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Sail Date: October 2010
This was our first ever river cruise. We have taken about 10 ocean cruises, so we wanted to see how a river cruise compared. What's nice about cruising on a river is the fact that you can always look out and see something and not just ... Read More
This was our first ever river cruise. We have taken about 10 ocean cruises, so we wanted to see how a river cruise compared. What's nice about cruising on a river is the fact that you can always look out and see something and not just open ocean. Plus you stop a lot, sometimes twice in one day. And since the river boats don't hold as many people (ours had 140 passengers), it's easy to get on and get off. And the ships are designed to hold the required number of passengers. In other words, there is a seat for everyone - in the lounge, in the dining room, etc. Our trip was the 7-day Blue Danube Discovery from Budapest to Nuremberg with a pre-cruise extension in Budapest and a post-cruise extension in Prague. All we can say at this point is that we are really glad we went on this trip. It was very enjoyable. Would I say it's better than an ocean cruise - in some ways yes, in some ways no. Each has it's pros and cons. Would we do a river cruise again, you bet. With AMA? YES! The hotel in Budapest was the Sofitel Hotel sitting about 200 feet from the Danube. Our double room overlooked the river and the beautiful castle/fortress on the hillside on the other side of the river. The bridge over the river and the this castle/fortress were lit up at night giving an impressive view out the hotel room window. It was a very comfortable hotel and we were in want of nothing. The room package included a big buffet breakfast each morning. Usually we ate enough at breakfast that we only needed a snack during the day to keep us going until dinner. Food in Budapest is what we called rather spicy because the Hungarians seem to like putting paprika in everything and in every conceivable way. But you still have to try it just for the experience. We tried the Hungarian Goulash which is different from Czech Goulash in that the Hungarian variety is like a soup served in a bowl and the Czech Goulash is meat and dumplings served on a plate and not as spicy. The included city tour of Budapest was quite good hitting all the highlights of Budapest with its rich history. Of course, the bus doesn't have time to stop everywhere, but the guide points out the sights of interest to most visitors and you can always go back somewhere with your free time of which there was plenty. We're not going to go into all the details of every stop we made on this 7-day trip down the Danube, but what we will say is that you should take advantage of all the included excursions as they are quite informative and enjoyable and you did pay for them. As for the optional excursions, we would suggest the evening concert in Vienna for those who do not normally have the opportunity to attend such classical events. We think it was probably the best of all the excursions we took. Another one that was fun is the optional Folklore dinner in Prague. It was a different experience than anything we have seen before. The food was good, the beer and wine flowing freely, and the entertainment very enjoyable from the Czech/Slovakian musical players, singers and dancers. As for the cruise itself, the ship was comfortable and the crew outstanding. One thing we did notice is that during our 7-day cruise, the ship never once rocked from side to side or bumped or anything else. It was a very, very smooth ride! Everyone was so very friendly. We upgraded our cabin by one category so that we would have a large window and sliding door so as to see the scenery as we cruised along the Danube. We're glad we upgraded after seeing the inside of one of the lower cabins. You would have to be at least six feet tall to see out of one of those windows. I think they're simply designed to let in light as opposed to offering any kind of view because they are high and small. Our cabin was quite comfortable with a queen size bed, lounge chair, ottoman we used as another seat, a flat-screen TV/computer, makeup desk, in-room safe, and plenty of closet space. The bathroom was well-equipped and modern. We were very comfortable during our week long journey. Internet in your room is included with your cruise. We only used the internet when we were in ports as the reception was always better. There is a large lounge and bar on the main deck with enough seating for everyone. This is also the entertainment area when performers come aboard for evening entertainment of which there was a lot. And it was all good. The dining room is directly below the lounge area at the front of the ship. There again there is enough seating for everyone at the one and only dinner service at 7:00 p.m. -- dinner has no assigned seating. There is no alternative restaurant or eating venue on these ships, but they do offer a number of different dinner choices each evening. The dinner choices are normally things from the country or area where they are transiting that day. As are the included wines. It was amazing how many different wines they served on a 7-day cruise. And they always had both red and white wines at dinner. If you are not a wine drinker, you can have beer or soft drinks if you like at no charge. They also had main course staples each evening - steak, chicken, fish, chef salad - for those not wanting to brave the local cuisine. A vegetarian dish was also on the menu each night. We had the chicken one night and it was very good. Breakfast was always buffet style with a lot of choices, but you could also order eggs cooked to order, omelets, pancakes, etc. Food is served just about every 3 hours. Coffee and tea are available 24-hours. Early risers can nibble on pastries and toast until the breakfast room opens (times vary but usually by 7:30). A cookie tray is put out about 10:30. A light lunch (soup, salads, one hot menu item, and dessert) can be eaten in the lounge or you may partake of the full lunch in the dinning room. After lunch the cookie tray appears and around 3:30 finger sandwiches and small pastries appear. We had some laundry done on the ship because we didn't want to pay the airlines $90 for another suitcase. The cost to have roughly a week's worth of underwear washed for two of us was 24 Euros (about $34). They picked it up at 8:00 p.m. and it was back the next morning by 10:00 a.m. The boat also had a very nice aft lounge that always had fresh fruit and water available. Board games and a computer with a printer were also available in the lounge. Just off the lounge was the exercise room. Although small, it had something for everyone -- sauna, free weights, treadmill, and bike. Bottled water was also available. For nice days, the sun deck had a walking track, sun chairs, small Jacuzzi, and large chess board. Our cruise ended in Nuremberg, Germany where we stayed overnight on the ship and then boarded motor coaches the next morning for our trip to Prague. Each motor coach had a local Czech tour guide on board who provided narration on our journey to Prague. The trip to Prague was pretty much an all day affair with a restroom stop at the German/Czech border and then another stop for lunch in the beautiful little town of Karlovy Vary. It's a picturesque little spa town with a river running through it. There is a fancy hotel there where some of the scenes from the movie Casino Royale with Daniel Craig were shot. After a short tour of the town, our Czech tour guide suggested a local restaurant for lunch. That's where we sampled the very good Czech Goulash along with a good Czech beer. Our lunch stop was two hours and then the rest of the trip to Prague lasted about another one and a half hours arriving at the hotel about 3:00 p.m. Our hotel in Prague was the Intercontinental Hotel located right in the old town area and just a couple blocks from the Charles Bridge and five minutes from the central plaza. The hotel is a 5-star hotel with all the amenities we could want. The room included a large breakfast buffet each morning. There are too many items to mention, but suffice it to say they have everything - meats, cheeses, eggs to order, pancakes, cereals, breads, juices, fruits, etc. Prague is a beautiful old city. It's easy to walk to most of the tourist attractions, shopping areas, and restaurants of which there are many. Prague is where we did the optional Folklore dinner. We had two full days to explore, but it wasn't enough so we'll have to go back someday. Our cruise director, Csaba, from Budapest was absolutely outstanding. He was there at the hotel when we first arrived and stayed with us all the way through to Prague. He was very professional, knowledgeable, and most of all he was very friendly. He's a 36-year old single guy who loves his job and you can tell by the way he goes about his business. We'd love to see him again on another cruise. Csaba also used his computer to check everyone in 24-hours before our flight departed Prague. He could not print out boarding passes, but you could get your seat assignments and do pre-check-in. Although you may initially be taken aback by the price of a river cruise, you must remember that a lot of things that may not be included in an ocean voyage are in included here such as local tours with transportation provided and local tour guides. You are also given an audio box with ear pieces so you can hear the guides as they take you through these old towns without having to be two feet from the guide in order to hear something. They really work quite well. They also have three different paced tour levels - fast, regular, and slow. Join whichever group you want. Free bottled water is also provided in your stateroom each day. Postcards are mailed for free by simply dropping them off at the front desk on the ship. It doesn't matter where they are going - U.S., Europe, etc. All in all, we were very pleased with our first river cruise and would not hesitate to do another one. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
This was our first river cruise and our first cruise with Viking. We sailed from Budapest to Passau on the Viking Sky. I had read several of the reviews before we left and I have to admit that I was quite concerned about many of the ... Read More
This was our first river cruise and our first cruise with Viking. We sailed from Budapest to Passau on the Viking Sky. I had read several of the reviews before we left and I have to admit that I was quite concerned about many of the comments as they were so poor. Based on our experience, I cannot believe that the other reviews were for the same ship we were on. We had an excellent trip and found only a couple minor deficiencies. We spent 4 nights in Vienna and one night in Budapest on our own prior to the cruise and then 3 nights in Munich and 2 nights in Fussen post- cruise. We did our own planning, air arrangements, and train transfers to and from the ship. Since we were in Budapest a day early we were able to talk to some of the people who were currently on the ship sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest. Their impression of their voyage was extremely positive. The Viking Sky was docked at the foot of the Chain Bridge. We boarded and checked in about 11:00am and had no problem leaving our luggage with the staff until the staterooms were ready around 3:00pm. We then spent a couple of hours wandering around the 'Buda' side of the city. There was a small buffet with soup, salads, sandwiches, and chicken paprika with pasta set up in the lounge. We grabbed some lunch about 2:00pm and relaxed until we were able to get into our room around 3:00pm. The bathroom and shower were larger than what we've had on the big ocean ships. It was especially nice to have glass shower doors instead of having to deal with a curtain. The bed, pillows, and down duvet were very comfortable and we slept well every night. After dinner the first night our fears of poor food and service were put aside. The meals were excellent and reflected the cuisine of the country in which we were docked. Based on our experiences in restaurants both pre and post cruise, the food on the ship was as good and sometimes better. The house wine was included. They had a white and a red each night and basically poured as much as you wanted during dinner. Specialty wines were always available by the bottle but we saw no need to order any additional wine. We felt there was plenty of choice at dinner and it wasn't pork every day. I had duck, venison, veal, lamb, and beef over the course of the week. There was always a fish choice and others at the table said it was very good as well. Soups, appetizers, and desserts also had a local and cultural flair. We didn't find anything at any meal that was bad or poorly prepared. Even my steak at the Captain's dinner was cooked medium rare as I requested. Breakfast was terrific. There was a huge buffet with cereals, breads, meat, cheese, pastries, scramble eggs, bacon, sausage, and smoked salmon every day. In addition you could order Eggs Benedict, omelets, French toast and blueberry pancakes. The service was efficient and excellent. Lunch also had a huge buffet plus a couple of choices for appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Generally it was way too much - especially after a big breakfast. After doing quite a few ocean cruises, we felt there were two really big benefits to a river cruise: being docked right in the main part of town and the ability to walk around the ports after dinner. Some nights there was local entertainment on board such as a gypsy band in Budapest. There were also some great lectures and demonstrations while cruising during the day - such as the bridge tour, strudel making, EU history, and especially the Program Director's personal experience growing up behind the iron curtain. The included tours with local guides in each port were outstanding - especially the tour of Melk Abby and the all day tour to Salzburg. We did the optional tour to Cesky Krumlov since we were not going to Prague after the cruise. It seems like we were busy all the time and the week just flew by. We met some really great people whom I'm sure we'll be in contact with and see again. The Program director arranged for a taxi to the Passau train station and we were off to Munich. The only criticisms we had were the lack of refrigerator and noise between cabins. Although we were really lucky and didn't have noisy neighbors, we heard several complaints from others about the noise and snoring coming from other cabins. This was an excellent experience and we look forward to taking another river cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
