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Sail Date: October 2010
This was our first river cruise and our first cruise with Viking. We sailed from Budapest to Passau on the Viking Sky. I had read several of the reviews before we left and I have to admit that I was quite concerned about many of the ... Read More
This was our first river cruise and our first cruise with Viking. We sailed from Budapest to Passau on the Viking Sky. I had read several of the reviews before we left and I have to admit that I was quite concerned about many of the comments as they were so poor. Based on our experience, I cannot believe that the other reviews were for the same ship we were on. We had an excellent trip and found only a couple minor deficiencies. We spent 4 nights in Vienna and one night in Budapest on our own prior to the cruise and then 3 nights in Munich and 2 nights in Fussen post- cruise. We did our own planning, air arrangements, and train transfers to and from the ship. Since we were in Budapest a day early we were able to talk to some of the people who were currently on the ship sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest. Their impression of their voyage was extremely positive. The Viking Sky was docked at the foot of the Chain Bridge. We boarded and checked in about 11:00am and had no problem leaving our luggage with the staff until the staterooms were ready around 3:00pm. We then spent a couple of hours wandering around the 'Buda' side of the city. There was a small buffet with soup, salads, sandwiches, and chicken paprika with pasta set up in the lounge. We grabbed some lunch about 2:00pm and relaxed until we were able to get into our room around 3:00pm. The bathroom and shower were larger than what we've had on the big ocean ships. It was especially nice to have glass shower doors instead of having to deal with a curtain. The bed, pillows, and down duvet were very comfortable and we slept well every night. After dinner the first night our fears of poor food and service were put aside. The meals were excellent and reflected the cuisine of the country in which we were docked. Based on our experiences in restaurants both pre and post cruise, the food on the ship was as good and sometimes better. The house wine was included. They had a white and a red each night and basically poured as much as you wanted during dinner. Specialty wines were always available by the bottle but we saw no need to order any additional wine. We felt there was plenty of choice at dinner and it wasn't pork every day. I had duck, venison, veal, lamb, and beef over the course of the week. There was always a fish choice and others at the table said it was very good as well. Soups, appetizers, and desserts also had a local and cultural flair. We didn't find anything at any meal that was bad or poorly prepared. Even my steak at the Captain's dinner was cooked medium rare as I requested. Breakfast was terrific. There was a huge buffet with cereals, breads, meat, cheese, pastries, scramble eggs, bacon, sausage, and smoked salmon every day. In addition you could order Eggs Benedict, omelets, French toast and blueberry pancakes. The service was efficient and excellent. Lunch also had a huge buffet plus a couple of choices for appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Generally it was way too much - especially after a big breakfast. After doing quite a few ocean cruises, we felt there were two really big benefits to a river cruise: being docked right in the main part of town and the ability to walk around the ports after dinner. Some nights there was local entertainment on board such as a gypsy band in Budapest. There were also some great lectures and demonstrations while cruising during the day - such as the bridge tour, strudel making, EU history, and especially the Program Director's personal experience growing up behind the iron curtain. The included tours with local guides in each port were outstanding - especially the tour of Melk Abby and the all day tour to Salzburg. We did the optional tour to Cesky Krumlov since we were not going to Prague after the cruise. It seems like we were busy all the time and the week just flew by. We met some really great people whom I'm sure we'll be in contact with and see again. The Program director arranged for a taxi to the Passau train station and we were off to Munich. The only criticisms we had were the lack of refrigerator and noise between cabins. Although we were really lucky and didn't have noisy neighbors, we heard several complaints from others about the noise and snoring coming from other cabins. This was an excellent experience and we look forward to taking another river cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
We have just returned from a trip which started in Prague as a precruise add on to our Viking Pride Budapest to Amsterdam River Cruise. We used Viking for all of the arrangements, flights, transfers and hotel. It couldn't have ... Read More
We have just returned from a trip which started in Prague as a precruise add on to our Viking Pride Budapest to Amsterdam River Cruise. We used Viking for all of the arrangements, flights, transfers and hotel. It couldn't have been smoother. We stayed at the Hilton Prague and had the use of a Viking representative for information whilst we were there. Included was a morning tour which was in depth and were free to explore on our own for the rest of the three days. We were transported in a comfortable coach to meet the boat in Budapest,our check in went very smoothly and we were unpacked and settled into our very nice stateroom. There was plenty of room for our two weeks worth of gear and clothing. The bathroom was bigger than I had expected and the bed was quite comfortable. So after a trip through the lounges, library etc. we were ready to enjoy the first of meals in the dining room. The waiters were friendly and very good at what they do. Each dining experience beginning with breakfast and ending with dinner was tasty and presented in a very attractive manner. The reception desk was manned by very competent personnel and the program director made very interesting presentations and port talks during the pre and post dinner cocktail times. She also arranged for various personalities to speak to us about the European Union, we had a glass blower from Wertheim, some gypsy musicians, a Bavarian comedian and always on board a talented musician. Our port tours were led by very competent local guides and we were always given time on our own after. In most ports the boat was docked close to the towns and it was easy to come and go as we wished. This particular itinerary is through five countries and many beautiful cities and towns along the Danube, Main and Rhine rivers. I would recommend this trip enthusiastically and especially with Viking they were wonderful hosts. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
My wife and I took the 7-night Portraits of Southern France river cruise departing from Chalon-sur-Saone on Oct. 31 on the Viking Neptune. We both had a wonderful time. The itinerary was a primary reason we chose this cruise and the towns ... Read More
My wife and I took the 7-night Portraits of Southern France river cruise departing from Chalon-sur-Saone on Oct. 31 on the Viking Neptune. We both had a wonderful time. The itinerary was a primary reason we chose this cruise and the towns and tours all met or exceeded our expectations. The local tour guides were excellent and there was always some free time to explore on our own. The one tour which surprised me the most was in the small medieval town of Viviers. Since we were only there after dark, I took the after-dinner tour through the narrow, cobblestone streets, up to the 12th century cathedral. There was just enough light and the tour guide did a terrific job. All the crew who we dealt with were very professional, helpful and friendly. But the chef, Magdolie(sp?) stands out. Each night before dinner, she would give an enthusiastic, 5-10 minute description of the dinner options which made our mouth water, Even better, the meals met our high expectations. And, in almost all cases, the dishes weren't basic recipes but rather her own presentation. We've been on 10 river and ocean cruises and we can't remember having better dinners than we had on this cruise. We made our own pre- and post-cruise arrangements, but the embarkation and disembarkation were both simple and easy. One of the crew took our bags to our rental car on disembarkation even though we had not made arrangements with Viking. Our room was a typical good river cruise room with plenty of storage - we didn't even use some of the shelves. We had taken our first river cruise on Viking last year to Holland and Belgium and enjoyed it so much we decided to take this cruise. We were not disappointed. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
Every five years, we try to plan a special trip for our anniversary. In 2010, we decided we wanted to come back to Europe. I wanted a relaxing river cruise in France with great food and wine but my husband also wanted more of the ... Read More
Every five years, we try to plan a special trip for our anniversary. In 2010, we decided we wanted to come back to Europe. I wanted a relaxing river cruise in France with great food and wine but my husband also wanted more of the excitement and history of the cities of Europe. With our trip on the River Beatrice, we got everything we wanted. We started in Prague. We did not do the add-on from Uniworld. We arrived a day early so we could see some things in more depth than would have occurred on the tour (the Jewish Quarter, Terezin). However, our travel agent recommended the Art Deco Hotel where the tour stays. We were not disappointed. The location was great as was the hotel. We absolutely loved Prague. The culture, the history, the architecture. We went to the symphony or a jazz club almost every night. And we walked everywhere. We took the subway and the streetcars just to try them out. Very clean and modern. We arranged our own tours which suited us well. We also stayed an extra day in Budapest at the end of the trip which we also booked on our own, this time at the Intercontinental on the river across from the ship. On Sunday, we were able to take the bus with the tour to the ship. We enjoyed the ride through the Czech and German countryside. We arrived in the late afternoon in Passau, Germany to embark on the river cruise. It didn't take long to get acclimated since a river ship is necessarily not a large vessel. The rooms are not wide since the ship must be able to sail into the many locks on the river (you can touch the walls of the locks when you are at the bottom of the locks, it's that close and precise). Our cabin was in the middle of the ship in the middle level of cabins. We had a French balcony, which means that the doors open like French doors and there is a railing but nowhere to stand. We did not find that a problem since it was October and the weather was often in the mid-30s to 40s. (Bring sweaters, warmer coats, hats, gloves, scarves in October. Central Europe is like being in Northern Michigan or Minneapolis. You are on about the 45th or 50th parallel. The warmest day was 50 degrees, the coldest, about 35F.) The furnishings were very comfortable, especially the bed. Again, not a lot of room to move around, but the space was used well. We didn't spend much time in our room anyway so it didn't matter. We enjoyed having a full window with the French balcony as opposed to a window closer to the top of the wall in the lower level cabins. However, on some days, be prepared that there may be another river ship docked right beside you, making for possibly an interesting view for you and the people on the other ship. The bathroom was small, as we expect on all ships. The shower was excellent and the toiletries were first rate (L'Occitane). The cabin was spotless and kept that way by Ester, our young and hard-working attendant from Budapest. There are three indoor public places on the ship: the lounge on the upper deck, the dining room on the middle deck and the library, also on the middle deck. All were comfortable and we felt like it was very cozy, especially having been on larger cruise ships with a few thousand people. It was very nice to have only 150 people so that everyone could eat together and meet in the lounge for port talks, rather than doing things in shifts. You also recognized everyone on the ship, even if you did not actually meet everyone. The atmosphere was very friendly. We also spent time on the top deck outside as we cruised to the various ports. The dress was casual and even at dinner there was never a formal night. I did bring one dressier outfit for the last night of the cruise, but nice pants for women and dress slacks and a sweater for men were just fine, even at dinner. If you plan to go to the symphony or opera, a jacket might be appropriate for men and a dress or nice pantsuit for women. This is not a ship to go on if you expect a large fitness room and lots of shops. There is some fitness equipment and one or two shops. However, the shopping is incredible on shore (Vienna, Budapest). For fitness, you will be walking a lot each day on the excursions, which are very good. We also walked into the towns at night on several evenings after dinner. The Uniworld ships also have 6 bicycles on each ship which can be used at no charge. It was one of the major reasons we chose the River Beatrice and turned out to be the highlight of our trip. (See my description of Melk, below.) The other public area is the laundry room, which is very helpful to have when you take an extended trip. The food on the ship was wonderful and plentiful. Breakfast and lunch were buffet. Dinner was sit down (You could also eat in the library on select evenings in a more intimate setting.) The menus reflected the food of the countries we were visiting. We had goulash, weiner schnitzel, Sacher Torte, etc. You rarely see the chef on a large cruise line interacting with the guests except at a cooking demonstration and the captain's cocktail party. On this ship, the chef was there at almost every meal - dishing the ice cream, pouring soup, making sure that everything was going smoothly and that we all liked what we were eating. His outgoing personality really added to the experience. Wine was included with dinner. The wine was very good and we had to tell our waiter to stop pouring. The cruise manager, Ingrid, was outstanding. We had some very specific places we wanted to visit in the various ports and she went above and beyond to give us information and to assist us, often without anything more than telling her what we wanted to see. She also helped us on our port-to-port bike ride (and the kitchen staff made us huge box lunches for us for the bike trip). All this while arranging for the day-to-day tours and excursions for all of the passengers. The daily port tours were very well done. Hearing a guide is often an issue, especially a guide who might speak English with an accent. The ship uses a system that allows the guide to speak into a mic on a radio frequency and you use earphones to pick it up. It was very effective. The entertainment on the ship after dinner is very low-key. Zoltan played the piano and other instruments in the lounge and a few nights, in addition to port lectures, there were performances by local musicians or dancers. We enjoyed all of it. We liked schmoozing with the other passengers and the low-key entertainment was perfect after a day of touring. We didn't need a big show. The service on the ship was excellent. You really got to know most of the crew that works with the passengers since there just aren't a lot of them. We learned that one of the women at the front desk lives in Bratslava in Slovakia and each week as the ship passed by, she would call home on her cell phone. Another crew member suffered an injury and we all were concerned for her since we saw her all the time as we passed by the front desk. We greatly appreciated the river experience over cruising in the ocean. The waters are calm and the ship moves slowly so you can take pictures and see the little towns on shore. You can wave to people on shore and they will wave back. As I mentioned, since the ship docks in town, we enjoyed going out after dinner and taking a stroll. We walked in town in Passau and Linz and along the river in Vienna. We were among the locals, which we thoroughly enjoy. We were concerned a bit that we would be among the youngest passengers on the cruise since we are in our early 50's. It was true that we were, although a few were younger. Many were retired. However, we met a number of people in our age group and made some very good friends (with whom we are going skiing in a few weeks). Our fellow passengers were interesting, well-traveled and well- educated. Tipping was a bit difficult just in that the tips cannot be added to your account. You must pay them in cash. Keep that in mind. Also, because you have so much interaction with the crew, you may tip the cruise director, for example, on this ship when you wouldn't on, say, a Celebrity ship. Our biggest quibble was that the Internet service was very poor. By the end of the trip, they opened it to everyone and didn't charge for it. This is one thing they need to work on. (We learned that best free Internet access in Central Europe is at McDonald's. We also learned that in Austria, they have McCafes that serve delicious-looking pastries.) This cruise is not for everyone. It is for a couple or a group of friends who want to see the cities up close and personal in a small setting. It is quiet and relaxing and full of history. It may not be for everyone, but is for us and we can't wait for our next river cruise. We boarded the ship in Passau, Germany. The ship was docked on the outskirts of town for easier embarkation and then moved to a pier in the old town in the city later. We wish we had another hour or two there. We enjoyed the cathedral concert, which is spectacular. However, I heard they have a wonderful glass museum which we did not get to see. We did enjoy shopping in the old town and seeing a bit of the more modern Passau as we shopped. The boutiques were very nice and pretty reasonable. Be sure to leave room