First let my say we went with no expectations.We knew the ship was small and the cabins were small.One bed folds up on the wall during the day to give more room.Hanging space is very limited.Cabins 34 and 35 have a double bed (well not ... Read More
First let my say we went with no expectations.We knew the ship was small and the cabins were small.One bed folds up on the wall during the day to give more room.Hanging space is very limited.Cabins 34 and 35 have a double bed (well not really)If you are over 5' 9" you hit the wall at each end and the curve of the hull on one side takes away more space.You need to crawl over the other person to get in/out of bed.The age of the passengers was from mid 50's to 90, most were over 70.We had 30 passengers on our cruise and we were two of the younger ones (61 & 62).ACTIVITIES:Daily puzzles,Trivia, bingo, shuffleboard, nightly entertainment, shore excursions Entertainment was good with local talent. We had a magician, a guitarist/singer, a flutist and guitarist, a comedian/guitarist and a trio. Shore trips included in the cruise were: Fulford Mansion in Brockville, Fort Wellington in Prescott, Old Montreal and trip to the Cosmosdome, Upper Canada Village, trip to the 1000 Island Skydeck and lots of locks during the trip.FOOD:The meals were fair to good.Breakfast was one special of the day plus cold cereal, oatmeal, toast, muffins, juices, fruit.Lunch was usually a hot meal with soup or a small salad. (no choice of entrees)One day we had hamburger buffet with several salad choices.For dinner you had two choices which you chose the night before.Late night snack consisted of small hot or cold hors-d' oeuvresMuffins, coffee, tea, lemonade or iced tea were available during the day at the self serve station.Food portions were small and quality was inconsistent. Sometimes the food was not cooked well or overcooked. Vegetables were usually mushy and overcooked.A couple of the fish meals tasted off and smelled fishy (fresh fish should not smell).If you do not like either of the dinner or lunch entree they have no provisions for a substitute meal.Drink prices were very reasonable and soft drinks were free.PROS: The crew was very good. Ted the bartender and Marc the purser made a good team.Small ship, relaxing cruise.CONS:Not much time in port, just enough for the excursionsFood portions & selections They need to start marketing to the younger seniors. Read Less
If our experience is typical, Viking is slipping in quality. We cruised the Rhine with them five years ago and were very impressed. This time we cruised the Danube, on a nearly identical ship, and were sorry to find that the experience was ... Read More
If our experience is typical, Viking is slipping in quality. We cruised the Rhine with them five years ago and were very impressed. This time we cruised the Danube, on a nearly identical ship, and were sorry to find that the experience was not as good.
The plan looked good: visit several interesting places along the legendary Danube. The lavishly illustrated brochure made it seem this trip would offer the same high level of service as before. The reality was somewhat less than we expected.
For example, the breakfast and lunch buffets were not as extensive as we recalled, and didn't have much variety from day to day. Breakfast included such mistakes as burnt pancakes, watery oatmeal and a flat, tasteless omelette. Lunch one day in the land of great sausages featured plain American hot dogs. While dinner held to the former high standards, the portion size had shrunk. Of course, inactive people on a cruise boat don't need to eat very much, but putting us all on a diet seemed less than generous.
The staff seemed less courteous than we recalled. More than once I was nearly run down in the buffet line by busy waiters hurrying past without waiting for diners to get out of their way. Table service was also rather brusque, we felt. Part of the problem was a language barrier. Most of the crew was from former Eastern Bloc countries such as Slovakia and Hungary, and their limited English made communications difficult. Even with all the goodwill in the world, it's hard to feel connected to someone when you can't speak to each other beyond the simplest of words.
We also experienced a problem with cabin service. Our cabin attendant was always working in our room just before we needed to leave for the day's excursion and wouldn't leave unless we insisted. She seemed to think we should stay away until she was finished. It was awkward, since we needed to get ready to go. I don't recall having any such problem last time. Why can't room cleaning wait until after the passengers have disembarked for the scheduled excursion?
Perhaps the biggest problem we experienced was the loss of a promised night in Vienna the only night we would be there. We were told that the ship could not get through as scheduled due to bridge construction, and so it tied up at the tiny village of Krems, where there were no attractions of interest. I don't know why Viking couldn't work around the problem other ships that had been on the same schedule as ours in the days before were not tied up at Krems. But even assuming there was truly no way to get through, Viking didn't have enough concern for its customers to do the right thing. They had promised us a night in Vienna. They could and should have taken us there by bus if they couldn't do it on the ship. It wasn't that far, and wouldn't have been that expensive. Most of us would have been willing to pay a reasonable amount for the extra cost involved, but it wasn't offered. I think it was this incident that crystallized my feelings about the lack of good customer service on this cruise.
Anyone reading this review is probably aware that Viking has adopted 2-for-1 pricing for the 2009 season. We took advantage of that offer. You might say we shouldn't complain when we were getting such a good deal. But 2-for-1 is only a good deal if you get two of the original quality for the price of one, not when you get two of something less. We were disappointed. If Viking has decided to reposition itself at the low-price end of the cruise business, that's their decision, Perhaps we were just naive to think quality would hold up as prices fell, but if Viking wants to sail down to the lower end of the market, perhaps they could save significant money and also be more forthright with their customers by putting out a cheaper looking brochure. Read Less
Wow, the maiden voyage. We were hoping that all the bugs would be worked out before we boarded. Actually we booked our cruise so that the ship would be sailing for two months before we sailed, but alas no such luck.Amsterdam started ... Read More
Wow, the maiden voyage. We were hoping that all the bugs would be worked out before we boarded. Actually we booked our cruise so that the ship would be sailing for two months before we sailed, but alas no such luck.Amsterdam started out with a bang. We were mooned by a passing boat as we sat down for our first dinner aboard the ship. It started the cruise off with laughter and goodwill among the passengers who were lucky enough to witness the event. We had an excellent tour of Amsterdam before we set sail for Budapest. The first set of locks we went through to reach the Rhine river were quite tame in comparison to the locks that we encountered later on in the cruise. The countryside was peaceful, aromatic and we actually saw some real windmills. Our first port of call was Cologne. If you have been before, they offer a short version of the city tour. I would definitely take this version the next time as I have seen the cathedral enough times now and would rather enjoy its quiet beauty on my own without having to listen to a tour guide wax on about their interpretation of the stained glass windows. It was the next day when we realized the problems of being on the maiden cruise of a yet untested ship design. We had heard the tale of Loreley when all of a sudden bang, a huge black cloud was to be seen at the stern of the ship. The Captain and crew were unaware of the smoke until they suddenly noticed that the passengers on deck were trying to get their attention and looked. Viking set a new legend. The first time an anchor had been lowered on a Viking ship and the first time a Viking ship lost its power in the Loreley channel. We waited for 2 1/2 hours for the tug boats to come and two us to safety where the Cumins engineers arrived to try to repair the engines. At his point none of them were working. We never did make it to Rudesheim. They managed to get two of the three engines up and running about 4 am and we arrived in Mainz late. We got off the ship and had our city tour, but the ship had to leave right away so that it could make up for lost time. They put us on a bus where we had to travel a distance down the river to meet the ship. We arrived before the ship did to the agreed meeting place. We made it to Wertheim but due to the loss of time due to the ship breakdown ended up waiting forever to be picked up. The ship was suppose to pick us up at 12:30 , then they said 1:30 and then the ship finally showed up at 2:15. It was a fascinating town to be stuck in and they had good local bakeries which was a good thing as lunch was more than a little late that day. The next day we made it to Wurzburg and Rothenburg. The tour this day was great and the Residenz palace is well worth a visit. The lunch provided in Rothenburg was delicious and the town was fascinating. Do make sure you visit the Christmas store while here. We had to get off the ship early and take a bus to Nuremberg as the ship was still behind schedule. I wish we had arrived in this city on a day other than Sunday as it basically was shut down as there are no stores, etc open on a Sunday. They had a few ice cream and pizza restaurants open. Regensburg wsa interesting. Passau had an incredible local guide and just listening to her made the day very pleasant. The organ concert was excellent. I wish we had more time in Melk as it would have been nice not to have to rush to get back to the ship. Durnstein I could have skipped without regret. Vienna, what can I say. I wish we could have more time. The optional music concert was fabulous even though it was extremely hot in Vienna. We enjoyed our time in a Vienna coffee house and the tour guide here was excellent. Bratislava, quite honestly they could cut out the "choo choo train" and everyone would be quite happy. By the time the tour guide described what you were seeing you were already past the building and could not see it anyhow. The town is interesting but it would have been nice to have a little more free time to explore on your own. Sailing into Budapest at night was a magical experience. I would say that this was the highlight of the entire cruise. We did the next afternoon have the mother of all storms come in the afternoon, and people were quite happy to sit on board the ship and avoid going out in the rain and wind. I wish the storm had not arrived as I would have liked to have seen more of the city.The