of the ship's size) and a certain lack of imagination. The dining room service was largely cheerful and pleasant, hampered, as is so often the case, by some language difficulties, varying from one staff member to another.
But I imagine that no one goes on a river cruise expecting cordon bleu cuisine, so I would not downgrade our overall experience too much by the limitations in the food area.
The Riverboat Cruising Experience
This is what we came for, and this is where we had the best experiences, despite the poor weather. With one exception, an optional visit to a concentration camp near Litomêrice, Czech Republic, our first stop, all tours are included in the cruise fare. The various stops are governed by the distances between the towns involved, and to some extent by the sights available. The ship does not exactly move with lightning speed, and I would imagine the trip back up the Elbe from Berlin to Prague varies a little in its timing of stops and sailing because that portion is against the river current, while we went with the flow. In some instances we spent a morning traveling, in others the afternoon, and on other occasions, all day in town.. Sometimes we remained docked overnight, but sometimes we sailed at night.
The Elbe is not very wide, varying from probable less that 100 yards across (my estimate is calculated by what golf club I think I would need to get across this "water hole") to perhaps 250 yards. As noted, it is very shallow. One can stand behind the wheelhouse and see the depth gauge, which normally read about 2 to 3 meters, with the draft of the ship being one meter. While there are a number of towns, ranging from hamlets to one large city (Dresden), there are many stretches in which we were gliding in absolute silence between farm lands, hearing sheep bleat, to forests where one passenger spotted a deer, and we all saw lots of waterfowl, egrets, cranes, ducks and swans. The silence of our passage was due to our unique propulsion system, which had no turbine whine or propeller noise. It was extremely restful, albeit a tad chilly and damp, sitting on the upper deck watching everything flow quietly past us.
Ports of Call
Our first stop was LitomErice in the Czech Republic. As in every stop, we landed close to the center of town, and we simply followed our guide on a walking tour of this pretty little place. The guides were evidently supplied by local tour companies, and met us at each stop. Dagmar, our first guide was extremely talkative and repetitious, (we really did not want to know the history of her name) and we were pleased when the weather, for which she was not dressed, persuaded her to return to her bus early and left us to wander around on our own. I was even able to spend most of the 100 Czech korunas left from our supply exchanged easily for euros at the Hilton in Prague. This was about a four hour afternoon stop.
The next day we crossed into Germany and stopped at a small town called Bad Schandau in a hilly region called the Saxon Alps. Just a trifle ambitious since the hills maxed out at about 800-900 feet. However we rook a bus ride of about 40 minutes back and around into the hills until we arrived at a tourist stop with a hotel and restaurant close to the ruins of a fort overlooking the river from about 850 feet. Here many of us paid all of 1€ to extend the tour over some steel grate bridges and up stairs out into the escarpment where we had stunning views of pinnacles rising up from the ground, and then into the ruins themselves. The views out across the river were also grand. We went back to the main part of the site and had coffee in a restaurant with a panoramic view of the countryside. This was really a high point of the cruise. When we returned and cruised away, for a few minutes, we could look back at where we had been, and even see the restaurant. The sun came out briefly and the whole experience was delightful.
The next day (and in fact the next night) were spent in Dresden. This is the city which was almost destroyed completely in a fire bombing air raid in January 1945. The rebuilding has been virtually completed, and it is certainly worth visiting. A highlight was being able to listen to a ½ hour organ recital on a magnificent instrument in the Dresden Cathedral. We also had the chance to do some shopping in a new shopping area, and to buy some euros at a Deutsche Bank ATM. It started raining very heavily on us, but with Edith's umbrella and my rain jacket, we got by pretty well.
Edith and I both love good china ware, and we looked forward to Meissen, our next stop and the home of Meissen porcelain since about 1708. The factory "tour" was a staged trip showing us a few details about how the china is painted and prepared, but not really how it is produced. This was disappointing, but the Porcelain Museum attached was not. The work that has been done here over the centuries is amazing. There also was an "outlet" store and a regular store. One or two of our fellow passengers actually made a purchase. The prices are quite high to say the least. We also had a chance to walk around town for a short while.
After a brief afternoon trip we came to Torgau, a town noted for the meeting between the American and Russian armies in late April, 1945, the virtual end of the European phase of WWII. We had a quick tour and although we remained docked there overnight, I do not think anyone went back into town.
The next day, after amorning of travel, we reached Wittenberg, the seat of Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation, including the church where he nailed the 95 theses. The original wooden door has not survived. The tour of his home was interesting and the town has a large central square with a strikingly beautiful Rathaus, or City Hall.
The next stop, Dessau, was marked by a tour of a striking, 17 square mile garden built by a ruler in the 1800s. This visit included what was called a "gondola" ride, powered by a pleasant young oarsman, around a lake forming part of this park. Actually, in lieu of the gondola trip, one could enjoy a tour of the main castle building.
Our next stop was Magdeberg, but only for docking purposes since we arrived in the early evening with just time for the Captain's Farewell dinner and re-packing. This last exercise meant we had to take turns in the cabin to deal with our own suitcases, since there was nowhere nearly enough room for both of us to operate at the same time. We did have the Baked Alaska parade however.
The next morning we boarded our buses to travel to Potsdam, about an hour away, for a tour of that suburb of Berlin. We viewed a couple of castles including a short tour of one castle, the last home of "Kaiser Bill"; Kaiser Wilhelm II who led Germany through WWI and fled from this building in 1918 (with 20 boxcars of furnishings) to exile in Holland where he died in the late 1930s. After that we were dropped off in town to have lunch on our own, which we did at a nice, reasonably priced, sidewalk cafe, Afterwards we visited (but did not enter, the castle where the 1945 Potsdam Conference between Stalin, Truman and Clement Atlee took place in August 1945, effectively dividing up Europe into East and West. This building is now partly a hotel, but it was occupied by Kaiser Wilhelm's son until he fled the Russian Army in the spring of 1945. The Hohenzollern family is still around.
After this we drove into Berlin which began virtually next door to this site, and to the Hilton Hotel in what was once East Berlin. This was a much nicer hotel that the Prague Hilton. After dinner on our own (where we ran into and joined some fellow passengers) we went on a walking tour guided by Patrick from Viking. He had been on vacation for a week and went to Rome to assist our departure.
The people joining the ship for the return trip to Prague had actually passed us in the parking lot in Potsdam. The walking tour took us to Check Point Charlie and down a nearby street where we could see a remnant of the Wall.
After a good nights sleep, and an excellent buffet breakfast we left for the airport at about 8:45 for our return to Phoenix via JFK, again with only this one stop.
A note on "castles". This term simply means a building which served as a residence, usually one of several residences, of the family which happened to be ruling at one time or another. The buildings were not the fortified warrior homes that we usually associate with the word castle, and which are more common in England and Scotland. Our "castles" were usually only palatial residences constructed in the 1700s and 1800s, with a few being occupied until the end of WWI, which signaled the end of Central European Royal family ruling dynasties. One exception was the Konigsberg castle near Bad Schandau, high above the Elbe, which was a true fortification, at least when viewed by us from the river.
There were 108 passengers out of a possible 110. With the exception of two couples, the median age was somewhere in the 60s (to be kind). We discovered that nearly everyone we talked to had done other river cruises. The open seating enabled us to meet a large number of fellow travelers, and this was very enjoyable, although we could not meet everybody. The homelands ranged from New Zealand and Australia to Canada, Germany, the UK and the United States, with the last being the best represented of course.
I should note that some people had taken advantage of Viking's pre-cruise two day tour of Prague and more remained for their two day extension in Berlin.