We have just returned from a trip which started in Prague as a precruise add on to our Viking Pride Budapest to Amsterdam River Cruise. We used Viking for all of the arrangements, flights, transfers and hotel. It couldn't have ... Read More
We have just returned from a trip which started in Prague as a precruise add on to our Viking Pride Budapest to Amsterdam River Cruise. We used Viking for all of the arrangements, flights, transfers and hotel. It couldn't have been smoother. We stayed at the Hilton Prague and had the use of a Viking representative for information whilst we were there. Included was a morning tour which was in depth and were free to explore on our own for the rest of the three days. We were transported in a comfortable coach to meet the boat in Budapest,our check in went very smoothly and we were unpacked and settled into our very nice stateroom. There was plenty of room for our two weeks worth of gear and clothing. The bathroom was bigger than I had expected and the bed was quite comfortable. So after a trip through the lounges, library etc. we were ready to enjoy the first of meals in the dining room. The waiters were friendly and very good at what they do. Each dining experience beginning with breakfast and ending with dinner was tasty and presented in a very attractive manner. The reception desk was manned by very competent personnel and the program director made very interesting presentations and port talks during the pre and post dinner cocktail times. She also arranged for various personalities to speak to us about the European Union, we had a glass blower from Wertheim, some gypsy musicians, a Bavarian comedian and always on board a talented musician. Our port tours were led by very competent local guides and we were always given time on our own after. In most ports the boat was docked close to the towns and it was easy to come and go as we wished. This particular itinerary is through five countries and many beautiful cities and towns along the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers. I would recommend this trip enthusiastically and especially with Viking they were wonderful hosts. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
My wife and I took the 7-night Portraits of Southern France river cruise departing from Chalon-sur-Saone on Oct. 31 on the Viking Neptune. We both had a wonderful time. The itinerary was a primary reason we chose this cruise and the towns ... Read More
My wife and I took the 7-night Portraits of Southern France river cruise departing from Chalon-sur-Saone on Oct. 31 on the Viking Neptune. We both had a wonderful time. The itinerary was a primary reason we chose this cruise and the towns and tours all met or exceeded our expectations. The local tour guides were excellent and there was always some free time to explore on our own. The one tour which surprised me the most was in the small medieval town of Viviers. Since we were only there after dark, I took the after-dinner tour through the narrow, cobblestone streets, up to the 12th century cathedral. There was just enough light and the tour guide did a terrific job. All the crew who we dealt with were very professional, helpful and friendly. But the chef, Magdolie(sp?) stands out. Each night before dinner, she would give an enthusiastic, 5-10 minute description of the dinner options which made our mouth water, Even better, the meals met our high expectations. And, in almost all cases, the dishes weren't basic recipes but rather her own presentation. We've been on 10 river and ocean cruises and we can't remember having better dinners than we had on this cruise. We made our own pre- and post-cruise arrangements, but the embarkation and disembarkation were both simple and easy. One of the crew took our bags to our rental car on disembarkation even though we had not made arrangements with Viking. Our room was a typical good river cruise room with plenty of storage - we didn't even use some of the shelves. We had taken our first river cruise on Viking last year to Holland and Belgium and enjoyed it so much we decided to take this cruise. We were not disappointed. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
Every five years, we try to plan a special trip for our anniversary. In 2010, we decided we wanted to come back to Europe. I wanted a relaxing river cruise in France with great food and wine but my husband also wanted more of the ... Read More
Every five years, we try to plan a special trip for our anniversary. In 2010, we decided we wanted to come back to Europe. I wanted a relaxing river cruise in France with great food and wine but my husband also wanted more of the excitement and history of the cities of Europe. With our trip on the River Beatrice, we got everything we wanted. We started in Prague. We did not do the add-on from Uniworld. We arrived a day early so we could see some things in more depth than would have occurred on the tour (the Jewish Quarter, Terezin). However, our travel agent recommended the Art Deco Hotel where the tour stays. We were not disappointed. The location was great as was the hotel. We absolutely loved Prague. The culture, the history, the architecture. We went to the symphony or a jazz club almost every night. And we walked everywhere. We took the subway and the streetcars just to try them out. Very clean and modern. We arranged our own tours which suited us well. We also stayed an extra day in Budapest at the end of the trip which we also booked on our own, this time at the Intercontinental on the river across from the ship. On Sunday, we were able to take the bus with the tour to the ship. We enjoyed the ride through the Czech and German countryside. We arrived in the late afternoon in Passau, Germany to embark on the river cruise. It didn't take long to get acclimated since a river ship is necessarily not a large vessel. The rooms are not wide since the ship must be able to sail into the many locks on the river (you can touch the walls of the locks when you are at the bottom of the locks, it's that close and precise). Our cabin was in the middle of the ship in the middle level of cabins. We had a French balcony, which means that the doors open like French doors and there is a railing but nowhere to stand. We did not find that a problem since it was October and the weather was often in the mid-30s to 40s. (Bring sweaters, warmer coats, hats, gloves, scarves in October. Central Europe is like being in Northern Michigan or Minneapolis. You are on about the 45th or 50th parallel. The warmest day was 50 degrees, the coldest, about 35F.) The furnishings were very comfortable, especially the bed. Again, not a lot of room to move around, but the space was used well. We didn't spend much time in our room anyway so it didn't matter. We enjoyed having a full window with the French balcony as opposed to a window closer to the top of the wall in the lower level cabins. However, on some days, be prepared that there may be another river ship docked right beside you, making for possibly an interesting view for you and the people on the other ship. The bathroom was small, as we expect on all ships. The shower was excellent and the toiletries were first rate (L'Occitane). The cabin was spotless and kept that way by Ester, our young and hard-working attendant from Budapest. There are three indoor public places on the ship: the lounge on the upper deck, the dining room on the middle deck and the library, also on the middle deck. All were comfortable and we felt like it was very cozy, especially having been on larger cruise ships with a few thousand people. It was very nice to have only 150 people so that everyone could eat together and meet in the lounge for port talks, rather than doing things in shifts. You also recognized everyone on the ship, even if you did not actually meet everyone. The atmosphere was very friendly. We also spent time on the top deck outside as we cruised to the various ports. The dress was casual and even at dinner there was never a formal night. I did bring one dressier outfit for the last night of the cruise, but nice pants for women and dress slacks and a sweater for men were just fine, even at dinner. If you plan to go to the symphony or opera, a jacket might be appropriate for men and a dress or nice pantsuit for women. This is not a ship to go on if you expect a large fitness room and lots of shops. There is some fitness equipment and one or two shops. However, the shopping is incredible on shore (Vienna, Budapest). For fitness, you will be walking a lot each day on the excursions, which are very good. We also walked into the towns at night on several evenings after dinner. The Uniworld ships also have 6 bicycles on each ship which can be used at no charge. It was one of the major reasons we chose the River Beatrice and turned out to be the highlight of our trip. (See my description of Melk, below.) The other public area is the laundry room, which is very helpful to have when you take an extended trip. The food on the ship was wonderful and plentiful. Breakfast and lunch were buffet. Dinner was sit down (You could also eat in the library on select evenings in a more intimate setting.) The menus reflected the food of the countries we were visiting. We had goulash, weiner schnitzel, Sacher Torte, etc. You rarely see the chef on a large cruise line interacting with the guests except at a cooking demonstration and the captain's cocktail party. On this ship, the chef was there at almost every meal - dishing the ice cream, pouring soup, making sure that everything was going smoothly and that we all liked what we were eating. His outgoing personality really added to the experience. Wine was included with dinner. The wine was very good and we had to tell our waiter to stop pouring. The cruise manager, Ingrid, was outstanding. We had some very specific places we wanted to visit in the various ports and she went above and beyond to give us information and to assist us, often without anything more than telling her what we wanted to see. She also helped us on our port-to-port bike ride (and the kitchen staff made us huge box lunches for us for the bike trip). All this while arranging for the day-to-day tours and excursions for all of the passengers. The daily port tours were very well done. Hearing a guide is often an issue, especially a guide who might speak English with an accent. The ship uses a system that allows the guide to speak into a mic on a radio frequency and you use earphones to pick it up. It was very effective. The entertainment on the ship after dinner is very low-key. Zoltan played the piano and other instruments in the lounge and a few nights, in addition to port lectures, there were performances by local musicians or dancers. We enjoyed all of it. We liked schmoozing with the other passengers and the low-key entertainment was perfect after a day of touring. We didn't need a big show. The service on the ship was excellent. You really got to know most of the crew that works with the passengers since there just aren't a lot of them. We learned that one of the women at the front desk lives in Bratslava in Slovakia and each week as the ship passed by, she would call home on her cell phone. Another crew member suffered an injury and we all were concerned for her since we saw her all the time as we passed by the front desk. We greatly appreciated the river experience over cruising in the ocean. The waters are calm and the ship moves slowly so you can take pictures and see the little towns on shore. You can wave to people on shore and they will wave back. As I mentioned, since the ship docks in town, we enjoyed going out after dinner and taking a stroll. We walked in town in Passau and Linz and along the river in Vienna. We were among the locals, which we thoroughly enjoy. We were concerned a bit that we would be among the youngest passengers on the cruise since we are in our early 50's. It was true that we were, although a few were younger. Many were retired. However, we met a number of people in our age group and made some very good friends (with whom we are going skiing in a few weeks). Our fellow passengers were interesting, well-traveled and well- educated. Tipping was a bit difficult just in that the tips cannot be added to your account. You must pay them in cash. Keep that in mind. Also, because you have so much interaction with the crew, you may tip the cruise director, for example, on this ship when you wouldn't on, say, a Celebrity ship. Our biggest quibble was that the Internet service was very poor. By the end of the trip, they opened it to everyone and didn't charge for it. This is one thing they need to work on. (We learned that best free Internet access in Central Europe is at McDonald's. We also learned that in Austria, they have McCafes that serve delicious-looking pastries.) This cruise is not for everyone. It is for a couple or a group of friends who want to see the cities up close and personal in a small setting. It is quiet and relaxing and full of history. It may not be for everyone, but is for us and we can't wait for our next river cruise. We boarded the ship in Passau, Germany. The ship was docked on the outskirts of town for easier embarkation and then