local tour guides have been hand picked by Viking and it shows. They were knowledgeable and entertaining. With the exception of the tour guide in Cologne waxing on a little too long about the stained glass windows, I would say all of the tour guides did an excellent job. I did feel gypped in Nuremberg as the ship arrived too late for us to have the city tour included with our WWII optional tour.The ship has some major safety concerns that need to be addressed immediately. They have a hatch without railings around it on the front deck that if someone was not watching could take a very nasty tumble down steep metal steps. These steps lead from the galley to the lounge for the serving of food. They do not have lighted exit signs on the doors leading to the staircases for emergency purposes. They need to do something about the spacing in between the steel plates on the first deck. If someone wasn't watching, they could easily catch a high heel in the hole and give themselves a nasty twist.I felt that the ship should have had better communication with the passengers. With all the technical glitches, their term not ours, we should have been told what happened to the engine and that the ship was safe. When the ship was late in arriving at some of the ports for passenger pick up there was no cruise staff to be fund until the time the ship was actually supposed to be there and then they disappeared again until the next supposed arrival time. Quite a few of the staff members were brand new to Viking and it showed.The dining room staff bent over backwards. I honestly felt that they could do with 2 more staff members to speed up the process.. The ratio was 43 staff to 189 passengers. Simply not enough staff. They were still bringing equipment on board at the end of the cruise that should have been there before the ship set sail. I think it would have been beneficial for the Captain and crew to have sailed the entire cruise at least once before they took a load of passengers. The bumps in the night might not have been as noticeable if they had had a practice run of entering the locks.All said and done, I think we will be looking at another river cruise line the next time we do Europe. We were disappointed after the service Viking had provided on the Yangtze River in China the year before. Read Less
The Viking River Cruise "Waterways of the Czars" (July 31 - August 12, 2009) was our first cruise experience, and will likely be our last. While we enjoyed Russia and its many attractions, we were very disappointed in most ... Read More
The Viking River Cruise "Waterways of the Czars" (July 31 - August 12, 2009) was our first cruise experience, and will likely be our last. While we enjoyed Russia and its many attractions, we were very disappointed in most aspects of the cruise itself. Specifically: • Overall value for money: Most people we met on the cruise paid several thousands of dollars less than we did, and for supposedly better cabins. This knowledge lessened our enjoyment considerably. We advise others to book as late as possible for Viking river cruises, if you must take one, since they discount heavily closer to the sailing date to fill up the boat. • Food quality: Despite claims in Viking advertising, the food was of consistently poor quality, e.g., every fish dish I ate was tasteless, mushy, and obviously frozen not fresh. Other passengers with previous Viking experience agreed with us, but said that Viking cruises in Western Europe have much better food and service. Several other passengers also spoke with the "hotel manager" to note their unhappiness with food quality. • Service: The dining room staff was mostly young Philipinos, who were all eager to please but clearly not sufficiently experienced, properly trained for efficient service, and too few for a fully booked boat. Dinner normally took well over two hours, and we and many others had to cut short dinner in order to attend other scheduled events on board. • Our cabin: The cabin (227) was comfortable enough, except that it seemed to be directly above the engines used to stabilize the boat when going through locks. These engines were so noisy and vibrated so much that when lock passage occurred at night sleep was impossible. Viking should warn potential customers about this noise in main deck cabins, and advise them to bring ear-plugs to cope with the noise or select other cabins. • Doctor: The Kirov's Russian doctor, whose English skills were very limited, had a remarkably diffident manner when my wife banged her forehead on one of the Sky-Bar's glass doors. The clinic had no proper ice-bag, so to reduce the large swelling he recommended using a plastic garbage bag or laundry bag. Given the average age of Kirov passengers, shouldn't an ice-bag or two be among the clinic's supplies? The doctor also failed even to stand up during her visit to his office, declining as unnecessary a suggestion that he examine her forehead.
Bottom line: We wrote to Viking about these problems, to which they responded with an offer of a $500 credit for a future Viking cruise. Our response to that will be "nyet." Read Less
I am an American who have lived in China for many years, and a frequent cruiser. I finally got around to taking a trip in my own backyard - the Yangtze River. I booked online through one of the government owned travel agents and the price ... Read More
I am an American who have lived in China for many years, and a frequent cruiser. I finally got around to taking a trip in my own backyard - the Yangtze River. I booked online through one of the government owned travel agents and the price was excellent, and the travel service was good. I speak the language so getting to and from the boat was easy - albeit expensive by Chinese standards. In Yichang the boats dock outside of town in a scenic area and there are few taxis. Outside the gate and a few hundred yards up the hill is a pretty canyon with restaurants dug into the cliffs, and some outstanding food. Some others on the ship complained of the places their travel agents took them.
The night we arrived we were told to board before 8, which we dutifully did, only to be told the boat would not leave until the next morning. We then left the boat, after signing a waiver, and went into town. They asked us not to return too late - before midnight. No problem.
The boat is sizable and comfortable. The staterooms are of typical size for a cruise ship, with two single beds, and the public rooms are clean and simple. The air conditioning in the stateroom was too strong and even at the highest setting was freezing. The passengers were about half Chinese and half foreign (although many of Chinese were from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but there was at least one group from a textile company in Shanghai). It was a holiday weekend in China and that might have attracted more Chinese guests than usual. The foreign group included a fair number of expatriates living in China and the typical geriatric set on the cruise as part of a longer tour of China. It was a good combination of people and they mixed well. Dining tables were mostly assigned by tour group, while I think most people would have preferred to have mixed things up a bit.
Tours were well organized, interesting, and mostly included in the cruise price. There were two add-on tours with a modest charge, but only one ran and it was worthwhile. Passengers were divided by language into tour groups and the local guides spoke English well. The dam tour was most interesting as was going through the five locks.
Meals were in the main dining room. The separate menu dining mentioned on this site seems to have stopped. The food was well prepared, but the quantity was barely enough - plates were scrapped pretty clean. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style, and you needed to hit the line early or you would miss out. Although they said they ran breakfast from 7:30 to 8:30, we came down the first morning at 8:15 only to find them hauling off the last of the food. We asked for coffee, only to be told there was none. A complaint to the front desk resulted in quick action, with apologies all around and a fruit basket to the room, and great service from that point forward. The crew is all Chinese, most everyone you come into contact with speaks good English. I need to put a word in for the pastry chef - this guy could work at Crystal Lines. The cooking was good - a mix of Chinese and Western that went together well. They are not spending enough money on quality and quantity of ingredients, however. I felt like a poor kid whose mother knows how to make the best of very little - it was quaint, but not what I expected.
China has come a long ways in service in the last decade. This line is not keeping up. The experience was very much like a 3 star hotel in most major cities. It is comfortable, but not up to the standard that modern Chinese and foreign tourists have come to expect from someone advertising a five star experience. There really is a niche here for a more upmarket offering. Read Less
Somewhat seasoned travellers, my wife and I are in our late 50's and residents of a small village in Eastern Canada. We wanted to visit Asia while our health still permitted it. We decided on an extended 8-night cruise on the Yangtze ... Read More
Somewhat seasoned travellers, my wife and I are in our late 50's and residents of a small village in Eastern Canada. We wanted to visit Asia while our health still permitted it. We decided on an extended 8-night cruise on the Yangtze River from Shanghai to Chongqing with a few days in Shanghai at the beginning and some time in Hong Kong to end a 16-day trip.
We had experienced river cruising in Europe in 2007 with Uniworld from Basel Switzerland to Amsterdam and we absolutely loved that cruise. Aboard the River Ambassador, we had a small but very comfortable stateroom, excellent meals, visits to scenic sports and nice scenery along the way. We were then confident of receiving the same type of quality service since Victoria Cruises is used by Uniworld for their China river cruises. Also, if one looks at their promotional advertisement on U-Tube, Victoria Cruises appears like a vacation of luxury, relaxation and gastronomy. They tell you about executive chef Walter Stade preparing their gastronomic adventure and about the mixture of Chinese and western food to please all palates. They talk of great wine, of personnel trained to meet your every need, etc. Lovely indeed...
We boarded the Victoria Prince leaving Shanghai on May 2, 2010 and arriving in Chongqing on May 10th. The ship is relatively well maintained. The staterooms are small but comfortable. The beds and linen are good. We had a mini fridge and a small balcony with 2 chairs that we enjoyed a lot. Each cabin had a HDTV with HBO and CNN. The public rooms were well appointed and quite comfortable. It was very acceptable if not quite the same quality and good taste as the Uniworld European fleet.
The first very unpleasant experience was morning coffee followed quickly by food.