Attire is quite casual. Only a few of the men wore jackets and fewer yet wore ties for the Captain's Farewell Dinner. The ladies dressed up a bit more for that event. As you might imagine, good walking shoes, an umbrella and a lightweight rain jacket are necessities. I often wore my Tilley hat, but wearing any kind of headgear in Europe immediately identifies you as a tourist from America.
Tipping was suggested at $9.00 to $11.00 per person per day. I paid by credit card, but since the on-board currency was the Euro it ended up as an odd figure.
Tipping of guides at the rate of 3-5 €s per couple was the norm. My guide book said that a 10% tip for restaurant servers in the Czech Republic was the norm, but in Germany a service charge is often included in the bill.
The Crew and Other Matters
As noted, Martin was a very good program director and was visible and available almost all the time. The Captain spoke little English, and was pretty inaccessible and distant. Most of the restaurant servers and cabin attendants had a working knowledge of the English needed for their jobs, There was entertainment in the form of Vladimir, who played an electric type piano in the lounge in the afternoon. Tea was served every afternoon, with a few goodies, but all other food was available only at regular meal times. Coffee and tea wer always available at a station in the lounge.
River cruising is distinctly different, and to enjoy it you must be prepared to do a lot of off-boat touring which will involve walking and listening to guides talk a lot. Like any cruise, there is some free time, and not much by way of on-board entertainment. The actual "Cruising Down the River" part is relaxing, and you have countryside to look at, not just ocean. Our cabins were exceptionally small according to fellow passengers who had done more river trips, and we did not sleep all that well on our narrow beds. But this (and the weather) were the only significant drawbacks to what was otherwise a very pleasant, relaxing and refreshing cruise as well as being a very new experience. We believe that we will do at least one more river cruise, in Europe rather than Russia or China, in 2012, since 2011 is pretty well planned already. We would definitely recommend river cruising.
Phil and Edith Read Less
We sailed on the River Countess on a Rhine and Main Rivers ("Rhine Discovery") cruise in July 2010, from Basel, Switzerland to Nurenberg, Germany.
We arrived on our own in Basel a few days early and toured on our own. The day ... Read More
We sailed on the River Countess on a Rhine and Main Rivers ("Rhine Discovery") cruise in July 2010, from Basel, Switzerland to Nurenberg, Germany.
We arrived on our own in Basel a few days early and toured on our own. The day of departure, we took a taxi to the dock around Noon. The crew took charge of our luggage. The Hotel desk staff had us checked in (in) less than one minute and sent us to the lounge to wait for our cabin to be ready. There were sandwiches, pizza and cheese for us to snack upon, with free tea, coffee, iced tea and water. Soft (and hard) drinks were available from the bar. Sodas cost about 2.50 (Euros) while drinks ranged from 4.50 to 6.50.
We explored the ship as well. As you can see from the floor plans, it is small. It has: Lounge in the bow; a small library with 2 desks with PC's, two 4 person bridge-style tables and two 4 person easy-chair groupings; reception area with "hotel" and Cruise Director desks; 4 decks of cabins; "shop" (10 x 10 feet) with jewelry and kick-knacks; a coffee station with espresso, teas, hot chocolate and iced teas; a fitness room with 2 x each of treadmills, bikes, ellipticals; (free) passenger laundry with 2 x washers and dryers (soap available for purchase at the Hotel desk); massage room; and restaurant aft.
We met a few other couples while we waited. The other passenger groups ranged in size from couples to a group of 8 neighbors from the States. There were two families with teens, but I strongly recommend against bringing kids. The company and tours are not geared toward them at all. The age range of adults seemed to start at 45 and went up to 93, with two couples seemingly in their late 30's (or with much better plastic surgeons). There were 138 passengers on board for our cruise.
An aside: One couple, from Australia, told us Uniworld had lost their reservation (yes, they had their confirmation paperwork) and had to scramble to find them a cabin. They were booked in a Cat 4 cabin, but were given a Cat 1 for the first ½ of their cruise (7 days). For the inconvenience, they were invited to the captains table and given a suite for the second ½ of the cruise.
We were given our cabin keys at around 1:30. The cabin was a little smaller than most other cruise ship cabins we have had. It had 4 large drawers, 2 half-height and one full-height closets...plenty of space for our clothes and a tall space under both double beds for our luggage. One of the closets had a large safe, able to hold a large camera, wallets and laptop. It also included two fluffy robes and a large umbrella. There was a "makeup" area with mirror and stool with its own light as well.
The TV was about 13 - 15 inches seemed to have lower resolution than SD, making it very hard to read the daily announcements, menu's, etc. The ship has satellite service which went in and out as we passed bridges, trees, clouds, etc. It worked fine while we were docked. Channels included CNN International, BBC, Discovery Channel, Cartoon Network. Two different recently released to DVD movies which changed daily played as well. For our cruise, they included Alice in Wonderland, Dear John and Shutter Island.
As with our other cruise experiences, the bathroom was just large enough for a sink in a small vanity with mirror and lit magnifying mirror, toilet and shower. The shower was surprisingly large, considering the rest of the bathroom.
The crew is simply the most cheerful, helpful group we have had the pleasure to meet. Everybody was smiling and seemed genuinely happy to help in any way possible. The Captain and Hotel Manager (married) were professional and very funny throughout our interactions. The Cruise Director (Claudia for this cruise) was very knowledgeable, helpful and kept close track of all 140 of us through our excursions.
Unlike most of our other cruise experiences, the food ranged from very good to excellent. Even the breakfast and lunch buffets were of excellent quality. Lunch and Dinner menus were posted the night before on the TV and before each meal at the Hotel desk. Wait staff were all friendly and attentive, serving and refilling drinks at all meals and helping the mobility-challenged of us.
Breakfast included a daily special, like crepes or eggs benedict, eggs/omelets cooked to order, a great selection of breads, juices, smoked salmon, cheeses, cereals and a variety of hot foods: scrambled eggs, bacon (crisp AND soft separately), pancakes.
All meals were served in one sitting, without any assigned seating. All passengers fit at once(obviously). Tables held from 2 - 8 (10?), all with views out floor to ceiling windows side and/or aft. You could either sit at a table the size of your party or dine with other groups. Each meal most people either sat at tables with empty spaces or asked to sit in said empty spaces. If you wanted to "reserve" a large table for a large group, you simply got there as early as you could to hold it. The variety of people we met made for the best part of the cruise. We met families from US, UK, Australia and Canada. Most people were happy to meet each other, though there were a few groups more insular. Over the course of the cruise, we met about 16 different couples over meals and found a number of friends with whom we plan on keeping in touch.
Lunch changed daily and always included a different carving station entrEe, such as a German version of a Pot Au Feu (the best offering, in our opinion), salmon with a lemon cream sauce and carved beef. There were also different soups each day, all made in-house. Every single one was excellent. There were a variety of cheeses, three different salads (changing each day as well...chicken and Caesar salads were great), two different hot entrees, vegetables and starches. Finally, there were always 2 or 3 desserts created by the in-house pastry chef. Her creations were always beautiful and had excellent flavor. Finally, if you did not like her creations that day, there was an ice cream sundae station.
Dinner was served, as opposed to the buffets of the other meals. You were given a menu listing the (4) courses, with a choice of entrEe and occasionally a choice in appetizer. Appetizers included
I am not going to discuss the tours at any length. They were a good compromise, given the range of passengers. All guides were friendly and easy for us English speakers to understand. Some thought the guides were long-winded, others thought they gave an excellent level of detail.
