We had heard nothing but raves about river cruising, but we were still pleasantly surprised by the outstanding service, food, and itinerary of our Rhine cruise from Basel to Amsterdam. It was quite obvious that Viking was determined to ... Read More
We had heard nothing but raves about river cruising, but we were still pleasantly surprised by the outstanding service, food, and itinerary of our Rhine cruise from Basel to Amsterdam. It was quite obvious that Viking was determined to take care of every little detail from the time we booked the trip, arrived at the airport, during the entire week, and including the shuttle to our departure airport. There was never any confusion, delays, or anything that wasn't perfect on the Var. A simple pamphlet for each passenger contained all our flight, hotel, and daily itinerary information. Another small booklet detailed what we were passing along the Rhine, and kilometer signs were placed on each shore so it was easy to follow the sites.
The Viking Daily listed each day's itinerary as well as historical information on the port. Loudspeaker announcements were kept to a minimum and mostly to announce departure times.
For the first time, we let a cruise line make our flight plans and British Airways was excellent. We got to go on the newer Airbus 380 double-decker, and paying a bit more for Economy Plus was well worth it. The space, service, in-flight entertainment selections, and food were very good. Processing through Heathrow in London was a bit of a mess both directions, but thankfully we had plenty of time between flights.
Meals, particularly dinner, were the main social events onboard. The menu, all beverages included, was very good. Even the "everyday" offering of chicken and steak was excellent. Usually from 7:30 to 9:00, this gave everyone plenty of time to meet fellow-cruisers. Also offered were music and dancing, a concert, glass-blower, and a presentation on the European Union.
Each stop included a tour (Breisach-Black Forest, Strasbourg-Petite France to Cathedral Square, Heidelberg-Castle and town, Koblenz-Marksburg Castle, Cologne-Old City and Cathedral, Kinderdijk-windmills, and Amsterdam-old town.
We took advantage of the pre-cruise stay in Lake Lucerne and post-cruise stay in Amsterdam. Met at Zurich airport upon landing and shuttled to the hotel, then shuttled from our last hotel in Amsterdam; no problems at either end-was impressed by Viking's planning. Both were at top-rate hotels, staffed by Viking personnel, and included orientation walks. Of particular note was the Mt. Titlis optional excursion in Lake Lucerne. It was a highlight of the entire trip with fantastic scenery up to the 10,000 ft. peak.
My wife and I recently returned from a week-long cruise down the Rhine River from Basel to Amsterdam on AmaWaterways’ AmaDolce. We also took the cruise line’s 4-night pre-cruise extension, consisting of 2 nights in Zurich and 2 nights ... Read More
My wife and I recently returned from a week-long cruise down the Rhine River from Basel to Amsterdam on AmaWaterways’ AmaDolce. We also took the cruise line’s 4-night pre-cruise extension, consisting of 2 nights in Zurich and 2 nights in Lucerne; and we remained in Amsterdam for 3 additional nights in a hotel we booked on our own. The fortnight in Europe was a truly wonderful experience, but for the purposes of this review, I’ll stick to the 11-night AMA-produced land and cruise components.
For the record, this was our second river cruise in Europe, having sailed on the then new AmaCerto on the Danube in August, 2012. We were so enthralled with that experience – after having taken more than 30 ocean cruises since the mid 1990s, including 5 in Europe -- that it sold us on river cruising (see my comprehensive river of the Danube cruise in the member reviews page of this website).
Although we continue to cruise on the oceans and plan on at least several more such cruises in Europe, these are no substitute for the relatively low key, but highly active and wonderfully intimate vacation experience only a river cruise can provide. Our second river cruise certainly confirmed and reinforced the conclusions drawn during our 2012 Danube cruise; and we are already booked on a Douro River cruise in Spain and Portugal for next fall and hope to cruise the eastern Danube from Budapest to Istanbul sometime in 2017 or 2018.
Having said that, I think it’s fair to say that every river cruise is unique, but that comparisons can certainly be drawn, especially between two such experiences on the same cruise line. Taken in its broadest sense, our Rhine River cruise on AmaDolce matched up quite favorably with our previous river cruise in almost every respect. The difference is in some of the details, and I think it would be useful to set out these details according to the following categories: the ship and accommodations; the food; the activities; the staff and crew; and the itinerary and tours. Along the way I hope to draw some conclusions and insights about the general river cruise experience, as well as this particular river cruise vacation. This may take some time so I apologize in advance for the long read.
Ship and Accommodations: AmaDolce is the 5th of 6 nearly identical river ships build by AmaWaterways between 2006 and 2009. These ships are slightly smaller than the newer ships in the AmaCerto class and hold 146 passengers compared with 164 on the newer class of ship. Having sailed now on both classes of ship, the only significant difference between the two is that the AmaCerto class of ships offers staterooms with both a French balcony and a standard balcony, in addition to staterooms only with a French balcony. On AmaDolce the dual balcony stateroom is not available and so we took a Category B stateroom with a French balcony and were perfectly satisfied with that. Because it was fall and Europe tends to be cool during late October, the only times we opened the French balcony were to take photos and those times were not all that frequent. In overall layout, design and even accoutrements, AmaDolce bears a remarkably close resemblance to its slightly larger cousins. Getting around these river ships is simple enough to begin with, but our familiarity with the layout – along with our stateroom location only a few steps from the forward, public section of the ship – made negotiating our way around the ship easier than a snap of the finger.
One point I must add about the staterooms on the river cruise ships is that there is a real focus on economy of space. At 170 square feet with a queen-plus sized bed, the stateroom was a little cozy compared with many of the ocean cruise ships we've sailed on, but it was eminently functional in every way, with features not usually found on mainstream ocean cruise ships -- even in the suites. Besides a double closet with 2 levels for hanging clothing, there's a third closet with floor to ceiling shelves. Even so, we took so much with us that we would have been a little cramped for space until we discovered the rolling shelf under the bed. With our luggage stored under there, we still could get to everything easily. The bathroom was larger than most standard bathrooms on mainstream cruise lines, with a large and very functional shower, a full array of bath products, hair dryer, and shelving both above and below the sink. The stateroom comes equipped with a pair of bath robes and slippers, a pair of umbrellas, a safe, and complimentary water bottles (replenished daily). There is also an infotainment system that includes a TV that can be switched to internet mode -- and an accompanying keyboard and mouse. The TV provides a satellite feed from networks in multiple languages, as well as music channels and movie options, and there is free WiFi on board the ship that was, frankly, more reliable when the ship was docked than sailing down the Rhine. Each stateroom also comes equipped with "silent voice boxes" used by passengers to hear their tour guide without having to stand within earshot of the guide. With a standard adapter, one can use up to 3 electric sockets in the room to charge cameras, smart phones, and electric razors. In sum, we found our French balcony stateroom to be highly functional and comfortable, with plenty of extras included.
Dining: Having read hundreds of reviews and comments on Cruise Critic, the subject of dining always seems to provoke great debate. Frankly, everyone's taste in food is different and so I try not to engage in value judgments or argue about favorite dishes. But I also know that the dining experience is considered by most to be an essential component of a cruise – all the more so on a river cruise, where menus usually reflect the local cuisine. Having said that, I must acknowledge I was more impressed by the quality of both the menu selections and of the food on our AmaCerto Danube cruise than on our Rhine cruise on AmaDolce. This is not to say the meals weren’t enjoyable. Most were, thanks to the excellent service and wine selections. But I found myself seeking out the standard daily options for salads and entrees on more than one occasion; that was never the case on our previous river cruise. Again, because meals are such a personal thing, it is quite possible that most passengers loved the menu selections; but I do know that our traveling companions, who were experiencing their first river cruise, came away feeling the same as us about the dinner menu options.
Other than that, there was little to complain about regarding the food on board. We Americans have a lifestyle that often prevents us from having a good breakfast; I think Europeans are far more civilized in this respect, and I very much appreciated the onboard full breakfasts that offered a good variety of options from the buffet, plus omelets and other special dishes prepared fresh on the spot in the dining room. The same was true at lunchtime, where regional dishes were available both on the buffet and specially brought to you by one of the waiters. A "light" lunch consisting of mini-sandwiches, a soup, a pasta dish, salads, and desserts, was available daily in the lounge for folks who preferred to eat quickly and move on to something else. We did not take advantage of this option on this cruise.
Unlike our first river cruise, we opted to dine at the Chefs Table restaurant located at the aft of the ship. It was the final night on board (the Captain’s Gala Dinner having been held the previous night), and the ship was docked in Amsterdam. With space for only 24 diners, this specialty restaurant offered a very small choice, but the meal was truly extraordinary, made all the more so by the extra special service, the intimacy of the dining space, and the lights of Amsterdam harbor clearly visible from the floor to ceiling aft windows. It was one of the most memorable moments during our weeklong cruise and certainly the highlight of our dining experience while on board – at no extra charge, by the way.
The Main Lounge had a constant availability of coffees and teas, iced tea and water, and cookies. These snacks came in most handily during the late afternoon upon returning from a shore excursion and late at night after working up an appetite from the dancing. Meals were regularly supplemented with a variety of edibles and drinkables, most notably what amounted to a meal between breakfast and lunch served in the lounge on the last full day of the cruise and consisting of brats, potatoes, sauerkraut, and German-style pretzels all washed down with free Bitburger Pilsner beer. In this instance – as delicious as it was, the extra meal was something of overkill, as it was served about 90 minutes after breakfast and a half hour before lunch (we had an early lunch that day because of an early afternoon city tour of Amsterdam). Ugh! Talk about having plenty to walk off!!
