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1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2000
Holland at Tulip Time Uniworld Cruise aboard the River Empress May 1- 8, 2005 After taking many traditional cruises, decided to explore Holland about a river cruise ship, the Uniworld River Empress. Although quite different than typical ... Read More
Holland at Tulip Time Uniworld Cruise aboard the River Empress May 1- 8, 2005 After taking many traditional cruises, decided to explore Holland about a river cruise ship, the Uniworld River Empress. Although quite different than typical cruise ships, it was nonetheless a terrific experience and a great vacation. Approaching the ship in Amsterdam, the first thing that occurred to me is that there were "no people" waiting to board!! We walked right up the short gang plank into the lobby where the Uniworld crew welcomed us with warm smiles and keys to our cabin. Check in was quick and easy and we were in our cabin within only a couple of minutes. The ship holds 138 passengers, and has 5 passenger decks. Deck 5 is the "Sun Deck" which is mostly an open air viewing deck with chairs and lounges. There is also a glass covered sitting area so that even in inclement weather you can have a panoramic view. This is where the "bridge" is located as well, and towards the very front are tables and chairs. We often brought drinks to this part of the deck and watched the countryside slowly pass us as we relaxed. Deck Four is where the beautiful dining room is location (more on food later!). Also, all of the ship's suites (4 of them) and top-graded cabins with floor to ceiling windows are on this deck. Towards the front is the bar/lounge which is the meeting place for port talks, captain's welcome aboard party, etc. Deck Three is cabins, and Deck Two is cabins, along with an area (indoor patio) for 24 hour coffee and tea, a small boutique shop, the gym/sauna and the hairdressers. Deck One is cabins, along with the small launderette (2 washers, 2 dryers which are free—soap is available for $2.50 for 2 loads). From top to bottom, the ship sparkles. Although much smaller and cozier than a cruise ship, they have all the bases covered with great cabins, a spacious and bright dining room and the services mentioned above. The Itinerary: Holland is really beautiful at tulip time. The trip begins in Amsterdam, sails north to Hoorn and Volendam, then heads back south to Rotterdam, Delft, Arnhem, and Schoonoven. I won't go over each and every detail of the ports (Uniworld's brochure does a terrific job of that!), but instead will provide some of our favorite activities on the trip. Amsterdam: We were lucky that the cruise spent a night in Amsterdam at the beginning of the trip, and 2 nights at the end. There is a lot to see and do, so don't worry that there is too much time there. We boarded the ship about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and spent an hour on board getting unpacked and touring the decks. Went to visit the Anne Frank House (well worth the 15 minute wait to get inside) and walked around central Amsterdam. We had tried to go to the Anne Frank House earlier in the day, but the lines were too long. At 5:00, they had diminished quite a bit and I had heard that the later you go, the shorter the wait. The next morning, Uniworld took us to the world's largest flower auction just outside of Amsterdam. It is called the Aalsmeer Flower Auction and it is similar in many ways to the New York Stock Exchange, except that in place of stocks, the product is flowers. This place is HUGE and you walk ABOVE all of the action and look down at flowers, the actual auctions (where the prices are set for flowers WORLDWIDE) and the logistics of getting the flowers in and out of the auction center. We returned to the ship midday and as we were eating lunch we sailed up to Hoorn. Zaanse Schans is an outdoor windmill museum and they also give demonstrations on how to make wooden shoes. Great photo opportunities here, and also on the bus ride through the multi-colored fields of tulips that extend as far as your eyes can see! In Delft we toured the Delft pottery factory and then spent time downtown. Many old and interesting churches, and a huge plaza with nice outdoor cafes. The Dining Room: Open seating at all meals. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style. However, at breakfast, you can order an omelet of your choice from the buffet and at lunch, you are offered soup and and desert from your waiter. Dinner includes a starter (every night is different, and they are really creative!), soup, a main selection (either meat, fish or vegetarian), a nice desert choice and cheese and fruit from the buffet. The food was all outstanding and there is something for everyone. If you cannot find something, they will make something for you e.g. steak. The food overall was high quality, tasty and delicious. The cabins: At 154 square feet, not overly spacious but certainly adequate. The cabin layout was very nice and they managed to fit in bedside tables, a sitting chair and table, and a bathroom with nice shower (that consistently had great temperature control and water pressure). Very clean and new, and the cabin service is excellent. Ten reasons to choose a river cruise over a traditional cruise: To begin, I believe there is a market for both types of cruises. However, here are 10 reasons why I would travel on a river cruise again with Uniworld: 1. The crew. They can make or break a cruise, and hands down this crew (of only 36) did an outstanding job in every way. We had great service from the cruise manager, the officers, the front desk personnel, the cabin attendants and the dining room staff. 2. The ship. Although much smaller than traditional ships, the River Empress had a great deck plan and above all, was sparkling clean. Everywhere. 3. The food. I was never disappointed with any of the meals. There was a lot of variety, and portions were the right size (although you could order seconds if you wanted). 4. The destinations. Although Amsterdam is a large city with an adequate port, most of the other destinations we went to were too small for traditional ships. This trip gave us an opportunity to experience, and explore, ports that we otherwise would never go to see on a cruise. 5. The tours. Every one is included with your cruise fare. Just show up when they tell you to, and a first class tour bus is waiting for you just a few feet from your ship. Not only did they leave and return on time, every one had a knowledgeable and friendly tour guide, along with an experienced driver. Do not underestimate the value of having all your tours covered in your cruise fare, particularly when the conversion rates for dollars to euros are so poor! 6. Easy on, easy off! These river ships are more like hotels when it comes to arriving and departing guests! Whenever the ship is in port, it is easy to just walk off and on without great fanfare...it reminded me of going to and from a hotel. Quick and easy, in and out! 7. Other passengers. With such a small group, it is easy to meet others and we found that over the week we made many new friends. 8. Relaxation. There is something remarkably soothing about sitting on the top deck and watching the nearby land go by. 9. The other itineraries. Uniworld has many ships sailing throughout Europe and other parts of the world. Now that I've had my first experience with them, I'll definitely be back to another river cruise. 10. The small things. Umbrellas in the cabin should it be raining out. Juice, coffee and pastries at 6:00 a.m. for us early risers. A small vase of fresh flowers in every cabin after the cruise begins. Free washers and dryers. Welcoming smiles from the crew in the lobby every time you come back on board. What a wonderful week we had seeing Holland on the River Empress. I'd do this trip again if there weren't so many other places I want to see first! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2006
The Uniworld sailing "European Serenade" is a 13-day cruise that alternates Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Holland with the reverse itinerary. We chose the Vienna to Amsterdam itinerary and enjoyed it greatly. We were able to ... Read More
The Uniworld sailing "European Serenade" is a 13-day cruise that alternates Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Holland with the reverse itinerary. We chose the Vienna to Amsterdam itinerary and enjoyed it greatly. We were able to purchase our trip during one of Uniworld's buy-one-get-one-free cruise fares and discounted airfare specials. Upon arrival to Vienna Austria, we went through customs and immigration, and collected our luggage. In baggage claim a representative from Uniworld was waiting for us and took us immediately to our bus that transported us to the pier where we boarded the River Duchess where a lunch buffet had been set out. Check in took a little bit of time as several passengers had arrived at one time, and there were only two crew completing check-in procedures, but we were served wine and were able to have light lunch while awaiting check in and for our cabins to be prepared. Cabins: The were adequately sized with a typical cruise-ship sized bathroom. All cabins have a view of the river, and we were in a category 5 stateroom, the lowest of the categories. Our view of the river was very close to the waterline, but we enjoyed hearing the water hitting the hull at night. In the literature that we received from Uniworld prior to leaving, we were instructed to pack lightly as there isn't much storage space for luggage. This is true, and there is a laundry room on the ship that was convenient to use. I had brought some laundry soap from home in one of my little travel bottles, and found this to be convenient as well. Food: Breakfast and lunch both consisted of a buffet and dinner had a menu service with a few choices. The food was very good and well-prepared. I never had a meal that I found to be inedible or bad. Food is prepared in the typical European fashion, so desserts are not as sweet as our American palate is accustomed to eating. The soups were excellent, as were the warm breads at each meal. We were able to try some interesting things that we had never eaten before, and I would recommend trying all the soups available, even the sauerkraut soup. The house wine is also fine to drink with meals. Of course, part of the fun of travelling to a new country is to try local delicacies in each port of call, which my husband and I did each time we got off the ship. I had no idea there were so many ways to make wurst and sauerkraut, and discovered how yummy real gelato is. Crew: The crew on the ship was excellent. They were all very friendly and personable and eager to help us with any questions or concerns. The cruise director was very knowledgeable about the areas that we were visiting and I especially enjoyed cruising the romantic Rhine seeing all the castles and hearing the history of the area. The captain and second captain were personable as well and interacted with the passengers on a daily basis. Shipboard life: On several evenings of the cruise, local entertainers would board the ship and provide the evening's entertainment. We heard a polka band, watched a glass blower, and heard a group with medieval musical instruments. On other evenings, the cruise director gave a presentation on the history of the areas we were visiting, and there was dance music for the tiny dance floor in the lounge. Excursions: The optional tour in Vienna of a ballet and seeing the Schonbrunn Palace were well worth the extra money. We were given directions on how to use the subway system and were able to do a little exploring on our own, and went to the Hofburg Palace and Mozarthaus. St Stephen's cathedral on the included tour was magnificent. At each stop during the trip, we were able to go on a tour that was included in the cruise fare. These were all led by English speaking local tour guides and the tours included many of the highlights of the towns that we were in. There was usually time for exploring on our own, which we greatly enjoyed. My husband and I took several weeks before we went on our trip to learn German so we could converse with the local inhabitants, which we found greatly enhanced our interactions. We especially enjoyed the medieval town of Rothenburg. We happened to be in Wurzburg during a music festival and were able to hear several choirs practicing in the cathedral, which was amazing. We also purchased a cuckoo clock in Regensburg, which was shipped to us a few weeks after we arrived back home. We extended our stay in Amsterdam with the optional cruise extension, and are glad that we did. The Uniworld guide was very knowledgeable of the area and took us around the city, introducing us to interesting foods and showing us the historical areas and the Red Light district. We had a tour one day of the windmills, a wooden shoe factory, and farm where Gouda cheese is produced. Amsterdam was chilly and rainy, even in July, so be prepared for this with a rain jacket and umbrella. The Ann Frank house is a do-not-miss, and the Rijksmuseum had a lot of very interesting works of art. Recommendations for anyone considering this trip: Pack lightly. You can wash laundry in the evening as the ship is sailing down the river. Buy a Frommer's Guide to the area. This gives you an overview of the town and the history of what you're going to see. Learn the language. The Pimsleur Method is excellent for learning conversational German (or French or whatever language you need to learn) for travelling. We learned basic greetings, how to ask for directions, how to ask for the bathroom, how to order food and drinks, and to say that we speak/understand a little of the language. As soon as someone realized that we were truly trying, they would typically switch to English, or speak slowly to help us understand what we were trying to find out. Who would enjoy this trip: Anyone who ever fantasized about being a princess living in a castle. The castles along the Rhine are the things that fairy tales are made of. Also anyone who enjoys history, seeing Roman ruins, and medieval towns. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2008
WINDMILLS AND TULIPS CRUISE Viking Sky, April 16-28, 2008 It was with some concern that we boarded our flight to Amsterdam to begin our Windmills and Tulips cruise since the weather reports for the previous month had been consistent: ... Read More
WINDMILLS AND TULIPS CRUISE Viking Sky, April 16-28, 2008 It was with some concern that we boarded our flight to Amsterdam to begin our Windmills and Tulips cruise since the weather reports for the previous month had been consistent: cloudy, rainy with temperatures in the 40s and low 50s. How could flowers bloom in this weather? But, optimism is a must when traveling, so after packing warm and rainproof items, we left for Amsterdam where we had made our own arrangements for a 3 day pre-cruise stay. We flew Lufthansa, one of the few good airlines left, because we could get a direct flight from Charlotte, NC to Munich, connecting to Amsterdam, thus avoiding the plague of Philadelphia, Newark or JFK Airports. Our flights were right on time, and we arrived in Amsterdam around 1 pm local time. We opted to take the train into town, since a taxi ran about 45 Euros while the fare for two on the train was a little over 7 Euros! (That may have been the only bargain that we found the entire trip!) The trains run to the central station 4 times an hour, and the trip takes only about 20 minutes. Other than the hassle of schlepping our bags down the escalator and onto the train, the trip was convenient and easy. A short cab ride to the hotel completed our trip. In Amsterdam, we stayed at the Ambassade , a lovely small hotel on the Herengracht Canal. The hotel rooms are in several buildings, restored on the inside but maintaining the traditional look and style of old Amsterdam on the outside. Our room was light and airy, overlooking the canal and in a quiet location. Service at the hotel was excellent, and the breakfasts were tasty and convenient. We hit all the usual tourist highlights, museums and canals. The Ann Frank House is always crowded during the day, but we went around 6 one evening and walked right in. We also wanted to make sure that we saw Keukenhof Gardens thoroughly, so after checking out of the hotel (they held our bags), we took an excursion to the Gardens. This worked out very well because we couldn't check onto the ship until mid afternoon. Keukenhof was one of those infrequent attractions that not only lived up to expectations but far exceeded them. My companion Barbara is the flower person, and while I'm not a flower nut, I do like photography, so we were both euphoric with what we found at Keukenhof. Not only were the flowers, landscaping and scenery unspeakably beautiful, but the grounds went on and on, with a new breathtaking scene around every bend. I brought 3 cameras, with two sets of batteries for each and was down to my last emergency battery when we had to leave. We were really glad that we would be back in another week with the ship's tour, because there is way too much to see and absorb in one visit. THE VIKING SKY After retrieving our bags from the hotel storage, we took a taxi to the Viking Sky. This ship is middle aged by ship standards, having been built in 1998, but it has been well maintained and is clean and attractive. The advantage of this ship, and one of the reasons we booked it, was that all the cabins (except the suites) are identical in size and layout, except for the windows. Thus by booking one of the 3 lowest category cabins, we saved over $1000 compared to the cabin right next to us. We found the cabin comfortable and adequate in size, but the bathroom lighting was terrible, according to Barbara, and the walls were paper thin. We heard our neighbors cough and even identified the sound of a digital camera powering up from the cabin next door. This was definitely not a crowd of party animals, however, so noise from adjoining cabins was not a problem. What was a problem was the air conditioning unit for the ship that was located near our cabin. The compressor cycled on and off regularly and annoyingly, but thanks to ear plugs, sleep was not compromised. Other than these annoyances, the cabin was fine. We found the food very good, with an ample breakfast buffet and a choice of a light lunch in the lounge, or a more complete meal in the dining room. Dinner was single seating with a choice of two entrees, plus a vegetarian offering and the always available chicken or steak. The service was excellent. THE ITINERARY The ship remained overnight in Amsterdam our first night, and an included canal cruise and Van Gogh museum excursion were scheduled for the next morning. The Van Gogh Museum was excellent, and it was nice to bypass the throngs of people waiting to buy tickets. The included headphones provided an excellent narration for us culturally impaired tourists, but the throngs inside the museum made it difficult to see and appreciate all the paintings. Nevertheless, the excursions were interesting and good. That evening we sailed for Horn, arriving late in the evening. The next morning we had a walking tour of this picturesque fishing