Our only real complaint: Internet access was as close to useless as I have ever seen. At least dial-up provides you with a consistent connection, slow as it may be. The wifi network was only usable from the lounge and library (and on the rear sundeck, I think). Once you signed in to get access, you were usually unable to get any further to the Internet. There are also two desktop computers to share, which had exactly the same lack of Internet service. While I understand the spotty nature of Satellite Internet service, it should have at least been available while we were docked. The whole week, all of us would stick our heads into the library and ask the current set of frustrated EMailers if the "Internet was working". 75% of the time it was not, 10% of the time it seemed to move at 1 Kbps (Yahoo/G/Hot- mail would take about 5 minutes to load), and 5% of the time it was "normal". Mind you, that 5% of the time, maybe 2% gave us speeds fast enough for ANY media access. One poor woman worked for an hour to view pictures of her grandson and family online. Read Less
The Avalon Felicity is a brand new vessel just launched in March 2010. Based upon my observations of other river cruise vessels it's exterior is not stylish or very modern in appearance. However the interior is very clean in ... Read More
The Avalon Felicity is a brand new vessel just launched in March 2010. Based upon my observations of other river cruise vessels it's exterior is not stylish or very modern in appearance. However the interior is very clean in appearance and comfortable. The 138 passengers fit easily into the forward lounge and restaurant. The only time we felt crowded was during the lunch buffet.
Avalon boasts that their cabins are the largest for river cruises, at 172 square feet. They feel a little smaller possibly from the lay out. They are adequate though considering the limited time one spends in the cabin. Storage capacity of the cabin in my wife's opinion was wonderful and in fact we did not use it all. The cabin has French doors but we missed having a balcony as on an ocean cruise.
The food was hit or miss. Dinners were quite good with free wine. Service was basically good though they confused orders at times and there was a delay serving soft drinks. Breakfast buffet meats and eggs were cold, though my wife told me the omelet station was good.
Disembarkation was the easiest I ever had. Was off ship and onto a bus to the airport in minutes.
In all the cruise was enjoyable though one should consider carefully the differences between an ocean cruise and a river cruise before committing to a river cruise. Read Less
I have to admit that my husband and I chose this cruise because of a vacation time slot first and the destination second. Russia was not one of those places that I had a longing to visit. And in fact I must admit that I had a certain ... Read More
I have to admit that my husband and I chose this cruise because of a vacation time slot first and the destination second. Russia was not one of those places that I had a longing to visit. And in fact I must admit that I had a certain concern about what it might be like, all the way from what airline the Viking folks may have put us on (Aeroflot?) and what we might get for food onboard (borscht and boiled potatoes?) My husband remarked that for me, a successful cruise would mean simply surviving it. But my misgivings were all unjustified (well, with the possible exception of the cabin, see below) and I count myself lucky to have gone on this adventure. I would go back in a minute.
We arrived in St. Petersburg on a cold rainy day. As promised we were met at the airport by the Viking folks, our luggage gathered up, and we and a number of other fellow cruisers were bused to the Pakhamov. We found a money exchange place right at the luggage area of the small airport so were able to convert dollars to rubles very conveniently. If you plan to buy anything at a souvenir stand or out in the countryside, have rubles. You can find an ATM in some towns but it isn't too convenient to spend your time trying to find them and seeing whether your card will work.
We checked into our Category C room (90 square feet), which appeared to be a pre-fab style room with 2 sleeping pallets. We were told that the ship was built in East Germany during the Soviet era. We were lucky that our configuration allowed us to have one suitcase at the foot of one of the "beds" and we had enough room to move a table from between them to an area next to the closet. The "beds" were attached to the wall, so when someone in the next cabin got into theirs with gusto, you could expect yours to have a kind of rebound effect. Only one of us could get dressed or move about in the room at a time. The "yacht-style" bathroom was interesting but worked for showers just fine. It was not a great place for anything to dry, however. There was plenty of storage space in the cabin and a nice window. There was no in-room safe. We quickly adapted to the cabin and spent little time there at any rate.
The ship was advertised as having been renovated but we could not see evidence of that. The common rooms were clean and comfortable, although not large. The dining room for our part of the ship was bright with windows on three sides. We had an Austrian chef, and the food was very good. There was a breakfast buffet and a menu from which you could order a few options. At lunch and dinner there were always choices and one could order more than one choice or multiples of the same choice. On our cruise we had complementary wine, red or white, of a very reasonable quality and as much as we wanted. The service was very good. Most of the crew spoke very good English; those that did not did their best to understand and if necessary went to another crew member for help. These young people were a highlight of the cruise for me.
The destinations are described on the web site so I won't go into them here. We missed Kizhi due to dense fog.
I was fascinated with everything. I was delighted that we arrived at about the same time as celebration of the Great Patriotic War, or World War II. For the first time American, French and British troops marched in the parades. This war is very much in the close memories of people, and those in St. Petersburg and Moscow had very different experiences of it than anyone in the US. On the outskirts of Moscow our guide pointed out a tank trap at the side of the multi-lane street, indicating where the barriers had been set. Seeing Red Square was something I could not imagine, having grown up watching the military parades on May Day with the tanks and missiles and goose-stepping soldiers. Moscow was most surprising to me with its constant traffic jams and cars everyone would recognize, high rise buildings and the very extensive metro system.
Most of the port excursions were included in the trip. The Russian English-speaking guides were excellent and the audio system the best I have seen. Some onboard lectures on Russian history, language, and souvenirs were well-done and interesting. I for one was glad to have been given some time to shop and pointed at places where Russian objects and souvenirs of higher quality were available. I fell in love with the traditional Russian shawls and bought several. If you want souvenirs they will be lowest cost in the countryside, more in Moscow, higher on the ship and highest at the airport.
The end of the trip arrived all too soon. We were transferred to the airport very efficiently.
If you envision this trip as an adventure rather than a high-amenity opportunity you will have a wonderful time. I learned a lot, met many interesting people and did a lot more than just survive this trip! Read Less
To give some background to our trip - I was born in Odessa Ukraine, and have been contemplating for some time to introduce my wife to the city and the country of which she heard so much. The Odessa-Kiev cruise on Viking Lomonosov provided ... Read More
To give some background to our trip - I was born in Odessa Ukraine, and have been contemplating for some time to introduce my wife to the city and the country of which she heard so much. The Odessa-Kiev cruise on Viking Lomonosov provided a possibility to do so with an added bonus of "highlighting" Crimea as well.
The ship is very simple -â€" library, 2 bars (one forward and one aft), 2 restaurants (while we were assigned to Kiev restaurant the seating is open for all meals which gives you a chance to mingle with fellow passengers) and a sun deck -â€" otherwise just a hallways with cabins on both sides (4 decks total). Our cabin (229) was 90 sq.ft -â€" the TINIEST we've ever seen J but we were able to get everything out of suitcases and store them away with no problem so it was quite cozy and comfy (besides its not like we spent TOO much time in it)
Actually it turned out to be a good location since all the cabins have a large window but all are overlooking a given deck so one has to be mindful of the situation least some fellow cruisers will catch you de-flagrante J The Main deck is "Crew" deck -â€" so we hardly had anyone moving past our window and we were literally steps away from the Front Desk and the disembarking doors (proves a good thing when the crowds begin to gather to go ashore)
BY FAR -â€" it is the most passive cruise EVER! There is no "activities" on board for those mornings\afternoons that you are cruising -â€" I reckon the idea is for you to sit on the deck and soak up the scenery...but then you kinda ease in into this "lazy" lifestyle...and if need be -â€" there are books and games in library, they were showing movies on TV (mostly tapes not live but that's OK) and there were appropriate lectures on Ukraine History in general and ports-of-call when appropriate.