Other examples of extras included Gluwein (warm red wine) served as we returned from a chilly tour in Strasbourg, Rudesheimer coffee served topside while sailing through the Rhine Gorge, and champagne cocktails served upon our arrival on board and during the Captain’s Gala reception, just to name a few. Also available in a free-flowing form and at no extra charge was a selection of a white wine and red wine at lunch and dinner -- a different selection each night -- as well as Bitburger beer.
In sum, although the dinner menu selections did not match the superb and unique choices we enjoyed on our Danube cruise, I was certainly satisfied with the overall quality and selection of food on AmaDolce , which would certainly have met our expectations had it not been for our previous, extraordinary dining experience on the 2012 river cruise.
Onboard Activities: One might have assumed that the general lack of activity venues on a river ship compared with the giant ocean cruise vessels would have caused passengers to be bored. Nothing was further from reality aboard AmaDolce. For one thing, there were very few occasions when the ship was sailing during the day when we weren’t at a meal, and in each case that lasted only a brief 2-3 hours, and so passengers were more often sightseeing off the ship for the better part of each day. The fitness center, although small, was ample for this cruise, as most passengers had precious little time to compete for use of the exercise equipment. Again -- from my own experience -- with each day packed with shore excursions that often involved pretty significant walking, and two optional bicycle tours, there wasn't much need for additional aerobic exercise. During those few stretches when the ship was sailing and we weren’t eating or attending a port talk by the cruise manager, many of the passengers seemed more preoccupied with capturing the incredibly beautiful scenery on film – or socializing with each other -- than doing anything else. I know that on those few occasions when the ship was on the move, I spent as much time on a small deck forward of the lounge or on the Sun Deck waiting for the next lock or for what the next bend in the river would reveal.
On four occasions during the evening, AMA Waterways provided some form of guest entertainers who performed in the Lounge. Each act was unique and most of them were quite enjoyable, but only one or two offered a true flavor of the country and locale where the ship was docked. Performers would come aboard, do their show, and then depart the ship. Samples of entertainers who performed in the lounge included a young woman singing tunes from Broadway shows, who was probably the weakest of the acts presented; an accordion and chanteuse act called “Lizzi” who provided a full hour of wonderful French standard songs – and in the process I somehow found myself pulled up to help sing one of them, much to the amusement of my fellow passengers; there was also an outstanding string trio (La Strada) performing semi-classics, European folk songs, and famous operatic pieces; and then there was Monia & Hutch – a keyboard and singing duo playing pop and Motown numbers and working desperately to get passengers up on the dance floor. Their efforts eventually paid off, but for them it was a bit of a struggle, although as musicians they were top notch.
My point about the activities is that it is impossible to compare the kind of Broadway or Vegas-style acts and guest headliners you see in the main theaters of ocean going cruise ships with the entertainment on a river cruise. Nor did we miss those big shows (which we usually like to see, by the way). The kind of guest entertainment provided by AMA Waterways on this river cruise was well-suited for the intimate setting and provided a sometimes excellent supplement to the cruise line's efforts to give passengers a real taste and feel of local culture and life. While I think most passengers enjoyed the guest entertainment, however, it did not succeed to the same degree as our Danube cruise as cultural enrichment and, in retrospect, left me a bit disappointed in this respect compared with our earlier river cruise experience.
One final note regarding the onboard activities: each day before dinner and later at night after dinner and the local entertainment, the resident musician -- Szoldt -- provided piano music for easy listening, and he was always gracious about taking requests. On several nights, the easy listening segued into dance music, and several of the passengers got up to dance. These sessions never reached the full-blown dance party atmosphere we had on our Danube cruise, but that was probably a factor of the mix of passengers more than anything the cruise line did or did not do.
Staff and Crew: An intimate river cruise ship with 140 passengers means an intimate experience with a relatively small staff and crew. The Captain had a crew of about 8-10 officers and sailors. Unlike on most large cruise ships, the Captain was almost totally accessible. The cruise – including negotiating through 14 locks between Basel and Amsterdam – proceeded smoothly without incident, even with lots of traffic on the river (although nothing like the summertime traffic we experienced on the Danube in 2012).
The other senior officer on AmaDolce is the Hotel Manager; on this cruise it was Martina. She also interacted with the passengers on any number of occasions, not only at formal gatherings, but she was almost always waiting at the gangway to welcome each person back on board after a tour – or overseeing the distribution of welcome back drinks. The Hotel Manager is responsible for virtually every non-crew member of the staff, which includes such departments as dining, bartending, housekeeping, and administration. In this regard, the housekeeping team of about 8 staff members performed their duties with the utmost competence. Staterooms were cleaned and replenished twice daily but it was a rare occasion when you saw your room steward, so efficiently and stealthily did they perform their jobs. The dining staff of a maitre d' and about 8 waiters was equally efficient, and most of them were engaging and friendly. Although there is but one seating and no assigned tables, I felt as if each waiter treated you as if you were a longtime acquaintance. Of the several waiters we personally encountered on this cruise, our favorite was Marius. The team of three bartenders not only worked the bar during the afternoon and after dinner hours, but also served drinks during lunch and dinner. They were friendly and competent, especially our favorite – Dimitrar, who always went the extra mile to keep us happy in our drinking. Finally, we were thoroughly impressed with the team of 3 staff members responsible for handling the front desk and all the business aspects of the cruise: paperwork; boarding passes; issuing tour group colors according to passenger's wishes and also as equitably as possible to ensure balanced-sized tour groups; and billing matters.
Unlike ocean cruise ships, where the Cruise Director is responsible for all onboard activities and entertainment and must manage a fairly sizable team of cruise staff, on river cruises there is a Cruise Manager who works virtually alone. The Cruise Manager is responsible for the passengers from the moment they arrive at a pre-cruise hotel until they leave a post-cruise hotel (when applicable). The Cruise Manager arranges and organizes all the tours, including those offered during pre-and post-cruise extensions as well as all included and optional tours during the cruise. And the Cruise Manager is responsible for the onboard local guest entertainers throughout the cruise, and for the daily program provided to the passengers. Because the Cruise Manager follows the passengers for a given sailing and extensions, he or she moves from ship to ship rather than having postings on a particular ship -- and that is why they tend to work alone (in busy extension locations the Cruise Manager sometimes has assistance from local contractors). Our Cruise Manager, Frederico, was exceptional in every conceivable way. He was the person who greeted us with a friendly smile upon arrival at our hotel in Zurich for our pre-cruise extension, and the last AMA Waterways person we saw when we departed the ship in Amsterdam at the end of the cruise. In between, his winning smile and overall friendly personality, enthusiasm, professionalism, and constant attention to every detail and the interests of the passengers endeared him to just about everyone. He personally went out of his way to assist my wife and me with two important issues: in Lucerne, we had a problem with our assigned hotel room and he immediately interceded with the hotel front desk to have our room changed and luggage moved; we also hoped to meet up with a couple who live close to Koblenz, and because the ship was only there for an evening, Frederico arranged for our friends to come aboard when we docked and join us for dinner on the ship, for which we happily paid a nominal charge for their dinner.
In sum, I would have to say that the performance of the relatively small staff and crew of the AmaDolce not only exceeded our expectations for this river cruise, but ranks equally with the performance of the staff and crew on our previous river cruise as among the best we have encountered in our extensive cruising experience.
Zurich and Lucerne (4-night pre-cruise extension: Upon our arrival in Zurich, our pre-paid transfer to the hotel worked absolutely smoothly even though our flight arrived about 90 minutes late. I had emailed AMAWaterways before our departure from Washington Dulles the night before, alerting them to the delayed departure, and the cruise line representative (Judith) was waiting for us outside the baggage claim area at the Zurich airport. After a few minutes to collect 5 other members of the AMA group that arrived on our flight, we were quickly and efficiently transported by luxury coach to the Continental Hotel. The hotel turned out to be an excellent choice. Rooms were typically European – meaning cozy by American standards; but they contained all the amenities. A very extensive breakfast buffet and complimentary WiFi were included, as well as a barrel of fresh apple juice available in the lobby pretty much throughout the day. The hotel is located within reasonable walking distance of the heart of the Altstadt (Old Town) on both sides of the Limmat River, and we spent our first afternoon exploring the main shopping district from the central railroad station south on Bahnhofstrasse. The next morning we had a city tour that began with a bus tour of the university district above our hotel and the lakefront, and ended with a walking tour through the winding streets of the Altstadt between the Limmat River and the Bahnhofstrasse.
In the afternoon we took an optional tour by bus to the Rhine Falls and the medieval town of Stein Am Rhine – a UNESCO World Heritage Site with beautifully painted building facades along a pedestrian walking street. The falls were quite exciting and unique, as we were taken by a small boat within yards of the falls – upon which there is a large rock and a boat landing where those more fearless and younger than our group can climb to the top of the rock. The afternoon was all the more wonderful because we had beautiful weather. In fact, the weather was nothing short of spectacular pretty much the entire time we were in Switzerland, with brilliant sunshine and mid-afternoon temperatures in the 70s.