moved to a pier in the old town in the city later. We wish we had another hour or two there. We enjoyed the cathedral concert, which is spectacular. However, I heard they have a wonderful glass museum which we did not get to see. We did enjoy shopping in the old town and seeing a bit of the more modern Passau as we shopped. The boutiques were very nice and pretty reasonable. Be sure to leave room for a warm pretzel at one of the bakeries. Our second port was Linz. We did not spend a lot of time in Linz since we went to Salzburg for the day, although we did a take a walk through the shopping area near the ship to see the town and buy a few things (including a Linzer Torte). One of the advantages of Uniworld over other river cruise lines is that the excursion to Salzburg is included rather than an add on. As a Sound of Music fan, I really wanted to see Salzburg. The scenery is magnificent and we really enjoyed it. There is not enough time to do the complete Sound of Music tour unless you take a train back to the ship on your own. However, I felt I got enough of the Sound of Music on the tour and our guide, who was the best and most interesting of our cruise, told us how the movie was largely fiction. Nevertheless, it is fun to walk through gardens where they sing "Do-Re-Mi." The walking tour was excellent. We enjoyed seeing the birthplace of Mozart and how the signs on the shops depicted the wares sold by the shopkeeper (including the Golden Arches). We found one of only a few "stumble stones" in Salzburg that commemorates someone who was taken from that particular place by the Nazis, which was very moving. Because our guide happens to lead tours and seminars for European high school and college tours in the off-season to teach them about the Holocaust, we got a very good lesson that day on some of what took place in Salzburg during the Shoah. In the marketplace there were a number of elaborate wagons selling all kinds of local foods. The most delicious chocolate pretzels, for example. However, I found a stand selling fresh and prepared fish and had a very inexpensive lunch with fresh fish chowder and a sandwich of smoked sable. The sandwich would have cost $10 in the U.S. (if you can even buy it here). There it was about $4 or $5. Linz/Salzburg was a great port. We would definitely go back. Our next stop was Melk. I was very impressed with the Abbey, especially the very contemporary way that the museum was presented. It exceeded my expectations. However, the highlight of the entire trip came after our excursion. We rode on the bikes available on the ship with another couple. We rode from Melk to Durnstein, the next port, through the Austrian wine country, while the ship sailed on the river. "Picturesque" doesn't begin to describe it. We saw the tiny towns with the creeks running through them to the river. We saw the carts laden with just-picked grapes and the workers in the fields harvesting the grapes. It took us about 3-1/2 hours to ride 20 miles just because we kept stopping to take in some of the towns or to take pictures. The Danube has a bike path that runs along the entire river. It is very well marked and it is empty in October. We were able to use a few maps and make our way quite easily. The bikes were the reason we chose the River Beatrice over another cruise line and we would do it again. While everyone else on the ship saw the towns as the shipped passed by, we were in the little towns. We loved it. By the time we got to Durnstein, it was raining and we were getting cold and hungry. Therefore, although we heard it was a great town, we'll have to go back and see it another time. It was worth it. Vienna was incredible. The architecture and the cosmopolitan nature of the city. It is clean and well-organized. The tour was the only slight disappointment. We went to the library, which I enjoyed, but we had just seen the famous library in Melk. Perhaps there were other sights that would have been better. We happened to see the Lippazanner stallions as we walked by and were fortunate that we could actually watch them for a few minutes. But a more comprehensive tour may have been more interesting. We enjoyed our free time in Vienna. The shopping is haute couture with the finest of designers. On the other end of fashion, even the H & M is in a building off the main square that is worth seeing, with an old-fashioned elevator and wood cornices. For us it was all great window shopping and people watching. In the afternoon, with our cruise director's assistance, we were able to devise our tour of Jewish Vienna. We wanted to see the Stadt Synagogue that was spared on Kristallnacht and other sites. It was a very meaningful part of our trip. We decided to forego the symphony since we had gone in Prague. We heard it was a great evening. We were happy to take a walk that night into one of the neighborhoods with our friends. The next morning, we were back on the bikes for our own tour of Vienna. We did not see the palace with most of the rest of the group. Instead, we saw what the locals see. Vienna is beautiful. Many parks and wide sidewalks for walking and well-marked, double-bike lanes. Better than any I have seen in any major city in the U.S. And you learn quickly that bikes stay in the bike lanes and pedestrians walk next to the bike lanes and stand behind them at intersections. What a fun way to see the magnificent buildings and parks of Vienna. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
We started our Viking River "Cities of Light" cruise four days early by visiting friends in Western France trekking all Brittany and the Normandy Coast. Then on to Paris for the official start of the tour. The Paris Pullman ... Read More
We started our Viking River "Cities of Light" cruise four days early by visiting friends in Western France trekking all Brittany and the Normandy Coast. Then on to Paris for the official start of the tour. The Paris Pullman Tour Eiffel hotel we checked in to was delightful. The rooms were large, the beds comfortable, the food excellent and the service superb. We spent two days seeing the sights of Paris (we had been there many times before) and this beautiful city again didn't fail us. Then on to Trier to board our ship Viking Fontane to begin our true river tour. What a WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE!!! The stateroom was excellent, the food magnificent, the wines with meals excellent, and the crew service was without peer. The Viking crew never failed to amaze with their willingness to cater to our needs and their cheerful demeanor. The itinerary sailing the Mosel to the Rhine to the Main to the Danube Canal to Nuremberg and then on by motor coach to Prague was well selected and filled with places to see and things to do. Sailing at night from port to port that left days filled with walking tours of German cities like Cochem, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Wurzberg, Bamberg, was enervating as well as enabling us not the gain the weight we normally might have eating all of the wonderful shipboard fare! Even the breakdown on the bus ride to Prague we fun -- we spent the time exploring a local industrial park and found "Hans" and "Fritz," two German Shepherd guard dogs who didn't appreciate our arrival. Arrival in Prague was late but our rooms at Prague Hilton were ready and were of the same high quality as those in Paris. We decided to extend our trip by three days and found Prague to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We changed our hotel to the Best Western Prague Palace and would recommend this hotel to any who visit Prague. The view out our window was the Presidential Palace and St. Vitus cathedral lit beautifully at night. This small, intimate hotel with its lovely lounge, dining room and lobby is made even more wonderful by the service and smiles of its employees. Roman the Bell Captain would make any guest's experience a comfortable and happy one! In all aspects this tour and Viking River Cruises are "bucket list" experiences. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2010
My husband and I have cruised on ocean going vessels before and have travelled extensively. We are both in our sixties and are pretty active. When we were on a hiking trip to Germany a few years ago, we ran into some folks who were just ... Read More
My husband and I have cruised on ocean going vessels before and have travelled extensively. We are both in our sixties and are pretty active. When we were on a hiking trip to Germany a few years ago, we ran into some folks who were just off a riverboat and they raved about what a good time they were having. It put the idea in our heads to give it a try. After a lot of research, some of which used this web site, we decided on the Waterways of the Czars itinerary of the Viking Riverboat cruise company. We also chose to add the Helsinki pre-cruise extension option. Usually, we make our own air arrangements but we decided to let the cruise company take care of it for this trip. The tour company advised us that we would have to arrange for a Visa to visit Russia. We were given to option of using a company that would arrange for the Visa for us for a fee. After checking on the internet, we opted to arrange for the Visa ourselves. The tour company sent us an Invitation to Visit Russia form that we would need. We downloaded the application form from the internet and followed the directions exactly. They give you a list of items that must be submitted to their embassy. In just 3 weeks we had our Visas. We flew to Helsinki at the end of August and enjoyed 3 nights at the Radisson Blu Plazza in the heart of Helsinki. It was a great place to get over jet-lag and to see a new city. It isn't a five star hotel but it is clean and quiet and very central. A Viking Representative met us at the airport and whisked us to our hotel. Our first day in Helsinki we were given a walking tour of the city. We had free time that afternoon and all the next day to explore on our own. A Viking representative was at the hotel every day to give us advice about where to go and how to get there. We got very comfortable using public transportation and enjoyed our stay in the city. On our day of departure the Viking rep. met us in the lobby of the hotel. Our luggage was whisked away for us and taken to the train. We all walked over to the train station, only a couple of blocks away. Our Viking rep. took us to the train and got us on the right car. She made sure we understood the procedures for crossing the border into Russia and gave us our tickets. We realy enjoyed the scenery of the 6 hour train trip. Food and beverages are available on the train but we took our own. The train is stopped for about an hour at the Russian border while the guards take all the passports away and get them stamped - or whatever it is they are doing with them. We were met at the train station in St. Petersburg and taken by bus to the ship. The journey that usually takes 30 minutes took almost 3 hours. The St. Petersburg traffic jam had to be seen to be believed. Car ownership has exploded in Russia in the past 15 years and the city wasn't prepared for the resulting congestion. Russian drivers are not the best in the world either. It is the first time I have seen people drive along on sidewalks and pedestrian paths. Pedestrians need to be careful. I think that Russin drivers believe that the white lines indicating pedestrian crossings are only some weird form of graffiti. We liked the fact that most of the tours arranged by the tour company are included in the cost of your cruise ticket. There were a few optional tours offered so that we had the opportunity to tailor our cruise to our own interests. We were also given free time and lots of information on how to get around on our own. We had lectures on Russian history and the Russian language. I found that the information in the lectures really helped us to get the most out of our trip. On the first day of the cruise, you pick your guide from 6 that are available. That guide is with you for the entire cruise. Some days a local tour guide is comes along as well in order to add their expertise on the area you are visiting. All the tour guides were excellent. After three very busy, very long days touring St.Petersburg, we sailed down the Volga-Baltic waterway to Moscow. Along the way we stopped at 5 very different ports and had tours at all of them. Usually, the tours to these small towns and cities were half-day tours so we had time for our Russian lessons. We also had around table discussion with all our guides one afternoon as they answered all questions about modern life in Russia and Russia under the Soviet regime. They were very frank in their answers. It was obvious that they are very proud of their country and are very aware of the challenges that they face. The scenery along the way was lovely. The ship glides slowly along the canals with hardly any felling of motion at all. The captain said that on the big lakes there can be some bigger waves. The lakes were like a mirror when we sailed. We ended the cruise with 4 nights in Moscow. It's a good thing that we rested up while sailing on the canal, because we were really busy in Moscow. We had come a long way and we wanted to see as much as we could. We had three very full days seeing the city and enjoying every minute of it. The ship was very comfortable. It was refurbished in the last couple of years. The decor is Scandanavian Modern. There is one sitting in the dining room. The food is not as varied as on a cruise ship but it was very good and there was plenty of choice for everyone. The food was beautifully presented and the portions were small. There was coffee, tea and hot chocolate available 24 hours a day. Even though the dining room was open seating, we all sort of gravitated to our favorite spots fairly early on the cruise and the waiters learned our preferences remarkably quickly. Staterooms are a little smaller than on an ocean going cruise ship but there was plenty of room for our belongings. Our room steward was perfect. She kept our room beautifully and we never saw her. She was the majic genie that just did her job invisibly. The cruise is not appropriate for children. There are no facilities for them and they would not be very interested in the lectures and tours. There is no casino and no glitzy entertainment. If you are looking for evening excitment on board, you are doomed to disappoinment. There is no gym or exercise equipment but the activity director leads exercise classes on deck on mornings when there is no early tour. There are always a dozen or so hardy souls keeping him company. There were two computers available for passengers. They were very busy. There is free wireless Internet available in your room although there it was a bit slow. There were a couple of times on the trip when we had no Internet service. On disembarkation day, we had our luggage outside our rooms 30 minutes before the shuttle took us to the airport. Unfortunately, our flight was at 5:50 AM. We had to get up at 1:45 AM. That is pretty early when you are facing a very long trip home. However, one of the guides was with us on the bus. He escorted us to the right check-in counter and made certain that we understood where we had to go to navigate the check-in and security procedures. Since all the signs were in the Russian alphabet, it would have been pretty confusing without his help. We were very happy with the whole riverboat cruising experience and are going to do it again next year. We have already booked the cruise! Our expectations were certainly exceeded by this cruise. We thought the service was outstanding. It is a very different experience than ocean cruising. We like the smaller number of passengers and made some really great friends over the two weeks. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2010