village, huddled against the cold on a raw, windy day. As the morning progressed, however, the weather improved and a glimpse of sun appeared, giving us hope for the rest of the week. The ship sailed in the afternoon for Volendam. This is the Costa Maya of Holland. A completely rebuilt city designed to attract and cater to tourists, this was a crowded and forgettable place. The ship offered a free excursion to a local wooden shoe and cheese manufacturing site, which we took for lack of anything better to do. It was predictably touristy, but the price was right. The ship sailed that night for Arnhem. Unfortunately, the scheduled tour to the Palais Het Loo was not available since the palace and grounds are closed on Monday. An afternoon tour of the Arnhem battle grounds was substituted, which left the morning available. The ship offered an optional tour to an open air market, but we opted to take a local train to the picturesque town of Nijmegen. This was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed seeing the local countryside and browsing a local market in the town square, surrounded by a majestic church. The efficient and convenient train service had us back in Arnhem in time for lunch on the ship. In the afternoon, we took the included tour of the battlefields and museums associated with Operation Market Garden of "A Bridge Too Far" fame. Being a World War II buff, I found the tour interesting and the cemetery moving, but I suspect the majority of passengers would have preferred the palace tour. The ship sailed late in the afternoon for Nijmegen, where we had visited earlier in the day, but it arrived late at night where a group of local performers embarked for a mediocre display of local dancing in wooden shoes. Whoopee! A few hard core gamblers went ashore to a local casino, which, interestingly, required a foreign passport to gain entrance. I guess they didn't want to take advantage of the locals! The next day we awoke in Dodrecht for our tour of the windmills at the village of Kinderdijk. One windmill was open for the hoards of tourists while a host of other windmills lined up for photographs. Unfortunately, our guide got the time confused, and we had to be back at the bus well before we actually left, severely curtailing our free time and photographic opportunities. So much for his tip! The afternoon was at our leisure in Dodrecht, so we climbed the tower of the Grote Kerk Church for scenic panoramas, and strolled through the streets of this picturesque city. We sailed around 4 under sunny skies for our next stop, Antwerp, Belgium. The trip to Antwerp was not particularly picturesque - imagine a watery New Jersey Turnpike near Newark - but it was nice to be sailing and moving into new territory. The included tour the next morning was to Brussels. After a 10am departure to avoid morning rush hour traffic, we visited the Automaton, symbol of the 1958 World's Fair, and spent time in the central square of Brussels. The emphasis there was mostly on the stomach: loaded Belgium waffles, Belgium chocolate and Duvel (Devil) Beer. Overnight, the ship relocated to Ghent in preparation for our next excursion to Brugge, Belgium. Other than Keukenhof, this was the highlight of the trip. This lovely, historic town built within a river (moat), was picturesque and interesting. We opted to stay in town for the afternoon while others went back to the ship after the morning tour. We climbed the church tower, ate lunch at an outdoor cafe, drank Brugge Blonde Beer, bought chocolate - not enough - at Dumon's, and generally had a delightful tourist day under unseasonably warm and sunny skies. That night we sailed to a small yacht harbor where we disembarked the next morning for a tour of the Delta Works Project. This ambitious and expensive flood control project was undertaken by the Dutch after the devastating floods of 1953, and is truly an engineering marvel, designed to control the sea under all conditions. After the tour, the bus drove to a new port where the ship met us for the remainder of the trip to Rotterdam. That evening, the ship stopped briefly in Rotterdam to pick up a local group of singers called the "Sea Chanters." They were actually very good, and performed just for the enjoyment of singing - and the free Heinekins! The Viking Sky sailed for Amsterdam after disembarking the Sea Chanters, arriving early in the morning. That morning, Saturday April 27, was the day for the ship's tour to Keukenhof Gardens. The good news: the weather was warm and sunny, and the flowers were at or close to their peak. The bad news: this was a weekend, and a weekend that featured the world famous flower parade that passed directly in front of Keukenhof Gardens. The result: crowds of indescribable magnitude. Fortunately, our tour arrived relatively early in the morning, and the beauty of the flowers and trees exceeded the increased people count. It was amazing the difference one week meant. The grass has greened up, the trees had filled out and the flowers were just magnificent. We opted to stay at the gardens after the tour bus left and made our own way back to the ship via the bus/train from the airport. The extra time was well worth it, but by the time we left, the crowds were so large that it was almost impossible to even walk along the trails. And now, an editorial note. I hope there is a special Hell for those tourists who are never content just to take pictures of a beautiful natural site. THEY HAVE TO BE IN IT! So, while you are trying to take a photo of a beautiful flower grouping, there is a tourist tromping on the grass (despite the "Stay Off" signs) in front of flowers grinning foolishly and totally ruining the picture! There, I've vented..... Back on the ship by mid afternoon, we relaxed on deck, rested and started the always unpleasant job of packing. Surprisingly, the captain's farewell dinner was scheduled for this, our last day on board, which was somewhat unusual but was still enjoyable. No tuxes or formal gowns were seen, but the dress was a notch above the other days. The next morning we took a cab to the airport, coordinated by the ship, for which we shelled out 45 Euros. Since we were flying to Munich to connect for our flight, the process time at the airport was less than for the flights flying directly to the States. We were there about 2 hours early, which on a Sunday morning, was more than enough time. CONCLUSION This was a most enjoyable cruise, with the flowers at Keukenhof clearly being the star of the trip. Timing the flower's peak in the notoriously unpredictable Dutch weather is a challenge, and if you can allow yourself an opportunity to go more than once, at different times, as we did, that can be a good hedging strategy. The primary downside to this itinerary is the fickle weather (we lucked out, no rain at all, but it was cool early in trip) and the atrocious exchange rate of the Euro. Fortunately, booking the cruise well in advance and paying in dollars insulated us somewhat from the full impact of the weak dollar. Oh, one other downside: once you have seen Keukenhof, every other garden you visit the rest of your life will suffer in comparison. If you are interested in viewing some of my pictures of Keukenhof Gardens, you can log onto www.dutchgardenofeden.site.shutterfy.com. Any questions - drop me an email at ship@vnet.net. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2008
We cruised from Nurnberg to Budapest-8 days in September 2008- with 2 Aussie friends. The ship had 140 out of 150 and was 50+ age group, mainly Americans, some Canadians, Australians and others. Points- * cruise-the top deck is closed ... Read More
We cruised from Nurnberg to Budapest-8 days in September 2008- with 2 Aussie friends. The ship had 140 out of 150 and was 50+ age group, mainly Americans, some Canadians, Australians and others. Points- * cruise-the top deck is closed for the first 1.5 days due to bridge low clearances,most cruising of a night, only 2 afternoons cruising-limited scenery,very quiet. sum:fair * food was extensive, varied, reasonable portions, catered for preadvised special requirements,a variety of wine and price, no fixed seating so your choice.sum: 4 star * cabins-good size, quiet except for neighbor flushing, mirrors, sliding window, good storage space, well serviced.sum: very good * excursions- quite a few, local guides generally OK,preset bus allocation,too much emphasis on churches & the slowest moving person(did cater for special needs)and fixed in sites shown-needs 1 of 3 buses to do something different on shore, time allocated was fine.sum:OK but room for improvement * cruise staff-captain needs to at least speak 6 words in ENGLISH(advertised as english speaking tour), tour director focuses on favorite people,assistant director more people orientated, hospitality staff very good,some pressure for acceptable gratuity. sum: improvement necessary *overall-good value for money, basically OK but needing only some refinements to get a higher grading General:cruise is not a "rest" style, is OK if you like a sample sightseeing of main cities-Nurnberg, Vienna, Budapest,the scenery is nothing special(the Rhine is more interesting), the ship seemed above average of other lines. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2008
Day 1: Leave Denver on Lufthansa at 5:15 bound for Frankfurt. Two nice meals, drinks with the dinner (2 glasses good white wine), and arrive a bit early at 10:30, local time. Try to avoid the Frankfurt airport! - we landed out in the ... Read More
Day 1: Leave Denver on Lufthansa at 5:15 bound for Frankfurt. Two nice meals, drinks with the dinner (2 glasses good white wine), and arrive a bit early at 10:30, local time. Try to avoid the Frankfurt airport! - we landed out in the outskirts, climbed down the stairs, and boarded a bus for the terminal. Even though its a secure area, we passed through a passport check, a customs check, and another xray security line. About 50% of the passengers got pulled out for individual wanding. I'm 2 for 2 on the inspection, since my carryon has batteries, digital camera, binoculars, and various electronics - all nice suspicious stuff on the xray machine. Watch the signs carefully to find your connecting flight in the airport. Off to Vienna. Customs a breeze (nothing to declare line). Viking rep meets us just outside the customs room, follow the driver to a VW van with 6 other passengers for transfer to ship (20-30 minutes). Onboard (staff handles bags), turn in passport in the European fashion. Ship exchanges euros at same rate as the exchange in the Denver airport, minus the $5 fee. Same rate in Vienna exchanges - figure on a 5% screwing on the exchange. ATMs are always the best bet, but only do that the first time outside a bank that is open, just in case something messes up. If it does, go inside and they will assist you in getting your ATM card back. Next time, call your ATM provider before you leave for Europe, eh? Tea/pastries in ship every day around 4, always good. Light snacks for early arrivals around noon. Meeting 6:15 and every day thereafter on "your schedule tomorrow". This one sells the 3 sidetrips on the voyage, have to buy today for arranging the buses. Dinner excellent pork/fish, shrimp and celery root mousse (good, unusual), clear oxtail soup, pastries. Captain's reception at 9, captain buys a champagne toast. Good musical entertainment with Otto, who has a very good synthesizer and knows a lot of songs. Off to bed, jet lagged. The ship: Viking Europe was built in 2001, and shows a need for some rehab (stained carpets, mostly). The cabins are 150 square feet for the main decks, and 120 square feet for the lower deck. Ample storage space on the main deck, with the suitcases stowed below the beds. Usual small bathroom - just imagine taking your half bath in your house, having the door open outward, then fitting a shower into the leftover space. Lotion and shampoo provided, nice thick towels. "Snot in a bottle" provided, but if you're not into shower gel, bring some soap. Usual confusing shower controls, this one is pretty standard for cruise ships, with the left knob giving the amount of water and the right knob adjusting the mixing temperature. Shower drained somewhat slowly. Ship is VERY UNFRIENDLY for handicapped - you must negotiate stairs for any movement around the ship. Then again - all the cities you're going to visit are also difficult for someone not able to walk a quarter mile and climb a couple of flights. All the streets of Europe feature cobblestones, uneven and inclined and often slippery. Choice of cabins - the center cabins are often blocked by the dock that the ship is moored to, noisy. No clock in cabin, bring your own - the bus will leave on time if you're not there. There are announcements a half hour and 15 minutes prior to bus tours. 115/220 dual switchable outlets in cabin, it works because I charged my camera and IPOD successfully. Day 2: Vienna Breakfast 7-9, early starter at 6 (pastries, good). Coffee and tea available 24/7, fruit on the table usually. Tea is not too good, bring your own if you're picky. I don't do Lipton or hisbiscus... Breakfast is typical cold cuts, muesli, oatmeal, granola, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and bacon always, some other meat and side. Excellent rolls, whole grain breads, orange juice, tomato juice, something called vitamin juice that tastes like V8 Fusion in the States, and champagne if you want to add a little to your juice. You can also order omelets to order, eggs, french toast. Bus leaves at 9 for city tour, ends at 10:15 at Stephan Platz in the center of Vienna for free time. Go down street for shopping at Billa, buy candy for kids and wine for cabin (bring a corkscrew in your checked luggage), then to Kleiml on Graben Strasse for gourmet candy. Bus arrives at 12, back to ship for lunch. Pumpkin soup(very good), salad bar (good), spaghetti or lamb roast, brownie with pistachio ice cream for dessert. Afternoon shuttle to Xmas market at Rathaus, spend 2 hours. Best drink is with schnapps for 2.50 euros for the cup, 3.50 euros for the drink. Nice cup, keep it for collection. Very good for pictures, see it in late afternoon for lights. Good selection, but didn't buy much. Lot of Lebkeuchen (gingerbread). Side note on shopping: I had hoped to buy some Swarovski binoculars here, but with the exchange rate, the 2% credit card fee, the 20% VAT refund - would save a grand total of $12 on a $1900 pair of binoculars! Not worth the trouble... If you spend more than $100 in a store, remember to show your passport and demand the freedom from the VAT - you have to ask for this! Back to ship for tea time, then the briefing, then dinner. Dinner is cream of herb soup, salad, wiener schnitzel or trout, apple pancake with ice cream. Waiters in Mozart wigs for atmosphere. My wife attended the Mozart concert ($55) and liked it, but hall was overheated. Some Goulash soup for a late night snack when the concert goers return. Ship leaves at 11. Day 3: Budapest Awake to cruising on the Danube. Breakfast features Nurnberger sausages today. I opt for the usual smoked salmon, muesli, and fruit. Wheelhouse tour at 9:30 - fun, and remember to ask about the wheelhouse collapsing to get under bridges in times of high water - that's interesting. Passing large cathedrals, and a ruined castle on the Danube, but I forgot the names. A guidebook on the sights would be handy, but I didn't buy one - I did get Baedecker guides to Austria and Budapest used on Amazon, and a pretty much worthless copy of Fodor's for Czech Republic and Slovakia. Use the Virtual Tourist website instead for city guides. Lunch has cream of vegetable soup, salad bar, Goulasch and spatzle, tiramisu for dessert. Arrive at 1:00, be on top deck portside for best views of Budapest. Usual city tour from 2-6. The Hero Monument is really good, read the history beforehand. 45 minutes of free time in the Christmas Market, not enough time - all handmade crafts, good prices. Budapest freely takes euros, US$ maybe - but the ATMs give forints only. Vendors I dealt with gave an honest exchange. Any forints left over can be given out as tips, or the coins make nice souvenirs for grandchildren. Hungary is switching to the euro on January 1, so this comment is soon outdated. St. Mathias cathedral is good, the view from the Fisherman Bastion is very good at night, but the spotlights are distracting and you really have to work to take a picture. Dinner is shrimp cocktail, celery soup with mussels and barley, turkey roll or butterfish, pumpkin cake or rum ice cream (Chef made some changes to celebrate American Thanksgiving) Developing an appreciation for Chef Ronny's work with soups and fish dishes, and the bread is nice and crunchy. Sailaway at 8:30, nice to watch with the city lit up. Day 4: Bratislava Up early to birdwatch from the lounge. Lock into the Danube Canal east of Bratislava. Breakfast of the usual, except the fruit today is mandarin oranges and the bonus meat is sausages. At 10:30, cold cuts and free wine spritzer (not that good) in the lounge. Lunch of cheese soup, pork roast or fried fish, good chocolate mousse. City tour 1:30 - 3. Free time - prices in Bratislava very good, selection of wood items and porcelains a specialty. A lot of grilled foods. Jewelry store near the inner market has impressive amber - necklaces with pieces the size of eggs, all kind of tacky looking costume jewelry type (I think they're fake ones). Warning: 15 steps up and 15 down getting through the customs house to the ship. Liquor store in the customs house, try the apricot brandy. Christmas mart is about a 1 km walk from the ship, and a map would be handy. Viking has city maps on the reception desk for all the cities, generally good. Dinner is artichoke soup or borscht, pike-perch or good beef, hummus or salad nicoise, mousse for dessert. At 9:00, talk on 2009 cruises, $1100/cabin savings with down payment now, date to be selected later. Free drink and egg roll as a reward for listening, but we don't bite on the deal. Day 5: Durnstein/Melk Breakfast today adds turkey sausage (weird tasting) and hash browns to the buffet, and pears to the fruit. Arrive Durnstein at 9:00, walking tour at 9:30. 1 Km walk, mild incline over cobblestones. Great overdecorated church, gilded like crazy. Nice town - half open in the off season. Lots of old walls, surrounded by vineyards. 