Food was AWESOME (surprisingly I did not gain an ounce case you KNOW I was eating like a pig (or make it 2 pigs) J). They are also liberal with that wine that comes as a part of the package -â€" once its starts flowing you can ask for refills and they will give it to you no questions asked. The drinks at the bar are good (the best LIIT I've ever tasted) and they use top shelf brands (drink of the day was about 55 UAH). Draft beer (Slavutitch -â€" Ukrainian Beer) is very good and actually is cheaper than Coke (28 UAH vs 30 UAH for the same size glass)
Speaking of Coke -â€" all soft drinks are charged even during the meals. At the same - water and iced tea are available with meals, 4 juices are there for breakfast and there is a coffee machine on Middle Deck that works 24/7 (and like I said -â€" wine is flowing during the dinner) so we were not hurting for soda. They also give you a 1 liter bottle of water in the cabin (if need be -â€" replenished every day). And there is no limit on stuff you can buy while in port and bring back into cabin (there is a small fridge). You KNOW some folks were dragging booze in on daily basis J If you want to serve it at the dinner though -â€" its 80 UAH cork fee charge.
The stuff is very friendly and helpful but their English is limited -â€" if you "overstep the boundaries" by asking some unfamiliar question -â€" they will give you a blank look and say Yes (with the same friendly smile.... But that's about it)
The weather while in Odessa and Crimea was just perfect! Couple of showers but kinda "passing by" or we hit everything at the right time (rained while we were in transit or inside the building) so that was not an issue aside carting the jackets with us some days and the temps were in upper 70s to upper 80s
The 1st days into the river it did change to cooler (upper 50s -â€" mid 60s) but bearable. Unfortunately 1 day was a complete wash out - we were lucky that we just finished watching the Cossack Horse Show when the skies literally opened up and we were shooed-in back onto buses thus cutting short the rest of the visit (kinda was a bummer since this was on Khortitsa Island where Ukrainian (Zaporozhye) Cossacks started from as I was looking forward to view some of the fortifications and such) and the next 2 were kinda gloomy as well (it would periodically drizzle on and off -â€" just enough to be a slight nuisance here-and-there). But by the time we got to Kiev it was all nice and sunny again
The "included" tours...well... they just cemented my reason of trying to stay away from organized tours (but then it is exactly the reason why I DO stay away from them). You are assigned the bus in the beginning of the cruise so the same driver and guide will be with you for duration. There were 28 people on our bus (it does not seem like the cruise was sold-out) and most of the folks are in their 70s so... time to get on get off... and pretty much running through museums and other exhibits -â€" not much you can do just go with the flow. (Be prepared to hear & see a lot of WWII (or as they call it The Great Patriotic War) stuff esp. since they are celebrating 65 years of VE Day this year)
That said I was only too happy that I hired a private guide for all 4 days in Crimea. He was a great guy, had his own A\Cd little car (which did come handy in some places that the bus would not even DREAM to go through), very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and ... just everything you want to ask for in a guide!
To make a long story short -â€" we hit EVERY place that Viking advertized as "optional" tours (even when one had to choose between "tour 1" or "tour 2") and THEN SOME! He got us into places that are closed to tourist crowds and pretty much I got everything I wished for (the only thing that was on my list that I didn't get to do was to take a cable car to the top of Ai-Petri (St Peter's) Mountain but that's only because Viking told me that the ship would be leaving Yalta at 2:00 pm and it actually did at 1:00 pm -â€" which lost us that hour and is not in any way Sergey's (the guide's) fault). All in all I paid him $510.00 $50.00 of which was a tip and was also paying whatever the entry fees to places were. So maybe the whole experience ran me $600-650 (tops) but again it was well worth it for me because of what we saw & did vs what the rest of the crowd did (or, obviously -â€" didn't). If you are interested -â€" contact him at sergo22yalta at gmail.com (again his name is Sergey). You most certainly can tell him that I recommended J
To highlight one examle of what I just told you -â€" I have photos of me sitting in Stalin's cabinet behind his desk and Sergey and I in Molotov's quarters - both are taken at Yusupov's Palace which was where Russian Delegation was HQ'd during Yalta Conference (US Delegation was at Livadia (White) Palace (included in Itinerary) and Brits were at Vorontzov's (Alupka) Palace -â€" optional tour). The place originally belonged to Prince Felix Yusupov's parents and the big claim to fame here is that Price Felix is the one who murdered Rasputin
In any case -â€" nothing that any other fellow cruiser even dreamt of remotely seeing....
There is not much to see & do in Dnepropetrovsk and Kremenchug -â€" they are just "1/2-dead monuments" to Soviet industry and I honestly have no idea as to why they are on the itinerary (I'd much more to skip one or both of them and spent that time in Kiev) but I'm not the one who makes the itinerary.
No matter what -â€" the time in Kiev is simply NOT ENOUGH so make the best of what you'll see on organized tours! The ship arrives in Kiev shortly after lunch and you practically immediately carted off onto the tours of St. Sophia Cathedral and the Kiev_Pecherskaya Monastery of the Caves (once more - NOT ENOUGH TIME AT ALL!!!!) Upon the reurn - you have a choice -â€" either free time (shopping etc) or take a Jewish Kiev tour (to Babi Yar and the Main Synagogue). The tour is not advertized in Viking brochures and is 330 UAH pp; lasts approximately 2 hours and is a somber experience if you are familiar with the Babi Yar (done with a very knowledgeable English speaking local guide)
I spent about $300.00 in tips all around (ship personnel and local guides) and ran up perhaps a $150.00 bill on board which included the above tour and some souvenirs. -â€" again PITTANCE since it was all in Hrivnas
I also have to mention that they take away your passports for the duration of the cruise (no reason to make any scenes or protests as that wont help any) they give you some tail of a whale about customs but it's a lie -â€" probably a left-over appendix from "good old" Soviet times. In any case -â€" they give you a card (one per person) with your name, cabin # and bus # instead and it serves as your ID and also a "whereabouts" tool inasmuch as that you have to give them your cabin key for these cards every time you go ashore and thus exchange back upon return -â€" so they can see if anyone is "still out". They are not computerized at all in that sense -â€" all on board stuff is still done via signing individual purchase receipts. Once your bill is settled (last "cruising" morning on the way to Kiev) -â€" you get the passports back.
At the last day I simply decided not to go through the hustle of haggling with either cab drivers or hackers about the fare to Borispol Airport and just let the Front Desk order me one of their "affiliate" cabs. The taxi was there 10 mins before the scheduled time - nice, clean & comfortable car. The trip took about 40 mins and the fare was 300.00 UAH (+ 30 UAH tip). Thus - as far as my "transfers" go I think I beat the Viking price hands down....
So in conclusion -â€" there are some setbacks but on the overall -â€" a very worthy experience. Read Less
We started our trip with 4 nights in Berlin, a highlight of our trip. Berlin is a fabulous city and anyone interested in reading my very detailed trip report can find it on Trip Advisor and Fodor's - title is "Four Fabulous Days ... Read More
We started our trip with 4 nights in Berlin, a highlight of our trip. Berlin is a fabulous city and anyone interested in reading my very detailed trip report can find it on Trip Advisor and Fodor's - title is "Four Fabulous Days in Berlin".
We took an early morning train to Frankfurt to meet the ship. Our designated meeting spot was the Westin Grand. Here there was a hospitality room where we left our luggage and carry on. The cruise director, Nancy, was there along with some other Avalon folks. There was light refreshment available but we were anxious to explore Frankfurt so just checked in, dropped our stuff and headed out.