The next day we had perhaps an hour or so after breakfast before loading up the buses to take us to Lucerne. There wasn’t enough time to see anything we hadn’t already seen in Zurich, so most of us sat around the hotel lobby for a chunk of time chatting until the buses departed right at noon for a scenic drive from Zurich to Lake Lucerne. It was yet another beautiful day and much of the rolling countryside south of Zurich was quite picturesque, especially when we drove along one lake after another. We stopped for a late lunch in the town of Brunnen, located on the eastern end of Lake Lucerne. Because we had to drive to Viznau to catch a boat by 3 p.m., we had only about 40 minutes for 80 people to find restrooms, have some lunch, and catch a quick look at the lakefront. It was a very tight schedule, but we were able to wolf down a sandwich and get some photos of the lake before the buses brought us to Viznau. Here they left us and went on to the Radisson Blu Hotel in Lucerne, while we enjoyed an absolutely wonderful hour-long ride to Lucerne on one of the Lake ferries, which we had all to ourselves. The scenery was beyond gorgeous, as we passed several major peaks in the foothills of the Alps, including Mt. Pilatus, all the while basking in the brilliant afternoon sun. The only thing that would have made the afternoon completely perfect would have been to have departed our Zurich hotel about 45 minutes earlier (rather than sitting around the lobby), so we wouldn’t have been so rushed during our lunch stop in Brunnen.
The Radisson Blu was also a pretty good choice by AMAWaterways. Located a few steps from the Lucerne lakefront, adjacent to and behind the central railway station and rail yard, we were but a short walk to the primary areas of interest both in the new part of the city where Lake Lucerne empties into the Reuss River and on the opposite side of the river where the Altstadt is located. Although larger than our hotel in Zurich, the Radisson Blu had similar amenities and slightly larger rooms. The included breakfast buffet was, if anything, more extensive than and just as excellent as the one we enjoyed in Zurich. The following morning we had an escorted walking tour of the old and new town. After lunch we took the optional tour to Mt. Pilatus. The highlight was the half-hour ride to the top of the mountain on a cog railway – the oldest and steepest such railway in the world, with grades approaching 50 degrees. It was a Sunday, and hundreds of people lined up to take the tram up and down the mountain; fortunately we had a reservation and so there was no long wait. The views climbing and descending on the tram were only surpassed by those from the top of the mountain, where there is a hotel, restaurant, gift shop and plenty of trails to hike. Once we took our photos, however, we had a wonderful time just sitting and enjoying wine, beer, and the incredibly warm and perfectly sunny weather. That moment was a true highlight of the entire vacation.
Much as we hated leaving beautiful Lucerne behind, the next morning after breakfast we were back on the buses for our transfer to Basel and the ship. Unlike the scenic drive from Zurich to Lucerne, this drive took us mainly on major highways and through farmland and industrial areas. Upon arrival in Basel, we had a one-hour escorted tour of the central part of the city, which I found to be considerably less picturesque than either Zurich or Lucerne. We had some free time to wander around and grab some lunch before meeting the buses for our short ride to the ship and embarkation.
With respect to dining out during our 4-night pre-cruise extension, while we were on our own to find places to eat for lunch and dinner, we usually had little time or interest in major lunches and so we focused our attention primarily on dinner. In Zurich, we dined each night in different restaurants along the pedestrian-only Niederdorfstrasse, located less than a 10-minute walk directly south from our hotel. On the first night we stumbled upon a wonderful dining spot serving up local specialties at moderate prices – Café Mohrenkopf – which turned out to be a truly outstanding find. We had reserved a table for the second night at a more well-known place specializing in fondue dishes: Restaurant Swiss Chuchi, where we celebrated my birthday. The fondue -- and the huge ice cream birthday dessert served up (on the house), made for a very special dinner.
In sum, our 4-night pre-cruise extension proved to meet and even exceed expectations, with many special moments. The tours – especially factoring in the two optional excursions – were informative and reasonably thorough. The fact that we were blessed with almost perfect weather for mid-October only enhanced what turned out to be a truly outstanding four days.
Day 1 – Basel: Covered in the above section.
Day 2 – Riquevihr: After remaining docked overnight in Basel, Amadolce began its cruise down the Rhine very early the next morning, passing through a series of locks with up to 60-meter drops in the water level. After lunch the ship docked in Breisach, Germany, and we had the option of doing walking tours of this town with its hillside cathedral, plus nearby Freiburg, or taking a longer bus trip to visit the medieval village of Riquevihr in the heart of Alsatian wine-growing country. We opted for the latter, and off we went with Monika, our German guide for the nearly hour-long drive. Monika spent some time on the bus trying to explain the history of Alsace – which passed back and forth between French and German control for more than a century ending in 1945 – with very limited success. Things did not improve when I noticed a road sign indicating an approaching memorial to the Maginot Line – the famous fortification erected by the French prior to World War I to protect it from attack by Germany; a fortification that failed not once but twice during the two world wars. My wife, who speaks fluent German, asked Monika in German about this memorial and whether the bus could slow down for a photo. Monika had no idea what the memorial, or the Maginot Line, was. The bus driver, who was considerably older, did know about it, however, and slowed down so some of us could take a photo, even though the memorial was difficult to see clearly from the road. I mention this because one would think a tour guide, who is trying to explain the struggle between France and Germany over Alsace, would at least know about the Maginot Line and include that in the explanation as we passed by its memorial. After passing vineyard upon vineyard, we arrived at the medieval walled town of Riquevihr. Monika took us on a walking tour from one end of the main street to the other; the town is filled with beautifully colorful shops and wine bars. After the 45 minute tour, we had nearly two hours of free time to wander around what amounted to one long street. Many of us took advantage of the time not only to shop but to taste some of the local wines for which the area is known. We found a wine cellar overflowing with atmosphere and enjoyed a wonderful wine tasting. By the time the bus returned to the ship, however, it was almost dinner time. There were precious few moments to clean up for the evening. Although Riquevihr is definitely worth a visit, I wondered why we needed so much free time in such a small town when, had we headed back to the ship 30 minutes earlier, there would have been no need to scramble to prepare for the evening meal.
Day 3—Strasbourg: We awoke to a change of season from late summer weather to late fall weather. It was overcast with temperatures in the 40s and a strong north wind was blowing when our bus arrived at Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsatian region of France. This tour was a true highlight from the start. Our French guide, Virgina, was able to convey in mere moments what Monika had failed to do the previous day with respect to the historical struggle between France and Germany over Alsace. The city truly lived up to its star billing. Ringed by a narrow river, the island that forms the city’s center provides far more than a visitor can digest in a few hours. Despite the bone-chilling wind, our walking tour gave us a real flavor of this both historic and contemporary city, with the cathedral at its epicenter and its astronomical clock the focal point of our visit within its massive walls. During our free time after the walking tour, we had an opportunity to warm up with a glass of gluwein and sample local pastries. Serving as a political center for Europe as well as an educational center, the city projected a youthful vibe that transcended the weather. We thoroughly enjoyed this half-day visit to Strasbourg under the auspices of an outstanding tour guide.
Day 4 – Speyer: After a pleasant morning sail down the Rhine that included an early lunch, we arrived at the village of Speyer. There was an option to take a walking tour of the town, but we elected to take the full afternoon tour to Heidelberg, and that turned out to be a very wise choice. The weather had moderated from the previous day as our bus drove through the city of Heidelberg, the historic educational center of Germany, and ascended the hill upon which sits the ruins of a medieval castle. Our tour guide, Renate, had lived in Australia and so she not only spoke very lucid English, but was quite good at telling many interesting anecdotes in an informative and sometimes amusing way. From the castle grounds, there is a really nice view of the city of Heidelberg and of the historic bridge across the Neckar River (a tributary of the Rhine). Following the castle tour, we took the bus down the steep hill while Renata explained how in Germany it is required to study Hitler and the Holocaust in the schools and that in many places in the country, people have taken pains to restore synagogues and other aspects of Jewish life, even though the Jewish population in Germany remains very small compared with the time prior to World War II. Only by understanding what happened, she said, can such a thing be prevented in the future. After a brief walking tour, we had more than a full hour to wander around the mostly pedestrian main street of the Altstadt. Renate showed us the best place to purchase local pastry specialties, and off we went to explore, shop, and enjoy a glass of wine or beer while sitting outside and enjoying the balmy afternoon weather. We then lined up in droves to purchase pastries for the ride back to the ship – and these turned out to be an instant favorable reminder of a wonderful visit to a beautiful and unique city in the heart of the Rhineland.
Day 5 – Ruddesheim am Rhine: This was a busy day during our itinerary, beginning with a morning visit to this enchanting German village located on a great bend in the river just at the start of the picturesque Rhine Gorge. Our morning of sightseeing began with a mini-train ride from the pier into the heart of the town, which is literally surrounded by vineyards. We first had a tour of an interesting museum featuring early musical cabinets, ranging in size from music boxes to player pianos, to major full wall-size cabinets producing multiple instrumental sounds simultaneously. The demonstrations were entertaining – if perhaps a bit repetitive; nevertheless, it was a unique place to visit. We then went essentially next door for a wonderful wine-tasting and talk. The sponsoring vineyard’s speaker must have been an actor at some point in his life, because his presentation was truly entertaining and fun; the wine tasting itself featured several types of white Reislings that went down well and tasted quite good on the palate. We had a little extra time afterward to explore some of the shops before walking back to our ship for lunch.