2 hours total, with a 20 minute organ concert tossed in. Organist good, organ ordinary. Not quite enough time for serious shopper, but we buy some artisan chocolate and excellent Marille Apricot brandy. The one in the round squat clear bottle. Back on ship, leave at 11 for the cruise through the Wachau gorge. Narrative is good on the ship, but Baedecker has more details to follow along. Lunch of cream of broccoli soup, rice and pork, baked apple (very good, I had a religious experience and ordered a second). Arrived at Melk at 2:30, bus to abbey. Abbey tour - museum pretty ordinary, but the abbey is on my top church list, right up there with San Maria Maggiore in Rome and St Marks/St Lawrence in Venice. Choice is bus back or walk into town down hill and back to the ship (a bit less than 2 Km). Christmas market is small, nothing of great impact, run mostly by town non-profits (hospice, soccer, volleyball, etc). Most stores open, interesting and inviting. There's a good artist coop store with a woodcarver who is very good. Hungarian dinner of marinated veggies, cabbage soup, sauteed pike perch, some kind of crepe for dessert. Talk at 9 - questions to captain, hotel manager, chef, etc. Day 6: Linz/Salzburg Breakfast features McDonald style hash browns this morning. For me, it's day #5 of the smoked salmon. Chili sauce is good on the scrambled eggs, assertively hot, peaches for fruit today. Off to Salzburg - 1 ½ hours bus ride, one potty stop on the way near the MondSee for good views. The WCs are downstairs, exit through the giftshop with a long line. It's possible to squeeze thru the turnstile at the entrance backwards if you're skinny. Continue on the Salzburg, 1 ½ hour walking tour. Group 1 goes in back of the cathedral and see St Peter's cemetery, we get a guide that loves Mozart and shows us everyplace where Mozart had his diaper changed, etc. Go to the cemetery if you get a chance, it is really something. Lunch at St Peter's restaurant - oldest in town - near the cathedral. Warning: this takes over an hour! If you're a serious shopper, skip the dessert like we did or the entire thing and get some street wurst for a snack. Big Christmas mart around the cathedral, and others scattered around town to find on your own. Loden clothes in the mart, 20% less than the stores. Steiff animals in the mart also. Selection is really nice, prices decent. Hats, scarves, lot of candy/cookies, wooden ornaments, toys, nutcrackers and smokers. It's open on Sunday, because we were there on Sunday, but most stores in town are closed. Bought a bottle of apricot brandy in a violin shaped bottle. Remember the rule about "buy no wine in a bottle shaped like a fish"? Add the violin bottles to that rule. Town and tour very unfriendly to handicapped. ! ½ hour bus ride back to ship. If you opted out of the Salzburg tour, you got a walking tour of Linz during the morning and free time in the afternoon. You could with some research, take the train from Linz to Salzburg cheaper and faster if you're comfortable in Europe. If you took the side tour to Salzburg, you have no time to see Linz - the ship leaves a half hour after the buses return. Day 7: Cesky Krumlov Don't remember what the special breakfast addition was and didn't write it down. Smoked salmon, again and the mandarin oranges are back. Bus to Cesky Krumlov leaves at 9:30, 1 ½ hour trip on winding narrow two lane roads. Most beautiful town, with views down every alley. Avoid gypsy stores - easy to tell, ask your tour guide. Avoid exchange booths with the best prices, they cheat you too. Most of the amber in town is fake - if you want some, study up beforehand (helpful hint: look for bubbles). Just enjoy the plentiful sights, and skip most of the shopping. The toy stores in town were good. Lunch at Tornado restaurant beside the river - good, slow. No Christmas mart in town. The ATMs give korunas again. The castle tour only accepts korunas, so you're stuck. Another hour and a half to meet the ship in Passau. The Passau Christmas mart is ordinary and small, but has some different things to look over. Try the Apfeltrum (cider) with a shot of Calvados in it, I had two and was buzzed quite nicely. St Stephan's Dom was nice, excellent painted ceilings, molded/carved column tops. Photographing and filming is forbidden, I think, and I don't want to go into "How to cheat the system and still take pictures". Since it was sprinkling light rain, my wife stayed in the cabin and read. "Bavarian Entertainment" in the lounge at 9 - only poor thing on the trip, proves to be a bunch of young girls (12-16?) playing traditional tunes, mostly not that well. Day 8: Passau Early breakfast available at 3 AM in the lounge, since some passengers are getting transfers at that time. Breakfast is somewhat extended in the restaurant, since transfers are continuously leaving. This morning features weird tasting vienna sausages and that old American breakfast favorite, baked beans (in the English style, a lot of tomato sauce). My last day of smoked salmon, celebrate with a double helping. Leave the bags outside the door and go off to see the sights of Passau. Walk around, visit St Peters church (nice dark wood altars, carved), walk the river borders to see some birds (swans and gulls a feature), and go to the Christmas mart again. Buy nothing, but its the idea.... Back in the ship, settle up the bill in the usual fashion. Tips on Viking are split among the crew, which is nice for the dishwashers. We were introduced to the dishwashers during one of the dinners, which is a nice feature. All the crew pitches in for luggage transfer - I saw the head chef out there hustling luggage to the bus, the hotel manager, etc. Bus to Munich airport takes a couple of hours, we get checked through with a minimum of hassle, except for one thing! Once again, we pass through the regular security/xray, the passport check, then enter the airport. Suffering from the lack of some peasant food, we have some roasted wurst at AirBrau (very good). Passing the duty free shop, my wife pops in a buys a bottle of water for the plane. When we get to the overseas gates, there is another security line/xray, and that 1.20 euro bottle of water gets confiscated. She's still fuming over that - thankfully, I had passed up the purchase of a liter of Grand Marnier. Once again, down two flights of stairs to board a bus, then up a lengthy flight of stairs to board the plane - what are these airports like in the summer rush? Two meals on Lufthansa again, wine and beer to go with them, and the meals are wurst again - I sacrifice and eat it gratefully. I guess the bottom line for flying into Germany is to take Lufthansa and avoid the German airports. Good luck on that one. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
Since this was our first river cruise after many ocean going cruises, we did quite a bit of research prior to making our decision. Some of the key elements that we were looking for were a company and ship with a good reputation, the ports ... Read More
Since this was our first river cruise after many ocean going cruises, we did quite a bit of research prior to making our decision. Some of the key elements that we were looking for were a company and ship with a good reputation, the ports (hitting a variety of Christmas Markets), the length (10 days or so), good - but not necessarily gourmet food, and finally a cruise early in the season so that we might have the best weather possible. We decided on Uniworld and the River Duchess. They have an impeccable record and the cruise itself met our criteria. It was 11 days long - 10 on the ship and 1 travelling. The cruise started in Budapest and ended in Regensburg with stops in a variety of locations, each with different Christmas Market offerings. The only glitch that we had was that our travel agency went out of business after we made final payment. Uniworld had already sent them our cruise packet and couldn't have been more accommodating when I notified them of the problem. They immediately overnighted us a completely new packet. Absolutely outstanding service from the Uniworld main office. We flew from the US to Munich for five days of "pre-shopping" and touring. We hit all the beer halls and hotspots and made day tours to Ludwig's Castles, Garmish, and a variety of other locations. I'm glad we went that early since we were wide awake with no jet lag problem when we boarded the River Duchess. We stayed in the King's Hotel First Class while in Munich. It was an excellent choice; good hotel, good staff, 5 minutes from the train station, and 10 minutes walking from Marienplatz. We took the EC63 train from Munich to Budapest the day before the ship sailed. We had booked our tickets on the German Railway website months before. About a week before we left, the website showed a 60% reduction in 1st class reserved seats on that train so we booked another set of tickets and turned in the more expensive ones in the Munich train station. More shopping money. The train took about 7 ½ hours to get to Budapest and was very comfortable. The car was about 2/3rds full from Munich to Vienna and there were only four people in the car from Vienna to Budapest. We stayed in the K+K Hotel Opera in Budapest. Another good choice. Good hotel and centrally located. One bit of advice that I would give would be to check out the prices of taxis from the train station to the hotel before getting in. We met people who paid 5 times what we did because they didn't ask first. We took a taxi to the River Duchess on embarkation day and from that point, the crew took care of our every need. We selected a Category 1 cabin since it had the biggest windows and weren't disappointed. The cabin was spotless and well laid out. It was easy to store everything. Uniworld obviously used an experienced ship designer when they built the River Duchess. Our cabin attendant, Nicolette, was great, as were all the others. She would appear as soon as we left the room and did her magic. It didn't matter how long we were gone or what time of day; the room was always straightened up by the time we got back. The meals on the ship were unbelievable. While we weren't looking for gourmet meals, we got them. The chef and his team did an excellent job throughout the cruise. The meals were buffet for breakfast and lunch with an omelet station at breakfast. Food was always the right temperature and the serving lines were kept clean at all times. I read on other posts that some river cruises had problems with people hogging tables and not inviting others to dine with them. That was definitely not an issue on this ship. We got to meet a lot of new people at the meals. Dinner was particularly good. Most meals we had Martin as our waiter. He was, without a doubt, the best waiter we have ever had on any of our cruises. He mixed and matched meals for anyone who wanted, was lively and professional, and kept the free wine flowing. We couldn't have asked for a better dining experience. The bar/entertainment staff was equally good. By the second day, the bartenders knew what we would order and mixed good drinks. They were quick to respond and always friendly. The on board musician, Zoltan, kept the room entertained into the early hours of the morning. We would try to stump him with song requests but he always seemed to come up with the song. The ships nautical staff and pursers' staff were equally professional. We would wake up early just to watch the sailors dock the ship. They obviously liked their jobs and enjoyed entertaining the passengers. As a final comment about the ship, it was well laid out, spotlessly clean, and professionally run by an outstanding group of people who were dedicated to making the trip enjoyable for all the passengers. From the captain down, all should be commended. Tony was our cruise director and did an outstanding job. Everything ran according to clockwork - no glitches at all. Buses and guides were always present on time and at the right location. All did a great job. I am sure because Tony made sure that they knew what the standards were. He ever arranged an extra free tour one night. Our first port of call was Budapest. The Christmas Market in Budapest was predominately hand crafted goods sold by the artists who made them. The weather was good, with a little rain once or twice. We docked across the river from the market but it was an easy 15 minute walk. Uniworld also arranged for a free ferry for people who didn't want to walk. Highlights of the market were the sausages and a type of cake we had never seen before. It is wrapped around a wooden roller then baked over a charcoal fire, dipped in sugar, nuts, or something equally as good, and sold for about 3 Euros. Totally addictive. The city tour took us to all the highlights by bus. Easy walking when we got to the sites. Next stop was Bratislava. It was a very interesting town and we will probably go back. The Christmas Market was newer that the others but it had some of the best food. We really liked the walking tour and could have prowled the streets of the town for hours more. The local tour guide there was very good. After Bratislava it was on to Vienna. We had been there before so we skipped the optional Schonbrunn Palace tour. Uniworld had a great new option. Instead of the normal city tour, people who had been to Vienna before could take a different tour which hit a few of the Christmas Markets (Tour was free). The tour guide was great and even bought all of us Gluwein. We took a horse drawn carriage ride around the town and had a great time. We returned to the ship for dinner then the Concert Tour. Uniworld had great seats reserved for the concert - right up front and near the wine stand!!!! All in all Vienna was a great stop. We got up early the next morning to see the Wachau Valley enroute to Melk. The weather was pretty good for this time of year but a little bit foggy. We will take the cruise again in the spring. There were a lot of passengers on deck taking pictures and drinking coffee so it was an enjoyable morning. The Melk Abbey was an interesting stop. After leaving the abbey, a few of us walked down to the little town and found a small cafe for beer and apple strudel. The next day was Linz and Salzburg. We didn't have any time in Linz in the morning since we had to take a bus to Salzburg. (More about that later) Salzburg was great. Super tourist area. Tour guide was really funny. It appears few tour guides from Salzburg like the movie, "The Sound of Music", but they go out of their way to show where the film was made. Mozart is the big attraction from his house to the candies. Took another carriage ride and had a great time. Uniworld's tour include a lunch at the fortress but they offered a cash rebate for people who stayed in the town and ate their. I have never heard of a tour company doing that before. It is another example of how good Uniworld is! Another example is that Tony arranged for the Linz "Night Watchman" to take people on a free walking tour of Linz during the evening. Another plus for Tony. Passau, Deggendorf, and Regensburg were great stops. We had good local tour guides in each of the locations and had plenty of time on our own. Sunday is a tough day to plan for tourists during this time of year. Everything is closed, but Uniworld brought us to a small mountain town where we had refreshments in a local pub, carriage rides through the forest and a trip to a glass factory. All in all these were three great days. Disembarkation was particularly easy. No "put out your bags the night before leaving" like on an ocean cruise. Tony and the staff made arrangements for everyone to get to the Munich Airport, Prague, or the train station at whatever time they needed to leave. This is a rather long review and could have been pages longer. Bottom line is that Uniworld is a top notch company that runs a great ship and hires outstanding personnel. We are sold on Uniworld cruises and will book with them again. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
We were very apprehensive as we flew from Buffalo to Washington DC then to Frankfurt Germany and finally to Basel, Switzerland to board The River Symphony from Grand Circle Travel. However, all our tension eased as they promptly delivered ... Read More
We were very apprehensive as we flew from Buffalo to Washington DC then to Frankfurt Germany and finally to Basel, Switzerland to board The River Symphony from Grand Circle Travel. However, all our tension eased as they promptly delivered our luggage to the room that would be our home for the next week. We loved floating north on the Rhine viewing the countryside and towns from our room or on the deck (although chilly. Our directors were top-notch, the food was first class (every meal and what choices, our cabin was spotless....My husband was especially impressed that we had the choice of joining the tours offered or just staying on board or walking to town on his own if his arthritis was bothering him. All in all, we can not say enough about this wonderful trip and all the ports--Kayersburg, Riquewihr, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg, Speyer, Heidelberg, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Brugge....all with their wonderful Christmas markets. I know I forgot some but we have many very fond memories of this trip! (We purchased the post-extension to the trip and traveled by bus from Ansterdam to Brussels and train to Brugge) We are now looking at the Danube! Hopefully soon. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2008
River cruises are wonderful and Uniworld thinks of everything to make your trip smooth and relaxing on board. This was our second Uniworld cruise and we loved it. Christmas market cruise was fun and beautiful. Uniworld provides all the ... Read More
River cruises are wonderful and Uniworld thinks of everything to make your trip smooth and relaxing on board. This was our second Uniworld cruise and we loved it. Christmas market cruise was fun and beautiful. Uniworld provides all the tours and each person has their own headset so you can walk at your own pace. The tour guides all speak perfect English and are very knowledgeable about their town. Only two extra tours were offered one was opera in Vienna and was wonderful. The other a trip to diamond factory was not great. Food on this cruise was just alright. Where as the last cruise in Paris the food was so far above average, it was to die for! Uniworld adds some great touches like serving you a warm drink when you come back from a cold tour on land, wine with dinner as much as you can drink. Nice captains dinner with free drinks. This cruise had wonderful holiday entertainment and the ship was decorated really nice for Christmas. I love the fact that they are docked in town and stay in town many times until 1 or 2 am so you can come and go from the ship as you like. They have a warm relaxed atmosphere and very great customer service. One day my mom really wanted a small gift from a town we were not visiting, but we were docked in the town, my mom asked the hotel manager if their was anyway to get her friend something with the town name. While we were out on our all day tour the hotel manager went out and purchased the gift and left it on my mom's bed in her room! They always went out of their way to make our visit special. I highly recommend the Christmas cruise as a wonderful way to spend the holiday. The other cruise we took with them to Paris and Normandy was fantastic! They just go out of their way to make you enjoy it. When we went to the American cemetery in Normandy they gave us flowers and the name of a solider from our home town so we could place flowers on a grave. No cost to us, but a moving experience for all of us. I would recommend Uniworld to anyone who loves service, but does not need the wild life of the big box boats. Only 100 people on board and a very relaxed atmosphere. No shows, circus, shopping or ice shows, just the local towns and quiet relaxing time. Read Less
Sail Date: March 2009
WE arrived atthe ship (which was quite difficult to find) at 11 am. Embarkation was quick and easy, and our cabin was ready. The buffet lunch was laready set out, attractively arragned - soup, a couple of types of sandwich, a hot entree, ... Read More
