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Sail Date: July 2009
Our first river cruise.  We have made 9 ocean cruises with 4 different lines.  This was the BEST ever!  Very laid back and wonderful scenery.  The staff and crew were expecially nice and seemed to go out of their way to make you ... Read More
Our first river cruise.  We have made 9 ocean cruises with 4 different lines.  This was the BEST ever!  Very laid back and wonderful scenery.  The staff and crew were expecially nice and seemed to go out of their way to make you happy.We left Nuremburg on a Sunday and sailed the canal until we reached the Danube.  The locks were very exciting and so different than the Panama Canal.  Sailing day was especially nice, there was "fair" or German family gathering at our dock.  All kinds of water activities and food, beer and children's activites.  Nice to get some more of the local atmosphere.  We spent 3-days in the city before getting on the ship.  Nuremburg is a very friendly city and lots of great sausage and beer.  We highly recommend hotel LeMeridian.  In the center of all the sights.Sailing on the canal and river were wonderful!  All along the Danube there are walking and bike trails, landscaped and very beautiful. We ended in Budapest.Viking certainly has it "all-together" when it comes to the excursions.  Every one left on time and returned on time.  If anyone was left, they could get a taxi to the dock.  It was very nice not having to wait for those who don't care about being on time.  All the guides we had were excellent.  English was perfect and groups were small.  The headsets were great.Food was good.  Lots of choices, if you didn't like the daily menu, there was always something extra you could order.Main critism:  We paid $114.00 to see the Mozart, Strauss concert.  The music was wonderful.  I'm glad we had the opportunity in Vienna.  They put around 500 people (other cruise lines) in one very small room.  Chairs (small) very close together.  It was very hot and lots of mosquitoes.  We called it the "sweat & swat" event!!  They should have warned us to dress accordinly and bring repellent.Our stateroom was very nice, room for everything and closed was good.  Just like a large cruise ship.  Our cabin steward Rianna did a fabulous job.The bartenders could have been a lot friendlier.  Didn't seem to go out of their way to sell liquor.  Many of the fellow travelers said they enjoyed not being "hastled" by them.I would go with Viking again.  We really did enjoy he "small ship" atmosphere. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2009
We have just returned from a River Cruise on the Avalon Scenery July 26 - Aug. 4th Paris to Nice. Let me start out by saying we were a bit apprehensive since this was our first river cruise, we have been on 7 big cruise ship voyages prior, ... Read More
We have just returned from a River Cruise on the Avalon Scenery July 26 - Aug. 4th Paris to Nice. Let me start out by saying we were a bit apprehensive since this was our first river cruise, we have been on 7 big cruise ship voyages prior, and we do love large ship cruises. We arrived in Paris two days earlier and stayed at the Marriott Rive Gauche, great hotel, and although not in the immediate center of Paris, the location was walking distance from the metro (very easy to navigate)and lots of shops and places to eat. We then joined our group on Sunday and transferred over to the hotel Le Meridien, Montparnasse, which was part of the Avalon tour accomodation. Too bad, the Le Meridien could not hold a candle to the Marriott. Avalon offered a bus tour of Paris on Monday, but since we have already been in Paris for 3 days already, we decided to do our own thing for the day,as I said the Metro is so easy to get around and very inexpensive. Breakfast was included with the Le Meridien and it was very nice. Tues. morning we boarded our bus for the trip to Chalon-sur-Saone, with a stop in Beaune, quaint little town where we had a choice to visit Hospice de Beaune or wine tasting tour, we decided on the Hospice. We then continued on to board our boat. I won't continue about all the stops we made on the way to Nice. I will say the places we visited were amazing, in some cases it was like stepping back in time the quaint towns and scenic beauty cannot be described adequately. About the boat, our state room was one with a french balcony, but we could not open our slider because of the flys etc. There was plenty of room for our things and the room very comfortable. They gave us complementry bottles of water every day. I will say the food was very good, morning was a buffet as was lunch with good choices. Dinner was from a menu with meat, fish or veg. choice. My problem was the fact one could not get anything to eat in between, we had to wait till the appointed hour when the dining room would be open for luch or dinner. True in the afternoon for one hour they had a coffee/tea and cake service but if you were not there you were out of luck. Most days the majority of the boat would be out on tours and when we returned the coffee and cake were no where to be seen. So from about 4 o'clock till 7:30 you were out of luck. True in the rear lounge cookies (from the tin) were always available but it would have been nice if they had an assosrtment of pasteries and home made cookies instead those cookies no one ever ate. Breakfast and lunch the food was plentiful but dinner entrees were a tease. One night at dinner I placed my order and asked for a side order of the pasta (which was veggie. choice) and that seemed to confuse them, hence, no pasta. I had also read that at the end of the meal they would come around with platters of seconds if anyone wanted, but that did not materialize. I think Avalon should rethink some of it's food availablity. I understand the galley is small and limited but food is a very big part of the enjoyment of the vacation. Wine was served at dinner and it flowed freely. The staff on the boat were top notch, very hard working young people and they deserve to be acknowledged. When we arrived in Nice we had to wait a few hours before our rooms would be available. We stayed at the Hotel Boscolo Plaza. When we walked in the lobby we thought wow, nice hotel. Not so fast, Our first hint was in the elevator very small and inatiquate. The hallway on our floor kind of reminded us of the "Tower of Terror" in disney world, old, musty and in serious need of updating and let me tell you, our room was no better. The mirror was cracked as was the tub. We had one chair in the room, a kind of desk chair with plastic seat, the ac was ineffective. The included breakfast the next morning was the worst meal of or stay in France. Not a very nice hotel and I would not recommend anyone to stay there. There was an optional tour in Nice and I say GO FOR IT, "An Evening In Monaco" worth every penny 85 Euro. Our favorite tour of the week. In summary - I would highly recommend the river cruise, you get all the benefits of a land tour without the hassel of on/off bus, different hotel every day, packing and unpacking. In fact I would call this a river/land tour with no hassel. We met some wonderful people from around the world and it is a vacation that will leave a fond imprint on my memory. We are looking forward to booking another river cruise in the near future. And......we still love large ship cruising, I guess you might say, we're addicted Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2009
My husband and I took the Paris to Normandy cruise on the Baroness in late July 2009. We have been on many ocean cruises but this was our first European River Boat cruise. There is another detailed review of this cruise on Cruise Critic. I ... Read More
My husband and I took the Paris to Normandy cruise on the Baroness in late July 2009. We have been on many ocean cruises but this was our first European River Boat cruise. There is another detailed review of this cruise on Cruise Critic. I will only report some additional things: • Odd room numbers have better views while docked • Our room was at the very back of the lower deck and on the evenings when the boat was moving there was a significant amount of engine noise. To be fair, people in the very front on the top floor complained about loud talking in the lobby while they were trying to sleep at night. • I loved the self serve coffee/cappuccino/tea/hot chocolate machine. I bought some cinnamon at a grocery store at our first stop and this added a nice touch to the cappuccino. • Bring a travel mug with a lid. When I got the cappuccino, I could fit two of them into my mug and walk around with the top on. I like big mugs of hot drinks, not the smallish mug size that they provide. • Bring a cork screw. They do not care if you buy bottles of wine for consumption in your cabin but you will need a cork screw. If they open the bottle for you, you will be charged a corkage fee. I called Uniworld in advance and asked about carrying on wine and drinking it in my cabin. They said "No Problem". At our first stop we bought 2 bottles of wine for 3 and 4 Euros. It was very good even at that low price. • The house wine at dinner was very good. I think we had around 4 glasses each night. They were there filling your glasses as quickly as you could drink it. There was no skimping on the included wine. • The food was VERY good. Ocean cruises are more about quantity and less about quality. The food on this cruise was the opposite - more quality, less quantity. The only legitimate complaint that I heard on the trip was about the small portions at dinner. To be fair, no one asked for seconds. I asked our waiter if anyone ever asks for seconds and he said that passengers usually don't ask for 2nds or for 2 entrees, etc. By the end of the cruise, we were asking for a 2nd roll or an additional appetizer, etc. The meat portions are about the size of a deck of cards which is the correct portion size. The problem is that Americans eat way too much and restaurants serve enough for at least 2 people when you order one entrEe. So if you're hungry, ask for a 2nd entrEe. On the night we had lamb, after the fact, my husband was sorry he didn't ask for 2nds. He loves lamb and doesn't get it often and was disappointed with the serving size of his lamb that night. • If you want to use one of the bikes, you have to reserve them well in advance. We asked to use them at the first stop and were told that they were reserved for the entire day, but the bikes sat outside the ship unused almost all day. Turns out, that they are big and heavy and most people had trouble maneuvering them and brought them back early. So if you are told they are spoken for, I would go back and ask during the day. The best day to ride the bikes is at the first stop in Les Andyles. This is a quiet typical French village. • To my surprise, Paris was so nice! It was clean, easy to get around. I've always heard that Parisians don't like Americans and won't talk to you unless you speak perfect French. This couldn't be further from the truth. We wandered around a lot and everyone was so friendly and very willing to assist us. I was amazed at how much there is to see in Paris. I definitely plan to return to Paris and finish seeing the sights (hopefully on another river boat cruised). • Optional Excursions: a. Versailles - a must do, you won't be sorry. b. Cider Farm - I don't think anyone thought this was worth the money. No one in our party liked the food and since it wasn't apple picking season (which is the Fall), there was nothing to see. They just talked about what goes on. I think it was a waste of money. Overall, the trip was wonderful. We met many wonderful people, ate great food and drink, saw wonderful sites and learned a lot. There are 4 - 6 itineraries I've picked out and can't wait to go on another one. My only regret is that more Cruise Critic members are not taking these cruises or not writing about them. I've learned so much from the members and enjoy sharing my knowledge. If anyone has a specific question, please don't hesitate to ask. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
The Viking River Cruise "Waterways of the Czars" (July 31 - August 12, 2009) was our first cruise experience, and will likely be our last. While we enjoyed Russia and its many attractions, we were very disappointed in most ... Read More
The Viking River Cruise "Waterways of the Czars" (July 31 - August 12, 2009) was our first cruise experience, and will likely be our last. While we enjoyed Russia and its many attractions, we were very disappointed in most aspects of the cruise itself. Specifically: • Overall value for money: Most people we met on the cruise paid several thousands of dollars less than we did, and for supposedly better cabins. This knowledge lessened our enjoyment considerably. We advise others to book as late as possible for Viking river cruises, if you must take one, since they discount heavily closer to the sailing date to fill up the boat. • Food quality: Despite claims in Viking advertising, the food was of consistently poor quality, e.g., every fish dish I ate was tasteless, mushy, and obviously frozen not fresh. Other passengers with previous Viking experience agreed with us, but said that Viking cruises in Western Europe have much better food and service. Several other passengers also spoke with the "hotel manager" to note their unhappiness with food quality. • Service: The dining room staff was mostly young Philipinos, who were all eager to please but clearly not sufficiently experienced, properly trained for efficient service, and too few for a fully booked boat. Dinner normally took well over two hours, and we and many others had to cut short dinner in order to attend other scheduled events on board. • Our cabin: The cabin (227) was comfortable enough, except that it seemed to be directly above the engines used to stabilize the boat when going through locks. These engines were so noisy and vibrated so much that when lock passage occurred at night sleep was impossible. Viking should warn potential customers about this noise in main deck cabins, and advise them to bring ear-plugs to cope with the noise or select other cabins. • Doctor: The Kirov's Russian doctor, whose English skills were very limited, had a remarkably diffident manner when my wife banged her forehead on one of the Sky-Bar's glass doors. The clinic had no proper ice-bag, so to reduce the large swelling he recommended using a plastic garbage bag or laundry bag. Given the average age of Kirov passengers, shouldn't an ice-bag or two be among the clinic's supplies? The doctor also failed even to stand up during her visit to his office, declining as unnecessary a suggestion that he examine her forehead. Bottom line: We wrote to Viking about these problems, to which they responded with an offer of a $500 credit for a future Viking cruise. Our response to that will be "nyet." Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2009
My Wife and I took Avalon Waterways Romantic Rhine cruise to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversery, cruising down the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel this August. It was not only our first cruise it was the ships first cruise too. Well it ... Read More