Rhine Gorge: Almost immediately after lunch, the ship set sail for Koblenz through one of the few really scenic portions of the cruise, as we passed through the Rhine Gorge. The weather cooperated enough so that most of us went topside to photograph something like 20 castles – both active and ruins – along with an almost constant presence of vineyards rising above villages on both sides of the river. We sat or stood watching what the next bend in the river would unfold. During this three-hour journey, trays of “Ruddesheimer Coffee” – a local special coffee drink with something “extra” added – were passed around, and it served to warm us and fortify us from the chill as we sailed through the beautiful Rhine Gorge thinking, this is really the essence of river cruising. And so the afternoon cruise turned out to be one of the most memorable moments for most of us.
Koblenz: This small city, located at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel rivers, served as an overnight stop for us. Although there was no tour included in the formal itinerary, Frederico, our Cruise Manager, organized a walking tour through the center of town after dinner. Perhaps a third of the passengers joined this impromptu walk, which I think would have been even more interesting had it not been dark and had it not been sort of cut short by an annoying light rain that began shortly after we left the ship. The Altstadt proved to be strangely deserted for a Friday evening. If people were in the bars and restaurants in any significant number, it was not apparent as we walked by. But I think we all appreciated the extra effort made by Frederico to provide a bonus to our already pretty full sightseeing agenda.
Day 6 – Cologne: After a morning sail from Koblenz, we spent the afternoon on a walking tour of the center of one of Germany’s most populous cities. Having been largely destroyed during World War II, Cologne has been rebuilt. But the massive Dom (cathedral) nearby the banks of the Rhine and the central railroad station amazingly suffered only minor damage during the war and stands as one of Cologne’s most important historic structures. It is also by far the most popular tourist attraction in the city, and so our walking tour was organized so as to get us to the church on time (our reservation time, that is). For the better part of an hour, we were led by our tour guide through busy streets and squares in central Cologne on a fairly overcast and raw day that for me held very little attraction. The old Rathaus (town hall) was worth a look, but why walk us all the way around the building to see three sides of it? It seemed to me that we were killing time until the one major attraction – the Dom which, I must add, is absolutely well worth a visit as long as you hold on to your children, because it is virtually impossible to walk any distance from someone without losing them in the mass of humanity inside. We spent some time after the tour shopping and trying the local favorite beer – Kolsch, before walking back to the ship to get ready for the Captain’s gala reception. In all, I would say our stop in Cologne was our least favorite on this cruise.
Day 7 – Amsterdam: This city has always been one of my favorites. Whether it is your first visit, or you are fortunate to have been to Amsterdam on several occasions, such as I have, the city has much to offer and much that is unique about it. The ship arrived around lunchtime, and the cruise line had arranged a pretty full afternoon of sightseeing for us on our final day of the cruise. Our tour guide, Hank, was not only supremely knowledgeable, but he was a hoot. We began with a one-hour canal boat tour of the harbor and, more importantly, some of the major and minor canals that comprise the central part of the city. It is a wonderful introduction to the city, as you pass by many historical sites and it is an excellent way to get your bearings if you are staying on after the cruise. Hank then led us on a walking tour through a small part of the inner city and turned us loose for some free time to explore on our own and catch a whiff of the city’s vibe, especially if you’re in close proximity to a “coffee house.” We met Hank at the appointed time, and continued with a bus tour of the portions of the central city we could not see during the can boat tour. By the time Hank returned us to the ship, we had covered a pretty significant part of the central city by 3 different means of transportation. It was a truly outstanding finale for our sightseeing during the cruise.
In sum, I thought AMAWaterways’ “Enchanted Rhine” itinerary proved to be a very good one. True, not every tour rated an “A” in my book; but many of them did, and the same can be said for our tour guides, who certainly formed an instrumental component when assessing the shore excursions. For the purposes of comparison, I would have to say that we were slightly more impressed by our 2012 Danube River cruise itinerary, especially when comparing what we were able to see while the ship was sailing on each of the two cruises. But let’s face it: how many places do you get to sail through at night all lit up like in Budapest? Overall, I think it’s fair to say that our itinerary was very enjoyable – and that certainly includes the 4-night pre-cruise component in Switzerland, which was well worth the additional cost.
Final Thoughts: Well, I did it again and went on far too long. For those of you still with me on this article-length journey, I think it is important to reaffirm what I articulated in the review of our 2012 Danube cruise. “Getting to see parts of the world not readily accessible on ocean cruises is only the tangible outer core of all those intangibles I've recounted herein. A river cruise is more than just another cruise, it is a life style; it is an opportunity to stop and smell the flowers -- to immerse yourself in cultures only available from a distance on an ocean cruise; it is an opportunity to get to know and enjoy the company of people each day that you may not even glimpse from afar on an ocean cruise. It is an experience that I think no cruise enthusiast should deny themselves.”
Which brings me to one final point: so much of what makes a river cruise a truly wonderful experience depends largely on two factors: the first, obviously, is the cruise line, and in this case AMA Waterways consistently went the extra mile not only to deliver a wonderful cruise vacation, but to ensure that every passenger was completely happy 24/7. The personal touch they provided, right down to the most minor detail, and the effort that each member of the cruise staff and crew made to accommodate the needs of each passenger, once again surpassed not only our past experience on some very fine cruise lines but certainly met our own highest expectations based on our 2012 river cruise. The other factor was our fellow passengers, with whom we shared this river cruise experience, and who provided the best possible companionship we could have hoped for.
Did this cruise equal or surpass the amazing experience we had on our 2012 Danube cruise? Probably not; but it came close. And I think one needs to account for the fact that it’s almost impossible to duplicate one’s reaction to their first such experience. Would I recommend AMA Waterways’ Enchanted Rhine cruise -- on AmaDolce or any of their other modern river ships? Absolutely! As I’ve said once before, if it's your first experience with a river cruise, it may change the way you think about vacations forever -- and for the good.
My husband and I are seasoned travelers and have done several cruises, Carribbean, Yantze, Mediterranean ... And have come to love the smaller boats. Because of the truly pervasive advertising
On TV, we thought we'd try a Viking ... Read More
My husband and I are seasoned travelers and have done several cruises, Carribbean, Yantze, Mediterranean ... And have come to love the smaller boats. Because of the truly pervasive advertising
On TV, we thought we'd try a Viking River Cruise. Our possible dates were limited by our Schedule and our friend' schedules, all of us executives, so the only possible sailing was Nuremburg to Budapest in October. I have to write and tell you it was the finest vacation ever! Fantastic food, brand new River ship, fantastic staff (okay the room cleaner was a bit testy at times), great ports, lovely, lovely trip. Only complaint would be not enough time in each port, but that's the schedule!
We couldn't get the Internet in our rooms, and it was dial up speed even on the public desktops, Would be nice if they said that up front, we would have brought CDs. The Program Host was a rock star, he was so great and so funny all the time and kept us up for everything even when the morning tours left early-early! Did I say the food was fantastic? Not mass market cruise fare, but personal chef type quality. Always available coffee, tea, cappuccino and hot chocolate, filtered water, both still and bubbly. Easy embarkation, room ready way before promised -- easy debarkation...and so sad to have it come to an end. My husband figured out the costs based on the room and level of service,and it turned out to be a good value, too. Note: best shopping in Budapest and Nuremberg -- take the Nuremberg extension for nuremburg or you'll only wave at the window of the trial courtroom, and miss the toy manufacturers' plants. Try to get to see the Passau motor works, and while there, GO to the restaurant high overlooking the river -- you can pass on the organ concert in Passau! Next year in France, I hope!! Viking River Cruises all the way! Thanks for a wonderful, wonderful trip!!! Read Less
.... which is well documented, the size of the cabins ...
Paris is the only gateway city for the Baroness. Who can not like that? As stated above, the berthing area is close to downtown. It also adjacent to a very nice city park which was ... Read More
.... which is well documented, the size of the cabins ...
Paris is the only gateway city for the Baroness. Who can not like that? As stated above, the berthing area is close to downtown. It also adjacent to a very nice city park which was nice to walk through on embarkation day. If one books the pre-cruise hotel stay (unlike "Joanzzzz" above), the Marriott Ambassador @ the Opera house district is wonderful. The best part of the stay there, you ask? The answer is one word -- "Sylvie". My wife and I have traveled with many cruises lines. Sylvie, by far, was the best cruise line hotel liason we have ever experienced. Her smile, attention to detail and desire to please was a prelude to the same on the River Baroness.
The Baroness' small cabins do create a problem. However, one has to 'adjust' and spend less time there. That's all. The service was phenomenal (an upgrade from our first UniWorld cruise two years ago) and the facilities are just fine. In fact, the upper deck is MORE functional than their new ship, the S.S. Catherine (which we sailed on the following week). Why? First, it is 'lower', so it does not have to be put out of service as much due to low bridges. Secondly, the 'sky deck' has a very nice enclosed dining lounge, which is not available on the new ship.
As is mentioned often, one takes a river cruise for the itinerary. The Normandy beaches and Versailles were our primary 'targets'. However, we also were pleasantly surprised by Giverny/Monet's Garden. Rouen is also a wonderful little 'big' city. The excursions were well organized and orchestrated by cruise manager Tony Jenkins. BTW, Tony was extremely 'visible' - catering to the needs of all. UniWorld's new policy of no announcements for tours, meals, etc. is wonderful. We ARE adults, here.
The food was good. However, this is one area where an upgrade could occur, in one category. That is fish. In our opinion, it was consistently tough and 'overcooked'. The meat and desserts were wonderful. Entertainment was sparse, as on all river cruises. I would have liked to see a 'local' entertainer brought on board each day. IMO, this could have been accomplished.