I generally go to bed early and get up early, around 5 a.m. When I get up, in a comatose state, I need 2-3 coffees to become human again and help me wait for breakfast. Cruise Ships (including Uniworld) and hotels usually have coffee available around the clock. I never had problems before anywhere. On the Victoria Prince, it was impossible to get a coffee before "coffee hour" which varied every morning according to their precisely managed daily schedule, generally around 7 a.m. I tried everything to get coffee. I got myself a thermos of hot water delivered to my cabin at 11 p.m. at night but could not get a thermos of hot coffee delivered the same way, even by begging or bribing. For some unknown reason, this small need could not be accommodated. I then tried to buy some instant coffee from the ship store but they had none (as a matter of fact, the food section of the ship store consisted of only a few chocolate bars such as M&M or Snickers - no chips, no peanuts, nothing unless you wanted to eat a t-shirt!). I was not the only coffee hound on the ship. A smart Australian oman found a supermarket in Nanjing and was kind enough to let me have a third of a Nescafe jar. I am forever grateful and in debt. With that, I managed to get a small cup of milk from the bar every day that I kept in my mini-fridge. With my hot water delivered at night, I could make myself some very bad coffee every morning but that made me happy.
The food was also a sorry affair. Far from the promised adventure in gastronomy, as described in the publicity, it was below par and could not be compared with anything I had in the past. Generally, I am not a fussy eater if I can manage to get some decent proteins and a bit a carbohydrates. ON large cruise ships, I rarely visit the dining room and I am quite satisfied with cafeteria-style food. And I have had many mals in very good Chinese restaurants, mostly to m y liking and often to my delight.
I lost a lot of weight on that trip because the food was simply lousy. The first morning, I was pleased to see that they had scrambled eggs and bacon, my saviour food when I don't like what is served at other meals. The following day, the bacon was gone, replaced by a milky white tube they called a port sausage. Certainly did not taste like pork or anything I have ever tasted. And I did not see bacon for another 4 days, then sporadically only. When there were potatoes, they were fried in very old dark oil, leaving an overcooked burnt oily taste in the mouth. The soup was a corn starch base with finely cut vegetables in it. It tasted like glue, cold and repulsive. Their designer chef Walter Stade must be quite pleased with this new gastronomic wonder!
For meals, we were assigned to a table of 9. Our table companions were 4 Australians, 2 Americans and one German gentleman and they were all very pleasant. We used to re-order 5 to 6 baskets of bread and butter per meal. The bread was good and so was the butter. We tried the 10 different plates served family-style at every meal. Ate a little of this, a little of that, in an attempt to feed ourselves. Most of it was vegetables covered with thick bland starch thickening agent or what was called marinated vegetables, which was basically just lumpy and tasteless. The quality of the meat was also very poor, chewy and nerdy. No fish, Small breaded shrimps once. They had good fresh green salad with what they called ranch dressing.
Once during the trip, we had small slices of beef in a pepper gravy with mashed potatoes. That emptied in seconds and everybody was smiling for a day. Once we had one spring roll each, very oily and not very good but to us, it was better than the usual fare, so we emptied it. Most of the food went back to the kitchen at every meal but nobody every asked us why. So I guess they knew why...
And with poor food on a cruise, you start feeling like a prisoner in a camp very quickly. You look for possible alternatives but there are none. You wonder why you have a mini fridge in each room with nothing in it. Daily excursions bring you to museums, temples, mountaintops, not to a store where you can buy something to eat. Contrary to Europe, there is very little free time to mix with the Chinese or try local restaurants. You are in and out of buses and back on the ship. Everyday you always hope that things will improve but they never do. At the end of the trip, you have no appetite left. You feel like a zombie. Thank God the last day has come,Fengdu temple, the temple of the dead, how fitting!
But there were some positive things on this trip.
The ship hotel staff, all young and willing, are impressive in their funny way. They are more than willing to please but they don't know how and the management is drilling them into little patterns like military personnel. When you shop up for morning coffee, for example, there are 3 of them standing around the coffee machine, white shirts and black suits. One welcomes you, the other one give you a coffee or a tea, the third one wishes you good day. Every morning, same routine, same personnel, same method.
When you get off the ship for an excursion, there are 10 to 20 young employees in uniform, every 25 feet or so, everyone taking turn in wishing you a good day. The same is true when you come back. They are all lined up, everyone in turn welcoming you back. I guess this is what their management tell them is good customer service. This line up is important but still no coffee in the early morning just the same.
On each floor on of the ship, in front of the stairs, there is one of those young employees sitting behind a desk 24-7. As you go by, he or she gets up and says hello. Strange again. There is a pone in each cabin but no room service. If you need ice, they say you should ask the attendant on your floor. When you ask your attendant, he/she does not understand. If you say "bing kwai tchii" or "ice please" in mandarin, he/she does not understand because of your poor pronunciation. You then make a little ice cube with your hand and then shiver, they get it and literally run to get you ice. They are bored but quite willing to be of service and somebody should teach them what ice means, or a few simple words, like towel, or sop, basic things like that. But what they know how to do, they do extremely well. Our stateroom was made up the minute we stepped out of it in the morning and again during supper and was kept spotless.
Just as the hotel management of the ship leaves to be desired, the junior attendants to wonders. I figures that after months or years in the corridor, when they have enough English, they graduate to the dining room. We had 2 attendants in the dining room that we could have basic conversation with. They also taught us some Chinese sentences and it was very enjoyable. They serve 3 meals a day, then do floor shows cabaret style during the evenings. They really have full days and work hard but are always smiling. Like I said, great staff, very poor hotel management. I still can't believe this company is owned by Americans.
There were some interesting excursions on this cruise but everything in China seems to come with a lot of stairs in it Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum 392 steps, Huangshan mountain 380 steps, Fendu 700 steps (thank God there is a chair lift that solves that one by 80%).
The highlights are definitely the 3-Gorge and the Dam, very beautiful and impressive. The low point is that you meet so few Chinese people outside the government appointed guides giving you the official story. You always seem to be kept away, isolated, in tourist land.
We had to use the ship doctor, also the tai chi instructor. My wife developed a bronchitis, due to uncontrolled air conditioning, high level of humidity and constant diesel fumes. The doctor identified a small throat infection and suggested administering antibiotics through an IV. She flatly refused so he gave her some throat losanges. He did not have any syrup or anything to make her sleep and she kept coughing all night which added to the lack of sleep. The problem got easily fixed in Hong Kong a week later. Do not count on the ship doctor, bring lots of medicines for various ailments as some of the other passengers did. They can be useful.
Finally, let me say that it was an interesting trip but not a pleasant one. We thought the cruise would be the highlight of our trip to Asia. It was not. We enjoyed Shanghai a lot at the beginning and the cruise was quickly washed away in Hong Kong, where I had possible the best meal of my life or so it seemed after a week on the Victoria Prince. If you choose to do a cruise on the Yangtze, choose a short cruise (3 or 4 nights) to visit the 3 Gorges and the Dam. Stay away from the long 8-night cruise. Read Less
Although Viking states that the Pakhomov has been remodeled, it's hard to find evidence of any renovation on this 20-year old vessel. The standard cabins have very small beds that are uncomfortable even for a normal sized person. The ... Read More
Although Viking states that the Pakhomov has been remodeled, it's hard to find evidence of any renovation on this 20-year old vessel. The standard cabins have very small beds that are uncomfortable even for a normal sized person. The cabins have a "yacht style" bathroom with a shower incorporated into a very small space containing a lavatory (usually cracked) and toilet AKA-a Wet bath. Storage is minimal with but a single small drawer per passenger and insufficient space to store empty luggage. Standard cabins have no TV and even the few deluxe suites that have a TV have no TV service except in Moscow or St. Petersburg. News aboard was handled via a "daily newspaper" with as much space devoted to sports scores as was devoted to news. These four-page papers were produced in Brit, American, and Aussie editions.
Housekeeping service was good. Food service and quality was average to good although the breakfast buffet was underwhelming. The shipboard staff was usually able to handle routine requests without difficulty. Anything more than a routine request was generally met with a blank stare and a nebulous quasi-promise to "look into the matter". Shipboard cleanliness is good, but there are few amenities aboard these Russian river cruise vessels.
The six guides travel aboard and are augmented with local guides in each port. Our guide was very difficult to understand and consistently spoke in a low monotone so that it was hard to differentiate the important information from the general patter. She also seemed to have somewhat of an "attitude" problem with some of the passengers in our tour group. Choose your guide wisely because the guide you choose on the first day's tour will be your guide for the duration.
Having taken and been very impressed with the Viking China Cultural cruise previously, we were big Viking fans coming to this cruise. Now - we would be hesitant to recommend this cruise to anyone other than a person with a strong interest in cathedrals and religious icons. The museums, palaces, ballet, and symphony were interesting, but many of them charge an additional fee to take photos or videos. There are also 6-8 optional excursions to fill in "free time" in Moscow and St. Petersburg. These optional tours are expensive and they offer poor value for their cost. Viking seems intent on wringing every nickel out of each passenger on this Russian river cruise.