WE arrived atthe ship (which was quite difficult to find) at 11 am. Embarkation was quick and easy, and our cabin was ready. The buffet lunch was laready set out, attractively arragned - soup, a couple of types of sandwich, a hot entree, salads, and two desserts plus a fruit and cheese tray. Th guies on the thexcursion were really escellent, and the itinerary excursions were very good. Hoorn was very picturesque. In addition to the excursion, we walked into town the night we docked there, and enjoyed the play of the lights on the canal waters.Volendma was a disappointment - no longer quaint, and rather dull. We took the optional battlefield excursion to Arnheim - definitely not worth the euros. Unfortunately, although the museum has a treasure trove of artifacts, they are not well displayed, and there is virtuallyu no signage, or any explanatory placards or maps. We also visited the cemetery, and an overlook of a samll part of the battle area. But overall, we got no feel for how the battle progressed. Antwerp was fascinating. We had a morning tour, then free time in the afternoon, so we visited several of the churches that were open (you can pick up a brochure describing the churches when you visit the Curch of Our Lady during the morning excursion) e original paintings in these hurches are amazing, as is the sculptural work After the Brugges excurtion, you can stay in Brugges or take an afternoon walk in Ghent. We chose to stay in Brugges, and enjoyed the local french fies, a narrated canal boat cruise - fascinating to see the city from the water, and a little shopping for chocolate. Our room steward Ilya did a wonderful job, keeping the room in perfect condition. After the first 3 or 4 days, we made sure we sat at the tables that Jana served - her cheery greeting and smiling face were truly a day brightener!! The team that handled excursions, headed by Verona did a great job. Overall, we enjoyed our cruise very much. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2009
  Our AMA Waterways cruise began in Minneapolis/St. Paul on Saturday April 18, 2009, at 7:30 PM on Northwest Airlines. The flight was non stop . We each had a window seat because the plane was full and could not get seats together. ... Read More
  Our AMA Waterways cruise began in Minneapolis/St. Paul on Saturday April 18, 2009, at 7:30 PM on Northwest Airlines. The flight was non stop . We each had a window seat because the plane was full and could not get seats together. When we got to Amsterdam at 10:30 AM the next day, we cleared customs and then looked for the AMA Waterways representative. Because we purchased the air separate from the cruise line, it was less cost to take a taxi then purchase the transfers from the cruise line.  The agent, Paul, helped Bob get a taxi and some Euros. The taxi ride was 52.00 Euros. He was pleasant and ready to help. This was our first experience with AMA Waterways and a nice one. The taxi ride was about 30 minutes. Guests who purchased air with AMA Waterways had transfers included.   When we got to the port, there were about 6-8 river cruise ships at the port. To get to our ship, we had to go into the lobby of the Amadeus Princess, up the stairs to the sun deck and then across to the Amarelle sun deck and then down the steps to the reception desk. The ships were connected to each other in many places we visited. We went to the sun deck to wait because the cabins were not ready. I found our cabin and the door was open and went into it a couple of times to take some pictures. We waited on the sun deck and also in the small lounge near our cabin. There are 4 decks on the ship.   The ship has two lounges, a small one aft and the Grand Lounge on the Violin Deck. This lounge had plenty of soft chairs for seating, to read, relax or have a conversation with new and old friends, a dance floor, a piano, some round tables at the back of the lounge and where we had the wonderful entertainment. This was a place to sit and have a nice view as we sailed and went through the locks. The lounge also has coffee (espresso, cappuccino, regular), cocoa, tea and ice water available at all times. There was always something to eat like a light lunch, cookies, desserts or a light breakfast. The aft lounge was smaller and had a computer, games to use (cabinets not locked), some tables and chairs; it is a nice place for a group to meet. There was a very small exercise room that had weights, a treadmill and a stationary bike. There was small beauty shop and also a sauna (I did not see that) which was at the back of the ship. The ship has a library and a chair to use on the Violin deck. There was selection of books including a world atlas and books on Europe; I left a paperback I had finished. The cruise director had his desk here also. The gift shop was small but had a nice selection of gifts and postcards; it was near the reception desk. Boarding passes are used for passengers getting off and on the ship. They are small laminated cards (1/2" by 2") that have your cabin number; passengers are to take them when they leave and return them when they return so the ship knows when you have returned from shore. There is a bar in the main lounge and a drink special of the day. Peter was our cruise director. He was really good about his job and took the time to answer questions from anyone, anytime. He was on all the excursions and was quite knowledgeable about the area. He was pleasant and always helpful. The dining room was on the Cello Deck has plenty of room for the one sitting for dinner and your choice of where to sit. Breakfast and lunch were buffet but you could also order optional items such as Eggs Benedict and a hamburger off the menu. The variety of food could please everyone: eggs, cereal, sweet rolls, croissants, cheeses, cold cuts and more were always available. Lunch has a variety of hot and cold and also buffet. There was a light lunch of soup, sandwiches and desserts in the main lounge daily. We ate there 3 out of the 7 days. The dinner also had a variety of choices, usually 3 entrees. The meat was always tender and flavorful; some of the best of any cruise line I have sailed. I never heard one complaint about the food. The food was fresh and hot. The maitre d always offered more servings of vegetables during the dinner by going table to table. Wine, beer and soft drinks were available for dinner for no extra charge. The wine was from a local area in most cases. I personally liked the red wine ( I normally drink white) because it was not a heavy red wine; some guests from California thought the red wine was not "bold " enough. Personal opinions. There were quite a few birthdays, including mine. My husband asked about something for me and they said it was already done; the ship must have checked the birth dates for the passengers and celebrated the birthdays automatically; this was another quality feature of AMA Waterways. They brought a nice cake. It was Turkey Independence Day while we were on the ship and they brought a large cake for the group of Turkish guests on board the ship to celebrate.   In Germany, the Southern part of Germany are mainly Catholic, the Northern area Lutheran and the middle section of Germany is a mixture of religions.   The words "berg" and "burg" in names have two different meanings. Berg means a hill and burg is fortress. The Piano Deck is the lowest deck of the Amacello and has 2 windows instead of the French balcony that are almost level with the water; The elevator does not go this far and so guests who stay there, have to walk down steps. The crew also lives in this area. There is a window sill on the windows and a guest bought some flowers and put them in their cabin; her husband always buys her flowers for their Sabbath.   The ship has an audio headset system which allowed us to hear the guide using ear pieces without having to be next to the guide. We were given ear pieces the beginning of our cruise for us to use and keep, the receptive boxes we had were color coded and this was the same color as our guide used for the frequency so each group would hear their own guide; the color code was also the bus and guide we would use of that specific tour.  The system can work a distance of 1 mile, so we were told not to go too far from the guide. I have never had this on a tour and it was so easy to take in the sights, take a photo and listen at the same time.   Our first port was Amsterdam; the ship did not depart until the second day. Our city bus tour and a canal cruise were included excursions in the cruise fare as are all excursions on the cruise portion of the trip. This is the way to see Amsterdam, the Venice of the North. The canal boats are covered and also has a restroom on board. The first night we were entertained by fun Dutch Folklore dancers in the main lounge. There was the Captain's welcome cocktail party and a Gala Welcome Dinner. On Day 2 we left at 12:15 PM to sail along the Rhine River. Day 2 also had a safety drill on the sun deck. The entertainment on the second day was La Stada, a group that had 2 violinists and a guitar player. Their music was fitting for this river cruise and offered us some wonderful entertainment. Day 3 we were in Dusseldorf, the capital of Germany, and the excursion was a panorama bus tour of Dusseldorf of about an hour; we then had free time of about 45 minutes to shop, sit or walk back to the ship which was docked about 1 kilometer ( 0.6 miles). We departed for Cologne at 11:15 AM; we had a bus tour of Cologne as soon as we arrived and then some free time; this is where I purchased some 4711 original Eau de Cologne and the Dom Liqueur.  At 7:00 PM we departed for Frankfurt.   Day 4 we arrived in Frankfurt. Peter gave us a briefing on the upcoming excursion. At 11:30 AM, "Fruhschoppen" was served in the main lounge which was beer and sausage (no charge); I was told this must be served before noon. A Bavarian lunch was served in the dining room for lunch. We arrived at 2:30 PM and left for a walking tour of Frankfurt and the Cathedral. We walked back to the ship. Most of these tours are not handicapped accessible. This evening we had a trio called the Pitchfork who sang for us. They began with the song "Down by the Riverside" and had the audience hooked. We left this port at 3:00 AM the next day to sail to Mainz.Day 5 we arrived in Mainz at 7:15 AM and had the choice of 2 excursions, Mainz or Heidelberg; we chose Mainz as I wanted to see the Gutenberg Museum where the first printed copy of the Bible was printed. The museum has old books which were interesting and an original copy of the Bible. No pictures allowed except for the area where the printed a page for us on an old press. This level has printers all types and you were allowed to use the camera here. Mainz had a small area that did not have any car traffic; this was done about 20 years ago. There were bakeries, a church, coffee shops. 55% of the people in Mainz are Catholic, 35 % other religions.  In Mainz, the ship was docked about 1/4  mile from the city; this was a walking tour of about 45-60 minutes. The tours were in 3 categories; one was  gentle for slower walkers, again with the different color codes.   The passengers who chose the Heildeberg tour had a bus ride of about one hour and 15 minutes. The ones who went said it was a wonderful tour to the old city. We sailed to Koblenz where we overnight. Peter took about 75 people on a night walk in Koblenz. Day 6 we arrive in the fairy tale village of Cochem on the Mosel River (Mozelle is French and English spelling); one of the most scenic wine growing villages in the Mosel Valley. This is where we get to see the Reichsburg Castle. The minibuses drove us to the castle almost all the way. Because of construction, we had to walk up the rest of the hill to the castle. The walk down was not as bad as I thought it would be. What a beautiful view of the area. Lots of steps in the castle also. We saw several rooms of the castle. The trophy room had a door key for guests of the castle that had a little too much wine.; it was a V shape and the key could be slid down the opening and open the door. There was lots of waking on this stop and lots of steps. We had to dock across the river and then walk about 2 blocks, up stairs and across the bridge and down the stairs. There again, they had 3 groups for walking. People who wanted to take photos as well as slower walkers chose these groups. Bob and I shared a strawberry pie (good!!) at a cafe and I had a glass of local wine and Bob his coffee at a cafe before walking back to the ship.   Day 7 had us in Berkastel-Kues; a favorite of many passengers as well as for me. This was a village of half-timbered houses and lots of side streets as well as the medieval market square. This village is friendly, clean and really takes you back into time.  The square is surrounded by many well preserved half-timbered houses as well as the Renaissance city hall built in 1608. Especially well-known is the very small and narrow so-called "Spitzhäuschen" (the "Pointed House") which dates back to 1416. At the center of the market square lies the fountain of St. Michael (St. Michaelsbrunnen). Day 7 also took us to Trier, the oldest city in Germany. We again did a bus and city walking tour and using the Vox system so we could hear the guide. The bus took us to the top of the hill top to a city view and photo stop, and what a view it was. After the bus tour, we parked and did a walking tour of the town area. It was Saturday and there were lots of families shopping,eating and visiting the market square. The market had lots of fresh fruits and vegetables; they are known for white asparagus and they looked like nice stalks. Trier was founded in 16 BC under Augustus and today has the same population during the Roman Era, approximately 100,000 residents. We saw the Roman Baths, Roman Amphitheater and Porta Nigra Gate. The Porta Nigra Gate (Latin for black gate) dates from 180 BC and is the last remaining gate of the city; it is the symbol of the city. Trier is a city that would be nice for an overnight if you are flying in or out of Frankfurt which is 120 miles from Trier. We were there during the Holy Robe Days (April 24- May 3,2009) and were unable to go to The Cathedral of Trier, the oldest church of Germany, which was originally built by Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor; The Cathedral of Trier houses great works of art and a holy relic that draws many pilgrims: the Holy Robe, the garment said to be worn by Jesus when he was crucified. We were docked at a small village called Piesport our last night and walked through the village to get to the ship which was waiting for us after the Trier bus tour; we again walked to the buses to go on the trip to Paris; The busses could not travel the narrow streets. Our cabin faced the Village Church and the cemetery. There was a walking path next to us and adults and children and biked along this area. It was quiet and peaceful.   This was a wonderful cruise. I have been on the Mississippi Queen but this is my first European river cruise. I have been on many cruises and have done most of the world but this is a wonderful way to travel to Europe and other parts of the world. ( AMA Waterways has many sailings.) I have seen many of the large cities of Europe, and this is a chance to see the smaller villages and countryside. The Rhine River was busy with cargo traffic; the rivers are their highways. The river was flowing quickly and had lots of locks. The people are friendly and most spoke English. We used the Euro for currency, even on the ship, throughout the trip. I am look forward to other river cruise sailings in the world. This has become so popular, there are more cruise lines and ships being built. The hotel in Paris was the Crowne Plaza Republique at Republique Square. A 19th-century Neo-Baroque style building with a striking facade than had been renovated and was a nice 4 star hotel. We were near the Metro station. The rooms were good sized, a double sized bed, a large bathtub with a high side that you had to climb into, amenities in the bathroom, a table in the room and our room was at the front of the hotel. We were able to see part of the Eiffel Tower from our large window. Breakfast buffet was included in the rate of the room and there was a nice variety of food and drinks for any nationality. We found quite a few places to eat within waking distance including KFC and McDonalds. The city tour the next day, included in the cruise package, was about 4 hours and took us all over the city including a visit to Notre Dame. Paris is large with many old structures and gardens. We bought a Metro day pass and this allowed us to use the train and bus, getting off at the Louvre (closed Tuesdays), the Eiffel Tower and Old Opera House.   Our trip ended with a Delta flight from Paris to Minneapolis/ St/ Paul on April 29, 2009; the plane was not full and so many people were able to lay on the seats and sleep; Delta served us a good dinner and also pizza before we landed. We got through customs, cleared and headed home.   This was a memorable trip for me and I look forward to my next river cruise.There was so much more I could have added but thought I had written enough so if anyone has questions, please email me at mncruise@aol.com. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2009
The River Duchess is a nice ship,though I found the room to be a bit small.  We were at the water level with a long small window.  The bathroom is the smallest I have ever seen.  The shower was comfortable for me, but I cannot imagine ... Read More
The River Duchess is a nice ship,though I found the room to be a bit small.  We were at the water level with a long small window.  The bathroom is the smallest I have ever seen.  The shower was comfortable for me, but I cannot imagine how a large person would fit!The ship staff was very pleasant, a mix of European and Indonesian men and women.  I never had a problem with any of the staff.  A person who is not patient may have a problem with communication, but in todays world there are many languages to contend with.The food was good to very bad.  I had what was described as a quiche Lorraine one evening.  It was a quiche with more vegetable than I have ever seen in this type of food.  I could see before I bit into it that it had been overcooked, but thought I might find a palatable portion in the inside, but unfortunately it was dry all the way through.  I could not understand how this could have made it out of the kitchen.I found the wine, red or white and different vintners, included at night with the meal, to be pleasant.  My travel companion was much more critical.  Wine is a very personal thing so cannot comment for others.The breakfast buffet was the best meal of the day.  Lunch was a buffet and alright.We heard from other passengers that there were a number of people sick from stomach problems.  We heard numbers from 5 to 50.  Considering that the cruise had about 90 people that is a large number.  We could not confirm the exact count, depending on the word of two couples.The big plus of a river cruise is that people subject to motion sickness will be very comfortable.  I never had a problem with it on this trip. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2009
