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Sail Date: November 2009
In November, 2009 my husband and I headed out on the most unique and wonderful cruise we have ever experienced - a wine tasting river cruise with AmaWaterways on the AmaLego through the wine region of the Mosel River in Germany. We have ... Read More
In November, 2009 my husband and I headed out on the most unique and wonderful cruise we have ever experienced - a wine tasting river cruise with AmaWaterways on the AmaLego through the wine region of the Mosel River in Germany. We have been on a number of ocean cruises with a variety of cruise lines, but we had never experienced anything quite as exciting, entertaining, relaxing and culturally informative as this cruise. I am a travel writer so I was particularly interested in experiencing a river cruise for the first time, since we are avid ocean cruisers. We are now also avid river cruisers, especially if it means cruising with AmaWaterways! The AmaLegro began cruising in 2007, so it is one of the newest, state-of-the-art ships that AmaWaterways offers. All river cruise ships in Europe are the same size since they have to pass under beautiful, ancient bridges and through locks, but the design and the amenities of the AmaLegro are what makes it different. We boarded the ship in Amsterdam in the late fall afternoon, so it was dusky dark and the golden lights of the ship were gleaming and welcoming. It was mid-November, so Christmas decorations were festooned everywhere and a Christmas tree brightened the lobby as we stepped aboard. Never had it been so busy to board a ship before! Just walk up a small gangplank and you are there! The crew was very welcoming and helped us settle into our lovely stateroom. Beautifully decorated and comfortable, there was white-on-white plush bedding, and a cozy sitting area with a French balcony that ran from floor to ceiling, where we spent a lot of time watching the scenery roll by. All staterooms and junior suites are outside and over 80% include a French balcony so you never have to worry about missing the view! Staterooms include a hair dryer, safe, terry bathrobes, individually controlled air-conditioning and plenty of closet space. One of the coolest things about the AmaWaterways ships is their unique Infotainment Systems. Every stateroom is equipped with monitor, keyboard with Internet access, English language TV stations, a large movie selection and numerous music programs. We had our own laptops, but we took advantage of the free wi-fi and were very pleased with this amenity. Especially since we had always paid for it on all our other cruises! They also have a satellite telephone system that lets you to call home for a nominal fee. We peeked in the open doors of one of the junior suites and were impressed at the size. They are 255 square feet and have a comfortable sitting area with a sofa and two chairs, floor-to-ceiling windows with French balconies and large bathrooms with bathtubs and showers. A bathtub was the only thing I missed on our cruise, so maybe next time we'll book a suite! Then it was time to explore the ship - something we always do when we come onboard. This one was pretty easy to explore since it was nothing like the huge ocean liners, but we came to love the cozy and intimate feel of the AmaLegro. This was the first time in all our years of cruising that we actually made friends that we kept up with after the cruise. We headed out of our stateroom and explored the Wellness area in the after part of the ship. It has a small, glassed-in exercise room with a few pieces of equipment, a massage area and beauty salon, and a nice lounge area with wicker furniture, French doors to enjoy the fresh air and a bar area with an ice machine. We also noticed an elevator onboard, which is unusual on river cruise ships. Next, we headed through the lobby and into the large and comfortable lounge at the bow of the ship. Furnished with overstuffed love seats and comfortable chairs, this ended up being the place where most of the passengers congregated. There was a bar and a nice little buffet area set up with free coffee, tea and hot chocolate. They also usually had some sort of snacks and even offered a light late breakfast every morning and a light lunch as well. In the evenings, there was live music in the lounge area and local entertainment was brought on at many of the ports. This was also where we had our port talks which were very interesting and informative. Soon enough, it was time to head down to the dining room for dinner. Surrounded by windows so you were never deprived of a view, served by genuinely kind and friendly servers, and partaking of wonderfully prepared local specialties at every meal, the dining room soon became our favorite place. Because the atmosphere of the ship was so congenial and the group of passengers quite small compared to the behemoth ocean cruisers, we soon made friends with two other couples and had every meal with them. The food on the AmaLegro was truly one of the best things about the trip. Since this was also a wine-tasting trip, we had a variety of wines with lunch and dinner and often had wine experts talking to us and extolling the virtues of the particular wines we were sipping. At each of the ports, we watched as the loaded on fresh produce, local meats and cheeses so we were not surprised that each meal was better than the last. When we returned to our stateroom, it has been cleaned and the bed turned down for us. What a nice way to finish a lovely evening! During the entire cruise, our room was kept immaculate and the service was excellent. In the morning, we had the first of our delicious breakfasts. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style, but you were also able to order from a menu for breakfast if you preferred. For lunch, you ordered part of your meal and the rest, such as salad and dessert, was served buffet-style. Dinner was more formal and everything was ordered from a menu. They always had a variety of choices, including a vegetarian entree and, if you did not see something you liked on the menu, they would prepare whatever you wanted. All meals are included in your cruise, but unlike ocean cruising, wine and beer are also included with dinner at no extra charge. Then we left the ship to tour Amsterdam, our first port where we had been berthed for the night, before we headed out on our cruise. One of the things many people don't realize about river cruising is that all your shore excursions are included in the price. This is an incredible savings, since shore excursions on an ocean cruise can add up very quickly. We immediately appreciated the QuietVox audio system that AmaLegro uses for its shore excursions. At the beginning of the cruise, you are given a set of headphones and, as you leave the ship, you pick up a small, rectangular box into which you plug the headphones. Then you can hear everything the tour guide is saying - what a fabulous idea! We boarded one of the ubiquitous canal boats and spent several hours touring beautiful Amsterdam, and then did a little bit of walking through the flower market. We headed back to the ship for lunch which we ate as the AmaLegro slipped out of the harbor and headed down the river. After lunch, we had the easiest safety drill I have ever experienced - since we are in sight of land during the entire cruise, most of us could just swim to shore! Cologne: After cruising all night, we arose to a beautiful view of the river, another fabulous breakfast and an invitation to visit the wheelhouse anytime we wanted. We were fascinated to see the Captain casually piloting the ship and welcoming passengers in to visit anytime! Before we landed in Cologne, were treated to a presentation by Burt Wolf from PBS who was onboard the AmaLegro filming a special about river cruising. He talked at length about the gorgeous architecture we would see on our cruise and he was proven right on our walking tour of Cologne. We walked around and then took a tour of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral. Our small group finished up the day with a tour of the Lindt Chocolate Factory, which I recommend if you like free chocolate samples! Rudesheim: Today was "castles day" on the AmaLegro and, as we cruised down the Rhine towards Rudesheim, we saw beautiful castle after beautiful castle. It was incredible! We also passed dozens of vineyards, many of which sloped so deeply, it was amazing to think they could gather the grapes at that angle! We embarked in Rudesheim and it was just so easy! One of the nicest things about this river cruise was that you could almost literally step from the ship onto the main street of town. So much easier than the long lines to embark from an ocean liner! In Rudesheim, we visited Siegrfried's Musical Cabinet Museum, which was fascinating with all the music boxes, ranging from very tiny to room-size! In the evening, we were transported in a wee train to a castle where we had dinner. It was such a treat to have an interesting meal in town - and have it all included in the price of our cruise! Koblenz: We docked in Koblenz very early and were offered the opportunity to take a walking tour, but we opted to sleep in and make our own way about the town. This is always an option; you never have to go on the tours if you choose to do something else. One of the most interesting things about the AmaWaterways ships is that they have a bunch of bicycles onboard - not 2-3 like most of the river cruise ships, but around 30. This was a great way to explore the small river towns and, if you want, you can even ride the bikes along the river and meet the ship at the next port. We thought about biking around but it was pretty chilly, so we just strolled around town. Then we headed back to the ship to get ready for the Captain's Gala dinner - a chance to really dress up! Cochem: This was truly one of our favorite stops, because we got to tour a real castle! With gorgeous views and beautiful cathedrals, this town was special in its own right but the tour of the castle really made it wonderful. Bernkastel: My husband decided to spend the day lazing about on the ship, so I decided this was the perfect opportunity for a shopping day! Every one of the lovely little river towns had interesting shops. There were bakeries and local chocolatiers, shops that sold locally bottled wine, plenty of shops with fashions, and even more with souvenirs. Loaded down with beautiful scarves, lovely handmade table linens, and a few souvenirs, we headed back to our home away from home. Trier and Luxembourg: Our lovely little ship docked for the last time in Trier where our luggage was speedily loaded on a comfortable bus and we headed to Luxembourg for our last walking tour. Luxembourg is an ancient city and we were thrilled to walk around, taking pictures and marveling at the Archduke's beautiful palace. Then it was on to Paris for the extra time some of us had added on to our cruise package. Paris: AmaWaterways made sure she were comfortably situated in our hotel and, for the first time, we found ourselves on our own. We spent some time walking around Paris but also decided to sign up for the optional tours of the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. These are not included in your cruise package but are well worth your time. It was so much quicker and easier to get into the Eiffel Tower with our group and the Seine River cruise was fascinating! We were sorry that our river cruise on the AmaLegro had to come to an end - we could have easily done another week! Every single thing on the cruise was perfect. The service, the food, the entertainment, the shore excursions, and our beautiful stateroom. If you are thinking about a river cruise, I strongly recommend AmaWaterways. If you have more questions, I'll be happy to answer them; just contact me at janross53@gmail.com. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
I boarded the River Countess in Nuremberg for the 2009 European Holiday Market Cruise. There were 76 passengers on board,the trip was exceptional. The room spacious and clean. Serviced regularly. the quilt and pillows made sleeping easy. ... Read More
I boarded the River Countess in Nuremberg for the 2009 European Holiday Market Cruise. There were 76 passengers on board,the trip was exceptional. The room spacious and clean. Serviced regularly. the quilt and pillows made sleeping easy. All of the crew from the Captain Jorg Zwaal and his wife the hotel manager, where friendly, thoughtful and helpful. Meals where well presented and plentiful, I especially enjoyed the breakfast and lunch selections. Evening dining was always relaxing. Wine and other beverages where plentiful throughout dinner. A highlight of the trip was being selected to dine at the Captains farewell dinner. The average age of cruisers would have been in the neighborhood of 65, but there where several younger people on board, and many interesting people to meet and visit with. The cruise was relaxing and the sights plentiful. The guided tours in our ports where very well done with the except I felt of Linz, where our particular guide seemed more in a hurry to have us off on our own. She did know the information and history but her presentation was a tad off. Highlights of the trip was the time in Passau, the beauty of the interiors of the baroque churches, the Wachau Valley was lovely, watching the sailors of the boat make a snowman, watching the snow fall gave it a festive air. Vienna at the completion of the trip was another highlight, the beauty of the city and ease of getting around, make it an interesting experience. The extra excusion to the Schoonbrunn Summer Palace was excellent and well worth the time and dollars spent. All the Christmas markets where different with different things to see and eat.Nuremberg sausages, the chai tea at the market in Vienna, Hot Chocolate at the market in Regensburg. The tour guide Woulter went out of his way to ensure that the passengers had the opportunity to see and do the things they wanted to. The evening entertainment on board provided a diversion from a busy day, and a relaxing way to settle down prior to bedtime. My cabin was on the second level,close to the coffee station, I would recommend requesting a cabin farther down the the hallway, activity could be regularly heard from the coffee station. Prior to embarking on the ship I overnighted two nights in Frankfurt, to help with the Jetlag. On disembarkation I spend an additional two nights in Vienna. I would recommend taking a cruise on the River Countess at any time of the year, the staff will make you feel as if your at home and a part of their family. I hope to be able to cruise again on the River Countess. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