All in all, we found this cruise to offer inadequate value and this opinion was shared by a majority of the other passengers we spoke with. Bottom line - even with a 2-for-1 deal, nearly free air transportation, and complimentary dinner wine, you will likely not get a "warm, fuzzy feel from this Viking river cruise. Read Less
This was our first River Boat Cruise (though not our first ocean cruise) .. however it certainly will NOT be our last! We found it just delightful! In our opinion and for our taste .. FAR superior and FAR more interesting than ocean ... Read More
This was our first River Boat Cruise (though not our first ocean cruise) .. however it certainly will NOT be our last! We found it just delightful! In our opinion and for our taste .. FAR superior and FAR more interesting than ocean cruising! We found the smaller AMA Amalegro ship of 75 cabins and open dining seating to be much more conducive to a very friendly outgoing atmosphere onboard. Now to details .. good but uneven service and staff.. Some with great attitude, always ready with helpful suggestions, answers and smiles .. others .. with an actual response to a courteous request .. "I only have two hands.". This said .. we especially were impressed with the professionalism and fun attitude of the restaurant's Maitre de, Mr. Gabor Lukacs .. he made up for a lot! The same could not be said of the Second Captain, Ludovic Schrepf, .. I do believe I never once saw him smile on the entire trip! I was shocked to see a smile on his "gallery of staff" photo .. my goodness .. he DOES know how to smile. Quite a sour .. or shall I say dour personality for a ship of this type. To progress in the travel industry I think he needs to be sent to "Charm School"! The food itself needs improvement .. not in quantity but in quality. From chatting with the other guests (and the fact that we are seasoned travelers ourselves) it is obvious the ship is dealing with some fairly well developed palates. For such a small ship there is no excuse not to be putting out a cuisine to astonish .. this experience was pedestrian to be honest. Sounds good on the menu but so so on delivery most often. Quite frequently overcooked vegetables and meats, soups that taste primarily of stock .. could hardly tell one from the other, horrific cookies presented in the Lounge in the afternoon that were an insult to the taste buds! Just no excuse not to have excellent pastries available in this area of the world! I was shocked at the lack of creativity, imagination, flair in terms of the taste .. all presentation and no taste! The waffles I had the last day for breakfast would be a perfect example. I swear you could have taken a photo of the plate for a food magazine! Darling heart shaped waffles surrounding a mound of whipped cream with a beautifully carved strawberry in the center .. all dusted with powdered sugar .. truly a wonder to behold! Yuck! Dry .. tasteless .. like eating cardboard. I had two bites and left the rest .. what a disappointment .. again .. all presentation and NO FLAVOR! I will be frank with you .. we spoke with several couples who said they would NOT consider another AMA Waterways River Cruise based on the food experience of this cruise. Since you are essentially a "captive audience" onboard and food is an important component of any cruise .. PLUS since a River Cruise is not exactly cheap compared to an ocean cruise .. they are going elsewhere. One couple said they have been very happy with Avalon River Cruises .. we are going to check into them next. I don't know if the food problem is with the lack of imagination with the current Executive Chef or poor decision making in upper management but it really is too bad. Just because they are running a business with a "full ship" .. word gets around if you take advantage of people and don't deliver as expected. Clean cabin, adequate storage space, good bedside reading lamp, #322 had a lovely view of passing sights, one very comfy easy chair (would be nice to have the space for 2!) however the space is SO tight that to even uncover your duvet at night is a struggle .. not a half inch of spare space, small but adequate bathroom with an electrical outlet which was nice, very nice shower with 3 heads. Only downsides were the free internet NEVER worked in our room and only occasionally in the Lounge .. but most of all .. the beds were TERRIBLY hard! Merely a thin mattress on wood slats! Upon the ship's next remodel they MUST do something about the mattress situation. Anyone with a shoulder/hip/back would be in trouble! Housekeeping was very helpful in accommodating me by adding 2 duvets to my mattress .. that helped immeasurably for my back but onboard the supply of duvets would be grossly limited so ask EARLY if you have such a limitation! We felt the land Day Trips in total were excellent. We especially liked the method of individual earphones connected to the Tour Guide Leader .. didn't miss a word of any guided tour. I'm sure most of you know .. but prepare for all kinds of weather! The last week of August on this cruise .. many didn't prepare with the weather rainy and in the low 50's to barely 60's. Layer .. Layer .. Layer .. bring at least one turtle neck sweater and jacket. Also be VERY careful stepping down at all times .. we had several twisted/bruised people after wet slippery steps were misjudged! AND quite a few colds .. bring cold medicine and wash hands frequently! Sure enough my 2nd night dinner companion (delightful fellow!) gave me a bad cold bug that I am still fighting! EXCELLENT onboard entertainment and organized activities upon arrival at some ports! We really enjoyed many of them .. very well done! Especially the local talent in port towns! The Tour Director, Lilo Lehmann, could not have been better. While quietly VERY efficient and professional .. she was just so friendly, helpful and outgoing .. making everyone feel welcome and a part of the happy little group. Just perfect for the job .. I'm sure they don't pay her enough! Overall we were delighted with our first experience and it will not be our last! We have fallen in love with the concept and may even rearrange future travel plans to accommodate more River Cruises .. just probably not with the AMA because of the quality of the food .. unless we read on TripAdvisors.com that they have improved it GREATLY! If it is at all possible for you .. fly into Prague EARLY! It is a GORGEOUS city! We flew in 9 days early and it could have been longer .. we just LOVED it! We stayed at the Hotel Paris and it was a delight .. book directly for a good rate with a WONDERFUL buffet breakfast (room #307 is VERY quiet and a small but nice balcony)! http://www.hotel-paris.cz/ Read Less
This is first river cruise, and probably the last! Get to fly home tomorrow! The brochure was very misleading and this has been very frustrating for all aboard. The internet has been "not working" for 95% of the cruise. I've ... Read More
This is first river cruise, and probably the last! Get to fly home tomorrow! The brochure was very misleading and this has been very frustrating for all aboard. The internet has been "not working" for 95% of the cruise. I've only been able to log on between 3 and 5 A.M each morning. The cruise line has done nothing to help and just given flimsy excuses. It could've offered a 10-15 minute ship to shore phone credit so travellers could contact loved ones, etc.
I believe river cruises are meant for those folks that are older, need nothing but a lounge and a bar while being herded around. Here are the main differences I noted.
1. No evening entertainment or shows, AT ALL.
2. Excursions are nearly non-existent with only choice in most ports is to take the ship offered excursion, or stay on the ship!
3. Eat only at the 3 scheduled meal times. No pizza spot, dessert spot or other offerings.
The staff was great and the ship was clean and organized. After 33 cruises, I'll stick to ocean cruises which have more activities, excursion options etc. Maybe when I'm 90, I'll try this style. I'm no rookie at cruising. I'm 62, have visited 92 countries and taken 33 cruises. Viper Read Less
Pick up at the airport was good but at the Marriott we learned that two of the seven couples on the bus did not have room keys. After the long miserable flight we were all told to wait on the bus while two more room keys were obtained. ... Read More
Pick up at the airport was good but at the Marriott we learned that two of the seven couples on the bus did not have room keys. After the long miserable flight we were all told to wait on the bus while two more room keys were obtained. After 25 minutes waiting people that had keys gave up and wondered to their rooms.
Marriott is a beautiful hotel with so-so food and poor service, except for Roy's. The sorry outside patio service is really something to behold.
We thought River Tosca is a five star boat with three star food and service. An English speaking crew is a real stretch. Dinner at 7:30 taking 2-2 1/2 hours is excessive after a long day. Buses were neat and clean and the guide good. While on the boat we had 4 of our group of 10 get sick and none ever ate anything off the boat. We were surprised that the best meal we had while gone was dinner on our return Air France flight.
Trash is everywhere which we did not recall from a quick Cairo visit 12 years ago. It is amazing to see what the Egyptian people built a few thousand years ago and now they can't pick up their trash. The guides answer to this was that the people really don't care. This is probably the reason work on River Tosca was so shabby when it was delivered new.
One member of our group said if the trip was his first Uni-world trip he would not take another one with Uni-world. Doing business in Egypt and maintaining high quality has to be very, very difficult and frustrating. Read Less
We took this tour in January 2011 which is during the dry and cool season. Most of the comments that others have left are quite accurate, but I will add some additional emphasis to some issues.
This was our sixth river cruise and second ... Read More
We took this tour in January 2011 which is during the dry and cool season. Most of the comments that others have left are quite accurate, but I will add some additional emphasis to some issues.
This was our sixth river cruise and second with AMA Waterways. The AMALotus is a new ship, but perhaps the worst river cruiser we have ever been on. This includes river cruises we have taken in China and Egypt, as well as Europe. Staterooms are comfortably sized, but the selection of furniture was not very functional. Other than a closet with hangers, there was literally no place to put your things.
