We took the Eurostar to Paris, where we were transported to our awaiting boat, we were very impressed with our cabin, small but very clean and plenty of storage space. We arrived at 2.40 pm, there was a buffet lunch for us to have a snack. ... Read More
We took the Eurostar to Paris, where we were transported to our awaiting boat, we were very impressed with our cabin, small but very clean and plenty of storage space. We arrived at 2.40 pm, there was a buffet lunch for us to have a snack. The food on this boat was first rate, the menu was quite varied, and for anyone who wanted something plain there was chicken and steak always available ( steaks were large and well cooked) complimentary wine served with dinner. Tea/coffee and cookies available all day. Complimentary water in your cabin, and bottles to take on shore excursions. The day we went to the Normandy Beaches was an early start, 8am and a 2-3 hour bus ride, in Arromanches we were booked into a lovely restaurant for lunch, wine included. This holiday was more or less all inclusive, a drinks package 150 euros each could be purchased, unless you are an all day drinker or perhaps like a few shorts, it would be a waste of money, we found the wine served with dinner plenty for us.The majority of our fellow passengers were American, they were all lovely and friendly and good amusing company at dinner. There are no tables for two and no seating plan, so you can sit with different people every night if you so wish.It was quite a busy holiday with a few trips with early starts organised, ofcourse if you wanted to stay on board and relax you could do so. Sitting on deck while cruising down the Seine is a splendid way to see the countryside.Our only gripe was cabin 215, there was a water pump beside it, this would run for a few mins, cut out and start up again, most nights it was switched off at midnight and start back up at 6am, earplugs are a must, but didn't drowned it out completely.The on board entertainment was a pianist/singer, pleasant to listen to, on our last night in Paris we were entertained by some local opera singers.On the whole it was an excellent holiday, and we will certainly think about taking another Viking River Cruise. Read Less
Antoinette was on return leg of her maiden voyage from Basle to Amsterdam, weather was great & although we are seasoned cruisers we had never before considered a short river cruise.
Our fellow passengers were mainly from USA & ... Read More
Antoinette was on return leg of her maiden voyage from Basle to Amsterdam, weather was great & although we are seasoned cruisers we had never before considered a short river cruise.
Our fellow passengers were mainly from USA & Canada with a few from Ausralia & Sth Africa. We were as far as we know the only Europeans on board.
We could hardly have chosen better. Compared to big ships our cabin was much smaller than expected but really lovely. As we had expected the Antoinette had a few minor "settling in" problems e.g. two of our three TV's didn't work, light fittings were not all working, a cupboard door came off. All except TV's were fixed within an hour. The bedding & furnishings were really nice & were complimented by a crysal chandelier hanging over our bed. Staff were without exception efficient, attentive & all round service was A1. Menus were restricted for choice compared to the big liners but quality was beyond compare. Excursions were excellent as were the tour guides. One thing we would like to see on other cruises was the Uniworld gratuities policy of recommending a gratuity to the cruise director & another for all other staff. This is done anonymously & discreetly but the recommended tips were perhaps inadequate & we were more than happy to give a few special people a little individual contribution.
All in all it was a great intro. to the Rhine & we cannot wait to go again asap Read Less
This was our first river cruise. It is unlike ocean cruising. The maximum passenger capacity on AmaLyra is 148. It is easy to get to know a number of the other guests. AMA Waterways has every detail covered, even getting a dentist for my ... Read More
This was our first river cruise. It is unlike ocean cruising. The maximum passenger capacity on AmaLyra is 148. It is easy to get to know a number of the other guests. AMA Waterways has every detail covered, even getting a dentist for my wife's emergency treatment on a holiday. The food was excellent as was the generous offerings of complimentary wine during dinner. All of the employees on the AmaLyra were professional and courteous and did everything to make our trip a pleasant one. The AmaLyra was built about 2009. The room had ample space. The bathroom was also roomy enough. The Internet connection was hit and miss but a nice amenity when it had reception, which was often enough. There was a TV with a nice selection of English speaking stations to choose from. This room was immaculately clean when we arrived and cleaned exceptionally well each day. Laundry service was top notch and reasonable. Items were returned in less than 24 hours. If you are considering a river cruise, I would highly recommend AMA Waterways. Read Less
Although this was our first river cruise we had already been on two small (less than 300 passengers) ships. Viking attracted our attention through their 2 for 1 pricing and discounted air fare. In actually, without those discounts the ... Read More
Although this was our first river cruise we had already been on two small (less than 300 passengers) ships. Viking attracted our attention through their 2 for 1 pricing and discounted air fare. In actually, without those discounts the cost would have been too high and I am not sure would have provided value for the money. That said, using their discount made for a trip of a lifetime. The ship: This very attractive river boat uses every inch of available space on board to the advantage of the customer. It has a lovely dining room that holds all the passengers at once and a large lounge that also could accommodate all the passengers. These are basically the only two public areas and only the lounge is open all day. There is a very small library and lounge section as well. There is ample outside seating on the main level and a beautiful roof area that never seemed crowded even on warm, sunny days. One of the real adventures is watching the ship go through the locks to raise the boat to the next level. Many passengers would step outside or go above to watch the captain perform these maneuvers that left only inches on either side of the ship.The staterooms are on several levels with only the A & B cabins having windows that opened. Although it was nice to get fresh air I think if only the other cabins were available I would take them as well. One of the quirks of this river cruise was when we had to share docking space with another ship. Another ship docks parallel to your ship and it passengers walk across your ship's lobby to get on land. This happened at three ports and the result is that the other ship effectively blocks light from the state room as the ships are merely feet apart. I know that there is nothing that can be done as I guess docking space in some of these little towns is at a premium but it created a dark stateroom. The room itself is small but well organized, the bathroom and shower as small as most cruise ships. There was, however, plenty of storage so overall, it was fine. The housekeeping crew was less noticeable than on other cruises but they did a better than average job of cleaning and neatening.Food is always of interest to cruisers and on this ship meals, snacks, etc. tended to break up the days when we were sailing through the magnificent countryside. it seems there was always coffee and buns, etc. available very early in the morning. Breakfast in the dining room was truly terrific, a great buffet with wonderful fruits, meats and cheeses along with typical breakfast fare but many folks choose to order eggs or other breakfast hot items from the waiters. It should be noted that folks sat at different tables each morning and usually at night so there was no established personal waiter as there is on large cruise ships. So, we all got to know the entire wonderfully professional waiters of the dining room. Each and every one of them was tremendous. Although the tipping procedure of the boat was to split the tips among all the crew, many diners were tipping the waiters separately as well and they were worth their weight in gold. They made each meal a delight by their professionalism. Lunch was either in the lounge (a really nice different buffet) every day or in the dining room.Lunches and dinner were limited menus but always interesting. Also, you could always order salmon, steak or chicken if you were not pleased by the entree choices. The food was on a very high quality and served in European portions which was perfect. Complimentary wine was served and many diners lingered over the cheese course with wine and the staff never made us feel uncomfortable. By the way, the head chief, Magaley, is the star of the fleet.The rest of the staff members were just as terrific as the wait staff with the cruise director being PHENOMENAL. She and her two assistants are always available to help and organize and the organization was also of the very highest level. They have this cruise down to a science. If a passenger is unhappy it has to be the passenger's fault for not seeking out help from the cruise director's desk. I watched her help cruisers resolve issues with phone, travel agents, car companies, etc and always with style and grace.The ports and excursions are what make this cruise truly special. The guides who all spoke perfect English and used a sound system were of the highest level. Even though five groups might go out, the passengers all seemed to think they had an excellent experience. The small towns are truly magical and the larger cities are wonderful as well. The planning and execution of the many excursions were flawless taking every opportunity to make the passengers happy and comfortable.Embarkation and disembarkation were a breeze with EVERYONE, including the captain, helping! They use an old fashioned system of handing in your room key when leaving for excursions or just to go ashore that sometimes created a little logjam but it was not objectionable to me as I knew that no tours would be started until everyone was accounted for. I am sure I am forgetting some very important things but suffice to say, this is wonderful, experience for anyone interested in provincial French life. None of the ports were a disappointment but Lyon was a particular favorite. I wish we had stayed in this, the 2nd largest city in France, longer and had more opportunities to eat ashore. Note: The food is so good on the ship that most people went back for lunch but in hindsight I wish I had eaten in a little cafe or bistro instead just for the experience.Arles was also really terrific as was the final port, Chalon sur Saone. All the little towns were charming with maybe, Beune being the most interesting. But, as I have said earlier, each port was wonderful. Note to all Americans -- any attempt to speak French was met with kindness and enthusiasm by the French. Carry a phrase book, extend yourself and the French will extend themselves. To a person, every attempt in communicating in their language brought a genuine smile.We took the extension to Paris as did almost 20 others -- great! They got you from the ship to your hotel in style with a wonderful stop along the way in Auxerre. The hotel is a four star hotel and they have a representative there to help. If you stay there make sure you avail yourself of the complimentary breakfast. As can be seen, Viking doesn't leave too much to chance. Right to our 5:30 AM departure, Viking showed great concern for our comfort.Any concerns or criticisms are of a very minor nature, i. e. the ship did have wifi but it was not very reliable (they are working on it), the double docking of the boats that created dark staterooms.All in all, they said they only had 37 crew members so I really am amazed that they can perform as such a high level with such a small crew. Read Less
• Background Information After many cruises we found we enjoyed smaller ships as opposed to the megaliners that are now in vogue. We wanted to see several European cities and decided a Danube River cruise would fit our needs and style ... Read More
• Background Information After many cruises we found we enjoyed smaller ships as opposed to the megaliners that are now in vogue. We wanted to see several European cities and decided a Danube River cruise would fit our needs and style the best. After research we narrowed it down to Tauck, AMA, Viking and Uniworld. The itinerary, sailing dates and chance to use a newer vessel made us decide to go with Uniworld. It was a good decision. We were very pleased with the experience and would not hesitate to sail with them again.• Hotel Info (if any) We handled our own travel arrangements as well the pre and post cruise plans. We flew three days early into Prague and stayed at the Marriott Executive Apartments. They are located in a residential area a block off a main street with access to all forms of public transportation. The hotel is nice, quiet, and we had a full apartment style room. It was smaller but more than enough for two. They have a nice continental breakfast but we elected to buy items at the local market on the corner each evening and have breakfast in our room. We had lunches and dinner out. They have a very nice health club in the lower level. We had a corner room on the top floor, the fifth I think it was, and as such we had a roof top balcony, one of the only ones at the hotel. There is a local pub next door with good food and free wifi, so we avoided the in room access charges. The hotel is within easy walking distance of both New Town and Old Town and the streetcar runs direct to the Castle Hill area, so getting around is very easy. For a really great experience drop a few hundred dollars and have dinner on the river terrace at Kampa Park Restaurant. The view of the Charles Bridge at sunset is remarkable.Post cruise we stayed three extra days in Budapest at the main Marriott directly on the river. It was a typical Marriott, with all of the amenities you would expect. Location was excellent. The staff was especially nice. We arrived about 10 AM in the morning and they had a room ready for us and we were able to check in right away. They have a large restaurant and bar area, including a large lobby bar, but we did not use either. Stay on the Executive Floor, the difference in price is worth it. You can easily have full meals with the food they put out in the lounge, and at night they have an open bar, with free beer, wine and liquor. And there is a large terrace the overlooks the river and the Buda side with tremendous views at night.• Travel To Port of EmbarkationWe elected to provide our own transportation from Prague to Passau and arranged for Prague Airport Transfers to take us from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to Passau. We had them divert off the main route and allow us to spend three hours in Chesky Krumlov, which was well worth it. Don't go to the Czech Republic without seeing it. We had a nice driver and he brought along his girlfriend to keep him company. His car was very nice. For extra excitement we were pulled over by the German Border Police after we crossed the border. He told us they sometimes did that looking for drugs or stolen cars. We had to get out of the car, hand over our passports and let the two undercover plain clothes police go through the entire car and check our documents. It only took about ten or fifteen minutes and it was a nice diversion. Embarkation was easy. More like checking into a hotel. They met us at the dock, took our luggage and we went to the front desk and checked in. We gave the steward our room number and he went to our room with us, brought our luggage along, and explained the room to us. Could not have been easier. Be aware that the ship does not dock in Passau but up stream in Lindau. That is about two miles from Passau. Around 7 PM they leave the dock and travel to Passau, where they dock overnight. You can leave the ship and walk around Passau if you want to and there are a few things to see within walking distance.• Ship Info The River Beatrice is new, having been put into service in 2009, so this was the second cruise of her third year. Everything looked fresh and was in working order. It is well laid out and well suited for this type of cruise. The open deck on top is always available but we had some cooler weather so it was not used much on this trip, other than for viewing the locks and the Wachau Valley region as we were sailing along. The lower level includes a very small exercise area but we did not use it. I tried to use the tread mill but my head bumped the ceiling. There was an elliptical machine but I am not into that. No weights at all. There is a laundry room with multiple washers and dryers that are fee to use but you have to get soap from the front desk, but it is very inexpensive. Small library at the back of the ship with a small terrace off of it. Nice for relaxing and the best place to go for Internet. Two computers there that seemed to stay busy. My laptop got wireless quite well, we were even able to Skype from our room a few times. But it was better if we went to the library and accesses Internet there. Refreshments were out all day, but only cookies and beverages. Nice dining room and nice lounge for port talks, entertainment, and just relaxing. A small boutique in the main lobby across from the front desk. There is a small elevator if you need it.• Activities None to speak of, it is a river boat. They did have bicycles available and they were taken off and put out at every port. They were popular and you had to reserve one if you want to use it. Always a detailed port talk just before dinner. River cruises are about port activities so not much in the way of on board activity was expected. • Stateroom Overall a nice room. We opted for the lowest price with the French balcony and it was only steps from the front desk which actually proved to be very nice. We were close to the restaurant, the stairs and everything else. On the small side but normal for a river cruise. It was new so everything worked. Nice bathroom with a large walk in shower with a sliding door, but no tub. As for electrical outlets, they say they have US 110 volt outlets that will accept US plugs. They have three in the room but they told us only one, in the bathroom, would take items that were fixed 110. The other two were for electronics that would work on 110 or 220, like computers, chargers, etc. We discovered that the plug next to the bed was also labeled as 110 volt only, so my wife used her hair straighter there without problems. Warning: the plugs will not accept a grounded plug, just a straight two prong plug. The front desk may or may not have a converter for you, depends on how soon you ask for one. Good TV with several movie channels and plenty of English speaking channels.• Service Overall, the best service we have ever had on a cruise. Not one bad experience. Wait staff was mostly Eastern European and they were excellent. Very friendly and spoke very good English. Not really a cabin steward like we were used to. Our room was always cleaned while we were out and if we came back and needed it they just left and returned later. Turn down service every night and thank God no towel animals. Cruise Director did a good job. Capitan was very nice, and mingled with the passengers on a regular basis. Once on top we were standing outside the bridge and I ask if my wife could have a picture with him. He got out of the chair and had her sit down and let me make a picture of the two of them. • Dining Full breakfast and lunch buffet served in the dining room. Wait staff took care of drink orders and clearing table and any special request. Always a good selection with some staples every day and some special selections that varied with the day and the location of the ship. You could eat light or really chow down if you preferred. Along with the normally included drinks, you get soft drinks at every meal and beer at lunch, along with beer and wine at dinner. Full service dinner with several options off the menu. Allow two hours for dinner. It is a great time to sit and enjoy your ship mate's stories. Open seating, mostly tables of 6 or 8 but a few 4's. We "bonded" with a few couples and tended to eat with them most often, but really changed it out so that it was always entertaining.• Children's Clubs None. There were no children on our cruise. There were two grown daughters with their parents, that is as close as we got to children. Average age was probably 50, but it seemed to vary from 35 to 70. No walkers, oxygen tanks, or wheel chairs though.• EntertainmentEach night there was some entertainment after dinner, mostly local talent that boarded the ship that afternoon. They were pretty good for the most part. That was it. No bingo, newlywed game, etc. Book and magazines in the library along with board games.• Port & Shore Excursions For the most part these were very good. The local tour guides were good. The Vox system where you have an ear piece to hear the guide works great. You can wander off and stop to take a picture and still keep up with the group. Because the guides were local each one seemed to want to tell you how their city was the most important one on the Danube. And Mozart lived in every city. Logistics were handled nicely by the ship and timetables were always maintained. We took one optional tour, to the castle in Vienna. We skipped the Mozart concert and went out on our own. Most people who went said it was nice but very crowded and hot. I think they felt like they had to say they liked it since they paid so much to go. If you must do this just get a ticket for one of the local ones that are sold everywhere in Vienna by street vendors.Some tours had to be rerouted on the spur of the moment due to street closures for protests, marathons, etc. but they were well handled and we saw everything we wanted to see. We used a private guide service during our trip to Prague. On our stay-over in Budapest we use a private guide to take us on a countryside tour one day and also took advantage of the free walking tours offered in Budapest (Google it for details or check Trip Advisor). Passau was our least favorite port, because it was not that much to see there. Melk and Durnstein were really nice. We enjoyed walking the streets and meeting the locals and the tour of the winery was nice. Vienna is spread out but local transportation is easy and access is easy from the docks. Linz is OK for killing time shopping, but the main reason to be there is to take the bus to Salzburg so there is not that much time to anything but shop in the afternoon. Sailing through the locks is a nice diversion and worth being on deck, as is sailing the Wachau Valley. Of course there is much to do in Budapest. Be sure to visit a ruin bar and see the Jewish quarter.• DisembarkationUneventful. We were given plenty of options and since we were staying over we requested a taxi at 9:30. When our cab arrived they called the room and told us. Our luggage was with us the whole time. The taxi only went across the river to the Marriott, so it only took about 5 minutes but the charge was 20 Euros. I thought that was steep. We used another taxi that was at the hotel to go to the airport and the ride was much longer, took about 45 minutes and only cost 25 Euros. • SummaryOverall we had a very good time and would not hesitate to sail with Uniworld again or to recommend this cruise. Do not be afraid to go out on your own in the ports. The bigger cities all have great public transportation that is easy to use and for the most part you can walk anywhere you need to go. The smaller cities are very nice for walking around and getting off the beaten path. Read Less