This was our first time in Frankfurt and we frankly did not care for the city. We grabbed a map and set out to see as much as we could in 5 hours. The streets in the pedestrian area had a lot of trash and were just not as nice as what we have come to expect in Germany. We explored, had an ok lunch at Cafe Mozart and headed back to the hotel.
Avalon transported us to the ship around 4pm. It was a short ride and the check in process took just a few minutes - a sign of what was to come. We were escorted to our category B cabin, located at the very end of the passenger cabins. The cabin was very modern, immaculate and thoughtfully designed with great storage. We quickly unpacked, settled in and headed out to explore the ship.
This was our first river cruise and it was much as we had anticipated though the ship itself was actually nicer than we expected. Colors and fabrics gave it a rich and luxurious look and we found it delightful! It did not take long to check out the facilities and we decided to head back and shower and head to the welcome party.
The party was nicely done and we had the opportunity to chat with other guests and meet the crew. Lovely canapEs were served, along with champagne. A welcome talk included some general info about life aboard the Affinity and at the conclusion we headed to the dining room.
The dining room was lovely and the only disappointment was that we could not find a table for two. Since we had reviewed the videos on their website, this came as a surprise to us and we do enjoy a table for two but such was not to be on this sailing. We joined three other couples and enjoyed what was to be the first of 5 very nice dinners aboard.
The menu had two choices for each course and two standard selections as well. I had emailed ahead that I follow a low fat, low cholesterol-eating plan and they worked with me to provide dishes prepared without fats and sauces, which were fresh and tasty.
Breakfast and lunch were buffet with a good choice for most folks but a bit more of a challenge for me as there no eggbeaters or egg whites available for breakfast. I opted daily for fruit and smoked salmon and the occasional slice of turkey breast when it was offered. They offered a small salad bar at lunch, which is what I had when we were not in port. We did dine in port as often as possible in order to enjoy the German foods we have come to enjoy over the years of travel there.
My husband and everyone I spoke with just loved the food on the Affinity. Everything was prepared fresh and was served hot. Quality was excellent overall. Fresh fish was available nightly and I enjoyed each of the varieties offered. Desserts were also a big hit with everyone at our table but I will leave that for others to review, as I did not partake.
Our itinerary was:
Miltenberg-Wertheim Wurzburg. Excursion to Rothenburg Bamberg Nuremberg
Of these we most enjoyed Bamberg and Wurzburg, followed by Miltenburg and Rothenburg. Nuremberg was our least favorite except for the fact that we had the most time there and were able to stay out as long as we wanted.
We only took the included tour in Wurzburg, which included the Residence and was lovely - our tour guide was excellent!
In the other cities, we grabbed a map and headed off on our own to explore, as that is what we prefer.
Avalon did a great job with organizing, with providing as much detail as was needed and in taking care of the various needs of the guests. There were some who were very active and another component that used walking sticks and had to go at a slower pace. Though there not always tours available for all abilities, as we had expected, no one was left behind and the quality of their shore program was very good as were the guides we met.
We were quite late getting into Bamberg and they quickly rearranged their plans and had the ship stop before we reached the port - buses were there to take us into town. We ended up only having 3 hours there but they did extend our departure time as much as possible to allow us that.
Happy hour was offered nightly and was quite popular. We were so impressed with the staff of the Affinity overall and especially David at the main bar, Dan the Hotel Manger and Claudio in the dining room.
The service overall was very personal and professional and so much better than the rushed, impersonal service we have come to expect on mass market cruise ships.
Entertainment was minimal as expected. The house piano player, Vasco, was enjoyable and played every night in the main bar. One night they brought a zither player aboard and on another the crew joined the guests for carols and Santa came to visit. That night was the most fun as everyone got in the holiday spirit.
There was a small fitness center, which made keeping up with basic cardio workouts possible. The beauty salon also stayed quite busy. The aft lounge offered coffee and tea throughout the day.
Fellow passengers came from as far away as Australia and Hawaii and most were quite friendly and personable. There were three young girls aboard who were very well behaved and who seemed to enjoy their experience.
Downsides for us were short times in port and the "dead" time when the ship sailed during daylight hours. While I am sure many enjoy relaxing on vacation, when we are in Europe, we really are interested in our destination more so than downtown.
Some improvements that Avalon could make in my opinion would be to provide robes in the rooms for guests and more choices for those of us who need to watch their calories on vacation.
Otherwise, my husband and I really enjoyed the Affinity overall and made some wonderful new friends over the course of the cruise who we are staying in touch with. For us, that was a real bonus!
We love Germany and especially over the Christmas season. We left the ship in Nuremberg and headed by train to Munich for a couple of days after the trip, which was a perfect finish to the trip.
I can recommend Avalon and the Affinity for those looking for a very good quality experience overall. The staff was exceptional and we plan to return, this time knowing what to expect. Read Less
Victoria Queen By Jim Thornton China November 10, 2009
This was our sixth river cruise in contrast to our 13 ocean cruises. Our cabin was a deluxe cabin, called the Shangri-La Suite, on the port side of the second deck near the bow of ... Read More
Victoria Queen By Jim Thornton China November 10, 2009
This was our sixth river cruise in contrast to our 13 ocean cruises. Our cabin was a deluxe cabin, called the Shangri-La Suite, on the port side of the second deck near the bow of the ship and close to the bow stairway.
We sailed on a four-day about 500-mile Yangtze River cruise from Yichang upstream (towards the west) to Chongqing. Each day there was something new to see like the controversial Three Gorges Dam, which is more than three and a half miles wide, and created a 20-mile long lake displacing over one million people and submerging their 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1,352 villages.
Ship: Is one of the larger ships on the river. It and its identical Victoria Cruise ship (the Victoria Prince) were originally built in 1995, rebuilt in 2003, and refurbished in 2008. The ship has four passenger decks without elevators and carries 206 passengers with a crew of 121.
Cabin: Our room was larger (622 square feet) than on the previous river cruises that we sailed on. There are two of these deluxe suites each consisting of a bedroom with king size bed with two nightstands and large outside windows on two sides of the cabin on the entire port and bow sides; a large private balcony over looking the bow, a couch, a small table, a small desk and chair, a TV set with two English language channels - CNN and HBO and lots of Chinese language channels and DVD player, two small clothes closets, a small refrigerator and mini-bar, and a large bathroom with a western toilet, two sinks, shower, and a bathtub. The ship has 93 standard cabins (211 square feet) with two single beds on the second deck; six junior suites (294 square feet) with two single beds on the second, third, and fourth decks, and two deluxe suites (458 square feet) with king size beds on the second deck. All cabins have and private bathrooms with separate showers, and balconies. The ship's electrical voltage is the same as the country's 220 volts at 50 Hertz.
Laundry: A fee-based same day laundry service is available.
Dining Room: There is a single dining room where breakfast and lunch is a serve yourself buffet and the buffet lines get very long and the food in mainly Chinese with a little western. At dinnertime, the individual Chinese courses are brought to your table and placed on a large common circular plate that rotates so that you may serve yourself. Chopsticks are always provided but so are forks.
Tips: A suggested $10 (US) per passenger per day is suggested for the entire ship's crew, plus a separate $4 for the "River Guide".
Evening Entertainment: Varies as the crew provides live music, dances, and acrobatics.
Internet: There are several for-a-fee computers for passenger use to access their e-mail accounts, the Internet, etc.
Bars: There is a bar on the fourth deck and it is a full bar.
Meeting Room: Is on the fourth deck in the same large room as the bar.
Tours: Visiting and seeing the Three Gorges, the relocated villages, the Three Gorges dam, the large ship locks, and the Xiling Gorge. These tours are included in the overall price of the cruise.