My Wife and I took Avalon Waterways Romantic Rhine cruise to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversery, cruising down the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel this August. It was not only our first cruise it was the ships first cruise too. Well it was my first cruise if you don't count the trip across Lake Erie from Cleveland to Detroit that I took with my family in 1955 on the SS Aquarama. I had visited the Rhine before form the land side and wanted to share that experience with my wife during our river cruise. We were a little apprehensive about the maiden voyage but it turned out not to be a problem at all. The only thing that went wrong was our room safe did not have its battery installed so we could not lock up our valuables. That was quickly remedied by the ship's engineer. The first night's dinner service was a little slow but that just gave us more time to spend getting to know our dinner companions. It is a small ship with only 138 passengers and with open seating at every meal it is possible to get to know more than half the people on board if you don't dine with the same folks twice. With free wine at dinner and great companions it was tempting to linger over a meal. Meal service improved each night as the Maitre d' whipped his staff into shape. The wait staff was from Easern Europe, Indonesia, and China. Some of them started out clueless and managed to stay that way throughout the cruise despite Attila (his real name) the Hungarian's best direction. Just like on my sailboat, you have some crew that works out and some that doesn't. The food was very good and matched the region we were in. The only thing I got hungry for was simpler fare which we had the opportunity to sample when off the ship. Portions were not overly large like in the USA but you were well fed. The highlight of the meals were the salad dressings which were very light and always interesting. The only thing I would change is to lose the cake at 4:00 routine in favor of some extra time at happy hour or bigger glasses for the iced tea served when returing from a shore excursion. Iced Tea is the official (non alcoholic) drink of my home state of Texas and I have to commend the ship for doing a credible job with their brew, although not quite robust enough to stand up to a good piece of smoked brisket. The ship itself was very comfortable. We had a room on the bottom floor near the back. You would think it would be noisy but this ship has very little engine noise. The first day we pulled away from the dock and were moving before I realized it. Several passages are made at night and it was no trouble at all to sleep while underway. I found the top deck layout awkward. They had a hot tub in the forward section in front of the bridge. This meant anyone using that had to walk throught he lobby and past nearly everyone to get to it. This could have been better relocated aft with a seperate stairway near the back of the ship. I would also move the smoking section to aft of the bridge. I don't smoke. If you put the smokers at the front of the ship then the non smokers are downwind from them all the time. We ended going to the foremast part of the ship to try to get fresh air. We had the smallest stateroom on the ship and it had pleanty of space. We had more than enough room for our clothes, our empty suitcases slid easily under the bed. I loved being able to unpack only once during the trip. Beds were very comfortable. The room air conditioninig worked quietly. Our flat screen TV was good and offered a view from a foreward facing camera as well as a GPS display of the ships position and speed. Quite handy if you want to keep an eye on the helmsman's activiites. Our cruise was populated by many travel writers who were invited aboard to review the ship on its maiden voyage. I talked to many of them and they seemed to be enjoying their trip. I had a slightly different perspective from them because I paid to take this trip and I had no prior cruise experience. I have to say it was one of the best vacations I ever had. The pace was liesurley yet not boring. The people were interesting, the sites were lovely the service was good but not intrusive and I felt this Avalon cruise offered a great value for the money. Strasbourg - How the Germans would build a French town. Eat lots of pastry, have a french eclair for one hand and a pretzel for the other. Go to the cathedral and ask what time it is. Beware of beggars. Koln - Big Cathedral, interesting shops. Good place to take a stroll and find a sidewalk cafe to sit down and drink beer or wine. Koblens - Charming town. Take a walk down to the German corner to see big William  Heidleburg - Monster castle, great town to walk around. Only eat in restaurants with flags, sign of simple fare and low prices. Take the Philosopher's walk up the hill on the other side of the river. Rudesheim - Go to the Drosselgasse and dance the polka with the locals. Seigfreid's museum is unique. Try not to buy a cuckoo clock here. Get a hat instead. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2009
Booked a Categrory B, Deluxe Cabin on the Viking Surkov for the Waterways of the Czars cruise (Aug. 10-22,2009). On day one of sailing there was an obnoxious smell of raw sewage in our cabin and in the hallway. We informed reception and ... Read More
Booked a Categrory B, Deluxe Cabin on the Viking Surkov for the Waterways of the Czars cruise (Aug. 10-22,2009). On day one of sailing there was an obnoxious smell of raw sewage in our cabin and in the hallway. We informed reception and were told that this is normal when the ship is in motion, the sewage sloshes! We were unable to sleep because of the stench and the fact that the A/C didn't work. Other travelers complained, with the same results... There were two large pipes leading from the ceiling into a very large wooden box in the floor, right next to the bed. The picture in the brochure shows a small table and 2 chairs - non existing! The entertainment on board (as per brochure) is also non-existing. There was a Vodka tasting, at 15 Euros per person. The Russian folkloric entertainment was in a tent and cost 26 Euros per person. Check your credit card bill - Our entire cost of the trip was paid by c/c and there was a $600 "foreign exchange fee". We booked through California, why would we have to pay this charge? Your US Dollars are being sent to Switzerland! After much aggravation, the $ 600 were refunded. On board, they use a unit system (which equals Euros). The last two days of the cruise (after the bills were settled in Euros) they switched to Rubles! The food was good until it came towards the end of the trip, by then the salad bar looked beyond wilted. The endive salad was rotted! My feeling is that Viking could care less about the comfort, or health, of their travelers. They have your money up front and know that you won't take the same cruise again. I have this gut feeling that perhaps this company is not above board.. We have traveled all continents and plan on continuing our travels but definitely NOT with Viking Cruises!Kizhi Island Located on Lake Onega (Europe's 2nd largest lake) Open air architectural museum & UNESCO World Heritage Site. Wooden churches & other buildings were brought here from other parts of Russia. Transfiguration Church - 300 years old, built completely of wood (no nails) 22 timbered onion domes. It was a rainy, gloomy day and made the church look ominous (Halloween?), but yet a very interesting excursion. Goritzy On the Shore of Lake Siverskoye Visited Kirillov-Belozersky Monastery, founded in 1397 by St. Cyril filled w/ beautiful icons & frscoes. Now a museum.Yaroslavi - Called the Golden Ring city Figured prominently in the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church. Not much to explore in these ports - churches, icons, frescoes. Uglich Town dates to 1148. Foound this to be a more interesting excursion, besides just seeing icons, frescoes. Ivan the Terrible's son was mudered here. The resulting uprising caused great distruction. In 17th-18th centuries wonderful architectural buildings were constructed. Moscow Amazing City! Very clean. The Metro is easy to navigate. Metro is very clean, elegant, marble, paintings, chandeliers, sculptures - Red Square - dating to 15th century. Not as impressive as I imaged, except for the St. Basil Catheral colorful onion domes.(never got inside though) Kremlin - More cathedrals, palaces, museums & the seat of government. By now, I am tired of seeing & hearing about the icons and frescoes. Every tour guide has the same verbatum speech. Armory - Fantastic, but very difficult to get close to exhibitions, especially the Faberge' eggs. The crowds are unbelievable! Exciting city - much to see and do, but be aware of pick pockets, etc. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2009
We have been on many ocean cruises, but this was our first river cruise and it was truly a remarkable way to travel. We previously visited Europe on land tours which involved lots of packing and unpacking and getting on the bus and off the ... Read More
We have been on many ocean cruises, but this was our first river cruise and it was truly a remarkable way to travel. We previously visited Europe on land tours which involved lots of packing and unpacking and getting on the bus and off the bus. The river cruise takes all the hassle out of traveling from one locale to another. Uniworld has certainly perfected the art of river cruising by choosing unique and entertaining destinations, first class service and a beautiful vessel. We sailed on the River Countess and were amazed that the shower was much larger than on ocean cruise ships. No need to do the hokey-pokey to take a shower! The tile and marble were beautiful and the towels big and fluffy. The entire ship was well-maintained and always clean. The entire staff was outstanding and made each guest feel special. Our cruise manager, Hildegard, had an amazing store of knowledge about every port and all the castles and towns, locks and vineyards we sailed past. Her enthusiasm, experience and love of cruising were contagious and enhanced our experience onboard. The food was of excellent quality, beautifully and artistically presented, and represented a wide variety of ethnic cuisines which we especially enjoy. The wine included in the price of the cruise was quite good and plentiful. The itinerary included a great mix of major cities and small towns that were unknown to us before this trip. What wonderful surprises they held! Without exception, the local tour guides we met were very knowledgeable and personable. Our only criticism of the cruise concerns the lack of consistent internet access. We had inquired before departure and were told that internet access could be purchased for 20 Euros for the entire trip, whether using the ship's computers or our own. We therefore decided not to bring along our international cell phone as we would keep in touch with family via email. We were told that there might be reception difficulties when traversing locks, but were not aware that there would be 66 locks on our voyage from Amsterdam to Vienna! As soon as we boarded, the staff informed us the internet reception was not good and they would not charge us for access. Many guests were frustrated trying to get online, and we finally resorted to seeking out internet cafes after our tours in order to keep in touch with family as promised. This was not an insurmountable problem, but was annoying until we got near the end of the journey when internet reception was much better. As we sailed past many similar ships, we marvelled that there exists this wonderful segment of travel that we were totally unaware of until very recently, and we're so glad we discovered river cruising! I would not hesitate to recommend this type of travel to anyone interested in a unique travel experience. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2009
We are home from a very enjoyable first river cruise. Thank you to all of the Cruise Critic Board members whose posts gave us the information we needed to plan our first river cruise. We have cruised ocean going vessels with passenger ... Read More
We are home from a very enjoyable first river cruise. Thank you to all of the Cruise Critic Board members whose posts gave us the information we needed to plan our first river cruise. We have cruised ocean going vessels with passenger sizes of 920 to several thousand. I was concerned that a very small ship with limited on board and evening activity options would not suit us. I was wrong. River cruising is an entirely different kind of cruising than ocean cruising. Obviously, there are no "sea days" (which we love), there are limited dining and entertainment options, but none of these things are disadvantages. To me, comparing the two types of cruising is truely an apples to oranges excercise. We now know that we love both. Ship: The River Princess was very nicely appointed. The cabins were well appointed. Comfortable bedding, wonderful linens, towels, bath amenities. The cabins were big enough to not feel crowded. One of the reasons I chose Uniworld was because of their advertised "hotel style" beds. In the past, we have resorted to bringing foam "egg crate" matress pads on a couple of ocean cruises (Celebrity and Princess) because of past experience with very uncomfortable bed. Comfortable beds have been a plus on Holland America and Crystal and I understand that more cruise lines are upgrading their matresses. As usual, a "queen" is actually the two twins arranged so they are together. Uniworld had an interesting European touch: Each "side" had its own wonderfully comfortable duvet covered comforter (no top sheet). No tugging of the blanket You can read many descriptions about the ship on Uniworld's site. Due to its size, everything was convenient. Stairs were mostly "half flights" arranged like a split level house. The cabin had a 110v outlet next to the bed - perfect for recharging the camera, cell phone, ipod, etc. The chocolates were WONDERFUL. The water carafe and water bottles (for use on shore) were very convenient. Water pressure was excellent. Our cabin had an easy to set alarm clock, but I was glad I had mine so I could set two alarms. Each cabin had a safe. We had two side chairs and a small table. There was good sound proofing between the cabins, something that has been a problem on some ocean cruises. The dining room was beautifully appointed with comfortable chairs (an important aspect of enjoying a leisurely meal). The lounge was a great place to relax, watch the scenery, listen to port talks, visit, etc. The upper deck was well enjoyed. It was a spectacular place to be. On our particular cruise, however, there were times that only a portion of it (in front of the wheelhouse) could be used because of low bridges. It is pretty cool to watch them lower the wheelhouse. The food: Very well done. We really enjoyed our leisurely dinners, which included unlimited wine (or beer). There was also a very nice, reasonably priced wine list, but the included wine was well selected and we never had the need to purchase a different bottle. Sometimes I would start with the white wine and switch to the red if that better suited my appetizer and entree choice. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style. As has been mentioned previously on this board, the dessert selections at lunch were fantastic. On several days, it made sense to eat lunch on shore (at our expense). I do wish we had chosen a to eat dinner on shore in Rudesheim, we found a lot of tempting menus when we disembarked, but we had just finished dinner on board. Instead, we had a wonderful Rudesheimer coffee at a beergarden and enjoyed ourselves greatly. The itinerary: WOW. I can't imagine a better itinerary, but I am looking forward to testing this in future years on future river cruises. We cruised the Mosel, Rhine, and Main rivers (and canal). Beautiful scenery, beautiful towns. We took all of the included walking and bus tours. I cannot give enough praise to Uniworld's organization, coordination and adaptablility. What a premium experience. The group sizes were small. We were usually divided into 5 groups, with one group specified for those who desired or needed a slower pace. One of our guides was average, all of the rest were fabulous; interesting, informative and engaging and exceeded our experience with non Uniworld guides. The Vox system for hearing our guides made the tours easier and more enjoyable (and allowed us to pay attention to what we wanted to linger over without missing any information from our guide or having the stress of "keeping up"). It was wonderful to just walk of the ship and get started. No lines, no waiting for tenders. Our cruise director, Wouter, was the best cruise director we have ever had. He looked after our very varied group with great skill, friendliness and even handedness. He made sure that everyone had and understood all of the information we needed to optimize our vacation experience. He treated us as a group of individuals, not as a "group". He is truly an accomplished travel professional. We enjoyed our two nights in Paris, explored a lot. We were not in the main hotel with most of the group (the Pullman). There were about 25-30 of us at Le Meridien Montparnasse. Both locations have their own advantages. The River Princess staff arranged for taxis (of course, at our expense, but what a convenience) on our disembarkation morning for those of us not taking the included transfer to the Nuremberg airport. We went to the train station and took the train to Munich and stayed there for 2 nights. That way we got to see another city and were able to get a direct flight to Atlanta, changing just once to get home. We had been completely spoiled by Uniworld though! We had a great time in Munich but we were "on our own" after having become quite accustomed to the Uniworld way We took the optional Bamberg Beer experience afternoon tour. Well worth it and what a fun time, particularly if you, like us, are beer and wurst lovers. Crew: One word: Wonderful! We enjoyed our first river cruise. Loved the casual atmosphere, the "port intensive" nature of the cruise. Sometimes, when we take an ocean cruise, we do it just to relax....the ship itself is our destination. Our river cruise on the River Princess was a great way to actually travel, to see and experience new things. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2009
We spent 15 days on the Amalegro cruising from Amsterdam to Budapest with a mainly Hungarian crew and mostly fellow travellers from the US. The ship is only a few years old and is kept in tip top condition with everything like new. Our ... Read More