This was a very different "cruise" for us - our first river cruise, after seventy-some ocean cruises. We had discussed this type of cruise for some time, and after perusing many web-sites, brochures, and travel writings, we ... Read More
This was a very different "cruise" for us - our first river cruise, after seventy-some ocean cruises. We had discussed this type of cruise for some time, and after perusing many web-sites, brochures, and travel writings, we decided to choose Viking River Cruise. The itinerary would be their Romantic Danube, from Nuremberg to Budapest. We opted for Viking's air-inclusive and a two night post-cruise hotel package, in Budapest, which also included complimentary wine at dinner. Pre-CruiseViking was most receptive and attentive to answering the many questions from a couple of neophytes. Their Customer Relations staff was probably the easiest we have ever found to deal with. As an example, after we sent in our original deposit, which went to their Woodland Hills, CA office, we were surprised to see a "Foreign Transaction Fee" charge on our credit card. Although Viking's U.S. offices are in California, the Company is based in Basel, Switzerland, and payments are converted to Swiss francs. We discovered this fact when we contacted their Customer Relations Department, to inquire as to why the fee was charged. It was an easy matter to have the Foreign Transaction fee refunded to us and we made subsequent payments with our "travel" credit card which does not incur Foreign Transaction Fees.Our flights to Europe were via Lufthansa Airlines (Boston to Munich to Nuremberg). This was another "first", flying Lufthansa. The flight and service were excellent, in spite of the fact that Ray does not tolerate long flights very well. The large selection of viewing and listening entertainment helped in the regard, along with the complimentary wine and cognac. Upon arrival at the Nuremberg Airport, there were Viking representatives waiting for us, to take us to the ship (yes, they do refer to them as "ships").EmbarkationUpon arrival at ship we were asked to "check in", which involved going to front desk handing in our passports and receiving our cabin key-cards. We were then directed to the lounge where there was a buffet lunch. There was then an announcement that cabins were ready for occupancy. We were met at front desk and escorted to our cabin, by our Cabin Steward. Viking also provided a shuttle into town for those interested. We opted to walk along the river path to take in the scenery and enjoy the nice weather.The Embarkation and Safety Briefing was held in the Viking Lounge at 18:15, right in the middle of the Cocktail Hour (pretty sneaky, but everyone was there). So far, everything was fine - how long would this last? The Viking Lounge was the venue for each evening's Cocktail Hour (which was usually scheduled for 1 ½ hours), and was also the post dinner entertainment venue, and where various lectures were held.Cabin 208The Viking Legend has three passenger decks (Main Deck, Middle Deck and Upper deck) and a Sun Deck. Cabin 208 was mid-ship on Middle Deck, which we found to be a very comfortable and convenient location, and one we would choose again. All the cabins on the Legend (except the two Suites) are same size (155 or 170 sq. ft. depending if one believes the brochure, or web-site); there are also five Single cabins (120 sq. ft) we did not get to see any of these personally.While this is a smaller size than we usually book it worked out to be more than adequate. The cabins on Middle and Upper Decks all have French Balconies, with sliding doors, which allow for a roomier "feel". The bathrooms were also adequately sized. We had more than enough storage space for all our clothes and "stuff". No need to remove the life jackets, extra pillows or blankets from the closet shelves and stuff them under the bed. The cabins on Main Deck had windows which were only slightly (1-2 ft.) above the water line. Other than that, they were identical to those on the other decks. All cabins have a 26 inch TV, refrigerator, telephone, safe, hair dryer, and air conditioning/heater controls. The beds were full hotel style beds (not pull-outs) and very comfortable. They are high enough off the floor to allow for storage of most any size suitcase. Our Cabin Steward was outstanding - very friendly and most efficient.Dining The Viking Restaurant, located on Middle Deck was the primary dining venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At breakfast and lunch there was also some limited "Cafe" buffet offerings in the Viking Lounge. There was also an area outside the Viking Lounge (on Upper Deck) that had coffee, tea, and juices available around the clock (usually some delicious pastries also).At breakfast there was buffet set out in the Viking Restaurant as well as additional items (eggs to order, omelets, Eggs Benedict) available from wait-staff. Anything on the buffet could also be ordered from the wait-staff. They also served fruit smoothies and other beverages each morning at the tables.At lunch in the Viking Restaurant there was a buffet that had salads, some sandwiches, a pasta dish, cheese plates, and fruit selections. Available from wait-staff were a pre-selected appetizer, a soup, choice of two entrees, and desserts. Also the wait-staff would serve you items from the buffet, if requested, and beverages.There was no buffet at dinner time, only service in the Viking Restaurant (single seating). This consisted of appetizers on the table (family style), starter course, soup course, choice from two entrees (usually one fish, one meat), and dessert. Of course the aforementioned complimentary wine (choice of red or white) was liberally poured, and refilled, by the attentive wait-staff. We found the wines of very good caliber. There was also a "stand-by" menu available each evening (chicken or salmon, unless one of them was on the featured menu, then a different fish or meat was available). Wait-staff did circulate about the restaurant with "seconds" (most if not every evening) in case anyone was still hungry.ExcursionsEach day there was at least one, sometimes more, included excursion. On some days there were also optional (price-added) excursions. Each passenger was assigned a wire-less receiver and ear-piece to wear whilst on excursions. The local guides on the excursions wore the transmitters so that each group would only hear their guide's commentary. This worked extremely well, especially for those who wished to separate from the group a bit to take photos. They could get their photo and still hear the commentary, as long as they did not stray too far afield. Each guest could set their own volume preference and did not have to suffer the crowding immediately around the guide. When one returned to their cabin they needed only to place the receiver unit in its charger, and they were ready for the next excursion. We did all of the included excursions and a few of the optional ones; almost all were excellent and worthwhile (one guide was mediocre and one bordered on poor). Each guest chose whom they wanted to tour with, and each time there was one or two groups that were designated as "moderately paced". Some of the walking tours did require extensive walking, but accommodations could be made if the ship staff was alerted beforehand.For brevity's sake here, we will not go into detail on the excursions.EntertainmentThere is no theater on board the Legend. The main entertainment venue is the Viking Lounge. Each evening during the Cocktail Hour and most evenings after dinner there was an excellent keyboardist playing there. On a few evenings there was local entertainment brought on board. Of course there was always television, and there is a Library on board which also has a number of board games available. It appeared that most opted for the lounge, and we enjoyed many nice conversations over drinks and snacks.Another form of "entertainment" was to go up on the Sky Deck and watch as we passed under some of the many bridges (some quite low), or passed through some of the many locks on the river. Some of the bridges are so low that the wheelhouse has to be lowered (it is on a hydraulically controlled platform. Most times one could also go up and chat with whoever was in the wheelhouse, unless it was the Captain who spoke no/very little English.We were never bored or at a loss for something to do. Another nice aspect of this cruise was the paucity of announcements. Information was relayed in a timely manner, when necessary, but there were not myriad announcements and no "reminders" for Bingo or Art Auctions.Miscellaneous One aspect where Viking really has their act together is Service. We mentioned their pre-cruise availability and accommodation. Their on-board service and logistical operations are excellent and beyond reproach. Something as important as tracking who was on-board, or not, was easily accomplished. Whenever we left the ship, we turned in our cabin key-card and received a day-pass; when we returned to the ship, the process was reversed. Every request was answered immediately or within a most reasonable time-frame. We were amazed at how it seemed that everyone had more than one job to do, and everyone was helping out wherever needed. There may have been some "master plan" directing all this, but it was not discernible. Everything just "worked"; no one ever seemed grumpy, and everyone was approachable. Even the guys delivering that entire amount of luggage by hand (three long decks - no elevators or carts) seemed to be having a good time.Post CruiseAs mentioned earlier, we opted for a two night post-cruise stay. Viking booked us into the Hilton Budapest, which is located on the Castle Hill of Buda, immediately adjacent to the famous Fisherman's Bastion, and directly across the river from the Parliament Building. The Castle Hill area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find many shops, coffee houses, restaurants, museums within easy walking distance of each other, and our hotel was just about in the middle of all this. The main (high ticket) shopping, the business district, the City Market, and late-night clubs are to be found on the Pest side of the river, which is very easy to reach, via the Chain Bridge. We spent time on both sides of the river and were extremely happy with our hotel's location. The accommodations and service were also top-notch.Overall Perceptions:.We enjoyed this cruise very much, and are looking to choose our next itinerary, most likely on Viking River Cruises, who has four new ships coming out over the next year, or so. They are also anticipating some additional ones beyond that time -frame.We really enjoyed the ability to just stroll off the ship (usually right in/near the center of town) and wander about. Read Less
Review of Viking Legend22 April to 02 May 2011 Nuremberg to BudapestThis was a very different "cruise" for us - our first river cruise, after seventy-some ocean cruises. We had discussed this type of cruise for some time, and ... Read More
Review of Viking Legend22 April to 02 May 2011 Nuremberg to BudapestThis was a very different "cruise" for us - our first river cruise, after seventy-some ocean cruises. We had discussed this type of cruise for some time, and after perusing many web-sites, brochures, and travel writings, we decided to choose Viking River Cruise. The itinerary would be their Romantic Danube, from Nuremberg to Budapest. We opted for Viking's air-inclusive and a two night post-cruise hotel package, in Budapest, which also included complimentary wine at dinner. Pre-CruiseViking was most receptive and attentive to answering the many questions from a couple of neophytes. Their Customer Relations staff was probably the easiest we have ever found to deal with. As an example, after we sent in our original deposit, which went to their Woodland Hills, CA office, we were surprised to see a "Foreign Transaction Fee" charge on our credit card. Although Viking's U.S. offices are in California, the Company is based in Basel, Switzerland, and payments are converted to Swiss francs. We discovered this fact when we contacted their Customer Relations Department, to inquire as to why the fee was charged. It was an easy matter to have the Foreign Transaction fee refunded to us and we made subsequent payments with our "travel" credit card which does not incur Foreign Transaction Fees.Our flights to Europe were via Lufthansa Airlines (Boston to Munich to Nuremberg). This was another "first", flying Lufthansa. The flight and service were excellent, in spite of the fact that one of us does not tolerate long flights very well. The large selection of viewing and listening entertainment helped in the regard, along with the complimentary wine and cognac. Upon arrival at the Nuremberg Airport, there were Viking representatives waiting for us, to take us to the ship (yes, they do refer to them as "ships").EmbarkationUpon arrival at ship we were asked to "check in", which involved going to front desk handing in our passports and receiving our cabin key-cards. We were then directed to the lounge where there was a buffet lunch. There was then an announcement that cabins were ready for occupancy. We were met at front desk and escorted to our cabin, by our Cabin Steward. Viking also provided a shuttle into town for those interested. We opted to walk along the river path to take in the scenery and enjoy the nice weather.The Embarkation and Safety Briefing was held in the Viking Lounge at 18:15, right in the middle of the Cocktail Hour (pretty sneaky, but everyone was there). So far, everything was fine - how long would this last? The Viking Lounge was the venue for each evening's Cocktail "Hour" (which was usually scheduled for 1 ½ hours), and was also the post dinner entertainment venue, and where various lectures were held.Cabin 208The Viking Legend has three passenger decks (Main Deck, Middle Deck and Upper deck) and a Sun Deck. Cabin 208 was mid-ship on Middle Deck, which we found to be a very comfortable and convenient location, and one we would choose again. All the cabins on the Legend (except the two Suites) are same size (155 or 170 sq. ft. depending if one believes the brochure, or web-site); there are also five Single cabins (120 sq. ft) we did not get to see any of these personally.While this is a smaller size than we usually book it worked out to be more than adequate. The cabins on Middle and Upper Decks all have French Balconies, with sliding doors, which allow for a roomier "feel". The bathrooms were also adequately sized. We had more than enough storage space for all our clothes and "stuff". No need to remove the life jackets, extra pillows or blankets from the closet shelves and stuff them under the bed. The cabins on Main Deck had windows which were only slightly (1-2 ft.) above the water line. Other than that, they were identical to those on the other decks. All cabins have a 26 inch TV, refrigerator, telephone, safe, hair dryer, and air conditioning/heater controls. The beds were full hotel style beds (not pull-outs) and very comfortable. They are high enough off the floor to allow for storage of most any size suitcase. Our Cabin Steward was outstanding - very friendly and most efficient.Dining The Viking Restaurant, located on Middle Deck was the primary dining venue for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At breakfast and lunch there was also some additional limited "Cafe" buffet offerings in the Viking Lounge. There was also an area outside the Viking Lounge (on Upper Deck) that had coffee, tea, and juices available around the clock (usually some delicious pastries also).At breakfast there was buffet set out in the Viking Restaurant as well as additional items (eggs to order, omelets, Eggs Benedict) available from wait-staff. Anything on the buffet could also be ordered from the wait-staff. They also served fruit smoothies and other beverages each morning at the tables.At lunch in the Viking Restaurant there was a buffet that had salads, some sandwiches, a pasta dish, cheese plates, and fruit selections. Available from wait-staff were a pre-selected appetizer, a soup, choice of two entrees, and desserts. Also the wait-staff would serve you items from the buffet, if requested, and beverages.There was no buffet at dinner time, only service in the Viking Restaurant (single seating). This consisted of appetizers on the table (family style), starter course, soup course, choice from two entrees (usually one fish, one meat), and dessert. Of course the aforementioned complimentary wine (choice of red or white) was liberally poured, and refilled, by the attentive wait-staff. We found the wines of very good caliber. There was also a "stand-by" menu available each evening (chicken or salmon, unless one of them was on the featured menu, then a different fish or meat was available). Wait-staff did circulate about the restaurant with "seconds" (most if not every evening) in case anyone was still hungry.ExcursionsEach day there was at least one, sometimes more, included excursion. On some days there were also optional (price-added) excursions. Each passenger was assigned a wire-less receiver and ear-piece to wear whilst on excursions. The local guides on the excursions wore the transmitters so that each group would only hear their guide's commentary. This worked extremely well, especially for those who wished to separate from the group a bit to take photos. They could get their photo and still hear the commentary, as long as they did not stray too far afield. Each guest could set their own volume preference and did not have to suffer the crowding immediately around the guide. When one returned to their cabin they needed only to place the receiver unit in its charger, and they were ready for the next excursion. We did all of the included excursions and a few of the optional ones; almost all were excellent and worthwhile (one guide was mediocre and one bordered on poor). Each guest chose whom they wanted to tour with, and each time there was one or two groups that were designated as "moderately paced". Some of the walking tours did require extensive walking, but accommodations could be made if the ship staff was alerted beforehand.For brevity's sake here, we will not go into detail on the excursions.EntertainmentThere is no theater on board the Legend. The main entertainment venue is the Viking Lounge. Each evening during the Cocktail Hour and most evenings after dinner there was an excellent keyboardist playing there. On a few evenings there was local entertainment brought on board. Of course there was always television, and there is a Library on board which also has a number of board games available. It appeared that most opted for the lounge, and we enjoyed many nice conversations over drinks and snacks.Another form of "entertainment" was to go up on the Sky Deck and watch as we passed under some of the many bridges (some quite low), or passed through some of the many locks on the river. Some of the bridges are so low that the wheelhouse has to be lowered (it is on a hydraulically controlled platform. Most times one could also go up and chat with whoever was in the wheelhouse, unless it was the Captain who spoke no/very little English.We were never bored or at a loss for something to do. Another nice aspect of this cruise was the paucity of announcements. Information was relayed in a timely manner, when necessary, but there were not myriad announcements and no "reminders" for Bingo or Art Auctions.Miscellaneous One aspect where Viking really has their act together is Service. We mentioned their pre-cruise availability and accommodation. Their on-board service and logistical operations are excellent and beyond reproach. Something as important as tracking who was on-board, or not, was easily accomplished. Whenever we left the ship, we turned in our cabin key-card and received a day-pass; when we returned to the ship, the process was reversed. Every request was answered immediately or within a most reasonable time-frame. We were amazed at how it seemed that everyone had more than one job to do, and everyone was helping out wherever needed. There may have been some "master plan" directing all this, but it was not discernible. Everything just "worked"; no one ever seemed grumpy, and everyone was approachable. Even the guys delivering that entire amount of luggage by hand (three long decks - no elevators or carts) seemed to be having a good time.Post CruiseAs mentioned earlier, we opted for a two night post-cruise stay. Viking booked us into the Hilton Budapest, which is located on the Castle Hill of Buda, immediately adjacent to the famous Fisherman's Bastion, and directly across the river from the Parliament Building. The Castle Hill area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you will find many shops, coffee houses, restaurants, museums within easy walking distance of each other, and our hotel was just about in the middle of all this. The main (high ticket) shopping, the business district, the City Market, and late-night clubs are to be found on the Pest side of the river, which is very easy to reach, via the Chain Bridge. We spent time on both sides of the river and were extremely happy with our hotel's location. The accommodations and service were also top-notch.Overall Perceptions:.We enjoyed this cruise very much, and are looking to choose our next itinerary, most likely on Viking River Cruises, who has four new ships coming out over the next year, or so. They are also anticipating some additional ones beyond that time -frame.We really enjoyed the ability to just stroll off the ship (usually right in/near the center of town) and wander about. Read Less
We sailed on the Viking Danube; the positives: the crew and program director Michael are top notch; they made the trip so enjoyable; we were very impressed with them. Upon arrival at the ship (we came a day early, stayed in a hotel and ... Read More
We sailed on the Viking Danube; the positives: the crew and program director Michael are top notch; they made the trip so enjoyable; we were very impressed with them. Upon arrival at the ship (we came a day early, stayed in a hotel and arranged our own transfer to the ship) we were shown to the lounge where a light lunch was being served as well as drinks, wine and beer. Everyone was very welcoming; when our cabin was ready, they came to get us. The Viking Danube is being put out of service at the end of 2012; it is an old ship. The cabin configuration of space could be better and the mattress was not comfortable at all. We had more shelf space on a previous river cruise with a different company. The lounge area where all events were held was a tight fit for all the guests.