for a warm pretzel at one of the bakeries. Our second port was Linz. We did not spend a lot of time in Linz since we went to Salzburg for the day, although we did a take a walk through the shopping area near the ship to see the town and buy a few things (including a Linzer Torte). One of the advantages of Uniworld over other river cruise lines is that the excursion to Salzburg is included rather than an add on. As a Sound of Music fan, I really wanted to see Salzburg. The scenery is magnificent and we really enjoyed it. There is not enough time to do the complete Sound of Music tour unless you take a train back to the ship on your own. However, I felt I got enough of the Sound of Music on the tour and our guide, who was the best and most interesting of our cruise, told us how the movie was largely fiction. Nevertheless, it is fun to walk through gardens where they sing "Do-Re-Mi." The walking tour was excellent. We enjoyed seeing the birthplace of Mozart and how the signs on the shops depicted the wares sold by the shopkeeper (including the Golden Arches). We found one of only a few "stumble stones" in Salzburg that commemorates someone who was taken from that particular place by the Nazis, which was very moving. Because our guide happens to lead tours and seminars for European high school and college tours in the off-season to teach them about the Holocaust, we got a very good lesson that day on some of what took place in Salzburg during the Shoah. In the marketplace there were a number of elaborate wagons selling all kinds of local foods. The most delicious chocolate pretzels, for example. However, I found a stand selling fresh and prepared fish and had a very inexpensive lunch with fresh fish chowder and a sandwich of smoked sable. The sandwich would have cost $10 in the U.S. (if you can even buy it here). There it was about $4 or $5. Linz/Salzburg was a great port. We would definitely go back. Our next stop was Melk. I was very impressed with the Abbey, especially the very contemporary way that the museum was presented. It exceeded my expectations. However, the highlight of the entire trip came after our excursion. We rode on the bikes available on the ship with another couple. We rode from Melk to Durnstein, the next port, through the Austrian wine country, while the ship sailed on the river. "Picturesque" doesn't begin to describe it. We saw the tiny towns with the creeks running through them to the river. We saw the carts laden with just-picked grapes and the workers in the fields harvesting the grapes. It took us about 3-1/2 hours to ride 20 miles just because we kept stopping to take in some of the towns or to take pictures. The Danube has a bike path that runs along the entire river. It is very well marked and it is empty in October. We were able to use a few maps and make our way quite easily. The bikes were the reason we chose the River Beatrice over another cruise line and we would do it again. While everyone else on the ship saw the towns as the shipped passed by, we were in the little towns. We loved it. By the time we got to Durnstein, it was raining and we were getting cold and hungry. Therefore, although we heard it was a great town, we'll have to go back and see it another time. It was worth it. Vienna was incredible. The architecture and the cosmopolitan nature of the city. It is clean and well-organized. The tour was the only slight disappointment. We went to the library, which I enjoyed, but we had just seen the famous library in Melk. Perhaps there were other sights that would have been better. We happened to see the Lippazanner stallions as we walked by and were fortunate that we could actually watch them for a few minutes. But a more comprehensive tour may have been more interesting. We enjoyed our free time in Vienna. The shopping is haute couture with the finest of designers. On the other end of fashion, even the H & M is in a building off the main square that is worth seeing, with an old-fashioned elevator and wood cornices. For us it was all great window shopping and people watching. In the afternoon, with our cruise director's assistance, we were able to devise our tour of Jewish Vienna. We wanted to see the Stadt Synagogue that was spared on Kristallnacht and other sites. It was a very meaningful part of our trip. We decided to forego the symphony since we had gone in Prague. We heard it was a great evening. We were happy to take a walk that night into one of the neighborhoods with our friends. The next morning, we were back on the bikes for our own tour of Vienna. We did not see the palace with most of the rest of the group. Instead, we saw what the locals see. Vienna is beautiful. Many parks and wide sidewalks for walking and well-marked, double-bike lanes. Better than any I have seen in any major city in the U.S. And you learn quickly that bikes stay in the bike lanes and pedestrians walk next to the bike lanes and stand behind them at intersections. What a fun way to see the magnificent buildings and parks of Vienna. Read Less
Sail Date: October 2010
We started our Viking River "Cities of Light" cruise four days early by visiting friends in Western France trekking all Brittany and the Normandy Coast. Then on to Paris for the official start of the tour. The Paris Pullman ... Read More
We started our Viking River "Cities of Light" cruise four days early by visiting friends in Western France trekking all Brittany and the Normandy Coast. Then on to Paris for the official start of the tour. The Paris Pullman Tour Eiffel hotel we checked in to was delightful. The rooms were large, the beds comfortable, the food excellent and the service superb. We spent two days seeing the sights of Paris (we had been there many times before) and this beautiful city again didn't fail us. Then on to Trier to board our ship Viking Fontane to begin our true river tour. What a WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE!!! The stateroom was excellent, the food magnificent, the wines with meals excellent, and the crew service was without peer. The Viking crew never failed to amaze with their willingness to cater to our needs and their cheerful demeanor. The itinerary sailing the Mosel to the Rhine to the Main to the Danube Canal to Nuremberg and then on by motor coach to Prague was well selected and filled with places to see and things to do. Sailing at night from port to port that left days filled with walking tours of German cities like Cochem, Koblenz, Rudesheim, Wurzberg, Bamberg, was enervating as well as enabling us not the gain the weight we normally might have eating all of the wonderful shipboard fare! Even the breakdown on the bus ride to Prague we fun -- we spent the time exploring a local industrial park and found "Hans" and "Fritz," two German Shepherd guard dogs who didn't appreciate our arrival. Arrival in Prague was late but our rooms at Prague Hilton were ready and were of the same high quality as those in Paris. We decided to extend our trip by three days and found Prague to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We changed our hotel to the Best Western Prague Palace and would recommend this hotel to any who visit Prague. The view out our window was the Presidential Palace and St. Vitus cathedral lit beautifully at night. This small, intimate hotel with its lovely lounge, dining room and lobby is made even more wonderful by the service and smiles of its employees. Roman the Bell Captain would make any guest's experience a comfortable and happy one! In all aspects this tour and Viking River Cruises are "bucket list" experiences. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2010
Pick up at the airport was good but at the Marriott we learned that two of the seven couples on the bus did not have room keys. After the long miserable flight we were all told to wait on the bus while two more room keys were obtained. ... Read More
Pick up at the airport was good but at the Marriott we learned that two of the seven couples on the bus did not have room keys. After the long miserable flight we were all told to wait on the bus while two more room keys were obtained. After 25 minutes waiting people that had keys gave up and wondered to their rooms. Marriott is a beautiful hotel with so-so food and poor service, except for Roy's. The sorry outside patio service is really something to behold. We thought River Tosca is a five star boat with three star food and service. An English speaking crew is a real stretch. Dinner at 7:30 taking 2-2 1/2 hours is excessive after a long day. Buses were neat and clean and the guide good. While on the boat we had 4 of our group of 10 get sick and none ever ate anything off the boat. We were surprised that the best meal we had while gone was dinner on our return Air France flight. Trash is everywhere which we did not recall from a quick Cairo visit 12 years ago. It is amazing to see what the Egyptian people built a few thousand years ago and now they can't pick up their trash. The guides answer to this was that the people really don't care. This is probably the reason work on River Tosca was so shabby when it was delivered new. One member of our group said if the trip was his first Uni-world trip he would not take another one with Uni-world. Doing business in Egypt and maintaining high quality has to be very, very difficult and frustrating. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: November 2010
Our letter to Viking following the cruise was 2 full pages and was practically ignored. They offered us $500 each credit on a future cruise with them (which will never happen). I will reduce it here for you. My wife has been in the travel ... Read More
Our letter to Viking following the cruise was 2 full pages and was practically ignored. They offered us $500 each credit on a future cruise with them (which will never happen). I will reduce it here for you. My wife has been in the travel business for 30 years and this is the first negative review we have EVER written. Some problems were minor but altogether, this was just bad. By the way, the cruise started in Antwerp and ended in Basel - a nice itinerary. They sent us information prior to the cruise for the wrong cruise. Rather than courier the correct info, they mailed it and we were already on our way to catch the cruise. The food was of the lowest quality, not cooked well and there was little choice. Dining room service was fine as long as you didn't require anything extra or different, such as a second glass of water. The boat was understaffed to the point that staff would not meet your eyes fearing you might ask for something. There was no maitre d', leaving guests to line up prior to dining room opening and rushing for a choice table - like high school. Not once in 14 days were we called by name and this ship had only 200 guests. They skipped one stop on the itinerary because another Viking ship had the dock that day and they would not pay for a second spot. We had a 2nd Viking ship docked alongside us on 4 days, which meant that we could not open our blinds of our rooms or lose all privacy from the room literally 3 feet away on the other ship. Also, that side of the dining room was dark on those days as that ship blocked all light. There was no security to get onto the ship (there was a warning to Americans in Europe the day before we set sail). Almost all excursions were to "the old town" and to "the cathedral". Very little diversity. Tour guides were anywhere from 2 out of 10 to 10 out of 10. The main lounge was too small for everyone to fit in and the design was not condusive for ease of listening to lectures. The staterooms were small but fine. Nothing special but not a problem. There was the occasional smell of fuel at night while the ship travelled. For others, it was every night and their bed was like a massage bed when the engines started up. They advertised that the fares were 2 for 1, which was a total lie. If so, this would have been a $700 per day per person cruise, more than what you can pay on a 6 star cruise today. It seems like Viking is in trouble and cut corners where possible, lower quality food, less staff, cheap tours (places with no entrance fees). Do yourself a favour and book another river cruise line. I'd be concerned with losing your deposit. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2010
Viking Sky. We booked directly with Viking. The staff were courteous and efficient and communication was good. After a hellish experience with Lufthansa, things went well from the airport to the ship. As expected, our cabin was ... Read More
Viking Sky. We booked directly with Viking. The staff were courteous and efficient and communication was good. After a hellish experience with Lufthansa, things went well from the airport to the ship. As expected, our cabin was smaller than one gets on an ocean cruiser, but was adequate. Water in the bathroom was inconsistent. On hot it sometimes ran cold, and on cold it was often scalding hot. This made taking a shower hazardous The dining room was fine, but not the workers therein. It was evident that the wait staff were recruited from the part of Europe which had suffered Soviet control and so some of them had little idea of civility. Three of them were appallingly rude or offhand. Some passengers complained to the hotel manager about one of them. The staff were not used to the idea that westerners like coffee and were reluctant to offer it. The better staff kept us plied with free wine at dinner, so we were happy. Breakfast was adequate, the same every day. Main features were cold scrambled egg, hash brown patties cooked so hard as to be unchewable, brittle bacon. But there was porridge and lots of fruity-salady stuff. Lunch and dinner were ho-hum, but one cannot expect an extensive menu from the kitchen of a small boat. Shore excursions were walking tours, buses used only to take us to some of the sites. In such cold weather this proved to be too strenuous for us geriatrics, so we missed quite a bit. It would be helpful if the program staff would give some indication of the difficulty of the excursions (as does Holland America). Value for money -- with the free air fare and off-season prices -- one could not do better. Answering the criticisms would improve things greatly and not cost Viking anything. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2010
We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon. Although you can book ... Read More
We found it difficult to locate any reviews of La Marguerite cruises prior to our cruise, so hope this will help future travellers. This was our first river cruise and was mid-November from Siem Reap to Saigon. Although you can book travel to/from embarkation/disembarkation and can also book add-on packages, we chose to make our own travel arrangements. We flew to Siem Reap from Bangkok, easily obtained visas at the entry airport and stayed 3 nights in Siem Reap visiting many temples and seeing the local sights - this is not to be missed. Most cruisers had already done associated tours of varying lengths and stayed at Le Meridien in Siem Reap but we stayed at a really good small hotel called Pavillon d'Orient where the local staff were really friendly and helpful. There was some confusion for us about exactly where we would embark and neither AMA Waterways nor Fred Olsen Travel (the UK Agents) distinguished themselves in this regard. Apparently, just after the rainy season and for a couple of months thereafter, embarkation takes place on the Tonle Sap Lake about 20 mins drive from Le Meridien. At other times there is not enough water in the lake and you have to be bussed to a more distant embarkation point downstream which can be up to 5 hours away. We received several letters from AMA/FOT advising us of a change of departure point and time but never one with the actual ones. It was left to us to discover this in Siem Reap! We were located on Tonle deck and there seems little difference between this and the one above (Saigon) apart from price. Both were identically sized and have a large picture window and a smallish balcony which houses the next cabin's a/c so is not very suitable for standing on - not enough room to sit! Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, particularly the bathroom (larger than Princess for example) although storage space was a little limited. It was a little on the dark side due to the wood inlay but was tastefully decorated. The rooms were quiet with little noise from the corridor - the doors were quite thick. Beds were comfortable if a little on the firm side. Double or twin could be requested prior to the cruise although our request was not fulfilled. However, it was soon altered once on board. Towels were changed rather unnecessarily frequently even if you hung them up. Our fellow passengers were mainly from N America, Australia, Switzerland, France and the UK. The ship can take ca. 90 passengers but on this occasion there were about 80. There are about 25 sunbeds and 20 assorted chairs on the sundeck which surprisingly seemed to be adequate. The service on board was excellent. The restaurant staff were very attentive and helpful. The dining room did tend to be somewhat noisy, depending on where you were seated (free seating arrangement) and the a/c could be quite a cool breeze. The food was first class with plenty of choice (International and local cuisine). There was a good supply of free beer and soft drinks, although spirits were limited to local rum and brandy. Other brands could be purchased. House wine was provided at meal times although the quality seemed to be a bit variable (one night the red was almost undrinkable). Wine could also be purchased by the glass or bottle (20USD upwards). Bottled water in a handy carrier was provided on all excursions. A nice feature was the provision of an International newspaper several times during the week. Wi-Fi was free in the library and there were 2 PCs for general use, although one or two individuals did tend to over-use them. There was no booking system. Connection speed was variable depending on the position of the ship but remember you are in the middle of the country most of the time. There was a very small exercise room which seemed little used on this cruise. The Cruise Director made a presentation about the next day's programme each evening and often sang (badly) to round things off. He was a much better (Vietnamese) guide than a cruise director. The guides were very knowledgeable and made all the shore excursions very interesting. All excursions were voluntary. However, the Itinerary was a good mix of visiting small towns, floating villages, markets, craft workshops, local industry and temples. There were also a couple of interesting talks about the history of Cambodia and Vietnam. Whilst we realised the extreme significance of the Killing Fields and associated history, it was a bit laboured at times. You do need visas for both Cambodia and Vietnam - an important point not communicated to us by AMA till it was almost too late. As mentioned previously you can easily obtain one for Cambodia at the airport - much cheaper than using an agent prior to the cruise. Vietnamese visas need to be obtained at the relevant embassy prior to leaving home. Be careful to check that the arrival date on the visa is correct. We didn't and ours had the departure date instead and we had to pay 30USD each to have this amended on board at the border. Apparently this is not an uncommon experience! The disembarkation was smooth in spite of the fact that people had flights or onward travel at different times. Disembarkation takes place at My Tho port from where it is about a 1 hour 45 mins coach trip to the centre of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon is the name of the city centre). All in all this cruise was well organised and the itinerary should provide something for everyone. Despite some of the frustrations experienced we would thoroughly recommend it. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2010