Doctor: A Chinese trained medical doctor is onboard.
Overall Opinion: This was our second Yangtze River cruise. The previous non-Victoria Queen cruise was on the Princess Sheena, a German built ship that contained a working German-standard water purification and sterilization system meaning that you could drink the water from the cabin's sink. On the Victoria Queen all your drinking water came from small commercial plastic water bottles. Each day in your cabin, one bottle was provided per passenger. In the dining room, you could order only a single small glass of water but there are no refills. Thus I could often take my bottle of water from my cabin to the dinning room. Read Less
We just returned Sunday from the Moscow to St. P on the Surkov and it was a most pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable trip. You do get your fill of churches though, it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." ... Read More
We just returned Sunday from the Moscow to St. P on the Surkov and it was a most pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable trip. You do get your fill of churches though, it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." I thought perhaps we could have done with a few less Churches and some more time in Museums. Only spending 3 hours in the Hermitage is ridiculous.....you can't even begin to get a taste of it....more like a lick! I would like to see them offer a full day there and skip the city tour half of the day because you see the city when you are doing other tours like the Peter Paul Fortress or the Canal Tours. -
We were in cabin 402 (very near the back of the Upper Deck) It was a very quiet room because the hall is a dead end. We could at times very clearly hear the women in the next cabin talking but fortunately that usually didn't last long as they must have been as tired as we most nights. The cabin looks very nice, window opens and had an unobstructed view. Beds were very comfy, cabin was always clean and no strange smells from anywhere. My only complaint on the cabin is that they need to some how in-corporate another chair. There was only the one straight back at the desk and it would be nice for the other person to be able to sit comfortably (I was usually hogging the desk chair using my lap top.) Other only major complaint was the slow, slow, slow internet connection but when we got to St. Petersburg they worked on it for several days so maybe it will be better. At least it's free and having your own lap top is a good idea as it's hard to get on the ship's two free lap tops.
If you are taking this cruise for gourmet food you might be disappointed. That is not to say that the food wasn't adequate and plentiful. The breakfast and lunches are quite good and the dinners were a bit more hit and miss, some strange offerings but nicely presented. My husband opted for the steak about half the nights because he's not a very adventuresome eater and the steaks were well cooked smallish but tasty, always served with a baked potato which I thought they could have varied. I had the steak only one night and one night I choose the chicken breast (both the steak, chicken breast and Caesar Salad are always available.) I tried the other options the rest of the time. Only the Lake Perch was inedible.....the rest were just sort of mediocre but with the salads, soups and desserts you never go away hungry....just not fantastic food. The steak was quite nice the chicken pretty dry and chewy so probably best to not opt for that. I do wish they would be a bit more inventive in the dessert area.
The service by the Filipino waiters was fabulous. We usually opted for a table for 2 and were served by Leith and Jun and they were so very very attentive, pleasant and made dining, even with not always such great food fun. Breakfast was probably the best meal of the day, the buffet had lots of wonderful options and you could order omelette's, Eggs Benedict, French Toast, pancakes and hash-browns served to your table. There was always Russian Champagne on the buffet and several options for juice.....it was a great breakfast. Lunch was always green salad with many choices for toppings, several cold salads and sandwiches and two or three hot dishes plus soup and dessert (two options one always being ice cream) was served at the table. The 24 hour coffee and tea bar was really nice as well and was directly below our end of the ship. They serve a light tea most afternoons in the Panorama Bar.
The tours were good, we had Tatiana for our guide and she is fabulous. So look for her, pretty blonde lady in her 50's. Whom ever you choose at the beginning is your guide for the whole time and whom ever is on your bus the first day is with your group for the entire time as well.....your new family for the next 13 days.
The boat itself is very nicely laid out, good viewing areas on the top deck and in the Panorama Bar on the front of the Upper Deck. It would be nice if there was more comfortable seating somewhere on the boat but I guess you can't have recliners on a vacation ;-)
I should add that the dress on the ship was very informal and I probably wouldn't pack a lot of dressy clothes. Men mostly wore jeans, khakis and polo shirts and the woman wore more slacks and jeans than anything else. There were lots of men and woman in jeans at dinner and even some in sweat pants (which I thought was a bit too much) but what ever. I didn't wear about 1/2 of the dressier outfits I brought, because I would have felt over the top except for the Captains dinner and one other night and I really don't bring that fancy of things as dressing up for my husband is nice pants and a sweater he is not a suit guy so if he was comfortable you know it was informal.
I think Viking does a good job of making your time as pleasant as possible and I don't have any big earthshaking complaints.....it was an overall success. We were not as taken with Russia as we have been with Asia and New Zealand but it was good to check it off the bucket list.
Pictures from the cruise (including room & photo's of food) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/quiltsa...7622305559005/ First stop on the river was Uglich and it was very interesting as well. Toured the Cathedral where Ivan the Terrible's son was murdered. Walked to it from the boat (easy walk through a very good street market.) Unfortunately the guide had told us that their would be better shopping on the last stop of the river cruise portion and wait to buy our souvenirs there.....that turned out to be bad advise unless you were looking for very high quality hand crafted things as every thing at the last stop fell into that category. If you are looking for trinkets for the grandkids or small things for friends...stick to the street markets the prices are much better than the craft shops.
The first port was Moscow......what a mess that city is. Absolutely horrendous traffic. Two hours from the airport to the boat dock, and a good hour and a half to two hours into town from the dock (about a 20 min drive in normal traffic I would think.) So for a day trip to town a good 3 to 4 hours or more was in snarled up traffic.....and then if you signed up for a night excursion add another couple of hours. I really think that Viking should feed people at a restaurant in the city on days that their are all day tours and then night events. We skipped the folk music concert because we couldn't face getting in the bus again for yet another drive into the city.
We had the opportunity to use the bank ATM in Moscow to get Rubles. We were charged $105 for 3000 Rubles (this turned out to be a much better deal than the next ATM in a smaller city were we were charge $136 for the same 3000 Rubles so plan ahead and get your rubles in Moscow.)
We did do the Moscow by night but it was really beautiful seeing Red Square after dark (even though it poured rain, luckily it was only one of two rainy episodes on the whole trip.)
We enjoyed the tour of the Armory and the Kremlin and took the optional 1/2 day tour of the New Maiden Nunnery and Cemetery on the day of the Moscow by Night tour. The New Maiden Nunnery was really lovely and the cemetery where Kruschev and Gorbachev's wife were buried was fascinating as well. Yaroslavl was the next port and it had some gorgeous churches and cathedral's as well (go figure) and we were bused into the center of town and did a walking tour from their. After touring the churches we were given about an hour and a half to shop. Very interesting local fruit and food stuffs market that I really enjoyed taking pictures of but we were warned to not eat anything (they offered dried fruit and nuts at the stalls.) The guide said it might be our last place to get Rubles till St. Petersburg so we found an ATM machine and got really taken because of course unless you read Russian you have no idea what it says about exchange rates or fees for using the machine and our guide was off doing her own thing, not where we could ask her to translate. Goritsy was the next stop where we were bused to Kirrilov where we visited the Monastery of St. Cyril. It is known for it's remarkable collection of icons but frankly we were iconed out so we spent the time strolling the grounds which were really beautiful and enjoying the flowers and the local parishioners who were coming out from church services. I wished we had more time to just soak up the ambiance of the little towns and less time being lectured to about the icons and their significance (but that's just me....not very interested in religion.) Then it was on to Kishi Island on Lake Onega. It is the famed open-air Museum of Russian Architecture. The beautiful Church of the Transfiguration an ornate structure of wooden ribbons and 22 domes in 3 tiers built entirely with out nails. It was really cool and the examples of local life from the early 10th century that were being acted out were fascinating as well. Great stop.