The bathroom was excellent, but we consistently had a major problem with the shower water temperature. It varied repeatedly from scalding hot to icy cold regardless of the faucet settings. Rooms had a nice HD flat screen TV, but no satellite reception. Wireless was limited to the lounge and was good when we were moored or in port.
One reviewer stated their air conditioning was excellent. Our's was not. Our room was over 90 degrees for the first two days. The situation only got better when it became cloudy and cooled off outside. The air conditioners are individual to each room and only run when you have your room key card in the key slot on the wall that turns on the lights. OK for saving energy, but IMHO the air conditioners were undersized for the job and not able to do the rapid cool-down required if they were being turned on and off in this manner. Many people got an extra key card from the staff so they could have the a/c run all the time. That helped a little, but not completely.
Meals were good but not great. The only complaints we had was that the free local wine at meals was really bad, and the freshly baked breads pretty much amounted to the same bland white and rye each day.
Someone mentioned the QuietVoxs were junk. Ours worked OK (as they have on many other cruises we have taken). But there was a major problem with the batteries constantly wearing out after a few hours of use. I noticed that AMA was using a cheap Chinese battery; perhaps rechargeables or quality batteries would have been better.
Out land tours varied. Most were really great, but somewhat similar (tours of local villages). For most excursions we needed to use tenders. A few of them were very difficult to board and we considered unsafe (life vests were rotten, seats were not attached to the tender, tender was overcrowded). In a number of places where we disembarked from the AMALotus directly to shore, we literally had to walk a plank to get off or on.
In conjunction with the cruise, we had land tours and hotel stays in Hanoi, Siem Reap, and Saigon. All which were well done. We also had a tour to HaLong Bay and spent a night on a Junk. The trip out to HaLong Bay and back could have been arranged a little better. We were rushed in places to hit departure times or meals, yet had other times when we basically just sat and waited on the bus or at a rest stop. Overall, I think the timelines and activities on the trip could be better optimized.
Our local guides were all knowledgeable and had an excellent English vocabulary. However, a few had difficulties with pronunciation and we could hardly understand them.
Last, let me second the reviewer who commented on excessive tips. I have never been on a land cruise or river cruise where the staff and guides reminded us so often to tip--to the point of it becoming an annoyance. AMA Waterways needs to pay decent wages to their guides, bundle the tips into their own fees, discourage begging for tips, or take whatever other steps are necessary to end this annoyance.
Bottom Line: Vietnam and Cambodia were great. The AMALotus was only OK. AMA Waterways needs to get this trip better organized. Read Less
We consider ourselves to be seasoned cruise customers, although we had not taken a river cruise until we booked with you for April 25th. We chose AMA because we were told that they ran a Mercedes-Benz type of experience. Sadly, this turned ... Read More
We consider ourselves to be seasoned cruise customers, although we had not taken a river cruise until we booked with you for April 25th. We chose AMA because we were told that they ran a Mercedes-Benz type of experience. Sadly, this turned out to not be true.We do want to acknowledge the staff of the AMADolce, from the cruise director to the hotel director to the Pursers to the support staffs, as being very good overall. However, somewhere in AMA's literature it states that by the second day the crew will know our names. Never happened. There was never any attempt by the crew to learn our names. It's a small issue, but becomes a bigger one because the literature suggests a higher level of personal interaction that never takes place.Our biggest complaint was with the food. The portions were extremely small, and there was not one night that the dinner appeared to have been custom cooked. One evening, the entrEe was rack of lamb, which had the appearance of being precooked and reheated prior to serving. All four of us at our table ordered this main course, and all four servings of lamb had the same preprepared look and taste.I am extremely sensitive to autolyzed yeast extract, also known as MSG. The kitchen either uses this ingredient or a similar one on a daily basis, or there was something else in the meals that caused me to be unable to sleep for the first four nights of the cruise. I'm sure the soups contained this ingredient also. For the last three nights of the cruise, I order the most bland choices available, skipping soups, and, lo and behold, I slept very well.One thing we especially enjoy on our cruises are tasty, creative desserts. Not one of the AMA desserts was appealing to us... they were flavorless and unimaginative.Overall, we liked our cabin, except for the fact that the mattresses were narrower than any we have ever encountered on a cruise line. Neither of us are large people, yet the narrowness of the mattresses was a contributing factor to our sleep deprivation. We also encountered a noise issue that apparently is a way of life in River cruising. Our cabin was on the top deck, and twice while we were trying to sleep we heard the sound of many, many, MANY sets of feet climbing over our cabin on the way to their docked ship. We don't have any clue as to how AMA might solve this problem, but it added to the list of negative issues we encountered during our cruise.Regarding the land tours we took, the tour guides were perfunctory but not special in any way. On the cruise was an older woman whose right leg was fused straight. The tour guides didn't seem to make any special effort to make this passenger comfortable.Lastly, the Captain lacked a professional, authoritarian aura. His demeanor did nothing to improve our overall cruise experience.We have cruised with six Star lines, five Star lines, all away down to our one and only cruise (our last cruise) with Carnival. We hoped that AMAWaterways would in some ways remind us of our Regent Seven Seas experience, and perhaps even excel. We are disappointed this was not the case. Read Less
We returned yesterday from our first river cruise after many ocean voyages. We have enjoyed cruising as a main form of travel and felt that river cruising would give us an opportunity to see the interiors of European Countries where you ... Read More
We returned yesterday from our first river cruise after many ocean voyages. We have enjoyed cruising as a main form of travel and felt that river cruising would give us an opportunity to see the interiors of European Countries where you cannot cruise.We flew economy on Swiss Air and paid for a deviation so we could avoid Luftansa and the Frankfort airport. We were able to fly non stop from home and were routed back to Zurich on Swiss to fly home from Zurich directly. We stayed two nights prior to our Rhine Getaway at the Radisson Blue in Lucerne. We liked the hotel (we paid for an upgrade to the standard provided room). We were met at the Zurich Airport by a car service who took us not only to our hotel but familiarized us with the area slightly before dropping us off. The first day we had a two hour walking tour of Lake Lucerne and then the next day we also took a tour offered to Mt. Pilaetus. We loved the couple days in Switzerland and hope to return. We were bussed with twenty others who took the post cruise package to the ship, Viking Helvetia in Basel. We were pleased with the cabin and amenities and found the ship and service very good.Food was hit or miss on the ship - some nights were excellent and other nights were not our preference. We found a lot of pork and beef and some lunches only pork available via sausages as is the custom in Germany. Food was always plentiful and only two options - one fish and one meat most nights with a vegetarian option. There were two dessert options nightly. Tables were for 6 8 or 10 and was multiple courses with a choice of appetizers, a soup and entree. We were not hungry but much of the food was oversalty. Breakfasts were generous choices of anything you could think of from eggs, to smoked salmon, to pastries, rolls, pancakes, cereals and yogurts. Lunch was a choice of hot entrees, soups, sandwiches and were acceptable choices. One day in Cologne we ate off ship in the department store on the shopping street and it was magnificent. It was a cafeteria style but the food was fresh and very tasty. White Asparagus was in season and it was available in many preparations there.Most days were structured with a morning tour and an optional afternoon tour or free time. We were bussed in many ports to the tour. Tours were ranked as those needing a more leisurely pace or ranked a three where you might need to walk extensively on cobblestones.Daily there was a port talk and plan outlined so we knew what to expect. Dinner was served right after the nightly talk and so that caused most people to go to dinner right away so the entire ship ate at once.Most of the passengers had some travel and cruise experience and many were an older demographic. Many were limited in mobility. About 20% of the ship was passengers from Great Britain, Canada and Australia. Most passengers I spoke with were experimenting with a river itinerary.One day were were told about the low river and that we would be transferred to the Viking Sun who was sailing from North to South.We heard before we left that the water level was low on the Rhine and a few days into the cruise we were told that Viking had a plan to re-direct us to the Viking Sun from the Viking Helvetia. The ship was older and needing some refurbishing but we were bussed into Heidelberg, toured the castle and had the worst meal I have ever experienced. We were not given any choice but one entree: Frozen Vegetables, A mystery piece of rolled dried stuffed beef that was inedible and Mashed Potatoes made from boxed potato flakes. Salad was only lettuce and dessert ice cream. We left before finishing our meal for a walk in the shopping area. The ship, the Sun was identical in layout and were resettled in no time. We came home to a letter of apology from Viking and that it was done for our safety. The way the plan came off to us, was that it was known at boarding time and we did feel that they were less than truthful about it. To move 180 people including reserving two restaurants for meals was no easy task. We did not bargain for three hours on a bus and a small ship was charted for us to cruise the Rhine and see the missed portion of the river where water was low. We were not happy at all with a tour to the Black Forrest. What