We opted to have Viking River Cruise book everything for us on our Amsterdam to Basel trip, the ship accommodations and the air travel to Amsterdam. All we had to do is get to and from the Philadelphia airport on our way to and back from ... Read More
We opted to have Viking River Cruise book everything for us on our Amsterdam to Basel trip, the ship accommodations and the air travel to Amsterdam. All we had to do is get to and from the Philadelphia airport on our way to and back from the cruise. The accommodations on British Airways were great; and our cabin on the Helvetia ship was very comfortable and more than adequate for our needs. The food served on board the ship was superb, more than anyone needed to eat. The wait staff were friendly and always willing to accommodate any of our special requests. The chefs did a superb job in preparing foods native to the area we were traveling by. The other ship personnel were great from the captain on down to our room steward, very friendly and always willing to stop and talk and answer any questions we may have. The tour guides who met us in each city and/or bus tour spoke perfect English and gave us more information about the area than we could ever hope to remember. We met many friendly people on board the ship; and we especially liked the fact that the ship could only hold less than 100 people so it was not too crowded. Everything on board the ship was perfect and we had a wonderful time exploring some new areas of Europe. In fact, we enjoyed the trip so much that we have booked another Viking cruise for the spring of 2012 to celebrate a milestone in our marriage, 40 years. Cannot think of a better way to celebrate such an event. Will be sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest. Looking forward to seeing parts of Europe that we have not yet explored. It is hard to imagine a better way to see the world than with a Viking River Cruise. In summary, taking a Viking River Cruise will not be disappointing; and let them handle all of the arrangements for a worry-free travel experience. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
Pre-Cruise: Munich: With Munich only a one hour train ride away from Nuremberg, it was the obvious choice for our pre-cruise City. Christmas Market: Munich has several markets that blend together in the Marienplatz. We also found a ... Read More
Pre-Cruise: Munich: With Munich only a one hour train ride away from Nuremberg, it was the obvious choice for our pre-cruise City. Christmas Market: Munich has several markets that blend together in the Marienplatz. We also found a nice one near our Hotel at Weissenburgerplatz. The Munich Christmas Markets seemed to have the right mix of glitz, crafts, and coziness. It's sad to say, since it wasn't on the itinerary, but we probably liked Munich's Christmas market better than those on the Cruise. There is also a small Christmas Market at the Munich Airport. A lot of passenger's we later met on the Cruise also did a pre-cruise in Munich. We took the train from Munich to the Nuremberg Train Station, hopped on the U-Bahn to the Airport, and picked up the Uniworld bus for the transfer. Odd that Uniworld train station transfers were available for disembarking, but not for transfers to the Boat. The Boat Public Areas: Small but cozy. The River Duchess was decorated for Christmas and holiday cookies were available in each public room. The central atrium has the main desk, Cruise Manager desk, and sliding glass doors on either side for those wishing to take a picture or engage their smoking habit. The Cruise desk had maps of the each city available the night before. The exercise room had two treadmills and two elliptical machines. The internet was slow to non-existent on the two computers in the Library so both the internet and wi-fi was free for the entire cruise. There were some shows in the Lounge provided by local talent. The sun deck had wind protection, but due to the cold was rarely visited until the Rhine Valley. The passengers were almost all Americans with a few from England, Australia, and the Republic of Texas. Room: About average for a Cruise ship with a larger than normal shower. The bathroom was elegant with soap, body wash, conditioner, shampoo, plus complimentary vanity kit, Emory boards, shower caps, show polish kit, and sewing kit. Many fellow passenger mentioned that regardless of room location both the room floors and bathrooms were cold. Room noise was noticeable whenever going through the 41 locks on this voyage. Plenty of hangars in the closets. Food: A little above average. Breakfast (7:00am-9:00am) was the same every morning. A hot bar with scrambled eggs, bacon (plus crispy bacon), pancakes, sausage; cold cereal, yogurt, and fruit; breads; a custom Omelet/egg station, plus a "specialty" item-of-the-day. Lunch (1:00pm-2:30pm) was better than average, although there were less options then larger Cruise ships. Same set-up as at breakfast, with two hot courses; bread and salad areas, and carving/specialty station. Dinner (7:00pm-9:00pm) was open seating. 4-5 courses. Beer (Beck's) and wine (both red and white) was free at dinner and quickly refilled. Except for the two Captain's dinners, there were always three choices of a main dish: one meat, one fish and one vegetarian. There was always steak, chicken or salmon if none of the main courses suited you. Since this was the only option for dinner, it became my least favorite part of the cruise. If you are tired from a long day in port, you are not always eager to sit down for a two hour formal dinner. A "light dinner" option such as was available for breakfast and lunch would have been nice. The open seating reminded me of High School with everyone scrambling for seats and table pairings until friends were made and favorite waiters were discovered. Desserts and the Pastries provided during tea time were among the best I have had on a cruise in both variety and quality. Staff: The staff was equal to any 5-star resort. This was a welcome change from the diminishing service standards found lately on most large Cruise ships. The Ship's Crew was primarily Dutch, with the Hotel/Wait staff mostly from Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Mirella, the Cruise manager, was a joy and seemed to be everywhere including on the tours. Check-in: Quick and painless. Probably faster than many Hotels I've stayed at. Upon leaving the bus, ship's crewman were available to take our bags to the ship, (which was 12 feet away). Walking up the short gangplank takes you straight to the check-in desk. Two minutes later, one of the cabin attendants (all lined up smartly on the steps) took our bags to the room. A personal note: I always arrive at least a day early and take the opportunity for a pre-cruise tour. On the first day of this Cruise, all flights from Frankfurt were canceled due to snow, and 35 passengers straggled to the ship over the next two days, most without their bags. As of day 5, at least two parties still hadn't received their bags. Scheduling your arrival on the day of departure and risk missing your ship or ruining your vacation is not an itinerary I would ever recommend. Nuremberg: Docking location: About a 20 minute drive from town at the Nuremberg Port. Bus tour and pickup: Bus pickup was next to the boat. The day started with a 90 minute bus tour at 9:00am, with a 10 minute stop at the Nazi Rally grounds and a 30 minute stop at Nuremberg Castle (Kaiserburg), ending at the Christmas Market. With few exceptions the tour buses ALWAYS left on time, as did the boat. This was not a cruise for those that amble out a few minutes late expecting the buses or boat to wait. Christmas Market: The main market is in front of the Cathedral on the Main Square. However, there were stands spread out along several connecting streets. The buses picked us up two blocks from the "Beautiful Fountain" and the "Nuremberg Ring". For those interested in returning to the ship for lunch, buses picked up at 12:30 with hourly returns to the market area. The Nuremberg Christmas Market is famous for the Lebkuchen (gingerbread). There was "Nuremberg Gingerbread" available at several of the subsequent markets, but by the time we left Bavaria it was getting hard to find. Prices here were cheaper than average so if something catches your eye, don't expect a significantly better price at other markets. There was no x-ray or security when returning to the boat. The only requirement upon returning was to drop off your boarding card. Bamberg: (half day) Docking location: In a light industrial area, with a 5 minute walk to the bus pickup. Bus tour and pickup: 9:00am bus pickup and about 15 minutes to town. We met our guides in town and followed them through a 90 minute walking tour of Bamberg, the Town Hall, and the Kaiserdom. Since this was a half day, with the bus leaving at 12:30, I could have passed on the tour, which left us less than two hours to explore the Christmas Market and town. Christmas Market: The Christmas Market was smaller but nice, with a mix of crafts and typical commercial items. There was a higher percentage of craft items here and for a better price than I found elsewhere. The Schlenkerla Brewery, famous for its smoked beer, was a nice stop for those looking for a real German beer Hall. They literally rolled out the wooden beer barrels into the beer hall when it was time to change the keg. Rothenburg: Docking location: Docked in Wurzburg with a nice view of the Marienberg Citadel. There was a Multiplex theater next to the ship for anyone that felt the need to go for a Movie after dinner. Bus Tour and Pickup: 9:00am departure. Short walk to the bus pickup and about a 45 minute drive partly on the A-7 Autobahn to Rothenburg. The bus parked outside the city walls, where we met our guides for a 45 minute tour of the City. Pickup was 4:30pm with an hour drive back. Christmas Market: Rothenburg is a walled City with good shopping and a small Christmas Market. The Meter-long Hot Dogs were a favorite of many here, as well as the all-year-long Christmas shops like Käthe Wohlfahrt. Wurzburg: (Half Day) Docking location: Same as Rothenburg. Bus Tour and Pickup: 9:00 departure. The buses dropped us off downtown right in front of the Wurzburg Residenz and we met our guides for a 45 minute tour of the Palace followed by a guided walk to the Main Square and Christmas Market. The Residenz was worthwhile, but once again, it gave us less than two hours to explore the town and Markets. Christmas Market: A nice but not spectacular Market with about average prices. Wertheim: (Half Day) Docking location: Right in town along the River. Bus Tour and Pickup: None. Some Passengers left the Boat early since we were docked overnight and everything was right across the street. Christmas Market: None. It wouldn't open until Dec 12th. This was a Sunday, so very few shops were open. The Fortress could be walked to from town and gave a great opportunity for pictures from the walls. This was a nice town and it's unfortunate it was a Sunday. The older part of town was easily walkable from the boat. Luckily the bakeries and bars were open before our 1:00pm departure! Frankfurt/Heidelberg: Docking location: Next to the Lower Main bridge Bus Tour and Pickup: We opted for the Heidelberg tour for 43 Euros pp. The buses picked up at the Boat and left promptly at 8:30am for the 60 minute drive to Heidelberg. The guide narrated a quick tour of Frankfurt as the bus made its way to the Autobahn. In Heidelberg we began with a 45 minute tour of the Castle and then the bus dropped us off downtown near the Tourist Office. The bus back left at 4:30pm and arrived at the ship at 5:30pm. Christmas Market (Heidelberg) There were some small markets in some of the squares, but nothing memorable. The market at Karlsplatz had an ice skating rink with a few stalls and a view of the Castle. The pedestrian shopping street had more to offer for shoppers. The town itself was the main attraction. Christmas Market (Frankfurt): The Christmas Market at Römerplatz was 15 minute walk from the ship. If the previous Christmas Markets resembled a County Fair, Frankfurt's' resembled Las Vegas with lights, rides, and what seemed like a 50/50 mix of food stalls to craft vendors. It was also packed shoulder-to-shoulder with locals (Frankfurters?) We never regretted skipping dinner on the boat and eating here. There were street performers, Carousels, and plenty to see and do. Prices in the stalls were slightly higher typical of a large city, but there were no special items here that we hadn't seen elsewhere. Rudesheim: (Half Day) Docking location: In town about a 5 minute walk from the Christmas Market and Shops. Bus Tour and Pickup: No bus. We took the "mini-train" to the Musical Museum for an hour tour of antique self-playing musical machines. Christmas Market: Rudesheim is a tourist town and the shops near the boat were a good place for cheaper souvenirs. There was nothing spectacular about the Christmas market which wound around downtown with additional stalls along the edge of town near the river. Some of the stalls substituted Rudesheim coffee for Gluhwein. After leaving at 1:00pm we cruised along the Rhine River Valley. The Castles appeared quickly on both the left and right as soon as we shoved off. These would be worth seeing again during the summer. Unfortunately it was dark after we passed Lorelei Rock and we missed several of the remaining Castles, Koblenz, and the former location of the Remagan bridge. Cologne: Docking location: On the other side of the river from the Chocolate Museum, although the provided City map listed alternate docking locations nearer town. Bus Tour and Pickup: Buses picked up at three different locations while we were here, but all were no more than 10 minutes from the boat. Bus transfer was about 15 minutes, with a drop off next to the Tourism office, which is two blocks from the Cologne Cathedral. This was followed by an uninspired 60 minute tour of the outside of the Cathedral and the surrounding area. Christmas Market: There are three Markets within easy walking distance. After the quaint markets we had seen up until then, the Cologne markets were more polished. The stalls were more permanent, and the items for sale were more commercially available type goodies you could pick up in the local stores. The market at Rudolphplatz had a Fairy Tale-inspired theme more reminiscent of Disney World. The Medieval Market was in front of the Lindt Chocolate Factory, and was 3 euros for entry to about 20 stalls. There were some renaissance acts every hour or two. We decided to pass. There was also a Christmas Market Train that drove between all five Markets for 5 Euros Disembarking: Bags were left outside our room at least 30 minutes prior to the bus pickup time. Ship's crew picked up the bags and took them to the bus where each Passenger was asked to identify their bags prior to loading. On our transfer, the crew underestimated the number of bags and we took a 30 minute delay while bags were loaded. Overall: The commitment to Customer Service was impressive and I would absolutely do another Uniworld cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
We returned late Saturday night from our 16 day trip to Germany and Austria which included a cruise from Frankfurt to Vienna on Avalon's Luminary. We were thrilled to have no rain and LOTS of snow and only a few times were the ... Read More