We also had one more stop on the river the next day and that was Mandrogi which was suppose to be the big place for buying souvenirs but for the most part we all felt it was very expensive although their were some lovely things. Unfortunately it was pouring rain at this stop and not much fun to tromp around and look at the buildings....it is sort of a Russian Epcot Center for life in the olden days. There was a pavilion with berry pies that were quite tasty. Read Less
My Wife and I took Avalon Waterways Romantic Rhine cruise to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversery, cruising down the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel this August. It was not only our first cruise it was the ships first cruise too. Well it ... Read More
My Wife and I took Avalon Waterways Romantic Rhine cruise to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversery, cruising down the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel this August. It was not only our first cruise it was the ships first cruise too. Well it was my first cruise if you don't count the trip across Lake Erie from Cleveland to Detroit that I took with my family in 1955 on the SS Aquarama. I had visited the Rhine before form the land side and wanted to share that experience with my wife during our river cruise.
We were a little apprehensive about the maiden voyage but it turned out not to be a problem at all. The only thing that went wrong was our room safe did not have its battery installed so we could not lock up our valuables. That was quickly remedied by the ship's engineer.
The first night's dinner service was a little slow but that just gave us more time to spend getting to know our dinner companions. It is a small ship with only 138 passengers and with open seating at every meal it is possible to get to know more than half the people on board if you don't dine with the same folks twice. With free wine at dinner and great companions it was tempting to linger over a meal.
Meal service improved each night as the Maitre d' whipped his staff into shape. The wait staff was from Easern Europe, Indonesia, and China. Some of them started out clueless and managed to stay that way throughout the cruise despite Attila (his real name) the Hungarian's best direction. Just like on my sailboat, you have some crew that works out and some that doesn't.
The food was very good and matched the region we were in. The only thing I got hungry for was simpler fare which we had the opportunity to sample when off the ship. Portions were not overly large like in the USA but you were well fed. The highlight of the meals were the salad dressings which were very light and always interesting. The only thing I would change is to lose the cake at 4:00 routine in favor of some extra time at happy hour or bigger glasses for the iced tea served when returing from a shore excursion. Iced Tea is the official (non alcoholic) drink of my home state of Texas and I have to commend the ship for doing a credible job with their brew, although not quite robust enough to stand up to a good piece of smoked brisket.
The ship itself was very comfortable. We had a room on the bottom floor near the back. You would think it would be noisy but this ship has very little engine noise. The first day we pulled away from the dock and were moving before I realized it. Several passages are made at night and it was no trouble at all to sleep while underway.
I found the top deck layout awkward. They had a hot tub in the forward section in front of the bridge. This meant anyone using that had to walk throught he lobby and past nearly everyone to get to it. This could have been better relocated aft with a seperate stairway near the back of the ship.
I would also move the smoking section to aft of the bridge. I don't smoke. If you put the smokers at the front of the ship then the non smokers are downwind from them all the time. We ended going to the foremast part of the ship to try to get fresh air.
We had the smallest stateroom on the ship and it had pleanty of space. We had more than enough room for our clothes, our empty suitcases slid easily under the bed. I loved being able to unpack only once during the trip. Beds were very comfortable. The room air conditioninig worked quietly. Our flat screen TV was good and offered a view from a foreward facing camera as well as a GPS display of the ships position and speed. Quite handy if you want to keep an eye on the helmsman's activiites.
Our cruise was populated by many travel writers who were invited aboard to review the ship on its maiden voyage. I talked to many of them and they seemed to be enjoying their trip. I had a slightly different perspective from them because I paid to take this trip and I had no prior cruise experience. I have to say it was one of the best vacations I ever had. The pace was liesurley yet not boring. The people were interesting, the sites were lovely the service was good but not intrusive and I felt this Avalon cruise offered a great value for the money.
Strasbourg - How the Germans would build a French town. Eat lots of pastry, have a french eclair for one hand and a pretzel for the other. Go to the cathedral and ask what time it is. Beware of beggars. Koln - Big Cathedral, interesting shops. Good place to take a stroll and find a sidewalk cafe to sit down and drink beer or wine. Koblens - Charming town. Take a walk down to the German corner to see big William Heidleburg - Monster castle, great town to walk around. Only eat in restaurants with flags, sign of simple fare and low prices. Take the Philosopher's walk up the hill on the other side of the river. Rudesheim - Go to the Drosselgasse and dance the polka with the locals. Seigfreid's museum is unique. Try not to buy a cuckoo clock here. Get a hat instead. Read Less
After many failed attempts to book small to large groups on European River Cruises, we finally managed to reserve 5 cabins on the Viking Pride. The 7 night trip sailed from Nuremberg to Budapest over the Main-Danube Canal and Danube ... Read More
After many failed attempts to book small to large groups on European River Cruises, we finally managed to reserve 5 cabins on the Viking Pride. The 7 night trip sailed from Nuremberg to Budapest over the Main-Danube Canal and Danube River. The group was composed of mostly experienced cruisers, although none of us had tried river cruising before this trip. Boarding was efficient with very pleasant and helpful staff. Early boarders were provided with a bus trip into Nuremberg for some bonus touring - a nice touch. Rooms were spacious, clean, and well organized with ample storage and comfortable beds. Free WiFi service (generally available in port only) was a bonus that made staying in touch with family at home both easy and inexpensive. The ship offers a couple of "all-inclusive" options that provide semi-unlimited alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks while onboard. More convenience than cost savings, the unlimited alcoholic drinks were priced at 300 euro per cabin and included all you care to drink house wines(six decent choices) or draft beer (one choice) and two cocktails per day. Cocktails were stingy with one carefully measured shot of alcohol per drink. Bar service was spotty with one server very friendly and accommodating while the other server was frequently absent from post and provided the minimum service required. Included tours at each port were quite good with well-informed local tour guides, wireless headsets, and easy walking. Usually just one or two hours in length, the tours allowed time for independent exploration, lunch, and shopping. Optional tours were reasonably priced. The ship was spotless and well appointed. We were disappointed, though, to learn that the top deck would not be available for the first half of the trip. Low bridges require that all furniture, umbrellas, and railings are taken down until reaching the town of Passau. Scenery along the Main/Danube Canal was pretty mundane with factories, a few small towns, and occasional fishermen and sunbathers; nothing brochure worthy. Passing through the first few locks, which can raise and lower the ship more than 80 feet, was interesting. The next twenty or so locks were less so. No scenes here to make the next Viking brochure. Once in the Danube, though, scenery improved a bit with the hoped for villages and castles standing guard over the river. Dining room food and service were quite disappointing. The food was generally bland and unseasoned, and the menus were mostly uninspired. Soups were salty, but with little flavor. Most seemed to be made from the same tasteless cream soup base with a few vegetables thrown in. Breakfast was a combination buffet and made-to-order served by a wait staff whose inattentiveness bordered on rude. When one guest asked for a couple sausages on her made-to-order eggs benedict, she was told "You can get them from the buffet." Wait staff serving coffee would frequently refuse to take food orders. Wait staff taking food orders would generally refuse to pour coffee ("The other server will be here shortly with coffee.") Airing our concerns directly to the Head Chef brought a look of surprise and disbelief. Chef Claimed that it was necessary to cook this way to please everyone on the ship and insisted that he had never heard a complaint before. His solution was to bring a plate of spices to our tables. The spices he provided were completely in appropriate for that evening's meal, but he tried. Having been on several ships with as many as ten times the number of passengers, the food on the Viking Pride ranks well below any of the others.