This was my first river cruises and only my 3rd cruise overall. We liked the idea of a river cruise for several reasons.... smaller ships with a limited number of passengers, smaller ports of call, more time on shore and less cruising time ... Read More
This was my first river cruises and only my 3rd cruise overall. We liked the idea of a river cruise for several reasons.... smaller ships with a limited number of passengers, smaller ports of call, more time on shore and less cruising time between ports. The Viking River cruise lived up to or exceeded all our expectations. We took the 7 days Rhine Gateway cruise which started in Amsterdam Holland and ended in Basel Switzerland. We took the Cruise in mid December. Being from Florida we where looking for a cold weather vacation and thought the Christmas season and markets would make the cruise special. It did. We arrived in Amsterdam a few days before the cruise. I would highly recommend this since it gives you a few days to acclimate to Europe, the time change, the weather, etc. Amsterdam is a great city and a good part to start you cruise experience from. The ship was very nice and everything we expected from the brochure and web site. The cabin was spacious and well equipped. The lounge and restaurant where comfortable and offered great views of the river scenes as we cruised along. I really enjoyed how the river cruise put you close to the action. Unlike ocean going cruises where you mostly have ocean views, with a river cruise you see all the towns and cities up close as you cruise pass them. The ship had an expansive top deck. It was a little cold to spend too much time outside for the view, but I can imagine in summer, that would add a whole dimension to the cruise experience. The food was good to excellent. Breakfasts and lunches where basic and served mostly buffet style. But they offered plenty of variety and the quality of the food was good to excellent. There was still plenty of service staff available for anything you needed. The dinners were excellent. Plenty of variety and most of it was delicious. Great service and wine selection to go with it. The cruise schedule was fast paced and offered many shore excursions and stops. Every stop included a well organized shore activity that you could participate in. Or you could choose to go freestyle, plan your own activities, and return to the ship just before departure. Several of the evenings offered very late departures from the port you visited that day, so you could go into town to enjoy the nightlife. This helped keep us from feeling to tied to the ship or its schedule. We took most of the shore excursions, but tended to cut out and do our own thing before the whole tour was completed. This worked fine. We cruised during the Christmas season. The Christmas markets where excellent and fun. It added a nice dimension to the shore experience of each town we visited. The locals really take advantage of the Christmas markets, and most where filled with the local towns people enjoying the festivities. Plenty of lights, decorations, and Christmas spirit everywhere. The staff was very attentive, helpful, and polite. We had many questions along the way and they went out of their way to be helpful. The overall layout of the ship was functional and easy to navigate. Not many frills, but very comfortable as your hotel for the trip. With the advantage of not having to pack and unpack each day you visited a new town. The weather was cold with average temperatures of about 30 degrees. But if you dressed warm if was still very enjoyable and added to the Christmas feeling. The only negative is the ship decor seemed a little dated and plain. I thought it could have been more sophisticated or had more designer touches. The shore excursions sometimes took up a lot of you shore time. But since they are optional, you can still make it work for your tastes or preferences. Overall it was a great cruise experience. I would definitely do a river cruise again, and definitely pick Viking again if the itinerary and price meets my needs. Next time I think we will try a summer cruise that offers some warmer weather and a chance enjoy more out door time during the cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
Just got back from the cruise. I've been on many ocean cruises, including a couple of times in the Mediterranean. But overall, this was the best. Even though river cruising and this particular cruise line caters to the retired ... Read More
Just got back from the cruise. I've been on many ocean cruises, including a couple of times in the Mediterranean. But overall, this was the best. Even though river cruising and this particular cruise line caters to the retired "blue-hair" crowd, my 2 college age children agree this was their best cruise experience. To be honest, even though I have been on a 3-day Yangtze River cruise exploring the 3 Gorges, this was really my first river cruise. So, as a river cruise neophyte, the comments I make may or may not reflect the typical European river cruise line. Please remember this important point as you read. This cruise appeals to a leisurely-paced crowd interested in culture and history. If high energy cruises with Vegas shows,hairy-chest competitions, and drunk, obese nymphs stuffed into bikinis and gatoring on the dance floor is your shangri-lai ideal of a cruise, look elsewhere. Original ports of call included Nuremberg, Bamberg, Wurzberg, Heidelberg, Rothenberg, Koblenz, Cochem, Bernkastle and Trier. Prague and Paris pre and post cruise excursions were available at additional cost. Amalyra's personal service and attention were fantastic. I am a travel agent, and this particular cruise was marketed to attract a number of travel agents (about a dozen out of approx 120 passengers were agents). Although the president and VP of AMA were on board, I sensed the service we received from the crew was the norm. I definitely will travel AMA again and see if this is the case. The cruise started in Nuremberg, Germany and was originally scheduled to end in Trier traveling the Main, Rhine and Mosel rivers. However, due to the high water level of the Mosel, the ship was forced to avoid Bernkastle (which I was most looking forward to due to the local wine country) and Trier. Instead, we went to Koln. The food and port tours were the highlights of the cruise. The food for the most part was as good as many 5 star restaurants I've experienced with a couple of choices in each stage of the meal. I usually went with the "chef" recommendations in the evening. Dinner included free sodas and all u can drink wine. I expected the wine to rival "2 Buck Chuck" or "Yellowtail," but was surprised to find most of the wine selections from local regions quite good. Cocktails incurred a charge at all times, along with wine during the day. Only one night was my food selection typical of the usual cruise mediocrity. Breakfast was a buffet. Lunch a combination of buffet and a couple of menu entree selections. All u can eat cheese selections accompanied each meal. Afternoon tea with sweets and hors-d'"uvres were served every afternoon. A coffee/cappucino/expresso/hot chocolate machine was available 24/7. Since the ship was less than a year old, the cabins were top-notch. Clean & comfortable decorated in the IKEA motif. Although the square footage was only a little bigger than the standard ocean cruise ship cabin, the layout of the furniture allowed more room to manuever than any other ship on which I've traveled. Thus, my wife and I were able to avoid constantly stepping over each other as what usually happens. The bathroom was larger than on other ships. The shower actually had a door (instead of a mere curtain) and actually had enough room to allow 2 people (not that we did that, mind you!) TVs were LCD flat screens and contained free internet (albeit very slow and available only when the ship was stationed in port. While cruising, the antennae was removed to allow the ship to manuever under bridges.) Complimentary bottle water was in the room. Since we received a complimentary room upgrade, our room had a "French" balcony. This is not a balcony in the true sense (since the ship must pass through locks with just a few inches maneuvering room on either side, real balconies would unwisely reduce the living area of the ship). Instead, "French" balconies are merely sliding glass doors that allow you to stick your head out the door for a 180 degree viewing. Protective bars prevent you from falling out. The exercise room was practically non-existent. It had a few dumb bells and a couple of tread mills. AMA's market niche of retirees (think arthritic joints) along with the ship space limitation I assume are the likely reasons. Tour guides and bus transportation were gratis at all ports. All guides were good except one. The one in Heidelberg was outstanding. In fact, she was key to my family's unanimous opinion that Heidelberg was our favorite city. She even provided us with locally made chocolate. Due to space, I won't elaborate on the actual sights of each port as they don't deviate from what you can learn about them from any guide book. AMA usually offered each local port tour in 3 segments: fast, medium and slow paced. My family always selected the fast pace in order to pack more tourism into our time slot. Each person received ear phones and a radio transmitter to clearly hear the guide. AMA sent us a small, multi-color guide book of the regions we visited 4 weeks prior to the cruise. Reminiscent of a Fodors or Frommers guide. Nice touch. Details about the service.......on cruises, I'm used to being constantly accosted to buy stuff -- port tours, alcohol, souvenirs, pictures (a camera being shoved in my face at every turn), massages, beauty treatments, etc. Not so on AMA. What a relief! Of course, a river cruise is considerably more expensive on average than an ocean cruise. This reflects the fact of having 150 passengers as opposed to 3,000 -- more passengers allow more distribution of fixed costs, even with bigger, more expensive ships. Nonetheless, perhaps the profit margins of river cruising forego the necessity to harass passengers with additional purchases. Our airline lost my daughter's suitcase. Upon boarding, my wife asked the ship's purser to make contact with US Airways to ascertain if they found the suitcase to deliver it at a future port of call. Though the suitcase never materialized, the next day the cruise director (whose name is Elke. She's from Belgium and deserves meritous recognition) offered us free laundry service. Please note, we did not request this. The ship merely volunteered to do this in light of our lost luggage, saving us over $200. As I mentioned earlier, due to a rising river water level, the ship was diverted from the originally scheduled last 2 ports. No problem for my family, but it caused a minor level of hysteria for some of the older passengers set in their ways. They were disturbed about making their connections with flights, continuing with their holiday, etc. Elke tracked me down to inquire of my plans at the cruise conclusion. I had reserved a car to drive from Trier at the cruise end to Frankfurt (MUCH less expensive and considerably more flexible than taking the train), where our flight departs the following day. Obviously, with the Amalyra no longer continuing to Trier placed my car reservation in jeopardy. The next day, Elke informed me they had contacted my car rental company and rearranged my reservation to allow me to pickup my car in our final port of call at no additional cost. Moreover, since the car rental office was about 20 minutes away, AMA paid for the cost of the taxi. Clearly, AMA bent over backwards to accommodate its passengers throughout the cruise -- even with the unexpected complications from Mother Nature. From the hallway comments I heard from the other passengers, they felt the same. And when you consider that AMA assisted 120 passengers or so in making alternate concluding cruise arrangements, that's a lot of work for the Amalyra crew 24 hours before the cruise ended. In the end, I heard no disgruntlement from any other passenger. One final note. I do like good wine. And I was especially thrilled at the prospect of going through a German wine experience of visiting Riesling vineyards and wineshops. The unexpected change in the cruise itinerary prevented this opportunity. But as I stated earlier, I cannot blame AMA as this was due to rising river water levels. In the event, though, any AMA personnel reads this critique, I encourage you to incorporate such an experience in future cruises in a more pronounced way. I thoroughly enjoy historical and cultural sights and museums. But incorporating alternative visits, such as wineries or beerhalls which are so endemic to German lifestyle, to the standard sightseeing fare I believe provides a richer holiday experience. BOTTOM LINE: Only superlative comments for AMA. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2009
With anticipation, we looked forward to experiencing the Christmas spirit in Germany and Czech Republic. The promise of the brochures of the wonderful Viking River Cruise looks great in brochures, but reality did not meet the expectation. ... Read More