I have wanted to cruise in the 1000 Islands and on the St. Lawrence River for some time, so I have been looking at this cruise line for years! We finally got a date that worked! The cruise met all my expectations and then some. The small ... Read More
I have wanted to cruise in the 1000 Islands and on the St. Lawrence River for some time, so I have been looking at this cruise line for years! We finally got a date that worked! The cruise met all my expectations and then some. The small crew was fantastic! Although the cabins are very small, they are certainly adequate. And who wants to stay in the cabin when there was so much to see and do? The ports of call interesting. We learned a lot of history and fascinating facts about the areas. All the shore excursions were well organized. The Cruise Director joked about our "stretch limos". They were really school buses, but the rides were short. The food was delicious. They offered 1/2 portions, so that was a plus. I only gained 5 pounds! This is not a cruise for a family with small children. Most of the passengers were in the 60 to 80 range, most quite active. They were an interesting collection from many locations -- Canada, Texas, Australia, Hawaii, Florida, California, New York. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2010
We were aboard the River Beatrice for seven nights from Budapest to Passau and then took Uniworld's extension to Prague. After several ocean cruises, this was our first river cruise and the best cruise ever. The suite was luxurious, ... Read More
We were aboard the River Beatrice for seven nights from Budapest to Passau and then took Uniworld's extension to Prague. After several ocean cruises, this was our first river cruise and the best cruise ever. The suite was luxurious, with lots of room to move around as well as plenty of storage and a nice size bathroom. The food was great, especially at the special events such as the captain's dinners. The level of the food would rival many of the excellent restaurants we have here in the SF Bay Area, and the wine poured with dinner was of good quality. The fact that the wine and excursions were included in the initial price meant that you didn't have to worry about buying a wine package or standing in line to sign up for excursions as we have done on all of our ocean cruises. Each Uniworld employee went out of their way to make our trip enjoyable. The cruise director, Christine, is exceptional in every way - she has an extensive knowledge of the area and is very articulate, patient and warm. And the people we met on the cruise were interesting and fun to be with for a week. Regarding the excursions, the local guides were almost always excellent, and the QuietVox system allowed everyone to hear the entire presentation. On some of the city tours, after we tired of regimentation and buses, we were able to break away and find our way back to the ship on our own. This was especially easy in Vienna especially, where the Metro line can take you within a 10-minute walk to the ship. The Prague extension was enjoyable as well. Getting there was easy because a bus picked us up at the ship and took us to Prague, and Uniworld's guide Jana in Prague was exceptional. She offered a private optional tour of the theatre where Mozart first performed Figaro, conducted by the 85-year-old former symphony conductor, as well as a tour of the beautiful second floor of the Municipal Building. Her included tour of Prague Castle was very well done, and she took very good care of the Uniworld group throughout the stay, including handling everyone's airport transfers. All in all, this was a great trip, and we will definitely use Uniworld in the future. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2010
My husband and I enjoyed our Uniworld cruise, "Castles on the Rhine". This was the third river cruise we have taken, the first being an Avalon cruise from Prague to Budapest and the second a Uniworld "Tulips and ... Read More
My husband and I enjoyed our Uniworld cruise, "Castles on the Rhine". This was the third river cruise we have taken, the first being an Avalon cruise from Prague to Budapest and the second a Uniworld "Tulips and Windmills". We began with a day on our own in Amsterdam, an attractive and interesting city in which to relax and catch our breaths after the flight over, never a favorite part of travel. The River Ambassador, while the smallest and oldest ship we have cruised on, was attractive and well-maintained. While the cabins were the smallest we've ever been assigned to, we ended up spending more time in the comfortable lounge. The crew could not have been better, and the cruise manager and hotel manager were terrific. There were excursions included every day, and the local guides did a good job. We felt that the food was the best we have had, and decent wines were poured freely with dinner. The breakfasts offered good variety and an omelet station. Lunches were very good with a variety of salads, soups, a couple of hot entrees, sandwich-making possibilities and always a tempting dessert table. The itinerary offered by this cruise included a day and a half in the Alsace region of France. We enjoyed a canal cruise in Strasbourg and a full day visiting the charming villages of Riquewihr and Kaisersburg. Speyer, Germany was also a favorite town along the way. Our fellow cruisers included other Americans, many Canadians, and a few from "down under". The average age was, perhaps, 60, and it was a very congenial group. River cruising is a great way to go for a relaxing holiday visiting interesting places while enjoying good food and companionship. Uniworld does an exceptional job of providing a quality experience. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2010
My wife and I (until I lost her to cancer six years ago) made it to Europe some 8 times over the years. The first trip was pretty much on foot, then by rail, then with friends in their car. We stayed in tiny, cheap hotels and ritzy places ... Read More
My wife and I (until I lost her to cancer six years ago) made it to Europe some 8 times over the years. The first trip was pretty much on foot, then by rail, then with friends in their car. We stayed in tiny, cheap hotels and ritzy places (one time when I won the trip in a contest.) Each time we seemed to step up in class. I really regret that I was not able to share with her my trip (with wonderful, loving friends) on the Viking Legend from Amsterdam to Budapest last August. I have never known an outfit to be so organized, yet so comfortable. The staff was beyond belief...they were not happy unless they were doing something for us. The food was superb, selected to reflect the area in which we were cruising at the time and prepared in such a way that you felt it was the absolute best, but not to "gourmet" that you failed to recognize the food. Once again, the staff in the restaurant was friendly, but super efficient. When it was announced that a group of buses would leave the ship at 1 pm, they left at exactly that time. Staff members were always within sight in case we needed directions or help (I suspect they had a portable defibrillator in that little red backpack.) I was having some trouble walking and was using a cane. Special groups they called "leisurely" (a nice word for SLOW) were assembled at each tour spot. The included excursions were excellent and the couple of optional ones were well worth the small extra charge. I never felt left behind or made to feel I was causing a problem with my handicap and I really appreciated that concern on their part. The only complaint I had was that there was no elevator on this boat. The tremendous variety of speakers, musicians, glass blowers, cooks, etc. that they offered on the ship most afternoons and/or evening were also excellent. I could not believe how spacious my cabin was and the sliding glass doors allowed me to photograph many sights and sites without having to shoot through the glass. As a professional photographer, I really appreciated that, too. I could go on for many pages, but will sum it up this way: I got much more than I expected for my money in every way and will never forget the experience! Read Less
Sail Date: August 2010
My husband's and my 12-day AMA Enchanting Rhine land/cruise began in Zurich, Switzerland, where we spent 2 nights at the Marriott. Peter Whitehead, our outstanding Amalyra Cruise Director, was in the lobby when we arrived (we booked ... Read More
My husband's and my 12-day AMA Enchanting Rhine land/cruise began in Zurich, Switzerland, where we spent 2 nights at the Marriott. Peter Whitehead, our outstanding Amalyra Cruise Director, was in the lobby when we arrived (we booked our own air and took a taxi to the hotel--CFH46.80, paid by cc, no tip required) and directed us how to begin exploring Zurich as the day was free. We found no ATM at the airport nor did the Marriott have one, but Peter directed us to the train station, where we got CFH100, which was plenty to get us through our time in Switzerland. Zurich is a lovely, easily-walked, clean, and quite enjoyable city, as well as having clean (and free) public toilets. We found Switzerland to be rather expensive but did have some lovely meals at not too exorbitant prices. The Marriott's full breakfast was included and very good. The first day we had a delicious bratwurst from a stand in the train station for lunch and that night a wonderful dinner in the Marriott's Thai restaurant, White Elephant. That may sound crazy, but we were bleary-eyed from our overnight flight and following exploration of Zurich on foot. The next morning we had a very nice city tour which began on buses through the University area and Lake Zurich Marina and ended with a walking tour of the Old Town. We had the afternoon to ourselves and had a very nice inexpensive buffet lunch at Limmatblitz near where the Limmat River, which divides Zurich, spills into Lake Zurich. That evening we had a nice dinner at Ruden Bar along the river walkway not far from the hotel. I should stop here and say that throughout we were blessed with nice weather in the 70's, mostly sunny with a shower here and there only. We were told along the way that it had been terribly hot in June and July had been awful, but August arrived with glorious weather. Weren't we lucky?! The next morning we were transported by bus toward Lucerne with breathtaking scenery along the way. We stopped at gorgeous Brunnen on Lake Lucerne, where we had a sandwich lunch (on our own) on the waterfront. We then boarded a ferry that took us across Lake Lucerne to our hotel (Radisson Blu) in Lucerne. (Luggage had been brought by the buses.) After settling in at the hotel, we struck out to explore Lucerne. What a lovely place! The Chapel Bridge is amazing! Again, very walkable, clean and just gorgeous with the Lake's blue water and surrounded by the Alps. That night we had a delicious dinner outdoors at Fritschi, a restaurant with a colorful fresco facade. I would suggest, however, if you go there, make a reservation as we saw them shooing people away for no apparent reason to us. The following morning after breakfast (included) there was a walking tour of Lucerne, then a free afternoon. We had a delightful and inexpensive lunch of Swiss "canapEs" at Baeckerei Hug, a sort of deli place we discovered while walking around. After lunch we continued exploring areas we had not been to before and ended up on the Lake's waterfront park opposite the hotel, where we were treated to a really fun rock concert at the bandshell by the JayCee's. We had a fondue dinner that night at Hirschen, once again, a place we discovered while walking around earlier in the day. The next morning we left by bus to head toward Basel, where we would board the Amalyra. On the way, we made a stop to see Lucerne's emotional Dying Lion deep relief carving in the sandstone cliff above the town, a tribute to the Swiss Guard who died in 1792 trying to save the life and honor of Marie Antoinette. (Note: Do NOT use the public toilet at this site! Gross!) We arrived in Basel in time for a walking tour before