Customer service? Please see my posting to the "River Cruises" forum entitled "Kudo's to UniWorld"
Pack creatively and sail on the River Baroness. You will not be disappointed.
First the ship ----
This new ship is decorated to the finest detail. It is beautiful. Cruise the 'net' to find photos. Whatever you see online, won't do it justice. The cabin size was more than adequate with more storage ... Read More
First the ship ----
This new ship is decorated to the finest detail. It is beautiful. Cruise the 'net' to find photos. Whatever you see online, won't do it justice. The cabin size was more than adequate with more storage space than required. I would NOT book a suite on this ship - a waste of your money. When one initially views the ship from the outside the first thought would be "Where are the balconies which are promoted?". The Catherine has an interesting concept, which I would label 'internal balconies'. It is really a separate sitting area with windows that electronically open with a screen (they label a mosquito net). It was a nice space to relax. My only criticism with our cabin would be its location. One would think with a new ship, the amount of noise and engine vibration toward the stern of the ship would be reduced. Unfortunately, this is still an issue. I would NOT recommend a cabin in the rear quarter of the ship, if one is 'sensitive' to noise and vibration.
The public rooms and lounges on the Catherine are wonderful. I do not agree, however, with 'Cruise Critic's' discussion about the pool. IMO, it is a waste of space. The pool is within the bar. Thus, one is on 'display' when utilizing it. This probably lead to the lack of use. During a future 'refurb', I would recommend UniWorld remove the pool and extend the space within this wonderful bar/lounge. Also, during this 'refurb', something should be done to insulate the dining room. When it is full, it is very noisy.
The outside entertainment, when provided, was diverse. I would like to see local entertainment provided from each port. The meals were wonderful - actually better than the River Baroness, which we cruised the week before. Yes, this was a 'wine' oriented cruise. Thus, the emphasis. The wine education was fantastic. It was well organized and presented. However, for us beer drinkers, I was disappointed. France has a variety of 'local' beers. They should have been provided.
UniWorld's team and customer service did not disappoint. Tony Jenkins, our cruise manager, catered to all individual needs. He was also remarkably patient with rude and abusive 'guests'. The shore excursion selections were diverse. There was something for all to enjoy. Don't be 'turned off' by the tour that travels to a 'count' and his 'castle'. This was one highlight of our trip. The "Go Active" excursion program was new to us, with respect to our previous UniWorld cruise experience two years ago. This option was great. I also enjoyed UniWorld's bicycles quite often. Tony was a great help to me in 'mapping out' routes for me to 'ride'.
Reflecting on the ports of call, I was pleased with all. However, I would suggest UniWorld attempt to reconfigure this itinerary or extend it (perhaps a few times per season) to include Marseilles. I was disappointed we could not experience this city.
If one is into wine and supreme customer service on a wonderful ship, this is the cruise for you. Read Less
My husband and I recently enjoyed a hassle-free, drama-free truly enjoyable Columbia River cruise aboard the American Empress. I'll concede that some of the 'fabulousness' I attribute to this trip was to due to luck. The ... Read More
My husband and I recently enjoyed a hassle-free, drama-free truly enjoyable Columbia River cruise aboard the American Empress. I'll concede that some of the 'fabulousness' I attribute to this trip was to due to luck. The weather was lovely, the timing perfect, and I (nearly) fit into most of my favorite cocktail dresses.
As far as the actual trip...
Booking was easy and thanks to the discounts currently available for last minute guests, we were able to afford a nice suite. The agenda began with a night in a gorgeous hotel and the idealistic feeling of the whole experience was set right from the start by the presence of a welcoming & informed cruise company concierge who, stationed at the hotel, filled us in on necessary details and ensured our comfort.
The following day we had a private cruise breakfast during which we were able to meet some of our fellow guests. We then spent time enjoying Spokane on our own before reuniting with our group to meet the ship.
The boat was just what I expected...perfectly comfortable and casually elegant. Genuine art lined the walls and the room was tastefully furnished. There was plenty of storage, a comfortable bed, pod-style coffee maker and nice extras like a Bose CD player.
With this cruise nearly everything is included thus adding to the easygoing nature of the experience. It was so nice to reach for a bottled water in the room or a glass of wine at dinner without feeling the need to take out a second mortgage.
Meals on the ship were 'open seating' with 2 restaurants and/or room service from which to choose and the food was excellent. We preferred the main dining-room and appreciated the chef's creativity and attention to detail. The service was near perfect and the staff (all of whom are from the states) were fun and truly caring. Many of the dinner wines we enjoyed were local which I appreciated both for the variety as well as the boost to the local economy that the ship's company provided.
Seeing the river from the water was wonderful. The contrast of the elegant ship and the rugged scenery was an ideal combination to please both my outdoorsy husband and his room-service loving wife.
Because this trip had a Lewis and Clark expedition emphasis, there were subject matter lectures and a river guide on board to educated us on what we were seeing as we cruised. The scenery was amazing. Alert to nature folks, photographers, artists and romantics... It was stunning.
Each town stop included a 'hop on-hop off' type tour of the area and plenty of time to explore. In addition there were very reasonably priced optional tours to outlying areas. We opted for 3 of them that included sights not easily accessed by other available means. The variety of stops and the options available eliminated any chance of "what should we do today"conflicts and I really appreciated the timing flexibility. After coffee and breakfast on our veranda (me, loving the comfy robe and slippers) we used the available (and complimentary) bikes to tour one area, the buses for 3 and walked through others. For the most part you can both see the local town and take an optional tour on the same day.
As far as the optional tours...I'd like to see a few more adventurous and/or athletic exploration options. Vlad and I were late returning from one tour because we hiked to the top of a local waterfall when the option not to do so after coming from such a long way to see it, would be unthinkable. While I understand that the 'average' guest may not be up for rafting or para-sailing, I think the opportunity for enjoying more of what the river provided would be nice. (Just don't ask me to give up my wine tasting/distillery tour...which was excellent).
Shipboard entertainment included a variety of shows, ship board games (more fun than it sounds) and a talented, albeit a bit unorthodox, fun, engaging and absolutely endearing pianist who seems to be as comfortable with Brahms as he was with Blues. The co-cruise directors/entertainers/all round good "guys" worked their tails off to be sure everyone was happily engaged and entertained and they, as well as the rest of staff genuinely worked as a true team to enrich our holiday. Both my husband and I are very grateful for their efforts.
I'm not sure if it's 'policy', the Captain's mandate or just luck but the flexibility, ability and willingness of this ship's staff to create and maintain an amazing trip is in my opinion, the #1 reason to go.
Mississippi River! You're next.
This was our first river cruise -- the Grand European -- and we went in with limited expectations, although at the steep rates we did expect the best. We weren't disappointed. No complaints possible about onboard conditions and ... Read More
This was our first river cruise -- the Grand European -- and we went in with limited expectations, although at the steep rates we did expect the best. We weren't disappointed. No complaints possible about onboard conditions and treatment -- everything was well-maintained and the staff were extremely helpful and cheerful. The food was also superb, thanks to chef Michel and his team. It was hard not to over-indulge. Wine was included with lunch and dinner. Program director Claus ran a good tour and onboard event program as well. Pianist Jerzy provided good lounge entertainment and there were some special concerts a few evenings. There were many activities, but no feeling of pressure to participate. It was an enjoyable and relaxing atmosphere and we had a lot of fun. We travelled with friends, which added to the enjoyment, and we met lots of other interesting people on board.
A lot of the actual travel took place overnight, to permit shore stops and tours, with a limited amount of daytime cruising through the most interesting sections of the Rhine and the Danube. Most of the onshore tours were included, but there were a few optional extras. We chose a few and were happy with our choices (e.g. bus to Rothenburg, concert in Vienna, wine tour in Krems). Our shipboard days were very full, but you could always choose not to go onshore for a tour. There was plenty of relaxation time. We also took extensions in both Amsterdam and Prague. There was more free time in the extensions, but the tours were a little tougher, especially in Prague, where we had a very long and gruelling first day. Fitness involved walking, since there were no exercise facilities on board apart from a walking track on the top deck.
Tours at the stops were mostly on foot, and many on cobbled streets. Some were quite lengthy, a challenge for some passengers. I know I was stretched at times, having arthritis. They did offer some slower-paced tours in certain spots, as well as some tougher trips in others. It balanced out pretty well, but I would like to have seen a lot more information ahead of time in order to pace myself better. As well, they always give distances in times, and everything seems to be "5 to 10 minutes"...whether it could be 5, or 25, depending on your degree of fitness. A distance in kilometres would be more helpful, with information on the degree of incline and the frequency of stairs.
We had our flights and transfers arranged by Viking as well, and another time would probably do our own. Transfers were "legal" but very tight, with little leeway for delays or getting lost in airports like Frankfurt. We got where we were going, with our luggage, but it was the most stressful part of the trip.