We returned late Saturday night from our 16 day trip to Germany and Austria which included a cruise from Frankfurt to Vienna on Avalon's Luminary. We were thrilled to have no rain and LOTS of snow and only a few times were the conditions icy and/or slushy, making walking unpleasant. The snow covered scenery was magnificent and really added to the ambiance. This was our 4th visit at this exact time of year and the first time we had snow in every city we visited, except for our 4 days in Berlin at the very beginning of our trip. The Luminary is a new ship and she is elegant and understated. The highlight was the outstanding staff who was among the very best we have encountered on any cruise line. Gabriel, the utterly competent Maitre'd, managed a dining staff that was not only professional but also warm and gracious. Stand outs were Charlie (Perdang), Laszlo and Norbett. Our chef, Stefan, had been with us on our Affinity cruise last year and he was delightful, always smiling and very visible at meal times. Timea and Daniel at reception were always helpful and pleasant. Hans lived up to his reputation as an excellent cruise director, handling both the day to day aspects of his position along with the additional issues he faced due to weather challenges. We had about a dozen passengers unable to get to the boat due to weather problems in Frankfurt that disrupted flights and was on the phone constantly working to get them to the boat at the next ports of call. We had 4 in our group delayed and were surprised to learn that even though Avalon had booked their air and transfers as a complete package, Avalon's air department does not track flights at all to let the ship know of any delays. I had to let Hans know what was happening as he was unaware and told me that it is the passenger's responsibility to call him directly with any flight delays. Be aware of this if you expect to have your air issues handled by Avalon. The excellent bar staff of Vladimir, Bibi and Radu made before and after visits to the forward lounge very enjoyable. Rooms were well appointed and beds very comfortable. We had to go to the front desk to request a robe and it would have been nice to have these in the rooms when we checked in. The quality of food was excellent and we enjoyed a galley tour one afternoon with Stefan. The food is freshly prepared and was consistently cooked properly and served hot. There was a special offered each day at breakfast and several menu items that could be ordered at lunch if one did not want the buffet. The variety was very good for a ship of this size. Avalon advertises they offer a variety of low calorie options but this is really not accurate. At both breakfast and lunch, the choices for those choosing to follow a lower fat diet were very limited and the kitchen was not able to accommodate special requests for these meals. Hot soups at lunch were consistently cream based and though there was a small salad bar, there were limited items that were prepared without additional mayonnaise, etc. Veggies were prepared with butter and meats with sauces. This was not an issue at dinner when the two people in our group - including me - that prefer low cal options were well accommodated. Included wines were good. We did want to purchase better wines on a few nights but they were completely out of about 75% of the red wines offered on the wine list, the same situation we had encountered last year on the Affinity. I am not sure why they offer an ala carte list if they are unable to stock for it. We tried to order no less than 7 different reds by the bottle and not a single one was available. We were limited to the German wines and this was disappointing as we would have preferred some variety and were happy to pay the extra. By the next to the last night, they had also run out of vodka and Kahlua, which I found strange as well. There were some negatives on this trip for us: There was lots of sailing time and virtually no in cabin entertainment was available. There were three English channels and this is a cruise line that caters to North American passengers and Aussies so this is something Avalon really needs to address. Often CNN did not even have sound available. Avalon really needs to add some movie options and music channels. One can only watch progress through the locks so many times and after dark which comes very early in winter, there was no scenery to enjoy. Only twice were we docked in any reasonable proximity to the city we were visiting. I consider reasonable a 20 minute walk at a good pace. This mean taxi fares to get us back when we chose not to take the scheduled bus transfer. Walking groups were not grouped by physical ability and this was a hindrance in my opinion. There were most always 4 groups so it would have been easy to designate a group of slow walkers and another for those who wished to walk faster. Internet service was more unavailable than available. I had issues sending but could receive. The people in the cabin next to us to us could send but not receive. On this 11 night cruise, menus were much the same for the second half and more variety would have been welcomed. There was not much in the way of evening entertainment, even for a river cruise. The onboard piano player, Ivan, had a very limited repertoire. We were scheduled to be in port late in Regensburg so looked forward to being off the ship there but the heavy snowfall caused the river to rise very rapidly and instead of leaving at 11pm we had to pull out at 4:30pm. The evening entertainer was unable to get aboard that night. Last year we really enjoyed a Christmas evening put on by the crew but this was missing this year. For a Christmas cruise, there was nothing to distinguish the season in terms of any events or entertainment. A highlight for us was the crew show where about a dozen of the crew put on a series of skits that bordered from amusing to hilarious. Stefan and the gang of Roman bell ringers took top prize judging by passenger reaction. On the night of the 2nd crew show (a repeat of the first) we happened to be docked next to the River Countess and noticed their show taking place at the same times as ours. There was a young lady dressed in traditional Bavarian attire signing which made up the bulk of their entertainment and we noticed a number of their passengers peering over into our lounge where our staff had us bursting out with laughter at some of the antics. We were very happy to be on the Luminary with its very special crew. Overall we enjoyed the cruise but will next year we are booked on AMA for a wine themed cruise since they offer some of the things Avalon is missing, like walking groups organized by capability, bicycles and in room entertainment. The itinerary we chose for 2011 also has 4 of the 7 nights (enough for us we decided on this trip) either as overnight stays or very late in port which will give us the opportunity to spend more time in the cities we visit. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
Viking sales task was not forthcoming about our cruise ship's location with respect to the Passau train station--we took a taxi though it was only a five minute walk. But all other encounters with Viking personnel were thoroughly ... Read More
Viking sales task was not forthcoming about our cruise ship's location with respect to the Passau train station--we took a taxi though it was only a five minute walk. But all other encounters with Viking personnel were thoroughly professional. We got a warm reception on our arrival at the ship from the ever-helpful front desk personnel. The bottle of sparkling water in our cabin was free, and a further free bottle appeared each day. A plate of fruit and marzipan also greeted us. One could and did sit in our cabin's wide picture window through which we took many a photograph as we cruised along. (Its one downside came when we parked alongside a second Viking ship and cabin window faces cabin window.) A large cabin with plenty of space to walk about, store clothes and work on the computer. What! Twin beds equipped with twin bedding! And the wifi internet connection worked painfully slowly when it worked at all. Dinners and dining companions were five star and first rate. I still remember the three-item pumpkin appetizer that preceded the venison. Presentation matches the quality of the food. Have multiple allergies and digestive problems? We don't. But the maitre'd worked with a new-found friend of ours on a nightly basis to develop a special menu for her. Back in the cabin, want a second pillow to put under your legs? Just ask. Daily free tours which other cruise lines charge for. Presentations were excellent with no attempt made to sell us gold or a rug. Presenters suggested activities and places to visit during the free time on each tour. Which is how we came to have hot chocolate (mine laced with chili) and Sachertorte at Demels in Vienna (where your table is separated by a plate glass window from the pastry chefs in action.) An optional overpriced tour is available each day also. Skip the latter; a Hungarian horse show priced at $44E per person lasted exactly 20 minutes. It was a great show, but 2 euro per person per minute is a tad excessive. Would we do it again? Never in winter--and yes, we were marooned at the airport for a day on our return. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
Christmas Markets. Uniworld Basel to Cologne. Uniworld's River Queen has recently been refurbished in an over-the-top Royal motif that is intentionally gaudy attaining a certain flamboyant charm. Fastidiously clean, common areas ... Read More
Christmas Markets. Uniworld Basel to Cologne. Uniworld's River Queen has recently been refurbished in an over-the-top Royal motif that is intentionally gaudy attaining a certain flamboyant charm. Fastidiously clean, common areas and rooms were bright and mirror-lined for a feeling of space. The food was tasty, simple, plentiful and, thankfully, not "fake fine dining". Internet (via WiFi and the onboard computers) was priced at 15E for the trip. The connection, however, was mostly slow and frustrating - even more so than big ships. Staff were friendly, helpful and really seemed to care about service. The Tour Manager, Wauter, was efficient and prompt with little time for guests who wanted to delay others. He got things done without fuss. On Christmas Eve, he was a willing and enthusiastic Santa. during the trip, he seemed to be everywhere at once. Great job! Entertainment was local, unpretentious, lively and diverse. But if you expect Vegas Acts, River Ships are not for you. Mario, the hotel Manager, ran a tight operation with a strong team and excellent service. Restaurant was similar with an attentive and helpful team led by Stanislaw. Onboard laundry, while slow, was an unexpected and prized bonus for light travelers. All in all, a delightful Christmas Cruise with an interesting itinerary of larger cities. Not for those who want to see quaint villages. Good value. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
Due to poor weather conditions many of us were late catching the ship. We missed the first dinner, but were very lucky compared with some who met the ship in Vienna (half way through the cruise). The ship was very well laid out. The ... Read More
Due to poor weather conditions many of us were late catching the ship. We missed the first dinner, but were very lucky compared with some who met the ship in Vienna (half way through the cruise). The ship was very well laid out. The cabins were what we were expecting. They had shampoo and a bar of soap, as well as liquid soap in the shower. But, you don't spend much time in your cabin as there is always plenty to do. The crew was excellent. We very rarely saw Anastas, our Cabin Steward. We would go to breakfast and the cabin was cleaned when we got back. The Executive Chef is to be complimented, as the food was great. Varona and her elves were fantastic. Very organized. On Christmas Eve, Varona led several of us to the Neue Cathedral in Linz for Midnight Mass, what a special time. And for us that had lost our luggage the ladies at the front desk washed out clothes and got them back to us before we woke up in the morning. Thank you! The ports were good. Bratislava had a lovely little cafe that served hot chocolate in huge mugs which you needed a spoon to eat like soup! Loved the Christmas Markets at Schonbrunn Palace, Salzburg and Bratislava. Durnstein, a small town of 350 people was fascinating. We visited the blue church it is an amazing baroque church in a small community. The wine and apricot brandy and liqour are not to be missed. The weather was snowy. We walked while it was snowing many times. But, in all very easy to walk with boots. Made a beautiful Christmas. In all, Viking did an excellent job of taking care of us. From the moment we embarked to the disembarkment. Thank you Viking for a lovely holiday. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
We sailed on the Viking Sky in early December 2010 from Budapest, Hungary to Passau, Germany. We visited Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany in one week, all with the ease and comfort of waking up in a new city/country and having the ... Read More
We sailed on the Viking Sky in early December 2010 from Budapest, Hungary to Passau, Germany. We visited Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany in one week, all with the ease and comfort of waking up in a new city/country and having the hard work done for us. No pulling baggage into the tiny European elevators and lugging baggage to trains, planes or taxis. The Sky includes travel excursions as part of your purchase price. It is a small ship so you really get to know your fellow passengers and crew. We are still in touch with friends from this cruise and we are all wanting to get together for another cruise on Viking or visiting at our homes. We went a few weeks before Christmas and though it was cold and snowy it was also enchanting. We visited Christmas Markets all along the Danube and they were spectacular. Please feel free to visit my blog and view my photos from the cities we visited. http://americanhomestead.blogspot.com Just look in the archives for early December of 2010. Looking forward to traveling on Viking again... Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
IT WAS COLD! IT WAS MAGIC! As we sallied forth each day, braving the elements in search of new and exciting castles and forts and cathedrals and vistas and history, charming markets and good food and drink, I felt like a school child on an ... Read More
IT WAS COLD! IT WAS MAGIC! As we sallied forth each day, braving the elements in search of new and exciting castles and forts and cathedrals and vistas and history, charming markets and good food and drink, I felt like a school child on an incredible field trip. We returned tired and cold but never disappointed. Our ship seemed like the warm, inviting winter home where you relaxed with good friends, good food and good drinks around a roaring fire (not literally) and talked about the day and plans for tomorrow. Cologne was one of the high points for me. It started with a tour by the best tour guide I have EVER experienced.* He was local, very knowledgeable and marvelously witty. Then we toured the markets on our own; made it to 6 out of 7. The vendors were so nice and they all spoke English. The many goods they offered were beautiful and real (not tourist junk). It snowed the entire day and made everything magical. The cathedrals are magnificent in the snow, a complex maze of black and white. I'll never forget the beauty of Cologne in the snow. The staff and crew of Viking make you feel that you are home, but with great service and gourmet food. My wife has a gluten allergy which is usually a problem. The dining staff and chefs made her feel special rather than problematic. Every meal was gluten free for her and special bread was hand-delivered. We have never experienced that level of accommodation anywhere. * In 2010 we were both retired and went to Europe for the first time. I refused to be part of a "tour." Had been on Carnival to Nova Scotia and Holland America on the Alaskan Inland Passage. Not my thing. Ride, point, click and back on the bus/ship/whatever is not how I want to see a country, a culture or anything of real interest. We spent a week by car on our own in Provence followed by Viking's Rhone-Soane cruise from Avignon to Paris, where we spent a week in a small hotel on the West Bank. I have fallen in love with France and Viking River Cruises. I didn't want to leave. I never imagined a tour could be as good as your tours. It always felt like a local, knowledgeable friend was showing a small group of us around his/her neighborhood. No straining to hear, thanks to the closed system from our guide only, no getting left behind when I see something I want to focus on, no rushing to stay near the guide and I always get all my questions answered. If it's my ideal way to travel, it must be Viking River Cruises. I look forward to many more. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: December 2010
We love the Christmas atmosphere of eastern Europe but having been to Prague, Krakow & Budapest a number of times we were looking for a change, so after a bit of investigation opted for Vikings 'Romantic Danube' cruise in ... Read More
We love the Christmas atmosphere of eastern Europe but having been to Prague, Krakow & Budapest a number of times we were looking for a change, so after a bit of investigation opted for Vikings 'Romantic Danube' cruise in December 2010. We were a bit apprehensive about our flight transfer they had arranged at Munich airport on the way out as we only had 45 minutes, but we should not have worried as everything went perfectly smoothly and we even had time for a complimentary coffee as we switched terminals. ere met at Budapest Airport by the assistant cruise director and taken to the ship by minibus, easy check in and settled in to our very nice cabin. As we were very familiar with Budapest we did our own thing the first day. We found the 'Open Seating' at meals very good as you could meet lots of your fellow passengers and found you would seek out people with similar interests to have dinner and made some wonderful friends from other country's who we have since had 'meet up's' with in various country's since. Meals were great with local specialitys on the menu most days with the option of Steak or Roast Chicken or fish for the less adventurist. Beer & wine was free for lunch & dinner, with your glass never being allowed to get less than half full, unlike some cruise line where having Paid for a drinks package found wine waiters wore a 'Cloak of Invisibility'. We visited some wonderful City's & Towns where we always had a walking tour with a local guide with a radio headset so no having to crowd round to here there commentary. Where the ship was moored outwith walking distance from where you were visiting and you had free time to self explore a free shuttle bus was laid on so you could come and go back to the ship at your own pace. Going through the Main Canal lock system during the night as we slept was an amazing feet with not one passenger ever being woken up, for which the crew must be congratulated. Overall a fantastic cruise, but it was on the morning of departure back home that Viking really exceeded themselves. Most of Europe's airports were either closed or suffering severe disruption because of snow storms. Where airports were closed Viking had arranged hotel accommodation or a Free Gratis return journey till a suitable airport was found open. When we arrived at Munich airport we found people who were traveling with other company's who had been sleeping on camp beds in the airport for 4 days having been 'Dumped' and told to make there own arrangement's with their insurance company. Not so with Viking, everything arrange for a very comfortable extension to your holiday. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2010