lunch, after which we had a wonderful wurstwegge (sausage roll) from one of the carts in the Marktplatz. The thing I enjoyed most about Basel was watching the ferry cross the Rhine (from the bridge near the museum). The ferries are hand-operated by tiller, crossing the river by tacking against the current, held in position by a rope suspended above the river. We met the buses at the Kunstmuseum, which took us to the ship after a stop at the Switzerland, France and Germany crossroads monument. Check-in was a breeze and our luggage was already in our room 214, which was 170 sq. feet with French balcony, well-located, nicely appointed, with ample storage space, lovely toiletries, and a very comfortable bed. We did, however, ask for a top sheet rather than the heavier duvet provided (too much for us). That evening was the Captain's Welcome, at which all the ladies were given a long-stemmed red rose, perfect for the budvase in every cabin, and which remained fresh throughout the cruise. The next morning we had the choice of an included tour to Colmar, France or Freiburg, Germany. We chose Colmar and can't help but think it was the right choice! We started at an Alsatian wine tasting at La Cave Wolfberger in the village of Equisheim, which proved to be an unexpected gem! What a whimsical and delightful place! We then moved on to Colmar, which also was a delight--colorful, picturesque medieval town dating back to 823 with canals throughout, and the birthplace of Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. The next day we had a wonderful canal cruise and walking tour of beautiful Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace region of France. The afternoon was spent cruising to Speyer, one of Germany's oldest towns, where we had an evening walking tour after dinner. The next morning we toured the Castle and Old Town in Heidelberg, and in the afternoon Worms (full of ancient history as well as the Reformation), then cruised to Rudesheim overnight, where the following morning we visited Siegfried's wonderful music museum, filled with his collection of fascinating music boxes. Do not miss doing this! After Siegfried's we went into the hillside vineyards for a wine tasting, after which we walked around the charming town of Rudesheim on our own. This afternoon we cruised through the scenic Rhine Gorge, which is lined with innumerable castles. That night we arrived in Koblenz, where we had an evening tour after dinner. The following morning we continued cruising to Cologne, where we had an Old Town walking tour after lunch including the magnificent Gothic cathedral. Afterward we walked around on our own and had a glass of Kolsch, Cologne's beer specialty, at an outdoor cafe. Cologne was under construction everywhere it seemed (building a subway!) but was still an enjoyable place to visit. That night we were treated to the excellent La Strada trio, whom we had fallen in love with on our AMA Danube cruise last year, as the evening's after-dinner entertainment. We cruised overnight and the following morning into the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal, arriving in Amsterdam midday. After lunch we had an afternoon canal cruise through the heart of Amsterdam followed by a bus tour of surrounding areas. We left the bus near the flower market for free time. We chose not to return to the boat by bus but rather to walk around on our own and then walk back to the ship (easily doable). The main thing we did while on our own was to walk through the Red Light District. Very interesting indeed! We flew home the following morning. Peter pre-booked a taxi to the airport for us, for which we paid €35, tip included. It was a truly wonderful trip from beginning to end. I would say that with the exception of the Rhine Gorge, the scenery along the Rhine was not as generally gorgeous as the Danube, but the ports were truly wonderful. I highly recommend this trip and I can't say enough about AMA! My husband and I are completely "hooked" on their excellence. As after our Danube cruise, a few days after coming home we received a thank you postcard, handwritten and signed by Peter (CD), Oliver (hotel manager) and Rein (Captain). Nice touch, don't you think! I would be happy to answer any questions you might have by e-mail - jgarrett@hlcapital.com. Note: You might also be interested in reading my review of our August 2009 AMA Legendary Danube on the Amadante. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2010
My husband and I enjoy traveling usually on a tour, but packing and unpacking and being bused from one city to the next becomes taxing after a while. Now comes the beauty of the "river cruise." Most of the time we didn't ... Read More
My husband and I enjoy traveling usually on a tour, but packing and unpacking and being bused from one city to the next becomes taxing after a while. Now comes the beauty of the "river cruise." Most of the time we didn't know that the ship was actually moving. It was a lovely smooth sail and the sights of passing ships and barges, not to mention the farms, livestock, and vineyards, were picture perfect. How delightful it was to drop our luggage in our room, unpack, and begin a wonderful cruise down the Rhine, beginning in Amsterdam, cruising through the locks to Cologne, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Heidelberg, Speyer, Strasbourg, Breisach, and disembarking in Basel, Switzerland. The price of the cruise is inclusive of all meals, ever flowing wine and beer at dinner, and all morning excursions. The choice of food offered at all meals (breakfast and lunch buffet-style) will satisfy even finicky palates. Afternoon excursions are optional and I would steer clear of the wine-tasting tour. Our group was offered wines that were no longer in production so even though we tasted a 2008 Riesling, we could only purchase a 2009. Then we had to sit through a boring film. Only the scenery while traveling was beautiful. The only bright spot was that when you returned from a tour, the staff was in the lobby with tea and hot towels to refresh you. The ship was spotless and the rear lounge that offers coffee, tea, fresh fruit, and cookies 24/7 was always maintained by staff. Since we were continuing our journey after the cruise we took advantage of the laundry service which was extremely fast.The desk personnel were helpful and accommodating regardless of how many times you asked the same question. Robert, the tour director, reminded me of Billy Crystal's impression of Fernando Lamas. He was funny and charming, but when it came to business, he was knowledgeable and professional. We were transferring after the ship to another excursion and the Avalon staff made the transition effortless. We cannot extol enough accolades on Avalon for making this a great trip (despite the BA strike). I would cruise down any river with Avalon! Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2010
July 11-18, 2010, Arles to Chalon sur Saone After 56 ocean cruises, my wife and I decided to try a river cruise. We chose Burgundy and Provence because we especially like red wine, and the only white wine my wife likes has bubbles in it! ... Read More
July 11-18, 2010, Arles to Chalon sur Saone After 56 ocean cruises, my wife and I decided to try a river cruise. We chose Burgundy and Provence because we especially like red wine, and the only white wine my wife likes has bubbles in it! We are wine fans, but were not as familiar with the regions of France, so this itinerary was just right....through the heart of some of the best red wine regions in France. We flew to Marsailles and were met outside customs by the Uniworld representative a little after 10am, and advised that the bus transfer to the ship would be at 11am. We relaxed in the terminal enjoying coffee and french bread and at 11 went looking for the Uniworld bus. Unable to find it, we checked with the Information booth and she advised they left at 10:40. They called Uniworld and the representative arrived and told us they were waiting for a flight due about noon. We finally boarded the bus about 12:40 and arrived at the ship in Arles a bit after 2pm. The embarkation processing was very prompt and we were in a cabin quickly. The luggage arrived a few minutes later. The ship, new in 2006, has a crew of 34, and a capacity of 134. On this sailing there were 125 passengers. The crew are multi-tasked on embarkation and debarkation day, loading and delivering. The ship has one elevator, so it could accommodate a wheelchair, but it would not be able to go up to the sun deck. The sun deck has hot tub aft, and many chairs, tables, and chaise lounges. There are two large awnings, but they must be lowered to pass under some bridges. There are 3 passenger decks, the bottom with portholes, the middle deck with windows, and the top deck has French balconies for each cabin, with a glass door that opens and you can actually step out about 2 feet to a railing. That is what we had booked. Considering they urged us to travel with one piece of luggage and a carryon, the storage was adequate. The bathroom was adequate with a glass enclosed shower. There was a 110 volt razor outlet in the bathroom, and a 110 volt outlet on the dressing table in the cabin. A hair dryer was provided. Bottled water was complimentary. The middle deck is where the dining room is located. Dining is buffet style for breakfast and lunch, and open seating for diner, with tables for 2, 4, 6, and 8. Breakfast included French pastry, omelets to order, a rotating daily choice of fruit filled crepes, or pancakes or French toast. Dairy products and fresh fruit were available. Lunch had salads, hot entrees, small pre-made sandwiches, pasta, and a carving station. Soup was available to order from the waiters. If you sit in the same area each time, you will have the same wait staff. At dinner they offered a 5 course menu with a choice of 2 entrees. My wife, who prefers fish, was happy to be offered halibut, grouper, John Dory, dorado, pike, salmon, and trout. Meat entrees included pork loin, strip steak, lamb shank, veal filet mignon, chicken, beef tournedos, and rabbit. Steak, chicken and salmon were always available as options. This was an Epicurean Adventurer theme, and local recipes, food and wine were featured. Wine at dinner is complimentary, and ranged from Cote du Rhone (Syrah), to merlot, pinot noir from Burgundy, as well as several white wines from the regions. There is also a wine list available with wines for purchase. Dinner was generally at 7pm. I was impressed that at dinner the servings were not oversized. Sometimes on ocean cruises, if I eat the full 5 course meal, I'm stuffed! The portions served in the river cruise were modest and I didn't feel I had overeaten at any time. They also could accommodate special requests at dinner. Entertainment was limited to a pianist and small dance floor in the lounge on the top deck, where a bar is open all day, and continental breakfast and light lunch and tea are available during the day. On two evenings after dinner, a local pianist and vocalist played, and one afternoon a demonstration of silk painting was available. But with a city every day, walking excursions, and fine dining, not much more was needed. There was a flat screen television in the cabin with CNN, BBC, Sky News, and some movies. There is also a fitness room with 2 machines, a massage area, and a sauna, located aft on the top deck, just below the hot tub. Just outside the dining room on the middle deck is a boutique open a few hours a day, and a lounge with 2 computer stations, but no printer. Internet was available for 15 Euros for unlimited time during the week, and the satellite was generally available. In the lounge is a machine that makes instant beverages, including expresso, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate. It is available 24 hours a day. There are also 6 bicycles available at no charge that can be used or reserved. They are beach cruiser style but have hand brakes and gears. We did use them in Lyon, the largest city visited during the cruise, to get around in the afternoon. Because the ship docks right in the towns, my wife was able to get up early and walk 5 miles each morning feeling safe and getting an early look at the new towns. Each evening before dinner they have a short presentation about the next day's agenda, including what time the morning excursions would depart. Each day there was a free excursion, all but two walking through the town with a local English speaking guide and a AudioVox set with earphones so we could hear the guide without being right next to them. We would walk through the area, narrated by the guide, and generally there was some time to walk independently before returning with the group, or we could remain on our own. One of the free excursions was by bus where we rode through the Burgundy vineyard areas and visited Beaune, followed by time on our own in the Saturday market, and a ride back. There are four optional afternoon tours available, at reasonable cost, that included a visit to an olive farm, a visit to lavender fields, a visit to a Roman aqueduct and wine tasting in Chateauneuf de Pape, a visit to a working 17th century chateau followed by Burgundy wine tasting, The vessel accounts for passenger leaving and returning to the ship by issuing cards for each person in the cabin. You collect your cards at the purser's desk when you leave, and return them when you return. The mix of passengers ranged from a credentialed chef from a community college in Illinois with a group of students, a group of 20-30 year olds, a good number of 60 somethings from England and Australia, and the rest North Americans, and one German couple. On Monday in Arles we had an informative lecture about Van Gogh, who lived there for 2 years and painted "Starry Night" and others there, before the morning excursion visited a Roman amphitheater, where they still hold bull fights, and other local sites. In the afternoon we walked