With anticipation, we looked forward to experiencing the Christmas spirit in Germany and Czech Republic. The promise of the brochures of the wonderful Viking River Cruise looks great in brochures, but reality did not meet the expectation. First, we allowed Viking to book our flight. Originally booked on another airline, Viking switched us to Air France. In Paris our flight was cancelled as well as the next 3 flights we were booked on. Arriving more than 24 hours late, missing our first port and tour, we were told to take a taxi. Transportation was supposed to be provided. We had no Euros, etc. The worst part is our luggage never did arrive. We had to hammer the ship's managers to call on our behalf, which was an imposition on them to check on our bags. The weather was cold as well as our room. The heater would not warm our room. The electricity went off several times, as did the water supply. The food was average, unlike most of the other cruises we have taken. The menu was set and you had a choice of one of two items. The service was provided by a young staff, much like chain restaurants with high school and college waiters. We did enjoy them however. The plague hit our boat and 90% of the cruisers got sick before the end of the trip! Our port excursions were cut short because the tour guides did not dress properly for the cold weather, and talked faster than an auctioneer. The boat was basic, unlike other fabulous ships we have experienced. Somewhat dated in dEcor, it provided rooms, restaurant and bar.. that's it. We called Viking requesting a partial refund since what we received is not the picture they painted. They promised to get back with us. Had to go before a committee, taking 3 weeks. Never heard back. Called and were promised a call back. Never received it. Said they emailed us. Never received it. They must all be lawyers, as lawyers make the best liars. Suggestion, if you pick Viking, don't have any expectations of a nice trip and you won't be disappointed. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: March 2010
I do not always write reviews for cruises, rather do so only when my evaluation and experience seem to differ from prevailing comments and evaluations by other travelers. I booked "Tulips and Windmills" on Viking Legend before ... Read More
I do not always write reviews for cruises, rather do so only when my evaluation and experience seem to differ from prevailing comments and evaluations by other travelers. I booked "Tulips and Windmills" on Viking Legend before the ship was launched because I'd long yearned to explore that part of Europe in more depth (my paternal ancestors immigrated to the U.S. from Holland in the late 1800's), and because my husband dislikes air travel and the Legend has SINGLE staterooms which were favorably priced on Viking's Early Booking Discount offer. Later on I read negative reports and comments about Viking Legend and about Viking River Cruise company, and had some doubts in the months between booking and boarding my plane for Amsterdam on March 25. However, I knew the ship was going where I wanted to go and that the price was within my budget traveling solo, so I was GOING!! My personal experience was absolutely wonderful. Lovely ship, excellent upbeat and efficient crew, fine dining experiences, good itinerary -- nothing to complain about or really even to criticize. I am happy to give Viking Legend very high marks. A substantial majority of the 177 travelers on board the Legend's March 27 sailing were Viking past passengers, so it seems clear that many other travelers are as happy with Viking as I am. One criticism I had read was that other river cruise lines include wine with dinner, but not Viking; well, so did Viking this year. Wine with dinner had been included as part of the Early Booking package, and apparently the company decided to expand it to include all passengers. The passengers were an interesting, well-traveled, and well-educated group of people. As well as those from the United States, we had travelers from the UK, Australia, and Canada, which added to the interest of shared experiences as folks brought different perspectives to what we were seeing. Although I enjoyed every single part of the journey, highlights for me were Kinderdijk, the Delta Project, and Keukenhof. Europe had had a fierce winter so we were too early for the full tulip bloom, but even so there were some fields of brilliant color, and the pavilions were glorious with the beauty of flowers of all kinds. The Keukenhof grounds are lovely, with statuary as well as ponds and fountains and lovely flora. We were lucky on weather. Several times we heard reports that where we were at the moment was the only place in The Netherlands where it was NOT raining; several days we completed our day's activities and just as we headed back on the bus or were back on board the ship, some rain would start to fall. The two times we did experience rainfall were at the Delta Project and on Easter Sunday at Keukenhof; both of those days it was off-and-on, not ongoing. Overriding "themes" for me were the role of bicycles in this country (human population 16 million, bicycle population over 18 million, automobiles 7 million), and the great energy and cleverness of the Dutch people as they have over time continued to manage their lowlands issues. The Delta Project is amazing, and passing through the locks was both interesting and fun. I took two optional excursions and recommend them both highly: Holland north country with the vegetable auction the afternoon of our day in Hoorn, and the Kroller-Muller Museum the afternoon of our day in Arnhem. In addition to the specific interest of the places visited, both excursions got us out into beautiful countryside, reassuring us that even this most densely populated of European countries DOES have lovely open countryside, with hilly areas in the eastern areas. Viking Legend's on-board presentations were fine: a most engaging and entertaining performance by a group of folkloric Dutch dancers; a presentation on the European Union; and an excellent educational talk on the windmills the evening before our day at Kinderdijk, presented by the daughter/granddaughter/great-granddaughter of a windmill keeper who had spent much time in her childhood in the family's windmill home. Although my photo album is not ready yet, when it is it will be added to my travel photo site: [url]http://fredasphotos1.shutterfly.com[/url] It'll probably (hopefully) be posted by the end of April. If you have any specific questions, post a question in the River and Canal Cruising section of the message boards, with the title, "Question on Legend for Xoe". I booked my own air (Delta has the only nonstop Seattle to Amsterdam), took the Hotel Shuttle Bus from Schiphol to my Hotel Bellevue, a budget hotel booked on EasyToBook for 69 Euros. The hotel is very near Centraal Station so I was able to walk from the hotel to the ship for boarding the next day. All these plans worked wonderfully well, and as hoped. My Cabin 337 was one of 5 single cabins on Legend; there are 2 on the top deck, 2 on Deck 2, and 1 on Deck 1. My #337 was adjacent to the library at the stern of Deck 3, and I loved the location. At a moment's notice, I could pop into the library and out a door to see or photograph anything on either starboard or port side of the ship. I'd guess that the other single on Deck 3, #309, is an equally good location and would mean less walking to the lounge or dining etc. The cabin design and layout are good. Bed is a couch that converts to a bed, but this was very comfortable and resulted in more floor space, which I appreciate since I do yoga stretches each morning. I loved having the French balcony for fresh air when I opened the slider; I had it open a bit every night. The climate control in the room worked beautifully, including an "off" position for times I wanted the slider open. There are outlets for both U.S. and European plugs, so charging camera batteries was no problem, nor was there a need for a converter. Great room! (NOTE -- CORRECTION: This form asks how many ports we visited. We had NINE ports; the maximum choice given on the form is 6 so that's what I marked -- but it's wrong, should be 9.) Read Less
Sail Date: March 2010
Our seventh Viking River Cruise was the "Portraits of Southern France" on board the Viking Neptune a comfortable, spacious vessel of similar design to the Viking Spirit which we had sailed on on the "Tulips and ... Read More
Our seventh Viking River Cruise was the "Portraits of Southern France" on board the Viking Neptune a comfortable, spacious vessel of similar design to the Viking Spirit which we had sailed on on the "Tulips and Windmill's cruise the previous year. Our cabin, one of the 63 deluxe cabins (there are oonly 12 standard cabins)was light and spacious, 170 sq ft, with a comfortable hotel-style bed, a panoramic style window and more than adequate storage. We did the no fly rail option travelling by Eurostar from London to Lille and TGV from Lille to Avignon returning from Chalon-sur-Sa'ne to Paris where a very personable Viking rep met us and took us by coach across Paris to Paris Nord for the Eurostar trip back to London. All the crew were friendly and helpful and eager to please; some of them were making their first trip with Viking. The food was very good but not as good as on the other Viking cruises we have been on. There was a choice of both traditional favourites and regional specialities including 'frog's legs' and 'escargot'. Magalie, the chef, gave a break down of the evening menu during the briefing which some guests found irritating. Magalie served the meat dishes at the light lunches; her servings were miniscule. On board entertainment was varied and included oyster tasting; a music quiz; question and answers with the crew; a cookery demonstration, Fondant au chocolat; French tunes and a silk demonstration by staff of 'Atelier de Solerie' from Lyon. A French lesson on basic phrases on day 4 would have been more beneficial earlier. Claudia, the Program Director gave talks on 'Burgundy', 'Provence and Art' and 'French Food and Culture'. Johanna, a program manager who we'd met on a previous cruise gave a talk on 'Mustard and Dijon' One of the local guides gave an excellent talk on 'France Today'. Our group were fortunate enough to have him as our guide on two occasions. Most of the guides were very good. Details of ports of call can be found in the Viking River Cruise brochure. I am including a few points that interested us: Arles interested us with its links to Vincent van Gogh and the 20,00 seat arena still used for bull fights and plays. Avignon was particularly memorable for us all for getting soaked literally to the skin in an horrendous rain storm. We had chosen the less strenuous of the trips simply because we wanted to visit Pont d'Avignon made famous in school French lessons! The small chapel on the bridge was a surprise. Tournon and Tain l'Hermitage. Here we visited Musee de Tain l'Hermitage, located in the oldest house in the region and the amazing Valrhona chocolate shop. Vienne, another beautiful town with an ancient Roman past. A mini train ride up Mount Pipet affords a great panoramic view of the area. Lyon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walking through the cobbled streets of the old town, don't miss the fascinating 'traboules', narrow passages passing through actual houses which enabled silk merchants easy access to the river. Beaune. wine capital of Burgundy. The beautiful H'tel Dieu, founded as a hospice in 1443.has an amazing roof, the multi coloured tiles create extraordinary geometric patterns. This was a memorable cruise along two rivers the Rhone and the Sa'ne which flow through some of France's finest scenery. During this cruise we learnt a great deal about the various regions' wine making traditions and we had many opportunities to taste these world renowned wines. If you like French wine don't miss this cruise!   Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2010
We have taken many cruises all over the world, but we particularly like river cruises, and we LOVE cruising with Pandaw. We have taken 3 Asian river cruises with Pandaw in the past 5 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. The Mekong ... Read More
We have taken many cruises all over the world, but we particularly like river cruises, and we LOVE cruising with Pandaw. We have taken 3 Asian river cruises with Pandaw in the past 5 years, and have thoroughly enjoyed each one. The Mekong River was our first experience with Pandaw, and it got us hooked. Everything about this trip was wonderful: the fabulous, personable, ever-attentive staff, the casual atmosphere on board, the very comfortable cabins, the leisurely pace. All of our creature comforts were met, the food was creative and delicious, and we especially liked the all-inclusive arrangement for cocktails. It was a spectacularly scenic cruise, and guides took groups on 2 daily excursions into local villages. The Killing Fields in Cambodia were heart-breaking but a must-see, and Siem Reap was a lovely end to the cruise. We highly recommend that everyone stay longer and tour the magnificent Angkor Wat. All-in-all, this cruise exceeded our expectations, and we look forward to taking more with Pandaw. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2010
When Volcanic ash stopped air traffic to and from Europe, we were on Uniworld's River Baroness sailing from Paris to Normandy and back on the Seine. Since our flight home had been cancelled, it was an easy decision to repeat the week, ... Read More
When Volcanic ash stopped air traffic to and from Europe, we were on Uniworld's River Baroness sailing from Paris to Normandy and back on the Seine. Since our flight home had been cancelled, it was an easy decision to repeat the week, again aboard the River Baroness as we so enjoyed the initial week. It is difficult to describe how wonderfully managed the cared for this boat really is. The crew is great in every way. Caring, warm, friendly, and never, ever did I see or detect an "attitude". They work hard but do not complain and are eternally cheerful. One can't think of a better place to be for two weeks and that is without talking about the scenery, tours, and all of the other wonderful things that go on on this itinerary. It is truly a memorable trip which includes Paris, the Normandy Beaches and the American Cemetery, a visit to Giverny and Monet's home and famous gardens, a stop at Honfleur, where Impressionists often painted, and two days in Rouen, a beautiful city with many interesting attractions, great shopping, and excellent restaurants. All that in a week? What could be better...two weeks! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2010
Just wanted to make a comment before starting on the review. Avalon includes bottled water in the cabin each day on most ships. The soaps, shampoo, etc., were very nice and definitely an upgrade from our Magnificent Europe of two years ... Read More