We spent 15 days on the Amalegro cruising from Amsterdam to Budapest with a mainly Hungarian crew and mostly fellow travellers from the US. The ship is only a few years old and is kept in tip top condition with everything like new. Our cabin was spotlessly clean, had a french balcony and was well lit and was so well appointed with everything that you could possibly need with good storage for a large suitcase or 2 mediums - it was very comfortable. The bathroom was very well appointed. good shower, fresh towels everyday if you wished. The check in and out - no problems. The staff went out of their way to get a prescription from a medical doctor for one of my friends who had left medication with her son in London. The staff were exceptional- any request was met with a smile. The staff also had a great sense of cameraderie and humour. Captain Pols and his co captain wife were fantastic people who were only to happy to show people exactly how everything worked on the ship as we sailed through many locks on our way to Budapest. Our Cruise Director and Hotel Manager and Executice Chef were superb as were all other staff including the bar and wait staff and cabin crew. We had a lovely lounge and bar area with an evening entertainment area and dance floor. The dining room was well appointed and the food and wine changed with every differnet region through northern Europe - the staff explaining the new wines and any questions on the food and regional wines. The food and wine in our opinion was excellent and was very well presented. We made many stops on the way along the river with excellent commentary on "Castle Day" from our Cruise Director. At every stop along the rivers we had really good knowledgable tour guides and their were bikes which we used to ride among the vineyards at one stop and through the towns on many other stops. There was help for those who needed extra assistance to get around. Basically they catered for all age groups. The entertainment on board ranged from "Gypsy Ensembles" to classical performances by local artists and several symphony orchestra musicians - some still studying from the masters in their field as well as a group who played some upbeat modern dance music with classic favourites from most countries knowing even "Walzing Matilda" for us Aussie travellers. Our resident pianist/keyboard player was also fantastic accommodating all requests from passengers. We are first time cruisers so have no experience in the cruising field however we do enjoy fine wine and food and appreciate good service. We had a fantastic cruise meeting many travellers mainly from the US who were a lot of fun. We have four different sets of friends/family who have taken this same cruise at different times over the past few years who recommended this cruise for us. I can only recommend this company AMA and this ship the Amalegro to anyone considering a river cruise.The service is excellent but relaxed and unpretentious. My sister is doing the same cruise again next year and we met a few couples also redoing part of the cruise again. Happy cruising to all! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
My sister and I took the Viking River Cruise, "Waterways of the Czars," September 3-15, 2009, traveling on the newly renovated Viking Surkov. Our experience was extremely positive. The ship, decorated in Scandinavian Modern ... Read More
My sister and I took the Viking River Cruise, "Waterways of the Czars," September 3-15, 2009, traveling on the newly renovated Viking Surkov. Our experience was extremely positive. The ship, decorated in Scandinavian Modern style, was clean and attractive. It offered a large reception area, library, Internet cafe, two bars, sundeck, coffee/tea/hot chocolate service area, and a well appointed restaurant. In addition, a doctor traveled on board. There were some 180 travelers and about 100 staff members, including crew, receptionists, cabin stewards and stewardesses, tour guides, program director, kitchen staff, and waiters/waitresses. Our cabin, though small, was well laid out and we had a TV, small refrigerator, and safe in addition to the usual furnishings. Two large bottles of water were provided each day even though we were told that the ship's water supply was filtered and therefore safe to drink. Tours and excursions were well planned, and most were included in the basic cost of the cruise. In addition, while we were traveling from St. Petersburg to Moscow there were extra activities on board such as lectures on Russian history, a demonstration of how to cook a Russian dish, a tour of the bridge, Russian lessons, and a formal Russian tea. The quality of the food served was somewhat uneven. Breakfast was wonderful, with a bountiful buffet; it was also possible to special order hot cereals, omelets, poached eggs, and egg benedict. The lunch buffet always included a delicious salad bar and one or two hot entrees as well as soup. Dinner was a 5-6 course meal with two or three choices per course. It was also always possible to order a grilled rump steak, grilled chicken breast or Caesar salad as an entree. Dinner was always adequate, but some dishes--especially fish--were over cooked at times. I have to add that I had major dietary restrictions--allergic to wheat, eggs,and mil--and the kitchen staff bent over backwards to accommodate my needs. They even managed to procure some special gluten free pastries for me to eat at the Russian tea. All in all, the cruise was an outstanding experience, and one that opened our eyes about many aspects of Russian history and Russia today. Our second port of call was Mandrogy. Mandrogy is a work in progress--a village where traditional Russian handcrafts are practiced and taught. The structures are also built in traditional Russian village style. Unfortunately, we arrived an hour late and it was pouring rain. I think that this port will be fascinating in about five years, when the village and handcraft programs are more complete. It's a good place to buy typical Russian souvenirs. Our next port is --Kizhi Island. This is an open air museum which has on display an old Russian Orthodox Church with 22 domes, built entirely of wood without a single nail. It also has examples of village houses with their furnishings and the guide explains how the people lived in such villages. This was fascinating! Kizhi is on an island in Lake Onega, and the scenery is very picturesque, too. Our next port was Goritzy, where we visited the monastery of St. Cyril of the White Lake. It is now basically a museum although there is a new and small community of five monks now. This was very interesting because we got to see the different churches that made up the complex. The gardens were beautiful, and again since the monastery is situated on a lake, the natural setting was superb, with ducks swimming up to the shore and almost ready to eat out of our hands! I'm grouping our fifth and sixth ports together as we visited 7 in all. Our last two stops before Moscow were Yaroslavl and Uglich. Yaroslavl is a city of 600,000 with an impressive collection of churches, monasteries, and public buildings. We also visited a display of lacquered papier mache boxes--and this is the best place to buy them as there is a wide choice of different styles and good prices. We had some free time here and were able to visit a market, and stroll the streets of a Russian city. Yaroslavl is beautiful, and has lots of restaurants, cafes, shops, etc. Uglich was next; it's much smaller with a population of 40,000. However, it's probably the best place to buy real Russian handcraft souvenirs. The unwalled Kremlin of the city is full of beautiful churches and government buildings and also has nice gardens. We had a lot of free time to shop here. Our last port of call was Moscow. You probably have a stereotyped image of Moscow--drab, dull, shabby, grim. Put all those ideas aside! Moscow is a beautiful, vibrant, cosmopolitan city on the level of Paris or Venice. If you are interested in architecture, you will love Moscow! The city is full of beautiful structures of many different time periods. Moreover, there are many gardens, parks, museums, a couple of rivers, seven hills. . .in short, everything needed to create a beautiful city. Even very mundane structures have been made beautiful. For example, many of the Metro stations were designed by top-notch architects and artists and are part of any thorough tour of the city. And let me assure you--the Metro is spotlessly clean, as is all of the city that we saw. (And, for that matter, Russia generally. . .think Switzerland.) For a final example, we docked at the North River Terminal and it struck me how beautiful the terminal was and how attractive the gardens around it were. I went out for a stroll one morning and took a lot of pictures. I thought that the beauty of this terminal was my own little discovery because none of the tour guides mentioned it. However, I bought a book about Moscow while there and when I read it after I arrived home, I discovered that this terminal is considered an architectural masterpiece. But, it's just one of thousands in this very beautiful city. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
We just returned from AMA Europe's Heartland Cruise. We sailed on the new Amalyra and did the reverse itinerary from Prague to Paris. I sailed with my DH and another couple. We had all been on ocean cruises, but this was our first ... Read More
We just returned from AMA Europe's Heartland Cruise. We sailed on the new Amalyra and did the reverse itinerary from Prague to Paris. I sailed with my DH and another couple. We had all been on ocean cruises, but this was our first river cruise. A few general remarks about AMA and the Amalyra. First class all the way. The ship was beautiful, the staff was wonderful, the tour guides in every city were knowledgeable, and we enjoyed our trip very much! Food - despite several reviews I had read on these boards which criticized the food on AMA, we found the food to be fantastic, actually considerably better than on our ocean cruises. Admittedly I am not hard to please, but one of our traveling companions is a gourmet cook and a "foodie" and thought the food was outstanding. We especially loved the daily soups. Everything was fresh, cooked to order and hot when it was supposed to be hot, cold when it was supposed to be cold. The presentation was really well-done and the chef was very inventive. Breakfasts were not particularly creative, but had something to please everyone. Both breakfast and lunch were also served in the lounge, in a more limited way, for those who slept in or who didn't want to eat in the dining room. Dress was casual, except for the Captain's Dinner on the last night. I was actually surprised that a lot of people dressed up quite a bit. However, there were still several men (including my DH) who did not wear a tie or sports coat, just nice pants and a button-down shirt. We were in cabin 205 on the Cello Deck and had a French balcony. I have to admit, however, that we barely used it. When we were sailing through the Rhine Gorge or on the Moselle River, we were always on the top deck enjoying the panoramic views. The cabin was small, but well organized. We were able to put all our clothes away and slide the suitcases under the bed. The bed was very comfortable and the cabin was kept spotless. We flew into Prague on our own and were there for just a day and a half (2 nights). If we had it to do all over again, we would have flown in a few days earlier. Prague is beautiful. There were a lot of things we did not have time to see and we would like to go back. AMA put us up in the Hotel President, which was a very nice hotel, right on the river and close to everything. It included free breakfast. In Paris, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza Republique, which was ok. It wasn't situated in the best spot for sightseeing, but the rooms were ok and the free breakfasts were very good. When I saw how much the normal rates were for the hotels there, I was satisfied with the accommodations. A couple of thoughts about the pros and cons of doing this itinerary from Prague to Paris instead of the other way round: Coming into Paris, which is so bustling and hectic, would have been difficult as jetlagged as we were at the beginning of our trip. Prague was much more laid back and this made it easier to adjust. However, we would have liked more time in Prague as well. Another drawback was sailing through the Rhine River Gorge very late in the afternoon, which meant that we missed some of it when darkness fell. The Gorge is absolutely stunning, with castles at almost every bend in the river, so we wished we could have sailed through it earlier in the day. As mentioned earlier, all our guides were very knowledgeable and informative and the audio head sets really added to the experience. I did not see other tour groups with these head sets. We went on almost all the included tours, but note that this left us with little free time in most towns. But this was our choice and we could have gone off on our own if we had wished. We did take the bikes for a ride along the river one day when we had extra time. It was very enjoyable. One caution about internet availability. Internet access is available in all cabins for free. However, because the ship went through many, many locks and under low bridges, the satellite dish had to be lowered and internet was not available at these times. When it was available, it was very slow. So do not rely on this mode of communication to keep in touch with family members, etc. Thoughts on river cruises in general - as has been said before, do not go on a river cruise expecting fancy entertainment or casinos. The ships are small and intimate and there is not a lot to do onboard. However, if you like personal service, the opportunity to really get to know the other passengers, and visiting wonderful towns and villages and enjoying spectacular scenery, you will like this trip. We enjoyed it very much and would love to travel AMA again! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
we just got back from a Viking Cruise , 14 days, from Brussels to Basil. This was our first Viking experience and it will be our last. They advertise as a 4 star but are maybe a 2 star. The reason for this rating by me is mainly due to ... Read More
we just got back from a Viking Cruise , 14 days, from Brussels to Basil. This was our first Viking experience and it will be our last. They advertise as a 4 star but are maybe a 2 star. The reason for this rating by me is mainly due to the food quality, the unfriendly ship crew, and the total over all service, and the lack of help under some unusual medical situations. First, breakfast is breakfast but they cannot even make an omlet without burning it, the pancakes and waffles come cold without butter, the eggs cannot be prepared as asked and the eggs in the buffet are spongy and over cooked, the bacon is baked and overcooked stinking together in 3's and 4 pieces, people line up at the 1 toaster and wait, and the butter at the buffet come in individual packages that are not soft but frozen or cold. The lunch preparation is by far the best of the 3 meals. The lunch in the dinning room is good and the variety of choices are good but the upstairs buffet is below average with poor choices of small sandwiches and salads. The soups are very good but the rest is below average. You cannot get a hamburger or hot dog at any time. You can not get good mustard and mayonnaise is not offered and cannot be ordered. I did not know the procedure at this upper buffet the second day and walked up to get a beer and saw the assortment of cheeses next to the bar, I got myself a plate and started to put a few pieces of cheese on the plate and the bar tender jumped all over me for taking cheese before the noon time opening. I was shocked at his attitude and put the plate on the bar. He actually said to me "Now what am I to do with that".. I wanted to tell him he could put it where the sun does not shine but being my second day kept my mouth shut. Sorry, back to dinner. The dinners were just plain bad. The main chief was off ship for the first 7 days but this is no excuse for serving main course meals that would not make it in Denny's. When the chief came back it did pick up a few notch's. Service, before I get into the negatives, let me give the positives. The cabin service, even though there is no room service for food or drinks, the cabin cleaning person was very very good. The service in the dinning room was very good but very rushed as they are completely understaffed and have to use outside bar staff and wait staff to man the dinning room. This lack of qualified serving help surely shows in the dire rush to help the passengers. They try very hard but one can see the drain on there faces for extra request for more bread, butter, wine, drinks, gravy, ect.. The bar help, except for one exceptional young women, seem to be doing you a favor rather than you being the customer. One passenger actually was told that he had already gotten ice for his room and he could not get more. The ship has no help up on the sun deck for drinks, and if you take your lunch plate up there to eat you must usually bring the plates downstairs to the lounge yourself. The lounge chairs and tables are old and weathered. The ship is so understaffed on ratio to passengers, they cannot keep up. It must be also told they false advertise in the brochures and letters. The first is in their advertised Alcohol package. They sell it cheaper on the ship, do not sign up 15 days in advance. I think my space is out. No I can keep going. They will not credit you for paying more early. About a $100 cheaper on the ship. They do not offer Premium Wines in this package as advertise. It is there private label wine and two cheap others. The free bottle of champagne is a sparkling private label. We signed up as we were told that they serve premium regional wines, NO THEY DO NOT. A Fellow passenger took a terrible fall and hit her head badly at the end of a tour. The lack of concern from the help was appalling. They would not stop at the hospital emergency when requested, even though we were at a stop light right in front of the hospital. They told her she could walk to emergency, about a half mile from the ship. They offered no taxi or help to accompany her , She did go to emergency and was checked out by a wonderful doctor but the ship offered no help. This lack of concern was inexcusable. I could go on but will stop. Do not take Viking, there are a lot better river cruise lines out there. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
Just Returned We just returned Sunday from the Moscow to St. P on the Surkov and it was a most pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable trip. You do get your fill of churches though, it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." ... Read More