around the town again, and stopped at a supermarket to purchase wine to take back aboard. We had a day and a half in Arles. On Tuesday we were in Avignon, a walled city to where the popes in the 1300's had fled from Italy and built a place for the popes. It is open for touring and our morning walking tour went into the walled city and to the palace. There was a room where the wines of the area were available for tasting or purchase. The tour then visited an indoor market where every kind of local fruit, fish, meat and cheese was available. In the afternoon we went on the optional tour by bus to the Roman aqueduct and the wine tasting at a winery in Chateauneuf de Pape. Wednesday we were in Viviers and the morning walking tour into this medieval village ended with an organ recital in St Vincent Cathedral. Thursday the ship was berthed in Tain L'Hermitage. The morning tour walked to a local winery for a tour, explanation and wine tasting. We then continued across the river on a pedestrian bridge to Tournon for a guided walking tour. Some of the vineyards on the hillsides here, especially on the L'Hermitage side, were originally planted by the Romans. Friday we berthed in Lyon, the second largest city in France and a city known for its food. The morning tour was by bus to the basilica which is Lyon's hallmark church overlooking the city, and narrated drive through the city. After lunch we rode bicycles back into the town, where we spent several hours. The ship is required to pass through about 10 or more locks sailing up-river on the Rhone and Saone rivers, at least one of which raises the ship 75 feet. Saturday we arrived in Chalon sur Saone, and in the morning traveled by bus through the Burgundy countryside to Beaune. It is a historic, walled city that for centuries has been at the heart of France's wine trade. It was, and still is, an affluent city. The land the vineyards are on is very expensive, and the wines produced, some of the best in France, are auctioned here. We had a guided tour through th Hospices de Beaune, a hospital built to serve the indigent centuries ago, and was still operated until the 1970's. It is now set up as a museum. We were then free to spend an hour on our own in the Saturday market, where vendors offered samples of cheese, sausage, and other wares. We purchased wine for our coming visit to Paris there, including an outstanding local sparkling white wine, a cremant, and a pinot noir. In the afternoon we walked throughout Chalon sur Saone visiting shops, watching two wedding parties, and sampling some wine. There is no need to put luggage out the last night. On Sunday, breakfast was available early for those with early departures. They arranged taxi for us and two other couples that were taking a train, and moved our luggage to the pier for the taxi at 7:45am. The taxi was only 12 euros for 3 couples and all out luggage. I had purchased tickets online from Rail Europe in advance for a train from Chalon to Dijon, and a high speed train with reserved seats from Dijon to Paris Lyon station for $69 per person. There was a long queue for taxis at the Paris Lyon station, but we were at our hotel by 2 pm. I had selected a hotel on the Left Bank in the Latin Quarter, just blocks from Notre Dame Cathedral, a brand new Holiday Inn with ultra modern room and bathroom treatments, and a refrigerator in the room. It was a block from Rue St Michele and literally dozens of bistros and a french bakery was half a block away. Also nearby was a bank, the BNP Paribas, with ATM's that Bank of America had advised me in advance would charge no ATM fee for using BofA debit cards to get Euros. I used this bank any time in France I needed Euros, and there were branches all over. With just 2 days in Paris we elected to purchase a 2 day hop-on/hop-off bus ticket for 32 Euros per person. There are 4 routes, and we chose the Paris Grand Tour route on Sunday, which included Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Eiffel Tower, and much more. With the Louvre alone needing most of a day, we left entry for another trip. The other routes we rode on Monday included the Montemarte Grand Boulevards, with a view of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Moulon Rouge, and fashionable shopping districts. Next was the Blue route which included the site of the Bastille Monument, and Bercy, including the national library, the sports stadium, city hall, and the train station we had arrived at. Last was the Orange, Montparnasse - St-Germain route which included the Latin Quarter, Luxembourg Gardens, the Pantheon, and more. We ate the first evening in a bistro. Most offer a 3 course fixed price menu for about 14.50 euros per person. The second evening , we chose a small very nice restaurant overlooking the Seine and Notre Dame and paid a bit more, which with a bottle of Rhone wine ran about the same as a nice restaurant in the US. After dinner, we walked across the Seine, past Notre Dame to a bridge where we could see the Eiffel tower lit at night, and saw the hourly light show at midnight. We had arranged a private shuttle through the hotel from the hotel to the airport, about 20 miles away, about 40 minutes in traffic, and 60 euros. We look back on this trip as truly memorable. We loved the personal attention on the small ship, berthing in town, walking through the small towns sampling wines and visiting markets, and everything about Paris. And I learned much more about French wines and wine production requirements there. We'll do it again, perhaps Paris and Normandy next. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2010
I traveled on the River Beatrice with my parents July 2010. We selected Uniworld and the River Beatrice based on what we new about Uniworld's reputation and the newness of the ship and we abolutely loved it! If you are looking for a ... Read More
I traveled on the River Beatrice with my parents July 2010. We selected Uniworld and the River Beatrice based on what we new about Uniworld's reputation and the newness of the ship and we abolutely loved it! If you are looking for a luxurious hotel on the river, this is your trip and ship. We enjoyed two days in Budapest and then spent the day cruising to Vienna. It was a relaxing day that really made us feel like we were on vacation. The itiniery, the food, the included tours all worked so well and exceeded our expectations. The ship's staff couldn't have been more helpful and we felt pampered without feeling like it was a pretentious or uptight environment. Personally I was one of the younger people on the ship which was about 70% retirees but our fellow passengers became friends to us as we enjoyed the sights of Vienna, Salzburg, The Wachau Valley and Passau. While a riverboat cruise is not a cheap vacation, we found it to be a good value. Our money out of pocket was quite modest once on the ship. I would highly recommend Uniworld and I would highly recommend this trip -- particularly starting in Budapest. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2010
Being children of the cold war, we had mixed feelings about visiting Russia. Needless to say, our concerns were unfounded. Not only did we have a great time on the Viking Kirov, but we updated our image of Russia and the Russian people. ... Read More
Being children of the cold war, we had mixed feelings about visiting Russia. Needless to say, our concerns were unfounded. Not only did we have a great time on the Viking Kirov, but we updated our image of Russia and the Russian people. Plus, we met may wonderful people on the cruise some of whom we'll add to our friends list. As for the ship and the crew, they were very professional and accommodating. The food and service were excellent with plenty of variety including local dishes. The guides were exceptional, all native Russians, mostly from St. Petersburg. Their English was excellent and, along with local guides, they provided us with reams of information about Russian history up to the current day. They were open about their recent history and the transition from Soviet to modern day Russia. After may years of propaganda on both sides of the Iron Curtain, it was refreshing to experience the openness. We were impressed with how clean and friendly both Moscow and St. Petersburg were. You've read about the heat and the smog. That was a challenge but we worked around it, thanks to an air conditioned boat and tour buses. This is an education trip, not one that you kick back and snooze ... although you can to that, but you would miss the best parts. When the trip is over, you brain is full and needs a rest. At least mine does. Not everything was perfect. Viking advertises WiFi. It worked sporadically and when it did, the bandwidth was very narrow. I took my new iPad which does not have an Ethernet connection, which was a problem so I had less access than those with net books or laptops. I wish Viking was fix the connectivity or set expectations better. Several people complained of feeling ill. Nothing serious but certainly took the fun out of the trip. We're not sure if someone brought a virus on board or maybe the ships water wasn't purified enough. Although hand cleansing stations were available, Viking was not as diligent as other lines in encouraging their use. I don't know if that would have helped. All in all, the experience was well worth the money. It gets four thumbs up from us. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
This was our first big river cruise and we are so happy that we chose Viking. Our cabin was small, but adequate. We had a wonderful view of the river (unless we were tied up next to another ship in port). I brought my computer and internet ... Read More
This was our first big river cruise and we are so happy that we chose Viking. Our cabin was small, but adequate. We had a wonderful view of the river (unless we were tied up next to another ship in port). I brought my computer and internet access, though spotty, was adequate. Meals were fabulous. Each one was a winner, some better than others. The restaurant staff, all Filippino, were excellent. We loved Mary Jane, our waitress. The ship staff was pleasant, though not all spoke English and sometimes I met a blank stare when I attempted to get information at the front desk, but someone else was along soon enough to answer my question. There were varying degrees of competence among the tour guides. Some were excellent performers, others were not, though they had great command of the information. (Sadly, we did not have one of the better performers). There were several activities, including lectures, Russian lessons, a Gershwin concert, a talent show, a couple of special dinners, lessons on buying gifts, and of course the vodka tasting. Special notice must be given to Victoria's lecture on Gorbachev...best lecture of the whole trip. Material I read before the cruise said there were spa and massage (and hairdressing) facilities on board. We never saw sign of those, but the ship had been recently renovated and perhaps those were eliminated with the remodeling. Most of the optional excursions were well worth the money, though Moscow by night was less spectacular than I expected. I loved the opportunity for all the musical performances. This was our first trip with Viking and from reports I have read, people are not all satisfied with it. If this is one of their "less satisfying" cruises, I look forward to one that gets high marks from everyone, because I certainly give this one high marks. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2010
This past summer I had the pleasure to be a passenger on the Inaugural Cruise of American Cruise Lines newest ship, the "Independence" with an itinerary which included New England and Maine ports of call. Over the past 10 years I ... Read More
This past summer I had the pleasure to be a passenger on the Inaugural Cruise of American Cruise Lines newest ship, the "Independence" with an itinerary which included New England and Maine ports of call. Over the past 10 years I was also fortunate enough to cruise on the "Maiden Voyages" or "Inaugural Cruise" of all of their other ships. This trip was the 10th cruise I had taken since ACL resumed operation in 2000. If you are want a relaxing informal "Small Ship" experience sailing within US waters with a great US crew, one of the American Cruise Lines ships will be the ship for you. Many of the passengers I have met on the ACL cruises feel the same as I do as they too have been repeat passengers. We always enjoy discussing our previous experiences, trips, and itineraries with American Cruise Lines. Many of the cruises have had a local historian or naturalist on board, who keep the passengers well informed about the local history of the areas we visited. ACL also arranges for sightseeing tours in most of the ports they visit, however if you are free to arrange you own "shore excursion" or just stay on board and relax. While underway, my favorite "on board" activity is to sit on the sun deck and follow along with the Waterway's Charts for the area. Just think of a "Chart" as being your Roadmap if you were driving your car. I like to pin point exactly where we are by watching for the Channel Markers and buoy Markers as well as to try to locate the various Light Houses, Towers, Steeples, and Bridges which are marked on the charts as navigational aids. The ships also have an "Electronic Chart" or GPS in the lounge so that the passengers can follow along if they wish. All of the crew members go out of their way to make your cruise a memorable experience. The staterooms are roomy, and comfortable with individually controlled heating and air conditioning. Each room also has Satellite TV, and large pictures windows. Many of the staterooms have a small balcony where you can sit and enjoy the scenery. All of the ships are equipped with a small passenger elevator and the crew members are always willing to assist with wheelchair operation on and off the ships. In the past, I had always cruised with my mother and in some cases, other family members, however this most recent trip I felt completely comfortable traveling alone as a single lady. If you are looking for a casino, swimming pool, or nightly "show" entertainment, American Cruise Lines is probably not for you, but if you want a nice relaxing vacation aboard a small cruise ship with other passengers who have the same interest, they cannot be beat. Most of the passengers are seniors, many of whom are retired. I have already signed up from my next ACL cruise which will be the Potomac to Philadelphia itinerary in the spring of 2011 and I know I will sail on the Mississippi River aboard ACL's new boat in 2012. Can't Wait!!! Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