We found Viking responsive to comments, both good and critical, and felt we got good value for the trip as a whole. We would consider travelling with Viking again, possibly on one of their new ocean trips. Read Less
My mother and I had our Grand European Tour split between two ships. We were originally supposed to be on the Kvasir from Budapest to Amsterdam, but right before we were leaving our pre-cruise in Prague we got an email from Viking stating ... Read More
My mother and I had our Grand European Tour split between two ships. We were originally supposed to be on the Kvasir from Budapest to Amsterdam, but right before we were leaving our pre-cruise in Prague we got an email from Viking stating that we were going to board the Idi instead when we got to Budapest. Unfortunately none of the Viking staff in Prague were aware of the change.The reason we were given once we were on board was that because earlier in the summer, high water prevented the ships from going the full length of the cruise so passengers changed ships and the ships went back. Our cruise was when they were going to revert back to the original schedules in order to be able to go on their winter cruises correctly. As other reviewers have said, if you have the same cabin on a ship that is the same age and identical in every way, there should be no problem. We finally exchanged ships in Nuremberg and it was as seamless as promised. We left our baggage on the Idi, went on our tour of Nuremberg and returned to the same cabin on the Kvasir. Yes, there was packing and unpacking involved, but that was OK in the end. And, just like what happens to other people we got the free Vienna concert. Viking has their own section at the concert venue so they can easily accommodate more than one entire cruise ship load of passengers at one concert. Personally, the venue is a converted ballroom which does not have the greatest accoustics and the concert itself is programmed for tourists. My mother and I had not opted to pay for this concert but because it was free, we went. For the price of 70 Euros you can attend a nice performance at the Opera House. One thing I would recommend if it is available as an optional excursion, is the Vienna Boys Choir tour and concert. You tour their school and attend a concert at their new concert hall.
I do not want to repeat what other reviewers have said but I thought it was interesting to be on two different ships because what changes is not the accommodations but the crew and staff. For our particular cruise we had a parachuted-in Program Director who was sublime and flawless. He knew how to handle discontent and he did it with hard work and humor. His concierge was as great as they come. All the stuff of going beyond the call of duty applied to both of them and luckily they were with us on both the Idi and the Kvasir. But the differences in the rest of the staff were interesting to observe. The captain on the Kvasir was personable and approachable and made himself available to talk to people. I know nothing about the captain of the Idi, never saw him. The dining room staff on the Kvasir were not as well managed as the staff on the Idi. The Idi waiters and waitresses knew your habits almost immediately after they served you the first time, on the Kvasir, the learning curve was the length of the 7 days. The Kvasir staff divided duties weirdly so that you could not order wine from the waiter who served your food, whereas on the Idi, they just took care of you, got you what you needed and you could concentrate on your dining experience and your conversations. All in all, the waitstaff on the Idi deserve more than 5 stars, whereas on the Kvasir a 3+ would be more than generous. The other major difference we found was in the room attendants. On the Idi we had a woman who should be given a sainthood. This woman was up at the crack of dawn and the moment we left for breakfast in the morning (we're early risers so we would be out of the room between 6 and 7:00 am on any given morning), she would go in and clean our room. By the time we would get back from breakfast, it would be prepared for the day and the bathroom totally done. During the day, she would come in when we would be gone and tidy up, change towels, add more bottled water. We would never lack anything and at any time of the day, our room would be perfect. We actually thought there was some sort of monitor where the room attendants could see whether passengers were in their room or not because even if we were out for 20 minutes, she would have thrown out our garbage, or added more shampoo. That was not the case on the Kvasir. We had a room attendant whose name we did not initially know but when we got to our cabin there were dirty linens from the previous passengers under our beds, there was debris on the floor that needed to be vacuumed and the bathroom was not what I would call100% clean. We finally ran into her chatting in the hall and asked her to finish cleaning. We also threw the dirty laundry in the corridor for someone to pick up. This young woman was seen only once or twice afterwards and our room was cleaned once a day but never tidied up. Occasionally we would return to the ship after an excursion and our room was still not cleaned from the previous day. Again, the Idi room attendant rated a 5+++ and the Kvasir's was a 2 at best. She cleaned the room but if you feel you have to change your schedule to accommodate housekeeping, that's a management issue that is not addressed correctly. The Kvasir staff were not trained and managed the way the Idi staff were. I found the discrepancy to be quite vivid.
For two weeks in October we cruised with Viking from Amsterdam to Budapest, going through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, on the great rivers of Europe, the Rhine, the Main and the Danube. The ship was the Viking Lif, one ... Read More
For two weeks in October we cruised with Viking from Amsterdam to Budapest, going through Holland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary, on the great rivers of Europe, the Rhine, the Main and the Danube. The ship was the Viking Lif, one of their new “long boats” almost 500 feet long, 38 feet wide and carrying 192 passengers (we had 187), plus crew.
The food on the Lif was exceptionally good, with many choices, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Although we sometimes ate ashore for our own enjoyment, we were never disappointed when we ate on the boat. And at mealtimes the wine flowed freely from Erhard MÅrwald’s vineyard in the Wachau Valley of Austria.
Every evening we received the Viking Daily with the schedule for the next day, times for meals, times for tours, docking hours, notes on the next port of call, suggestions for sightseeing and other interesting tidbits. There was some form of entertainment every evening and sometimes a lecture or demonstration in the morning or afternoon depending on docking schedules. One of the most interesting was a glass blowing demonstration by a glass blower from Wertheim, Germany who spends a few months each year with Chihuly in the United States.
A tour of each stop was included in the cruise itinerary and there were several optional tours offered. The tour guides were excellent English speakers and we invariably learned something we hadn’t known before, even in ports like Vienna where we had been previously. In towns like Miltenberg, Germany, a delightful village of old half-timbered houses and Germany’s oldest Inn, with a castle perched above and cobbled streets below, the amount of time allowed for the tour and for free wandering was just right. In the big cities like Amsterdam, Cologne, Wurzburg, Vienna, and Budapest there was enough time to absorb the atmosphere and the differences between each. The smaller towns, like Miltenberg, Bamberg, Regensburg, Passau, Melk and Krems, each had its own character and history. The effects of the destruction of World War II were visible only in that new buildings filled spaces between old, well-preserved architectures. It was unusual to find a town like Miltenberg that completely escaped destruction.
The construction of the Main-Danube Canal, which allows through river traffic to begin at the Atlantic Ocean, down the Rhine, across the Main and through the Canal to the Danube, up and over the “continental divide” of Europe where the rivers on one side flow to the North Sea and the Atlantic, and those on the other flow to the Black Sea, was completed in 1992. The canal runs from Bamberg via Nuremberg to Kelheim, a total of 106 miles with 16 locks, three of which are 80 feet deep and lift a boat to an altitude of 1332 feet above sea level, the highest in the world a water craft can go at this time.
Traveling this route confronts one with a lot of Baroque architecture, of which the Monastery of Melk is a grand example as is St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Passau where we enjoyed an organ concert played on Europe’s largest pipe organ. Actually here are five organs that can be played from one consul. The Bach rocked the church, but the more modern piece composed by a former organist of the Cathedral really made the Baroque rafters ring. Another great example of the Baroque was the Residenz of the Prince-Bishop of WÅ±rtzburg with its grand ceiling fresco painted by Tiepolo in 1750.
Besides Baroque there was also a lot of Gothic (the Cathedral at Cologne, the Marksburg Castle), a lot of Roman ruins (excavation partly encouraged by WWII destruction – the Romish-Germanisches Museum in Cologne is magnificent), and Medieval and Romanesque architecture (the city and cathedral of Bamberg and the town of Regensburg which claims to have been founded in 179 A.D., as well as the village of Miltenberg). The history and culture of Europe from the Romans to the Nazis were a vivid presence.
The boat docked in Bratislava, Slovakia and we were able to see the effects of the long reign of Communism on that small country. Graffiti is a problem. Even our guide, who clearly loved her city, complained that there was no way to control the growing plague of graffiti covered monuments. The symbol of Slovakia, the massive square castle on the hill above the town, is realty only a façade, since the country cannot afford to restore and reconstruct the interior.
Coming onto Budapest at night was one of the most astonishing events of the cruise. The whole city was lit up, the bridges, the churches, the Parliament, the castle, all were draped in shimmering lights. It was a fairy land and the boat sailed down the Danube through the city, then turned around and sailed back to the Chain Bridge where we docked. All who were on deck were offered a glass of Tokay to celebrate our triumphant and spectacular entry into our final port of call.
The service from all the crew members was outstanding, whether they came from Ukraine, Serbia, Philippines, Bulgaria or elsewhere. They were invariably cheerful, helpful and happy to serve. I asked one of the receptionists if Viking gave them any kind of training and she claimed not, that it was strictly on the job training, which certainly speaks well of our Hotel Manager, Alexander Kuba. The program director, Colin Watson, was always on hand, friendly, helpful, and incredibly well-organized. The few glitches that occurred, such as the boat not arriving exactly on schedule to meet the busses, were handled with the pleasure of the passengers always uppermost in their consideration. For example, at the place where the Captain was negotiating the low water in the Danube, most of the passengers were ashore, visiting Regensburg and then were bussed to Deggensdorf to meet the boat. But the boat was an hour late, so the passengers were given carte blanche to go into town and do whatever they chose. It being dinner time, we headed to the first biergarten we found, ordered wine and dinner, sharing a veal Carpaccio with arugula appetizer and a wild mushroom and cream sauced dumpling that was so delicious it became the most memorable meal of the trip. Our tab was forty-two Euros and, with the receipt turned in, we later received the exact amount in cash back from the ship.
When we reached Budapest we had traveled a total of approximately 1120 miles through 68 locks with twelve ports of call -- actually thirteen because of the unscheduled pick-up at Deggensdorf.