Just wanted to make a comment before starting on the review. Avalon includes bottled water in the cabin each day on most ships. The soaps, shampoo, etc., were very nice and definitely an upgrade from our Magnificent Europe of two years ago. Coffee, tea, juice and water along with fruit and cookies are available 24 hours a day in the back lounge. Each afternoon there is a coffee/tea and cake offering in the main lounge. There is a beauty shop on board. They added head massages to their list of offerings. I had mentioned on last year's survey that it would be nice to have someone who could give manicures on board. This year on the Creativity, Sandra was able to shape my nails and cuticles and then give a hand massage. Again, I mentioned on the survey that further nail service would be nice. We did not use the onboard fitness room as we were walking quite a few miles each day on the tour. The hot tub was on the top deck and was used by quite a few people. We boarded the Creativity after taking an optional trip to the Eifel Tower. It was so nice to see one of our bartenders from last year, Radu. Always nice to have a familiar face to greet us ... This trip had 123 passengers as I recall. The Creativity is a fairly new ship and its layout was familiar to us as we were on the Affinity's maiden voyage last year. I have been asked by several Cruise Critic members to talk about the included and optional tours. On the Paris to Normandy portion of Grand France there were two included tours most every day. You were given the choice of one or the other. Sometimes we made a good choice and sometimes we didn't ... here are the choices that we had for tours and optionals: Paris: There was an included sightseeing tour of Paris. In the afternoon there were two optional tours: Louvre and Versailles. Last year we took the Versailles tour and really enjoyed it. Those who took the Louvre tour said it was good but not much time to just stand and enjoy the artwork. In the evening there was an optional trip to the Moulin Rouge. We didn't go either this year or last year but those who went had a great time. Conflans: The included tours were a trip to the village where Van Gogh spent his last three months or St. Germain to visit the home of Josephine Bonaparte. We did the St. Germain trip and it was OK but wish we had done the other one as we heard good things from those who took it. Vernon: The included tours were a trip to Claude Monet's home and gardens or Chateau de Bizy which is a 'small Versailles' ... we did Monet and loved it. That evening there was onboard entertainment by Valerie and Alexis, which was OK but not a group that I would want to hear again. Rouen: There was a walking tour of the city in the morning and then two optionals in the afternoon: Homfleur and Calvados Distillery or visiting several Abbey's, which is the one we did (I graduated from a Benedictine University and wanted to visit a Benedictine Abbey) and we had a great time. Those who went to Honfleur said it was nice and that they enjoyed the distillery. We stayed in Honfleur while we did our own Normandy trip so I wasn't interested in going there That evening we had onboard entertainment from La Strada, which is a trio of violins and keyboard synthesizer who performed classical music. This was our third time seeing these performers and they just get better each time. We did purchase their CDs so that I can enjoy then here at home. Rouen: This day there were three included trips: Landing Beaches for the American Landing Beaches for UK and a Taste or Normandy which included the Bayeux tapestries. My husband did the American landing beaches while I stayed on the ship and relaxed. Everyone enjoyed their tours. Normally there would just be a trip to the American Landing Beaches but there were 20+ folks from the UK who were there especially to see the UK beaches as many of them had served in the military in World War 2. Les Andelys: The included tours were basically the same. One did a tour of the city and then went up the hill to the ruins of Richard the LionHeart's castle and then walk back to the ship or take the bus up and back from the castle and then tour the city. That afternoon we had a tasting of several French cheeses. We arrived back in Paris and those who only took the Paris/Normandy trip leave to go home and the others of us went on to the start of the second cruise. NOTE: This trip was affected by the Iceland volcano and a little over 100 of the folks had to find alternative ways to get home. Some of them decided to go along on the Burgundy and Provence portion of the trip and then leave the ship to get back to Paris for their flights back to the US. Just a quick word on the Creativity. It was a great ship with good staff. The food wasn't as good as what we have had on our two previous cruises and we were sure that the CD knew about it and also put it on our survey forms. We had a limited number of people on this cruise as the volcano prevented many folks from getting to Paris. I believe that we had just 51 of us on this portion of the trip. Then those who were continuing on the Burgundy and Provence trip were put in a small van and began our journey to Chalon. On our way there we went to Beaune to either do Burgundy Wine Tasting or tour the Hospices of Beaune (we did the wine tasting). There we met the others group who would be joining us on the cruise. Lunch was on our own. We arrived at the ship to find out that one of the waiters was also on the Affinity last year (Lazlo). Chalon: Walking tour of the town and then sail to Tournus where you could walk to St. Philibert Abbey (beautiful place). There was an optional tour to Chateau Cormatin which we did not do. Macon: No tour just cruising on the Saone. The weather was beautiful so we enjoyed Lyon: City tour which includes the painted walls and the Basilica ... can't miss the Basilica ... Lyon is a wonderful place to tour. Lyon: There were two optional tours scheduled but they wound up being put together which is going to the silk mills and then to the market. Afternoon there was an optional to the Beaujolais vineyards ... we didn't take either one but heard great reviews on both of them. Tournon: Walking Tour and then a little free time before going to Viviers where we took a walking tour through the city and then went up the hill to the Church/Convent area and had an organ concert at the church ... for those with problems walking, transportation was provided up and down the hills. My husband took the transportation but I walked. Avignon: Included tour of the town and the Pope's Palace. In the afternoon there was an optional trip to Pone du Gard and Uzes which we again did not take. Arles: City walking tour and then optional to St. Remy, Van Gogh and Nostradamus ... again we did not take the optional. We took the extension and wound up in Nice where we did take the optional trip to Monaco ... which was great!!! The Scenery is a little older than the Creativity and has had some updating. Rooms, service, etc., were great. The food was better than on the Creativity but as with most ships, there was too much salt in the prepared food. This was a fantastic trip. We were so fortunate to have Yvette Laurent as our CD. She is so pleasant, organized, and nothing seems to 'rattle' her. She did such a great job in helping those who were stranded in Paris, both those who booked their air, etc, through Avalon and those who didn't. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
A friend and I went on our first river cruise in April 2010. We took Uniworld's "Tulips and Windmills" cruise of Belgium and Holland on the River Dutchess. We did not know what to expect and were totally pleased with our ... Read More
A friend and I went on our first river cruise in April 2010. We took Uniworld's "Tulips and Windmills" cruise of Belgium and Holland on the River Dutchess. We did not know what to expect and were totally pleased with our choice. The only thing wrong was that the weather was a bit colder than usual and prevented us from enjoying the upper deck. Also the tulips were not at their peak, although still lovely. The cabin was not large but adequate with very comfortable beds. The meals were fantastic. Huge buffets for breakfast and lunch with a set menu for dinner with 2 choices of appetizer, soup and dessert and 3 choices of main dish--one meat, one fish and one vegetarian. If none of these suited, you could have steak, chicken or salmon. Meals were at a set time and open seating with tables for 6. Wine was included. At 4 in the afternoon one could have "tea" in the lounge with your choice of type of tea and several little canapes. There was also an area with 24 hour self-service of all types of coffee, tea, iced tea, and ice water. There was entertainment every evening, nothing elaborate but fun. The staff were nearly all Eastern European, spoke excellent English, and were friendly and helpful. The shore excursion were all very interesting with the Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam being the highlight. I have mobility problems and was concerned that I would have difficulty with the shore excursions but found them not too difficult and twice our Cruise Manager established a "gentle walking" group. There were actually 8 of us with canes and 2 with walkers. Some excursions were "optional excursions" which required an additional charge, others were included. The places we visited were established along the rivers and so the centers of town were not too far. If you did not want to participate in the organized activity it was easy to go into the town on your own. The Cruise Manager had maps at every port and was happy to give you instructions. Our Cruise Director was Tony and he was absolutely wonderful. There was nothing we did not like about this river cruise and we intend to do another with Uniworld next year. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE AND PARIS ~ APRIL 12-24, 2010 Friends, I've just returned from two memorable weeks in France, one of my favorite countries, and Paris is definitely my favorite city in the world. I've been ... Read More
THE SOUTH OF FRANCE AND PARIS ~ APRIL 12-24, 2010 Friends, I've just returned from two memorable weeks in France, one of my favorite countries, and Paris is definitely my favorite city in the world. I've been visiting France for 35 (yikes) years, and after this 12th visit, I'd like to share with you some observations and suggestions from this recent experience. PROVENCE (the South of France) The trip began in Nice, glittering capital of the Cote d'Azur, and a delightful and absolutely beautiful town on the French Riviera. Highlight here was the market, held daily, in vieux Nice (old Nice). Wonderful opportunity to shop for local specialties like Provencal soaps, herbs, pottery, textiles and watercolors by local artists at reasonable prices. Walk the town...she's a treasure. Onward to Arles to board our ship for the 7 night river cruise, which proved to be one of my most treasured travel experiences ever. Arles is memorable for its connection to Van Gogh and Cezanne, and the ancient Roman Amphitheater, still in use today. From Arles to my favorite town in Provence, Avignon. On three past occasions I'd sat in the town square, enjoying lunch and a good Provencal rose wine and soaked up the local color. I did it again this trip, and the experience did not disappoint. There is an excellent chain of wine stores all over France, called "Nicholas" and they offer a wide range of French wines (many local) at excellent prices, so stop in for your wine provisions. Also be aware that ATMs are available everywhere, even in the smallest villages, so just get cash with your debit card as needed and don't carry wads of Euros with you. Onward to the tiny town of Viviers, whose Cathedral was magnificent, but quite a trek up a very steep hill, then to Tournon a great example of a medieval city, and Vienne, where we rode a little train to the top of the town with a lovely view of the Rhone River below. Then, to Lyon, the 2nd city of France, and her gastronomic capital, and home of the renowned chef, Paul Bocuse. Thanks to an invitation by our shipmates Carl & Carolyn, we enjoyed a splendid lunch at Paul Bocuse's bistro "Le Sud"; highly recommended and it won't break the bank. This was my 1st visit to Lyon, and I loved this city. A great cathedral on Fourviere Hill with panoramic views of the city below, and then again down to explore "old Lyon" with the "traboules"...small little covered passage-ways from medieval times when the silk traders needed to cross the city and avoid bad weather. This part of Lyon was truly fascinating and well worth a serious visit. The river cruise towns ended with Macon and Chalon sur Saone, nothing too notable here, but then we visited beautiful Beaune, and ooh la la, what a town, and well worth a visit. DO NOT miss the incredible Hotel-Dieu, one of France's architectural highlights, and a joy to explore. This was a charity hospital, founded in 1443. The main part of the hospital is now a fantastic museum, but a portion of the building is still in use today as a retirement home for the impoverished elderly. Fantastic shopping and wonderful cafes and bistros in Beaune. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the Brasserie le Carnot. From here it was on to the incomparable city of light, Paris. Having done (several times) the mainstays of Paris....Arc d' Triomphe, Champs Elysees, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Opera, and the Louvre, I wanted to explore some off the beaten path places. So, let me share those that struck a chord, and I think are noteworthy, and worth your time and effort, and in some cases, money! 1st off, for those of you who don't know, the "hot spot" in Paris these past few years is an area called "Le Marais". This is district in Paris that has been gentrified and fluffed of late, and retains an enormous amount of historical significance. Steeped in royal & Revolutionary history, this village in the heart of Paris offers medieval streets, museums-filled mansions, and the city's oldest and most beautiful square. 1) to get there get off at Metro St. Paul. Walk over to the enchanting Place des Vosges, that lovely square, and don't miss Victor Hugo's house and a museum on the southeeast corner of the square. 2) Sadly the Picasso Museum is closed for renovation until 2012. 