it really was was a hijacking to a coo-coo clock store in the Black Forest. We were dropped off for an hour to shop and held captive. Not acceptable to us. We did not see the Black Forrest. We rode 90 minutes to a store to shop for tourist junk.Some of the tour guides were licensed and sounded like tired broken records and others were exceptional. The whisper headsets were well maintained and great.Our tour of the Windmills at Kinderdijk was spectacular but rushed. There was just too much bus time on the trip for us. We expected that we'd be able to walk more right from the ship to see Germany. Not so. Some distances to see things we just beyond a casual walk and there were no real choices for tours. Just one a day. There was an optional afternoon tour but the only one we booked in Rudesheim was canceled because we were moved. Nightly entertainment was very weak. On the Helvetia, no one went to the lounge for after dinner drinks or music. One night a German Band purporting to play New Orleans style Jazz came onboard and they were so bad we skipped our after dinner drink to avoid hearing them. On the Sun there was a three piece group - two violins and a piano who did what was billed as a classical concert but it was really a mix of music and was entertaining. Not great but enjoyable.Post cruise we stayed at the Radisson Blu in Amsterdam. We loved the hotel, ate most of our meals in their dining room because the food was excellent and service superior. Many of the travel companions who did the post cruise did the same. We again upgraded our room to the newly renovated rooms. We would definitely opt to stay there again. They had a box of breakfast for us because we had to leave the hotel for our flight at 6am. The front desk staff made us coffee and even called the airport to see if the flight was on time, then gave us a map of the terminals so we would know. We were whisked by a car service quickly and timely to the airport arriving early for our flight.In summary, we'd only do another river cruise if we were going to sail with friends. We aren't sure it would be Viking. We were led to believe by the CEO that we'd met a few years ago that it was on the level of a luxury cruise, like Regent, Seabourn or Oceania - but - it's not. It was an acceptable way to see the world but not really something we'd seek. We like more choice in the tours. We think we will take land tours when we want to see more of the world than we can see by cruising on a small ocean ship. Read Less
We were on the inaugural cruise of the Amakatarina (actually it's officially the Mickael Rostropovich - the Russian authorities have refused to register the boat as Amakatarina). The cruise had a number of significant problems which ... Read More
We were on the inaugural cruise of the Amakatarina (actually it's officially the Mickael Rostropovich - the Russian authorities have refused to register the boat as Amakatarina). The cruise had a number of significant problems which resulted in a major compensation package to all passengers. This package included a 50% refund of the cruise price and a free 7-day cruise. Here is a summary of the issues from our perspective.1. The refit of the boat was not completed on time. At the time the cruise commenced (10 May 2011) painters were still painting, engineers were still engineering, and much of the equipment had not been unpacked or installed. The outdoor furniture and gym equipment were still packed away. The outdoor deck was unavailable for passengers use until midway through the cruise. Safety signs were installed sometime during the cruise. On day one we had towels. On day two we also got toiletries. A few days later we got a bath mat and rubbish bin. The safe was not installed in the cabins but this was rectified after a few days. Sometime later workmen appeared and installed coat-hooks in the cabin. This list is just a summary to give a flavour of the issues - the boat was just not ready for its first passengers. For subsequent cruises these problems should now mostly be rectified.2. Some passengers experienced significant mechanical failure in their cabins. Some toilets didn't flush and the passengers had to be moved to other cabins. Some cabins didn't have hot water. One passenger reported that the toilet flushed hot water but the basin and shower only had cold. For all of us, and for the crew in the public areas, there was significant difficulty in controlling the temperature. Sometimes the air-con worked, sometimes it didn't. Sometimes the heating worked, sometimes it didn't. All through one night we shivered in a very cold cabin. A team of workmen accompanied the cruise and most of these problems seemed to have been resolved by the final day.3. The cruise was not as 'luxury' as some passengers expected. This boat is hyped as the most luxurious cruise ship ever to ply the Russian rivers, and in comparison to the other boats on the river it is a lot better, but nevertheless in many areas it fell significantly short of expectations. Many passengers felt that the food was not up to the standard expected when compared to European river cruises. For us, we didn't have a point of comparison and thought the food was ok without being memorable. A major disappointment was our cabin. Cruise marketeers tend to use a lot of hyperbole in describing their products, and hence a poky little cabin becomes a 'Stateroom' in the advertising brochures. Our cabin was marketed as a Marinsky Suite and priced accordingly. A 'suite' it was not. It turned out to be just a slightly wider version of the adjacent cabins, with the addition of two hard-backed chairs (far too uncomfortable to sit in for any length of time) and a small table. Also we had booked a 'double' and what we got was 2 single beds pushed together. Our balcony, another big selling point of this boat, had a high, solid outer side which meant there was no view when sitting. A note about balconies - when the boat is docked for three days at each end of the cruise it is double or triple moored with other boats. For passengers whose balcony was on the inside, moored against another boat, it became unusable due to the noise and fumes from the A/C plant on the adjacent boat. 4. The sightseeing itinerary was very interesting but tended to be conducted in waltz time - slow, slow, quick, quick, slow. Tours were slow getting going (they never started on time), and almost always stuck in slow traffic, sometimes for hours. Moscow traffic is bad news and we typically spent 1 to 2 hours getting to and from the boat to the city centre. St Petersburg is similar. On a good run it took half an hour into the city but when it went bad it was awful. One group took 3 hours to get back to the boat. So we were always running behind schedule which meant the tours sometimes got a bit rushed and truncated - quick, quick. And then back to the slow crawl back to the boat. Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow.5. Most of the crew appeared to be inexperienced and, initially, lacked confidence. As the cruise progressed they became more knowledgeable and confident in their roles. We actually found this to be a bonus as it made them more human and likeable - their lack of cruising experience was overcome with abundant enthusiasm.6. The airport pickup was a bit of a challenge. We were kept waiting for an hour right beside the boarded-up area where 35 people had been killed by a bomb the previous month. In summary, many of the problems that we encountered have now been fixed. Subsequent cruises on this boat should be a lot better. We were told that the food would be improved, but it didn't happen for us. Some problems are less easily fixed, like the Moscow traffic and the overall expectation of getting a consistently premium product for a premium price. Apart from the obvious issues of mechanical and operational lack of readiness, we thought that the cruise was mostly ok while not really earning a 'luxury' label. Read Less
We went on the Rhine Getaway from Amsterdam to Lucerne, with a 2-day post trip extension in Switzerland in May 2011. The vacation was booked as a birthday trip (I turned 40) and as a once-in-a-lifetime getaway since we hadn't done a ... Read More
We went on the Rhine Getaway from Amsterdam to Lucerne, with a 2-day post trip extension in Switzerland in May 2011. The vacation was booked as a birthday trip (I turned 40) and as a once-in-a-lifetime getaway since we hadn't done a lot of traveling over the past few years and we missed it. We've traveled in Europe and South America, but this was our first river cruise. Viking also arranged our air travel and transfers. With the cruise, air travel and 2-day extension, we dropped about 10k on this trip.
To start, we received a lot of information before the cruise, with a cruise packet coming about 2 weeks prior containing our travel documents, itinerary and other general information. Our flight to Amsterdam was fine; however, upon leaving the plane we had to wait about 10 minutes for our bags, as they went to the wrong baggage claim. We then went to the first of two meeting points in the airport for our included transfer to the boat. No one from Viking was there. We decided to go to the second meeting point mentioned in our literature and again, no one from Viking was there. We waited for about 20 minutes and then my husband went back to the first spot while I stayed at the second. Still...no one. We waited another 20 minutes and then dug into our literature to find the "emergency" phone numbers. Well - the first number listed as an emergency contact was a disconnected number. Great! The second number was to Viking and we got a pre-recorded message that we should call back during Viking business hours. After spending another 20 minutes or so going from spot one to spot two and talking to everyone, a driver overheard us and said the Viking representative had been then earlier but was gone. He had a number and called, they dispatched a car for us personally. I was not impressed - they left us because we were 10 minutes late?
We got to the boat (morning) and it was quite busy with activity, as the passengers from the last trip were still disembarking and getting rides to other destinations. We knew ahead of time that check-in wasn't until later in the day, so we dropped our bags off and went to explore Amsterdam. It did strike me that there is no security to get on and off the boat. I was a little concerned about leaving our bags there (even with luggage tags).
Check-in was fine and we were provided with cookies, coffee and tea while waiting. Our cabin, on the lower deck, was small, but very clean and nicely laid out. Bed was pretty uncomfortable, but we weren't expecting much. We had a small porthole window, which was fine, as we knew we wouldn't spend much time in our room. Decor was fine, and I was provided with extra pillows and extra clothing hangers upon request. More specifics about different aspects of the cruise are listed below.