We have travelled on over 15 ocean cruises but wanted to experience the river cruise. We chose Uniworld and the River Duchess, mostly for the ports in Eastern Europe. Not knowing river cruising companies we were somewhat ... Read More
We have travelled on over 15 ocean cruises but wanted to experience the river cruise. We chose Uniworld and the River Duchess, mostly for the ports in Eastern Europe. Not knowing river cruising companies we were somewhat intimidated,however we lucked out in choosing Uniworld. Everything was great. Uniworld assembles mostly english speaking passengers for some of their cruises so we were able to enjoy all the people aboard. The main countries represented were US, Canada and Australia. River boat passengers seem to be very well travelled and welcome meeting new people. The dining was open and we never ate alone. The food was outstanding and after the big cruise lines, it was so refreshing to have the variety we experience there but not the massive quantity. To my view, the river boats are not beautiful because of the specifications they have to follow re bridges etc. but the interior of the River Duchess was quite luxurious. Our stateroom was a little smaller than we had experienced on the ocean liners but very adequate and well appointed. We thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of river cruising. We simply walked over a small gangplank and we were in a place to easily access the heart of the town or city. We were able to get on and off several times a day, at our convenience. One time we simply wanted an ice cream cone and a stroll in the shady park! The included tours were very good, although we do like to do things on our own and that was very possible. Probably the most interesting tour was the visit to the home of a resident of Croatia for lunch. It is alway wonderful to be able to see how others live. The staff went our of their way to see to our needs. Instead of the night tour in Budapest, my husband and I wanted to hear some gypsy music with a glass of wine. One of the staff found us a restaurant and when we arrived, a table had been reserved for us. We had a lovely evening enjoying the wine and the gypsy music. You would find that the staff is a little more laid back than the ocean liners, but very friendly, professional and helpful. The entertainment was really enjoyable. We had a piano player all the time, supported by a singer at times on board in the lounge. The entertainment brought on board at several ports was very high quality. No night club acts but really good entertainment. I do have to say that the cruise director Rick was excellent. He was helpful and informative at all times. All together, a really great experience. We love river cruising. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
This was our first River Cruise, and we loved it! Our cabin was very well laid out, and very comfortable, with a large window which could be opened. The bed was very comfortable, which was important to me because I have sciatica. There ... Read More
This was our first River Cruise, and we loved it! Our cabin was very well laid out, and very comfortable, with a large window which could be opened. The bed was very comfortable, which was important to me because I have sciatica. There was only one seating for dinner, and it was free-style with no reserved tables. This meant that we could share mealtimes with new people. The menu was small, but provided a variety of choices for appetizers, first course, main course, and dessert. The food was beautifully presented, and small, perfect portions. Fotr the "meat and potatoes" type, one could always order steak, chicken,or fish in addition to the daily entrees which were offered. The cruise included at least one tour in each port, and when we boarded, we were assigned a number from 1 to 4. This was our tour group number throughout the cruise. Our tours were very well organized. We disembarked the ship as our group was called, and boarded the tour buses which were waiting for us. They use local tour guides, and all but one were excellent. They also offered some tours in addition, for an additional cost. In the evening, on board, we enjoyed lectures about the European Union, or discussions about the history of the next day's port. Unlike the large ocean cruise ships, there are no casinos or theaters on board. Entertainment was a very talented keyboard player/singer who played in the lounge each evening after dinner. We found this quite acceptable, as we were usually tired after the day's activities. The staff on the Viking Sun always had a great attitude, and all spoke excellent English. Many were bilingual, or trilingual. Each afternoon, the chef walked among the tables, asking us if there was anything he could improve upon, or if we had any suggestions for him. The only thing missing from this cruise was sunshine.....it rained the entire cruise, which was very disappointing. (I nicknamed our cruise "Castles of the Rhine in the Rain") Even the locals were complaining. But, one can't control the weather. I'm really looking forward to our next river cruise, and would definitely choos Viking again. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
Our trip on the Scenic Sapphire was great, it totally surpassed our expectations. The ship is beautiful, with very comfortable accommodations. The crew was very friendly and very professional. Captain Costel did a great of job of ... Read More
Our trip on the Scenic Sapphire was great, it totally surpassed our expectations. The ship is beautiful, with very comfortable accommodations. The crew was very friendly and very professional. Captain Costel did a great of job of maneuvering the numerous locks and getting us to our destinations, usually ahead of schedule. The hotel manager, Arthur was great, he has a wonderful sense of humor and was always there with a smile to help in any situation and his staff did a tremendous job too. Cruise director, Tadej did an excellent job both with the on board activities and the shore excursions. Purser, Katrina and her assistant handled every request efficiently with a smile. Executive Chef, Chadvar and his staff turned out some amazing meals from very tight quarters. Maitre d’Hotel, Vitor and his staff, especially our waiter, Zoltan did an excellent job of serving the meals and seeing that our wine glasses were never empty. Housekeeper, Teodora and her staff did a wonderful job of keep the Scenic Sapphire spotless from stem to stern. Maria who serviced our cabin did an excellent job, cleaning at least three times a day and leaving some delightful arrangements of towels. On Mothers Day she saw the card I gave my wife and made a heart of towels around it on the bed. For a relatively new company in a very competitive market Scenic Tours really did their homework and got it right, right from the start. I couldn’t imagine a better experience in river cruising. I had never heard of Scenic Tours but while researching riverboat cruises on the internet I came across it on the website riverdiscounts.com. I was first of all impressed with the beautiful new boats. When I looked in to it further I liked the fact that the all gratuities were included and complimentary wine was served with lunch and dinner. There was even a bottle of Prosecco on ice along with Champagne flutes if you wanted a little bubbly with your breakfast in the morning, which was pleasant surprise. Another bonus was the fact that unlike most European tours, which make all announcements in 3 to 5 different languages, all announcements, were in English only. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2010
When Volcanic ash stopped air traffic to and from Europe, we were on Uniworld's River Baroness sailing from Paris to Normandy and back on the Seine. Since our flight home had been cancelled, it was an easy decision to repeat the week, ... Read More
When Volcanic ash stopped air traffic to and from Europe, we were on Uniworld's River Baroness sailing from Paris to Normandy and back on the Seine. Since our flight home had been cancelled, it was an easy decision to repeat the week, again aboard the River Baroness as we so enjoyed the initial week. It is difficult to describe how wonderfully managed the cared for this boat really is. The crew is great in every way. Caring, warm, friendly, and never, ever did I see or detect an "attitude". They work hard but do not complain and are eternally cheerful. One can't think of a better place to be for two weeks and that is without talking about the scenery, tours, and all of the other wonderful things that go on on this itinerary. It is truly a memorable trip which includes Paris, the Normandy Beaches and the American Cemetery, a visit to Giverny and Monet's home and famous gardens, a stop at Honfleur, where Impressionists often painted, and two days in Rouen, a beautiful city with many interesting attractions, great shopping, and excellent restaurants. All that in a week? What could be better...two weeks! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2010
Just wanted to make a comment before starting on the review. Avalon includes bottled water in the cabin each day on most ships. The soaps, shampoo, etc., were very nice and definitely an upgrade from our Magnificent Europe of two years ... Read More
Just wanted to make a comment before starting on the review. Avalon includes bottled water in the cabin each day on most ships. The soaps, shampoo, etc., were very nice and definitely an upgrade from our Magnificent Europe of two years ago. Coffee, tea, juice and water along with fruit and cookies are available 24 hours a day in the back lounge. Each afternoon there is a coffee/tea and cake offering in the main lounge. There is a beauty shop on board. They added head massages to their list of offerings. I had mentioned on last year's survey that it would be nice to have someone who could give manicures on board. This year on the Creativity, Sandra was able to shape my nails and cuticles and then give a hand massage. Again, I mentioned on the survey that further nail service would be nice. We did not use the onboard fitness room as we were walking quite a few miles each day on the tour. The hot tub was on the top deck and was used by quite a few people. We boarded the Creativity after taking an optional trip to the Eifel Tower. It was so nice to see one of our bartenders from last year, Radu. Always nice to have a familiar face to greet us ... This trip had 123 passengers as I recall. The Creativity is a fairly new ship and its layout was familiar to us as we were on the Affinity's maiden voyage last year. I have been asked by several Cruise Critic members to talk about the included and optional tours. On the Paris to Normandy portion of Grand France there were two included tours most every day. You were given the choice of one or the other. Sometimes we made a good choice and sometimes we didn't ... here are the choices that we had for tours and optionals: Paris: There was an included sightseeing tour of Paris. In the afternoon there were two optional tours: Louvre and Versailles. Last year we took the Versailles tour and really enjoyed it. Those who took the Louvre tour said it was good but not much time to just stand and enjoy the artwork. In the evening there was an optional trip to the Moulin Rouge. We didn't go either this year or last year but those who went had a great time. Conflans: The included tours were a trip to the village where Van Gogh spent his last three months or St. Germain to visit the home of Josephine Bonaparte. We did the St. Germain trip and it was OK but wish we had done the other one as we heard good things from those who took it. Vernon: The included tours were a trip to Claude Monet's home and gardens or Chateau de Bizy which is a 'small Versailles' ... we did Monet and loved it. That evening there was onboard entertainment by Valerie and Alexis, which was OK but not a group that I would want to hear again. Rouen: There was a walking tour of the city in the morning and then two optionals in the afternoon: Homfleur and Calvados Distillery or visiting several Abbey's, which is the one we did (I graduated from a Benedictine University and wanted to visit a Benedictine Abbey) and we had a great time. Those who went to Honfleur said it was nice and that they enjoyed the distillery. We stayed in Honfleur while we did our own Normandy trip so I wasn't interested in going there That evening we had onboard entertainment from La Strada, which is a trio of violins and keyboard synthesizer who performed classical music. This was our third time seeing these performers and they just get better each time. We did purchase their CDs so that I can enjoy then here at home. Rouen: This day there were three included trips: Landing Beaches for the American Landing Beaches for UK and a Taste or Normandy which included the Bayeux tapestries. My husband did the American landing beaches while I stayed on the ship and relaxed. Everyone enjoyed their tours. Normally there would just be a trip to the American Landing Beaches but there were 20+ folks from the UK who were there especially to see the UK beaches as many of them had served in the military in World War 2. Les Andelys: The included