We chose a river cruise for the convenience, low stress, and all inclusiveness, as well as the locations visited in eastern europe. We are married in our early 30's without kids and were definitely not the normal river cruise couple. ... Read More
We chose a river cruise for the convenience, low stress, and all inclusiveness, as well as the locations visited in eastern europe. We are married in our early 30's without kids and were definitely not the normal river cruise couple.  The average age of the cruise is about 60-65 years of age, with a few in their 40's, 50's, and 80's- at least they looked that age.  Don't let the age deter you if you are young as most of the people were very nice and we made friends w/ multiple couples.  There were a few groups of single friends, mom and son, etc., but predominantly married couples.      Our room was the lowest class and was very small, but adequate, and certainly no smaller than an inside stateroom on a larger cruise line. Our beds were separate, but you can squeeze into a single together if you wish.  You will need an adapter for hair appliances, chargers, etc, but my wife was incorrect in thinking we needed a converter, as we didn't. There was a hair drier in the room and an iron could be obtained from the front desk.  Movies are shown on one channel in your room on a daily basis- the same movie all day long as far as I could tell.  If you read the information booklet in your room, which we didn't until the last day, you will find the list of movies for the week.  Only one other channel is in english- CNN World, which I now prefer to normal CNN.  The shower was good quality and never short of hot water.  We had a window that ran just above water level and had a fair view, but certainly nothing picturesque- and it didn't open as the information book states. We peeked into a larger room, one level up from ours- D level I think- and it was MUCH nicer.  However it was $500 more pp and I don't think it is worth the additional cost even now w/ all taken into consideration. Budapest- if you have the chance definitely extend your stay here. It was one of our favorite locations and we wished we had more time. Cafe Girbaud was recommended to us and would recommend it to others.  Wished we had visited a bath house and had more time for museums.   All of the other stops were wonderful and you will have free time to explore on your own at just about every one of them. We weren't sure how much time we would have, but it seemed adequate everywhere.  At least enough time to decide that we loved just about every stop on the cruise.  You do not have much time after the Melk abby, but as quaint as you might think the town is, Regensburg and Passau were much better.  The only stop I could do without is Linz- would rather have had more time in other cities.  A tour in each city is included and were well done.  You have a receiver and ear piece to hear the tour guides on all walking tours.  They worked well and were very helpful.  Some tours were part bus w/ stops and walking portions, while others were walking only.  The tours were not too fast, too slow or overly churchy.  I thought they were well done w/ some people complaining about a few guides-  everyone is split into 3 or 5 groups depending on the stop, and not everyone had the same guide.  You can ask questions and always go back to see things again.  Remember to take some forints, or euros to tip- we forgot a few times and had to scramble to come up w/ 1-2 euros to tip w/.  Excursions- we only did the Kelheim Weltenburg Abbey tour.  We heard from others that other excursions were nice, although there were problems w/ the Vienna Palace tour. We enjoyed the Kelheim tour, but- 25 minute bus ride, 1 hour scenic boat ride w/ a large crowd of tourists, a 5 minute walk to the abbey, 1 hour at the abbey and beer garden, 10 minute walk to another bus, then a few scenic stops back to the boat.  Other than the beer at the abbey being fantastic the trip was mainly forgettable- the rain didn't help either. The only other option is to stay on the Viking ship the whole time.  If you like beer you'll love this excursion.  If you don't like beer your should at least enjoy the scenery.  Food- the dinners were all excellent w/ a variety of tastes- I never knew I would like Borscht!  Lunches were always good w/ buffet and items to order.  Breakfast was fair- burned bacon every day!!  Omelets were subpar.   A few key points: -Do not purchase the Silver Spirits all inclusive beverage package!!  Glasses of wine and beer run about 4-5 euros- or more if you wish a bottle of wine.  Corkage fee for wine brought on board is 7 euro.  Mixed drinks are a bit more- 5-7 euro.  Juices are included w/ breakfast and tea/water/coffee are always available.  We purchased the package and I drank like a fish, but was nowhere close to the total cost of the package- oh, and the sparkling wine, postcards, and hat aren't enough of an incentive. -Always go to the daily briefing and check the front desk for sign-ups.  The daily briefing covers a lot of information pertininent to the next day including signing up for various excursions.  One person was late getting on the boat the first night missed signing up for an excursion and then didn't get to go.  You will not need to sign up for any excursions until you are on the boat, but you need to sign up early rather than wait to make sure you get to go.  -Try the sausage and kraut in Regensburg.  I am not a fan of sausage or sauerkraut, but this was like no sausage or kraut I have had before.  It is/was one of the best things I have ever eaten and I consider myself a foodie.  - Realize there are breakfast and lunch menus if you do not wish to have the buffet items.  - Do not expect there to be food 24/7.  Portions are European style- fairly small.  We heard a few people complain, but I thought the portions were adequate- appetizer, soup, entree, dessert - and you can ask for additional portions including a cheese plate.  - if you have a choice between Prague extension or Budapest, i would choose Budapest.  We did Prague on our own and found it to be overrun w/ tourists, souvenir shops every 3rd shop, but a beautiful city w/ a lot of history.  Budapest was also a beautiful city w/ a lot of history, but fewer crowds and seemed more authentic.  Best to see Budapest before it turns into Prague.  Oh and Prague's pilsen beers were nothing compared to the many German beers I had- just personal preference.  - do some research in each of the cities to determine what you want to see during free time- Oberhaus castle in Passau, "Sissy" museum and Kaiser apartments in Vienna, Landtman Cafe in Vienna, Gerbaud Cafe in Budapest, etc.  You receive some maps and info on each stop, but it helps to know a bit more to maximize your time. - If you have the money to spend it is very helpful to eat lunch off the boat to maximize time at some locations. Especially in Vienna and Nuremburg where your are some distance from the boat and in Regensburg- so you can taste the magnificent sausage!   Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2009
1) It's all inclusive - no nasty surprises. Luxury cabins, all meals, drinks, wine, transportation to and from private excursions/tours, equipment, EVERYTHING is included for one reasonable price.2) Our luxury suite just happened to ... Read More
1) It's all inclusive - no nasty surprises. Luxury cabins, all meals, drinks, wine, transportation to and from private excursions/tours, equipment, EVERYTHING is included for one reasonable price.2) Our luxury suite just happened to be located on the ship. Rather than us packing, unpacking and then repacking at a luxury resort every day - they move our resort for us! Talk about easy! You simply could not replicate this trip on dry land without spending a huge amount of money and spending most of your day traveling from one port to the next. And even then, finding restaurants and meals and equal accommodations, for all practical purposes, impossible. The canal barges are an excellent value for money deal.3) The entire crew was Johnny-on-the-spot eager (!) to help, answer questions, find answers and provide whatever our whims required. Want a major US newspaper delivered to your cabin door in the morning (even if the ship is miles from any major city)? Just ask ahead of time; out in the relaxed rural areas, the locals are very much less interested in stocking the LA Times daily. We asked for - and got - the papers of our choice. (It turns out the crew spent some time arranging delivery to a local shop, in the shop in the town we would b at the next morning. Then at first light a crew member would go out and retrieve the papers from the local shop. This feat is even more amazing as the local shops are not usually open at 5:30 AM. How the crew managed to pull of this trick day after day still amazes me.)The crew did not cease to amaze me in the care and feeding of the passengers. Can't eat grapefruit because of a medical concern? Let them know ahead of time, and if by magic, grapefruit disappears from the menu. The replacement, a large assortment of other fresh fruits, was available. The impressive part of this is that the chef very quietly took care of our diet needs in such a way as to be absolutely undetectable by any other passengers. Rather than pointing out a medical condition by serving one 'odd man out' meal, the entire menu was seamlessly adjusted so that everyone could fearlessly eat everything that came out of the kitchen. It's a small touch, but it means a lot.Our guide would meet us after breakfast and off we would go for another private tour (no line to wait in at all). Private wine tasting with the vintner himself? Check. Private tour of historical sites? Check. Time to explore small towns? Check. And all the while, our Guide was charming, funny and very informative.The entire (small) crew work hard and long to achieve, and retain, a very high level of service and comfort. They seemingly defy gravity in their efforts to meet passenger requests. These guys and gals earned their tips, and I gladly stuffed an envelope for their gratuity, for I was, and remain, grateful for all of their hard work. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2009
This was our second river cruise, the first being the Danube River with Amadeus or AMA as they are called now, three years ago. We loved them both. I know people often ask which cruise line is the best, but comparing Amadeus and Uniworld, ... Read More
This was our second river cruise, the first being the Danube River with Amadeus or AMA as they are called now, three years ago. We loved them both. I know people often ask which cruise line is the best, but comparing Amadeus and Uniworld, they are about the same quality. I read a lot of reviews for Amadeus and Uniworld before booking and I never read one bad review. Here is a list of the little extras we appreciated on our Uniworld cruise:Free wine with dinner we got pop or juice as we don't drink wineBottled water in cabinGlass containers of filtered water to use in cabin or fill plastic bottles for toursFiltered water faucet in common area, along with coffee, tea, hot chocolate and tangerinesDish of wrapped candy at the front deskChocolates on pillow at night but on Easter they put a small wicker basket full of Lindt chocolates and another night there was a small box of chocolate covered raisinsBicycles to use on shoreJuice and hot hand towels when we returned from shore excursions. I loved the peach juiceDVD movies played in roomQuietvox portable lightweight audio headset system for tour leader use on shore excursions. This meant that we did not miss a word of what the tour leader said. I could run around and take pictures and still hear the tour leader talking. I even got separated from the tour and couldn't see them, but I could hear the tour leader.A variety of German sausages, pretzels, beer, pop served on the top deck at 10:30 AM as we cruised by the castle region. A full description and stories of every castle was given by the tour director.Optional dinner served on the top deck a couple nights if you wanted.A private car from Lucerne (we bought the 3 day optional post-cruise tour) to Basal airport. There were 26 people leaving at 6:15 AM for the airport by bus as they had early flights. But we were the only two who had a noon flight and they rented a private car to take us to the airport, so we got to leave at 9:30 AM. They could have had us take the bus and we would have had a long wait at the airport, but they went to the extra expense of renting a private driver. Lights out in the dining room and all waiters came to sing happy birthday to my husband with a small cake and candle. The accompaniment was an accordion played by the man who was providing the special entertainment that evening. We had to turn our passports in for the first night and that is how they knew it was his birthday. We spent three days in Amsterdam pre-cruise and three in Lucerne post-cruise. We were on the River Ambassador which went in service in 1996 and refurbished in 2006. Our Amadeus ship was only one year old and I was thinking that the River Ambassador would seem old. But it did not seem old, in fact it seemed new. The decor was very classy with white and beige colors, the carpet looked new and the dining room was very elegant. All the cabins are the same size on the River Ambassador. Yes, they are small but very well laid out, lots of storage space and our suitcases and carry-ons fit under the bed. I'd say about the same size as an inside cabin on an ocean cruise ship. We never mind the size of the cabins as we are not in our cabins that much just getting ready for the day and changing clothes. A hint: I always travel with a couple over-the-door hangers and used two of them for our coats, and to hang the clothes we were wearing that day. They just help expand the closet space.The food, for the most part, was very good. I am a bit fussy about eating some things, so may not be the best person to ask. My husband, on the other hand, is very adventurous and he ate a lot of different things and enjoyed them all. Breakfast was almost the same each morning and I heard one person complain about that, but the food was good. There was a to-order omelette station, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, pastries and fruit. Lunch was a buffet salad bar, soup, hot dishes, a pasta station a couple days & dessert. One day the chef gave a demo on how to make apple strudel and we had that for lunch dessert. Their ice cream was very good. Dinner was a set menu with a couple choices. I usually got the fish offering and it was very good. There was also a beef and chicken breast alternative offering every night if you didn't want what was offered. I had the chicken breast one night and it was delicious. The portions at dinner are small but I heard one person say that was a good thing as then they did not have that heavy, full feeling going to bed. I was full and satisfied because although the servings are small, we had four courses, so that was plenty. The only thing I would have liked to have changed is more vegetables at dinner. I am a veggie eater and there were either none or very few. We did put that on our survey sheet at the end of the cruise that we'd like more veggies at dinner.  We suggested a bowl of veggies for the table. I'm sure I could have asked for some veggies at dinner, and I do on ocean cruises.We stayed in the new Citizen M hotel at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. It is brand new and a destination in itself. Very modern, high tech and economical.  www.citizenm.com It is a 10 minute walk from the airport mostly under a covered walkway. We paid $100/night. The train station is in the airport, so it was convenient to take the train in to Amsterdam. There is shopping and restaurants and grocery stores in the airport terminal. Citizen M has just opened their second hotel in downtown Amsterdam, so if you haven't booked your hotel, check them out. There are good reviews on www.tripadviser.com. First day: We rode the train into Amsterdam and walked and walked from the Central Station to the Leidseplein area with dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Second day: We took the train to Haarlem, Netherlands, a charming city. Our purpose was to visit Corrie ten Boom's house. In WWII, Corrie, her sister and her father who were Christians, hid Jewish people in their upstairs home which was over their watch shop. They were reported to the German officers by a man they were helping, arrested and sent to concentration camps. The Germans never found the people hiding in a secret place behind a fake wall, but the ten Boom's were arrested for having too many ration cards, which had been obtained by an official person to help feed all the people in the house. Father and sister died in the camp, but Corrie lived to tell about her two years in the camp. She wrote a book, The Hiding Place and it was made into a movie. We got the DVD at our Library to watch before we left for the trip. The house and the operating watch shop is still there and an hour tour of the house is offered free including a small museum. www.corrietenboom.com. We got off the train on our way back at Central Station and walked over to Anne Frank House. The line was too long so we ate dinner and went back. The best time to go is when they open or about 7:00 pm. They stay open until 9:00 pm. This also was very touching and we got to tour the whole house. Third day: We rode a bus to Kukenhof Gardens the very famous tulip garden. It was so beautiful. We took almost 200 pictures and spent five hours there. They had a number of restaurants so we had lunch there. They are only open from March to May.Fourth day: We headed to the castle at Dam Square, but it was not open. There is also a church, but it also was not open. We had lunch and headed back to the hotel, gathered our luggage and went to the airport to connect with the Uniworld rep and transfer to the ship.   There are a lot of museums to visit and Beethoven's house is there, plus you can also take a canal ride (we had done the canal ride when we stopped in Amsterdam on an ocean cruise years before).We ate at The Pancake Bakery - Prinsengracht, 191, a short walk from the Anne Frank house. The food was wonderful. They had lunch, dinner and dessert pancakes. We shared the Indonesian Pancake for dinner and shared the Brazilian Pancake for dessert. I wish we would have had time to go back, it was that good.  We also ate at the De Bisenkorf (Bee Hive) department store. They had a buffet starting at noon. There were lots of choices and even made-to-order items. I think it was on the fifth floor. This store is very near Dam Square. Ports: Cologne: Wonderful cathedral and walking tour.  