The entertainment brought on the ship was fun and enlightening; we especially enjoyed the wooden shoe making demonstration, the dance group, the men's choir, Belgian waffle demonstration and the speaker on Belgium and the Netherlands. The speaker on the European Union was good but went on too long.
Dining was excellent with a number of options; the wait staff made everyone feel very welcome and were very accommodating. It was a tight fit in the dining area.
Among the stops we made our favorite was Bruges and the Keukenhoff gardens; we wished we had more time at each of those. The local guides were very informative and we appreciated the fact that they offered a slow walking group. We also enjoyed the excursion to the royal palace and to Delft.
The trip to the windmills was interesting but the trip to the Delta Works was fascinating to see the engineering marvel they built.
Middleburgh's trip, it was raining and cold, very early in the morning and nothing was open; it felt like a forced march.
Michael's overviews of the next day's activities were concise, relaxed presentations; we always felt we knew exactly what was going on when and where.
We did the extension to the Floriade; the Belmont Hotel in Maastricht was wonderful and the restaurant there, easily a 4 to 5 star as was the guide there. The only drawback was our free time there was on a Sunday, and nothing is open then. Everyone who did the extension had different flights to catch in Amsterdam to return hpme. We were the only ones with a 1 p.m. flight and Viking provided a driver and car to take us from Maastricht to Amsterdam; the service was top notch. We appreciate that they didn't lump us altogether to do just one or two airport runs.
My only major complaint was the lack of functioning WIFI for a large portion of the cruise; the problem was the explanations they offered for the problem did not ring true; there were two retired computer system engineers aboard and I have significant experience with computers, servers, broadband etc.; we all decided that the problem was with their equipment which needed an upgrade; it could not support the number of accounts needed to service the passengers. Since a majority of us had told our families and/or businesses to use email to keep in contact; this was a real problem.
Overall, the cruise was excellent and we will go on a Viking cruise again, on one of their new ships. Read Less
We tried for the AX category, but finished up in one of the two A-Class cabins that are right at the back of the ship, up against the door to the crew quarters.
Apart from the lack of a tub the voyage itself, from Magdeburg to Melnik, ... Read More
We tried for the AX category, but finished up in one of the two A-Class cabins that are right at the back of the ship, up against the door to the crew quarters.
Apart from the lack of a tub the voyage itself, from Magdeburg to Melnik, was too short: the ports of call are enthralling, the often wild scenery and general topography spectacularly beautiful. 'Saxon Switzerland' is extraordinary. The wildlife is very impressive and includes some species which we had seen neither in Europe nor in N. America. We did not take the guided tour of Torgau or Meissen; in the latter place we climbed up to the castle and cathedral instead, which are very fine. With an AX cabin we'd love to do it again, spending if possible an extra two nights on the boat.
The food was outstanding as usual. Round tables for dining would be more sociable, but we realise that this might not work in the space. The staff were all friendly and efficient.
Both the Berlin and Prague 'legs' are really good, and it's worth buying the extensions at each end. This still gave too little time in either place. The extensive Berlin and Potsdam tours are superb value. The Berlin Hilton is well-placed, the Prague Hilton good but too far from the centre.
We carried a laptop computer. A minor irritation was that Viking's Wi-Fi provider seems to have a quarrel with Telus, so e-mail can be received but not sent. Free Wi-Fi did not obtain during the extensions, and that was expensive.
The communications gear on the guided tours could usefully be set up for people using a hearing-aid. Read Less
Had a five day cruise on LotG in April last year, from Inverness to Oban. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and the Highlands of Scotland were looking their absolute best.
We travelled to Inverness by train, and were met at ... Read More
Had a five day cruise on LotG in April last year, from Inverness to Oban. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and the Highlands of Scotland were looking their absolute best.
We travelled to Inverness by train, and were met at the station by a coach which transferred us to the ship. (The same coach and driver were to follow us and take us on excursions at the various stops over the next few days.) On arrival at the ship we were met by Brian, the cruise director, purser, Maitre d', and just about everything else. The ship is small, holding just 54 passengers, but is the maximum size that can fit through the locks in the Caledonian Canal. The main public room is the combined lounge and bar on the upper deck, with large windows to view the passing scenery. The dining room is one deck below. Tea and excellent coffee are freely available in the lounge. Open deck space is plentiful for the number of passengers.
Meals are single sitting at a set time, and you are free to choose your table companions in tables for four or six. The food is excellent, using often local produce. Beware, the waiter will offer to pour you glasses of wine, but each glass is recorded and added to your bar bill (though not extortionate).
We were in a category 3 cabin (the most expensive) and it was not large by cruise ship standards, though perfectly adequate for a short cruise. The beds were very comfortable.
The most interesting bit was the passage through the Caledonian Canal, and in good weather this is simply exquisite. There are several flights of locks to pass through, and this adds to the interest. Excursions were arranged to various places of interest on the trip, such as Glenfinnan, Duart and Torosay Castles, and these were included in the price of the cruise. Brian was always on hand to answer any questions, and to assist with any problems. On our cruise we found that most people were early bedders, and my wife and I often found we were the last in the bar.
Overall we found it an excellent experience, not super-luxurious but very comfortable and enjoyable. The crew went about their duties in an unobtrusive manner, though it was possible to chat to the captain while he was maneuvering the ship in the locks. Did I mention Brian? Omni-present, very affable and helpful, he was the public face of the ship, and greatly contributed to the success of the cruise.
This is not for people who want glitzy ships with climbing walls, skating rinks and 4000 other passengers, but for a low key and intimate experience I would thoroughly recommend it. Read Less
I have long been remiss in writing this review as we cruised on the Viking Sun almost a year ago. As they say, better late than never. We have cruised on Viking twice. The first time was for the Christmas Markets along the Danube on the ... Read More
I have long been remiss in writing this review as we cruised on the Viking Sun almost a year ago. As they say, better late than never. We have cruised on Viking twice. The first time was for the Christmas Markets along the Danube on the Viking Pride. The only way I could describe that trip was magical. It snowed everyday and each day was a wonderland. We didn't even feel the cold as each turn presented a new joy and experience. It was superb.
So, several months later, we booked Treasures of the Rhine on the Viking Sun.
Again, words cannot describe the joy of a Viking Cruise. I did not think anything could top our first cruise, but in many ways this cruise did. For beginners, it was 15 days on the Rhine and we saw so many wonderful cities and villages. In Cologne, we were paired with an incredible guide who took us to the Cathedral. It was Easter morning and the medieval chimes were in full glory. They only use them six times a year as they are the original medieval chimes. Pure and simply, it brought me to my knees. I can still hear it in my mind. We did an excursion to Lucerne which was magnificent. Brugge was a picture book, the windmills unsurpassed. The Keukenhof Gardens were a sea of tulips. The list goes on and on and none disappointed.
The Sun was warm, cozy and welcoming because of the incredible staff. We started as strangers and left as friends. No request was too big or too small. On our first night, I asked the waiter for unsweetened tea. He said they normally served sweetened tea, but would brew me some. I was amazed. For the remaining 13 nights, he appeared magically with my unsweetened tea. Try getting that kind of service on a ship with 3000 passengers.
I have never seen a staff work together so well and the captain was right there with them. It was simply amazing. Viking is definitely worth the money. Put it on your bucket list.
I think it is a shame, they no longer offer this cruise, but they do offer a shorter cruise called the Rhine Getaway. It does hit the highlights and I have heard good things about that cruise. Now, we are looking at Paris and the Heart of Normandy. I get goose bumps just planning it. Read Less
Viking is a GOOD company! They did all they promised and more. Instead of trying to come up with more ways to make money, they gave us unexpected free activities and services.We have done 3 escorted European land tours and 9 large ship ... Read More
Viking is a GOOD company! They did all they promised and more. Instead of trying to come up with more ways to make money, they gave us unexpected free activities and services.We have done 3 escorted European land tours and 9 large ship cruises and this riverboat was the easiest traveling we have ever done. In most ports we were docked in town so we could easily come and go. User friendly city maps were plentiful as were slips of paper with the ships phone number and location. The Viking staff did not appear to be overly experienced, but they more than made up for it with their enthusiasm and efforts to please. Because the ship was so small,we felt like the staff, captain included, became our friends. Our fellow passengers were mature, but lively, interesting and well traveled.All but 3 tours were included and were conducted by well informed local guides who used our audioboxes effectively. The ports were visually lovely and included a mix of history, art, engineering, horticulture, nautical and food. We loved gliding down the rivers and canals with sheep nibbling grass along the dikes.The Pride is not fancy, but was comfortable and kept immaculately clean. The food was outstanding. Breakfast and lunch were as casual or formal as desired, and dinner was all about presentation. I am "picky" and my husband is a hearty eater and neither of us were ever hungry. We chose an early March cruise because the price was much lower and it was a good choice for us. Some flowers were blooming and there were so many other interesting and lovely things to do that we didn't feel cheated.I would recommend this cruise highly. We were so impressed by Viking that the day after we returned home ,we booked their trip to China! Read Less
This is an unvarnished subjective review of my recent Viking river cruise on the Mekong on the RV Tonle. Viking is the most recent of a number of tour ... Read More
This is an unvarnished subjective review of my recent Viking river cruise on the Mekong on the RV Tonle. Viking is the most recent of a number of tour companies that contract the Pandaw river boats for their vacation packages. We had taken Viking cruises in China and Russia and enjoyed them very much, so we had no qualms about booking this one. We had to work with the Viking travel agent (TA) for several days before we finally obtained a sailing date that fit our schedule, although we put ourselves on a waiting list for several others. At this point communications with our TA ceased, as he no longer returned my phone calls or answered my emails. Other TA's could not, or would not give me any information about the wait lists, so I finally gave up and resigned myself to the March 19 sailing. The Generations visa service was expensive but efficient and I had no complaints. The air booking person was very helpful and made some modifications for me so I could leave Hanoi a day earlier due to a commitment here at home. I was also able to use some frequent flyer miles to upgrade to business class on the trans-pacific flight to and from Tokyo. By the time we landed in Saigon, it was 1030 PM and we were escorted to the hotel by our Viking representative and checked in by midnight. Thus, the first day of the tour was already over. The good news was that the Sofitel Saigon Plaza hotel in Saigon was wonderful, as were all the hotels on this vacation. Viking always does a great job in picking top-notch lodgings. We were escorted to the hotel by one of our two guides (Tom and Kong). Our guides were superb, spoke excellent English and did a good job in looking after our every need. There were 62 of us on the cruise. I would guess that the average age was about 70. Most were well-heeled, well- traveled, and well- educated. There were a few that should not have been on the trip due to mobility issues. Many of the tours require physical dexterity and good balance. The American Disabilities Act standards do not apply in Vietnam and Cambodia. I assume that they either did not read the caveats in the brochures or chose to ignore them. They ended up being a burden for our guides. Potential customers should use some common sense before booking a cruise such as this. My recommendations are as follows:
If you use a cane to walk- Don't go.
If you can't go at least 2 1/2 hours without going to the toilet-Don't go.
If you have balance problems or vertigo-Don't go
The Saigon tours were interesting, and included the Reunification Palace, Chinatown, a lacquer factory, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the central market. As expected, there was some force feeding of Communist propaganda during the excursions. The war museum was completely one-sided, as expected and featured some former South Vietnamese Air Force aircraft that had been repainted with USAF insignia. I failed to mention that I was the only Vietnam War combat veteran on the trip, having flown as a navigator in AC-130 Gunships, primarily in Cambodia. Since I had been based in Thailand, I had only seen Cambodia from the air. When we ceased operations in August 1973, we knew it was only a matter if time until the Khmer Rouge took over the country, but we never foresaw the genocide that was to come under Pol Pot. At that time no one even knew about Pol Pot. Our guides tried to tip-toe around the politics, but had to toe the party line, at least in Vietnam. That evening, we were transported to the Rex Hotel for a nice fixed menu dinner and cultural dance presentation.
After a sumptuous breakfast, we were transported to the ship via bus and greeted by the friendly crew of the RV Tonle. The accommodations were comfortable, but not luxurious. Bottled water was freely dispensed for drinking and tooth brushing. The dinner and lunch menus varied between quite good to acceptable. The French influence was quite evident in the baguettes and other breads. The most memorable dinners included lamb, salmon and fried chicken. The breakfast buffet was wonderful, with many options. I think they did the best they could with the products that they could obtain. Local beer and well drinks were always free and complimentary South African wine was liberally dispensed at dinner. The Vietnamese and Cambodian beers were quite good, as was the white wine. I thought the red wine was dreadful, but my fellow passengers seemed to like it very much. The house liquors were mainly Philippine products. I only tried the house Vodka once and felt that it would have been more appropriate as a paint thinner. There were also reasonably priced premium beer, wine and liquor options. In the evening, there were history lectures and classic movies that were related to some of the sites we visited. Complimentary Wi-Fi was available once we crossed into Cambodia, but you had to be in the library lounge to connect. I just used my I-pod to get my web mail, rather than bringing a laptop.