3) Shopping in the Marais is a dream...to wit: Fun, fun handmade toys at "Tumbleweed" 19 rue du Turenne, Paris 75004 DO NOT miss the olive oil experience of a lifetime at O & Co....this shop specializes in Mediterranean olive oils, soaps, herbs, and vinegars. If you're looking for reasonable gifts to take home to friends and family, here's your spot! 47 rue Vielle du Temple Paris 77005 My absolute favorite shop in Paris is called As' Art...an African import gallery with fantastic objects of every type...the only time I've spent money in Paris the past 3 visits is at this shop. Also, it's in a wonderful little area called "Village St Paul" full of delightful shops of all sorts. As' Art: 35 Rue St Paul, Marais, Paris 75004 Where to eat in the Marais? Some ideas: Le Petit Fer a Cheval 30 Rue Vieille du Temple Paris 75004 Good food, cheap wine and adorable. Cafe des Musees Bistro 49 Rue de Turenne, Paris In the heart of Marais, a good Parisian bistro, reasonable What else in Paris: Do not miss a totally unknown shop opposite the Jardins Luxembourg, the Library/Book Shop of the Senat, located near the entrance to Luxembourg Gardens at 20 Rue de Vaugirard, Paris 75006. This shop has beautiful post cards and very fine gifts in leather (wallets, credit card holders, etc) are remarkably good prices. I always go here and am always rewarded. You must do the Montmartre area and see Sacre Coeur, and do ride the funicular up beside the long, long steps. (You can use a metro ticket for this ride) Speaking of metro tickets, the best value is to buy a "carnet des billets" a group of 10 metro tickets at a reduced price, you can buy with a credit card or Euro cash at the ticket machine in any metro station. I find this a better buy than the "Metro card"... Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, and the view is beautiful from the Sacre Coeur cathedral. This is also the area that attracted many artists in the 19th century. The "Place du Tertre" is a bit touristy, but fun with shops and cafes. I've enjoyed 2 good meals here: A sweet little restaurant at the top of the hill, is Chez Plumeau, the typical outdoor cafe setting, and it's charming inside too. Chez Plumeau 4 Place Du Calvaire 75018 Paris, France . Check out a delightful little street in Montparnasse area, called Rue du Cherche Midi Paris 75006...shops, restaurants galore, and a joy to experience. Another good restaurant bet is a small chain in Paris, called " Chez Clement" with locations all over Paris. I enjoyed 2 very excellent meals here at good prices. I was staying in St Germain area, and I ate at Chez Clement's St. Michel restaurant, not 100 yards from the St. Michel metro stop. Check their website for a location near you... www.chezclement.com. Ok, let's do the Palais Royal, metro Louvre/Palais Royal. A BEAUTIFUL square with whimsical sculptures, fountains, and gorgeous shops along the arcades that line both sides of the square. This is at treat indeed. Keep your pocketbooks closed here, but it's a great place for the French experience of "window licking!" One block away is another exceptional find, the Galerie Vero-Dodat Arcade, linking the Rue du Bouloi to Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau. These are 19th century, renovated shopping galleries, the oldest in Paris, with magnificent, covered glass ceilings and beautiful carved wooden fronts on the shops. In my book, this is a MUST SEE with shops, cafes, art galleries and magnificent architecture. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
April 2010-From the time our flight landed at the quirky half France and half Switzerland airport and we boarded the Viking Sun in Basel, my husband and I had thoroughly enjoyable experiences during the entire Treasures of the Rhine ... Read More
April 2010-From the time our flight landed at the quirky half France and half Switzerland airport and we boarded the Viking Sun in Basel, my husband and I had thoroughly enjoyable experiences during the entire Treasures of the Rhine Cruise. Viking River Cruises had mailed us booklets which contained details of the itinerary as well as brief histories of the places we were to visit. We read the booklets and did additional research on subjects that interested us. We have discovered that the more we know in advance of the city tours and shore excursions, the more we see, appreciate, and enjoy. The Viking Sun is a relatively new ship and comfortable ship. Our room was conveniently located on the middle deck. We were close to the exit exterior doors, the restaurant, the ice machine, and the stairways to the observation lounge and sun deck. The picture window opened which was great to take a quick snapshot without glare and throw a bread scrap to the swans outside when we docked. The room was compact but well designed to incorporate a desk, storage areas, and two chairs with a table between them. The beds were comfortable. Everything in the room seemed new and fresh. Upon entering our room the only odor was the smell of chocolate from the Easter basket, a delightful surprise gift from Viking. Amenities such as free wireless internet were very useful for us. Of course each room has, a TV, phone safe, and individually controlled thermostat. The room was also quiet. We thought the ship had an excellent layout with the restaurant front middle deck for nice views while dining. The reception desk is positioned midship as well as public restrooms which were very convenient for us when going to and coming back from excursions. I personally loved the coffee, hot chocolate, and hot water machine at the top of the stairs of the upper deck. It was free and open all the time. There were pitchers of ice water, ice tea, and Granny Smith apples available there too. Very civilized! The ship was kept immaculately clean. The chef was an energetic young man who met with diners to discover how well the dishes he prepared pleased their palates. My husband and I enjoyed the meals which were very beautifully presented. Considering the size of the staff and kitchen, it was totally amazing the variety and quality of gourmet meals we were served. If a diner did not like the selection of dinners served that evening, a steak, chicken, or Caesar salad could be substituted. The wait staff really hustled and amazingly learned our preferences and names. Lunches and breakfast were a bountiful buffet style. Thankfully, there are no assigned seats so dining companions are a choice. The Aussies and Brits we met and dined with were great fun. On several of the excursions we visited the "old towns". Many of them survived the numerous wars or have been rebuilt or repaired. The art and architecture was beautiful and different from medieval times, to modern especially the magnificent cathedrals. The itineraries included places to taste wine, shop, explore the real surviving medieval Marksburg castle, visit the ruins of Heidelberg castle (beautiful), circle and stare at the huge statue of King William, visit a WWII cemetery and museum at Arnhem, take a canal tour of Amsterdam, stroll through the Keukenhof Gardens with millions of spring tulips, sample Gouda cheese at a farm, marvel at Kinderdijk with working windmills, admire picturesque Brugge and the chocolate shops, listen to beautiful singing in old cathedrals, and enjoy the local markets. There was something new and wonderful each day. The Viking staff on this ship was very knowledgeable, helpful, professional, and efficient. We were extremely impressed by the way the emergency situation with the volcano eruption was handled by the staff. On the day we were to be taken to the airport, the flights were canceled. All passengers on the ship were told that they would be taken care of by Viking. Several of us were scheduled to fly Lufthansa from Brussels. Viking bused us to the airport were we rescheduled our flights and were given hotel rooms in hotels in the airport area as per EU procedure. The other passengers stayed onboard the ship and were taken care of by Viking. The tour guides worked very hard at this time to get everyone on their flight home. This was an emergency they handled well. We are going on our fifth Viking River Cruise tour this summer. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2010
Our trip on the Scenic Sapphire was great, it totally surpassed our expectations. The ship is beautiful, with very comfortable accommodations. The crew was very friendly and very professional. Captain Costel did a great of job of ... Read More
Our trip on the Scenic Sapphire was great, it totally surpassed our expectations. The ship is beautiful, with very comfortable accommodations. The crew was very friendly and very professional. Captain Costel did a great of job of maneuvering the numerous locks and getting us to our destinations, usually ahead of schedule. The hotel manager, Arthur was great, he has a wonderful sense of humor and was always there with a smile to help in any situation and his staff did a tremendous job too. Cruise director, Tadej did an excellent job both with the on board activities and the shore excursions. Purser, Katrina and her assistant handled every request efficiently with a smile. Executive Chef, Chadvar and his staff turned out some amazing meals from very tight quarters. Maitre d’Hotel, Vitor and his staff, especially our waiter, Zoltan did an excellent job of serving the meals and seeing that our wine glasses were never empty. Housekeeper, Teodora and her staff did a wonderful job of keep the Scenic Sapphire spotless from stem to stern. Maria who serviced our cabin did an excellent job, cleaning at least three times a day and leaving some delightful arrangements of towels. On Mothers Day she saw the card I gave my wife and made a heart of towels around it on the bed. For a relatively new company in a very competitive market Scenic Tours really did their homework and got it right, right from the start. I couldn’t imagine a better experience in river cruising. I had never heard of Scenic Tours but while researching riverboat cruises on the internet I came across it on the website riverdiscounts.com. I was first of all impressed with the beautiful new boats. When I looked in to it further I liked the fact that the all gratuities were included and complimentary wine was served with lunch and dinner. There was even a bottle of Prosecco on ice along with Champagne flutes if you wanted a little bubbly with your breakfast in the morning, which was pleasant surprise. Another bonus was the fact that unlike most European tours, which make all announcements in 3 to 5 different languages, all announcements, were in English only. Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2010
I am an American who have lived in China for many years, and a frequent cruiser. I finally got around to taking a trip in my own backyard - the Yangtze River. I booked online through one of the government owned travel agents and the price ... Read More
I am an American who have lived in China for many years, and a frequent cruiser. I finally got around to taking a trip in my own backyard - the Yangtze River. I booked online through one of the government owned travel agents and the price was excellent, and the travel service was good. I speak the language so getting to and from the boat was easy - albeit expensive by Chinese standards. In Yichang the boats dock outside of town in a scenic area and there are few taxis. Outside the gate and a few hundred yards up the hill is a pretty canyon with restaurants dug into the cliffs, and some outstanding food. Some others on the ship complained of the places their travel agents took them. The night we arrived we were told to board before 8, which we dutifully did, only to be told the boat would not leave until the next morning. We then left the boat, after signing a waiver, and went into town. They asked us not to return too late - before midnight. No problem. The boat is sizable and comfortable. The staterooms are of typical size for a cruise ship, with two single beds, and the public rooms are clean and simple. The air conditioning in the stateroom was too strong and even at the highest setting was freezing. The passengers were about half Chinese and half foreign (although many of Chinese were from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but there was at least one group from a textile company in Shanghai). It was a holiday weekend in China and that might have attracted more Chinese guests than usual. The foreign group included a fair number of expatriates living in China and the typical geriatric set on the cruise as part of a longer tour of China. It was a good combination of people and they mixed well. Dining tables were mostly assigned by tour group, while I think most people would have preferred to have mixed things up a bit. Tours were well organized, interesting, and mostly included in the cruise price. There were two add-on tours with a modest charge, but only one ran and it was worthwhile. Passengers were divided by language into tour groups and the local guides spoke English well. The dam tour was most interesting as was going through the five locks. Meals were in the main dining room. The separate menu dining mentioned on this site seems to have stopped. The food was well prepared, but the quantity was barely enough - plates were scrapped pretty clean. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style, and you needed to hit the line early or you would miss out. Although they said they ran breakfast from 7:30 to 8:30, we came down the first morning at 8:15 only to find them hauling off the last of the food. We asked for coffee, only to be told there was none. A complaint to the front desk resulted in quick action, with apologies all around and a fruit basket to the room, and great service from that point forward. The crew is all Chinese, most everyone you come into contact with speaks good English. I need to put a word in for the pastry chef - this guy could work at Crystal Lines. The cooking was good - a mix of Chinese and Western that went together well. They are not spending enough money on quality and quantity of ingredients, however. I felt like a poor kid whose mother knows how to make the best of very little - it was quaint, but not what I expected. China has come a long ways in service in the last decade. This line is not keeping up. The experience was very much like a 3 star hotel in most major cities. It is comfortable, but not up to the standard that modern Chinese and foreign tourists have come to expect from someone advertising a five star experience. There really is a niche here for a more upmarket offering. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2010