Very quaint city where my husband enjoyed browsing the sidewalk flea market and I really enjoyed the Lindt Chocolate Factory!Rudesheim: There is a funicular and those that went said it was nice. Tourist area with stores. We had about two or three hours on our own and then we were bused to a winery. It was called a castle, but the tour director said he'd call it a palace and I'd call it a chateau. It was gorgeous! We had a tour to a number of rooms and you could slip into other rooms on the way to take pictures, along with a talk about wine making. We were there about two hours. We don't drink wine so they gave us water instead. In the evening there was an optional dinner in Rudesheim but we did not go. Speyer: A really quaint, scenic town. We had a morning walking tour and then went back to the ship to depart for our optional tour to Heidelberg. We had lunch in Heidelberg, included in the tour, and a two hour walking tour. After lunch we had about two hours to explore Heidelberg. I was impressed with the castle. Although it was a ruin, it was still in pretty good shape and the city is trying to renovate it. Heidelberg is very scenic, especially with the hugh castle sitting on the hill overlooking the town. When we got back to the ship I wanted to go back into Speyer before dinner, but it had started raining which dampened our desire to go back. I think the Heidelberg tour was about 80 Eu per person.Strasbourg: Wow! A really big (comparatively) and scenic town! We loved it. The morning started out with an hour or so covered canal boat ride with commentary. It was raining and foggy, so we couldn't take pictures or have the top off the boat. After the boat ride we had a short walking tour and then we were on our own for the rest of the day. There was a bus shuttle back to the ship, so we explored Petite France for an hour or so and then took the shuttle back to the ship for lunch and after lunch we shuttled back to Strasbourg until about 4:30. Fortunately, after our canal boat ride, the rain stopped and the fog cleared up so we were able to get wonderful pictures. What was our favorite port? I just loved them all, but I think the favorite would be the day long bus trip in the Alsace region of France. We stopped in three charming villages but the bus went through many more and I just kept snapping pictures the whole way. We had lunch on our own in Riquewihr which was our second stop on the Alsace, France all-day bus tour. We had a couple hours for lunch and shopping after the walking tour. Be sure to try the macaroon cookies and caramel glazed almonds and peanuts. For lunch we had La Tarte Flambee which was like a pizza but with a much thinner crust and no tomato sauce but was tasty. The name of the restaurant where we had lunch in Riquewihr - d'Brendelstub - 48, Rue Du General De Gaulle - on the main tourist street.The optional tours we took:  At the Koblenz port we took the optional tour to Marksburg Castle which cost 90 Eu for two people and included a guided tour of the castle and free time in the city and also an apple tart and drink at a local historic restaurant. Our other optional tour was to Heidelberg at the port of Speyer. Lunch was included along with a guided tour of the city and castle and the bus transportation. The cost for two people was 138 Eu. If you purchased the three day extension in Lucerne, you will have a contracted tour guide in Lucerne; ours was named Marc. He took us on a two hour walking tour and then an hour boat ride on the lake. He suggested restaurants and we ate at two, Rossini and La Venice. Very good Italian food. Marc offered two optional tours for day two. One to Mt. Pilatus in the morning and a dinner at a Swiss restaurant with entertainment that evening. Those that went said the entertainment was audience participation with a drinking contest, yodeling contest, horn blowing contest, etc. They said the food was good and lots of fun. I can't remember the exact cost but think around 60 Eu per person and it needs to be paid in cash. I had located a map and walking tour on the Internet, so we did the walking tour and walked the city Tower Wall and went up into one of the towers. It was fun to just walk around especially across the wooden bridge into the older part of the city. We came across scenic squares, monuments and unique buildings. I love the way they do paintings on the outside of the buildings. Stores seemed to close around 6:30 and are not open on Sunday. Shopping is very expensive but a more moderate department store is H & M which I just discovered at a mall in Strongsville, Ohio.  I went in and asked if they were a European company and sure enough they were and new to the US.  I've seen H & M in a number of cities in Europe.On day two we boarded the boat, a ten minute walk from the hotel, at Pier 1, for Vitznau. Got off there and looked around the little town and then boarded the cog railway to the top of Mt. Rigi, had lunch in the hotel cafeteria, hiked around for about an hour, took tons of spectacular pictures, then took the cog to Rigi-Kaltbad where we got off and boarded the cable car down to the city of Weggis. It was a ten or fifteen minute scenic walk down to the pier where we got on the boat back to Lucerne. Wonderful scenic day. You can get one ticket for all the above for 100 Eu per person. Looking at some of the prices, it seemed we saved money over buying each ticket separately.On day three we took the train to Engleberg, Switzerland, an hour south of Lucerne. It was a very scenic ride with the rolling green meadows, the snow capped mountains and we even traveled through a forest. We found the tourist office and the two hikes we wanted to take were not available because of too much snow that hadn't melted yet. The Rep suggested we walk to a falls and it was very scenic through town, woods and all walking towards Mt. Titlus. The train was 30 something Eu per person.The hotel Monopol was across the street from the train station and very conveniently located. The train station had lots of stores grocery, clothing and cafes and stayed open until 9:00 PM.  Marc helped others who wanted to go to Bern and Interlaken for the day. We had no problem with the water levels. Steamboats (a cruisecritic member who lives in Germany) had advised us on the board before we left that the Rhine does not have as much problem with high water as does the Danube.It could be chilly on the top deck and I needed to wear lots of layers. When we cruised the castle area, the sun was shining but it looked a lot warmer than it was. We all bundled up because we would not have wanted to miss even one castle along the route. The River Ambassador had a covered sitting area which shielded us from the wind, but you could still see the scenery. Here is what I packed to use if necessary for layering. Short sleeved tops, two long-sleeved knit tops, a cotton short jacket and a corduroy short jacket (these were not outdoor jackets, but ones that you wear indoors) a thin windbreaker, a pull-over sweater and a thigh length spring coat. On the coldest days I had on the long-sleeved knit top, pull-over sweater, cotton jacket, windbreaker and then my spring jacket. I took those little knit gloves and also a knit scarf. Those departing from the boat left at different times depending on their flight schedule. Our bus to Lucerne left at 9:00 AM and there were still lots of people left on the ship. The luggage is put out in the morning and they have a scheduled time for each cabin depending on the time you are leaving. They didn't want all the luggage out at the same time so guests would not trip over it. You have to get out of your cabin by 8:30 and then you can wait in the lounge until you are called for your bus to the airport. River cruising is quite different than ocean cruising. No big ship, no high entertainment, no casino. But the trade-off is that you get to see towns that the ocean cruise ships can't get to. It's an easy way to tour, rather than renting a car and doing it on your own. This is stress-free and they take very good care of you and do everything they can to make your vacation wonderful.  We did have a couple nights of entertainment a family, mother, father, daughter mother sang (she had a beautiful opera voice, but also sang all other types of music) father on keyboard and daughter on sax. Another night was an accordion player. All other nights was a man on keyboard singing and playing dance music. They played a game with us one other night incorporating the crew. Some nights you are still docked after dinner and could walk into town if you wanted and one port had an optional dinner.  I think you are going to enjoy this as long as you don't expect it to be like an ocean cruise. We love both ocean and river cruising as each has lots to offer. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2009
First let my say we went with no expectations.We knew the ship was small and the cabins were small.One bed folds up on the wall during the day to give more room.Hanging space is very limited.Cabins 34 and 35  have a double bed (well not ... Read More
First let my say we went with no expectations.We knew the ship was small and the cabins were small.One bed folds up on the wall during the day to give more room.Hanging space is very limited.Cabins 34 and 35  have a double bed (well not really)If you are over 5' 9" you hit the wall at each end and the curve of the hull on one side takes away more space.You need to crawl over the other person to get in/out of bed.The age of the passengers was from mid 50's to 90, most were over 70.We had 30 passengers on our cruise and we were two of the younger ones (61 & 62).ACTIVITIES:Daily puzzles,Trivia, bingo, shuffleboard, nightly entertainment, shore excursions Entertainment was good with local talent. We had a magician, a guitarist/singer, a flutist and guitarist,  a comedian/guitarist and a trio. Shore trips included in the cruise were: Fulford Mansion in Brockville, Fort Wellington in Prescott, Old Montreal and trip to the Cosmosdome, Upper Canada Village, trip to the 1000 Island Skydeck and lots of locks during the trip.FOOD:The meals were fair to good.Breakfast was one special of the day plus  cold cereal, oatmeal, toast, muffins, juices, fruit.Lunch was usually a hot meal with soup or a small salad. (no choice of entrees)One day we had hamburger buffet with several salad choices.For dinner you had two choices which you chose the night before.Late night snack consisted of small hot or cold hors-d' oeuvresMuffins, coffee, tea, lemonade or iced tea were available during the day at the self serve station.Food portions were small and quality was inconsistent. Sometimes the food was not cooked well or overcooked. Vegetables were usually mushy and overcooked.A couple of the fish meals tasted off and smelled fishy (fresh fish should not smell).If you do not like either of the dinner or lunch entree they have no provisions for a substitute meal.Drink prices were very reasonable and soft drinks were free.PROS: The crew was very good. Ted the bartender and Marc the purser made a good team.Small ship, relaxing cruise.CONS:Not much time in port, just enough for the excursionsFood portions & selections They need to start marketing to the younger seniors. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2009
If our experience is typical, Viking is slipping in quality. We cruised the Rhine with them five years ago and were very impressed. This time we cruised the Danube, on a nearly identical ship, and were sorry to find that the experience was ... Read More
If our experience is typical, Viking is slipping in quality. We cruised the Rhine with them five years ago and were very impressed. This time we cruised the Danube, on a nearly identical ship, and were sorry to find that the experience was not as good. The plan looked good:  visit several interesting places along the legendary Danube. The lavishly illustrated brochure made it seem this trip would offer the same high level of service as before. The reality was somewhat less than we expected.  For example, the breakfast and lunch buffets were not as extensive as we recalled, and didn't have much variety from day to day. Breakfast included such mistakes as burnt pancakes, watery oatmeal and a flat, tasteless omelette. Lunch one day in the land of great sausages featured plain American hot dogs. While dinner held to the former high standards, the portion size had shrunk. Of course, inactive people on a cruise boat don't need to eat very much, but putting us all on a diet seemed less than generous.  The staff seemed less courteous than we recalled. More than once I was nearly run down in the buffet line by busy waiters hurrying past without waiting for diners to get out of their way. Table service was also rather brusque, we felt. Part of the problem was a language barrier. Most of the crew was from former Eastern Bloc countries such as Slovakia and Hungary, and their limited English made communications difficult. Even with all the goodwill in the world, it's hard to feel connected to someone when you can't speak to each other beyond the simplest of words.  We also experienced a problem with cabin service. Our cabin attendant was always working in our room just before we needed to leave for the day's excursion and wouldn't leave unless we insisted. She seemed to think we should stay away until she was finished. It was awkward, since we needed to get ready to go. I don't recall having any such problem last time. Why can't room cleaning wait until after the passengers have disembarked for the scheduled excursion? Perhaps the biggest problem we experienced was the loss of a promised night in Vienna the only night we would be there. We were told that the ship could not get through as scheduled due to bridge construction, and so it tied up at the tiny village of Krems, where there were no attractions of interest. I don't know why Viking couldn't work around the problem other ships that had been on the same schedule as ours in the days before were not tied up at Krems. But even assuming there was truly no way to get through, Viking didn't have enough concern for its customers to do the right thing. They had promised us a night in Vienna. They could and should have taken us there by bus if they couldn't do it on the ship. It wasn't that far, and wouldn't have been that expensive. Most of us would have been willing to pay a reasonable amount for the extra cost involved, but it wasn't offered. I think it was this incident that crystallized my feelings about the lack of good customer service on this cruise.  Anyone reading this review is probably aware that Viking has adopted 2-for-1 pricing for the 2009 season. We took advantage of that offer. You might say we shouldn't complain when we were getting such a good deal. But 2-for-1 is only a good deal if you get two of the original quality for the price of one, not when you get two of something less. We were disappointed. If Viking has decided to reposition itself at the low-price end of the cruise business, that's their decision, Perhaps we were just naive to think quality would hold up as prices fell, but if Viking wants to sail down to the lower end of the market, perhaps they could save significant money and also be more forthright with their customers by putting out a cheaper looking brochure.  Read Less
Sail Date: May 2009
We took the maiden voyage of the Avalon Affinity on one of their new cruises for the year, Windmills, Vineyards and Paris.   It was fantastic.  I was a little hesitant after reading reports about other companies and their maiden ... Read More
We took the maiden voyage of the Avalon Affinity on one of their new cruises for the year, Windmills, Vineyards and Paris.   It was fantastic.  I was a little hesitant after reading reports about other companies and their maiden voyages, but I am here to say that the launch of the Affinity and the tour were fantastic.   The Affinity is the newest ship in the fleet, holding 138 passengers. The Affinity officially launched in a formal ceremony on Saturday, May 9th. Updated design:1.  From the entry doors, there is a reception desk and two computers for internet access. 2.  Towards the front of the ship there is a lounge which is outfitted with comfortable chairs, sofas, and sturdy tables. 3.  A short flight of steps up from the reception desk are the Royal Deck and Suite rooms. 4.  At the end of the hallway from these rooms is a beauty shop and a small lounge where the coffee, tea, etc. are served 24 hours a day. This is also the location of the Early Riser and Late Riser breakfasts. 5.  A short flight of stairs down from the reception area are the Sapphire Deck rooms. 6.  A short flight of stairs down from the Sapphire rooms is the Dining Room. The buffet area is much better 'presented'. Two tables are set up for 8 people while the others are for 4 or 6 people. 7.  A short flight of stairs down from the dining room are the Indigo Deck rooms along with a fitness center. The center has two bicycle-type machines along with a treadmill. 8.  Top deck has a hot tub for 6. There are two areas that are covered by a canopy for those sunny days. There are more chairs, tables, and lounges than the Artistry had last year. 9.  Staterooms are similar to the other ships. I found the bathrooms to be better thought out than on Artistry. The bathroom has more storage in the vanity area than on the Artistry.  10.  All other room storage remains the same. I actually had a lot of room left over. 11. Elevator is located in the corner of each floor.The ship and its furnishings are very attractive. The ship is maintained well during the trip. The floors are spotless. The dining room has good soundproofing.When arriving back from touring, the staff meets you with a cold drink and a hand towel.The maiden voyage had a few 'glitches' but nothing that caused anyone to be inconvenienced. 1.  The elevator was not working for several days. The engineers worked on it to fix it as fast as possible. 2.  The ship was scheduled to go through a large lock in Rotterdam. However, the lock wasn't working and what was left was a smaller lock. After several hours, the captain and the lock master agreed to give it a try using the smaller lock. The lock doors closed with only inches to spare. It was a great job by all the crew to recover from that. 3.  The ship got 'caught' on a sandbar leaving Rudesheim. The captain was able to get the ship off the sandbar without any damage. However, this delay caused the scheduled events for the day to be delayed. 4.  Due to delays at some locks, the tour busses picked up the group or delivered the group to a location other than where we were scheduled to depart or arrive. It gave us a chance to see other towns that we might have not seen otherwise.These delays were handled very professionally by our wonderful cruise director, Isabel Heimann.   Our tour started in Amsterdam, where we met at a hotel and had an opportunity to meet some of our fellow travelers and to sign up for an optional tour to Zaanses Schans, which we took.  After that tour, we were taken directly to the ship where our luggage was already in our stateroom.  We freshened up, quickly unpacked, put our empty suitcases under the bed, and headed upstairs to the lounge.  The stateroom is has so much storage that we didn't use it all, which is unusual for me.   Each day we stopped at a different port.  Some cities offered optional tours.  We enjoyed seeing different parts of the Netherlands, along with Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg, and France.    Our ports of call were:  Amsterdam, Netherlands; Gouda-Dordrecht, Netherlands; Antwerp, Belgium; Maastricht, Netherlands; Nijmegen, Netherlands; Arnhem, Germany; Cologne, Germany; Koblenz-Rhine Gorge-Rudesheim, Germany; Cochem, Germany; Bernkastel, Germany; Trier, Germany; Remich, Luxembourg; and Paris. France.   Optional tours included:  Rijksmuseum; Zaanses Schans; Voldendam; Brussels; Aachen - Aux Le Bains; Bonn; Excursion to a German Dinner; Battle of the Bulge - on the footsteps of General Patton; Excursion to Luxembourg; An evening at the Artists Quarters of Montmartre; Mona Lisa's Smile at the Louvre; The Palace of Versailles; Moulin Rouge Dinner & The Greatest French Cabaret.   The city tours were good for the most part.  We were given headsets to use with our local guides, which worked out well.  Unfortunately, we didn't use them in Gouda and only those in the front could hear.    The optional tours that we took were great.  We took more of them than we had originally planned, but they were well worth the money.    The food was very good.  The breakfast buffet consisted of fruit, cheese, bread, eggs (hard cooked, scrambled, and an omelet station), various meats, hot cereal, cold cereal, yogurt for example.   At lunch there were two soups each day.  A change from last year is that there were two menu offerings each day in addition to the buffets.  The buffet had two meats and one pasta vegetarian offering, along with a salad bar, cheese bar, and wonderful desserts.   Dinner had two standing menu items which were chicken or salmon.  The meal consisted of appetizer, soup, salad, main course, and dessert.  Each night there was plentiful local wine to go with the meal.  I didn't have anything that I wasn't pleased with.   Evening entertainment consisted of a talk on diamonds, a trio playing classical music, the crew show and a play that Isabel put together with various members of the audience.  What a lot of fun.   We took the bullet train into Paris.  It was neat to see how fast the countryside passed by us.  In Paris, we were taken directly to the hotel where a special desk has been set up to give us our room keys.  The luggage had been sent by truck from the ship so it was delivered to our rooms shortly after we checked in.  The hotel, Le Meridien Montparnasse, was very nice and located near the southern train station and the metro.     We took two of the optional trips, the Artists Quarters of Montmartre, and Versailles.  Trips to the Louvre and Moulin Rouge were also included.   We stayed for an extra day and took the metro to tour Notre Dame, Arch de Triumph, and the Eifel Tower.    The tour was wonderful and we are already planning our next river cruise.         Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2009