The ship itself was nice, but nothing that screamed "luxury" to either of us, as the trip is marketed as a "luxury cruise" experience. All areas of the ship were clean and neat, and quite efficient in design since it is smaller than an ocean liner. The lobby area, before going out on daily excursions, was much too small to hold everyone just standing around waiting to leave, but otherwise it was not a big deal. There is a beverage station open 24 hours per day, where you can get coffee, tea or water. There are cookies set out after lunch. The dining areas were fine, and had open seating, which was a nice way to meet other cruisers.
The beds are pretty uncomfortable and the air in our cabin was extremely dry. I thought I was coming down with a cold by day 3 as I woke up with a really sore throat and was very stuffed up. This lingered the rest of the trip until we got to Lucerne and off the boat, so I never really felt great. We would leave the ship for the day and I'd start feeling better, but as soon as I got to the cabin I would start feeling poorly again.
We had quite a few excursions, and we also signed up for almost all the optional excursions. We were, overall, disappointed in these activities. They are great about keeping on schedule, and we were broken into multiple groups for the actual tours; but I wish they'd had a group for more active people. We knew we'd be the youngest on-board (40 and 36), but there were plenty of others on-board who were active and fit enough to handle faster-paced tours. They had one tour that was for slower folks, it would've been nice to've had one for faster people, too.
The majority of the excursion destinations were disappointing. Every place we went, with only a few exceptions, was so packed with other tourists that we could barely get around and see anything. The Viking marketing materials explained things in such a way that we thought we'd have "back stage passes," if you will, to these beautiful castles and churches. That was not the case. The trip to Heidelburg Castle was exceptionally disappointing, as we walked through the grounds, waited in line to get in and saw one big area inside; only to get herded back to our bus and leave. It was an absolute zoo and the castle itself was not worth the trip there.
Going to Rudesheim was a complete waste of time. It was a giant tourist trap, obviously built for and around tourists. The walk into town was about a mile from the boat and there was nothing worth seeing. We did take an optional excursion into town that evening for dinner and it was fun, but we had to pay extra, of course.
The trip through the Black Forest was likely the worst part of the trip, as we took a long bus ride through the forest (without any stops along the way to enjoy the view) only to arrive at a tiny outpost that was, again, a giant tourist trap (it was a giant shopping village where you could buy cuckoo clocks, blown glass, etc., and that was it). My husband was looking forward to the black forest cake, as we were promised; however, it was not included and came from a cafeteria-type eatery under the shops. He got a piece, it was okay. We wanted to see something authentic, not something thrown together for tourists.
We did enjoy some of the excursions; Marksburg Castle was amazing, Strasbourg & Colmar were wonderful and Cologne was interesting. There was a lot of freetime where we could wander around the towns and shop, eat, explore...and we did! But in the end, the excursions, the parts that we were MOST looking forward to, were just so-so.
The food on the boat, in our opinion, was just okay. There were normally three options to choose from: a beef/pork option, a fish option and a vegetarian option. The fish dishes were pretty bland and I stopped eating them completely after having one dish where the tiny bones were not properly removed and I got one stuck in my throat. Yep, a fish bone got stuck in my throat. If you don't like any of the proteins offered, you can always get a chicken dish, which I ended up getting one night and it was pretty good. There were lots of fried foods and everything was made with heavy cream sauces. Desserts were okay, but nothing exceptional. My husband normally got a different option than me, and he thought the food was pretty bland, too. Perhaps that's because the cruise itself is skewed to a much older audience? Nothing was outright bad, but most things were pretty mediocre.
Lunches and breakfasts were good, normally consisting of a buffet with some good options. Meals were always on time and the dining areas were always clean and efficient.
It was pretty hit or miss with the staff; no one was outright rude or uncooperative, but some were definitely better than others. We were constantly asking for water, coffee and wine refills during meals, which was annoying. Our program directors were friendly, helpful and personable and we enjoyed our local tour guides, as well (though we heard varying stories amongst the other groups). Our room was cleaned twice per day and kept in great shape. Reception desk staff was also helpful and nice.
There were absolutely some positives about this trip; but for the amount of money we paid, we were not "WOWed" by the overall experience and I just can't recommend Viking to others. we're not overly picky people and we have traveled quite a bit -- but we expected a lot more for the money. What could make it better? More options for dinner, including more regional dishes and less bland food. Smaller excursion groups, more geared towards activity level. Less tourist-based excursion destinations. I know that can be tough in such a place, but some of the choices were outright wastes of time. Convert the totally unused "library" on the boat into a fitness room. Make your staff completely wow the customers (oh, and give them a salary rather than depending on travelers to pay them by tipping, isn't $10k enough to pay?). I didn't want to get waited on hand & foot, nor did we make many special requests, but we only felt that a couple of people went out of their way to make sure we had the trip of a lifetime. More on-board activities such as the German street-food lunch and the flammkuchen demonstration. The lectures were interesting, but the interactive activities were really fun and with so much regional flair, it would've been nice to see/do more with that while we were cruising.
So that's what it boils down to for us -- we paid a ton of money and didn't feel we got a ton of a trip! Had I spent half of what I paid, I might not be so hard on Viking, but this wasn't chump-change for us. We enjoyed the time we spent together, and we enjoyed seeing a part of the world we hadn't seen before and we made some great friends on-board; but I wouldn't cruise with them again unless they drastically dropped their prices. Read Less
We embarked near Prague (Melnik) and exited in Dessau (near Berlin). The trip was a very good one and uneventful. The stops were good except for the Meissen China Factory tour. Perhaps Viking gets compensation for this in some form as it ... Read More
We embarked near Prague (Melnik) and exited in Dessau (near Berlin). The trip was a very good one and uneventful. The stops were good except for the Meissen China Factory tour. Perhaps Viking gets compensation for this in some form as it is really a waste, except for the town tour. A highlight was the optional Terezin POW camp tour. Be sure and take it. The boat is small, the room was smaller (class B" cabin), the food was average (which is good for those of us who don't want to gain weight on a trip), the premium beverage package is a waste of $$ unless you plan on staying on board and drinking all day, (you can bring your own liquor,etc. on board, wine is served with dinner) the Viking employees are excellent, tours and guides are excellent, overall, a good trip but a bit overpriced. These tours are not for the feeble or those unable to enter and exit tour buses, walk for one-half day, etc. So if you envision a "cruise", this is more of a floating hotel with stops and tours every day. I would advocate taking an extra day or two in both cities (Prague and Berlin). We used Viking for the air and they get discounted seats so don't expect any better seating than "tourist" unless you upgrade. Be sure and AVOID Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris if at all possible. We just transferred there and it was awful. It is beyond a dreadful nightmare. And for trans-Atlantic, I'd recommend an American carrier as well. (Air France is no fun to fly.)But Zanex is actually a great drug for air travel. Read Less
This started out just wonderfully with being met at the airport in Budapest, taken to the Hotel Sofitel, where we were greeted by the lovely and charming Pili, our cruise director. She has a way of getting along with everyone, and I know ... Read More
This started out just wonderfully with being met at the airport in Budapest, taken to the Hotel Sofitel, where we were greeted by the lovely and charming Pili, our cruise director. She has a way of getting along with everyone, and I know she had some challenges on this trip. We had a lovely suite because there was not another room available when we arrived. The hotel is in a great location on the river at the beautiful Chain Bridge. Breakfast at the hotel was a buffet with everything one could want, except--the coffee left a lot to be desired.
When the afternoon to board the Amalyra came, we were taken across the river to the boat and welcomed aboard and shown our rooms. We were quite happy with the size, especially the bathroom, for such a small ship. After we boarded we had the usual lifeboat drill, and Pili gave a talk on procedures on the boat and introduced the captain, hotel manager, and restaurant manager. As we left Budapest that night, the captain took the boat down the river a bit and turned around to head north. What breathtaking sights and photo-ops we all had.
We had all breakfasts and lunches on the boat in the lounge area, because we learned the first night that the dining room was a helter-skelter rushed and loud affair--more later on this.
All of the stops were most interesting, and we had terrific guides. They set up walking groups for active, medium and slow. The active suited us, and was not rushed--we just didn't take as long at each place so we could have time to revisit those we were really interested in. The active groups started out small, but as more people learned that they were hearing more than they needed, they joined the active group. By the end of the trip, the active group was really too large. We ould have used another day in Vienna. We took the optional side trip to Salzburg, and were so glad we did. On the way we visited the little town of Monsdee--quite charming with an ultra baroque cathedral.
We had one day of just cruising the river. This was fun and relaxing, with everyone upstairs and listening to Pili give the history of the places we went by. Whenever we met another river cruise boat everyone waved in a happy shared experience mood.
When we got to Nuremburg, we had our interesting tour, and it was the only town we visited that we didn't think was impressively clean. The next morning we boarded buses for the long (about 5 hours) trip to Prague--but it was a beautiful trip, with a stop in the resort spa of Karlovy Vary. We had lunch and beer there--our first experience with how much the Czechs love beer--good stuff.