Just Returned We just returned Sunday from the Moscow to St. P on the Surkov and it was a most pleasant, relaxing and enjoyable trip. You do get your fill of churches though, it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." I thought perhaps we could have done with a few less Churches and some more time in Museums. Only spending 3 hours in the Hermitage is ridiculous.....you can't even begin to get a taste of it....more like a lick! I would like to see them offer a full day there and skip the city tour half of the day because you see the city when you are doing other tours like the Peter Paul Fortress or the Canal Tours. - We were in cabin 402 (very near the back of the Upper Deck) It was a very quiet room because the hall is a dead end. We could at times very clearly hear the women in the next cabin talking but fortunately that usually didn't last long as they must have been as tired as we most nights. The cabin looks very nice, window opens and had an unobstructed view. Beds were very comfy, cabin was always clean and no strange smells from anywhere. My only complaint on the cabin is that they need to some how in-corporate another chair. There was only the one straight back at the desk and it would be nice for the other person to be able to sit comfortably (I was usually hogging the desk chair using my lap top.) Other only major complaint was the slow, slow, slow internet connection but when we got to St. Petersburg they worked on it for several days so maybe it will be better. At least it's free and having your own lap top is a good idea as it's hard to get on the ship's two free lap tops. If you are taking this cruise for gourmet food you might be disappointed. That is not to say that the food wasn't adequate and plentiful. The breakfast and lunches are quite good and the dinners were a bit more hit and miss, some strange offerings but nicely presented. My husband opted for the steak about half the nights because he's not a very adventuresome eater and the steaks were well cooked smallish but tasty, always served with a baked potato which I thought they could have varied. I had the steak only one night and one night I choose the chicken breast (both the steak, chicken breast and Caesar Salad are always available.) I tried the other options the rest of the time. Only the Lake Perch was inedible.....the rest were just sort of mediocre but with the salads, soups and desserts you never go away hungry....just not fantastic food. The steak was quite nice the chicken pretty dry and chewy so probably best to not opt for that. I do wish they would be a bit more inventive in the dessert area. The service by the Filipino waiters was fabulous. We usually opted for a table for 2 and were served by Leith and Jun and they were so very very attentive, pleasant and made dining, even with not always such great food fun. Breakfast was probably the best meal of the day, the buffet had lots of wonderful options and you could order omelette's, Eggs Benedict, French Toast, pancakes and hash-browns served to your table. There was always Russian Champagne on the buffet and several options for juice.....it was a great breakfast. Lunch was always green salad with many choices for toppings, several cold salads and sandwiches and two or three hot dishes plus soup and dessert (two options one always being ice cream) was served at the table. The 24 hour coffee and tea bar was really nice as well and was directly below our end of the ship. They serve a light tea most afternoons in the Panorama Bar. The tours were good, we had Tatiana for our guide and she is fabulous. So look for her, pretty blonde lady in her 50's. Whom ever you choose at the beginning is your guide for the whole time and whom ever is on your bus the first day is with your group for the entire time as well.....your new family for the next 13 days. The boat itself is very nicely laid out, good viewing areas on the top deck and in the Panorama Bar on the front of the Upper Deck. It would be nice if there was more comfortable seating somewhere on the boat but I guess you can't have recliners on a vacation ;-) I should add that the dress on the ship was very informal and I probably wouldn't pack a lot of dressy clothes. Men mostly wore jeans, khakis and polo shirts and the woman wore more slacks and jeans than anything else. There were lots of men and woman in jeans at dinner and even some in sweat pants (which I thought was a bit too much) but what ever. I didn't wear about 1/2 of the dressier outfits I brought, because I would have felt over the top except for the Captains dinner and one other night and I really don't bring that fancy of things as dressing up for my husband is nice pants and a sweater he is not a suit guy so if he was comfortable you know it was informal. I think Viking does a good job of making your time as pleasant as possible and I don't have any big earthshaking complaints.....it was an overall success. We were not as taken with Russia as we have been with Asia and New Zealand but it was good to check it off the bucket list. Pictures from the cruise (including room & photo's of food) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/quiltsa...7622305559005/ First stop on the river was Uglich and it was very interesting as well. Toured the Cathedral where Ivan the Terrible's son was murdered. Walked to it from the boat (easy walk through a very good street market.) Unfortunately the guide had told us that their would be better shopping on the last stop of the river cruise portion and wait to buy our souvenirs there.....that turned out to be bad advise unless you were looking for very high quality hand crafted things as every thing at the last stop fell into that category. If you are looking for trinkets for the grandkids or small things for friends...stick to the street markets the prices are much better than the craft shops. The first port was Moscow......what a mess that city is. Absolutely horrendous traffic. Two hours from the airport to the boat dock, and a good hour and a half to two hours into town from the dock (about a 20 min drive in normal traffic I would think.) So for a day trip to town a good 3 to 4 hours or more was in snarled up traffic.....and then if you signed up for a night excursion add another couple of hours. I really think that Viking should feed people at a restaurant in the city on days that their are all day tours and then night events. We skipped the folk music concert because we couldn't face getting in the bus again for yet another drive into the city. We had the opportunity to use the bank ATM in Moscow to get Rubles. We were charged $105 for 3000 Rubles (this turned out to be a much better deal than the next ATM in a smaller city were we were charge $136 for the same 3000 Rubles so plan ahead and get your rubles in Moscow.) We did do the Moscow by night but it was really beautiful seeing Red Square after dark (even though it poured rain, luckily it was only one of two rainy episodes on the whole trip.) We enjoyed the tour of the Armory and the Kremlin and took the optional 1/2 day tour of the New Maiden Nunnery and Cemetery on the day of the Moscow by Night tour. The New Maiden Nunnery was really lovely and the cemetery where Kruschev and Gorbachev's wife were buried was fascinating as well. Yaroslavl was the next port and it had some gorgeous churches and cathedral's as well (go figure) and we were bused into the center of town and did a walking tour from their. After touring the churches we were given about an hour and a half to shop. Very interesting local fruit and food stuffs market that I really enjoyed taking pictures of but we were warned to not eat anything (they offered dried fruit and nuts at the stalls.) The guide said it might be our last place to get Rubles till St. Petersburg so we found an ATM machine and got really taken because of course unless you read Russian you have no idea what it says about exchange rates or fees for using the machine and our guide was off doing her own thing, not where we could ask her to translate. Goritsy was the next stop where we were bused to Kirrilov where we visited the Monastery of St. Cyril. It is known for it's remarkable collection of icons but frankly we were iconed out so we spent the time strolling the grounds which were really beautiful and enjoying the flowers and the local parishioners who were coming out from church services. I wished we had more time to just soak up the ambiance of the little towns and less time being lectured to about the icons and their significance (but that's just me....not very interested in religion.) Then it was on to Kishi Island on Lake Onega. It is the famed open-air Museum of Russian Architecture. The beautiful Church of the Transfiguration an ornate structure of wooden ribbons and 22 domes in 3 tiers built entirely with out nails. It was really cool and the examples of local life from the early 10th century that were being acted out were fascinating as well. Great stop. We also had one more stop on the river the next day and that was Mandrogi which was suppose to be the big place for buying souvenirs but for the most part we all felt it was very expensive although their were some lovely things. Unfortunately it was pouring rain at this stop and not much fun to tromp around and look at the buildings....it is sort of a Russian Epcot Center for life in the olden days. There was a pavilion with berry pies that were quite tasty. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2009
Paris to Normandy Trip Report We were docked at Port de Javel Bas, Pier Quai Andre Citroen, by Citroen Park with it's tethered balloon ride (good landmark). I arrived at the River Baroness at 10 am and since check in was 1:00 - ... Read More
Paris to Normandy Trip Report We were docked at Port de Javel Bas, Pier Quai Andre Citroen, by Citroen Park with it's tethered balloon ride (good landmark). I arrived at the River Baroness at 10 am and since check in was 1:00 - 1:30, I headed out walking along the Seine until I reached the Eiffel Tower - 40 minutes with photo stops. The first part of the walk is a little commercial, but the rest is very pretty. You walk right by the French Statue of Liberty and get a great close-up of the statuary on the bridges. From the Eiffel Tower I walked through the Parc du Champs de Mars until I was in front of Ecole Militaire, and then headed left for a few blocks until I came to Rue Cler. This is a fantastic pedestrian area - oh the smells of cheese and pastries. A man was playing delightful music on a hand organ and the sidewalk cafes were full. After a few blocks I made a left on Rue St. Dominique, right on Avenue Bosquet, and came to Pont de l'Alma. I crossed the bridge on the left hand side and came to the torch (replica of Statue of Liberty's) which is situated over the tunnel where Princess Di was killed. On the wall around the little plaza where the torch is, folks have written their sentiments. Back over the bridge and back to the ship - 3 hours in all. Let me mention that if I had been too tired for the walk back there is an RER station right at the beginning of the bridge, and a ticket agent there where you can buy metro tickets if you haven't purchased them from reception on the ship. Take the RER to Blvd. Victor and you will be very close to the riverboat. It's the C line. Very easy - we did it the last day from the Musee d'Orsay station. Checked in and found we were upgraded to cabin 137- our original "least expensive category" cabin (109) was being used as an adjunct to the laundry room. The cabins have three small drawers in the closet, a huge drawer under each bed, shelves next to the beds and over them. You get rather cumbersome, heavy keys for the room. The safe is a combination requiring 4 numbers. There were two bottles of water, and a large glass carafe to refill them, but to refill the carafe cost 2 Euros, so we just filled the bottles from the "patio" where there was coffee of all kinds, including cappuccino, hot water for tea, hot chocolate, an ice machine, and water. Also there were always pitchers of water and sweet and unsweetened iced tea. Those up before the scheduled time for breakfast were invited to help themselves to a beverage and pastries. Across from this area was the one computer. Since something went askew with their billing on the computer, we could use it or personal laptops free all week. Usually costs 5 Euro an hour! I headed for the deck and 74 degree sunny weather where the friendly passengers for this cruise were already meeting each other and toasting our good fortune to be on this fabulous trip! Our wonderful cruise manager named Tony held briefings every night, gave us the predicted temperature for the next day, organized everything, wrote up everything for the bulletin board, etc. After the embarkation talk on deck there was a briefing in the lounge describing our next day in Les Andelys. There would be 4 groups walking the 20 minutes uphill to the ruins of Chateau-Guillard and one bus for those with difficulty walking. This company utilizes Vox technology, so you take a unit every time you get off the ship, attach it to the earpiece which you keep, and you can hear the tour guide beautifully, even when wandering away to take pictures. You turn the units back in along with the boarding card given when you leave the ship, at the end of every tour. The boarding cards have cabin numbers on them, so they know everyone is back onboard. Evenings we had either local entertainment or Laszlo who took the whole trip with us and played piano for tea and most evenings. We didn't get French lessons or play French trivia as mentioned by another poster. They must have had another Cruise Manager. There is a game and book section of the lounge and I saw many take advantage of that, although we felt we were kept busy enough! Also small newsletters for USA, British, Australian and Canadian passengers. I had difficulty sleeping that first night. The twin beds are narrow, and the duvet was heavy and kept falling off the bed! You can request a regular sheet and blanket if it bothers you, but I stuck with it for the week. Then, finally asleep, at 4:30 the alarm in the room went off - apparently left on by the previous inhabitants. After pushing all the buttons and finally getting it to shut off, in five minutes on it came again - I must have pushed the snooze - so out came the batteries, and I was never able to set it correctly since the clock didn't match the instructions in the info in the room. I had a travel alarm with me though, and one particularly early start we had a wake-up call, too. So that misty first morning I was on deck at 7:30. We were docked right in the town and the Chateau was easily visible at the top of the cliff. I took a delightful stroll through the charming little town of Petit Andely taking pictures, and got back as the groups were forming for the tour. After a short tour of the little village including the old church, Eglise Saint Sauveur built in 1202, and the half-timbered houses, we started up. It was a tough uphill climb, but we stopped frequently to catch our breath. Unfortunately a woman in another group badly broke her leg coming down, and the ambulance and first aid workers had to take her to a hospital. Lunch was 12:30 - 2:00 in the restaurant, or you could have a light lunch in the lounge with live piano music by Laszlo the very talented pianist. Took another walk in town and then attended a lecture at 2 o'clock on the Impressionists by a guest speaker. We enjoyed time on the deck as we sailed for Rouen. Every day there was tea time around 4 o'clock with piano music, but we only stopped by a few times for a tiny sandwich or dessert. We were having such nice weather we preferred to be on deck and have a drink there. Such a different experience from a riverboat trip I took in May one year when, because of rain, I only got to sit out once, and it was cool and drizzly at that! We dressed up a little since this was the Captain's Welcome dinner. All the men I saw had on jackets and ties, and the women were very nicely dressed, including some long skirts. On this ship everyone dressed nicely for dinner every night! At 6:30 was the welcome drink (champagne) in the lounge, followed by a Port talk and crew introduction. By 7:00 we were seated at the Captain's Table, an unexpected treat. We had a delicious dinner followed by an after-dinner drink courtesy of the captain, of Calvados, a rather strong brandy-like drink made from cider. By then we were docked in Rouen. We left the ship, turned right and up the steps and straight across the street. Within a few blocks we came across the Cathedral bathed in light, although the light show that had been going on all summer had ended several days before. This is a breathtaking sight. No wonder Monet was entranced by this Cathedral of Rouen. We walked around for awhile before making our way back to the ship and music and dancing in the lounge. The next morning after a great buffet breakfast (specials each morning included such treats as a pancake, a waffle, eggs Benedict, etc.), and always omelets made to order, we picked up our Vox unit and found our tour leader. Up the steps and across the street, and we were back at the Cathedral of Notre Dame for a thorough tour inside. There was bombing damage both from the Germans and the Allies, but one chapel survived intact. Inside are 16th century stained glass windows, 14th century statues. Richard the Lionheart has his heart in a tomb there. Outside we saw the carving of the apparently famous "Philosophical Sow". This Cathedral has the highest spire in France. We then walked through the streets admiring the half-timbered houses, some houses leaning, some windows crooked! We learned that for tax reasons houses were built with an overhanging construction because they were only taxed on the size of the house at street level. Unfortunately, the city caught on and they were