My husband and I recently returned from a two week Rhine and Moselle River Cruise on the Affinity from Amsterdam to Basel. While most of the ports were good or excellent, the ship and services were disappointing and need much improvement, ... Read More
My husband and I recently returned from a two week Rhine and Moselle River Cruise on the Affinity from Amsterdam to Basel. While most of the ports were good or excellent, the ship and services were disappointing and need much improvement, especially for a cruise that "targets upscale North American passengers". I preface this review with the fact that we are experienced travelers and have taken other river boats before, being very pleased with the experience.             THE SHIP- Room size. At 172 square feet, the impression is that the room is larger than the regular room on other river boats. While we did not measure the room, it did not appear to be any larger than other boats. You should not have any illusions of spaciousness.             Beds- What a disappointment. While the ship(and beds) were new, the mattresses were soft and the bedding (quilts and pillows) so small, making sleeping uncomfortable. Be aware that there is a split in the middle of the two beds and could be somewhat improved if full size bedding and mattress covers were used.              Computers - There were only two computers located in the lobby for up to 138 passengers. This is way too low considering that in many ports internet cafes are not available and there are few activities and entertainment on board, increasing the demand and frustration of passengers.                  Coffee and tea service all day - Yes, but it is located in a remote area of the top of the third deck, which is not easily accessible.             FOOD AND DINING - Breakfast buffet was good, however often food or drinks were not replaced on a timely basis. Cooked-to-order omelets available and good. Lunch buffet had better selections than dinner, however very often the touring schedule was such that getting back to the ship in order to eat lunch was not only inconvenient, but also wasted valuable touring time. In several ports, we chose to stay in town and eat lunch. The ship finally provided tour buses to shuttle guests back to town after lunch as well, but it took two weeks to get that service provided! Dinner - several things. Most distressing was open seating as it made it difficult to get a large table for a group of six or eight. Food - limited selection. Boring -little food of high quality. Everything was very salty. Difficult to get coffee or tea during or after meal (procedure was no coffee until after dessert) and no sweetener on table. Waiters very nice but "busboy" quality with no personality and little common sense. Did not seem to understand North American preferences as per "upscale" tours.. Very interested in constantly filling wine glasses.             ENTERTAINMENT - Only two nights of outside entertainment for two weeks, one of which was very poor. Keyboard player available every night for dancing.             CRUISE DIRECTOR AND TOURS - For the most part, our local guides were very good or excellent. The Cruise Director on board did not give adequate information. There were several errors and miscommunication made prior to docking. She did not seem to know about local holidays and closings until too late to make alternate arrangements. Her information on local ports very limited.  Insufficient information concerning levels of difficulty for limited mobility guests. There were many incidents where the Cruise Director's poor information or lack of communication was detrimental. She was also very defensive when approached with recommendations for improvement.             TIPPING POLICY - The printed guidelines of Avalon suggest a gratuity of $18 per person per day for the cruise staff plus $4.50 per person per day for the Cruise Director (which would be over $7,000 in tips for two weeks!). This is outrageous and almost double the tipping guidelines of both big ship cruises and other river cruises. Obviously, with our dissatisfaction, we tipped accordingly. Unfortunately, many others may have been scammed in to believing Avalon's policy is the norm. This was an indication of Avalon's attitude towards its guests, where form over substance was important.             In summary, we enjoyed the cruise because of the great ports and our ability to independently tour them when necessary, as well as meeting some lovely and congenial people, who shared our feelings. Given the cost of the cruise at more than $700 per couple per day (without airfare), next time we will think about using five star hotels and land based tours so that we can have more control over our travel experience. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2009
My wife and I took the European Jewels cruise May 9th 2009 aboard the River Empress. I will say that the entire experience, from the time we boarded the ship in Budapest and were checked in, to the day we disembarked in Amsterdam, was far ... Read More
My wife and I took the European Jewels cruise May 9th 2009 aboard the River Empress. I will say that the entire experience, from the time we boarded the ship in Budapest and were checked in, to the day we disembarked in Amsterdam, was far beyond our expectations. The food was remarkable and the wait staff was exceptional. I have eaten in five star restaurants that didn't do as good a job as the restaurant staff on the River Empress. Almost without exception, the shore excursions and local guides were easy to navigate and understand. The ports selected were a wonderful cross section of the area and represented big cities to small villages and everything in between. The Cruise Director became the "Go To" person for questions large and small and handled each one with humor and grace that had my wife and me shaking our heads in wonderment. Bravo to Bart. At the end of a long day of sightseeing ancient towns and villages, eating great food and drinking wonderful wines and beers, if was a pleasure to retreat to our cabin and climb into the best "Hotel Bedding" we have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. I would recommend this cruise and Uniworld to anyone who would like to experience Europe in comfort and style. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
After many failed attempts to book small to large groups on European River Cruises, we finally managed to reserve 5 cabins on the Viking Pride.  The 7 night trip sailed from Nuremberg to Budapest over the Main-Danube Canal and Danube ... Read More
After many failed attempts to book small to large groups on European River Cruises, we finally managed to reserve 5 cabins on the Viking Pride.  The 7 night trip sailed from Nuremberg to Budapest over the Main-Danube Canal and Danube River.  The group was composed of mostly experienced cruisers, although none of us had tried river cruising before this trip.  Boarding was efficient with very pleasant and helpful staff.  Early boarders were provided with a bus trip into Nuremberg for some bonus touring - a nice touch.  Rooms were spacious, clean, and well organized with ample storage and comfortable beds.  Free WiFi service (generally available in port only) was a bonus that made staying in touch with family at home both easy and inexpensive.  The ship offers a couple of "all-inclusive" options that provide semi-unlimited alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks while onboard.  More convenience than cost savings, the unlimited alcoholic drinks were priced at 300 euro per cabin and included all you care to drink house wines(six decent choices) or draft beer (one choice) and two cocktails per day.  Cocktails were stingy with one carefully measured shot of alcohol per drink.  Bar service was spotty with one server very friendly and accommodating while the other server was frequently absent from post and provided the minimum service required.  Included tours at each port were quite good with well-informed local tour guides, wireless headsets, and easy walking.  Usually just one or two hours in length, the tours allowed time for independent exploration, lunch, and shopping.  Optional tours were reasonably priced.  The ship was spotless and well appointed.  We were disappointed, though, to learn that the top deck would not be available for the first half of the trip.  Low bridges require that all furniture, umbrellas, and railings are taken down until reaching the town of Passau.  Scenery along the Main/Danube Canal was pretty mundane with factories, a few small towns, and occasional fishermen and sunbathers; nothing brochure worthy.  Passing through the first few locks, which can raise and lower the ship more than 80 feet, was interesting.  The next twenty or so locks were less so.   No scenes here to make the next Viking brochure.  Once in the Danube, though, scenery improved a bit with the hoped for villages and castles standing guard over the river.  Dining room food and service were quite disappointing.  The food was generally bland and unseasoned, and the menus were mostly uninspired.  Soups were salty, but with little flavor.  Most seemed to be made from the same tasteless cream soup base with a few vegetables thrown in.  Breakfast was a combination buffet and made-to-order served by a wait staff whose inattentiveness bordered on rude.  When one guest asked for a couple sausages on her made-to-order eggs benedict, she was told "You can get them from the buffet."  Wait staff serving coffee would frequently refuse to take food orders.  Wait staff taking food orders would generally refuse to pour coffee ("The other server will be here shortly with coffee.")  Airing our concerns directly to the Head Chef brought a look of surprise and disbelief.  Chef Claimed that it was necessary to cook this way to please everyone on the ship and insisted that he had never heard a complaint before.  His solution was to bring a plate of spices to our tables.  The spices he provided were completely in appropriate for that evening's meal, but he tried.  Having been on several ships with as many as ten times the number of passengers, the food on the Viking Pride ranks well below any of the others. NurembergMostly destroyed during the war, but rebuilt consistent with historical architecture, Nuremberg contains the tattered remains of the Third Reich.  Some interesting, if not spectacular, buildings and churches.  RegensbergMore impressive, architecturally, than Nuremberg.  In the midst of a downpour, we enjoyed excellent hand-tossed pizza and wine.  PassauGood shopping in local bakeries, wurstmarts, and chocolate shops.  MelkWonderful village with beautiful Benedictine monastery at the top of the hill.  Only disappointment was lack of time to spend in the village. ViennaBustling city with wonderful pastry shops and restaurants.  Much to see.  So little time.  Easy travel by underground trains. BudapestHighlight of the trip.  Must see the old city, the Market, the river, the bridges, Parliament, churches, funicular Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2009
Just returned  from a 13 day vacation on Avalon Scenery with 7 nite cruise, 2  nites in Paris, and 1 in Nice. Started in Paris with 2 nite stay at Le Meridian in Montparnese area.Nice rooms and close to Metro.Buffet breafast inc.Then ... Read More
Just returned  from a 13 day vacation on Avalon Scenery with 7 nite cruise, 2  nites in Paris, and 1 in Nice. Started in Paris with 2 nite stay at Le Meridian in Montparnese area.Nice rooms and close to Metro.Buffet breafast inc.Then on day 3 took a 3 hr. bus ride to Chalon du Sur on Saone River to board ship.They did stop for lunch at roadside restuarant with remarkably good food and facilities. The ship was spacious in cabin size, 170 sq.ft and it had a french balcony.The problem was it had a bad odor and lighting in bathroom was inadequate.Other passengers also complained about this and it did seem to get a little better after sailing.The food was average for breakfast with buffet,but coffee lukewarm.The lunch buffet was below average, little choice, food not warm enough and little choice for desserts.But dinner was better with more choices and taste was above average for most riverboats I ve been on.Ports of call inc. Avignon, wonderful city with Popes Palace to explore ,plus many cafes and shops.A wonderful train goes around town for 45 min.trip to get feel for city.Boat parked within 1 block of city entrance.Easy to see on your own,not necessary to join tour.Viviers was another lovely town, very old and historic areas.Went to a church were a wonderful organ recitial was held.Would have liked to stay longer, but only 3 hr.before ship left.Arles a great city, easy to walk around.Took bus ride to Nice, about 3 hrs.Stayed at Hotel Bosculo, nice rooms and great location.As far as entertainment, had it a2 nites on boat.A French singer and band called Gypsy Kings, nice but sort of hokey.Did have nightly dancing with piano bar.The people on board were all well traveled, professionals,,mostly 50 plus range.No facilities for children and would not bring them .The crew was very nice and fun,helpful,etc.Have been on many riverboats,but would not go on another Avalon because of above problems.                  Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
My  husband and I took the Paris-Normandy trip on the River Baroness in June, 2009.  This was a great trip with a good combination of busy and down times.  We loved sitting up on the top deck watching the countryside go by as we cruised ... Read More
My  husband and I took the Paris-Normandy trip on the River Baroness in June, 2009.  This was a great trip with a good combination of busy and down times.  We loved sitting up on the top deck watching the countryside go by as we cruised on the Seine River.  The top deck had a glass-enclosed space for chilly evenings and lounge chairs for sunning.  The passengers were a mix of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, British and U.S. citizens.    The cabins are on the small side, but very efficient.  There were two twin beds that could be pushed together or kept apart.  Suitcases fit nicely under the beds and there was a large drawer under each bed.  There were 3 drawers in the closet and a large shelf towards the ceiling that went over the bed area and shelves and reading lamps on the side of each bed.  There was a chair and a stool and a low table with another shelf below  that held the water bottles, ice bucket and glasses .  Behind the door there was a large full-length mirror with a plug next to it.  There was also a dual voltage plug next to one of the beds. The bathroom  was built for one person and there is a shelf above and below the sink and another plug.  There were built-in containers of L'Occitane shower cream and shampoo in the shower and body lotion by the sink.  2 washcloths, 2 hand towels and 2 bath towels were replenished as needed.  There was a hair dryer provided.  I used my dual-voltage curling iron with an adaptor with no problems.  Nightly turn down service with chocolates was provided each evening while we were at dinner.   Breakfast and lunch were both served buffet style with lots of options.  Made-to-order omelets were available each morning along with the buffet.  Lunch always featured soup, sandwich and hot items along with salads, cheeses and dessert.  Dinner featured a choice of 2 starters, 2 soups, cheese and 2 dessert options.  There were usually two main course options along with a 3rd Vegetarian option.  There was always the option to have Steak or Chicken Breast, fries, salad, ice cream or fruit plate if the regular menu wasn't to your liking.  The food was very good.  Wine and soft drinks were complimentary during dinner.  Seating was open and you usually had a 1 ½ to 2 hour window for each meal time.  There was 'tea' served every afternoon and when you came back from a shore excursion, the crew was waiting with juice and warm towels for everyone as you came back onboard.   The crew was great and all seemed to get along like one big happy family.  There was no self serve laundry onboard, but service laundry was available.  Prices were about 4 euro for pants, 3.5 euro for a shirt, 1.5 euro for a t-shirt, for example.  In the 'patio' area there was an ice & water machine and a coffee, tea and hot chocolate machine along with iced tea that was available 24 hours a day.  There were 2  water bottles in each room that could be refilled each morning from this area to take on excursions.  There was a piano player who played every day during tea and before and after dinner.  On 2 different nights local entertainment was brought onboard.   You were welcome to board the boat any time on Sunday - a light lunch buffet was served during the afternoon.  