After quite a bit of research, I concluded that Amawaterways/APT provided the best in European river cruising - beautiful boats, excellent reputation for customer service, great on board dining, interesting ports of call and very good ... Read More
After quite a bit of research, I concluded that Amawaterways/APT provided the best in European river cruising - beautiful boats, excellent reputation for customer service, great on board dining, interesting ports of call and very good included and optional tours. These cruises are advertised in Australia and New Zealand by APT which is a significant part owner of AmaWaterways. AmaWaterways is the brand known in the USA and Europe. So, last Christmas we set off for Europe looking forward to the much anticipated Europe Christmas time cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam. We were not disappointed - we were delighted with the whole thing! I'll start with customer service, because THE defining customer service we experienced with Amawaterways really showed us the wisdom of our decision to travel with them. As you may know, Europe experienced an extremely cold winter last year and the Main-Danube Canal froze over around December 25th. Whilst another company with a boat preceding us by one day tried - and failed - to get through the Canal, damaging the boat, our Captain was not going to try that approach. Obviously there had been much talk in the background during the previous 24 hours about "plan B", so on December 26th we and 11 others going on to Amsterdam were briefed by the Captain and the Cruise Director about what was to happen on the following day. In short, the company had taken the decision to transport us by coach around the Main Danube Canal, stopping at Nuremberg as per the itinerary, to join their newest and most luxurious boat, MS Amabella, at Bamberg and continue to Amsterdam. You're probably thinking, "Well yes, a bit of a hassle for them, but makes sense". But when I tell you that Amabella was in dry dock, several hours away from the Rhine river, and by "dry dock" meaning totally stripped down - no curtains, furniture, glass ware, crockery, linen ... the list goes on, you perhaps begin to see the extraordinary work they went to in around 24 hours to "get the show back on the road" as they say. By contrast some of the other tour operators sent people to Munich for 10 days (fabulous when you thought you were going up the Rhine!) others had to make the return journey back to Budapest in one of the returning boats. Rudi Schreiner, the Amawaterways President, who had been in Egypt when the possibility of not getting through the Main-Danube Canal arose, returned to Germany and helped plan the detailed logistics of who was going where and stayed with us on the Amabella until Amsterdam. The logistics must have been a nightmare, as it wasn't a simple case of everyone getting on in Budapest and going to Amsterdam. No, they had different tour groups joining and leaving the boat at several points along the way so it was, no doubt, a great moment for lots of spreadsheets! The boats: Amalyra - We started out from Budapest on Amalyra. Built in 2009 it is a lovely boat and the staff excellent. Very friendly and helpful. It had a comforting "homey" feel. Our Captain Henk was very funny and very visible always. I don't mean his figure, rather he definitely lead by example. Rooms on this boat have French balconies and the most amazingly appointed bathrooms with 3 different types of shower, so you could choose "rain", side-pointing massage or hand shower, depending on how you were feeling. We thought they were great once we got the hang of the different control buttons, but they are a challenge for some people. Amabella - Amabella, launched in 2010, is a larger boat (in length not width) and represents another leap in the standard of accommodation (not that there was anything wrong with Amalyra). So we had a larger room with double balconies, a French balcony and an outside one, both furnished with two chairs and a small table. The furnishings and appointments are stylish and comfortable. We were a bit thrown by the seeming chaotic atmosphere the first night, not knowing at that point what had transpired to get the boat "ship shape" as it were. Also, we did not realise until the next day, that the entire crew of MA Amadolce (which had left Budapest one day ahead of us and of course could not get through the Canal either) had grabbed a few clothes and were bussed to meet the Amabella only a few hours before we got on board. From the following day, all returned to the normal air of tranquillity. On board dining: The breakfasts, served in the main restaurant, are very good - lots of choice in everything, including for those who prefer a continental breakfast or those who want a full, cooked meal. In addition there was a range of bakery items and all day tea and coffee served in the lounge, for those who took a late breakfast. Lighter option lunches plus morning and afternoon teas were also available in the lounge. Dinner has a very good "restaurant" feel, with 4 or 5 choices in each of the four courses, and wines (included) from the area visited each day. A nice touch. The there are special snacks as well - foods typical of the area you are passing through, such as "Fruhschoppen". This is a German breakfast containing all imaginable kinds of sausages - bratwurst, weiswurst etc - along with the correct epicurean accompaniments, including a delicious potato salad. I opted for a weiswurst with potato, and the very helpful chef told me how to eat the weiswurst. There were also special dinners for Christmas Eve and Christmas night and for New Year's Eve in Cologne, where the team of chefs and wait staff did a great job of decorating and preparing a wonderful dinner for us. People decked themselves out in appropriate finery for the occasion and the atmosphere was on of festive happiness. After dinner ... well, of course there was a New Year's Eve buffet served in the lounge, just in case your clothes were still too loose!! Ports of call and tours: I should mention that most of the sailing occurs overnight so you arrive in each port for the day, except where there is scenic cruising for the day, such as in the Rhine Gorge. So your chance to get out and about is maximised - but it's up to you what you want to do. Of course there are daily excursions which you can take at no extra cost, in the form of walking tours, around the various towns. We did a couple of these, but largely explored by ourselves. With information available on the internet, you can find out what you are curious about in advance and structure your own time anyway. There are optional tours too, which involve an extra cost, but I found the one I did to a concert in Vienna totally worthwhile and good value. All tours include a local and knowledgeable guide. Ports and scenic cruising: Budapest Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria, Melk, Washau, Durnstein, and Linz, Austria; Passau and Salzburg, Regensburg, Nuremberg, Bamberg and Wurzburg, cruising from Wertheim, Miltenberg, through the Rhine Gorge to Koblenz, Cologne, Germany; and Amsterdam, Holland. Scenery from boat: Whether you're in the lounge, on deck or beside your own private balcony, the scenery is absolutely stunning for the entire trip. We enjoyed the white winter, fairytale look of the Christmas time cruise, and obviously the other seasons too offer wonderful views. Locks: The number of locks is quite staggering - 34 on the Main River and 17 on the Danube. The navigable stretch of the Main River from Bamberg to Mainz is 384km or 240 miles. The Danube is navigable some 2415km or 1767 miles and crosses 10 countries from Germany to the Black Sea. APT provides some very handy statistics regarding rivers and the number of locks on each. An interesting thing which we don't automatically think of when talking about water is the that you go uphill (upstream) and downhill (downstream) when cruising these rivers. Cool Traveller Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2010
Service was excellent, food was out of this world great and shore excursions were wonderful. This was my first cruise and I highly recommend it to everyone I know-this boat is like a home away from home with adventures in every port. I ... Read More
Service was excellent, food was out of this world great and shore excursions were wonderful. This was my first cruise and I highly recommend it to everyone I know-this boat is like a home away from home with adventures in every port. I would definitely cruise again with AQ! The Hop ON Hop OFF bus is wonderful since it allows a passenger to see the cities at their own pace. If a particular museum or shop was boring then I'd just leave. The AQ provides maps and itenary each night in the form of a newsletter and the app has a map as well. The hotel we stayed the night before the trip was the Sheraton Downtown Memphis and it was wonderful, great staff and beautifully decorated for the holidays. The restaurants nearby were very nice and downtown was pretty safe to walk around in. The activities aboard the AQ are wonderful the music acts are very talented and they involved the audience. The shore excursions are well planned and thought out. This cruise isn't suggested for young children as there isn't a children's club or venue for them. This is for the older crowd. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: January 2011
My husband and I just returned from Cambodia and Vietnam -cruise portion was from Jan 23. Unfortunately I had fallen several days previous and was in pain so had to forgo some of the shore excursions. Have to note that people with some ... Read More
My husband and I just returned from Cambodia and Vietnam -cruise portion was from Jan 23. Unfortunately I had fallen several days previous and was in pain so had to forgo some of the shore excursions. Have to note that people with some mobility problems will have difficulty making some excursions. Often there is no dock, the ship just pulls up to river bank and you clamber up the dirt bank. But the excursions we both or my husband went on were all worth the effort and are all included in the one price for the cruise. Bring some balloons to charm the children. By some school supplies while you are there as you will visit at least one school which was so pleased by our gifts. Cabin was comfortable and public areas quite adequate. There was free Internet when reception allowed. Meals were excellent with a mix of Western and regional food. Breakfast and lunch were bountiful buffets with stations for making omelets, noodles soup, etc. Soft drinks were included but wine and beer extra. We had 76 on the cruise and were divided into 3 groups each with a tour guide. They all spoke good enough English and were delightful. This isn't a trip for entertainment so evening programs were low key. Crew put on a show - they love to sing. It was wonderful to just sit and watch river life happening. You think about the history of the Vietnam war and are amazed that now we are friendly tourists enjoying these lovely countries. If you are going to Cambodia and Vietnam, would recommend doing a land tour from Saigon up to Hanoi, fly to Siem Reip and then take the cruise back down to Saigon. Read Less
Sail Date: January 2011
We took this tour in January 2011 which is during the dry and cool season. Most of the comments that others have left are quite accurate, but I will add some additional emphasis to some issues. This was our sixth river cruise and second ... Read More
We took this tour in January 2011 which is during the dry and cool season. Most of the comments that others have left are quite accurate, but I will add some additional emphasis to some issues. This was our sixth river cruise and second with AMA Waterways. The AMALotus is a new ship, but perhaps the worst river cruiser we have ever been on. This includes river cruises we have taken in China and Egypt, as well as Europe. Staterooms are comfortably sized, but the selection of furniture was not very functional. Other than a closet with hangers, there was literally no place to put your things. The bathroom was excellent, but we consistently had a major problem with the shower water temperature. It varied repeatedly from scalding hot to icy cold regardless of the faucet settings. Rooms had a nice HD flat screen TV, but no satellite reception. Wireless was limited to the lounge and was good when we were moored or in port. One reviewer stated their air conditioning was excellent. Our's was not. Our room was over 90 degrees for the first two days. The situation only got better when it became cloudy and cooled off outside. The air conditioners are individual to each room and only run when you have your room key card in the key slot on the wall that turns on the lights. OK for saving energy, but IMHO the air conditioners were undersized for the job and not able to do the rapid cool-down required if they were being turned on and off in this manner. Many people got an extra key card from the staff so they could have the a/c run all the time. That helped a little, but not completely. Meals were good but not great. The only complaints we had was that the free local wine at meals was really bad, and the freshly baked breads pretty much amounted to the same bland white and rye each day. Someone mentioned the QuietVoxs were junk. Ours worked OK (as they have on many other cruises we have taken). But there was a major problem with the batteries constantly wearing out after a few hours of use. I noticed that AMA was using a cheap Chinese battery; perhaps rechargeables or quality batteries would have been better. Out land tours varied. Most were really great, but somewhat similar (tours of local villages). For most excursions we needed to use tenders. A few of them were very difficult to board and we considered unsafe (life vests were rotten, seats were not attached to the tender, tender was overcrowded). In a number of places where we disembarked from the AMALotus directly to shore, we literally had to walk a plank to get off or on. In conjunction with the cruise, we had land tours and hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap, and Saigon. All which were well done. We also had a tour to HaLong Bay and spent a night on a Junk. The trip out to HaLong Bay and back could have been arranged a little better. We were rushed in places to hit departure times or meals, yet had other times when we basically just sat and waited on the bus or at a rest stop. Overall, I think the timelines and activities on the trip could be better optimized. Our local guides were all knowledgeable and had an excellent English vocabulary. However, a few had difficulties with pronunciation and we could hardly understand them. Last, let me second the reviewer who commented on excessive tips. I have never been on a land cruise or river cruise where the staff and guides reminded us so often to tip--to the point of it becoming an annoyance. AMA Waterways needs to pay decent wages to their guides, bundle the tips into their own fees, discourage begging for tips, or take whatever other steps are necessary to end this annoyance. Bottom Line: Vietnam and Cambodia were great. The AMALotus was only OK. AMA Waterways needs to get this trip better organized. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: February 2011
My husband and I have cruised many times before and this was our third cruise with Fred Olsen. Having enjoyed our two previous FOCL voyages we had high expectations for this one and we were not disappointed. We flew from Manchester ... Read More
My husband and I have cruised many times before and this was our third cruise with Fred Olsen. Having enjoyed our two previous FOCL voyages we had high expectations for this one and we were not disappointed. We flew from Manchester to Bridgetown with Thomas Cook airlines and I have to say the whole embarkation procedure, from start to finish, was very streamlined and efficient. Once we'd checked in our bags at Manchester we didn't see them again until they were in our cabin. On arrival at Grantley Adams Airport we were off the plane, onto the bus and taken straight to the ship, bypassing all the usual airport queues. We boarded the Braemar just after 4.00pm and had our first glimpse of our cabin, a balcony one on Deck 7. While clean, comfortable and nicely decorated, our only complaint was that storage space was very limited; tiny wardrobes and drawers and very few shelves. The bathroom was also small but functional. The Braemar has a good choice of places to eat or drink. We were allocated the Grampian Restaurant on Deck 8 and the food was always very nice, well presented and well served by our smiling waiter. For breakfast and lunch we tended to frequent the more casual Palms Cafe on Deck 6, which also allowed you to eat your meals outside at the ship's stern, affording great sea views. There was also the Marquee Pool Bar, which served casual meals (fast food) and snacks as well as drinks. There was always an excellent choice of dishes on offer, as well as lots of salad, vegetables and fruits if you were going for the healthier option. To enjoy a drink, you could go to the Morning Light Pub (more like a normal lounge than a pub, I would say), the Lido Bar at the stern of the ship, the pool bar, the Observatory or the Skylark Club (which served as the nightclub and disco and hosted quizzed every night, and sometimes karaoke). The entertainment was, in general, geared towards the older (60+ cruiser) cruiser so while it was very good, it wasn't exceptional. There was a comedian who told ancient jokes, a magician who actually grew on me throughout his two performances, an old-fashioned singer (very Frank Sinatra or Matt Munro) as well as the Braemar Show Company and ship's orchestra. We tended to go to the Neptune lounge for the evening's cabaret, but there was also another show featured each night in the Coral Lounge, so at least you had a choice. We spent the first three days at sea en route to the Amazon and crossed the Equator at Macapa, for which the entertainment team put on a hilarious "Line Crossing Ceremony". Ports of call along the Amazon included Santarem, Parintins and Manaus on the way down (the ship stayed overnight in Manaus). Then on the way back north we dropped anchor at the tiny villages of Boca da Valeria and Alter do Chao. As we expected, some of the villages and towns were very primitive compared to what we're used to in Britain, but this was the whole point, and the attraction, of coming to the Amazon. The weather was very hot and humid and we did have some days where it rained all day, but was still warm. Well it was the rainforest after all, and it didn't spoil our enjoyment of the cruise; there was still plenty to do below decks. We found all of the staff and crew to be very friendly and polite and they smiled all the time. They would do anything to help. I would say that Fred Olsen Cruise lines do pride themselves on their excellent service and they did not let us down. We were also surprised and pleased at the complimentary drinks "on Fred" that pop up here and there; as well as the usual Captain's cocktail parties there were three occasions on which we had a free "champagne" breakfast as well as bottles of wine we won in the quiz. We had a brilliant cruise on a lovely little ship in unusual surroundings and will certainly cruise with Fred Olsen again in the future. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: February 2011