tours were basically the same. One did a tour of the city and then went up the hill to the ruins of Richard the LionHeart's castle and then walk back to the ship or take the bus up and back from the castle and then tour the city. That afternoon we had a tasting of several French cheeses. We arrived back in Paris and those who only took the Paris/Normandy trip leave to go home and the others of us went on to the start of the second cruise. NOTE: This trip was affected by the Iceland volcano and a little over 100 of the folks had to find alternative ways to get home. Some of them decided to go along on the Burgundy and Provence portion of the trip and then leave the ship to get back to Paris for their flights back to the US. Just a quick word on the Creativity. It was a great ship with good staff. The food wasn't as good as what we have had on our two previous cruises and we were sure that the CD knew about it and also put it on our survey forms. We had a limited number of people on this cruise as the volcano prevented many folks from getting to Paris. I believe that we had just 51 of us on this portion of the trip. Then those who were continuing on the Burgundy and Provence trip were put in a small van and began our journey to Chalon. On our way there we went to Beaune to either do Burgundy Wine Tasting or tour the Hospices of Beaune (we did the wine tasting). There we met the others group who would be joining us on the cruise. Lunch was on our own. We arrived at the ship to find out that one of the waiters was also on the Affinity last year (Lazlo). Chalon: Walking tour of the town and then sail to Tournus where you could walk to St. Philibert Abbey (beautiful place). There was an optional tour to Chateau Cormatin which we did not do. Macon: No tour just cruising on the Saone. The weather was beautiful so we enjoyed Lyon: City tour which includes the painted walls and the Basilica ... can't miss the Basilica ... Lyon is a wonderful place to tour. Lyon: There were two optional tours scheduled but they wound up being put together which is going to the silk mills and then to the market. Afternoon there was an optional to the Beaujolais vineyards ... we didn't take either one but heard great reviews on both of them. Tournon: Walking Tour and then a little free time before going to Viviers where we took a walking tour through the city and then went up the hill to the Church/Convent area and had an organ concert at the church ... for those with problems walking, transportation was provided up and down the hills. My husband took the transportation but I walked. Avignon: Included tour of the town and the Pope's Palace. In the afternoon there was an optional trip to Pone du Gard and Uzes which we again did not take. Arles: City walking tour and then optional to St. Remy, Van Gogh and Nostradamus ... again we did not take the optional. We took the extension and wound up in Nice where we did take the optional trip to Monaco ... which was great!!! The Scenery is a little older than the Creativity and has had some updating. Rooms, service, etc., were great. The food was better than on the Creativity but as with most ships, there was too much salt in the prepared food. This was a fantastic trip. We were so fortunate to have Yvette Laurent as our CD. She is so pleasant, organized, and nothing seems to 'rattle' her. She did such a great job in helping those who were stranded in Paris, both those who booked their air, etc, through Avalon and those who didn't. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
A friend and I went on our first river cruise in April 2010. We took Uniworld's "Tulips and Windmills" cruise of Belgium and Holland on the River Dutchess. We did not know what to expect and were totally pleased with our ... Read More
A friend and I went on our first river cruise in April 2010. We took Uniworld's "Tulips and Windmills" cruise of Belgium and Holland on the River Dutchess. We did not know what to expect and were totally pleased with our choice. The only thing wrong was that the weather was a bit colder than usual and prevented us from enjoying the upper deck. Also the tulips were not at their peak, although still lovely. The cabin was not large but adequate with very comfortable beds. The meals were fantastic. Huge buffets for breakfast and lunch with a set menu for dinner with 2 choices of appetizer, soup and dessert and 3 choices of main dish--one meat, one fish and one vegetarian. If none of these suited, you could have steak, chicken or salmon. Meals were at a set time and open seating with tables for 6. Wine was included. At 4 in the afternoon one could have "tea" in the lounge with your choice of type of tea and several little canapes. There was also an area with 24 hour self-service of all types of coffee, tea, iced tea, and ice water. There was entertainment every evening, nothing elaborate but fun. The staff were nearly all Eastern European, spoke excellent English, and were friendly and helpful. The shore excursion were all very interesting with the Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam being the highlight. I have mobility problems and was concerned that I would have difficulty with the shore excursions but found them not too difficult and twice our Cruise Manager established a "gentle walking" group. There were actually 8 of us with canes and 2 with walkers. Some excursions were "optional excursions" which required an additional charge, others were included. The places we visited were established along the rivers and so the centers of town were not too far. If you did not want to participate in the organized activity it was easy to go into the town on your own. The Cruise Manager had maps at every port and was happy to give you instructions. Our Cruise Director was Tony and he was absolutely wonderful. There was nothing we did not like about this river cruise and we intend to do another with Uniworld next year. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE AND PARIS ~ APRIL 12-24, 2010 Friends, I've just returned from two memorable weeks in France, one of my favorite countries, and Paris is definitely my favorite city in the world. I've been ... Read More
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE AND PARIS ~ APRIL 12-24, 2010 Friends, I've just returned from two memorable weeks in France, one of my favorite countries, and Paris is definitely my favorite city in the world. I've been visiting France for 35 (yikes) years, and after this 12th visit, I'd like to share with you some observations and suggestions from this recent experience. PROVENCE (the South of France) The trip began in Nice, glittering capital of the Cote d'Azur, and a delightful and absolutely beautiful town on the French Riviera. Highlight here was the market, held daily, in vieux Nice (old Nice). Wonderful opportunity to shop for local specialties like Provencal soaps, herbs, pottery, textiles and watercolors by local artists at reasonable prices. Walk the town...she's a treasure. Onward to Arles to board our ship for the 7 night river cruise, which proved to be one of my most treasured travel experiences ever. Arles is memorable for its connection to Van Gogh and Cezanne, and the ancient Roman Amphitheater, still in use today. From Arles to my favorite town in Provence, Avignon. On three past occasions I'd sat in the town square, enjoying lunch and a good Provencal rose wine and soaked up the local color. I did it again this trip, and the experience did not disappoint. There is an excellent chain of wine stores all over France, called "Nicholas" and they offer a wide range of French wines (many local) at excellent prices, so stop in for your wine provisions. Also be aware that ATMs are available everywhere, even in the smallest villages, so just get cash with your debit card as needed and don't carry wads of Euros with you. Onward to the tiny town of Viviers, whose Cathedral was magnificent, but quite a trek up a very steep hill, then to Tournon a great example of a medieval city, and Vienne, where we rode a little train to the top of the town with a lovely view of the Rhone River below. Then, to Lyon, the 2nd city of France, and her gastronomic capital, and home of the renowned chef, Paul Bocuse. Thanks to an invitation by our shipmates Carl & Carolyn, we enjoyed a splendid lunch at Paul Bocuse's bistro "Le Sud"; highly recommended and it won't break the bank. This was my 1st visit to Lyon, and I loved this city. A great cathedral on Fourviere Hill with panoramic views of the city below, and then again down to explore "old Lyon" with the "traboules"...small little covered passage-ways from medieval times when the silk traders needed to cross the city and avoid bad weather. This part of Lyon was truly fascinating and well worth a serious visit. The river cruise towns ended with Macon and Chalon sur Saone, nothing too notable here, but then we visited beautiful Beaune, and ooh la la, what a town, and well worth a visit. DO NOT miss the incredible Hotel-Dieu, one of France's architectural highlights, and a joy to explore. This was a charity hospital, founded in 1443. The main part of the hospital is now a fantastic museum, but a portion of the building is still in use today as a retirement home for the impoverished elderly. Fantastic shopping and wonderful cafes and bistros in Beaune. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Brasserie le Carnot. From here it was on to the incomparable city of light, Paris. Having done (several times) the mainstays of Paris....Arc d' Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Opera, and the Louvre, I wanted to explore some off the beaten path places. So, let me share those that struck a chord, and I think are noteworthy, and worth your time and effort, and in some cases, money! 1st off, for those of you who don't know, the "hot spot" in Paris these past few years is an area called "Le Marais". This is district in Paris that has been gentrified and fluffed of late, and retains an enormous amount of historical significance. Steeped in royal & Revolutionary history, this village in the heart of Paris offers medieval streets, museums-filled mansions, and the city's oldest and most beautiful square. 1) to get there get off at Metro St. Paul. Walk over to the enchanting Place des Vosges, that lovely square, and don't miss Victor Hugo's house and a museum on the southeeast corner of the square. 2) Sadly the Picasso Museum is closed for renovation until 2012. 3) Shopping in the Marais is a dream...to wit: Fun, fun handmade toys at "Tumbleweed" 19 rue du Turenne, Paris 75004 DO NOT miss the olive oil experience of a lifetime at O & Co....this shop specializes in Mediterranean olive oils, soaps, herbs, and vinegars. If you're looking for reasonable gifts to take home to friends and family, here's your spot! 47 rue Vielle du Temple Paris 77005 My absolute favorite shop in Paris is called As' Art...an African import gallery with fantastic objects of every type...the only time I've spent money in Paris the past 3 visits is at this shop. Also, it's in a wonderful little area called "Village St Paul" full of delightful shops of all sorts. As' Art: 35 Rue St Paul, Marais, Paris 75004 Where to eat in the Marais? Some ideas: Le Petit Fer a Cheval 30 Rue Vieille du Temple Paris 75004 Good food, cheap wine and adorable. Cafe des Musees Bistro 49 Rue de Turenne, Paris In the heart of Marais, a good Parisian bistro, reasonable What else in Paris: Do not miss a totally unknown shop opposite the Jardins Luxembourg, the Library/Book Shop of the Senat, located near the entrance to Luxembourg Gardens at 20 Rue de Vaugirard, Paris 75006. This shop has beautiful post cards and very fine gifts in leather (wallets, credit card holders, etc) are remarkably good prices. I always go here and am always rewarded. You must do the Montmartre area and see Sacre Coeur, and do ride the funicular up beside the long, long steps. (You can use a metro ticket for this ride) Speaking of metro tickets, the best value is to buy a "carnet des billets" a group of 10 metro tickets at a reduced price, you can buy with a credit card or Euro cash at the ticket machine in any metro station. I find this a better buy than the "Metro card"... Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, and the view is beautiful from the Sacre Coeur cathedral. This is also the area that attracted many artists in the 19th century. The "Place du Tertre" is a bit touristy, but fun with shops and cafes. I've enjoyed 2 good meals here: A sweet little restaurant at the top of the hill, is Chez Plumeau, the typical outdoor cafe setting, and it's charming inside too. Chez Plumeau 4 Place Du Calvaire 75018 Paris, France . Check out a delightful little street in Montparnasse area, called Rue du Cherche Midi Paris 75006...shops, restaurants galore, and a joy to experience. Another good restaurant bet is a small chain in Paris, called " Chez Clement" with locations all over Paris. I enjoyed 2 very excellent meals here at good prices. I was staying in St Germain area, and I ate at Chez Clement's St. Michel restaurant, not 100 yards from the St. Michel metro stop. Check their website for a location near you... www.chezclement.com. Ok, let's do the Palais Royal, metro Louvre/Palais Royal. A BEAUTIFUL square with whimsical sculptures, fountains, and gorgeous shops along the arcades that line both sides of the square. This is at treat indeed. Keep your pocketbooks closed here, but it's a great place for the French experience of "window licking!" One block away is another exceptional find, the Galerie Vero-Dodat Arcade, linking the Rue du Bouloi to Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau. These are 19th century, renovated shopping galleries, the oldest in Paris, with magnificent, covered glass ceilings and beautiful carved wooden fronts on the shops. In my book, this is a MUST SEE with shops, cafes, art galleries and magnificent architecture. Read Less

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