Somewhat seasoned travellers, my wife and I are in our late 50's and residents of a small village in Eastern Canada. We wanted to visit Asia while our health still permitted it. We decided on an extended 8-night cruise on the Yangtze ... Read More
Somewhat seasoned travellers, my wife and I are in our late 50's and residents of a small village in Eastern Canada. We wanted to visit Asia while our health still permitted it. We decided on an extended 8-night cruise on the Yangtze River from Shanghai to Chongqing with a few days in Shanghai at the beginning and some time in Hong Kong to end a 16-day trip. We had experienced river cruising in Europe in 2007 with Uniworld from Basel Switzerland to Amsterdam and we absolutely loved that cruise. Aboard the River Ambassador, we had a small but very comfortable stateroom, excellent meals, visits to scenic sports and nice scenery along the way. We were then confident of receiving the same type of quality service since Victoria Cruises is used by Uniworld for their China river cruises. Also, if one looks at their promotional advertisement on U-Tube, Victoria Cruises appears like a vacation of luxury, relaxation and gastronomy. They tell you about executive chef Walter Stade preparing their gastronomic adventure and about the mixture of Chinese and western food to please all palates. They talk of great wine, of personnel trained to meet your every need, etc. Lovely indeed... We boarded the Victoria Prince leaving Shanghai on May 2, 2010 and arriving in Chongqing on May 10th. The ship is relatively well maintained. The staterooms are small but comfortable. The beds and linen are good. We had a mini fridge and a small balcony with 2 chairs that we enjoyed a lot. Each cabin had a HDTV with HBO and CNN. The public rooms were well appointed and quite comfortable. It was very acceptable if not quite the same quality and good taste as the Uniworld European fleet. The first very unpleasant experience was morning coffee followed quickly by food. I generally go to bed early and get up early, around 5 a.m. When I get up, in a comatose state, I need 2-3 coffees to become human again and help me wait for breakfast. Cruise Ships (including Uniworld) and hotels usually have coffee available around the clock. I never had problems before anywhere. On the Victoria Prince, it was impossible to get a coffee before "coffee hour" which varied every morning according to their precisely managed daily schedule, generally around 7 a.m. I tried everything to get coffee. I got myself a thermos of hot water delivered to my cabin at 11 p.m. at night but could not get a thermos of hot coffee delivered the same way, even by begging or bribing. For some unknown reason, this small need could not be accommodated. I then tried to buy some instant coffee from the ship store but they had none (as a matter of fact, the food section of the ship store consisted of only a few chocolate bars such as M&M or Snickers - no chips, no peanuts, nothing unless you wanted to eat a t-shirt!). I was not the only coffee hound on the ship. A smart Australian oman found a supermarket in Nanjing and was kind enough to let me have a third of a Nescafe jar. I am forever grateful and in debt. With that, I managed to get a small cup of milk from the bar every day that I kept in my mini-fridge. With my hot water delivered at night, I could make myself some very bad coffee every morning but that made me happy. The food was also a sorry affair. Far from the promised adventure in gastronomy, as described in the publicity, it was below par and could not be compared with anything I had in the past. Generally, I am not a fussy eater if I can manage to get some decent proteins and a bit a carbohydrates. ON large cruise ships, I rarely visit the dining room and I am quite satisfied with cafeteria-style food. And I have had many mals in very good Chinese restaurants, mostly to m y liking and often to my delight. I lost a lot of weight on that trip because the food was simply lousy. The first morning, I was pleased to see that they had scrambled eggs and bacon, my saviour food when I don't like what is served at other meals. The following day, the bacon was gone, replaced by a milky white tube they called a port sausage. Certainly did not taste like pork or anything I have ever tasted. And I did not see bacon for another 4 days, then sporadically only. When there were potatoes, they were fried in very old dark oil, leaving an overcooked burnt oily taste in the mouth. The soup was a corn starch base with finely cut vegetables in it. It tasted like glue, cold and repulsive. Their designer chef Walter Stade must be quite pleased with this new gastronomic wonder! For meals, we were assigned to a table of 9. Our table companions were 4 Australians, 2 Americans and one German gentleman and they were all very pleasant. We used to re-order 5 to 6 baskets of bread and butter per meal. The bread was good and so was the butter. We tried the 10 different plates served family-style at every meal. Ate a little of this, a little of that, in an attempt to feed ourselves. Most of it was vegetables covered with thick bland starch thickening agent or what was called marinated vegetables, which was basically just lumpy and tasteless. The quality of the meat was also very poor, chewy and nerdy. No fish, Small breaded shrimps once. They had good fresh green salad with what they called ranch dressing. Once during the trip, we had small slices of beef in a pepper gravy with mashed potatoes. That emptied in seconds and everybody was smiling for a day. Once we had one spring roll each, very oily and not very good but to us, it was better than the usual fare, so we emptied it. Most of the food went back to the kitchen at every meal but nobody every asked us why. So I guess they knew why... And with poor food on a cruise, you start feeling like a prisoner in a camp very quickly. You look for possible alternatives but there are none. You wonder why you have a mini fridge in each room with nothing in it. Daily excursions bring you to museums, temples, mountaintops, not to a store where you can buy something to eat. Contrary to Europe, there is very little free time to mix with the Chinese or try local restaurants. You are in and out of buses and back on the ship. Everyday you always hope that things will improve but they never do. At the end of the trip, you have no appetite left. You feel like a zombie. Thank God the last day has come,Fengdu temple, the temple of the dead, how fitting! But there were some positive things on this trip. The ship hotel staff, all young and willing, are impressive in their funny way. They are more than willing to please but they don't know how and the management is drilling them into little patterns like military personnel. When you shop up for morning coffee, for example, there are 3 of them standing around the coffee machine, white shirts and black suits. One welcomes you, the other one give you a coffee or a tea, the third one wishes you good day. Every morning, same routine, same personnel, same method. When you get off the ship for an excursion, there are 10 to 20 young employees in uniform, every 25 feet or so, everyone taking turn in wishing you a good day. The same is true when you come back. They are all lined up, everyone in turn welcoming you back. I guess this is what their management tell them is good customer service. This line up is important but still no coffee in the early morning just the same. On each floor on of the ship, in front of the stairs, there is one of those young employees sitting behind a desk 24-7. As you go by, he or she gets up and says hello. Strange again. There is a pone in each cabin but no room service. If you need ice, they say you should ask the attendant on your floor. When you ask your attendant, he/she does not understand. If you say "bing kwai tchii" or "ice please" in mandarin, he/she does not understand because of your poor pronunciation. You then make a little ice cube with your hand and then shiver, they get it and literally run to get you ice. They are bored but quite willing to be of service and somebody should teach them what ice means, or a few simple words, like towel, or sop, basic things like that. But what they know how to do, they do extremely well. Our stateroom was made up the minute we stepped out of it in the morning and again during supper and was kept spotless. Just as the hotel management of the ship leaves to be desired, the junior attendants to wonders. I figures that after months or years in the corridor, when they have enough English, they graduate to the dining room. We had 2 attendants in the dining room that we could have basic conversation with. They also taught us some Chinese sentences and it was very enjoyable. They serve 3 meals a day, then do floor shows cabaret style during the evenings. They really have full days and work hard but are always smiling. Like I said, great staff, very poor hotel management. I still can't believe this company is owned by Americans. There were some interesting excursions on this cruise but everything in China seems to come with a lot of stairs in it Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum 392 steps, Huangshan mountain 380 steps, Fendu 700 steps (thank God there is a chair lift that solves that one by 80%). The highlights are definitely the 3-Gorge and the Dam, very beautiful and impressive. The low point is that you meet so few Chinese people outside the government appointed guides giving you the official story. You always seem to be kept away, isolated, in tourist land. We had to use the ship doctor, also the tai chi instructor. My wife developed a bronchitis, due to uncontrolled air conditioning, high level of humidity and constant diesel fumes. The doctor identified a small throat infection and suggested administering antibiotics through an IV. She flatly refused so he gave her some throat losanges. He did not have any syrup or anything to make her sleep and she kept coughing all night which added to the lack of sleep. The problem got easily fixed in Hong Kong a week later. Do not count on the ship doctor, bring lots of medicines for various ailments as some of the other passengers did. They can be useful. Finally, let me say that it was an interesting trip but not a pleasant one. We thought the cruise would be the highlight of our trip to Asia. It was not. We enjoyed Shanghai a lot at the beginning and the cruise was quickly washed away in Hong Kong, where I had possible the best meal of my life or so it seemed after a week on the Victoria Prince. If you choose to do a cruise on the Yangtze, choose a short cruise (3 or 4 nights) to visit the 3 Gorges and the Dam. Stay away from the long 8-night cruise. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2010
The Avalon Felicity is a brand new vessel just launched in March 2010. Based upon my observations of other river cruise vessels it's exterior is not stylish or very modern in appearance. However the interior is very clean in ... Read More
The Avalon Felicity is a brand new vessel just launched in March 2010. Based upon my observations of other river cruise vessels it's exterior is not stylish or very modern in appearance. However the interior is very clean in appearance and comfortable. The 138 passengers fit easily into the forward lounge and restaurant. The only time we felt crowded was during the lunch buffet. Avalon boasts that their cabins are the largest for river cruises, at 172 square feet. They feel a little smaller possibly from the lay out. They are adequate though considering the limited time one spends in the cabin. Storage capacity of the cabin in my wife's opinion was wonderful and in fact we did not use it all. The cabin has French doors but we missed having a balcony as on an ocean cruise. The food was hit or miss. Dinners were quite good with free wine. Service was basically good though they confused orders at times and there was a delay serving soft drinks. Breakfast buffet meats and eggs were cold, though my wife told me the omelet station was good. Disembarkation was the easiest I ever had. Was off ship and onto a bus to the airport in minutes. In all the cruise was enjoyable though one should consider carefully the differences between an ocean cruise and a river cruise before committing to a river cruise.   Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
We have travelled on over 15 ocean cruises but wanted to experience the river cruise. We chose Uniworld and the River Duchess, mostly for the ports in Eastern Europe. Not knowing river cruising companies we were somewhat ... Read More
We have travelled on over 15 ocean cruises but wanted to experience the river cruise. We chose Uniworld and the River Duchess, mostly for the ports in Eastern Europe. Not knowing river cruising companies we were somewhat intimidated,however we lucked out in choosing Uniworld. Everything was great. Uniworld assembles mostly english speaking passengers for some of their cruises so we were able to enjoy all the people aboard. The main countries represented were US, Canada and Australia. River boat passengers seem to be very well travelled and welcome meeting new people. The dining was open and we never ate alone. The food was outstanding and after the big cruise lines, it was so refreshing to have the variety we experience there but not the massive quantity. To my view, the river boats are not beautiful because of the specifications they have to follow re bridges etc. but the interior of the River Duchess was quite luxurious. Our stateroom was a little smaller than we had experienced on the ocean liners but very adequate and well appointed. We thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of river cruising. We simply walked over a small gangplank and we were in a place to easily access the heart of the town or city. We were able to get on and off several times a day, at our convenience. One time we simply wanted an ice cream cone and a stroll in the shady park! The included tours were very good, although we do like to do things on our own and that was very possible. Probably the most interesting tour was the visit to the home of a resident of Croatia for lunch. It is alway wonderful to be able to see how others live. The staff went our of their way to see to our needs. Instead of the night tour in Budapest, my husband and I wanted to hear some gypsy music with a glass of wine. One of the staff found us a restaurant and when we arrived, a table had been reserved for us. We had a lovely evening enjoying the wine and the gypsy music. You would find that the staff is a little more laid back than the ocean liners, but very friendly, professional and helpful. The entertainment was really enjoyable. We had a piano player all the time, supported by a singer at times on board in the lounge. The entertainment brought on board at several ports was very high quality. No night club acts but really good entertainment. I do have to say that the cruise director Rick was excellent. He was helpful and informative at all times. All together, a really great experience. We love river cruising. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