HANOIWe arrived in Hanoi from Tokyo on Sunday evening having planned on a full day of independent touring before the start of the AMA organized part of the trip with the rest of the group. We booked the extra night at the Sofitel Legend ... Read More
HANOIWe arrived in Hanoi from Tokyo on Sunday evening having planned on a full day of independent touring before the start of the AMA organized part of the trip with the rest of the group. We booked the extra night at the Sofitel Legend Metropole directly through AMA since we wanted to be certain that we did not have to change rooms for the other two nights covered by the tour. We arranged directly with the hotel for a private car transfer since we didn't want to deal with a taxi at 10:30PM after traveling for so long. We were met immediately outside customs and were in our car in 10 minutes. The ride to the hotel was about 40 minutes (normally up to an hour during the day with traffic). There was not alot to see other than what was visible along the side of the road. It was about 5-times the price of a taxi but the hotel staff was waiting for us when we arrived and we were in our room in the Opera Wing (newer wing) in less than 15 minutes on the 2nd floor (actually the 3rd since the ground floor is considered the 1st floor). The room was lovely and we faced the pool area so there was no concern about noise. There was bottled water, chocolates and plenty of space. The next morning we went to the restaurant for our included buffet breakfast which was as expansive as it was delicious. The restaurant overlooked the courtyard and pool area. A basket of croissants and pastries was brought to our table as well as the French press coffee and tea we requested. There was a made to order omelet station, yogurts, fresh fruits, cereals, breads, juices, eggs, dim sum, Vietnamese dishes, bacon, sausage, potatoes, grilled tomatoes and other dishes too numerous to mention. After breakfast we walked to the main lobby (it's a weird configuration to get from the Opera Wing to the original historic part of the hotel but not really a problem). We were met in the lobby by our Hanoikids guide, Phanh, a 21 year old finance major in university. For anyone that doesn't know about Hanoikids, I found out about them on Cruise Critic. They are university students paired with tourists who speak English strictly for the opportunity to practice their English. The only thing you pay for is their entrance fees, taxis to sights and lunch. There is no other charge. We decided to bring some English language novels and a box of See's chocolates from home which she was surprised and delighted to receive. Since we wanted to hear about Phanh's Vietnam and we had compared our AMA itinerary for the next day with the suggested itinerary on the Hanoikids website, we worked out a tour that would not overlap too much and provide us with the greatest exposure to Hanoi. Since the rubber sole on DH's shoe had come apart while we were in Japan for 3 days, our first stop was for shoe repair on Shoe Street in the Old Quarter, just 3 blocks from the hotel. We walked to Shoe Street, evidenced by blocks of stores selling shoes. Phanh helped us navigate the streets and deal with the amazing sea of motorbikes whizzing by constantly. The key is to step into the street when there is a small break in traffic and slowly but methodically WITHOUT STOPPING walk across. The drivers can gauge your stride and behavior and maneuver around you as long as you don't stop or make any sudden movements. Harrowingly, it works every time. It also helps to have a local lead the charge. After the shoe repair, we visited a communal (tube) house on Ma May Street in the Old Quarter known as Huong Tuong Communal House. Make sure you have Dong but, in a pinch, they will accept dollars. If you do use dollars, be prepared to actually pay more since they don't always know how to convert and they have little understanding of how to provide change, if any, in Dong. Not yet having been to the ATM, we paid with a $1 bill and actually overpaid because in Dong it would have been less than $.75 for the 3 of us. It may seem inconsequential and it is easier but you can run out of dollars very quickly if you don't have local currency. (On that subject, we brought 50-ones, 30-fives, 20-tens and 5-twenties. We found that we needed at least 100-ones and 50-fives and luckily the ship was able to change a couple of 20's into fives and someone on the trip brought so many ones that they were able to change them for us.) Next was a trip to an ATM on the street in the Old Quarter. In Vietnam, there are buttons for English but the currency dispensed is Dong. The conversion when we were there was approximately 21,500 Dong to $1 USD (it had just been devalued a few days before). For ease, we just rounded it to 20,000 Dong. We had no difficulty using the ATM's in Vietnam or Cambodia (more about that in the Cambodia section) but make sure that you have a 4-digit PIN. We told Phanh that we wanted to walk around Hoan Kiem Lake, first stopping for coffee and a bathroom break at Highland's Coffee on the 6th floor of a building opposite the NE corner of the lake on Shark Square (Dinh Tien Hoang St.) with a great view of the lake (good photo op). We walked over the red bridge (Bridge of the Rising Sun) into the Ngoc Son pagoda where Phanh said students go to pray before their university entrance exams (this was also a stop on the AMA tour the next day but we appreciated seeing it earlier after the walk around the lake). After a complete walk around the lake and the pagoda visit we were ready for lunch. We told Phanh that we wanted to eat lunch at Cha Ca La Vong which was a great experience (Cha Ca means Fish in Vietnamese and it is on Cha Ca Street in the Old Quarter but make sure you go to the right one as there are copycats on the same street using the exact same name so check the address carefully. If you are walking from the lake it is on the left side in a run-down looking building with 2 floors). There is only one thing on the menu-seasoned fish filet pieces fried in oil on a burner on the table with herbs, rice noodles and sauces. It is delicious and about 115,000 Dong per person (less than $6). We left and took a taxi to Hoa Lo Prison (Hanoi Hilton). This was very interesting and I recommend going. It is not on the AMA tour but they recommend it during the lunch break on the tour day. Whether you have extra time in Hanoi or just the day scheduled with AMA, definitely see it. It will take about 45 minutes to tour the whole site. From there we took a taxi to the Cathedral area where Phanh introduced us to cold lemon tea and the art of sitting on tiny plastic stools with hundreds of others, mostly university students-she even ran into some girlfriends. We then walked to Silk Street to do some shopping. I ended up at Khai Silk (again there are copycats so you need to make certain you are at the right shop). The products are beautiful-very highly styled and reasonably priced by western standards but high end for Vietnam. They sell scarves, shawls, purses, dresses, blouses but I wound up with a lovely scarf (one of many of varying quality that I bought throughout the trip). It was now nearing 5 PM and we walked back to the hotel and said goodbye to Phanh, having spent a lovely day with a very nice and intelligent young lady. It was her first tour without a companion and she did a great job. I highly recommend Hanoikids. We were ready to recharge our batteries so we sat down in the outdoor bar for a drink. It was chilly-Hanoi experiencing its coldest winter in 30 years, but there were outdoor heaters and my hot chocolate and Grand Marnier drink hit the spot. Our friends, who took the pre-trip week starting in Saigon, arrived at the hotel at 7PM and we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant recommended by the Italian concierge-Luna d'Autuno. Much is said about taxis in Vietnam & Cambodia. The way to get where you want to go and not get ripped off is to have the hotel call a taxi for you, have your destination written on the hotel business card, have the doorman tell the taxi driver where you are going and show him the card, then give it back to you, ask the driver how much it will cost and to turn on the meter-don't leave until it is turned on. Same for the return. We had every restaurant and even stores get us a taxi and go through the same procedure. We never had any problem with any taxi. Taxis are cheap and you can get caught up in paying in dollars, overpay and still wind up paying only $2. After awhile you start feeling a little guilty because it is so cheap. This is one of the reasons for all of those dollar bills.The next morning we had our orientation from 8:30-9:15AM. I cannot say enough about Thinh, our tour manager. He started with the pre-tour group for the week from Saigon and was with us until he took the group to the airport the final day in Saigon. He knew everyone, facilitated everything and always had a smile on his face. He was concerned about the health and well-being of every tour participant and handled everything with grace. His tip at the end was worth every penny and more. He was a gem! We were organized by color, each color representing a bus-green, orange and blue. Each bus had a separate tour guide-one in Hanoi & Ha Long Bay, one in Siem Reap, one in the rest of Cambodia and one in the Vietnam Mekong and Saigon. All of the guides were stellar. The buses were first class, always with cold water, wipes, a/c, a mike for the guide. You could leave valuables on the bus as the driver kept it locked and stayed with it. If that wasn't the case in certain situations the guide would tell you to take your things. Tours were paced allowing time for independent lunches and time for rest before the afternoon tour would begin. Everything was very well communicated and everyone was always on time which was amazing. The buses were not filled to capacity. There was usually enough space for everyone to have their own seat with a few exceptions. We had a radio transmitter and earphones so we could listen to the guides on most excursions.Our guide for Hanoi and Ha Long Bay was Mango. Our tour of Hanoi included Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum but we did not go inside (I still don't know why), his residence, the Temple of Literature, One-Pillar Pagoda, a break for lunch (we went to the Club de L'Oriental 2 blocks from the hotel recommended by Mango- a lovely old building and a delicious upscale Vietnamese lunch with enough time to take a taxi 10 minutes away to an antique gallery and back to the hotel for the afternoon tour). We went to Ngoc Son pagoda (a repeat for us), followed by a cyclo (pedicab) tour of the Old Quarter for 30 minutes and then the Water Puppet Show. We were back at the hotel by 6PM and then we had an independent dinner at Green Tangerine (Vietnamese French).HA LONG BAY The next morning our bags were outside our rooms by 7AM and we had breakfast. We met in the lobby by 8AM for departure to Ha Long Bay. Our bags were checked by us to be certain they were there and put on our bus. We were told to pack an overnight bag just for the overnight on the junk and that we would have an opportunity the following day before we went to the airport to repack our bags. The trip to Ha Long Bay took about 3.5 hours with a stop for restrooms and to shop at a very large store selling embroidered silk & cotton thread pictures (made on-site), souvenirs, gifts, jewelry, etc. The prices were not cheap but you could negotiate. I purchased a hand embroidered silk picture-others purchased lacquerware, gifts, clothing. We arrived at Ha Long Bay around noon and boarded our junk. There were 3 junks for our group since each one could only accommodate about 22 people. The cabins were randomly assigned once onboard and we had a buffet lunch in the dining room which also doubled as the bar and lounge area. Unfortunately it was overcast and cold so we did not have the opportunity to sit on the sun deck. The junk was well-appointed with a public bathroom on the second deck, the same deck as the dining room/bar/lounge. There were cabins on the first and second decks and the sun deck was on deck 3. The buffet lunch was good. Our cabin,on deck 2, was on the small side but was very well-appointed- nice size bathroom, individual a/c and heat, a safe, nightstands, lamps and 2 picture windows (all cabins are the same-only the deck location is different). After lunch we were taken by a smaller boat to see a floating fishing village which was an eye-opener. This was one of the many such villages we would see throughout our trip. This particular one had about 700 people who lived here year round. After this excursion (we stayed on the boat the entire time as there is no place to disembark and walk around), we went back to our junk for some down-time. Before dinner there was a fruit and vegetable carving demonstration. We ate dinner around 7 PM which was buffet but with some wait staff service, socialized a bit and then turned in after a very full day. The next morning was Tai Chi on the sun deck at 7AM. The weather was cold and misty but a few of us braved the elements for 30 minutes of Tai Chi which was most enjoyable. There was coffee and some pastries from 7-9AM and there was an optional 1-hour tour to the caves until 9AM. My DH went but I opted to stay behind with some others and enjoy my morning coffee and read. When they returned from the tour a full brunch (it was 10AM) was served. We had already checked out of our cabin before breakfast and left the junk at 11:30AM to board the bus. We stopped on the way to the airport at a golf resort for lunch at which time we took our luggage off the bus to repack if we wanted to. We were told that we would not see our checked luggage again until we went to our hotel room in Siem Reap as we were being checked-in for our flight and our luggage put on the plane by Thinh and his assistants. Lunch at the golf club was uneventful-a buffet with some unusually matched appetizers including French fries (apparently for western tastes) and a choice of sandwiches or Pho (pronounced Pha-a) which we chose while on the bus the day before. It was served to us at communal tables with plenty of beer, soft drinks and bottled water included with the lunch. After about an hour we were back on the bus to the Hanoi airport. There were some duty free shops, some with decent prices, but not so for any western goods such as perfumes. We were given our boarding passes with our passports (passports were given to Thinh the day before). A word now about the Cambodian visas: I opted to obtain mine through the Cambodian evisa website before I left home for $25. I wanted to save the hassle of waiting on line in the Siem Reap airport for it to be issued for $20. I heard that it was no big deal but I like to be prepared so I did it all in advance and printed out 2 copies of the evisa and stapled one in each of our passports and kept one each in our passport case for the exit from Cambodia (but it was never collected). At our initial orientation in Hanoi, Thinh told us that he would handle the Cambodian visa for anyone who didn't have one-give him one passport photo, $20USD and your passport when he asked for it and he would take care of the whole thing. So had I known this I obviously would have done it differently BUT there is no way to know that the tour manager on your tour will also handle it this way. I know that on a tour in November 2010 the individual passengers had to get their own visas upon arrival. We said goodbye to Mango at the airport in Hanoi. The flight from Hanoi to Siem Reap was approximately 1.5 hours and a full meal was served in flight (didn't touch it but some did). SIEM REAP-ANGKOR TEMPLESWe arrived in Siem Reap after sunset to a full moon (very revered as it was the first full moon of the new year) as we walked down from the plane, across the tarmac and into the luggage area. Thinh had expedited our arrival in Siem Reap with the customs agents. Once we retrieved our bags from the luggage belt we were able to walk right through to the bus where they were taken from us to be put in our rooms at the hotel. There was some confusion since we thought we did not have to touch our bags at all and would have them in our rooms after dinner but there must have been some communication error. We arrived at our hotel, Le Meridien, and went straight to dinner in the main dining room. Our room keys were given to us at dinner, again the rooms were randomly assigned. Dinner was very good and served buffet style with many stations and a