Regarding tipping, the guides suggested that we pay $100 per couple up front for all the tips for the local guides, bus drivers, small boat operators, etc. so we wouldn't be nickeled and dimed throughout the cruise. Most thought this was a good idea and went along with it. I also gave extra tips to the Cambodian and Vietnamese local guides who were very good. The ship tips come to around $150-170 per couple for the cruise, which you can put on a Visa or Mastercard . AMEX is not accepted onboard. Also I tipped my tour guide (Kong) about $170 at the end of the tour. It's also a good idea to bring 50-100 one dollar bills for souvenirs. High end shops and hotels take all credit cards. The dollar is the preferred currency in Cambodia and Vietnam, so there is no need to ever exchange dollars for local currencies. ATMs even dispense dollars in Cambodia. The bottom line is that you should bring about $500 cash with you. The ship and hotels all have room safes and crime seems to be almost non-existent.
The tours along the Mekong were pretty much as advertised in the brochure. We were able to see and appreciate the daily lives of Vietnamese and Cambodian farmers, brick makers and fishermen. These people work very long hours for almost nothing, live in squalor, yet seem to be as happy and dignified as any millionaire on the boat. Smiling, friendly children abound everywhere. Some are looking for a hand-out, some are selling stuff, and some are just curious. Along the way, we were able to experience a variety of transportation methods, including Rickshaws and Tuk-Tuks . Many of the tours required tricky transfers onto small skiffs. During the seven days on the ship, we saw a lot of villages, Wats, orphanages, and markets. Our tour guide had worked at the notorious S-21 torture center in Phnom Penh as a small child after his parents were executed by Pol Pot. Over 2 million Cambodians were killed in the genocide. The visit to the killing fields was powerful and emotional. The bones of victims continue to surface all around the area. We could see them everywhere. I now have no regrets about my role in fighting the Khmer Rouge in 1973, other than the fact that we didn't finish the job. Perhaps, the most poignant moment for me was at Wat Hanchey in Cambodia where I saw a Buddhist monk ring a gong that was made out of the bomb casing of an unexploded US Mark 82, 500 lb bomb. Now I knew the war was really over.
After disembarking, we took a five hour bus ride to Siem Reap with only one "happy house" rest stop. Fortunately, we were warned by the guides, so I was able load up on enough Immodium and lomotil to keep my "Ho Chi Minh's revenge" under control for the journey. Quite a few of the passengers had some intestinal distress that seemed to be exacerbated by the anti-malarial medication, which I stopped taking after a few days. Mosquitoes were few and far between and I think that frequent applications of DEET 30 lotion is enough protection against Malaria and Dengue fever for this tour.
At Siem Reap, we checked into the stunning Sofitel Phokeetra Royal Angora Golf and Spa resort. This is one of the most beautiful and luxurious hotels I have ever seen. The rooms, service and food were outstanding. Tours of various temples including the famous Angkor Wat were amazing but the tours required quite a bit of agility to complete. Safety is not a high priority here, although the guides did their best to make sure we didn't get hurt. We also saw the mysterious Taprohm Temple which was featured in the Tomb Raider movie.
Reluctantly, we finally checked out of the hotel to fly to Hanoi. Unfortunately, the flight didn't arrive in Hanoi until about 1100 PM so we didn't get to the hotel until after midnight. Once again, poor scheduling meant that we only had a few hours of sleep in the Sofitel Metropole hotel before resuming the tours. The Hotel was wonderful and the tours were good, except for the Hanoi Hilton, which was just a propaganda event. We also went to the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum, but I was the only passenger to decline viewing the long deceased and stuffed dictator. We had a nice farewell dinner the last night, bid adieu to our new group of friends, jumped into a cab the guide procured for us, and headed to the Hanoi airport.
This was the trip of a lifetime and we are still trying to process everything that happened. I know that I glossed over a lot of details about the food and tours, and I think I really shortchanged the hardworking crew of the RV Tonle. The only English word they didn't seem to know was "no". I highly recommend this to those who prize adventure over luxury. Despite the minor problems encountered, we remain loyal Viking customers. I'm just getting a different travel agent next time. Read Less
My husband and I have cruised many times before and this was our third cruise with Fred Olsen. Having enjoyed our two previous FOCL voyages we had high expectations for this one and we were not disappointed.
We flew from Manchester ... Read More
My husband and I have cruised many times before and this was our third cruise with Fred Olsen. Having enjoyed our two previous FOCL voyages we had high expectations for this one and we were not disappointed.
We flew from Manchester to Bridgetown with Thomas Cook airlines and I have to say the whole embarkation procedure, from start to finish, was very streamlined and efficient. Once we'd checked in our bags at Manchester we didn't see them again until they were in our cabin. On arrival at Grantley Adams Airport we were off the plane, onto the bus and taken straight to the ship, bypassing all the usual airport queues.
We boarded the Braemar just after 4.00pm and had our first glimpse of our cabin, a balcony one on Deck 7. While clean, comfortable and nicely decorated, our only complaint was that storage space was very limited; tiny wardrobes and drawers and very few shelves. The bathroom was also small but functional.
The Braemar has a good choice of places to eat or drink. We were allocated the Grampian Restaurant on Deck 8 and the food was always very nice, well presented and well served by our smiling waiter. For breakfast and lunch we tended to frequent the more casual Palms Cafe on Deck 6, which also allowed you to eat your meals outside at the ship's stern, affording great sea views. There was also the Marquee Pool Bar, which served casual meals (fast food) and snacks as well as drinks. There was always an excellent choice of dishes on offer, as well as lots of salad, vegetables and fruits if you were going for the healthier option.
To enjoy a drink, you could go to the Morning Light Pub (more like a normal lounge than a pub, I would say), the Lido Bar at the stern of the ship, the pool bar, the Observatory or the Skylark Club (which served as the nightclub and disco and hosted quizzed every night, and sometimes karaoke).
The entertainment was, in general, geared towards the older (60+ cruiser) cruiser so while it was very good, it wasn't exceptional. There was a comedian who told ancient jokes, a magician who actually grew on me throughout his two performances, an old-fashioned singer (very Frank Sinatra or Matt Munro) as well as the Braemar Show Company and ship's orchestra. We tended to go to the Neptune lounge for the evening's cabaret, but there was also another show featured each night in the Coral Lounge, so at least you had a choice.
We spent the first three days at sea en route to the Amazon and crossed the Equator at Macapa, for which the entertainment team put on a hilarious "Line Crossing Ceremony". Ports of call along the Amazon included Santarem, Parintins and Manaus on the way down (the ship stayed overnight in Manaus). Then on the way back north we dropped anchor at the tiny villages of Boca da Valeria and Alter do Chao. As we expected, some of the villages and towns were very primitive compared to what we're used to in Britain, but this was the whole point, and the attraction, of coming to the Amazon.
The weather was very hot and humid and we did have some days where it rained all day, but was still warm. Well it was the rainforest after all, and it didn't spoil our enjoyment of the cruise; there was still plenty to do below decks.
We found all of the staff and crew to be very friendly and polite and they smiled all the time. They would do anything to help. I would say that Fred Olsen Cruise lines do pride themselves on their excellent service and they did not let us down. We were also surprised and pleased at the complimentary drinks "on Fred" that pop up here and there; as well as the usual Captain's cocktail parties there were three occasions on which we had a free "champagne" breakfast as well as bottles of wine we won in the quiz.
We had a brilliant cruise on a lovely little ship in unusual surroundings and will certainly cruise with Fred Olsen again in the future. Read Less
HANOIWe arrived in Hanoi from Tokyo on Sunday evening having planned on a full day of independent touring before the start of the AMA organized part of the trip with the rest of the group. We booked the extra night at the Sofitel Legend ... Read More
HANOIWe arrived in Hanoi from Tokyo on Sunday evening having planned on a full day of independent touring before the start of the AMA organized part of the trip with the rest of the group. We booked the extra night at the Sofitel Legend Metropole directly through AMA since we wanted to be certain that we did not have to change rooms for the other two nights covered by the tour. We arranged directly with the hotel for a private car transfer since we didn't want to deal with a taxi at 10:30PM after traveling for so long. We were met immediately outside customs and were in our car in 10 minutes. The ride to the hotel was about 40 minutes (normally up to an hour during the day with traffic). There was not alot to see other than what was visible along the side of the road. It was about 5-times the price of a taxi but the hotel staff was waiting for us when we arrived and we were in our room in the Opera Wing (newer wing) in less than 15 minutes on the 2nd floor (actually the 3rd since the ground floor is considered the 1st floor). The room was lovely and we faced the pool area so there was no concern about noise. There was bottled water, chocolates and plenty of space. The next morning we went to the restaurant for our included buffet breakfast which was as expansive as it was delicious. The restaurant overlooked the courtyard and pool area. A basket of croissants and pastries was brought to our table as well as the French press coffee and tea we requested. There was a made to order omelet station, yogurts, fresh fruits, cereals, breads, juices, eggs, dim sum, Vietnamese dishes, bacon, sausage, potatoes, grilled tomatoes and other dishes too numerous to mention. After breakfast we walked to the main lobby (it's a weird configuration to get from the Opera Wing to the original historic part of the hotel but not really a problem). We were met in the lobby by our Hanoikids guide, Phanh, a 21 year old finance major in university. For anyone that doesn't know about Hanoikids, I found out about them on Cruise Critic. They are university students paired with tourists who speak English strictly for the opportunity to practice their English. The only thing you pay for is their entrance fees, taxis to sights and lunch. There is no other charge. We decided to bring some English language novels and a box of See's chocolates from home which she was surprised and delighted to receive. Since we wanted to hear about Phanh's Vietnam and we had compared our AMA itinerary for the next day with the suggested itinerary on the Hanoikids website, we worked out a tour that would not overlap too much and provide us with the greatest exposure to Hanoi. Since the rubber sole on DH's shoe had come apart while we were in Japan for 3 days, our first stop was for shoe repair on Shoe Street in the Old Quarter, just 3 blocks from the hotel. We walked to Shoe Street, evidenced by blocks of stores selling shoes. Phanh helped us navigate the streets and deal with the amazing sea of motorbikes whizzing by constantly. The key is to step into the street when there is a small break in traffic and slowly but methodically WITHOUT STOPPING walk across. The drivers can gauge your stride and behavior and maneuver around you as long as you don't stop or make any sudden movements. Harrowingly, it works every time. It also helps to have a local lead the charge. After the shoe repair, we visited a communal (tube) house on Ma May Street in the Old Quarter known as Huong Tuong Communal House. Make sure you have Dong but, in a pinch, they will accept dollars. If you do use dollars, be prepared to actually pay more since they don't always know how to convert and they have little understanding of how to provide change, if any, in Dong. Not yet having been to the ATM, we paid with a $1 bill and actually overpaid because in Dong it would have been less than $.75 for the 3 of us. It may seem inconsequential and it is easier but you can run out of dollars very quickly if you don't have local currency. (On that subject, we brought 50-ones, 30-fives, 20-tens and 5-twenties. We found that we needed at least 100-ones and 50-fives and luckily the ship was able to change a couple of 20's into fives and someone on the trip brought so many ones that they were able to change them for us.) Next was a trip to an ATM on the street in the Old Quarter. In Vietnam, there are buttons for English but the currency dispensed is Dong. The conversion when we were there was approximately 21,500 Dong to $1 USD (it had just been devalued a few days before). For ease, we just rounded it to 20,000 Dong. We had no difficulty using the ATM's in Vietnam or Cambodia (more about that in the Cambodia section) but make sure that you have a 4-digit PIN. We told Phanh that we wanted to walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, first stopping for coffee and a bathroom break at Highland's Coffee on the 6th floor of a building opposite the NE corner of the lake on Shark Square (Dinh Tien Hoang St.) with a great view of the lake (good photo op). We walked over the red bridge (Bridge of the Rising Sun) into the Ngoc Son pagoda where Phanh said students go to pray before their university entrance exams (this was also a stop on the AMA tour the next day but we appreciated seeing it earlier after the walk around the lake). After a complete walk around the lake and the pagoda visit we were ready for lunch. We told Phanh that we wanted to eat lunch at Cha Ca La Vong which was a great experience (Cha Ca means Fish in Vietnamese and it is on Cha Ca Street in the Old Quarter but make sure you go to the right one as there are copycats on the same street using the exact same name so check the address carefully. If you are walking from the lake it is on the left side in a run-down looking building with 2 floors). There is only one thing on the menu-seasoned fish filet pieces fried in oil on a burner on the table with herbs, rice noodles and sauces. It is delicious and about 115,000 Dong per person (less than $6). We left and took a taxi to Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton). This was very interesting and I recommend going. It is not on the AMA tour but they recommend it during the lunch break on the tour day. Whether you have extra time in Hanoi or just the day scheduled with AMA, definitely see it. It will take about 45 minutes to tour the whole site. From there we took a taxi to the Cathedral area where Phanh introduced us to cold lemon tea and the art of sitting on tiny plastic stools with hundreds of others, mostly university students-she even ran into some girlfriends. We then walked to Silk Street to do some shopping. I ended up at Khai Silk (again there are copycats so you need to make certain you are at the right shop). The products are beautiful-very highly styled and reasonably priced by western standards but high end for Vietnam. They sell scarves, shawls, purses, dresses, blouses but I wound up with a lovely scarf (one of many of varying quality that I bought throughout the trip). It was now nearing 5 PM and we walked back to the hotel and said goodbye to Phanh, having spent a lovely day with a very nice and intelligent young lady. It was her first tour without a companion and she did a great job. I highly recommend Hanoikids. We were ready to recharge our batteries so we sat down in the outdoor bar for a drink. It was chilly-Hanoi experiencing its coldest winter in 30 years, but there were outdoor heaters and my hot chocolate and Grand Marnier drink hit the spot. Our friends, who took the pre-trip week starting in Saigon, arrived at the hotel at 7PM and we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant recommended by the Italian concierge-Luna d'Autuno. Much is said about taxis in Vietnam & Cambodia. The way to get where you want to go and not get ripped off is to have the hotel call a taxi for you, have your destination written on the hotel business card, have the doorman tell the taxi driver where you are going and show him the card, then give it back to you, ask the driver how much it will cost and to turn on the meter-don't leave until it is turned on. Same for the return. We had every restaurant and even stores get us a taxi and go through the same procedure. We never had any problem with any taxi. Taxis are cheap and you can get caught up in paying in dollars, overpay and still wind up paying only $2. After awhile you start feeling a little guilty because it is so cheap. This is one of the reasons for all of those dollar bills.The next morning we had our orientation from 8:30-9:15AM. I cannot say enough about Thinh, our tour manager. He started with the pre-tour group for the week from Saigon and was with us until he took the group to the airport the final day in Saigon. He knew everyone, facilitated everything and always had a smile on his face. He was concerned about the health and well-being of every tour participant and handled everything with grace. His tip at the end was worth every penny and more. He was a gem! We were organized by color, each color representing a bus-green, orange and blue. Each bus had a separate tour guide-one in Hanoi & Ha Long Bay, one in Siem Reap, one in the rest of Cambodia and one in the Vietnam Mekong and Saigon. All of the guides were stellar. The buses were first class, always with cold water, wipes, a/c, a mike for the guide. You could leave valuables on the bus as the driver kept it locked and stayed with it. If that wasn't the case in certain situations the guide would tell you to take your things. Tours were paced allowing time for independent lunches and time for rest before the afternoon tour would begin. Everything was very well communicated and everyone was always on time which was amazing. The buses were not filled to capacity. There was usually enough space for everyone to have their own seat with a few exceptions. We had a radio transmitter and earphones so we could listen to the guides on most excursions.Our guide for Hanoi and Ha Long Bay was Mango. Our tour of Hanoi included Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum but we did not go inside (I still don't know why), his residence, the Temple of Literature, One-Pillar Pagoda, a break for lunch (we went to the Club de L'Oriental 2 blocks from the hotel recommended by Mango- a lovely old building and a delicious upscale Vietnamese lunch with enough time to take a taxi 10 minutes away to an antique gallery and back to the hotel for the afternoon tour). We went to Ngoc Son pagoda (a repeat for us), followed by a cyclo (pedicab) tour of the Old Quarter for 30 minutes and then the Water Puppet Show. We were back at the hotel by 6PM and then we had an independent dinner at Green Tangerine (Vietnamese French).HA LONG BAY The next morning our bags were outside our rooms by 7AM and we had breakfast. We met in the lobby by 8AM for departure to Ha Long Bay. Our bags were checked by us to be certain they were there and put on our bus. We were told to pack an overnight bag just for the overnight on the junk and that we would have an opportunity the following day before we went to the airport to repack our bags. The trip to Ha Long Bay took about 3.5 hours with a stop for restrooms and to shop at a very large store selling embroidered silk & cotton thread pictures (made on-site), souvenirs, gifts, jewelry, etc. The prices were not cheap but you could negotiate. I purchased a hand embroidered silk picture-others purchased lacquerware, gifts, clothing. We arrived at Ha Long Bay around noon and boarded our junk. There were 3 junks