We debated long and hard whether or not to spend the money on this trip. We believed all VRC advertised and decided that it would be the trip of a lifetime. It WAS...the worst trip of our lifetime. We were on the Pakhomov. We are WELL ... Read More
We debated long and hard whether or not to spend the money on this trip. We believed all VRC advertised and decided that it would be the trip of a lifetime. It WAS...the worst trip of our lifetime. We were on the Pakhomov. We are WELL heeled world travellers and had SOOO many problems with Viking. They claimed they "didn't know about the closings for Russian Independence Day"???????? They are in Russia, how could they not know that. We had a Cat A Deluxe cabin. Lots of problems with heat and air regulation-no A/C as advertised, windows that wouldn't open,almost no TV reception and internet spotty at best. Our deluxe cabin advertised as comparable to the finest hotel room was shabby, old and not at all what was promised. The bed was AWFUL!!! Some had plumbing problems the whole cruise. And everyone had issues with the cleanliness...not how it looked, but that is was not at all sanitized-several of us watched carefully because we were concerned. Many of us watched and never saw anyone wiping down the handrails. OK, maybe it was done at night, but should have been done continuously. The stairs on the ship are very risky to navigate, especially for anyone with mobility issues. The room maid wiped everyone's in room glassware out daily with a dry cloth (the same one)...we checked it out. At least 2/3 of the passengers on the ship were very ill with a virus (us, too, but not as much as some). Some were even hospitalized. The common areas were toatally inadequate for the number of people on the ship. Sometimes they asked that only one person from a cabin come to briefings. WHAT!!! The included ballet performance was specifically aimed at tourists and performed by an amateur troup. We were very pushed to buy souvenirs and several times "taken" to where we were encouraged to buy. These trips were included tours. Worst of all were the included tours. They were literally "tourist herds". I am not exagerrating. For the money we paid I really expected much much more. I have done tours for less money and been in small groups of 20 or less. Too many optionals...more should have been included for the price. Sure we could have gone off on our own...some did...but we paid so much for the cruise that it seemed it would have been adding insult to injury. VRC states with them there is no standing in line or sitting on busses. Total lie!!! Every time we tried to politely express our concerns to someone on the staff, we were told "Sorry, there is nothing we can do". On the plus side-we had wonderful servers at dinner-who spoke almost no English. The food was adequate...nothing to rave over at all but nice presentations. VCR promised 5 couse gourmet meals. We had exactly 2 and in my opinion they were NOT gourmet. We were assigned a dining room so did not get to mingle with everyone at meals as touted. But...best- we made some wonderful new friends and have all agreed that we will travel together again...just not on Viking. We all agreed on that. VRC deletes all negative posts on Facebook so all you read are the positives. Oh...and Helsinki. $900 apiece for 3 nights in a mundane hotel room, a 2 hour walking tour and a 6 hour uncomfortable train trip to St. Petersburg. Everything in Helsinki was mega-expensive, so be prepared to drop a wad if you go. FYI...I have been travelling worldwide for 30 years-2 or more trips per year-my travel partner also. We are not just griping. It was a VERY disappointing trip. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
This was our first River Cruise, and we loved it! Our cabin was very well laid out, and very comfortable, with a large window which could be opened. The bed was very comfortable, which was important to me because I have sciatica. There ... Read More
This was our first River Cruise, and we loved it! Our cabin was very well laid out, and very comfortable, with a large window which could be opened. The bed was very comfortable, which was important to me because I have sciatica. There was only one seating for dinner, and it was free-style with no reserved tables. This meant that we could share mealtimes with new people. The menu was small, but provided a variety of choices for appetizers, first course, main course, and dessert. The food was beautifully presented, and small, perfect portions. Fotr the "meat and potatoes" type, one could always order steak, chicken,or fish in addition to the daily entrees which were offered. The cruise included at least one tour in each port, and when we boarded, we were assigned a number from 1 to 4. This was our tour group number throughout the cruise. Our tours were very well organized. We disembarked the ship as our group was called, and boarded the tour buses which were waiting for us. They use local tour guides, and all but one were excellent. They also offered some tours in addition, for an additional cost. In the evening, on board, we enjoyed lectures about the European Union, or discussions about the history of the next day's port. Unlike the large ocean cruise ships, there are no casinos or theaters on board. Entertainment was a very talented keyboard player/singer who played in the lounge each evening after dinner. We found this quite acceptable, as we were usually tired after the day's activities. The staff on the Viking Sun always had a great attitude, and all spoke excellent English. Many were bilingual, or trilingual. Each afternoon, the chef walked among the tables, asking us if there was anything he could improve upon, or if we had any suggestions for him. The only thing missing from this cruise was sunshine.....it rained the entire cruise, which was very disappointing. (I nicknamed our cruise "Castles of the Rhine in the Rain") Even the locals were complaining. But, one can't control the weather. I'm really looking forward to our next river cruise, and would definitely choos Viking again. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
I have to admit that my husband and I chose this cruise because of a vacation time slot first and the destination second. Russia was not one of those places that I had a longing to visit. And in fact I must admit that I had a certain ... Read More
I have to admit that my husband and I chose this cruise because of a vacation time slot first and the destination second. Russia was not one of those places that I had a longing to visit. And in fact I must admit that I had a certain concern about what it might be like, all the way from what airline the Viking folks may have put us on (Aeroflot?) and what we might get for food onboard (borscht and boiled potatoes?) My husband remarked that for me, a successful cruise would mean simply surviving it. But my misgivings were all unjustified (well, with the possible exception of the cabin, see below) and I count myself lucky to have gone on this adventure. I would go back in a minute. We arrived in St. Petersburg on a cold rainy day. As promised we were met at the airport by the Viking folks, our luggage gathered up, and we and a number of other fellow cruisers were bused to the Pakhamov. We found a money exchange place right at the luggage area of the small airport so were able to convert dollars to rubles very conveniently. If you plan to buy anything at a souvenir stand or out in the countryside, have rubles. You can find an ATM in some towns but it isn't too convenient to spend your time trying to find them and seeing whether your card will work. We checked into our Category C room (90 square feet), which appeared to be a pre-fab style room with 2 sleeping pallets. We were told that the ship was built in East Germany during the Soviet era. We were lucky that our configuration allowed us to have one suitcase at the foot of one of the "beds" and we had enough room to move a table from between them to an area next to the closet. The "beds" were attached to the wall, so when someone in the next cabin got into theirs with gusto, you could expect yours to have a kind of rebound effect. Only one of us could get dressed or move about in the room at a time. The "yacht-style" bathroom was interesting but worked for showers just fine. It was not a great place for anything to dry, however. There was plenty of storage space in the cabin and a nice window. There was no in-room safe. We quickly adapted to the cabin and spent little time there at any rate. The ship was advertised as having been renovated but we could not see evidence of that. The common rooms were clean and comfortable, although not large. The dining room for our part of the ship was bright with windows on three sides. We had an Austrian chef, and the food was very good. There was a breakfast buffet and a menu from which you could order a few options. At lunch and dinner there were always choices and one could order more than one choice or multiples of the same choice. On our cruise we had complementary wine, red or white, of a very reasonable quality and as much as we wanted. The service was very good. Most of the crew spoke very good English; those that did not did their best to understand and if necessary went to another crew member for help. These young people were a highlight of the cruise for me. The destinations are described on the web site so I won't go into them here. We missed Kizhi due to dense fog. I was fascinated with everything. I was delighted that we arrived at about the same time as celebration of the Great Patriotic War, or World War II. For the first time American, French and British troops marched in the parades. This war is very much in the close memories of people, and those in St. Petersburg and Moscow had very different experiences of it than anyone in the US. On the outskirts of Moscow our guide pointed out a tank trap at the side of the multi-lane street, indicating where the barriers had been set. Seeing Red Square was something I could not imagine, having grown up watching the military parades on May Day with the tanks and missiles and goose-stepping soldiers. Moscow was most surprising to me with its constant traffic jams and cars everyone would recognize, high rise buildings and the very extensive metro system. Most of the port excursions were included in the trip. The Russian English-speaking guides were excellent and the audio system the best I have seen. Some onboard lectures on Russian history, language, and souvenirs were well-done and interesting. I for one was glad to have been given some time to shop and pointed at places where Russian objects and souvenirs of higher quality were available. I fell in love with the traditional Russian shawls and bought several. If you want souvenirs they will be lowest cost in the countryside, more in Moscow, higher on the ship and highest at the airport. The end of the trip arrived all too soon. We were transferred to the airport very efficiently. If you envision this trip as an adventure rather than a high-amenity opportunity you will have a wonderful time. I learned a lot, met many interesting people and did a lot more than just survive this trip! Read Less
Sail Date: May 2010
To give some background to our trip - I was born in Odessa Ukraine, and have been contemplating for some time to introduce my wife to the city and the country of which she heard so much. The Odessa-Kiev cruise on Viking Lomonosov provided ... Read More