Viking is clearly doing many things right. The effect may be a bit formulaic, but if the formula works, one knows what to count on. They are investing in new ocean going boats, they have their own busses at many of the stops, they handle the change-overs of passengers with minimal difficulties or confusions. The ports of call are interesting and varied and the cruising is as pleasant as possible. The fact that they encourage one to bring wine or beer aboard for one’s own dinner, even though it is provided on the ship helps the local economies and probably earns them great rewards from local officials. There is plenty of time for shopping, solo sightseeing and relaxed cruising. Our only complaint after two weeks aboard was that the Wi-Fi was sketchy and hard to achieve – perhaps they need larger antennas. But that was a small caveat, considering the elegant management of almost 200 people for two weeks.
The highlights: Everything while aboard the Odin. It could not have been any better. Excellent officers and staff, excellent food, excellent accommodations with roomy shower, and sliding glass French door. Beautiful scenery. The tour ... Read More
The highlights: Everything while aboard the Odin. It could not have been any better. Excellent officers and staff, excellent food, excellent accommodations with roomy shower, and sliding glass French door. Beautiful scenery. The tour director was outstanding. Good entertainment. Rated five star, A+
The low lights: The long airline flights in uncomfortable, narrow close together seats, whether on Delta Air France or KLM. We were surprised that even though it was called a city of lights vacation, there was no evening tour included in either Paris or Prague.
In between: Some excursions were outstanding and interesting with local guides. Others were rushed. As an example, in Prague, we toured the Palace and walked on cobblestones for nearly four hours, with a fifteen minute break. The earphone system was a plus on all of the tours. Since we were in a part of the world where the history spans centuries, it was difficult to keep up with the narratives at times since they were about Norman times at one minute and the World War II in the next. The hotel in Paris, le Meridian was adequate, and although our room was ok, many people had comments about broken tiles, carpet problems etc. Read Less
My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. It was one of the best trips we have made. The local guided tours were excellent and free time allowed us to further the local experiences added wonderful memories.
All the crew staffs were ... Read More
My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. It was one of the best trips we have made. The local guided tours were excellent and free time allowed us to further the local experiences added wonderful memories.
All the crew staffs were excellent and at the same time very friendly. We were impressed how quickly they memorized our name which showed their commitment to the excellence.
We have made some friends and enjoyed having either lunch or dinner together. The wonderful time we had made this trip, too short.... Read Less
We cruised the Rhine River on the Viking Ingvi - a brand-new ship for 2014. Starting at Basel, Switzerland and ending in Amsterdam, the trip was magnificent. The amount of activities, the sights, and the people we met - especially in the ... Read More
We cruised the Rhine River on the Viking Ingvi - a brand-new ship for 2014. Starting at Basel, Switzerland and ending in Amsterdam, the trip was magnificent. The amount of activities, the sights, and the people we met - especially in the ports - were all wonderful.
The ship was immaculate, the staff friendly and efficient, and the trip could not have been better.
Our tour guides on shore were knowledgeable, friendly and so very interesting. We came away from each town on the Rhine with knowledge that gave us a sense of knowing what it's like to live there. We were not tourists; we were travelers.
Food aboard ship and on land was very good. I must thank Nick Hale, our Program Director, for more than one night of incredible fun. We wish our friend Nick well in his voyages!
Make no mistake, this is not a "cut-rate" trip. It was not cheap. But what we got for the money was excellent.
Hats off to the Duke's Palace Hotel in Bruges, Belgium: an absolutely top-notch destination in a storybook town. We chose Bruges for our extension tour after the cruise. Will definitely go back to Bruges!
In short, Viking's Rhine River cruise was excellent and we highly recommend the Switzerland-to-Amsterdam (heading downstream) route. If you want to see Europe in one trip, this could be the way to do it!! Read Less
This was our fourth river cruise and the third with Viking. Everything met or exceeded our expectations. We decided to do independent air so that we could have a week prior to embarcation to tour the Dordogne area. As with every trip, a ... Read More
This was our fourth river cruise and the third with Viking. Everything met or exceeded our expectations. We decided to do independent air so that we could have a week prior to embarcation to tour the Dordogne area. As with every trip, a week was too short. If anyone needs recommendations about such a week such as a good cottage to rent and a good itinerary, email me for more. When we arrived at the ship in Bordeaux before noon on the first day, the crew was in full activity mode, ready to greet us and make us welcome. We went to the lounge area until our room was ready (very quickly) and were then told that it was available. Our bags were in the room. The room had adequate space, and storage. The bathroom was better than prior ships. Information in the room was sufficient to get oriented and make decisions.
Meals were without fail, excellent, and the wine was free flowing.
This was our first longship, and it was excellent. It was everything the brochure said it would be. The internet access was spotty, and slow, but given that it was satellite access, not surprising.
The included excursions were all interesting, the wine tastings and lectures superb. We opted for the chateau excursion which was a highlight of the trip. An excellent presentation from tasting grapes from the vine, to grape juice from Merlot and Cabernet Grapes, to excellent tastings, and a wonderful meal with wine pairings. A joy!
The castle at Bourg was another highlight, even in the rain. The history was palpable. So many highlights, all I can say is take this trip. If you like castles, history and wine, this trip will not disappoint.
While I had heard great things about the Viking River Cruise experience, I was not prepared for the level of service that we, a friend and I, experienced on board the Atla. From our greeting at the airport in Amsterdam (we opted for ... Read More
While I had heard great things about the Viking River Cruise experience, I was not prepared for the level of service that we, a friend and I, experienced on board the Atla. From our greeting at the airport in Amsterdam (we opted for airfare and transfers with the company), to the ship's staff, everyone was warm and gracious. The stand out on our cruise was our Program Director whose background well-prepared him for his job. Well versed in the history of Europe's art, music, food ways and culture, he was also on top of current issues and events in the countries, cities and villages that we visited. The local guides were always good. I was especially impressed with the quality of the guides in Germany, drawn from the "Geschichte fur Alles" (History for Everyone) Program. Mostly young men and women who were graduate students in their nation's past. Impressive!
The optional excursions were worth the extra charge. I highly recommend the Mozart and Strauss Concert at the Residenz Palace in Vienna! Our midnight arrival in Budapest, however, was the highlight of the trip. Our ship was delayed at locks along the Danube, so we approached the city with all of its lights ablaze. The sight was breathtaking. Something I will never forget. I cannot say I have ever had a better cruise experience. I will certainly be sailing with Viking again! Read Less
This was a wonderful trip and I would recommend it to anyone. We had wonderful food, met many nice people, saw an incredible number of places both on the land and the river, and were treated royally by the entire staff of the ship. The ... Read More
This was a wonderful trip and I would recommend it to anyone. We had wonderful food, met many nice people, saw an incredible number of places both on the land and the river, and were treated royally by the entire staff of the ship. The excursion guides for each land tour ranged from really, really good to truly excellent. They all knew the history and politics of the places they took us to and through and they were well-spoken, usually witty, and very capable of answering all questions put to them.
The walking tours were well paced so that it wasn't difficult to keep up and the "quiet boxes" we were each furnished with allowed us to hear the guides, no matter how far we were from them.
The staff on the ship were only too willing to provide assistance in any way they could. When my traveling companion got sick one night, they delivered her dinner to our room and kept checking on her to make sure she was all right. They furnished umbrellas on rainy days and they provided bottles of water every time we left the ship to go on an excursion.
Viking did its best to educate us about every place we visited, not only providing lectures and occasional local on-board entertainment, but also delivering nightly newsletters that contained pertinent information about the places we would see. This was very helpful, given the "information overload" that inevitably occurred. I can now refer to those nightly newsletters to refresh my memory about each place we toured.
I really enjoyed this trip and feel very privileged to have taken it. Read Less
Like the title says, we really enjoyed ourselves. The 'Scenic Pearl' is an immaculately clean and spacious ship. All of the crew, the cabin maids, butlers, bar staff and the waiters were extremely accommodating and friendly. ... Read More
Like the title says, we really enjoyed ourselves. The 'Scenic Pearl' is an immaculately clean and spacious ship. All of the crew, the cabin maids, butlers, bar staff and the waiters were extremely accommodating and friendly. Eniko, our cheery cabin person kept our cabin spic and span. Ratko, our butler, was available at any time to provide us with whatever we needed.
The waiters in the main dining room and the Portobello room were good-humoured, friendly and very, very attentive. I want to name them all as being outstanding all but I'm afraid I'll miss one or two. We were definitely spoiled. For every meal, the food was delicious and fresh. The chef and his crews did a splendid job in preparing our always tasty meals.
In the lounge, Antonio, Sandy and Svetla served us quickly and efficiently with our drinks. Their patience and good humour in dealing with a bunch of sometimes half-drunk senior citizens was amazing and appreciated.
I have to say a good word about our Cruise Director, Werny Beyer (I hope I got the name right). He has a stern look and piercing eyes. However, his daily updates were very enjoyable and filled with good laughter. His somewhat stern appearance hides a great sense of humour.
We took excursions at every port and were provided with knowledgeable and informative guides. The 'tailormade' GPSs were great. We could wander around during the tours and still hear the guide. What a great idea.
Finally, what made our cruise so enjoyable was the mix of passengers. More than half were Australian. There were about 20 Canadians, including us. As well, there were about 20 British and 4 Americans. My wife and I tried to mix with as many different people as possible. For most of the time, we fell in and sat with 3 Australian couples and had a truly great time. Who knew that Australians have such great sense of humour?! We laughed long and hard about everything and nothing. Most fun of all was learning new words and phrases from our Aussie friends. To paraphrase Churchill, "Australia and Canada are two English-speaking countries separated by a common language."