for our group since each one could only accommodate about 22 people. The cabins were randomly assigned once onboard and we had a buffet lunch in the dining room which also doubled as the bar and lounge area. Unfortunately it was overcast and cold so we did not have the opportunity to sit on the sun deck. The junk was well-appointed with a public bathroom on the second deck, the same deck as the dining room/bar/lounge. There were cabins on the first and second decks and the sun deck was on deck 3. The buffet lunch was good. Our cabin,on deck 2, was on the small side but was very well-appointed- nice size bathroom, individual a/c and heat, a safe, nightstands, lamps and 2 picture windows (all cabins are the same-only the deck location is different). After lunch we were taken by a smaller boat to see a floating fishing village which was an eye-opener. This was one of the many such villages we would see throughout our trip. This particular one had about 700 people who lived here year round. After this excursion (we stayed on the boat the entire time as there is no place to disembark and walk around), we went back to our junk for some down-time. Before dinner there was a fruit and vegetable carving demonstration. We ate dinner around 7 PM which was buffet but with some wait staff service, socialized a bit and then turned in after a very full day. The next morning was Tai Chi on the sun deck at 7AM. The weather was cold and misty but a few of us braved the elements for 30 minutes of Tai Chi which was most enjoyable. There was coffee and some pastries from 7-9AM and there was an optional 1-hour tour to the caves until 9AM. My DH went but I opted to stay behind with some others and enjoy my morning coffee and read. When they returned from the tour a full brunch (it was 10AM) was served. We had already checked out of our cabin before breakfast and left the junk at 11:30AM to board the bus. We stopped on the way to the airport at a golf resort for lunch at which time we took our luggage off the bus to repack if we wanted to. We were told that we would not see our checked luggage again until we went to our hotel room in Siem Reap as we were being checked-in for our flight and our luggage put on the plane by Thinh and his assistants. Lunch at the golf club was uneventful-a buffet with some unusually matched appetizers including French fries (apparently for western tastes) and a choice of sandwiches or Pho (pronounced Pha-a) which we chose while on the bus the day before. It was served to us at communal tables with plenty of beer, soft drinks and bottled water included with the lunch. After about an hour we were back on the bus to the Hanoi airport. There were some duty free shops, some with decent prices, but not so for any western goods such as perfumes. We were given our boarding passes with our passports (passports were given to Thinh the day before). A word now about the Cambodian visas: I opted to obtain mine through the Cambodian evisa website before I left home for $25. I wanted to save the hassle of waiting on line in the Siem Reap airport for it to be issued for $20. I heard that it was no big deal but I like to be prepared so I did it all in advance and printed out 2 copies of the evisa and stapled one in each of our passports and kept one each in our passport case for the exit from Cambodia (but it was never collected). At our initial orientation in Hanoi, Thinh told us that he would handle the Cambodian visa for anyone who didn't have one-give him one passport photo, $20USD and your passport when he asked for it and he would take care of the whole thing. So had I known this I obviously would have done it differently BUT there is no way to know that the tour manager on your tour will also handle it this way. I know that on a tour in November 2010 the individual passengers had to get their own visas upon arrival. We said goodbye to Mango at the airport in Hanoi. The flight from Hanoi to Siem Reap was approximately 1.5 hours and a full meal was served in flight (didn't touch it but some did). SIEM REAP-ANGKOR TEMPLESWe arrived in Siem Reap after sunset to a full moon (very revered as it was the first full moon of the new year) as we walked down from the plane, across the tarmac and into the luggage area. Thinh had expedited our arrival in Siem Reap with the customs agents. Once we retrieved our bags from the luggage belt we were able to walk right through to the bus where they were taken from us to be put in our rooms at the hotel. There was some confusion since we thought we did not have to touch our bags at all and would have them in our rooms after dinner but there must have been some communication error. We arrived at our hotel, Le Meridien, and went straight to dinner in the main dining room. Our room keys were given to us at dinner, again the rooms were randomly assigned. Dinner was very good and served buffet style with many stations and a large selection. All of the food was fresh and delicious and we were told that we could drink the water and ice. After dinner we went up to our room which was large and comfortable. DH's bag was not there but was recovered from another room in 20 minutes. We decided to check our emails and use our Skype account (the hotel charges $8 per 24 hours for internet access). That's when we found out that our office was frantically trying to reach us to find out about the junk that sunk on Ha Long Bay the same night we were there. After emails assuring them that it wasn't us, we went to sleep. Luckily, our junk trip was not cancelled. Had it been scheduled for the following night we would not have been able to do it as the Vietnamese government cancelled all junk trips for a few days to inspect all of the junks. The next morning we had the included lavish buffet breakfast in the hotel and boarded the green bus with our Cambodian guide, Chantha, at 8:30 AM. Our first stop was to get our 3-day pass for the temple sites for which we had to have our pictures taken and wear it around our necks at all of the sights. The first stop was Angkor Thom where we visited the South Gate, Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants and the Leper King. The complex is incredible as you approach and just beautifully carved with intricate designs that are more than 800 years old. The bus had cold water bottles all the time and it was important to wear sunscreen and drink alot during the days as the humidity was high, the sun hot and there was little, if any, shade. There is alot of walking involved and some steep climbing. For those that did not want to climb, one of the other guides stayed with that group and walked around the base area with them and we met up later. We had to leave our bus and take a smaller shuttle bus to and from the entrance so on the return it was very hot-drink lots of water! It is also advised to wear a hat and bring an umbrella for shade which many people did. We went back to the hotel at 11:30 for a lunch break for 3 hours. We opted to take the green bus into town with some others so our guide could take us to a laundry to drop-off our clothes. The charge is $2USD per kilo (2.2 pounds) and it is weighed right in the bag. It would be ready the next day at 5PM (there are no dryers because electricity is so expensive so you need to wait a day for them to dry). Chantha also showed us a great place nearby to eat lunch, The Ankgor Palm restaurant. The meal was delicious, organic and cheap. We had a dish called Amok which is a local fish steamed in a banana leaf with coconut milk, ginger and spices with rice. It was wonderful washed down with Tiger beer. Our friend decided to get a local haircut around the block and was back 30 minutes later and $3 lighter. We took a "tuk-tuk" back to the hotel. They are known by a variety of names-rickshaw, cyclo, pedicab, etc. Some are powered by bicycle from the back (Hanoi & Saigon) and others by motobikes in the front (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh). The average price is $1 but can go as high as $5 depending on the number of people (some can take as many as 4 people) and the distance. You must negotiate the price before you get in. We met in the lobby for the afternoon tour of Angkor Wat. The place is mammoth and the approach is awe-inspiring. It was sunny, hot and humid (sunscreen, hat, umbrella & WATER!!). After the tour, we had the option of going back to the hotel or up Phonm Bakheng hill with our guide to watch the sunset. I chose to return to the hotel but DH opted for the sunset. Unfortunately, there was little sunset as a big, black cloud blocked most of the sun. That evening we were on our own for dinner so the four of us went into town to eat at the Red Piano, recommended by our guide on Pub Street. It was made famous by the cast of Tomb Raider (Angelina Jolie) while filming in the area. Compared to our lunch at The Angkor Palm it was very overrated. Pub Street has the proverbial restaurants, bars and shops and is an interesting place to walk around. There are the fish foot massage shops that have large tanks of skin eating fish that love to nibble away the dead skin from tourists' feet for $3 for 15 minutes. We saw alot of that but did not partake. We finished off with ice cream from The Blue Pumpkin and some window (stall) shopping but did not buy anything. It had been a very long day so by 10PM we were back in a tuk-tuk for the trip back to the hotel.The following morning started with breakfast at 7AM and then back on the bus at 8 AM for the trip to Bantey Srei. This is the temple complex featured in the movie "Indiana Jones Temple of Doom". The trees and roots literally grow out of, on top of, and around the temple. There were some wonderful photo opportunities. We bought a lovely watercolor of the ruins painted by a young artist from a group of orphans and disabled people. He signed it and rolled it into a small wicker tube. I was sorry that I didn't get a picture of him with the painting to keep together. I also should have bought another one-good cause and very unique. Our next stop was Ta Phrom, my favorite of all the temples. Made of sandstone, Ta Phrom is also the oldest (9th C.AD) and I think the most beautifully and intricately carved of all we saw. It also seemed to be the least visited. It is amazing that at all of the temples we visited you can climb on the rocks, touch everything and access is virtually unrestricted. This will most certainly change in the future. Several passengers had purchased woven straw water bottle holders for $1 (everything seemd to cost $1) at some of the sights the prior day so I was happy to find them here, purchased one and brought it home. It's a good souvenir and very practical. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a roadside village and watched palm sugar being made. It was quite interesting. I actually bought some (3 wicker rolls for $2). I also bought a locally made batik fabric for my daughter who is into that kind of stuff. They are worn by the local women as skirts wrapped around their waists to just above their ankles. This afternoon was to be our last time with our guide, Chantha. On behalf of his local tour company, we were given a small gift - a wicker gift box with a silver trinket box inside. All of us had different shaped silver items. Ours were a squash and an elephant. These boxes are locally made of Cambodian silver and are sold throughout Cambodia of differing quality but a lovely and unexpected gift and remembrance of our time in Cambodia. We returned to the hotel in time for lunch (on our own). We sat in the lounge enjoying a cool drink and opted to eat at the hotel for lunch. My DH stayed in the room for a nap while I decided to go for a swim. Our guide offered to take those that were interested to the local market (Old Market) for a couple of hours but I decided not to go. I just couldn't face another market and the heat. Instead, I went into the hotel gift shop where I purchased for gifts 3 pair of locally made silver earrings, 5 raw silk scarves and small wicker baskets filled with bags of locally grown saffron and chili peppers. That night the group had a lovely dinner at the hotel which included a BBQ of prawns, satays, vegetables, squid and other seafood in addition to an expansive dinner buffet. We were treated to a beautifully performed traditional Apsara Dance show while we ate.RIVER TRIP ON LA MARGUERITEOur bags were outside our rooms at 7AM and it was registration for La Marguerite in the lobby from 7-7:45AM after which we had breakfast. We were given tags for our luggage and made sure the tags were placed on our bags and that the bags were counted and placed on our bus. We left the hotel at 8AM with our new guide, Vantheany (we called her Teeny), for the 5-hour ride to our embarkation point. Due to low water levels at this time of the dry season, we could not embark on Tonle Sap Lake as cruises do during the rainy season. Our embarkation point was to be Prek Kdam. On the way we would have a bathroom break and visit a small marketplace. The road was almost only 1 lane and dirt most of the trip. The landscape was flat, dusty and somewhat brown due to the dry season. Occasionally there was a hill in the distance, workers in a field, a small hamlet with oxen, houses, children. We stopped at Kampong Thom for a bathroom break and to check out the local market. There were fried tarantulas, fried crickets, snakes, sticky rice and a large variety of local fruit-mangos, pineapple, papaya, dragon fruit, bananas, peanuts (locally grown), tamarind, etc. On the bus, Teeny treated us to sticky rice cooked with black beans in bamboo which is then peeled back and eaten by hand. It was quite good. Some in the group purchased bananas and pineapple, all of which were very tasty. Teeny also purchased some locally grown peanuts which had been boiled for us to sample. Again, quite good. We finally arrived at our embarkation point, Prek Kdam, at 1:30PM. There were some local villagers watching us as we exited our buses and walked down the river bank over dried mud steps to reach the small wood and rope gangplank onto La Marguerite. There were several crew members assisting us with our carry-on bags and steadying us as we made our way onboard. We were directed to our cabins to drop-off our things and then to the dining room on the Main Deck (aft) for a buffet lunch. There are also cabins on this deck. We were on the Saigon Deck-deck 2- where the Saigon Lounge was aft, the Library was forward, the office was mid-ship as was the small gift shop. Deck 3 had cabins, the Sun Deck (aft), the fitness room, showers and massage rooms in between. The cabins were very well-appointed with an efficient use of space and a large bathroom. The linens were soft and the towels thiick and plentiful. There were slippers and bathrobes in the closet, a hairblower and a safe. There was a cushioned banquette next to a large picture window (under which was a full-length deep drawer,a desk (on top of which was the TV, DVD player, a large, working old-fashioned fan and an old-fashioned telephone that worked for room-to-room calls only), a desk chair, 2 night stands with 2-drawers each, bedside lamps and overhead lights and a french balcony with a door that opened but room enough for 1 person to stand only. There was always coffee and tea available on the Sun Deck together with a full bar, a small, raised pool and lounge chairs, tables and chairs, some of which were covered from the sun and elements by canvas. All three decks are accessed by a semi-spiral 3-story wooden staircase with wrought iron railings. While all cabins, the dining room, Saigon Lounge, Library, gift shop, massage & exercise rooms and office are air-conditioned, the central part of the ship was usually warm due to exterior doors being kept open or cabin hallway doors not being closed. At first it was uncomfortable, but after a day or so, it was fine and people started closing the doors more often. The gift shop was left open and unattended most of the time but the office was across the way so it wasn't a problem if you wanted to buy something. There was always a bartender on the Sun Deck and the Saigon Lounge and in the evening there was a classical piano player in the Lounge. That is where most people congregated throughout the cruise since it was air conditioned, had internet access when it was available, beverages, etc. The Library also had a good assortment of paperbacks, board games and DVD's (the flat screen TV in the cabins only played DVD's-no television). We brought some DVD's from home but they would not play as they were incompatible with the local technology so save luggage space and don't bother. There were also 2 PC's in the Library that usually worked OK when there was internet service available. Occasionally, there was a problem but someone from the office was usually available to fix it. Many passengers had laptops, iPad's, etc. so there wasn't much of a problem that I saw with access to the computers. The Saigon Lounge and the Library were the only 2 places with internet access. We had a life-vest safety briefing on the first and second days due to the junk sinking on Ha Long Bay. AMA was very concerned about safety and all of our boat trips during the cruise required that everyone have and WEAR their life vest before the boat would leave. Breakfast and lunch were buffet each day and there was always a station for omelets and Pho in the morning and at least one special hot food station at lunch. Breakfast consisted of cereals, fruits, juices, eggs, potatoes, breads, yogurts, cheeses, smoked fish, etc. Lunch was several hot entrees, a selection of several cold salads, cheeses, breads, crackers, desserts. There was always free coffee and teas(cappuccinos, espressos, specialty coffees were charged), water, soft drinks, local wines, beers & spirits available at no charge. International liquors, beers, wines were charged. There was a mini-bar in the cabin that had snacks and drinks for a charge but the water was always free and replenished daily and whenever you wanted. Water was also provided in a canvas shoulder strap bag when departing on every excursion (a hand wipe was also in the bag) and upon every return there was a cold cloth and glasses of iced fruit juice waiting. Breakfast was usually served between 7-9AM (you could arrive at any time); lunch was usually from 12:30-1:30PM (you could arrive at any time) and dinner was seated and served (no buffet) at 7 or 7:30PM (depending on what was going on before or after that) and ended around 9-9:30. There were no reserved tables and people ate where and with whom they wanted. After awhile, people seemed to gravitate towards certain groups and tables and the staff seemed to know who they were and their preferences.Most morning excursions left the ship by color between 8-8:30AM and returned by 11-11:30AM with some exceptions. The afternoon excursions usually left between 2-3PM and returned by 5-5:30PM, again with a few exceptions. Before dinner each evening we would meet in the Saigon Lounge for 30 minutes to discuss the next day's itinerary and for Thinh to make announcements and answer questions. The crew would serve drinks and there would be a daily drink (alcoholic) served by request for no charge. We would also be served a small appetizer such as a fried spring roll (never gave us a napkin though to wipe off our fingers). Dinner was selected from a menu on the dining table (the menu and times were also posted outside the dining room each day). There would be 1-2 set appetizers, a choice of soups, salads and a choice of one of 2 main courses and one of 3 desserts. There was always grilled chicken breast, steak and hamburger with French fries available as well as ice cream (the coconut was wonderful), cheese and crackers for dessert. On a couple of evenings I was not impressed with the entrees offered so I chose steak and chicken breast. They were quite accommodating about substituting certain potatoes and vegetables although the staff sometimes had language issues. Still, they were young and so willing to please that it was enjoyable to be around them. And they are still training and work very hard to understand what it is that you want. We found that they were hard-working and very polite. Our cabin steward, Luong, was phenomenal. In addition to being a great singer, he was always working. He was constantly straightening up our cabin, replacing towels and cleaning our shoes. After many excursions of walking on dirt roads, etc., we would come back to the ship where damp towels would be placed on the floor to wipe your feet. Still, I hesitated bringing the shoes into the cabin and on 