To give some background to our trip - I was born in Odessa Ukraine, and have been contemplating for some time to introduce my wife to the city and the country of which she heard so much. The Odessa-Kiev cruise on Viking Lomonosov provided a possibility to do so with an added bonus of "highlighting" Crimea as well. The ship is very simple -â€" library, 2 bars (one forward and one aft), 2 restaurants (while we were assigned to Kiev restaurant the seating is open for all meals which gives you a chance to mingle with fellow passengers) and a sun deck -â€" otherwise just a hallways with cabins on both sides (4 decks total). Our cabin (229) was 90 sq.ft -â€" the TINIEST we've ever seen J but we were able to get everything out of suitcases and store them away with no problem so it was quite cozy and comfy (besides its not like we spent TOO much time in it) Actually it turned out to be a good location since all the cabins have a large window but all are overlooking a given deck so one has to be mindful of the situation least some fellow cruisers will catch you de-flagrante J The Main deck is "Crew" deck -â€" so we hardly had anyone moving past our window and we were literally steps away from the Front Desk and the disembarking doors (proves a good thing when the crowds begin to gather to go ashore) BY FAR -â€" it is the most passive cruise EVER! There is no "activities" on board for those mornings\afternoons that you are cruising -â€" I reckon the idea is for you to sit on the deck and soak up the scenery...but then you kinda ease in into this "lazy" lifestyle...and if need be -â€" there are books and games in library, they were showing movies on TV (mostly tapes not live but that's OK) and there were appropriate lectures on Ukraine History in general and ports-of-call when appropriate. Food was AWESOME (surprisingly I did not gain an ounce case you KNOW I was eating like a pig (or make it 2 pigs) J). They are also liberal with that wine that comes as a part of the package -â€" once its starts flowing you can ask for refills and they will give it to you no questions asked. The drinks at the bar are good (the best LIIT I've ever tasted) and they use top shelf brands (drink of the day was about 55 UAH). Draft beer (Slavutitch -â€" Ukrainian Beer) is very good and actually is cheaper than Coke (28 UAH vs 30 UAH for the same size glass) Speaking of Coke -â€" all soft drinks are charged even during the meals. At the same - water and iced tea are available with meals, 4 juices are there for breakfast and there is a coffee machine on Middle Deck that works 24/7 (and like I said -â€" wine is flowing during the dinner) so we were not hurting for soda. They also give you a 1 liter bottle of water in the cabin (if need be -â€" replenished every day). And there is no limit on stuff you can buy while in port and bring back into cabin (there is a small fridge). You KNOW some folks were dragging booze in on daily basis J If you want to serve it at the dinner though -â€" its 80 UAH cork fee charge. The stuff is very friendly and helpful but their English is limited -â€" if you "overstep the boundaries" by asking some unfamiliar question -â€" they will give you a blank look and say Yes (with the same friendly smile.... But that's about it) The weather while in Odessa and Crimea was just perfect! Couple of showers but kinda "passing by" or we hit everything at the right time (rained while we were in transit or inside the building) so that was not an issue aside carting the jackets with us some days and the temps were in upper 70s to upper 80s The 1st days into the river it did change to cooler (upper 50s -â€" mid 60s) but bearable. Unfortunately 1 day was a complete wash out - we were lucky that we just finished watching the Cossack Horse Show when the skies literally opened up and we were shooed-in back onto buses thus cutting short the rest of the visit (kinda was a bummer since this was on Khortitsa Island where Ukrainian (Zaporozhye) Cossacks started from as I was looking forward to view some of the fortifications and such) and the next 2 were kinda gloomy as well (it would periodically drizzle on and off -â€" just enough to be a slight nuisance here-and-there). But by the time we got to Kiev it was all nice and sunny again The "included" tours...well... they just cemented my reason of trying to stay away from organized tours (but then it is exactly the reason why I DO stay away from them). You are assigned the bus in the beginning of the cruise so the same driver and guide will be with you for duration. There were 28 people on our bus (it does not seem like the cruise was sold-out) and most of the folks are in their 70s so... time to get on get off... and pretty much running through museums and other exhibits -â€" not much you can do just go with the flow. (Be prepared to hear & see a lot of WWII (or as they call it The Great Patriotic War) stuff esp. since they are celebrating 65 years of VE Day this year) That said I was only too happy that I hired a private guide for all 4 days in Crimea. He was a great guy, had his own A\Cd little car (which did come handy in some places that the bus would not even DREAM to go through), very knowledgeable, enthusiastic and ... just everything you want to ask for in a guide! To make a long story short -â€" we hit EVERY place that Viking advertized as "optional" tours (even when one had to choose between "tour 1" or "tour 2") and THEN SOME! He got us into places that are closed to tourist crowds and pretty much I got everything I wished for (the only thing that was on my list that I didn't get to do was to take a cable car to the top of Ai-Petri (St Peter's) Mountain but that's only because Viking told me that the ship would be leaving Yalta at 2:00 pm and it actually did at 1:00 pm -â€" which lost us that hour and is not in any way Sergey's (the guide's) fault). All in all I paid him $510.00 $50.00 of which was a tip and was also paying whatever the entry fees to places were. So maybe the whole experience ran me $600-650 (tops) but again it was well worth it for me because of what we saw & did vs what the rest of the crowd did (or, obviously -â€" didn't). If you are interested -â€" contact him at sergo22yalta at gmail.com (again his name is Sergey). You most certainly can tell him that I recommended J To highlight one examle of what I just told you -â€" I have photos of me sitting in Stalin's cabinet behind his desk and Sergey and I in Molotov's quarters - both are taken at Yusupov's Palace which was where Russian Delegation was HQ'd during Yalta Conference (US Delegation was at Livadia (White) Palace (included in Itinerary) and Brits were at Vorontzov's (Alupka) Palace -â€" optional tour). The place originally belonged to Prince Felix Yusupov's parents and the big claim to fame here is that Price Felix is the one who murdered Rasputin In any case -â€" nothing that any other fellow cruiser even dreamt of remotely seeing.... There is not much to see & do in Dnepropetrovsk and Kremenchug -â€" they are just "1/2-dead monuments" to Soviet industry and I honestly have no idea as to why they are on the itinerary (I'd much more to skip one or both of them and spent that time in Kiev) but I'm not the one who makes the itinerary. No matter what -â€" the time in Kiev is simply NOT ENOUGH so make the best of what you'll see on organized tours! The ship arrives in Kiev shortly after lunch and you practically immediately carted off onto the tours of St. Sophia Cathedral and the Kiev_Pecherskaya Monastery of the Caves (once more - NOT ENOUGH TIME AT ALL!!!!) Upon the reurn - you have a choice -â€" either free time (shopping etc) or take a Jewish Kiev tour (to Babi Yar and the Main Synagogue). The tour is not advertized in Viking brochures and is 330 UAH pp; lasts approximately 2 hours and is a somber experience if you are familiar with the Babi Yar (done with a very knowledgeable English speaking local guide) I spent about $300.00 in tips all around (ship personnel and local guides) and ran up perhaps a $150.00 bill on board which included the above tour and some souvenirs. -â€" again PITTANCE since it was all in Hrivnas I also have to mention that they take away your passports for the duration of the cruise (no reason to make any scenes or protests as that wont help any) they give you some tail of a whale about customs but it's a lie -â€" probably a left-over appendix from "good old" Soviet times. In any case -â€" they give you a card (one per person) with your name, cabin # and bus # instead and it serves as your ID and also a "whereabouts" tool inasmuch as that you have to give them your cabin key for these cards every time you go ashore and thus exchange back upon return -â€" so they can see if anyone is "still out". They are not computerized at all in that sense -â€" all on board stuff is still done via signing individual purchase receipts. Once your bill is settled (last "cruising" morning on the way to Kiev) -â€" you get the passports back. At the last day I simply decided not to go through the hustle of haggling with either cab drivers or hackers about the fare to Borispol Airport and just let the Front Desk order me one of their "affiliate" cabs. The taxi was there 10 mins before the scheduled time - nice, clean & comfortable car. The trip took about 40 mins and the fare was 300.00 UAH (+ 30 UAH tip). Thus - as far as my "transfers" go I think I beat the Viking price hands down.... So in conclusion -â€" there are some setbacks but on the overall -â€" a very worthy experience. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
Although Viking states that the Pakhomov has been remodeled, it's hard to find evidence of any renovation on this 20-year old vessel. The standard cabins have very small beds that are uncomfortable even for a normal sized person. The ... Read More
Although Viking states that the Pakhomov has been remodeled, it's hard to find evidence of any renovation on this 20-year old vessel. The standard cabins have very small beds that are uncomfortable even for a normal sized person. The cabins have a "yacht style" bathroom with a shower incorporated into a very small space containing a lavatory (usually cracked) and toilet AKA-a Wet bath. Storage is minimal with but a single small drawer per passenger and insufficient space to store empty luggage. Standard cabins have no TV and even the few deluxe suites that have a TV have no TV service except in Moscow or St. Petersburg. News aboard was handled via a "daily newspaper" with as much space devoted to sports scores as was devoted to news. These four-page papers were produced in Brit, American, and Aussie editions. Housekeeping service was good. Food service and quality was average to good although the breakfast buffet was underwhelming. The shipboard staff was usually able to handle routine requests without difficulty. Anything more than a routine request was generally met with a blank stare and a nebulous quasi-promise to "look into the matter". Shipboard cleanliness is good, but there are few amenities aboard these Russian river cruise vessels. The six guides travel aboard and are augmented with local guides in each port. Our guide was very difficult to understand and consistently spoke in a low monotone so that it was hard to differentiate the important information from the general patter. She also seemed to have somewhat of an "attitude" problem with some of the passengers in our tour group. Choose your guide wisely because the guide you choose on the first day's tour will be your guide for the duration. Having taken and been very impressed with the Viking China Cultural cruise previously, we were big Viking fans coming to this cruise. Now - we would be hesitant to recommend this cruise to anyone other than a person with a strong interest in cathedrals and religious icons. The museums, palaces, ballet, and symphony were interesting, but many of them charge an additional fee to take photos or videos. There are also 6-8 optional excursions to fill in "free time" in Moscow and St. Petersburg. These optional tours are expensive and they offer poor value for their cost. Viking seems intent on wringing every nickel out of each passenger on this Russian river cruise. All in all, we found this cruise to offer inadequate value and this opinion was shared by a majority of the other passengers we spoke with. Bottom line - even with a 2-for-1 deal, nearly free air transportation, and complimentary dinner wine, you will likely not get a "warm, fuzzy feel from this Viking river cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
The brochure says "professional staff" but we had college students on their first cruise. Most of the wait staff had never waited tables before! I have been a "training tourist" at a resort and received better service. ... Read More
The brochure says "professional staff" but we had college students on their first cruise. Most of the wait staff had never waited tables before! I have been a "training tourist" at a resort and received better service. Food was so bad that I sent back three plates and I have NEVER sent food back to the kitchen before. Oysters Rockefeller were a solid mass encrusted to the shell. Many items were overcooked or burnt. Eggs were consistently undercooked even when ordered medium or hard. Some food was quite good, but for the price I expected every meal to be outstanding. Our cruise director had never been to three of the six ports of call and couldn't answer questions about them. Rooms were OK, but sort of felt like hospital room decor. The illustration of the room in promo materials appears much more spacious than reality. At least there was adequate storage--however bathroom storage was awkward. The main activity on this ship is small talk with other guest, especially at meals. The acoustics in the dining room made this difficult (impossible at times). This cruise was quite expensive. I would have been disappointed at 1/4 the price. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2010
This was our first big river cruise and we are so happy that we chose Viking. Our cabin was small, but adequate. We had a wonderful view of the river (unless we were tied up next to another ship in port). I brought my computer and internet ... Read More
This was our first big river cruise and we are so happy that we chose Viking. Our cabin was small, but adequate. We had a wonderful view of the river (unless we were tied up next to another ship in port). I brought my computer and internet access, though spotty, was adequate. Meals were fabulous. Each one was a winner, some better than others. The restaurant staff, all Filippino, were excellent. We loved Mary Jane, our waitress. The ship staff was pleasant, though not all spoke English and sometimes I met a blank stare when I attempted to get information at the front desk, but someone else was along soon enough to answer my question. There were varying degrees of competence among the tour guides. Some were excellent performers, others were not, though they had great command of the information. (Sadly, we did not have one of the better performers). There were several activities, including lectures, Russian lessons, a Gershwin concert, a talent show, a couple of special dinners, lessons on buying gifts, and of course the vodka tasting. Special notice must be given to Victoria's lecture on Gorbachev...best lecture of the whole trip. Material I read before the cruise said there were spa and massage (and hairdressing) facilities on board. We never saw sign of those, but the ship had been recently renovated and perhaps those were eliminated with the remodeling. Most of the optional excursions were well worth the money, though Moscow by night was less spectacular than I expected. I loved the opportunity for all the musical performances. This was our first trip with Viking and from reports I have read, people are not all satisfied with it. If this is one of their "less satisfying" cruises, I look forward to one that gets high marks from everyone, because I certainly give this one high marks. Read Less

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