outlawed after 1520. We then entered what was the fortified city of Rouen under a big astronomic clock. From there we walked through the old market square where fresh fruits, vegetables and meat were being sold. Beyond that was Joan of Arc Church fronted by the Cross of Rehabilitation erected after her exoneration. We headed back to the ship for lunch, and then we walked back into Rouen on our own. Unfortunately we didn't turn left when we should have, and wandered for hours outside of the old city. Eventually though we found the area around Joan of Arc. We bought scarves along the way, and two bottles of wine from a grocery store. Important: take the map provided at the reception desk for each city! We made it back in time for Tony's lecture on Normandy and a tour overview at 4:30. At 6:30 he continued with a Port Talk about the beaches of Normandy. All the Canadians on board were asked to be on Bus 3 because they would have a stop at Juno. We had a French dinner that evening complete with escargots and Beef Bourguignon. The other entrEe choices were mussels from Normandy and as always a vegetarian dish. If nothing appealed, every night there was also steak or chicken. In the lounge that night was a local entertainer Monsieur Philippe de Nemours who sang and played keyboard. The Normandy day starts early - we were to be on the buses at 8 am. After 1 ½ hour ride and one comfort stop, we were at Gold Beach where the British invaded. We could see the Mulberries (breakwaters) there that were towed in to form a harbor. Next stop was Arromanches for lunch. We ate at a table next to a stand - I had a ham & cheese (jambon and fromage) baguette and a cider. Money wasn't provided for this lunch, although other posters mentioned it was. Guess that changed. Then it was on to the American Cemetery which is a U.S. territory. At the entrance, we were each given a flower to lie at a grave of our choice. We walked through and picked our graves and then walked to the Memorial Chapel. Beyond it is the other half of the cemetery - so many young lives. We then walked along and at the bluff, saw where the soldiers who landed at Omaha Beach finally made their way up to land. Steep! From there I went to the Museum and saw the film and then went to the Wall of the Missing. Next stop was Omaha beach which is only 1/3 of the size it was on D-Day. I walked on the beach and filled three small bottles with sand. There is a beautiful steel sculpture there. The final stop was Pont du Hoc where the Texas Rangers climbed the steep cliffs to get the German gunners. You could see the bunkers and the bomb craters. It was suggested we go to the far viewing platform and notice the curve of the land. Apparently, the cliffs are deteriorating and falling into the sea. We drove directly back to the ship arriving at 6:30 to hot chocolate and warm face towels, and the ship sailed at 6:45 for Caudebec. The weather wasn't the usual cold and windy at the beaches, but beautifully warm with very little breeze. So although the hot chocolate was delicious, cold iced tea might have been better that day! At 7:00 Tony held a port talk in the lounge and at 7:30 dinner was served. I had the roasted lamb for dinner that night, although everything, including the vegetarian, was tempting. The desserts were wonderful, too! We had a good time in the lounge after dinner with Laszlo at the keyboard. Coaches left for Honfleur at 8:30 and it took about an hour. Interesting ride past thatched roofed houses with irises planted on top. After the walking tour that included Sainte-Catherine church we had a choice of staying there and going back by bus at 3:15. We opted to stay although it was the only misty, drizzly day. It's a charming town, often painted by the Impressionists, and still populated by many artists painting along the banks. We enjoyed just walking around. First we headed for the Eugene Boudin museum because everything closes from 12 - 2 there - I guess in most of the towns. Found a sidewalk cafe called Le Marin along the Vieux Bassin and fortuitously took a table against the restaurant. When the rain came we stayed dry! My friend had the best mussels she has ever had. They came in a big pot, and were in a cream sauce. I had a Croque Monsieur . By the way, your ticket to the Musee Eugene-Boudin also entitles you to go into the Clock Tower of Sainte-Catherine. We were back early enough to check out Notre Dame de Caudebec before the 6 pm sail-away to Vernon. After a drink of the day (White Russian) and Tony's port talk about Giverny, we went to dinner and were joined by two couples from Australia. More great choices - desserts: Normandy style apple tart with Calvados custard, bourbon vanilla ice cream and whipped cream OR Chocolate and Mocha ice cream with eggnog, caramelized walnuts and whipped cream. Decisions, decisions! Left for Giverny at 9 am Friday. Seems like the schedule changed, unfortunately, and instead of the Riverboat heading to Port of Mantes la Jolie where the Giverny tours would return for lunch onboard, the ship stayed in Vernon. That meant sailing to Mantes after lunch, the Versailles group meeting us there, no time to spend in Conflans-Ste-Honorine as indicated in the tour itinerary, and a very long sail to Paris, arriving too late to stay up to see the lights of the City. I loved seeing the small towns, and had really looked forward to time in Conflans. As it was, I got 30 minutes in Vernon - just time for a church visit and a little bit of shopping. But Giverny. . . what a beautiful place. We started in the water garden where the famous bridge over the lily pond is. Then walked to the gardens surrounding the house. The gardens were reconstructed from Monet's paintings, and with the advice of a gardener who was still alive when the renovation was being done. This was only done in the 1980's. After touring the house on our own we could spend an hour in the gardens, go back to the water garden, go to the gift shop, or walk up the street to the Impressionist Museum. If you make a left on the Rue de Monet outside the gift shop exit you will come to a cafe for a coffee, and a few gift shops. Further along is the Impressionist Museum which also has lovely gardens. You get a discount with the Monet House ticket, but I just enjoyed being among the flowers and the sunshine! Then it was back to the bus, and to Vernon and lunch onboard After the folks going to Versailles left at 1:30, we left Vernon for a lovely, long afternoon on the ship, spent mostly on the deck, with some commentary by Tony, until we reached the Port of Mantes la Jolie. We weren't permitted off the boat and just waited there for the buses to come in from Versailles. Then it was off for Paris and the Captain's farewell reception followed by the disembarkation briefing and port talk. Dinner was served at 7:00 pm and we had French entertainment with Jean-Louis and Marie in the Lounge. Everyone enjoyed them, and there was a lot of dancing! Saturday morning after breakfast the City Tour started around 9 am. We had two stops, one at the Place du Tracadero to view the Eiffel Tower, and the second at Jardin du Luxembourg a huge park with a lot of activity, children's playground, tennis courts, bocce courts, etc. It was also a rest stop. We saw a great deal of Paris from the bus and it was a good orientation for those who hadn't been before or were staying on for a few days. Tickets for the Musee d'Orsay were available at the reception desk of the ship, and in the interest of time, we bought them as well as metro tickets. The bus made one stop at the d'Orsay before going back to the ship for lunch. We had a quick bite at a little cafe by the museum, and then were able to skip the line and go right in the entrance for those with tickets. Well worth the 1 Euro surcharge. After an hour exploring mostly the Impressionist collection, we left and went over the nearby pedestrian bridge to the Right Bank. We walked through the Tuileries Garden another lovely park. Following Cruise Critic advice, we tried to find the Arc du Carrousel entrance to the Louvre, but no luck - maybe we should have tried it from the Rue de Rivoli. We did go downstairs and were under the pyramid. Following billet signs we bought our entrance tickets at the Virgin store, and paid a surcharge. But, still, we were pressed for time, so I guess it was worth not waiting on the line outside. Once inside, there are signs pointing the direction to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Winged Victory is in front of you as you actually get into the museum. Confusing, but if you go in downstairs, look for the salon you want (I had the Rick Steve's map from the internet) and take that escalator. We spent an hour there, of course seeing a lot of art on our way to both masterpieces. From there we walked through Ile de la Cite having crossed a pedestrian bridge to get there, stopped at a cafe for a soda, and then came upon Notre Dame. The line looks long to get in, but it only takes 5 - 10 minutes and is free. After walking around inside, we walked around the back to see the buttresses and more gargoyles. We crossed the bridge to the Left Bank, and got Line C of the RER at the Musee d'Orsay stop in the direction of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. I hadn't noticed the flyer at reception giving very good instructions on using the Paris Metro to get to the River Baroness. It may not have been out in the morning. Do take their map of Paris which will be at reception in the morning. There were two optional excursions in the afternoon, one to the Louvre, and the second put together by Cruise Manager, Tony for a Seine Cruise. He arranged for a bus to take folks to the boat for a ride on the Seine past all the major sights. Tickets for the boat were available for 10 Euro, cash only for the boat. Since we were trying to see more of Paris, and particularly the d'Orsay I thought we'd buy the tickets later and use the RER or Metro to get there for a night cruise, but that didn't work out as I had worn my friend out running around Paris all afternoon! We did go on deck for the Eiffel Tower "show" at 9:00 pm. Overall this was one of the best trips I've ever been on in terms of itinerary, fellow passengers, tour leaders, Uniworld staff, and food. Tony confirmed all our flights for us, arranged for the transfers to the airport. We had early afternoon flights so our van left a 10:00 o'clock. Our bags had to be out by 8 am and we had to be out of the cabin by then. But we were free to stay aboard, use any public room, plus the deck, and of course eat breakfast. I'd recommend this cruise to anyone, and envy those 50 or so from our cruise that were on the Grand France tour and headed out Sunday morning for a cruise of Southern France. Maybe next time! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
The company we chose was Uniworld - based on recommendations from friends and some special 'last minute' discounts for cruises starting in September. The 17-day cruise we eventually signed up for was on the "River ... Read More
The company we chose was Uniworld - based on recommendations from friends and some special 'last minute' discounts for cruises starting in September. The 17-day cruise we eventually signed up for was on the "River Princess" from Paris to Vienna, including 2 nights in a hotel in Paris at the start, the coach transfer from Paris to Trier where the 'river' part began, and the 15 nights on the 'boat' (this is the term Uniworld uses for its vessels, and I will do likewise). This boat can accommodate a maximum of 136 passengers. The cruise passed through four rivers - the Mosel, Rhine, Main and Danube, and one canal - the Main-Danube canal built as recently as 1992. In summary, we couldn't have asked for more! Uniworld claims to be a "boutique" operation, and while there is no ready definition of what this means, they really lived up to our expectations of personal service and catering to individual needs - which the big ocean cruise lines cannot possibly match - or even come close to. If you want to find out the details which led us to this conclusion, please read on. Staterooms: Definitely smaller than on an ocean cruiser, but all the basics were there and the quality of the beds, sheets, duvets and towels couldn't have been better. The toiletries provided were from L'Óccitane and the shower mixer was thermostatically controlled (a step up from the common hot/cold mixers which never seem to be able to maintain a constant temperature). There were five categories of staterooms starting from Cat 1 to Cat 5 and included 4 suites. All staterooms were the same size (except for the suites) and the main difference was deck level and the size of the window - ranging from a shoulder high narrow window on Cat 4 and 5, to a floor to ceiling picture window in Cat 1. We had a Cat 4 stateroom on the lowest deck and did not hear any engine noise or vibration, and hardly felt any movement. The only 'disturbance' came from fellow passengers having noisy conversations in the passage way! Facilities: The boat had excellent facilities including a laundry (you pay only for the detergent), a fitness centre with a sauna and 3 exercise machines (didn't seem to be used much, especially considering the amount of pastries consumed!), free bicycles for riding at each port, a well-equipped and reasonably priced shop, and 24-hour coffee and tea. Internet: The most popular service on the boat seemed to be the on-board internet. The charge was very reasonable - €20 for unlimited use over 14 days. Having signed up, you could use either one of the boat's two terminals or log-in with your laptop using WiFi. The WiFi was only available at the front of the ship and not from staterooms. This is probably the only service that could be improved - the speed of the internet connection was consistently slow and often unreliable. While being able to provide any internet at all on a moving vessel is commendable - considering the difficult terrain, frequent entry into locks, passing under bridges, and passage through some almost uninhabited stretches of river - there were times when even in the middle of cities, the internet was down. The boat seemed to rely on satellite links for the data connection; perhaps, a combination of 3G and satellite may bring about an improvement, since our GSM mobile phones always had a good signal. Extending WiFi coverage to all the cabins and improving the speed and reliability of internet will be a worthwhile investment for the company. Entertainment: The on-board musician Fredy provided excellent music in the evenings and the small dancing area was frequently occupied. He had an excellent repertoire from waltz, to rumba, to fast and furious disco and rock. On some 4 occasions a local musician came on board for a short performance. They were all good and gave Fredy a well earned break - and the passengers some variety. On one evening, I hasten to add, when the ship was docked for the night, the Captain assisted Fredy with some good Satchmo imitations. Excursions: At every city or town visited (including Paris) there was some kind of included tour - making a total of 15. Often it was a walking tour, sometimes a bus tour, and once a wine-tasting expedition. Each tour was allocated a specialist local expert guide - and all tours included the use of a Quietvox receiver for each participant - which meant that every word was heard. The guides, without exception, were all very knowledgeable, and the majority spoke good English. These 'íncluded' tours sometimes involved a fee, which Uniworld always paid. In addition to the included tours, Uniworld offered some 'optional' tours which had to be paid for. There was no pressure at all to join these and some passengers only did 2 or 3. We joined two of these optionals - and they were really fantastic value for money. For instance, there was a concert at the Kusalon, Vienna, on the last night which cost €49 each and this amount included return transport by coach, entry ticket to the concert, and a glass of wine during the intermission. The return coach journey back to the boat was diverted to include a mini Vienna-by-night tour to re-visit some of the city's main sights at night. To top it off, on return to the boat there was a lovely cup of hot goulash soup and a bread roll waiting! It was touches like this that made us very appreciative of Uniworld's policy of never cutting corners, and instead of adding many extra small but generous touches throughout the journey. Cruise Manager: We all know what a difference the experience, knowledge, dedication, and passion of the CM contributes to the experience. The CM on our cruise was Piet who not only excelled in all these departments but also had a cheeky sense of humour! He took it upon himself to be ever present on all the tours and was never impatient with the many questions and difficult situations that arose. For example, when a passenger developed a severe eye infection, he not only arranged for the passenger to be seen by a doctor and an eye specialist at the next port - but also went along to act as interpreter during the consultations. Whenever the boat traversed an area with some historical or other significance, he was always in the wheel-house giving a commentary. Meals: In the restaurant, Uniworld again proved they had every right to call themselves 'boutique'. The breakfast buffet had a choice which was equivalent to a 5-star hotel. And every day there was a made-to-order specialty - on one day it was my all time breakfast favourite - Eggs Benedict (If this was a specially planned manoeuvre to hook this particular traveler - they certainly succeeded!). Wine was included with dinner - and it wasn't just basic wines - it was always high quality - according to some of the wine connoisseurs on board (I am sadly not a wine drinker). Seating was open plan - which meant you often shared a table with complete strangers. And by midway, you had established some good friends from the USA, Australia and Canada. Tipping: We have never been fans of the ocean cruise liners' policy of debiting your onboard account a set amount for gratuities (Carnival claimed the daily rate was set with the help of Amex??) and you were free either to lower or to increase by visiting the Purser's Desk at the end of the cruise. The Uniworld policy is to suggest some daily rates and then leave it to individual guests how much they contributed - in cash, and in two envelopes - one to be shared by the whole crew and the other for the CM. These envelopes were dropped into a box at reception on the last day; the whole process being quite anonymous. This is by far a fairer method but would probably favour those who wanted to sneakily opt out and not partake in this gesture of appreciation for a job well done. While I have no idea what the final outcome was on our cruise, there was much evidence of passengers passing folded notes to frontline staff in all departments in the last 2 days of the journey. Without exception, every staff member we came across showed genuine concern and went out of their way to meet our needs. For example, when it became known I only liked ice cream for dessert - it simply appeared in front of me at every meal - irrespective of what exotic dessert was on the menu. Timing: Deciding on how much time to spend at each port, whether to visit one or two places each day, whether to sail at night or by day, and at what time to leave a port, are some of the tricky decisions a river cruise operator has to make. Uniworld seems to have mastered this well. For instance, those parts of the river with scenic stretches - with important castles, or the vineyards of the Wachau valley - were traversed during the day, and at the ports that had some good nightlife (e.g. beer halls in Rudesheim) departure times allowed plenty of time for late night revelers to get back on board (e.g. at Rudesheim, the boat left at 1 a.m. and not at the usual time of 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.). This is another example of Uniworld putting the passengers' needs as the first priority. While it is hard to compare ocean and river cruises, there is definitely huge advantages in being on a small boat with a small number of fellow passengers - and having the thrill of being in a different place every day. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