2 occasions rinsed them in the shower. I would leave them outside our cabin with the intent of cleaning them later. For a few days I couldn't understand how they were winding up in our cabin looking very clean and placed on plastic until I found out from another passenger that Luong was cleaning the shoes. Incredible! He earned a separate tip at the end of the cruise.This is a good place to discuss tipping. Like many cruise ships, a suggested tip is $10 per day per person and can be added to your ship account at the end of the cruise and charged by credit card (as long as the total amount is more than $25USD) or you can settle your shipboard account in cash (USD or Dong are accepted although all charges are in USD). We added $140 to our account for the tips, tipped Luong an additional $20 and handed Thinh an envelope the final night of $140 ($10 per day times the 14 days we were with him). As for other tips: We were fortunate enough to be in a group that was traveling together as a large group so they would work out a tip for the guide and bus driver based upon how many days we were with them. So for example, if we were with the guide for 2 full days, it would usually be $8-10 per person total for the guide and $4 per person for the driver. We would pass along an envelope for each and the leader of their group would present it on behalf of all of us at the end of our time with them along with a little speech. This relieved us of figuring out how much to tip, made sure they got a tip from everyone and got it all at once. We did it in USD and it worked out well since once the envelope was being passed you could make change and get more dollar bills! If we had a driver just for the afternoon, we would tip him $2 for both of us. Entertainment on the ship was well done. One night we watched the movie "The Killing Fields" which was an excellent introduction to Phnom Penh and the history of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Another evening in Phnom Penh a troupe of orphaned teenagers were onboard playing traditional instruments and dancing traditional dances. They were excellent. Another night we had 2 Vietnamese singers and 3 musicians playing traditional instruments. All entertainment was in traditional costume, including the night that the crew and guides entertained us. One of the nights we were in Phnom Penh we took a tuk-tuk after dinner onboard to Raffles Hotel for Singapore Slings in the Elephant Bar. That was fun! On the way to Sa Dec, Vietnam, the crew left on our beds the DVD of the movie, "The Lover", Marguerite Dumas' story of her affair with Mr. Le (Marguerite is the namesake of the ship, La Marguerite). Unfortunately, our copy must have been a bootleg since it stopped every 30 seconds so we never watched it after the first 20 minutes. Otherwise, people had drinks & conversed, or played cards & board games, searched the web, sent emails or went back to their cabins. There was Mr. Hai, the piano player, who was an accomplished classical pianist but instead played mostly western songs which seemed to fall flat. By the end of each day we were happy to retire to our cabin to read but usually fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. On 2 of the days we had lectures on Cambodia & Vietnam in the late afternoon after our excursions. On our one sea day, there was a cooking class and an ice cream party. On that day I had a wonderful 2-hr. body scrub and hot stone massage-a real treat- that I booked the first day onboard. Our daytime excursions in Cambodia, excluding Phnom Penh, were to small floating villages and towns with local markets selling local fruits, vegetables, fish, herbs, spices, etc. and to pagodas and schools. For most excursions, we were met by a local boat that pulled up alongside the Marguerite. We were always helped aboard and there were individual seats, life vests and a canopy. One afternoon we were met at the river bank in Kampong Tralach by 45 ox carts from several villages who took us on a 20-minute ride to our buses which would take us to the largest Buddhist pagoda in Cambodia-the Buddhism Center in Oudong. As the ox carts traveled along the dirt road, children would run or bike alongside. I brought a big box of pencils from home to give out to the children. They would respond by placing their hands together as if praying-the Cambodian way of saying hello and thank you. It was wonderful to see their faces and watch them call over their friends for their pencils. Children were everywhere-40% of the population of Cambodia is under the age of 15 and while education is compulsory, it is not enforced. Much of the population is too poor to buy the required uniform and books so many don't attend school which is a terrible shame. LA MARGUERITE-PHNOM PENHWe arrived in Phnom Penh on the third day and were docked there for 3 nights. The dock is along the waterfront street of Sisowath Quay Road, lined with shops, restaurants, hotels, tourist shops, ATMs, etc. FYI-ATMs in Cambodia dispense USD. When using the ATM you will be given a choice of withdrawing money from checking, savings or universal. Press the universal button. Also, if for some reason the ATM starts beeping (similar to a home burglar alarm), withdraw your card immediately and either start again or find another ATM. While this didn't happen to us, we were warned by others that it may mean the machine is about to "eat" your card. From the Marguerite to the street you must walk up 75 shallow metal steps or up a metal incline attached on the side of the steps. The port at street level is actually a parking lot for cars, tour buses and tuk-tuks. The port closes officially at 11PM but you can get back in by paying $1 (we were never asked and just walked in as we pleased). We were able to leave the ship the first night if we wanted but chose to stay onboard and watch "The Killing Fields" which didn't end until almost 11PM. The next morning we went by bus to the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum returning to the ship for lunch. We were also given the option to have the bus and guide take us to the Central Market (Phsar Thom Thmei) to shop for an hour or so after our excursion. They waited for us or we could take a tuk-tuk back to the ship. The market is indoors as well as having stalls along the outside and at all 4 entrances, all selling gold, silver, jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, flowers, food, fabrics, scarves, shoes, etc. There is also a Russian market that sells similar goods and is supposed to be cheaper with more bargaining. I don't know if any one actually went to the Russian market to shop. We decided to find a laundry and found one a block from the pier. Once again, it was $2 per kilo and it would be ready by 5 the next afternoon. That afternoon there was an optional excursion to the "Killing Fields" (Choeung Ek Memorial) and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the Kmer Rouge's detention center in Phnom Penh.. The other option was to stay onboard or spend the time on your own. We chose the former and were so glad we did. It is quite disturbing, especially since the killing fields site we visited is only one of many such sites where the Khmer Rouge did their dirty deeds. Nevertheless, the sobering sites should not be missed as they put in context the painful recent history of the Cambodian people. This evening we went to Raffles by tuk-tuk.On our final full day in Phnom Penh, the ship had traveled downriver to a local silk-weaving village at Chong Koh. Most of the green bus opted instead to visit a local elementary school right near where we were docked to give out pens, pencils and toiletries we had collected at our hotels and on the ship. We visited grades K-6, met the teachers, principal and had a translator. The children were adorable, appreciative and eager to meet the group of strangers. Expect to be greeted by local women and children selling scarves. The children latched on to me immediately and followed me everywhere. When I agreed to buy scarves from them I was surrounded by all of them and the adult women. I negotiated with them and handed off each scarf to my DH who also paid. I would still be there had it not been for the ship's horn and Thinh patiently waiting for us to get onboard. I have wonderful pictures of these children and great memories (and lots of scarves, too). This was a highlight of our trip as were all encounters with the children. The afternoon was free with an optional walking tour led by Teeny to Wat Phnom, a park with a hill in the middle of Phnom Penh with several pagodas on top, one honoring Madam Penh, the founder of the city. So after lunch and before the walking tour, DH and I decided we wanted to buy silver serving utensils as a gift to ourselves and went back to the Central Market by tuk-tuk. The short story is that a shopkeeper directed us to her cousin's shop along Sisowath Quay in the hotel district (across the street from Hotel Cambodiana) where we bought a set of 4 beautifully carved, handmade serving pieces and were taken by their English speaking young friend by tuk-tuk back and forth to the store, an ATM and the pier. We decided to take the optional walking tour during that afternoon during which Teeny introduced us to ripe lotus seeds, hanging fruit bats and a group of monkeys, one of whom stole her lotus seeds. That night after dinner we enjoyed the traditional dance performed by the Cambodian children, said goodbye to Teeny and met our Vietnamese guide, Dauo, who would be with us for the remainder of the trip.LA MARGUERITE-VIETNAMThe next day was our only "sea" day so we slept in (until 8:30) to make breakfast which ended at 9AM. La Marguerite left the pier and we watched Phnom Penh recede in the distance as we merged with the mighty Mekong River, a sight that you can actually observe since the Mekong is blue-green. Today we would cross the border into Vietnam. There was a fruit carving demonstration, an ice cream "party" and a day of down time, much relished after 10 days of nearly constant activity. Late that afternoon we moored in Tan Chau, the first Vietnamese town on the Mekong. This evening was a briefing by Thinh of tomorrow's activities, dinner and an enjoyable show by the crew and guides.In the morning we took a local boat to Tan Chau town where were met onshore by a sea of rickshaws (Xe Loi). Along our route through town we were greeted by locals, always waving and smiling. We visited a slipper making factory and a rattan mat factory and walked through a small enclave of locals to our motorboat which would take us down narrow channels to an evergreen island. We met and mingled with the villagers, their oxen, the local fisherman, and seamstress. We met the children, handed out more pencils and pens, saw their crops (bananas, corn, chili peppers, rice) and watched them build a pond to catch fish from the canal when the river rises during rainy season. We returned to the ship for lunch and cruised further down the river to Sa Dec while enjoying a free afternoon onboard. After a briefing by Thinh, we enjoyed dinner and a Vietnamese traditional folklore performance.The next day was our final touring day on the river. After breakfast, a local boat transferred us to Sa Dec for a walking tour. We strolled the incredible local food market- fresh (very) fowl, fish and vegetables and had a sampling of some exotic fruits. Next was the family home of Mr. Le, Marguerite Dumas' lover. The next stop was a 1-hour bus ride to Xeo Quyt, the former Viet Cong base (described in the materials as "a base to lead the province's people to contribute their strength to that of the whole country to carry out victoriously the anti-French and US war of resistance for the salvation of the fatherland"). It was interesting and involved walking along dirt paths and over footbridges. This was the only place that we applied bug spray (40% DEET) although there appeared to be no bugs (some passengers had taken anti-malarial drugs but Thinh said they were not necessary where we would be and apparently he was correct as we never saw any bugs and never were bitten). Those passengers that did not want to travel to Xeo Quyt returned to the ship and it sailed to Cai Be to meet the others returning from Xeo Quyt. After lunch, there was a mid-afternoon excursion by local boat. We passed the Cai Be Floating Market and took a short tour of a 1930's family home that is now also a guest house. We docked and took a short walk to visit a candy making factory which also made rice paper and snake wine. We returned to the ship for our final evening. Tonight was a farewell dinner, time to settle accounts and pack. HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)We docked in My Tho during the night. Bags were outside our cabin by 7AM and breakfast ended at 8AM. Our bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon or HCM) left the dock at 8:30AM and after a little more than 1 hour we arrived in HCM. Our first stop in HCM was the Emperor Jade Pagoda, an intricately carved figurine pagoda in Cholon (Chinatown). Afterwards, we were taken to the Reunification Palace where Dauo took us on a tour of the interior rooms. Following was a visit to a lacquerware factory (Minh Phuong) where we saw how the various types of lacquerware are made and had an opportunity (very short) to purchase. The number and types of products for sale were so overwhelming that we decided to return the next day with our private guide. Our next stop was Indochine restaurant for an included lunch with the entire group during which we received our room keys for the hotel, again randomly assigned. After lunch we were taken to our hotel, Sofitel Plaza Saigon, to check-in. We had a very large and lovely corner room with a great view. DH had not been feeling well the past 2 days so he remained at the hotel for a nap while we went with our guide and bus to Ben Thanh Market. We had about an hour to traverse this cramped, bustling market teeming with people and goods. I found nothing that I wanted to buy and was just too overwhelmed although some of the ladies purchased several pair of very cheap sandals. We returned to the hotel and decided to spend our friends' final night at Mandarin, a beautiful and elegant Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant with wonderful food and service. Each dish was a work of art and was a fitting finale to a great trip. We would be staying in HCM for 2 more days but they were leaving in the morning so we said our goodbyes that evening.The next morning we met our guide, Zoom, at 8AM in the lobby. We had planned a very full day with him before departing from home. Since we had expected him at 9, he sat with us as we ate our buffet breakfast (included). We had a private car and driver in addition to Zoom. Our first stop was Giac Lam Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Saigon. From there we went to Binh Tay Market in Chinatown, even more crowded than Ben Thanh if that were possible. Zoom navigated us all around as we watched the inventive ways goods are delivered to the market. Again, we found nothing we were interested in buying. Next it was lunch at Pho 2000 where we enjoyed great pho and excellent spring rolls, then on to a different lacquer workshop than the one we visited the previous day. Here we purchased a lacquer lotus plate, wine bottle stands and covered lacquer boxes inlaid with mother of pearl-all for reasonable prices. They were packed in bubble wrap for the trip home. We stopped outside the Reunification Palace where we had an interesting discussion with Zoom about the war, politics, life in HCM and Vietnam. Our next stop was the War Remnants Museum, an over-the-top propaganda museum but worth the visit. We drove past the Opera House, City Hall, went inside Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office, and then enjoyed a wonderful Vietnamese iced coffee drink at the rooftop Garden Bar of the Rex Hotel with a wonderful view of the skyline, Opera House and City Hall. It was at the Rooftop Garden that the U.S. daily briefing took place during the Vietnam War and was also allegedly CIA Headquarters during the war. After a very full and most enjoyable day with Zoom, we returned to the hotel and said goodbye to Zoom (the next day he dropped off a CD of all the pictures he took with us the day of the tour). We looked through our guidebook for a restaurant for dinner and decided that we needed some Western food. We opted for Skewers, a Mediterranean inspired restaurant a short taxi ride away. The food was good, not great, but it was what we were looking for that evening. After dinner, the restaurant called a taxi and we went to the Caravelle Hotel, across from the Opera House, and went up to the 5th floor Saigon, Saigon Bar. We sat out on the terrace and enjoyed the beautiful view of the gorgeously lit City Hall and other buildings while listening to a Cuban Latin band. We decided to have a nightcap at the Rooftop Garden Bar at the Rex so we crossed the street, took some great pictures of City Hall and capped the evening off at the Rex. Our final day in Saigon was a full one as we did not need to be at the airport until 9:30PM. We arranged to pay for a half day at the hotel so we didn't need to check out until 7PM. After our included buffet breakfast with a couple from the ship (several people only took the cruise portion of the trip), we decided we were oriented enough to walk to the area near City Hall where DH was told by Zoom he could buy the watch he wanted. Surprisingly, we realized that we were only 6-7 blocks from this area and the walk was easy. We passed the US Consulate, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office and several shopping malls and department stores. Our watch hunting was ultimately not successful but that was OK. We decided to walk down Don Khoi Street, the major shopping street, towards the Saigon River. We were told by Zoom that it was not very safe to walk along the river (pickpockets) but we wanted to go into the oldest hotel in Saigon, the 1920's French-era Hotel Majestic, at the foot of Don Khoi Street and the river. We went up to the Sky Bar for a drink and enjoyed a great view of the river. After enduring the heat and humidity, we left and walked back up Don Khoi street to Mojo for lunch at the Sheraton Hotel. Mojo is a funky place with a menu of sandwiches, salads, international as well as Vietnamese dishes. Following lunch, we walked along Le Loi Street to the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum. The museum, which costs the equivalent of $.50 per person, is a 3-story French villa with an original 1920's era elevator and a wonderful display of historic and contemporary sculpture, paintings and lacquerware. The museum is not air-conditioned so it might be a better stop in the morning. We walked back the way we came on Le Loi Street, stopping in the Park Hyatt for a cold drink and a glass of wine while cooling down and resting our feet. The hotel is very modern and the art work is beautiful. It seemed that we had probably been in every high-end hotel in the city save one or two. We walked back to the Sofitel exhausted and a little disappointed that we did not make it to the City Museum for the Water Puppet show that could only be seen between 5 and 6 that day. After doing some final packing and taking showers, we checked out of our room and left our bags with the bellman. We asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation. He suggested an Italian restaurant a short taxi ride away and he made a reservation for us. When we arrived at L'Hostaria, we were greeted by the manager from Turin who luckily had a table for us since there was a very large party of Germans occupying most of the tables. And it was lucky since the food was wonderful, the wine very good and the prices very reasonable. It was a delicious dinner capping a fantastic trip. We returned to the hotel, picked up our bags and took a taxi to the airport 25 minutes away. We flew to Tokyo, had a 5 hour layover and were back home 26 hours later but on the same day we left HCM.It was a memorable and very special trip. Read Less
OUTSTANDING!!! Viking does everything for you. They are the most accommodating cruise line I've ever been on. Because almost all tours are included, the price is about what I booked it for, without the hidden costs associated with ... Read More
OUTSTANDING!!! Viking does everything for you. They are the most accommodating cruise line I've ever been on. Because almost all tours are included, the price is about what I booked it for, without the hidden costs associated with large ship, ocean cruising.