large selection. All of the food was fresh and delicious and we were told that we could drink the water and ice. After dinner we went up to our room which was large and comfortable. DH's bag was not there but was recovered from another room in 20 minutes. We decided to check our emails and use our Skype account (the hotel charges $8 per 24 hours for internet access). That's when we found out that our office was frantically trying to reach us to find out about the junk that sunk on Ha Long Bay the same night we were there. After emails assuring them that it wasn't us, we went to sleep. Luckily, our junk trip was not cancelled. Had it been scheduled for the following night we would not have been able to do it as the Vietnamese government cancelled all junk trips for a few days to inspect all of the junks. The next morning we had the included lavish buffet breakfast in the hotel and boarded the green bus with our Cambodian guide, Chantha, at 8:30 AM. Our first stop was to get our 3-day pass for the temple sites for which we had to have our pictures taken and wear it around our necks at all of the sights. The first stop was Angkor Thom where we visited the South Gate, Bayon, Terrace of the Elephants and the Leper King. The complex is incredible as you approach and just beautifully carved with intricate designs that are more than 800 years old. The bus had cold water bottles all the time and it was important to wear sunscreen and drink alot during the days as the humidity was high, the sun hot and there was little, if any, shade. There is alot of walking involved and some steep climbing. For those that did not want to climb, one of the other guides stayed with that group and walked around the base area with them and we met up later. We had to leave our bus and take a smaller shuttle bus to and from the entrance so on the return it was very hot-drink lots of water! It is also advised to wear a hat and bring an umbrella for shade which many people did. We went back to the hotel at 11:30 for a lunch break for 3 hours. We opted to take the green bus into town with some others so our guide could take us to a laundry to drop-off our clothes. The charge is $2USD per kilo (2.2 pounds) and it is weighed right in the bag. It would be ready the next day at 5PM (there are no dryers because electricity is so expensive so you need to wait a day for them to dry). Chantha also showed us a great place nearby to eat lunch, The Ankgor Palm restaurant. The meal was delicious, organic and cheap. We had a dish called Amok which is a local fish steamed in a banana leaf with coconut milk, ginger and spices with rice. It was wonderful washed down with Tiger beer. Our friend decided to get a local haircut around the block and was back 30 minutes later and $3 lighter. We took a "tuk-tuk" back to the hotel. They are known by a variety of names-rickshaw, cyclo, pedicab, etc. Some are powered by bicycle from the back (Hanoi & Saigon) and others by motobikes in the front (Siem Reap, Phnom Penh). The average price is $1 but can go as high as $5 depending on the number of people (some can take as many as 4 people) and the distance. You must negotiate the price before you get in. We met in the lobby for the afternoon tour of Angkor Wat. The place is mammoth and the approach is awe-inspiring. It was sunny, hot and humid (sunscreen, hat, umbrella & WATER!!). After the tour, we had the option of going back to the hotel or up Phonm Bakheng hill with our guide to watch the sunset. I chose to return to the hotel but DH opted for the sunset. Unfortunately, there was little sunset as a big, black cloud blocked most of the sun. That evening we were on our own for dinner so the four of us went into town to eat at the Red Piano, recommended by our guide on Pub Street. It was made famous by the cast of Tomb Raider (Angelina Jolie) while filming in the area. Compared to our lunch at The Angkor Palm it was very overrated. Pub Street has the proverbial restaurants, bars and shops and is an interesting place to walk around. There are the fish foot massage shops that have large tanks of skin eating fish that love to nibble away the dead skin from tourists' feet for $3 for 15 minutes. We saw alot of that but did not partake. We finished off with ice cream from The Blue Pumpkin and some window (stall) shopping but did not buy anything. It had been a very long day so by 10PM we were back in a tuk-tuk for the trip back to the hotel.The following morning started with breakfast at 7AM and then back on the bus at 8 AM for the trip to Bantey Srei. This is the temple complex featured in the movie "Indiana Jones Temple of Doom". The trees and roots literally grow out of, on top of, and around the temple. There were some wonderful photo opportunities. We bought a lovely watercolor of the ruins painted by a young artist from a group of orphans and disabled people. He signed it and rolled it into a small wicker tube. I was sorry that I didn't get a picture of him with the painting to keep together. I also should have bought another one-good cause and very unique. Our next stop was Ta Phrom, my favorite of all the temples. Made of sandstone, Ta Phrom is also the oldest (9th C.AD) and I think the most beautifully and intricately carved of all we saw. It also seemed to be the least visited. It is amazing that at all of the temples we visited you can climb on the rocks, touch everything and access is virtually unrestricted. This will most certainly change in the future. Several passengers had purchased woven straw water bottle holders for $1 (everything seemd to cost $1) at some of the sights the prior day so I was happy to find them here, purchased one and brought it home. It's a good souvenir and very practical. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a roadside village and watched palm sugar being made. It was quite interesting. I actually bought some (3 wicker rolls for $2). I also bought a locally made batik fabric for my daughter who is into that kind of stuff. They are worn by the local women as skirts wrapped around their waists to just above their ankles. This afternoon was to be our last time with our guide, Chantha. On behalf of his local tour company, we were given a small gift - a wicker gift box with a silver trinket box inside. All of us had different shaped silver items. Ours were a squash and an elephant. These boxes are locally made of Cambodian silver and are sold throughout Cambodia of differing quality but a lovely and unexpected gift and remembrance of our time in Cambodia. We returned to the hotel in time for lunch (on our own). We sat in the lounge enjoying a cool drink and opted to eat at the hotel for lunch. My DH stayed in the room for a nap while I decided to go for a swim. Our guide offered to take those that were interested to the local market (Old Market) for a couple of hours but I decided not to go. I just couldn't face another market and the heat. Instead, I went into the hotel gift shop where I purchased for gifts 3 pair of locally made silver earrings, 5 raw silk scarves and small wicker baskets filled with bags of locally grown saffron and chili peppers. That night the group had a lovely dinner at the hotel which included a BBQ of prawns, satays, vegetables, squid and other seafood in addition to an expansive dinner buffet. We were treated to a beautifully performed traditional Apsara Dance show while we ate.RIVER TRIP ON LA MARGUERITEOur bags were outside our rooms at 7AM and it was registration for La Marguerite in the lobby from 7-7:45AM after which we had breakfast. We were given tags for our luggage and made sure the tags were placed on our bags and that the bags were counted and placed on our bus. We left the hotel at 8AM with our new guide, Vantheany (we called her Teeny), for the 5-hour ride to our embarkation point. Due to low water levels at this time of the dry season, we could not embark on Tonle Sap Lake as cruises do during the rainy season. Our embarkation point was to be Prek Kdam. On the way we would have a bathroom break and visit a small marketplace. The road was almost only 1 lane and dirt most of the trip. The landscape was flat, dusty and somewhat brown due to the dry season. Occasionally there was a hill in the distance, workers in a field, a small hamlet with oxen, houses, children. We stopped at Kampong Thom for a bathroom break and to check out the local market. There were fried tarantulas, fried crickets, snakes, sticky rice and a large variety of local fruit-mangos, pineapple, papaya, dragon fruit, bananas, peanuts (locally grown), tamarind, etc. On the bus, Teeny treated us to sticky rice cooked with black beans in bamboo which is then peeled back and eaten by hand. It was quite good. Some in the group purchased bananas and pineapple, all of which were very tasty. Teeny also purchased some locally grown peanuts which had been boiled for us to sample. Again, quite good. We finally arrived at our embarkation point, Prek Kdam, at 1:30PM. There were some local villagers watching us as we exited our buses and walked down the river bank over dried mud steps to reach the small wood and rope gangplank onto La Marguerite. There were several crew members assisting us with our carry-on bags and steadying us as we made our way onboard. We were directed to our cabins to drop-off our things and then to the dining room on the Main Deck (aft) for a buffet lunch. There are also cabins on this deck. We were on the Saigon Deck-deck 2- where the Saigon Lounge was aft, the Library was forward, the office was mid-ship as was the small gift shop. Deck 3 had cabins, the Sun Deck (aft), the fitness room, showers and massage rooms in between. The cabins were very well-appointed with an efficient use of space and a large bathroom. The linens were soft and the towels thiick and plentiful. There were slippers and bathrobes in the closet, a hairblower and a safe. There was a cushioned banquette next to a large picture window (under which was a full-length deep drawer,a desk (on top of which was the TV, DVD player, a large, working old-fashioned fan and an old-fashioned telephone that worked for room-to-room calls only), a desk chair, 2 night stands with 2-drawers each, bedside lamps and overhead lights and a french balcony with a door that opened but room enough for 1 person to stand only. There was always coffee and tea available on the Sun Deck together with a full bar, a small, raised pool and lounge chairs, tables and chairs, some of which were covered from the sun and elements by canvas. All three decks are accessed by a semi-spiral 3-story wooden staircase with wrought iron railings. While all cabins, the dining room, Saigon Lounge, Library, gift shop, massage & exercise rooms and office are air-conditioned, the central part of the ship was usually warm due to exterior doors being kept open or cabin hallway doors not being closed. At first it was uncomfortable, but after a day or so, it was fine and people started closing the doors more often. The gift shop was left open and unattended most of the time but the office was across the way so it wasn't a problem if you wanted to buy something. There was always a bartender on the Sun Deck and the Saigon Lounge and in the evening there was a classical piano player in the Lounge. That is where most people congregated throughout the cruise since it was air conditioned, had internet access when it was available, beverages, etc. The Library also had a good assortment of paperbacks, board games and DVD's (the flat screen TV in the cabins only played DVD's-no television). We brought some DVD's from home but they would not play as they were incompatible with the local technology so save luggage space and don't bother. There were also 2 PC's in the Library that usually worked OK when there was internet service available. Occasionally, there was a problem but someone from the office was usually available to fix it. Many passengers had laptops, iPad's, etc. so there wasn't much of a problem that I saw with access to the computers. The Saigon Lounge and the Library were the only 2 places with internet access. We had a life-vest safety briefing on the first and second days due to the junk sinking on Ha Long Bay. AMA was very concerned about safety and all of our boat trips during the cruise required that everyone have and WEAR their life vest before the boat would leave. Breakfast and lunch were buffet each day and there was always a station for omelets and Pho in the morning and at least one special hot food station at lunch. Breakfast consisted of cereals, fruits, juices, eggs, potatoes, breads, yogurts, cheeses, smoked fish, etc. Lunch was several hot entrees, a selection of several cold salads, cheeses, breads, crackers, desserts. There was always free coffee and teas(cappuccinos, espressos, specialty coffees were charged), water, soft drinks, local wines, beers & spirits available at no charge. International liquors, beers, wines were charged. There was a mini-bar in the cabin that had snacks and drinks for a charge but the water was always free and replenished daily and whenever you wanted. Water was also provided in a canvas shoulder strap bag when departing on every excursion (a hand wipe was also in the bag) and upon every return there was a cold cloth and glasses of iced fruit juice waiting. Breakfast was usually served between 7-9AM (you could arrive at any time); lunch was usually from 12:30-1:30PM (you could arrive at any time) and dinner was seated and served (no buffet) at 7 or 7:30PM (depending on what was going on before or after that) and ended around 9-9:30. There were no reserved tables and people ate where and with whom they wanted. After awhile, people seemed to gravitate towards certain groups and tables and the staff seemed to know who they were and their preferences.Most morning excursions left the ship by color between 8-8:30AM and returned by 11-11:30AM with some exceptions. The afternoon excursions usually left between 2-3PM and returned by 5-5:30PM, again with a few exceptions. Before dinner each evening we would meet in the Saigon Lounge for 30 minutes to discuss the next day's itinerary and for Thinh to make announcements and answer questions. The crew would serve drinks and there would be a daily drink (alcoholic) served by request for no charge. We would also be served a small appetizer such as a fried spring roll (never gave us a napkin though to wipe off our fingers). Dinner was selected from a menu on the dining table (the menu and times were also posted outside the dining room each day). There would be 1-2 set appetizers, a choice of soups, salads and a choice of one of 2 main courses and one of 3 desserts. There was always grilled chicken breast, steak and hamburger with French fries available as well as ice cream (the coconut was wonderful), cheese and crackers for dessert. On a couple of evenings I was not impressed with the entrees offered so I chose steak and chicken breast. They were quite accommodating about substituting certain potatoes and vegetables although the staff sometimes had language issues. Still, they were young and so willing to please that it was enjoyable to be around them. And they are still training and work very hard to understand what it is that you want. We found that they were hard-working and very polite. Our cabin steward, Luong, was phenomenal. In addition to being a great singer, he was always working. He was constantly straightening up our cabin, replacing towels and cleaning our shoes. After many excursions of walking on dirt roads, etc., we would come back to the ship where damp towels would be placed on the floor to wipe your feet. Still, I hesitated bringing the shoes into the cabin and on 2 occasions rinsed them in the shower. I would leave them outside our cabin with the intent of cleaning them later. For a few days I couldn't understand how they were winding up in our cabin looking very clean and placed on plastic until I found out from another passenger that Luong was cleaning the shoes. Incredible! He earned a separate tip at the end of the cruise.This is a good place to discuss tipping. Like many cruise ships, a suggested tip is $10 per day per person and can be added to your ship account at the end of the cruise and charged by credit card (as long as the total amount is more than $25USD) or you can settle your shipboard account in cash (USD or Dong are accepted although all charges are in USD). We added $140 to our account for the tips, tipped Luong an additional $20 and handed Thinh an envelope the final night of $140 ($10 per day times the 14 days we were with him). As for other tips: We were fortunate enough to be in a group that was traveling together as a large group so they would work out a tip for the guide and bus driver based upon how many days we were with them. So for example, if we were with the guide for 2 full days, it would usually be $8-10 per person total for the guide and $4 per person for the driver. We would pass along an envelope for each and the leader of their group would present it on behalf of all of us at the end of our time with them along with a little speech. This relieved us of figuring out how much to tip, made sure they got a tip from everyone and got it all at once. We did it in USD and it worked out well since once the envelope was being passed you could make change and get more dollar bills! If we had a driver just for the afternoon, we would tip him $2 for both of us. Entertainment on the ship was well done. One night we watched the movie "The Killing Fields" which was an excellent introduction to Phnom Penh and the history of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Another evening in Phnom Penh a troupe of orphaned teenagers were onboard playing traditional instruments and dancing traditional dances. They were excellent. Another night we had 2 Vietnamese singers and 3 musicians playing traditional instruments. All entertainment was in traditional costume, including the night that the crew and guides entertained us. One of the nights we were in Phnom Penh we took a tuk-tuk after dinner onboard to Raffles Hotel for Singapore Slings in the Elephant Bar. That was fun! On the way to Sa Dec, Vietnam, the crew left on our beds the DVD of the movie, "The Lover", Marguerite Dumas' story of her affair with Mr. Le (Marguerite is the namesake of the ship, La