Uniworld has proven again that it runs a top notch cruise line. Even though the River Ambassador is the oldest ship in its fleet, the boat was in absolutely great condition. Everything was spotless from the cabins to the dining facility ... Read More
Uniworld has proven again that it runs a top notch cruise line. Even though the River Ambassador is the oldest ship in its fleet, the boat was in absolutely great condition. Everything was spotless from the cabins to the dining facility and lounge to the common areas. The crew is happy, helpful and proud to be members of the Uniworld team. Every interaction we had with any member of the crew was positive and friendly. Although the cabins are smaller than on the other Uniworld boats, they are well laid out and more than sufficient for this length of cruise. The bed was extremely comfortable and made/turned down twice a day. Bathroom amenities were high quality and plentiful. The meals on the boat were much better than the high expectations we had for them. The chef's were GREAT and funny. The dining room manager made sure that everything ran smoothly and our waiter (we tried to get the same one every day) was super. Food at every meal was plentiful and no one should go away hungry. Uniworld provides free wine at dinner and you didn't have to ask for a refill. As soon as your glass was 1/2 empty, it was refilled. There was a wide variety of passengers on the cruise with an average age in the mid - late 50's (I guess). It was a lively trip with a lot of new friends made. Check in and check out was very easy and totally transparent. When we arrived, our suitcases disappeared and reappeared in our cabins. At checkout, our suitcases were taken directly to our taxi that morning. No "put out your suitcases the night before departure." Our cruise manager was EVERYWHERE! He made sure everything ran smoothly and kept on top of all the off boat activities. Tour guides he arranged were very good, knowledgeable, and friendly. Anyone traveling with Marcus will be pleased with his service. I have to give a special commendation to the Captain and his navigation crew. The Rhine was at the lowest level it had been in 6 years. Other ships were putting passengers on buses to take them to ports, but our captain was able to safely get us to every port without problem. I can't say enough good things about the navigation staff's professionalism. Bottom line -- definitely take a Castles on the Rhine cruise on the River Ambassador. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2009
This was on Uniworld's River Ambassador "Castles Along the Rhine" cruise, September 27 to October 4, 2009. The itinerary was "up the river" from Amsterdam to Basel. I had Trafalgar/Uniworld book my flights to ... Read More
This was on Uniworld's River Ambassador "Castles Along the Rhine" cruise, September 27 to October 4, 2009. The itinerary was "up the river" from Amsterdam to Basel. I had Trafalgar/Uniworld book my flights to Amsterdam and handle my airport/boat transfers. Both were flawless. Cruise check in was very quick, no waiting. My bag was quickly carried to my cabin. Cabins were on two decks, first and second. All were window cabins with a common corridor down the center of the boat. Mine was on the first deck, one flight of stairs down from the reception area. The cabin was very clean, bright and cheerful, but small. Closet space was somewhat limited but sufficient. The bathroom was in very good condition, but the shower was small. All bed linens and bath towels were monogrammed with "uw," Uniworld's logo, giving a nice classy touch. Bath towels were thick but a little rough because fabric softener apparently was not used. Bathroom amenities featured quality body lotion and shampoo, both could be purchased in the gift shop. The bed was very comfortable. A flat screen TV was mounted on the wall at the end of the bed. I'm a single male senior citizen, and I was traveling alone. I chose this river cruise specifically because Uniworld had dropped their single supplement on many cruises to help fill their boats due to the bad worldwide economy. I think the maximum passengers on the boat is about 128. There were 103 on this cruise of which 21 were singles. I can imagine how many cabins would have been vacant without singles. The dining room was on the first deck at the front of the boat. The lounge and bar were on the second deck immediately above it. Breakfast and lunch were buffets. The breads were all baked on the ship, typically German and European types, and I found the whole grain loaves to be exceptional. At lunch there were two entrEe offerings plus a daily pasta. A dessert table often featured regional specialties, and a good selection of cheeses was offered as well. Dinner was served from 7 pm to 9 pm. There was only one seating, and it was open seating. You could sit with someone different every night, or sit with the same persons. This was a great way to meet and create friendships. Waiters were efficient and helpful. Red and white wines were always complimentary with dinner. All courses covered a spectrum of cuisines and were presented in creative ways. Dinner was usually preceded with a presentation of the next day's activities by the Program Director in the lounge. And dinner was followed by keyboard entertainment and dancing there, as well. On our second night in port at Strasbourg, France, we were treated on board to local talent of a very humorous accordionist and a very talented female vocalist, presenting predominately French music. Much was lively and fun. Outside the lounge entrance was a small coffee and beverage area open 24/7. Complimentary coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate and several teas could be freshly brewed by the cup on demand. Usually fresh fruit was available, too. In the morning there were pastries and in the afternoon dessert pastries and small sandwiches. Two small tables with eight chairs provided a comfortable place for a relaxed snack or casual conversation. The top deck was open air with seating for viewing and relaxing. A roofed area with all glass sides and an open end was situated near the front just behind the bridge for protection from the weather. The bridge was glass on all sides, and one could view the activities of the captain and his assistants as they monitored radar of the river, river depth and traffic, and navigated the boat accordingly. The Rhine River was suffering from low water depth (9/2009), a two year problem from insufficient rainfall. Numerous river boats of other lines were stranded, unable to complete their voyages due to shallow water. But because of the unique design of Uniworld boat's underside, we were able to complete our journey from Amsterdam to Basel without a problem. Of interest to some is the fact that the boat passes through 14 locks between Amsterdam and Basel. At each port an included walking tour with a local guide was provided to orient passengers with city history, famous sites, etc. Detailed maps of the areas were provided. Uniworld also provides receiver sets and headphones for all passengers and a mike and transmitter for guides to use so everyone can clearly hear the guide's commentary, even if one lags behind the group taking photos. This is a nice feature, not always offered by other companies. At some ports optional tours were offered for purchase. The only optional tour I did was to Heidelberg with a visit to the castle ruins and included a set German lunch in town, plus free time to explore and shop. The tour was worth doing. NOTE: Climbing some of the inclines from bus parking to the castle can be a little challenging for some. On the morning we cruised through the Rhine castle region most everyone was on the top deck with their camera. Over 40 castles are along the river. At 10:30 am the deck was turned into a German party with oom-pha music courtesy of the resident keyboardist. The kitchen staff set up a buffet with German sausages, kraut, mustard, and freshly baked soft pretzels and beers. At Rudesheim an included tour transported us to Schloss Vollrads' centuries' old palace and winery. Wine production dates from 1211 AD. Their vineyards grow only Riesling grapes from which quality wines are produced. Only a limited amount is exported to the USA. A resident guide informed us of Schloss Vollrads' history and wine production, and treated us to three wine samplings as we toured various areas of the palace. Strasbourg was an interesting port. Bordering on the west bank of the Rhine in the Alsace province of France, it's in close proximity to the Black Forest region of Germany, on the east bank. Strasbourg has changed national ownership six times in history between Germany and France. We were here two days. On our arrival we had an included canal boat cruise around the city, and then a walking tour to the cathedral. We also had free time to shop. One could tell they were in France from the abundance of pastry shops and the beautiful pastries and breads in their windows. The following day we had a full day excursion via motor coach along the Alsatian wine road with 27 thousand acres of vineyards and several wineries. Grape harvest was in progress. We visited a small town having a wine harvest festival. One could smell grapes being crushed at the town's winery. Local organizations were selling local food specialties, pastries and "neu vin" (lightly fermented grape juice. The cafes were busy serving lunch to attendees on their outdoor terraces. In the afternoon we journeyed to Colmar for more historical sightseeing, and then joined up with our cruise boat. The following morning we woke up in Basel, Switzerland where we said our good-byes to our new friends and the Rhine. Ship personnel efficiently handled transfers via coach to airlines and railroads. In conclusion, Uniworld did a great job with service, room keeping, food and sightseeing. The program director was exceptional and very thorough, plus being a lot of fun. Ages of cruisers ranged from 40 and up. Because there are no elevators on this boat, I would not recommend it for handicapped cruisers. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
We cruised on the Avalon Creativity in late September. We got really lucky and had fantastic weather. I absolutely fell in love with river cruising. It was awesome that any time you looked out the window or over the rail, there was ... Read More
We cruised on the Avalon Creativity in late September. We got really lucky and had fantastic weather. I absolutely fell in love with river cruising. It was awesome that any time you looked out the window or over the rail, there was something to see. You were always within yards of the nearest shore. All of the rooms on the ship were large compared with most of the ocean going ships. The bathrooms even had a decent size shower. We were a group of 4, so we had two rooms. We had a Jr. Suite, but the other couple had a standard room. The food was absolutely fantastic. One person in our group had some allergy considerations, and the kitchen always made sure that they had appropriate food that was just as good. One thing we really appreciated, was that the price of the drinks on board was reasonable. They also had happy hour each evening, where drinks were two for one. With all dinners, wine beer and soda were included. They only had one sitting for dinner, and it tended to take 2 hours... or longer if you liked. During this time the wine and beer were flowing freely. They were almost insulted if you declined a refill. Since we ultimately did not spend all that much money on drinks, and all the excursions are included in the price of the cruise, this is actually a pretty affordable vacation. Do be warned though, if you are into partying all night, and then sleeping till noon the next day, stick to the big ocean ships. They don't offer much in the way of entertainment, and by 11:00 it is pretty much down to sitting in the lounge for drinks. Most of the excursions are also quite early in the morning, and you do need to be at breakfast by 7:00 most days, if you were planning to participate. Due to the small size of the ship, however, by about day 3, people begin to know each other, and the evenings in the lounge and the happy hours start to turn into parties. I loved the intimacy of being in this environment. I do have to say though, that being in our early 40's, we did get labeled as the young people. That being said, the so called "older" crowd were no couch potatoes. Just try and keep up! I definitely did not feel out of place, and would go sailing with this group again in a heart beat. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2009
This was our first experience with river cruising. We have done 5 ocean cruises on Regency, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. We were not sure what to expect on such a small ship but we were VERY pleasantly surprised. Our biggest ... Read More
This was our first experience with river cruising. We have done 5 ocean cruises on Regency, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. We were not sure what to expect on such a small ship but we were VERY pleasantly surprised. Our biggest concern was whether or not we could survive in a cabin that was 8 x 13. It turned out to be a non-problem at all. Yes, the shower was small and yes the cabin was small but we spent so little time there that it was never a problem. The cruise itself was absolutely wonderful!! Mother nature did not always cooperate but that did not deter any of us from having a good time. The ports of call were very interesting and there was a good amount of time allocated for excursions. You did not have a plethora of excursions to choose from but the ones that were there really highlighted the items of interest in the ports we visited. We stopped in Kingston, NY, Troy, NY, Sylvan Beach, NY, Oswego NY, Alexandria Bay, NY, Montreal and Quebec. From our point of view, Quebec was the highlight of the trip. Very interesting city. Will definitely go back there. Our ship had a capacity of 100 and there were 56 of us on board so we were really spoiled from that perspective. Without a doubt, the highlight of the cruise was the food. How the staff could prepare the variety of meals that we were served and the quality of food is a real testament to the chefs on board. Let there be no doubt that we will cruise with ACCL again. The service was friendly, courteous and wonderful. The food was great and the total experience was MUCH better than many we have had on BIG ships. Hooray for ACCL. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
Upon check-in at the hotel in Berlin the cruise director told us that due to the low water level on the Elbe we would not embark in Magdeberg as scheduled but be bussed to Dresden instead. Upon arrival in Dresden we were told the chances ... Read More