NurembergMostly destroyed during the war, but rebuilt consistent with historical architecture, Nuremberg contains the tattered remains of the Third Reich. Some interesting, if not spectacular, buildings and churches. RegensbergMore impressive, architecturally, than Nuremberg. In the midst of a downpour, we enjoyed excellent hand-tossed pizza and wine. PassauGood shopping in local bakeries, wurstmarts, and chocolate shops. MelkWonderful village with beautiful Benedictine monastery at the top of the hill. Only disappointment was lack of time to spend in the village. ViennaBustling city with wonderful pastry shops and restaurants. Much to see. So little time. Easy travel by underground trains. BudapestHighlight of the trip. Must see the old city, the Market, the river, the bridges, Parliament, churches, funicular Read Less
Just returned from a 13 day vacation on Avalon Scenery with 7 nite cruise, 2 nites in Paris, and 1 in Nice. Started in Paris with 2 nite stay at Le Meridian in Montparnese area.Nice rooms and close to Metro.Buffet breafast inc.Then ... Read More
Just returned from a 13 day vacation on Avalon Scenery with 7 nite cruise, 2 nites in Paris, and 1 in Nice. Started in Paris with 2 nite stay at Le Meridian in Montparnese area.Nice rooms and close to Metro.Buffet breafast inc.Then on day 3 took a 3 hr. bus ride to Chalon du Sur on Saone River to board ship.They did stop for lunch at roadside restuarant with remarkably good food and facilities. The ship was spacious in cabin size, 170 sq.ft and it had a french balcony.The problem was it had a bad odor and lighting in bathroom was inadequate.Other passengers also complained about this and it did seem to get a little better after sailing.The food was average for breakfast with buffet,but coffee lukewarm.The lunch buffet was below average, little choice, food not warm enough and little choice for desserts.But dinner was better with more choices and taste was above average for most riverboats I ve been on.Ports of call inc. Avignon, wonderful city with Popes Palace to explore ,plus many cafes and shops.A wonderful train goes around town for 45 min.trip to get feel for city.Boat parked within 1 block of city entrance.Easy to see on your own,not necessary to join tour.Viviers was another lovely town, very old and historic areas.Went to a church were a wonderful organ recitial was held.Would have liked to stay longer, but only 3 hr.before ship left.Arles a great city, easy to walk around.Took bus ride to Nice, about 3 hrs.Stayed at Hotel Bosculo, nice rooms and great location.As far as entertainment, had it a2 nites on boat.A French singer and band called Gypsy Kings, nice but sort of hokey.Did have nightly dancing with piano bar.The people on board were all well traveled, professionals,,mostly 50 plus range.No facilities for children and would not bring them .The crew was very nice and fun,helpful,etc.Have been on many riverboats,but would not go on another Avalon because of above problems. Read Less
Very little has been written about the Canadian Empress so we approached our trip with little or no information about the ship or the cruise itself.This is a small ship, the only ship of the St. Lawrence Cruises company. it is ... Read More
Very little has been written about the Canadian Empress so we approached our trip with little or no information about the ship or the cruise itself.This is a small ship, the only ship of the St. Lawrence Cruises company. it is headquartered in Kingston, Ontario, and sails a summer schedule of trips of various lengths along the St. Lawrence Seaway. Our trip began in Kingston and ended in Ottawa. We flew into Ottawa, spent two nights at the wonderful Chateau Laurier and then took the train down to Kingston about two and a half hours. We spent one night in Kingston. A nice little town but not worth more than one night. Great B&B there The Frontenac Club Inn.We boarded the ship at 5:30 p.m. The ship is very punctual. No boarding early and it departs right at 6:30 p.m. Guests should plan accordingly.The Empress accommodates 60 passengers. Our trip over Canada Day and 4th of July had 31 guests. The cruise director described this as a "light" summer. The ship is running about half capacity for most of its trips. While this is difficult for the company, it's great for the passengers. The normal two seatings were merged into one. There was an abundance of extra seats on the upper deck and other outside areas. As we had two days of rainy, fairly cold weather, this was a real plus.CABINS As you would expect, the cabins are small. There are several with double beds but most have two bunks, one that folds down during the day. Toilet must be pumped. Overall, we did not find the size to be a problem. We were, however, ready to get off after 5 nights and looked forward to our king bed! The attendant was excellent and the room and the ship overall are very well maintained and very clean.FOOD The hospitality crew on the ship rotates. We had Joe as chef and he was outstanding. Really, really good food. Lots of fresh vegetables, 2 fish entrees that were very good, and a prime rib as good as I've ever had. The highlight, unfortunately, was Joe's breads and pastries. Homemade bread with every meal, including breakfast and an apple pie to die for. No complaints.ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT The ship makes at least one stop a day along the St. Lawrence for a tour. Given the places available, they do a pretty good job. The best, without question, was the tour of the Upper Canada Village, Canada's Williamsburg. Surprisingly, the school bus tour of the animal park in Montebello was great fun, mostly due to the antics of the passengers who really got into the trip in spite of a misting rain and temps in the 60's. The least interesting was the tour of Montreal, largely due to the guide, who told jokes and did not seen so interested in sharing the history or the sites of the city. A disapointment.The evening's entertainment was actually quite good all brought in from the local area and all who sought to capture the Canadian spirit, with a few American tunes along the way. The last night's "dance band", a trio, led to a lively evening of dancing, singing and fun.PASSENGERS Given the size of the ship and the vageries of the weather, this cruise is more dependent than most on the make-up of the passengers. We were very lucky. A great group which ran the gamut from a very successful real estate developer, several retired foreign service couples, a fireman and a realtor. The vast majority of passengers were retired, age 65 and above but they were lively, informed, and full of zest. WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN? This was a very nice trip, again largely due to the fellow passengers, the great food, and the scenery. The Thousand Islands are beautiful and best seen from the water. There were a number of repeat passengers on the ship. I don't know as I would do it again but I did feel we more than got our money's worth and we thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Seaway. Just be aware this is not the typical cruise experience. Go in with reasonable expections and they will be exceeded. Read Less
The River Duchess is a nice ship,though I found the room to be a bit small. We were at the water level with a long small window. The bathroom is the smallest I have ever seen. The shower was comfortable for me, but I cannot imagine ... Read More
The River Duchess is a nice ship,though I found the room to be a bit small. We were at the water level with a long small window. The bathroom is the smallest I have ever seen. The shower was comfortable for me, but I cannot imagine how a large person would fit!The ship staff was very pleasant, a mix of European and Indonesian men and women. I never had a problem with any of the staff. A person who is not patient may have a problem with communication, but in todays world there are many languages to contend with.The food was good to very bad. I had what was described as a quiche Lorraine one evening. It was a quiche with more vegetable than I have ever seen in this type of food. I could see before I bit into it that it had been overcooked, but thought I might find a palatable portion in the inside, but unfortunately it was dry all the way through. I could not understand how this could have made it out of the kitchen.I found the wine, red or white and different vintners, included at night with the meal, to be pleasant. My travel companion was much more critical. Wine is a very personal thing so cannot comment for others.The breakfast buffet was the best meal of the day. Lunch was a buffet and alright.We heard from other passengers that there were a number of people sick from stomach problems. We heard numbers from 5 to 50. Considering that the cruise had about 90 people that is a large number. We could not confirm the exact count, depending on the word of two couples.The big plus of a river cruise is that people subject to motion sickness will be very comfortable. I never had a problem with it on this trip. Read Less
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Less