Marguerite). Unfortunately, our copy must have been a bootleg since it stopped every 30 seconds so we never watched it after the first 20 minutes. Otherwise, people had drinks & conversed, or played cards & board games, searched the web, sent emails or went back to their cabins. There was Mr. Hai, the piano player, who was an accomplished classical pianist but instead played mostly western songs which seemed to fall flat. By the end of each day we were happy to retire to our cabin to read but usually fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow. On 2 of the days we had lectures on Cambodia & Vietnam in the late afternoon after our excursions. On our one sea day, there was a cooking class and an ice cream party. On that day I had a wonderful 2-hr. body scrub and hot stone massage-a real treat- that I booked the first day onboard. Our daytime excursions in Cambodia, excluding Phnom Penh, were to small floating villages and towns with local markets selling local fruits, vegetables, fish, herbs, spices, etc. and to pagodas and schools. For most excursions, we were met by a local boat that pulled up alongside the Marguerite. We were always helped aboard and there were individual seats, life vests and a canopy. One afternoon we were met at the river bank in Kampong Tralach by 45 ox carts from several villages who took us on a 20-minute ride to our buses which would take us to the largest Buddhist pagoda in Cambodia-the Buddhism Center in Oudong. As the ox carts traveled along the dirt road, children would run or bike alongside. I brought a big box of pencils from home to give out to the children. They would respond by placing their hands together as if praying-the Cambodian way of saying hello and thank you. It was wonderful to see their faces and watch them call over their friends for their pencils. Children were everywhere-40% of the population of Cambodia is under the age of 15 and while education is compulsory, it is not enforced. Much of the population is too poor to buy the required uniform and books so many don't attend school which is a terrible shame. LA MARGUERITE-PHNOM PENHWe arrived in Phnom Penh on the third day and were docked there for 3 nights. The dock is along the waterfront street of Sisowath Quay Road, lined with shops, restaurants, hotels, tourist shops, ATMs, etc. FYI-ATMs in Cambodia dispense USD. When using the ATM you will be given a choice of withdrawing money from checking, savings or universal. Press the universal button. Also, if for some reason the ATM starts beeping (similar to a home burglar alarm), withdraw your card immediately and either start again or find another ATM. While this didn't happen to us, we were warned by others that it may mean the machine is about to "eat" your card. From the Marguerite to the street you must walk up 75 shallow metal steps or up a metal incline attached on the side of the steps. The port at street level is actually a parking lot for cars, tour buses and tuk-tuks. The port closes officially at 11PM but you can get back in by paying $1 (we were never asked and just walked in as we pleased). We were able to leave the ship the first night if we wanted but chose to stay onboard and watch "The Killing Fields" which didn't end until almost 11PM. The next morning we went by bus to the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum returning to the ship for lunch. We were also given the option to have the bus and guide take us to the Central Market (Phsar Thom Thmei) to shop for an hour or so after our excursion. They waited for us or we could take a tuk-tuk back to the ship. The market is indoors as well as having stalls along the outside and at all 4 entrances, all selling gold, silver, jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, flowers, food, fabrics, scarves, shoes, etc. There is also a Russian market that sells similar goods and is supposed to be cheaper with more bargaining. I don't know if any one actually went to the Russian market to shop. We decided to find a laundry and found one a block from the pier. Once again, it was $2 per kilo and it would be ready by 5 the next afternoon. That afternoon there was an optional excursion to the "Killing Fields" (Choeung Ek Memorial) and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the Kmer Rouge's detention center in Phnom Penh.. The other option was to stay onboard or spend the time on your own. We chose the former and were so glad we did. It is quite disturbing, especially since the killing fields site we visited is only one of many such sites where the Khmer Rouge did their dirty deeds. Nevertheless, the sobering sites should not be missed as they put in context the painful recent history of the Cambodian people. This evening we went to Raffles by tuk-tuk.On our final full day in Phnom Penh, the ship had traveled downriver to a local silk-weaving village at Chong Koh. Most of the green bus opted instead to visit a local elementary school right near where we were docked to give out pens, pencils and toiletries we had collected at our hotels and on the ship. We visited grades K-6, met the teachers, principal and had a translator. The children were adorable, appreciative and eager to meet the group of strangers. Expect to be greeted by local women and children selling scarves. The children latched on to me immediately and followed me everywhere. When I agreed to buy scarves from them I was surrounded by all of them and the adult women. I negotiated with them and handed off each scarf to my DH who also paid. I would still be there had it not been for the ship's horn and Thinh patiently waiting for us to get onboard. I have wonderful pictures of these children and great memories (and lots of scarves, too). This was a highlight of our trip as were all encounters with the children. The afternoon was free with an optional walking tour led by Teeny to Wat Phnom, a park with a hill in the middle of Phnom Penh with several pagodas on top, one honoring Madam Penh, the founder of the city. So after lunch and before the walking tour, DH and I decided we wanted to buy silver serving utensils as a gift to ourselves and went back to the Central Market by tuk-tuk. The short story is that a shopkeeper directed us to her cousin's shop along Sisowath Quay in the hotel district (across the street from Hotel Cambodiana) where we bought a set of 4 beautifully carved, handmade serving pieces and were taken by their English speaking young friend by tuk-tuk back and forth to the store, an ATM and the pier. We decided to take the optional walking tour during that afternoon during which Teeny introduced us to ripe lotus seeds, hanging fruit bats and a group of monkeys, one of whom stole her lotus seeds. That night after dinner we enjoyed the traditional dance performed by the Cambodian children, said goodbye to Teeny and met our Vietnamese guide, Dauo, who would be with us for the remainder of the trip.LA MARGUERITE-VIETNAMThe next day was our only "sea" day so we slept in (until 8:30) to make breakfast which ended at 9AM. La Marguerite left the pier and we watched Phnom Penh recede in the distance as we merged with the mighty Mekong River, a sight that you can actually observe since the Mekong is blue-green. Today we would cross the border into Vietnam. There was a fruit carving demonstration, an ice cream "party" and a day of down time, much relished after 10 days of nearly constant activity. Late that afternoon we moored in Tan Chau, the first Vietnamese town on the Mekong. This evening was a briefing by Thinh of tomorrow's activities, dinner and an enjoyable show by the crew and guides.In the morning we took a local boat to Tan Chau town where were met onshore by a sea of rickshaws (Xe Loi). Along our route through town we were greeted by locals, always waving and smiling. We visited a slipper making factory and a rattan mat factory and walked through a small enclave of locals to our motorboat which would take us down narrow channels to an evergreen island. We met and mingled with the villagers, their oxen, the local fisherman, and seamstress. We met the children, handed out more pencils and pens, saw their crops (bananas, corn, chili peppers, rice) and watched them build a pond to catch fish from the canal when the river rises during rainy season. We returned to the ship for lunch and cruised further down the river to Sa Dec while enjoying a free afternoon onboard. After a briefing by Thinh, we enjoyed dinner and a Vietnamese traditional folklore performance.The next day was our final touring day on the river. After breakfast, a local boat transferred us to Sa Dec for a walking tour. We strolled the incredible local food market- fresh (very) fowl, fish and vegetables and had a sampling of some exotic fruits. Next was the family home of Mr. Le, Marguerite Dumas' lover. The next stop was a 1-hour bus ride to Xeo Quyt, the former Viet Cong base (described in the materials as "a base to lead the province's people to contribute their strength to that of the whole country to carry out victoriously the anti-French and US war of resistance for the salvation of the fatherland"). It was interesting and involved walking along dirt paths and over footbridges. This was the only place that we applied bug spray (40% DEET) although there appeared to be no bugs (some passengers had taken anti-malarial drugs but Thinh said they were not necessary where we would be and apparently he was correct as we never saw any bugs and never were bitten). Those passengers that did not want to travel to Xeo Quyt returned to the ship and it sailed to Cai Be to meet the others returning from Xeo Quyt. After lunch, there was a mid-afternoon excursion by local boat. We passed the Cai Be Floating Market and took a short tour of a 1930's family home that is now also a guest house. We docked and took a short walk to visit a candy making factory which also made rice paper and snake wine. We returned to the ship for our final evening. Tonight was a farewell dinner, time to settle accounts and pack. HO CHI MINH CITY (SAIGON)We docked in My Tho during the night. Bags were outside our cabin by 7AM and breakfast ended at 8AM. Our bus to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon or HCM) left the dock at 8:30AM and after a little more than 1 hour we arrived in HCM. Our first stop in HCM was the Emperor Jade Pagoda, an intricately carved figurine pagoda in Cholon (Chinatown). Afterwards, we were taken to the Reunification Palace where Dauo took us on a tour of the interior rooms. Following was a visit to a lacquerware factory (Minh Phuong) where we saw how the various types of lacquerware are made and had an opportunity (very short) to purchase. The number and types of products for sale were so overwhelming that we decided to return the next day with our private guide. Our next stop was Indochine restaurant for an included lunch with the entire group during which we received our room keys for the hotel, again randomly assigned. After lunch we were taken to our hotel, Sofitel Plaza Saigon, to check-in. We had a very large and lovely corner room with a great view. DH had not been feeling well the past 2 days so he remained at the hotel for a nap while we went with our guide and bus to Ben Thanh Market. We had about an hour to traverse this cramped, bustling market teeming with people and goods. I found nothing that I wanted to buy and was just too overwhelmed although some of the ladies purchased several pair of very cheap sandals. We returned to the hotel and decided to spend our friends' final night at Mandarin, a beautiful and elegant Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant with wonderful food and service. Each dish was a work of art and was a fitting finale to a great trip. We would be staying in HCM for 2 more days but they were leaving in the morning so we said our goodbyes that evening.The next morning we met our guide, Zoom, at 8AM in the lobby. We had planned a very full day with him before departing from home. Since we had expected him at 9, he sat with us as we ate our buffet breakfast (included). We had a private car and driver in addition to Zoom. Our first stop was Giac Lam Pagoda, the oldest pagoda in Saigon. From there we went to Binh Tay Market in Chinatown, even more crowded than Ben Thanh if that were possible. Zoom navigated us all around as we watched the inventive ways goods are delivered to the market. Again, we found nothing we were interested in buying. Next it was lunch at Pho 2000 where we enjoyed great pho and excellent spring rolls, then on to a different lacquer workshop than the one we visited the previous day. Here we purchased a lacquer lotus plate, wine bottle stands and covered lacquer boxes inlaid with mother of pearl-all for reasonable prices. They were packed in bubble wrap for the trip home. We stopped outside the Reunification Palace where we had an interesting discussion with Zoom about the war, politics, life in HCM and Vietnam. Our next stop was the War Remnants Museum, an over-the-top propaganda museum but worth the visit. We drove past the Opera House, City Hall, went inside Notre Dame Cathedral and the Post Office, and then enjoyed a wonderful Vietnamese iced coffee drink at the rooftop Garden Bar of the Rex Hotel with a wonderful view of the skyline, Opera House and City Hall. It was at the Rooftop Garden that the U.S. daily briefing took place during the Vietnam War and was also allegedly CIA Headquarters during the war. After a very full and most enjoyable day with Zoom, we returned to the hotel and said goodbye to Zoom (the next day he dropped off a CD of all the pictures he took with us the day of the tour). We looked through our guidebook for a restaurant for dinner and decided that we needed some Western food. We opted for Skewers, a Mediterranean inspired restaurant a short taxi ride away. The food was good, not great, but it was what we were looking for that evening. After dinner, the restaurant called a taxi and we went to the Caravelle Hotel, across from the Opera House, and went up to the 5th floor Saigon, Saigon Bar. We sat out on the terrace and enjoyed the beautiful view of the gorgeously lit City Hall and other buildings while listening to a Cuban Latin band. We decided to have a nightcap at the Rooftop Garden Bar at the Rex so we crossed the street, took some great pictures of City Hall and capped the evening off at the Rex. Our final day in Saigon was a full one as we did not need to be at the airport until 9:30PM. We arranged to pay for a half day at the hotel so we didn't need to check out until 7PM. After our included buffet breakfast with a couple from the ship (several people only took the cruise portion of the trip), we decided we were oriented enough to walk to the area near City Hall where DH was told by Zoom he could buy the watch he wanted. Surprisingly, we realized that we were only 6-7 blocks from this area and the walk was easy. We passed the US Consulate, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Post Office and several shopping malls and department stores. Our watch hunting was ultimately not successful but that was OK. We decided to walk down Don Khoi Street, the major shopping street, towards the Saigon River. We were told by Zoom that it was not very safe to walk along the river (pickpockets) but we wanted to go into the oldest hotel in Saigon, the 1920's French-era Hotel Majestic, at the foot of Don Khoi Street and the river. We went up to the Sky Bar for a drink and enjoyed a great view of the river. After enduring the heat and humidity, we left and walked back up Don Khoi street to Mojo for lunch at the Sheraton Hotel. Mojo is a funky place with a menu of sandwiches, salads, international as well as Vietnamese dishes. Following lunch, we walked along Le Loi Street to the Ho Chi Minh City Fine Arts Museum. The museum, which costs the equivalent of $.50 per person, is a 3-story French villa with an original 1920's era elevator and a wonderful display of historic and contemporary sculpture, paintings and lacquerware. The museum is not air-conditioned so it might be a better stop in the morning. We walked back the way we came on Le Loi Street, stopping in the Park Hyatt for a cold drink and a glass of wine while cooling down and resting our feet. The hotel is very modern and the art work is beautiful. It seemed that we had probably been in every high-end hotel in the city save one or two. We walked back to the Sofitel exhausted and a little disappointed that we did not make it to the City Museum for the Water Puppet show that could only be seen between 5 and 6 that day. After doing some final packing and taking showers, we checked out of our room and left our bags with the bellman. We asked the concierge for a restaurant recommendation. He suggested an Italian restaurant a short taxi ride away and he made a reservation for us. When we arrived at L'Hostaria, we were greeted by the manager from Turin who luckily had a table for us since there was a very large party of Germans occupying most of the tables. And it was lucky since the food was wonderful, the wine very good and the prices very reasonable. It was a delicious dinner capping a fantastic trip. We returned to the hotel, picked up our bags and took a taxi to the airport 25 minutes away. We flew to Tokyo, had a 5 hour layover and were back home 26 hours later but on the same day we left HCM.It was a memorable and very special trip. Read Less
Sail Date: February 2011
OUTSTANDING!!! Viking does everything for you. They are the most accommodating cruise line I've ever been on. Because almost all tours are included, the price is about what I booked it for, without the hidden costs associated with ... Read More
OUTSTANDING!!! Viking does everything for you. They are the most accommodating cruise line I've ever been on. Because almost all tours are included, the price is about what I booked it for, without the hidden costs associated with large ship, ocean cruising. The food was excellent. The choices are more limited than ocean liners, but all very good, and served with friendliness and professionalism. T he tours were outstanding. Most included a local guide, along with a Ships representative, so every need was met. Tours were very comprehensive, and better than most that I've paid for. Read Less

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