Upon check-in at the hotel in Berlin the cruise director told us that due to the low water level on the Elbe we would not embark in Magdeberg as scheduled but be bussed to Dresden instead. Upon arrival in Dresden we were told the chances of sailing were not good and since the prospect of rain and/or release of water by the Czechs could not be ensured we had to adopt a day to day wait and see posture while Viking did what they could to salvage the "sailing". We ended up staying in Dresden for the entire week and were taken by bus to Wittenberg and Torgau, Saxon Switzerland/Bad Schandau, and Meissen. We missed Magdeberg, Melnik, Litomerice, and Dessau. Viking cancelled the following Elbe itinerary. Viking awarded us with a 40% credit toward future cruising through December 2012 as compensation (some restrictions may apply but we'll have to see how that unfolds). One member of our group is 91 and whether or not he is able to make the trek to Europe remains to be seen so the credit may not be a good deal. Viking says the credit could be transferable to a family member. I understand a fellow passenger has opened a lawsuit against Viking alleging Viking knew well enough in advance to provide us with the option for a full refund or rebooking on another voyage. We were lucky as Dresden has immense importance to our family from World War II and we were able to make connections there that otherwise would have been impossible. We enjoyed multiple days in Dresden on our own initiative without a lot of help from the cruise director who could have found more activities for our group in that city. If we did not have the Dresden connection I would have been very disappointed with Viking's treatment of us. Bus rides to some of the scheduled stops were long, not very comfortable, and the reduced time at those stops detracted from our enjoyment of them but Viking was trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Food and staff were good but the cruise director was stressed and surly at times. The assistant cruise director was very nice and helpful. Our D category cabin was small (120 square feet) and the twin bed setup wasn't very romantic. The food was OK but nothing special. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
We did the precruise extension in Prague. Prague was probably my favorite place to see on this vacation. We stayed at the Imperial Art Deco which was a lovely hotel within easy walking distance to old town. The concierge was very ... Read More
We did the precruise extension in Prague. Prague was probably my favorite place to see on this vacation. We stayed at the Imperial Art Deco which was a lovely hotel within easy walking distance to old town. The concierge was very helpful in finding places to have dinner. Our tour guide was Jana who was great. One night we went to a restaurant called Ceruna Tabulka which was recommended by the concierge. It was a short walk from the Art Deco and was very quaint and charming. The food was great. The next night we went to the magic black night theatre which was a fun cheap evening entertainment. Not what I expected as a great deal of vaudeville comedy was included. The black light segments were very nice. I don't know if I would go again but it was an experience. The following night we had dinner at Kolkovne, a traditional Czech restaurant. The guys loved all the sausage and cabbage dishes. It was a little heavy for me so I had a risotto which was okay, not great. One night we went to the Opera at the State Theatre and saw Carmen. The production was very good and the Theatre was beautiful. Do walk to the Charles Bridge at night it is quite beautiful all light up and the view of the castle outstanding. We walked through the Jewish Quarter, but it was a Saturday and everything was closed. Other than the tour of the castle and old town, we just walked all over the city and enjoyed the sights. Our transfer to the ship in Passau was good and efficient. The cruise director Christine was wonderful and ran very well run tours at each stop. All our stops were on time and we had no trouble with the river water levels. Although on some of the previous cruises they did run into delays and problems with the Danube flooding. The weather was so so, we had some good days but overall it was cool and unfortunately foggy while cruising the Wachau Valley. We had some rain in Budapest in the morning but then was okay in afternoon. It has been a very unsettling summer there as far as weather was concerned. The tour in Salzburg was dissappointing. We just walked from place to place with a lot of commentary from our tour guide but did not go into any venues and in fact the tour took up so much time that we were upable to do the fortress on our own. It was a full day tour driving from Linz to Salzburg and we either had time to stop for a bite to eat or tour the fortress and after walking and standing for long periods we chose to take a break. The few people who started to go up to the fortress only got halfway and were afraid they would run out of time and turned around. The tour in Vienna was good and left plenty of time to do things on our own. We took a tour of the Imperial Apartments and the Sissi Museum which was good. Then we had time to go to a cafe and walk to a market after which we took the underground (metro) back to the ship. Very easy. We chose not to go to the concert but the people who did go enjoyed it very much. We also had a half day tour to the Schonbrunn Palace which is beautiful. I wish we had more time to explore the grounds more. It really is a full day kind of place. I'm jumping around a bit I know. Just writing things that come into my head as I go. The stop at Melk was beautiful, the Abbey outstanding. We walked back to the ship through the town which was very nice. I would advise anyone to not take the bus back. Our stop at Durnstein included a tour of a winery which I enjoyed. It's not for everyone, but we had a nice wine tasting and tour of cellars which of course wound up at their store. The guide was knowledgeable and entertaining and also included a tour of the Chateau. We again walked through the town of Durnstein back to the ship. Another cute and charming town. In Budapest we did the optional tour to the village of Szentendre. I was disappointed in the town. After seeing so many beautiful areas I guess I expected too much but it had great little shops which I enjoyed and purchased several items to bring home. Wonderful knits and boiled wool jackets for the ladies. Overall we had a very good time. It was our first experience on a River Cruise and it is very different from the Med cruises we took in the Med and Baltics. More laid back and the average age of the passengers was older but I would do one again in the future. Oh and the food was wonderful on the River Beatrice, must not forget to mention that to the foodies. Hope some of this was helpful as I have had great advice from reading cruise critic in the past and wanted to pay back a little. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
We decided to do this at the spur of the moment and were very lucky to get our visa's out of the Russian Embassy in less than a month, also our flight from Seattle to Dulles was a real squeaker. Everyone on board and about to pull ... Read More
We decided to do this at the spur of the moment and were very lucky to get our visa's out of the Russian Embassy in less than a month, also our flight from Seattle to Dulles was a real squeaker. Everyone on board and about to pull away from the gate on time when TSA stopped the flight and made everyone get off the plane along with any and all carry ons. Then they brought out the dogs to sniff the whole plane and all the passengers before we were allowed back on (makes you feel really comfortable huh!) So we were an hour late leaving Seattle and the cruise line had only given us an hour and a half when we got to Dulles to change planes. Very fun to watch me with two artificial knees and my husband with his artificial hip sprinting (I use that term loosely) through the airport along with a handful of other passengers and when we finally got to the gate for the Moscow flight the door was about to close. About 8 of us were the last passengers on board and I was sure we would never see our luggage again when we got there but after they boarded us we sat for about 1/2 hour waiting for the luggage and we all arrived with our bags in Moscow.....so that was the beginning of the good luck. There were only a couple of cabins left when we booked and we had no idea what was good and what wasn't and we went with cabin 402 (very near the back of the Upper Deck) It was a very quiet room because the hall is a dead end. We could at times very clearly hear the women in the next cabin talking but fortunately that usually didn't last long as they must have been as tired as we most nights. The other Cabin that we were offered was up front by the main bar and lounge and I think it must have been quite noisy. All the cabins on the upper deck looked very nice, windows opens and had an unobstructed view. Beds were very comfy, cabin was always clean and no strange smells from anywhere. My only complaint on the cabin is that they need to some how in-corporate another chair. There was only the one straight back at the desk and it would be nice for the other person to be able to sit comfortably (I was usually hogging the desk chair using my lap top.) Other only major complaint was the slow, slow, slow Internet connection but when we got to St. Petersburg they worked on it for several days so maybe it will be better. At least it's free and having your own lap top is a good idea as it's hard to get on the ship's two free lap tops. I could have also called this the Church and Icons tour as well. Who knew a communist country would have so many Churches, I would have thought that they would have been destroyed in the Stalin years but many were just turned into storage sheds but not harmed. You do get your fill of churches , it got to be a bit of a joke...."oh boy more icons." I thought perhaps we could have done with a few less Churches and some more time in Museums. Only spending 3 hours in the Hermitage is ridiculous.....you can't even begin to get a taste of it....more like a lick! I would like to see them offer a full day there and skip the city tour half of the day because you see the city when you are doing other tours like the Peter Paul Fortress or the Canal Tours. - If you are taking this cruise for gourmet food you might be disappointed. That is not to say that the food wasn't adequate and plentiful. The breakfast and lunches are quite good and the dinners were a bit more hit and miss, some strange offerings but nicely presented. My husband opted for the steak about half the nights because he's not a very adventuresome eater and the steaks were well cooked smallish but tasty, always served with a baked potato which I thought they could have varied. I had the steak only one night and one night I choose the chicken breast (both the steak, chicken breast and Caesar Salad are always available.) I tried the other options the rest of the time. Only the Lake Perch was inedible.....the rest were just sort of mediocre but with the salads, soups and desserts you never go away hungry....just not fantastic food. The steak was quite nice the chicken pretty dry and chewy so probably best to not opt for that. I do wish they would be a bit more inventive in the dessert area. It was almost always ice cream with some sort of sauce or little cookie. The service by the Filipino waiters was fabulous. We usually opted for a table for 2 and were served by Leith and Jun and they were so very very attentive, pleasant and made dining, even with not always such great food fun. Breakfast was probably the best meal of the day, the buffet had lots of wonderful options and you could order omelette's, Eggs Benedict, French Toast, pancakes and hash-browns served to your table. There was always Russian Champagne on the buffet and several options for juice. Lunch was always green salad with many choices for toppings, several cold salads and sandwiches and two or three hot dishes plus soup and dessert (two options one always being ice cream) was served at the table. The 24 hour coffee and tea bar was really nice as well and was directly below our end of the ship. They serve a light tea most afternoons in the Panorama Bar at the other end of the ship. This consisted of tea and an assortment of cookies and cakes. The tours were good, we had Tatiana for our guide and she is fabulous. So look for her, pretty blond lady in her 50's. Whom ever you choose at the beginning is your guide for the whole time and whom ever is on your bus the first day is with your group for the entire time as well.....your new family for the next 13 days. The boat itself is very nicely laid out, good viewing areas on the top deck and in the Panorama Bar on the front of the Upper Deck. It would be nice if there was more comfortable seating somewhere on the boat but I guess you can't have recliners on a vacation ;-) I should add that the dress on the ship was very informal and I probably wouldn't pack a lot of dressy clothes. Men mostly wore jeans, khakis and polo shirts and the woman wore more slacks and jeans than anything else. There were lots of men and woman in jeans at dinner and even some in sweat pants (which I thought was a bit too much) but what ever. I didn't wear about 1/2 of the dressier outfits I brought, because I would have felt over the top except for the Captains dinner and one other night and I really don't bring that fancy of things as dressing up for my husband is nice pants and a sweater he is not a suit guy so if he was comfortable you know it was informal. I think Viking does a good job of making your time as pleasant as possible and I don't have any big earthshaking complaints.....it was an overall success. We were not as taken with Russia as we have been with Asia and New Zealand but it was good to check it off the bucket list and I'm glad we went. The traffic and smog in Moscow was appalling and the people seem a bit grumpy. Pictures from the cruise (including room & photo's of food) at http://www.flickr.com/photos/quiltsa...7622305559005/ First stop on the river was Uglich and it was very interesting as well. Toured the Cathedral where Ivan the Terrible's son was murdered. Walked to it from the boat (easy walk through a very good street market.) Unfortunately the guide had told us that their would be better shopping on the last stop of the river cruise portion and wait to buy our souvenirs there.....that turned out to be bad advise unless you were looking for very high quality hand crafted things as every thing at the last stop fell into that category. If you are looking for trinkets for the grand kids or small things for friends...stick to the street markets the prices are much better than the craft shops. The first port was Moscow......what a mess that city is. Absolutely horrendous traffic. Two hours from the airport to the boat dock, and a good hour and a half to two hours into town from the dock (about a 20 min drive in normal traffic I would think.) So for a day trip to town a good 3 to 4 hours or more was in snarled up traffic.....and then if you signed up for a night excursion add another couple of hours. I really think that Viking should feed people at a restaurant in the city on days that their are all day tours and then night events. We skipped the folk music concert because we couldn't face getting in the bus again for yet another drive into the city. We had the opportunity to use the bank ATM in Moscow to get Rubles. We were charged $105 for 3000 Rubles (this turned out to be a much better deal than the next ATM in a smaller city were we were charge $136 for the same 3000 Rubles so plan ahead and get your rubles in Moscow.) We did do the Moscow by night but it was really beautiful seeing Red Square after dark (even though it poured rain, luckily it was only one of two rainy episodes on the whole trip.) We enjoyed the tour of the Armory and the Kremlin and took the optional 1/2 day tour of the New Maiden Nunnery and Cemetery on the day of the Moscow by Night tour. The New Maiden Nunnery was really lovely and the cemetery where Kruschev and Gorbachev's wife were buried was fascinating as well. Yaroslavl was the next port and it had some gorgeous churches and cathedral's as well (go figure) and we were bused into the center of town and did a walking tour from their. After touring the churches we were given about an hour and a half to shop. Very interesting local fruit and food stuffs market that I really enjoyed taking pictures of but we were warned to not eat anything (they offered dried fruit and nuts at the stalls.) The guide said it might be our last place to get Rubles till St. Petersburg so we found an ATM machine and got really taken because of course unless you read Russian you have no idea what it says about exchange rates or fees for using the machine and our guide was off doing her own thing, not where we could ask her to translate. Goritsy was the next stop where we were bused to Kirrilov where we visited the Monastery of St. Cyril. It is known for it's remarkable collection of icons but frankly we were iconed out so we spent the time strolling the grounds which were really beautiful and enjoying the flowers and the local parishioners who were coming out from church services. I wished we had more time to just soak up the ambiance of the little towns and less time being lectured to about the icons and their significance (but that's just me....not very interested in religion.) Then it was on to Kishi Island on Lake Onega. It is the famed open-air Museum of Russian Architecture. The beautiful Church of the Transfiguration an ornate structure of wooden ribbons and 22 domes in 3 tiers built entirely with out nails. It was really cool and the examples of local life from the early 10th century that were being acted out were fascinating as well. Great stop. We also had one more stop on the river the next day and that was Mandrogi which was suppose to be the big place for buying souvenirs but for the most part we all felt it was very expensive although their were some lovely things. Unfortunately it was pouring rain at this stop and not much fun to tromp around and look at the buildings....it is sort of a Russian Epcot Center for life in the olden days. There was a pavilion with berry pies that were quite tasty We ended the cruise in St. Peterburg and I love that city......could have spent a week there. The Hermitage is gorgeous, Catherine's Palace, fantastic and just the city in general was lovely with all the canals and beautiful buildings. Again we were docked a bit of a drive out but it wasn't as bad a commute to the sites as in Moscow and the smog wasn't as bad either. Both Moscow and St. Petersburg had subways which I think should have been made use of instead of busing but I suppose that is hard with large groups. But it would have been a nice option. Again Russia is probably not somewhere I would go again but I did love the experience and would love to take another Viking Cruise (say the Grand European one.) Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: October 2009