We boarded about 3 pm and were shown to our cabin immediately.  The boat is docked in Paris across from Parc Andre Citroen.  Some people walked up to the Eiffel Tower (about 2 miles) before the boat sailed at 6 pm.  We sailed all night and went through 5 locks on the way to Les Andelys - a lovely little town.   We were docked right in town, although it was a Monday and not much was open.  The included excursion was to Chateau Gaillard up the hill.  You could either hike up or take the bus.  The boat departed at 3:30 to sail to Rouen where we arrived about 8 pm.  Again we were docked right in town so you could go for an evening stroll thru the town.  Rouen is a large town and there was a walking tour on Tuesday morning and time to go back into town in the afternoon to do some shopping.  There was an optional tour that afternoon to Chateau de Vascoeuil (48E) - no feedback available.  The boat stayed docked in Rouen that night and then on Wednesday was the full-day excursion to the Normandy Beaches which was a very special day.  About 7 pm we set sail to Caudebec where we arrived about 10:30 - it was lovely to sit out on deck after dinner and see the houses along with river.  On Thursday morning we boarded the buses to go to Honfleur - a seaside village - where we were taken on a walking tour of the city.  There was an option to go back to the boat at 12:30, stay in Honfleur til 2:30 when a bus would come back to pick you up or go on an optional excursion to a cider farm/lunch/Deauville (57E).  We did not go on this excursion but everyone who went said that it was a great afternoon - good lunch and Deauville has a casino.  At 6 we sailed all night back to Vernon.  Friday brought the included tour to Giverny - the poppies and roses were in full bloom.  While we were at Giverny the boat sailed to Mante-la-Jolie where we boarded for lunch.  After lunch you had the option of staying on the boat while it sailed to Conflans or to go on an optional excursion to Versailles (53E).  We went to Versailles and toured the palace with a guide and then had an hour or so to see the gardens.  Unfortunately, there was not enough time to go out to the Hamlet or the Trianons, but that would take all day to see the whole place - next time!  When we arrived back at the boat it left again for Paris where we arrived in time to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle at midnight.  On Saturday morning we went on the included City Tour of Paris where we stopped for a photo op down from the Eiffel Tower and a stop at Luxombourg Gardens where we walked through part of it with the guide.   That afternoon there was an optional excursion to the Louvre with a guide (53E).  On Saturday evening there were two optional tours available - Dinner at Altitude 95 at the Eiffel Tower (159E) or an evening at the Lido (142E).  On Sunday morning you needed to be out of your cabin by 8 am but were invited to stay on the boat as long as you wanted to during the day.  They scheduled transfers to the airport all during the day.   Each evening before dinner the Cruise Manager gave a short talk about the next days activities and the daily program was in your room when you returned from dinner.  There was a morning exercise scheduled each morning and a small fitness center.  On Monday night was the Captain's Welcome Dinner where the crew was introduced.  On Friday night was the Captain's Farewell Dinner.  Most people dressed up a little for these two nights, but nothing too fancy.  Other nights most men wore sports shirts and slacks and the women wore sun dresses or slacks - pretty casual really.  Umbrellas were provided in case of rain.  There was wi-fi most of the time and there was a computer for use for a nominal charge.  There were 2 movies shown continuously during the day on the TV and there was English language CNN plus many French channels  available.   We had a wonderful time on this trip and are sold on river cruising.  We extended this trip with 2 days in Paris before and 2 days in Paris after which gave us enough time to do a few other things in Paris.  Many on the trip were also combining this with the Burgundy & Provence cruise making this a 2 week journey.   Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2009
Very little has been written about the Canadian Empress so we approached our trip with little or no information about the ship or the cruise itself.This is a small ship, the only ship of the St. Lawrence Cruises company.  it is ... Read More
Very little has been written about the Canadian Empress so we approached our trip with little or no information about the ship or the cruise itself.This is a small ship, the only ship of the St. Lawrence Cruises company.  it is headquartered in Kingston, Ontario, and sails a summer schedule of trips of various lengths along the St. Lawrence Seaway.   Our trip began in Kingston and ended in Ottawa.   We flew into Ottawa, spent two nights at the wonderful Chateau Laurier and then took the train down to Kingston about two and a half hours.   We spent one night in Kingston.  A nice little town but not worth more than one night.  Great B&B there The Frontenac Club Inn.We boarded the ship at 5:30 p.m.   The ship is very punctual.  No boarding early and it departs right at 6:30 p.m.  Guests should plan accordingly.The Empress accommodates 60 passengers.  Our trip over Canada Day and 4th of July had 31 guests.  The cruise director described this as a "light" summer.   The ship is running about half capacity for most of its trips.   While this is difficult for the company, it's great for the passengers.    The normal two seatings were merged into one.   There was an abundance of extra seats on the upper deck and other outside areas.    As we had two days of rainy, fairly cold weather, this was a real plus.CABINS As you would expect, the cabins are small.   There are several with double beds but most have two bunks, one that folds down during the day.   Toilet must be pumped.   Overall, we did not find the size to be a problem.   We were, however, ready to get off after 5 nights and looked forward to our king bed!   The attendant was excellent and the room and the ship overall are very well maintained and very clean.FOOD The hospitality crew on the ship rotates.  We had Joe as chef and he was outstanding.  Really, really good food.   Lots of fresh vegetables, 2 fish entrees that were very good, and a prime rib as good as I've ever had.  The highlight, unfortunately, was Joe's breads and pastries.  Homemade bread with every meal, including breakfast and an apple pie to die for.  No complaints.ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT   The ship makes at least one stop a day along the St. Lawrence for a tour.  Given the places available, they do a pretty good job.  The best, without question, was the tour of the Upper Canada Village, Canada's Williamsburg.   Surprisingly, the school bus tour of the animal park in Montebello was great fun, mostly due to the antics of the passengers who really got into the trip in spite of a misting rain and temps in the 60's.   The least interesting was the tour of Montreal, largely due to the guide, who told jokes and did not seen so interested in sharing the history or the sites of the city.  A disapointment.The evening's entertainment was actually quite good all brought in from the local area and all who sought to capture the Canadian spirit, with a few American tunes along the way.   The last night's "dance band", a trio, led to a lively evening of dancing, singing and fun.PASSENGERS Given the size of the ship and the vageries of the weather, this cruise is more dependent than most on the make-up of the passengers.  We were very lucky.  A great group which ran the gamut from a very successful real estate developer, several retired foreign service couples, a fireman and a realtor.   The vast majority of passengers were retired, age 65 and above but they were lively, informed, and full of zest.   WOULD WE DO IT AGAIN?   This was a very nice trip, again largely due to the fellow passengers, the great food, and the scenery.  The Thousand Islands are beautiful and best seen from the water.   There were a number of repeat passengers on the ship.   I don't know as I would do it again but I did feel we more than got our money's worth and we thoroughly enjoyed our time on the Seaway.   Just be aware this is not the typical cruise experience.   Go in with reasonable expections and they will be exceeded. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
My wife and I have taken nineteen ocean cruises. It was time for something different. We were eager to explore central Europe. We decided to take a Viking River Cruise.  We were amazed at how many river cruise ships are plying German ... Read More
My wife and I have taken nineteen ocean cruises. It was time for something different. We were eager to explore central Europe. We decided to take a Viking River Cruise.  We were amazed at how many river cruise ships are plying German waters!  We took advantage of a 2 for 1 offer and had a 12 day vacation for around $2200 per person. The first two days were based on land. We stayed at the Novotel Paris Tour Eiffel. It was a four star rated facility. It was fine for the most part but the AC struggled to keep us cool in the humid Paris summertime. The two days in Paris included a half day excursion to see the city highlights. The rest was free time. From Paris we traveled to Trier, Germany. Enroute we visited the American Cemetery in Luxembourg and had a half day tour of Luxembourg City. We boarded our ship in Trier.  A big advantage with this river cruise line was that all excursions are included in your price. On bigger ships there is a wide range of excursions offered that are mostly overpriced and similar to "cattle cars" in the amount of personal attention one receives. The excursions on the Viking Sky were mainly overviews of the places we visited and would have cost over $1000 per person on an ocean ship.  River cruises are a great value. Another big difference with ocean ships is with the food. On the big boats you get lots of food at just about all hours of the day. On the river cruise you get your three meals and that is it.  Within each meal there were a few choices but not many. That is fine as we tend to gorge on the bigger ships. The food was of good quality and often reflected the region that the ship was in at the time. Another difference was that the river cruise was a bit more sedate. Music was provided by a man with a synthesizer and was adequate. There were very few additional programs on the ship. Mostly a lecture or demonstration after dinner. That was fine for the most part and resulted in a relaxing time.   There was a port per day. The tours mostly took place in the morning. They provided us with "audiovox" listening units so we could hear the tour guide clearly even while lingering behind to explore something of interest. I think that you will see more and more tours using this new device.  After the seven day cruise we spent two days at a five star hotel in Prague.  This was a nice way to end the vacation. We also had a general tour of Prague included by the cruise line with plenty of time to visit on one's own.  If you are looking for a cruise experience that is more location intensive and less ship focused a river cruise could be something for you. The clientele skews a bit older and slower but this is a wonderful way to see the world.  Trier- very interesting Roman ruins. This used to be a capital of the Roman Empire in the Rhine area.   Bernkastel- quaint town and wine tasting like you have never experienced (as much as you wanted as you do your own pouring). Cochen- interesting restored castle. Another quaint town. Koblenz- Not much here. Rhine Cruise- a highlight of the trip.  Amazing beauty. Rudesheim- highlight is a tram ride to the top of the hill to view a monument and the Rhine valley. Heidelberg- full day excusion including delicious lunch in the old town area. Wurnberg- beautiful Residenz of the bishops worth the trip alone. Bamberg- not the best of the stops. Fun but ok. Nurnberg- the emotional highlight of the cruise when viewing the former stomping grounds of the Nazi party during their heyday. Sobering. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
Wow, the maiden voyage.  We were hoping that all the bugs would be worked out before we boarded.  Actually we booked our cruise so that the ship would be sailing for two months before we sailed, but alas no such luck.Amsterdam started ... Read More
Wow, the maiden voyage.  We were hoping that all the bugs would be worked out before we boarded.  Actually we booked our cruise so that the ship would be sailing for two months before we sailed, but alas no such luck.Amsterdam started out with a bang.  We were mooned by a passing boat as we sat down for our first dinner aboard the ship.  It started the cruise off with laughter and goodwill among the passengers who were lucky enough to witness the event.  We had an excellent tour of Amsterdam before we set sail for Budapest.  The first set of locks we went through to reach the Rhine river were quite tame in comparison to the locks that we encountered later on in the cruise. The countryside was peaceful, aromatic and we actually saw some real windmills.  Our first port of call was Cologne.  If you have been before, they offer a short version of the city tour.  I would definitely take this version the next time as I have seen the cathedral enough times now and would rather enjoy its quiet beauty on my own without having to listen to a tour guide wax on about their interpretation of the stained glass windows.  It was the next day when we realized the problems of being on the maiden cruise of a yet untested ship design.  We had heard the tale of Loreley when all of a sudden bang, a huge black cloud was to be seen at the stern of the ship.  The Captain and crew were unaware of the smoke until they suddenly noticed that the passengers on deck were trying to get their attention and looked.  Viking set a new legend.  The first time an anchor had been lowered on a Viking ship and the first time a Viking ship lost its power in the Loreley channel.  We waited for 2 1/2 hours for the tug boats to come and two us to safety where the Cumins engineers arrived to try to repair the engines.  At his point none of them were working.  We never did make it to Rudesheim.  They managed to get two of the three engines up and running about 4 am and we arrived in Mainz late.  We got off the ship and had our city tour, but the ship had to leave right away so that it could make up for lost time.  They put us on a bus where we had to travel a distance down the river to meet the ship.  We arrived before the ship did to the agreed meeting place.  We made it to Wertheim but due to the loss of time due to the ship breakdown ended up waiting forever to be picked up.  The ship was suppose to pick us up at 12:30 , then they said 1:30 and then the ship finally showed up at 2:15.  It was a fascinating town to be stuck in and they had good local bakeries which was a good thing as lunch was more than a little late that day. The next day we made it to Wurzburg and Rothenburg.  The tour this day was great and the Residenz palace is well worth a visit.  The lunch provided in Rothenburg was delicious and the town was fascinating.  Do make sure you visit the Christmas store while here.  We had to get off the ship early and take a bus to Nuremberg as the ship was still behind schedule.  I wish we had arrived in this city on a day other than Sunday as it basically was shut down as there are no stores, etc open on a Sunday.  They had a few ice cream and pizza restaurants open.  Regensburg wsa interesting.  Passau had an incredible local guide and just listening to her made the day very pleasant.  The organ concert was excellent.  I wish we had more time in Melk as it would have been nice not to have to rush to get back to the ship.  Durnstein I could have skipped without regret.  Vienna, what can I say.  I wish we could have more time.  The optional music concert was fabulous even though it was extremely hot in Vienna.  We enjoyed our time in a Vienna coffee house and the tour guide here was excellent.  Bratislava, quite honestly they could cut out the "choo choo train" and everyone would be quite happy.  By the time the tour guide described what you were seeing you were already past the building and could not see it anyhow. The town is interesting but it would have been nice to have a little more free time to explore on your own.  Sailing into Budapest at night was a magical experience.  I would say that this was the highlight of the entire cruise.  We did the next afternoon have the mother of all storms come in the afternoon, and people were quite happy to sit on board the ship and avoid going out in the rain and wind.  I wish the storm had not arrived as I would have liked to have seen more of the city.The local tour guides have been hand picked by Viking and it shows.  They were knowledgeable and entertaining.  With the exception of the tour guide in Cologne waxing on a little too long about the stained glass windows, I would say all of the tour guides did an excellent job.  I did feel gypped in Nuremberg as the ship arrived too late for us to have the city tour included with our WWII optional tour.The ship has some major safety concerns that need to be addressed immediately.  They have a hatch without railings  around it on the front deck that if someone was not watching could take a very nasty tumble down steep metal steps.  These steps lead from the galley to the lounge for the serving of food.  They do not have lighted exit signs on the doors leading to the staircases for emergency purposes.  They need to do something about the spacing in between the steel plates on the first deck.  If someone wasn't watching, they could easily catch a high heel in the hole and give themselves a nasty twist.I felt that the ship should have had better communication with the passengers.  With all the technical glitches, their term not ours, we should have been told what happened to the engine and that the ship was safe.  When the ship was late in arriving at some of the ports for passenger pick up there was no cruise staff to be fund until the time the ship was actually supposed to be there and then they disappeared again until the next supposed arrival time.  Quite a few of the staff members were brand new to Viking and it showed.The dining room staff bent over backwards.  I honestly felt that they could do with 2 more staff members  to speed up the process..  The ratio was 43 staff to 189 passengers.  Simply not enough staff.  They were still bringing equipment on board at the end of the cruise that should have been there before the ship set sail.  I think it would have been beneficial for the Captain and crew to have sailed the entire cruise at least once before they took a load of passengers.  The bumps in the night might not have been as noticeable if they had had a practice run of entering the locks.All said and done, I think we will be looking at another river cruise line the next time we do Europe.  We were disappointed after the service Viking had provided on the Yangtze River in China the year before. 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