The food was excellent. The choices are more limited than ocean liners, but all very good, and served with friendliness and professionalism. T
he tours were outstanding. Most included a local guide, along with a Ships representative, so every need was met. Tours were very comprehensive, and better than most that I've paid for. Read Less
Service was excellent, food was out of this world great and shore excursions were wonderful. This was my first cruise and I highly recommend it to everyone I know-this boat is like a home away from home with adventures in every port. I ... Read More
Service was excellent, food was out of this world great and shore excursions were wonderful. This was my first cruise and I highly recommend it to everyone I know-this boat is like a home away from home with adventures in every port. I would definitely cruise again with AQ! The Hop ON Hop OFF bus is wonderful since it allows a passenger to see the cities at their own pace. If a particular museum or shop was boring then I'd just leave. The AQ provides maps and itenary each night in the form of a newsletter and the app has a map as well. The hotel we stayed the night before the trip was the Sheraton Downtown Memphis and it was wonderful, great staff and beautifully decorated for the holidays. The restaurants nearby were very nice and downtown was pretty safe to walk around in. The activities aboard the AQ are wonderful the music acts are very talented and they involved the audience. The shore excursions are well planned and thought out. This cruise isn't suggested for young children as there isn't a children's club or venue for them. This is for the older crowd. Read Less
Munich: With Munich only a one hour train ride away from Nuremberg, it was the obvious choice for our pre-cruise City.
Christmas Market: Munich has several markets that blend together in the Marienplatz. We also found a ... Read More
Munich: With Munich only a one hour train ride away from Nuremberg, it was the obvious choice for our pre-cruise City.
Christmas Market: Munich has several markets that blend together in the Marienplatz. We also found a nice one near our Hotel at Weissenburgerplatz. The Munich Christmas Markets seemed to have the right mix of glitz, crafts, and coziness. It's sad to say, since it wasn't on the itinerary, but we probably liked Munich's Christmas market better than those on the Cruise. There is also a small Christmas Market at the Munich Airport. A lot of passenger's we later met on the Cruise also did a pre-cruise in Munich. We took the train from Munich to the Nuremberg Train Station, hopped on the U-Bahn to the Airport, and picked up the Uniworld bus for the transfer. Odd that Uniworld train station transfers were available for disembarking, but not for transfers to the Boat.
Public Areas: Small but cozy. The River Duchess was decorated for Christmas and holiday cookies were available in each public room. The central atrium has the main desk, Cruise Manager desk, and sliding glass doors on either side for those wishing to take a picture or engage their smoking habit. The Cruise desk had maps of the each city available the night before. The exercise room had two treadmills and two elliptical machines. The internet was slow to non-existent on the two computers in the Library so both the internet and wi-fi was free for the entire cruise. There were some shows in the Lounge provided by local talent. The sun deck had wind protection, but due to the cold was rarely visited until the Rhine Valley. The passengers were almost all Americans with a few from England, Australia, and the Republic of Texas.
Room: About average for a Cruise ship with a larger than normal shower. The bathroom was elegant with soap, body wash, conditioner, shampoo, plus complimentary vanity kit, Emory boards, shower caps, show polish kit, and sewing kit. Many fellow passenger mentioned that regardless of room location both the room floors and bathrooms were cold. Room noise was noticeable whenever going through the 41 locks on this voyage. Plenty of hangars in the closets.
Food: A little above average.
Breakfast (7:00am-9:00am) was the same every morning. A hot bar with scrambled eggs, bacon (plus crispy bacon), pancakes, sausage; cold cereal, yogurt, and fruit; breads; a custom Omelet/egg station, plus a "specialty" item-of-the-day.
Lunch (1:00pm-2:30pm) was better than average, although there were less options then larger Cruise ships. Same set-up as at breakfast, with two hot courses; bread and salad areas, and carving/specialty station.
Dinner (7:00pm-9:00pm) was open seating. 4-5 courses. Beer (Beck's) and wine (both red and white) was free at dinner and quickly refilled. Except for the two Captain's dinners, there were always three choices of a main dish: one meat, one fish and one vegetarian. There was always steak, chicken or salmon if none of the main courses suited you. Since this was the only option for dinner, it became my least favorite part of the cruise. If you are tired from a long day in port, you are not always eager to sit down for a two hour formal dinner. A "light dinner" option such as was available for breakfast and lunch would have been nice. The open seating reminded me of High School with everyone scrambling for seats and table pairings until friends were made and favorite waiters were discovered. Desserts and the Pastries provided during tea time were among the best I have had on a cruise in both variety and quality.
Staff: The staff was equal to any 5-star resort. This was a welcome change from the diminishing service standards found lately on most large Cruise ships. The Ship's Crew was primarily Dutch, with the Hotel/Wait staff mostly from Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Mirella, the Cruise manager, was a joy and seemed to be everywhere including on the tours.
Check-in: Quick and painless. Probably faster than many Hotels I've stayed at. Upon leaving the bus, ship's crewman were available to take our bags to the ship, (which was 12 feet away). Walking up the short gangplank takes you straight to the check-in desk. Two minutes later, one of the cabin attendants (all lined up smartly on the steps) took our bags to the room.
A personal note: I always arrive at least a day early and take the opportunity for a pre-cruise tour. On the first day of this Cruise, all flights from Frankfurt were canceled due to snow, and 35 passengers straggled to the ship over the next two days, most without their bags. As of day 5, at least two parties still hadn't received their bags. Scheduling your arrival on the day of departure and risk missing your ship or ruining your vacation is not an itinerary I would ever recommend.
Docking location: About a 20 minute drive from town at the Nuremberg Port.
Bus tour and pickup: Bus pickup was next to the boat. The day started with a 90 minute bus tour at 9:00am, with a 10 minute stop at the Nazi Rally grounds and a 30 minute stop at Nuremberg Castle (Kaiserburg), ending at the Christmas Market. With few exceptions the tour buses ALWAYS left on time, as did the boat. This was not a cruise for those that amble out a few minutes late expecting the buses or boat to wait.
Christmas Market: The main market is in front of the Cathedral on the Main Square. However, there were stands spread out along several connecting streets. The buses picked us up two blocks from the "Beautiful Fountain" and the "Nuremberg Ring". For those interested in returning to the ship for lunch, buses picked up at 12:30 with hourly returns to the market area. The Nuremberg Christmas Market is famous for the Lebkuchen (gingerbread). There was "Nuremberg Gingerbread" available at several of the subsequent markets, but by the time we left Bavaria it was getting hard to find. Prices here were cheaper than average so if something catches your eye, don't expect a significantly better price at other markets. There was no x-ray or security when returning to the boat. The only requirement upon returning was to drop off your boarding card.
Bamberg: (half day)
Docking location: In a light industrial area, with a 5 minute walk to the bus pickup.
Bus tour and pickup: 9:00am bus pickup and about 15 minutes to town. We met our guides in town and followed them through a 90 minute walking tour of Bamberg, the Town Hall, and the Kaiserdom. Since this was a half day, with the bus leaving at 12:30, I could have passed on the tour, which left us less than two hours to explore the Christmas Market and town.
Christmas Market: The Christmas Market was smaller but nice, with a mix of crafts and typical commercial items. There was a higher percentage of craft items here and for a better price than I found elsewhere. The Schlenkerla Brewery, famous for its smoked beer, was a nice stop for those looking for a real German beer Hall. They literally rolled out the wooden beer barrels into the beer hall when it was time to change the keg.
Docking location: Docked in Wurzburg with a nice view of the Marienberg Citadel. There was a Multiplex theater next to the ship for anyone that felt the need to go for a Movie after dinner.
Bus Tour and Pickup: 9:00am departure. Short walk to the bus pickup and about a 45 minute drive partly on the A-7 Autobahn to Rothenburg. The bus parked outside the city walls, where we met our guides for a 45 minute tour of the City. Pickup was 4:30pm with an hour drive back.
Christmas Market: Rothenburg is a walled City with good shopping and a small Christmas Market. The Meter-long Hot Dogs were a favorite of many here, as well as the all-year-long Christmas shops like Käthe Wohlfahrt.
Wurzburg: (Half Day)
Docking location: Same as Rothenburg.
Bus Tour and Pickup: 9:00 departure. The buses dropped us off downtown right in front of the Wurzburg Residenz and we met our guides for a 45 minute tour of the Palace followed by a guided walk to the Main Square and Christmas Market. The Residenz was worthwhile, but once again, it gave us less than two hours to explore the town and Markets.
Christmas Market: A nice but not spectacular Market with about average prices.
Wertheim: (Half Day)
Docking location: Right in town along the River.
Bus Tour and Pickup: None. Some Passengers left the Boat early since we were docked overnight and everything was right across the street.
Christmas Market: None. It wouldn't open until Dec 12th. This was a Sunday, so very few shops were open. The Fortress could be walked to from town and gave a great opportunity for pictures from the walls. This was a nice town and it's unfortunate it was a Sunday. The older part of town was easily walkable from the boat. Luckily the bakeries and bars were open before our 1:00pm departure!
Docking location: Next to the Lower Main bridge
Bus Tour and Pickup: We opted for the Heidelberg tour for 43 Euros pp. The buses picked up at the Boat and left promptly at 8:30am for the 60 minute drive to Heidelberg.
The guide narrated a quick tour of Frankfurt as the bus made its way to the Autobahn. In Heidelberg we began with a 45 minute tour of the Castle and then the bus dropped us off downtown near the Tourist Office. The bus back left at 4:30pm and arrived at the ship at 5:30pm.
Christmas Market (Heidelberg) There were some small markets in some of the squares, but nothing memorable. The market at Karlsplatz had an ice skating rink with a few stalls and a view of the Castle. The pedestrian shopping street had more to offer for shoppers. The town itself was the main attraction.
Christmas Market (Frankfurt): The Christmas Market at Römerplatz was 15 minute walk from the ship. If the previous Christmas Markets resembled a County Fair, Frankfurt's' resembled Las Vegas with lights, rides, and what seemed like a 50/50 mix of food stalls to craft vendors. It was also packed shoulder-to-shoulder with locals (Frankfurters?) We never regretted skipping dinner on the boat and eating here. There were street performers, Carousels, and plenty to see and do. Prices in the stalls were slightly higher typical of a large city, but there were no special items here that we hadn't seen elsewhere.
Rudesheim: (Half Day)
Docking location: In town about a 5 minute walk from the Christmas Market and Shops.
Bus Tour and Pickup: No bus. We took the "mini-train" to the Musical Museum for an hour tour of antique self-playing musical machines.
Christmas Market: Rudesheim is a tourist town and the shops near the boat were a good place for cheaper souvenirs. There was nothing spectacular about the Christmas market which wound around downtown with additional stalls along the edge of town near the river.
Some of the stalls substituted Rudesheim coffee for Gluhwein.
After leaving at 1:00pm we cruised along the Rhine River Valley. The Castles appeared quickly on both the left and right as soon as we shoved off. These would be worth seeing again during the summer. Unfortunately it was dark after we passed Lorelei Rock and we missed several of the remaining Castles, Koblenz, and the former location of the Remagan bridge.
Docking location: On the other side of the river from the Chocolate Museum, although the provided City map listed alternate docking locations nearer town.
Bus Tour and Pickup: Buses picked up at three different locations while we were here, but all were no more than 10 minutes from the boat. Bus transfer was about 15 minutes, with a drop off next to the Tourism office, which is two blocks from the Cologne Cathedral. This was followed by an uninspired 60 minute tour of the outside of the Cathedral and the surrounding area.
Christmas Market: There are three Markets within easy walking distance. After the quaint markets we had seen up until then, the Cologne markets were more polished. The stalls were more permanent, and the items for sale were more commercially available type goodies you could pick up in the local stores. The market at Rudolphplatz had a Fairy Tale-inspired theme more reminiscent of Disney World. The Medieval Market was in front of the Lindt Chocolate Factory, and was 3 euros for entry to about 20 stalls. There were some renaissance acts every hour or two. We decided to pass. There was also a Christmas Market Train that drove between all five Markets for 5 Euros
Disembarking: Bags were left outside our room at least 30 minutes prior to the bus pickup time. Ship's crew picked up the bags and took them to the bus where each Passenger was asked to identify their bags prior to loading. On our transfer, the crew underestimated the number of bags and we took a 30 minute delay while bags were loaded.
Overall: The commitment to Customer Service was impressive and I would absolutely do another Uniworld cruise. Read Less
Viking sales task was not forthcoming about our cruise ship's location with respect to the Passau train station--we took a taxi though it was only a five minute walk. But all other encounters with Viking personnel were thoroughly ... Read More
Viking sales task was not forthcoming about our cruise ship's location with respect to the Passau train station--we took a taxi though it was only a five minute walk. But all other encounters with Viking personnel were thoroughly professional. We got a warm reception on our arrival at the ship from the ever-helpful front desk personnel. The bottle of sparkling water in our cabin was free, and a further free bottle appeared each day. A plate of fruit and marzipan also greeted us. One could and did sit in our cabin's wide picture window through which we took many a photograph as we cruised along. (Its one downside came when we parked alongside a second Viking ship and cabin window faces cabin window.)
A large cabin with plenty of space to walk about, store clothes and work on the computer. What! Twin beds equipped with twin bedding! And the wifi internet connection worked painfully slowly when it worked at all.
Dinners and dining companions were five star and first rate. I still remember the three-item pumpkin appetizer that preceded the venison. Presentation matches the quality of the food. Have multiple allergies and digestive problems? We don't. But the maitre'd worked with a new-found friend of ours on a nightly basis to develop a special menu for her.
Back in the cabin, want a second pillow to put under your legs? Just ask.
Daily free tours which other cruise lines charge for. Presentations were excellent with no attempt made to sell us gold or a rug. Presenters suggested activities and places to visit during the free time on each tour. Which is how we came to have hot chocolate (mine laced with chili) and Sachertorte at Demels in Vienna (where your table is separated by a plate glass window from the pastry chefs in action.)
An optional overpriced tour is available each day also. Skip the latter; a Hungarian horse show priced at $44E per person lasted exactly 20 minutes. It was a great show, but 2 euro per person per minute is a tad excessive.
Would we do it again? Never in winter--and yes, we were marooned at the airport for a day on our return. Read Less
Christmas Markets. Uniworld Basel to Cologne.
Uniworld's River Queen has recently been refurbished in an over-the-top Royal motif that is intentionally gaudy attaining a certain flamboyant charm. Fastidiously clean, common areas ... Read More
Christmas Markets. Uniworld Basel to Cologne.
Uniworld's River Queen has recently been refurbished in an over-the-top Royal motif that is intentionally gaudy attaining a certain flamboyant charm. Fastidiously clean, common areas and rooms were bright and mirror-lined for a feeling of space.
The food was tasty, simple, plentiful and, thankfully, not "fake fine dining".
Internet (via WiFi and the onboard computers) was priced at 15E for the trip. The connection, however, was mostly slow and frustrating - even more so than big ships.
Staff were friendly, helpful and really seemed to care about service. The Tour Manager, Wauter, was efficient and prompt with little time for guests who wanted to delay others. He got things done without fuss. On Christmas Eve, he was a willing and enthusiastic Santa. during the trip, he seemed to be everywhere at once. Great job!
Entertainment was local, unpretentious, lively and diverse. But if you expect Vegas Acts, River Ships are not for you.
Mario, the hotel Manager, ran a tight operation with a strong team and excellent service. Restaurant was similar with an attentive and helpful team led by Stanislaw.
Onboard laundry, while slow, was an unexpected and prized bonus for light travelers.