Definitely a good choice for people who like short tours. Most of the tour guides were excellent compared to tour guides from some ocean cruises. The tours were not in depth, and that was a draw back for us. A quick walk around while ... Read More
Definitely a good choice for people who like short tours. Most of the tour guides were excellent compared to tour guides from some ocean cruises. The tours were not in depth, and that was a draw back for us. A quick walk around while informative, didn't give us as much exposure to desired sites as we would have liked.
The suite with balcony was very comfortable. We expected a smaller space than on ocean cruises and were pleasantly surprised with the comfort and spaciousness. Storage was not great, but not really a problem. The biggest negative was paying for a balcony and not having the opportunity to use it regularly. We were often tied up next to another ship, so we were looking at another ship, not the shore. It makes me angrier the more I think back to it. We paid for a comfort and view that we did not receive. That did diminish our enjoyment.
The food was very good, but not what we expected. We were hoping for regional dishes. What we got was a menu trying too hard to be over the top. We are not socialites and prefer smaller groups where we can actually hear one another. With everyone dining at once, the noise level was very high. We took many meals up on the Terrace and enjoyed that much more. In fact, it was quite lovely.
The entire staff was fabulous except the tour director. He needs to keep his opinions to himself and stick to the history letting guests come to their own conclusions. The hotel manager was the absolute best we have ever seen. We watched him watch everything. He didn't miss a beat and ran a very customer focused efficient ship. The dining staff was top notch learning much from the ever vigilant hotel manager.
We appreciated the efficiency with which embarkation, debarkation and daily tours took place. All staff members were pleasant and helpful at all times. The transfers were well planned and efficient as well. Read Less
We had a wonderful time! Our favorite vacation ever. The cruise folks were great! From our meal servers to our room maid to the managers to everyone, we were treated extremely well. The food on board was always varied and of high quality. ... Read More
We had a wonderful time! Our favorite vacation ever. The cruise folks were great! From our meal servers to our room maid to the managers to everyone, we were treated extremely well. The food on board was always varied and of high quality. The meals were some of the best relaxing time, a chance to chat with fellow travelers and exchange experiences.
The visits to the cities on the way were always educational and well planned. The guides did a super job. As we review our pictures, we re-experience the whole trip and can't wait until we can schedule another cruise. I could go on for a long time about all the folks, visits, and memories we enjoyed, but I will end this review by simply saying "Thank you for providing a high point in our travel experiences."
Jeff and Karen Hausdorf Read Less
We had spent a year planning for this vacation, and read as much as we could about our destinations and read hundreds reviews from other Viking cruisers. And guess what? It's ever better than they said it was! I can't tell you ... Read More
We had spent a year planning for this vacation, and read as much as we could about our destinations and read hundreds reviews from other Viking cruisers. And guess what? It's ever better than they said it was! I can't tell you how wonderful it is to know that for 16 days (we booked a pre-cruise tour in Budapest) every detail was looked after by the Viking River Cruises staff and their tour guides, and bus drivers. We had no worries about getting to and from the airport/hotel/ship etc. The tour guides were fabulous, funny and informative, bringing history to life in many cases. The on board staff was phenomenal and not only took care of our every need, but often anticipated them and were a step ahead of us. The food was wonderful, and we enjoyed our meals with passengers from all over the world and had a wonderful time getting to know new people. The ship itself Viking Idi, was immaculate and a very relaxing atmosphere. The housekeeping staff cleaned your room every morning and even came back for a turn down service during the dinner meal. Whenever we disembarked for a tour of that day's city or town, we were given bottled water to take along. And one of my favorite features...this awesome machine near the lounge that dispensed fresh coffee, hot cocoa, or hot water for tea. I drank a lot of hot cocoa on those chilly October mornings and evenings. Read Less
It was fantastic on so many levels. It was more than I ever expected. The crew was so professional and personable. Loved the meals and the wine to go with.
Loved the tour guides on the ship. They were very well informed on the history of ... Read More
It was fantastic on so many levels. It was more than I ever expected. The crew was so professional and personable. Loved the meals and the wine to go with.
Loved the tour guides on the ship. They were very well informed on the history of the country as well as being fun and personable. Same with the Russians hired to do the tours.
Loved the smaller amount of people that the Rurik ship could accommodate.
I really do not think any other Viking cruise could top this one. Hopefully, I am wrong about this.
Room was perfect. Always kept very clean.
Since we had never been to Europe, I whined to the booking agent that I wasn't going to go unless someone held my hand the entire way! Brian assured me that would be the case...and Viking did not disappoint. From the moment we ... Read More
Since we had never been to Europe, I whined to the booking agent that I wasn't going to go unless someone held my hand the entire way! Brian assured me that would be the case...and Viking did not disappoint. From the moment we arrived, there were smiling faces to help us with the smallest detail. It was more than great service. Each and every employee we encountered seemed to truly love their job, and they went out of their way to treat us like royalty. It was worth every penny we paid for the cruise. I got sick about halfway through the trip and the program director, Henrietta, personally accompanied me to a pharmacy in town. That was ABOVE the call of duty in my book. (Heads up! Go see a DOCTOR & get full diagnosis/written excuse to miss port tours if you plan to make a claim with the travel insurance company.) I asked Viking handle the airline arrangements. The connections were seamless, however, I learned that you will NOT receive any sky miles credit from the airline unless you book it yourself. Also, we had to leave the ship at 3:30 a.m. YIKES! I was sorry I didn't notice that when I confirmed the reservations. However, EVEN AT THAT HOUR, there was a precious guy who accompanied us to the airport and helped us with everything, thanking us for choosing Viking and wishing us a safe journey home. Thank you, Viking River Cruises and (especially) the staff on the Delling for giving us the trip of a lifetime. Read Less
We flew from Philadelphia to Amsterdam and were met at Schilpol Airport by a Viking agent. From there a Viking driver took us on the Viking coach to the Moevinpick Hotel. The hotel was wonderful-the food in the bar & restaurant( Silk ... Read More
We flew from Philadelphia to Amsterdam and were met at Schilpol Airport by a Viking agent. From there a Viking driver took us on the Viking coach to the Moevinpick Hotel. The hotel was wonderful-the food in the bar & restaurant( Silk Road ) was excellent. We were greeted at the reception desk with a warm welcome. Esther took us on a wonderful tour of the city-she is a great guide.
After 2 days there we boarded the Ingvi at the port. Our cabin was more than we expected with ample room for everything we had. Suitcases went under the bed with no problem. Storage was enough for all that we had.
Our program director, Nick Hale was THE BEST!!! He always had us laughing. Our waiters, Irinel, Ivo, were also wonderful, as were the bartenders, Sasha & George. Food was always good & plentiful.
Our shore excursions were informative and the guides were well informed.
To sum our trip up. I would absolutely go again on a Viking cruise. I have already recommended it to others. All in all, I loved everything about the journey.
Thanks to all the crew. Read Less
I really enjoyed the cruise because;
It was small
The food , service and ambiance was great
The meals were excellent and I appreciated the the many choices and the portions were just right for me.
The lectures were informative
The ... Read More
I really enjoyed the cruise because;
It was small
The food , service and ambiance was great
The meals were excellent and I appreciated the the many choices and the portions were just right for me.
The lectures were informative
The tours were good, however, it depended on the expertise and interest of the guides leading the tour. I would have liked to have had some input in what I wanted to see especially in the Hermitage and Armory.
The rooms were very comfortable and I appreciated being able to watch lecures on the room TV.
We had an excellent time on our cruise. Viking does a great job. The boat was very clean and comfortable, the food was interesting and there was plenty of it. The crew were very helpful and very knowledgeable, especially our program ... Read More
We had an excellent time on our cruise. Viking does a great job. The boat was very clean and comfortable, the food was interesting and there was plenty of it. The crew were very helpful and very knowledgeable, especially our program director. The included guided tours were all very nicely done, guides were knowledgeable and all spoke excellent English. We were lucky with weather and only had rain one day. Transfers and tours were on new, comfortable busses. Everything went off on time, as promised. The only slight negative was that the wireless internet service was slow and prone to blanking out frequently - the nature of a shared, low capacity satellite connection. We are going back next year to see the Rhine! Read Less
We have traveled to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and this surpassed all of the others. Budapest was magical. The architecture is like something out of a fairy tale. We experienced so much history and ... Read More
We have traveled to Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and this surpassed all of the others. Budapest was magical. The architecture is like something out of a fairy tale. We experienced so much history and saw such beauty.
My husband said the best beer he ever tasted was a Pilsner in Bratslava, Slovakia. We ate sausages at an 800 year old restaurant in Germany. Ginerbread, chocolates, and great shopping in Germany. Quality items of glass, wool and wood were to be found in many shops.
Our tours took in the highlights of each area. From a tram over the Rhine up to a fort to some of the great cathedrals of Europe we saw it all. The sound system each person is equipped with makes hearing the tour guide loud and clear very simple.
The Viking staff was, as always, impeccable. They are there from the moment after you go through customs until you are given assistance at the airport for your flight home. One never feels nervous about the language or customs because the staff has smoothed the way beforehand.
From the efficiency of the housekeeping staff to the waiters and waitresses the Viking staff make you feel welcome. You can ask for just about anything and they will give it to you if it is in their power. They make you feel special. Read Less