My wife and I booked our honeymoon on Viking Cruise lines in October, a nine day cruise down the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel with daily stops along the way. We had never tried river cruising before but had heard good things about ... Read More
My wife and I booked our honeymoon on Viking Cruise lines in October, a nine day cruise down the Rhine River from Amsterdam to Basel with daily stops along the way. We had never tried river cruising before but had heard good things about it and were anxiously looking forward to the trip. After much research we were down to choosing Viking River Cruises or Uniworld and in the end decided on Viking because their itinerary included the Black Forest which my wife had always wanted to visit and Heidelberg which I had always wanted to visit. Unfortunately the cruise did not turn out as we had expected; after leaving Amsterdam we cruised for just two days then stopped in Koblenz Germany and were informed that the water levels on the river were too low and we could go no further. Viking then did a one day cruise down the Mosul River to a beautiful little village, unfortunately we had roughly two and a half hours to explore before we had to rush back to the boat and return to Koblenz were we remained tied up for the remainder of the week while they bussed us to various locations were had been scheduled to visit. Because we spent hours on buses we only got to visit two of those locations, missing out on the remaining three. And even at the two we did visit; Heidelberg and Strasbourg, were very brief, we had just a few hours free time in Heidelberg and less than two hours in Strasbourg. We were then buses to our final destination; Basel, a day early and that was that. Needless to say, I realize that Viking River Cruises has no control over the level of the river and no reasonable person could blame them for that. I do however blame them for the way in which they handled the entire trip; The company later admitted that they knew before we ever left Amsterdam that we would almost certainly be unable to complete the cruise due to the low water levels, yet they still got us on the ship where they could control us and cruise for at least a day or two, thus being able to state that they had tried their best. And during the cruise itself they lied to us about this, claiming that they had thought the river levels would rise due to rain! It was only after we'd returned and I wrote to the company that they admitted the truth. They never gave us the option of deciding what we would like to do (they cancelled the cruise the following week and gave those passengers the choice of re-scheduling their trip or receiving a refund). I would have gladly taken even a partial refund and left the ship in Koblenz. We paid a handsome sum of money for an 8 day river cruise and instead received a three day cruise and a series of long bus trips and short visits to only a few of our scheduled stops. For this the company offered us 30% off another cruise but only if we took it within the next year. I might add that this was at a time when they were offering two for one deals and large discounts in airfare to anyone off the street! The crew paid no mind to what we, the paying passengers, wanted to do. During an on board meeting when they finally admitted that we could not continue on the river the majority of passengers expressed the desire to visit the Black Forest instead of Strasbourg, this was ignored by the crew because Strasbourg was more convenient for them to then bus us to Basel and be rid of us. So Strasbourg it was, for an hour or so anyway! The crews demeanor throughout the trip was abrupt to the point of being rude, this was so apparent that it became a running joke among the passengers, not a funny one either. Their attitude was; "this is what we are doing so be quiet and like it". And on a more general note; the food was just fair and the service at meal times left much to be desired, the wait staff was undermanned and did little more than put the food in front of you and run off. If you asked for anything extra you would have thought you had asked them to move the earth for you. The ship was obviously understaffed. Upon returning home I wrote a long, thoughtful letter to Viking expressing my displeasure and pointing out that basically, my wife and I had paid $9,000 for a short cruise and a series of very long bus trips. And that I did not think their offering 30% off another cruise IF taken within a year was sufficient compensation for that. Several months later I received a form letter explaining how the water levels on the Rhine work and basically saying that they were sorry but it is what it is, get over it and hey, we hope you sail with us again very soon! Viking sends out DVD's and brochures and letters from their chairman touting their high level of service and how much they care for their passengers. This was a far cry from the Viking that we experienced. I would urge all of you to take their claims of sterling service with a very large grain of salt and, if you should be planning a river cruise then seriously consider Uniworld or Globus and avoid Viking all together. Our experience may or may not have been the norm but, do you want to spend that kind of money to find out? Read Less
Sail Date: November 2009
We started our trip with 4 nights in Berlin, a highlight of our trip. Berlin is a fabulous city and anyone interested in reading my very detailed trip report can find it on Trip Advisor and Fodor's - title is "Four Fabulous Days ... Read More
We started our trip with 4 nights in Berlin, a highlight of our trip. Berlin is a fabulous city and anyone interested in reading my very detailed trip report can find it on Trip Advisor and Fodor's - title is "Four Fabulous Days in Berlin". We took an early morning train to Frankfurt to meet the ship. Our designated meeting spot was the Westin Grand. Here there was a hospitality room where we left our luggage and carry on. The cruise director, Nancy, was there along with some other Avalon folks. There was light refreshment available but we were anxious to explore Frankfurt so just checked in, dropped our stuff and headed out. This was our first time in Frankfurt and we frankly did not care for the city. We grabbed a map and set out to see as much as we could in 5 hours. The streets in the pedestrian area had a lot of trash and were just not as nice as what we have come to expect in Germany. We explored, had an ok lunch at Cafe Mozart and headed back to the hotel. Avalon transported us to the ship around 4pm. It was a short ride and the check in process took just a few minutes - a sign of what was to come. We were escorted to our category B cabin, located at the very end of the passenger cabins. The cabin was very modern, immaculate and thoughtfully designed with great storage. We quickly unpacked, settled in and headed out to explore the ship. This was our first river cruise and it was much as we had anticipated though the ship itself was actually nicer than we expected. Colors and fabrics gave it a rich and luxurious look and we found it delightful! It did not take long to check out the facilities and we decided to head back and shower and head to the welcome party. The party was nicely done and we had the opportunity to chat with other guests and meet the crew. Lovely canapEs were served, along with champagne. A welcome talk included some general info about life aboard the Affinity and at the conclusion we headed to the dining room. The dining room was lovely and the only disappointment was that we could not find a table for two. Since we had reviewed the videos on their website, this came as a surprise to us and we do enjoy a table for two but such was not to be on this sailing. We joined three other couples and enjoyed what was to be the first of 5 very nice dinners aboard. The menu had two choices for each course and two standard selections as well. I had emailed ahead that I follow a low fat, low cholesterol-eating plan and they worked with me to provide dishes prepared without fats and sauces, which were fresh and tasty. Breakfast and lunch were buffet with a good choice for most folks but a bit more of a challenge for me as there no eggbeaters or egg whites available for breakfast. I opted daily for fruit and smoked salmon and the occasional slice of turkey breast when it was offered. They offered a small salad bar at lunch, which is what I had when we were not in port. We did dine in port as often as possible in order to enjoy the German foods we have come to enjoy over the years of travel there. My husband and everyone I spoke with just loved the food on the Affinity. Everything was prepared fresh and was served hot. Quality was excellent overall. Fresh fish was available nightly and I enjoyed each of the varieties offered. Desserts were also a big hit with everyone at our table but I will leave that for others to review, as I did not partake. Our itinerary was: Miltenberg-Wertheim Wurzburg. Excursion to Rothenburg Bamberg Nuremberg Of these we most enjoyed Bamberg and Wurzburg, followed by Miltenburg and Rothenburg. Nuremberg was our least favorite except for the fact that we had the most time there and were able to stay out as long as we wanted. We only took the included tour in Wurzburg, which included the Residence and was lovely - our tour guide was excellent! In the other cities, we grabbed a map and headed off on our own to explore, as that is what we prefer. Avalon did a great job with organizing, with providing as much detail as was needed and in taking care of the various needs of the guests. There were some who were very active and another component that used walking sticks and had to go at a slower pace. Though there not always tours available for all abilities, as we had expected, no one was left behind and the quality of their shore program was very good as were the guides we met. We were quite late getting into Bamberg and they quickly rearranged their plans and had the ship stop before we reached the port - buses were there to take us into town. We ended up only having 3 hours there but they did extend our departure time as much as possible to allow us that. Happy hour was offered nightly and was quite popular. We were so impressed with the staff of the Affinity overall and especially David at the main bar, Dan the Hotel Manger and Claudio in the dining room. The service overall was very personal and professional and so much better than the rushed, impersonal service we have come to expect on mass market cruise ships. Entertainment was minimal as expected. The house piano player, Vasco, was enjoyable and played every night in the main bar. One night they brought a zither player aboard and on another the crew joined the guests for carols and Santa came to visit. That night was the most fun as everyone got in the holiday spirit. There was a small fitness center, which made keeping up with basic cardio workouts possible. The beauty salon also stayed quite busy. The aft lounge offered coffee and tea throughout the day. Fellow passengers came from as far away as Australia and Hawaii and most were quite friendly and personable. There were three young girls aboard who were very well behaved and who seemed to enjoy their experience. Downsides for us were short times in port and the "dead" time when the ship sailed during daylight hours. While I am sure many enjoy relaxing on vacation, when we are in Europe, we really are interested in our destination more so than downtown. Some improvements that Avalon could make in my opinion would be to provide robes in the rooms for guests and more choices for those of us who need to watch their calories on vacation. Otherwise, my husband and I really enjoyed the Affinity overall and made some wonderful new friends over the course of the cruise who we are staying in touch with. For us, that was a real bonus! We love Germany and especially over the Christmas season. We left the ship in Nuremberg and headed by train to Munich for a couple of days after the trip, which was a perfect finish to the trip. I can recommend Avalon and the Affinity for those looking for a very good quality experience overall. The staff was exceptional and we plan to return, this time knowing what to expect. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2009
Victoria Queen By Jim Thornton China November 10, 2009 This was our sixth river cruise in contrast to our 13 ocean cruises. Our cabin was a deluxe cabin, called the Shangri-La Suite, on the port side of the second deck near the bow of ... Read More
Victoria Queen By Jim Thornton China November 10, 2009 This was our sixth river cruise in contrast to our 13 ocean cruises. Our cabin was a deluxe cabin, called the Shangri-La Suite, on the port side of the second deck near the bow of the ship and close to the bow stairway. We sailed on a four-day about 500-mile Yangtze River cruise from Yichang upstream (towards the west) to Chongqing. Each day there was something new to see like the controversial Three Gorges Dam, which is more than three and a half miles wide, and created a 20-mile long lake displacing over one million people and submerging their 13 cities, 140 towns, and 1,352 villages. Ship: Is one of the larger ships on the river. It and its identical Victoria Cruise ship (the Victoria Prince) were originally built in 1995, rebuilt in 2003, and refurbished in 2008. The ship has four passenger decks without elevators and carries 206 passengers with a crew of 121. Cabin: Our room was larger (622 square feet) than on the previous river cruises that we sailed on. There are two of these deluxe suites each consisting of a bedroom with king size bed with two nightstands and large outside windows on two sides of the cabin on the entire port and bow sides; a large private balcony over looking the bow, a couch, a small table, a small desk and chair, a TV set with two English language channels - CNN and HBO and lots of Chinese language channels and DVD player, two small clothes closets, a small refrigerator and mini-bar, and a large bathroom with a western toilet, two sinks, shower, and a bathtub. The ship has 93 standard cabins (211 square feet) with two single beds on the second deck; six junior suites (294 square feet) with two single beds on the second, third, and fourth decks, and two deluxe suites (458 square feet) with king size beds on the second deck. All cabins have and private bathrooms with separate showers, and balconies. The ship's electrical voltage is the same as the country's 220 volts at 50 Hertz. Laundry: A fee-based same day laundry service is available. Dining Room: There is a single dining room where breakfast and lunch is a serve yourself buffet and the buffet lines get very long and the food in mainly Chinese with a little western. At dinnertime, the individual Chinese courses are brought to your table and placed on a large common circular plate that rotates so that you may serve yourself. Chopsticks are always provided but so are forks. Tips: A suggested $10 (US) per passenger per day is suggested for the entire ship's crew, plus a separate $4 for the "River Guide". Evening Entertainment: Varies as the crew provides live music, dances, and acrobatics. Internet: There are several for-a-fee computers for passenger use to access their e-mail accounts, the Internet, etc. Bars: There is a bar on the fourth deck and it is a full bar. Meeting Room: Is on the fourth deck in the same large room as the bar. Tours: Visiting and seeing the Three Gorges, the relocated villages, the Three Gorges dam, the large ship locks, and the Xiling Gorge. These tours are included in the overall price of the cruise. Doctor: A Chinese trained medical doctor is onboard. Overall Opinion: This was our second Yangtze River cruise. The previous non-Victoria Queen cruise was on the Princess Sheena, a German built ship that contained a working German-standard water purification and sterilization system meaning that you could drink the water from the cabin's sink. On the Victoria Queen all your drinking water came from small commercial plastic water bottles. Each day in your cabin, one bottle was provided per passenger. In the dining room, you could order only a single small glass of water but there are no refills. Thus I could often take my bottle of water from my cabin to the dinning room. Read Less

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