All in all, a delightful Christmas Cruise with an interesting itinerary of larger cities. Not for those who want to see quaint villages. Good value. Read Less
IT WAS COLD! IT WAS MAGIC! As we sallied forth each day, braving the elements in search of new and exciting castles and forts and cathedrals and vistas and history, charming markets and good food and drink, I felt like a school child on an ... Read More
IT WAS COLD! IT WAS MAGIC! As we sallied forth each day, braving the elements in search of new and exciting castles and forts and cathedrals and vistas and history, charming markets and good food and drink, I felt like a school child on an incredible field trip. We returned tired and cold but never disappointed. Our ship seemed like the warm, inviting winter home where you relaxed with good friends, good food and good drinks around a roaring fire (not literally) and talked about the day and plans for tomorrow.
Cologne was one of the high points for me. It started with a tour by the best tour guide I have EVER experienced.* He was local, very knowledgeable and marvelously witty. Then we toured the markets on our own; made it to 6 out of 7. The vendors were so nice and they all spoke English. The many goods they offered were beautiful and real (not tourist junk). It snowed the entire day and made everything magical. The cathedrals are magnificent in the snow, a complex maze of black and white. I'll never forget the beauty of Cologne in the snow.
The staff and crew of Viking make you feel that you are home, but with great service and gourmet food. My wife has a gluten allergy which is usually a problem. The dining staff and chefs made her feel special rather than problematic. Every meal was gluten free for her and special bread was hand-delivered. We have never experienced that level of accommodation anywhere. * In 2010 we were both retired and went to Europe for the first time. I refused to be part of a "tour." Had been on Carnival to Nova Scotia and Holland America on the Alaskan Inland Passage. Not my thing. Ride, point, click and back on the bus/ship/whatever is not how I want to see a country, a culture or anything of real interest.
We spent a week by car on our own in Provence followed by Viking's Rhone-Soane cruise from Avignon to Paris, where we spent a week in a small hotel on the West Bank. I have fallen in love with France and Viking River Cruises. I didn't want to leave. I never imagined a tour could be as good as your tours. It always felt like a local, knowledgeable friend was showing a small group of us around his/her neighborhood. No straining to hear, thanks to the closed system from our guide only, no getting left behind when I see something I want to focus on, no rushing to stay near the guide and I always get all my questions answered. If it's my ideal way to travel, it must be Viking River Cruises. I look forward to many more. Read Less
We love the Christmas atmosphere of eastern Europe but having been to Prague, Krakow & Budapest a number of times we were looking for a change, so after a bit of investigation opted for Vikings 'Romantic Danube' cruise in ... Read More
We love the Christmas atmosphere of eastern Europe but having been to Prague, Krakow & Budapest a number of times we were looking for a change, so after a bit of investigation opted for Vikings 'Romantic Danube' cruise in December 2010.
We were a bit apprehensive about our flight transfer they had arranged at Munich airport on the way out as we only had 45 minutes, but we should not have worried as everything went perfectly smoothly and we even had time for a complimentary coffee as we switched terminals. ere met at Budapest Airport by the assistant cruise director and taken to the ship by minibus, easy check in and settled in to our very nice cabin. As we were very familiar with Budapest we did our own thing the first day. We found the 'Open Seating' at meals very good as you could meet lots of your fellow passengers and found you would seek out people with similar interests to have dinner and made some wonderful friends from other country's who we have since had 'meet up's' with in various country's since.
Meals were great with local specialitys on the menu most days with the option of Steak or Roast Chicken or fish for the less adventurist. Beer & wine was free for lunch & dinner, with your glass never being allowed to get less than half full, unlike some cruise line where having Paid for a drinks package found wine waiters wore a 'Cloak of Invisibility'. We visited some wonderful City's & Towns where we always had a walking tour with a local guide with a radio headset so no having to crowd round to here there commentary. Where the ship was moored outwith walking distance from where you were visiting and you had free time to self explore a free shuttle bus was laid on so you could come and go back to the ship at your own pace. Going through the Main Canal lock system during the night as we slept was an amazing feet with not one passenger ever being woken up, for which the crew must be congratulated. Overall a fantastic cruise, but it was on the morning of departure back home that Viking really exceeded themselves. Most of Europe's airports were either closed or suffering severe disruption because of snow storms. Where airports were closed Viking had arranged hotel accommodation or a Free Gratis return journey till a suitable airport was found open. When we arrived at Munich airport we found people who were traveling with other company's who had been sleeping on camp beds in the airport for 4 days having been 'Dumped' and told to make there own arrangement's with their insurance company. Not so with Viking, everything arrange for a very comfortable extension to your holiday. Read Less
After quite a bit of research, I concluded that Amawaterways/APT provided the best in European river cruising - beautiful boats, excellent reputation for customer service, great on board dining, interesting ports of call and very good ... Read More
After quite a bit of research, I concluded that Amawaterways/APT provided the best in European river cruising - beautiful boats, excellent reputation for customer service, great on board dining, interesting ports of call and very good included and optional tours. These cruises are advertised in Australia and New Zealand by APT which is a significant part owner of AmaWaterways. AmaWaterways is the brand known in the USA and Europe. So, last Christmas we set off for Europe looking forward to the much anticipated Europe Christmas time cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam. We were not disappointed - we were delighted with the whole thing! I'll start with customer service, because THE defining customer service we experienced with Amawaterways really showed us the wisdom of our decision to travel with them. As you may know, Europe experienced an extremely cold winter last year and the Main-Danube Canal froze over around December 25th. Whilst another company with a boat preceding us by one day tried - and failed - to get through the Canal, damaging the boat, our Captain was not going to try that approach. Obviously there had been much talk in the background during the previous 24 hours about "plan B", so on December 26th we and 11 others going on to Amsterdam were briefed by the Captain and the Cruise Director about what was to happen on the following day. In short, the company had taken the decision to transport us by coach around the Main Danube Canal, stopping at Nuremberg as per the itinerary, to join their newest and most luxurious boat, MS Amabella, at Bamberg and continue to Amsterdam. You're probably thinking, "Well yes, a bit of a hassle for them, but makes sense". But when I tell you that Amabella was in dry dock, several hours away from the Rhine river, and by "dry dock" meaning totally stripped down - no curtains, furniture, glass ware, crockery, linen ... the list goes on, you perhaps begin to see the extraordinary work they went to in around 24 hours to "get the show back on the road" as they say. By contrast some of the other tour operators sent people to Munich for 10 days (fabulous when you thought you were going up the Rhine!) others had to make the return journey back to Budapest in one of the returning boats. Rudi Schreiner, the Amawaterways President, who had been in Egypt when the possibility of not getting through the Main-Danube Canal arose, returned to Germany and helped plan the detailed logistics of who was going where and stayed with us on the Amabella until Amsterdam. The logistics must have been a nightmare, as it wasn't a simple case of everyone getting on in Budapest and going to Amsterdam. No, they had different tour groups joining and leaving the boat at several points along the way so it was, no doubt, a great moment for lots of spreadsheets! The boats: Amalyra - We started out from Budapest on Amalyra. Built in 2009 it is a lovely boat and the staff excellent. Very friendly and helpful. It had a comforting "homey" feel. Our Captain Henk was very funny and very visible always. I don't mean his figure, rather he definitely lead by example. Rooms on this boat have French balconies and the most amazingly appointed bathrooms with 3 different types of shower, so you could choose "rain", side-pointing massage or hand shower, depending on how you were feeling. We thought they were great once we got the hang of the different control buttons, but they are a challenge for some people. Amabella - Amabella, launched in 2010, is a larger boat (in length not width) and represents another leap in the standard of accommodation (not that there was anything wrong with Amalyra). So we had a larger room with double balconies, a French balcony and an outside one, both furnished with two chairs and a small table. The furnishings and appointments are stylish and comfortable. We were a bit thrown by the seeming chaotic atmosphere the first night, not knowing at that point what had transpired to get the boat "ship shape" as it were. Also, we did not realise until the next day, that the entire crew of MA Amadolce (which had left Budapest one day ahead of us and of course could not get through the Canal either) had grabbed a few clothes and were bussed to meet the Amabella only a few hours before we got on board. From the following day, all returned to the normal air of tranquillity. On board dining: The breakfasts, served in the main restaurant, are very good - lots of choice in everything, including for those who prefer a continental breakfast or those who want a full, cooked meal. In addition there was a range of bakery items and all day tea and coffee served in the lounge, for those who took a late breakfast. Lighter option lunches plus morning and afternoon teas were also available in the lounge. Dinner has a very good "restaurant" feel, with 4 or 5 choices in each of the four courses, and wines (included) from the area visited each day. A nice touch. The there are special snacks as well - foods typical of the area you are passing through, such as "Fruhschoppen". This is a German breakfast containing all imaginable kinds of sausages - bratwurst, weiswurst etc - along with the correct epicurean accompaniments, including a delicious potato salad. I opted for a weiswurst with potato, and the very helpful chef told me how to eat the weiswurst. There were also special dinners for Christmas Eve and Christmas night and for New Year's Eve in Cologne, where the team of chefs and wait staff did a great job of decorating and preparing a wonderful dinner for us. People decked themselves out in appropriate finery for the occasion and the atmosphere was on of festive happiness. After dinner ... well, of course there was a New Year's Eve buffet served in the lounge, just in case your clothes were still too loose!! Ports of call and tours: I should mention that most of the sailing occurs overnight so you arrive in each port for the day, except where there is scenic cruising for the day, such as in the Rhine Gorge. So your chance to get out and about is maximised - but it's up to you what you want to do. Of course there are daily excursions which you can take at no extra cost, in the form of walking tours, around the various towns. We did a couple of these, but largely explored by ourselves. With information available on the internet, you can find out what you are curious about in advance and structure your own time anyway. There are optional tours too, which involve an extra cost, but I found the one I did to a concert in Vienna totally worthwhile and good value. All tours include a local and knowledgeable guide. Ports and scenic cruising: Budapest Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria, Melk, Washau, Durnstein, and Linz, Austria; Passau and Salzburg, Regensburg, Nuremberg, Bamberg and Wurzburg, cruising from Wertheim, Miltenberg, through the Rhine Gorge to Koblenz, Cologne, Germany; and Amsterdam, Holland. Scenery from boat: Whether you're in the lounge, on deck or beside your own private balcony, the scenery is absolutely stunning for the entire trip. We enjoyed the white winter, fairytale look of the Christmas time cruise, and obviously the other seasons too offer wonderful views. Locks: The number of locks is quite staggering - 34 on the Main River and 17 on the Danube. The navigable stretch of the Main River from Bamberg to Mainz is 384km or 240 miles. The Danube is navigable some 2415km or 1767 miles and crosses 10 countries from Germany to the Black Sea. APT provides some very handy statistics regarding rivers and the number of locks on each. An interesting thing which we don't automatically think of when talking about water is the that you go uphill (upstream) and downhill (downstream) when cruising these rivers. Cool Traveller Read Less
We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon.
Although you can book ... Read More
We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon.
Although you can book travel to/from embarkation/disembarkation and can also book add-on packages, we chose to make our own travel arrangements. We flew to Siem Reap from Bangkok, easily obtained visas at the entry airport and stayed 3 nights in Siem Reap visiting many temples and seeing the local sights - this is not to be missed. Most cruisers had already done associated tours of varying lengths and stayed at Le Meridien in Siem Reap but we stayed at a really good small hotel called Pavillon d'Orient where the local staff were really friendly and helpful.
There was some confusion for us about exactly where we would embark and neither AMA Waterways nor Fred Olsen Travel (the UK Agents) distinguished themselves in this regard. Apparently, just after the rainy season and for a couple of months thereafter, embarkation takes place on the Tonle Sap Lake about 20 mins drive from Le Meridien. At other times there is not enough water in the lake and you have to be bussed to a more distant embarkation point downstream which can be up to 5 hours away. We received several letters from AMA/FOT advising us of a change of departure point and time but never one with the actual ones. It was left to us to discover this in Siem Reap!
We were located on Tonle deck and there seems little difference between this and the one above (Saigon) apart from price. Both were identically sized and have a large picture window and a smallish balcony which houses the next cabin's a/c so is not very suitable for standing on - not enough room to sit! Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, particularly the bathroom (larger than Princess for example) although storage space was a little limited. It was a little on the dark side due to the wood inlay but was tastefully decorated. The rooms were quiet with little noise from the corridor - the doors were quite thick. Beds were comfortable if a little on the firm side. Double or twin could be requested prior to the cruise although our request was not fulfilled. However, it was soon altered once on board. Towels were changed rather unnecessarily frequently even if you hung them up.
Our fellow passengers were mainly from N America, Australia, Switzerland, France and the UK. The ship can take ca. 90 passengers but on this occasion there were about 80. There are about 25 sunbeds and 20 assorted chairs on the sundeck which surprisingly seemed to be adequate.
The service on board was excellent. The restaurant staff were very attentive and helpful. The dining room did tend to be somewhat noisy, depending on where you were seated (free seating arrangement) and the a/c could be quite a cool breeze. The food was first class with plenty of choice (International and local cuisine). There was a good supply of free beer and soft drinks, although spirits were limited to local rum and brandy. Other brands could be purchased. House wine was provided at meal times although the quality seemed to be a bit variable (one night the red was almost undrinkable). Wine could also be purchased by the glass or bottle (20USD upwards). Bottled water in a handy carrier was provided on all excursions. A nice feature was the provision of an International newspaper several times during the week. Wi-Fi was free in the library and there were 2 PCs for general use, although one or two individuals did tend to over-use them. There was no booking system. Connection speed was variable depending on the position of the ship but remember you are in the middle of the country most of the time. There was a very small exercise room which seemed little used on this cruise.
The Cruise Director made a presentation about the next day's programme each evening and often sang (badly) to round things off. He was a much better (Vietnamese) guide than a cruise director. The guides were very knowledgeable and made all the shore excursions very interesting. All excursions were voluntary. However, the Itinerary was a good mix of visiting small towns, floating villages, markets, craft workshops, local industry and temples. There were also a couple of interesting talks about the history of Cambodia and Vietnam. Whilst we realised the extreme significance of the Killing Fields and associated history, it was a bit laboured at times.
You do need visas for both Cambodia and Vietnam - an important point not communicated to us by AMA till it was almost too late. As mentioned previously you can easily obtain one for Cambodia at the airport - much cheaper than using an agent prior to the cruise. Vietnamese visas need to be obtained at the relevant embassy prior to leaving home. Be careful to check that the arrival date on the visa is correct. We didn't and ours had the departure date instead and we had to pay 30USD each to have this amended on board at the border. Apparently this is not an uncommon experience!
The disembarkation was smooth in spite of the fact that people had flights or onward travel at different times. Disembarkation takes place at My Tho port from where it is about a 1 hour 45 mins coach trip to the centre of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon is the name of the city centre).
All in all this cruise was well organised and the itinerary should provide something for everyone. Despite some of the frustrations experienced we would thoroughly recommend it. Read Less
We opted to have Viking River Cruise book everything for us on our Amsterdam to Basel trip, the ship accommodations and the air travel to Amsterdam. All we had to do is get to and from the Philadelphia airport on our way to and back from ... Read More
We opted to have Viking River Cruise book everything for us on our Amsterdam to Basel trip, the ship accommodations and the air travel to Amsterdam. All we had to do is get to and from the Philadelphia airport on our way to and back from the cruise. The accommodations on British Airways were great; and our cabin on the Helvetia ship was very comfortable and more than adequate for our needs.
The food served on board the ship was superb, more than anyone needed to eat. The wait staff were friendly and always willing to accommodate any of our special requests. The chefs did a superb job in preparing foods native to the area we were traveling by.
The other ship personnel were great from the captain on down to our room steward, very friendly and always willing to stop and talk and answer any questions we may have. The tour guides who met us in each city and/or bus tour spoke perfect English and gave us more information about the area than we could ever hope to remember. We met many friendly people on board the ship; and we especially liked the fact that the ship could only hold less than 100 people so it was not too crowded. Everything on board the ship was perfect and we had a wonderful time exploring some new areas of Europe. In fact, we enjoyed the trip so much that we have booked another Viking cruise for the spring of 2012 to celebrate a milestone in our marriage, 40 years. Cannot think of a better way to celebrate such an event. Will be sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest. Looking forward to seeing parts of Europe that we have not yet explored.
It is hard to imagine a better way to see the world than with a Viking River Cruise. In summary, taking a Viking River Cruise will not be disappointing; and let them handle all of the arrangements for a worry-free travel experience. Read Less