The Olde Town Hilton was our hotel. It was in a very good location with lots of nearby restaurants, and was within walking distance to the castle, the Charles Bridge, and all the good things to see in Prague.
Now as to the Dreaded Dinners: First, the boat was at full capacity. Secondly everyone eats at the same time. This means a busy dining room. It is small with a low ceiling and tables are close together. There was a group of about thirty traveling together who were extremely and I mean extremely noisy. Wine is complimentary at dinner so as the meal progressed, their noise level progressed--upward. We learned quickly to sit at the back away from where they congregated for dinner. this put us by the kitchen doors which were constantly banging open and shut with the manager RUNNING--not walking--in and out of there. It just plain was not relaxing at all. The food was ok at best, and sometimes it took a long time even for the menu to arrive. I think a more spread out dining situation--timewise--would help this situation. Why can't they set dining seating from 6:30 until 8? I asked someone this question, and was told that the crew would have to work too much.
We did meet some travelers from another AMA boat in PRAGUE. They told us that their dining was wonderful...so I just don't know what to think. Was it the manager not being able to handle things, or was it the noise and demands of the passengers? Read Less
The ship was everything it was advertised to be. We had a 300 sq ft Royal suite and it was very well
designed. Breakfast and lunch was very good, but the dinners were so-so. The quality of the wine
and beer with dinner was of good ... Read More
The ship was everything it was advertised to be. We had a 300 sq ft Royal suite and it was very well
designed. Breakfast and lunch was very good, but the dinners were so-so. The quality of the wine
and beer with dinner was of good quality. Personnel at the customer service desk were outstanding,
as was the housekeeping lady. The waiters in the dining room were pleasant and helpful, except for
a couple who acted like they were doing you a favor waiting on you. The Cruise Director (CD) was at
times rude and arrogant. During the cruise we met some delightful gentlemen from California, and
we were appalled when we told by them that the ship's Captain referred to them as queers.
After 10 days into the cruise , the ship had engine problems, and we told at our daily 6:45 briefing
to pack our bags and board buses in the morning. From a Royal suite to a bus and substandard
accommodations, we felt like we were being herded around like a bunch of cattle. A good example
of our Royal treatment was the Hotel in Amsterdam. There were no robes, no safe, an empty mini-
bar, and the rugs were worn and stained. After one night we moved on our own to the Intercontinental
Amstel Hotel. At least then we had some time in pleasant surroundings to erase the miserable times
since we left the ship. Another unpleasant event was the baggage arrangement at the hotel in Cologne.
When we arrived all the bags were placed in a room off the main lobby.We had to rummage through
all the bags, find ours, and then get them to our room as best we could. After we found our bags we then were all jammed in the main lobby trying to hear if our name was being for our room assignment. This
was an episode we will always remember. When we were getting ready to leave the ship we were told
that our accommodations we be equivalent to what we had on the ship. Obviously, they weren't.After we left the ship, the Cruise Director acted like everything he did to accommodate the passengers
was a big deal. It is interesting to note that the Cruise Director didn't seem to know much about
anything until his daily 6:45 briefing in the cocktail lounge. So you were forced to go to the briefing to
keep up on what's happening. I am sure the extra income Avalon made during the briefings was not a
consideration in setting up the briefings. Read Less
In Nov 2011 we booked a river cruise through Viking for a 15 day cruise sailing the River Rhine from Antwerp to Basel, Switzerland. Food was average, crew was great, room great, and ports of call guided tours were perfect.
The problem ... Read More
In Nov 2011 we booked a river cruise through Viking for a 15 day cruise sailing the River Rhine from Antwerp to Basel, Switzerland. Food was average, crew was great, room great, and ports of call guided tours were perfect.
The problem came half way through the cruise and we were off loaded onto buses to finish our 'cruise' staying in hotels, on and off buses, and dealing with packing and unpacking. These are the reasons we booked the river cruise was to not have to live in hotels and buses....we've already done that several times and now we are ready for the lazy days of a river cruise.
Water levels being low was the reason given which is true, the problem was Viking knew this well in advance, knew the cruise couldn't be completed without the bus tour and never once offered us the opportunity to postpone our trip for a later date or make any other arrangements. They didn't say anything until the night before we were put on buses. Other reviews indicate at least in the past 12 months, this has been how they operate and is no way to get repeat business.
For our 'trouble' they offered a 30% off what we paid for this trip to be used as a credit for another cruise within 12 months. That doesn't come close to being the right thing for them to do under the circumstances. A partial refund for this part of the trip is the right thing to do.
Do your homework before booking a cruise with Viking as you can't count on them being honest with you about your trip. Read Less
Previously we took the Viking Paris and the Heart of Normandy tour and had a fabulous time so we were excited about this Danube trip. The only problem was that the Legend was infected with a stomach virus bug and I got sick with vomiting ... Read More
Previously we took the Viking Paris and the Heart of Normandy tour and had a fabulous time so we were excited about this Danube trip. The only problem was that the Legend was infected with a stomach virus bug and I got sick with vomiting and diarrhea on the day we got to Vienna. After the chamber music concert that evening I was back on the ship only 15 minutes before I sprinted for the bathroom. Another passenger actually threw up in her hands at the concert!What upsets me most is that Viking wouldn't acknowledge that they had a serious problem and thereby put profits over people. If I had been forewarned, I would have exercised my trip insurance and cancelled.I can personally name 15 other passengers who got sick and a fellow passenger said that the total was over 34. One told me that passengers leaving the ship as he got on said most of the passengers on that cruise got sick. I was unable to go to the abbey in Melk or the walking tour of Regensburg. Consomme isn't my idea of a cruise dinner but that's all I could hold down for 3 days. At the New Year's Eve party I was unable to drink and it galled me to be charged for a Ginger Ale in the Lounge Bar.
I thought that the crew seemed disengaged, tired, and ready to go home. They were going through the motions.On arriving from the airport at the dock in Budapest,we had to take our own bags down an extremely long and steep and dangerous gangway. The crew was nowhere in sight. I was also disappointed that Viking seems to arrange air travel routes which are the cheapest for Viking even if it means lengthy circuitous travel for the passenger. We left NYC at 10:40pm on Monday, 12/26 and finally arrived at the Legend in Budapest at 5:30pm Tuesday just in time for the nightly briefing and dinner but leaving no free time to see Budapest on our own. The next day Budapest tour was just a bus drive-by and didn't include the Terror Museum or going into St. Stephen's Basilica. At the end of our trip, we were told to have our bags outside our door at 3am with a 3;30am bus departure for Nuremberg Airport.The "breakfast" we were promised consisted of a pastry. No Viking staff member accompanied us to the airport, we weren't told where to go and the bus driver spoke no English.We were at the airport before 4am and the ticket counters didn't even open until 4:45am and our flight to Paris didn't start boarding till 6am. Next time I'll make my own travel arrangements.
In Vienna, after the bus tour we elected to stay in the center city instead of going back to the ship for lunch. This proved to be a smart move since it enabled us on our own to visit the Imperial Apartments, the National Library(you have to see this majestic room!), and the Sacher Hotel for a Sacher Torte.Be sure you sign up for the Schonbrunn Palace tour in Vienna. We were lucky because their Christmas Market stalls were still open after Christmas when we visited. In Nuremburg the WWII tour was great.
The food on board was generally good. There's no reason to purchase the liquor package since since you can have as much wine as you want at dinner.The local tour guides were excellent.The WiFi internet service was definitely subpar with lots of dead zones. Read Less
This was our fourth river cruise and third on Avalon (fourth if you consider last year was a back to back). We were looking forward to celebrating Christmas and New Years in Europe as well as experiencing Avalon's newest ship.
... Read More
It was our first trip on a SeaDream cruise ship... and it was the company's first time (maiden voyage) visiting 'The Amazon.'
First, it must be said, the absolutely BEST part sailing with SeaDream are it's wonderful ... Read More
It was our first trip on a SeaDream cruise ship... and it was the company's first time (maiden voyage) visiting 'The Amazon.'
First, it must be said, the absolutely BEST part sailing with SeaDream are it's wonderful passengers. They are by far the company's greatest asset, and some of the nicest, most fun-loving folks you will encounter on ANY cruise ship. And SeaDream crew members (on the whole) are as well great fun and very professional.
As for the company... it can and SHOULD be better... there were numerous lapses. NOT a good thing for a line charging TOP dollar for what is touted as a high end cruise product.
It all starts with the ships... and both SeaDream I & II are OLD... what was passable 30 years ago does not work well in today's world (even with some upgrades)!!
- cabins are far too small... for those use to and familiar with larger ships they are substantially smaller... and the area around the bed(s) is particularly tight.... and in today's market, high end clients want cabins with balcony's.. SeaDream ships DON'T have any... not even the owners suite ! .... bathrooms are ridiculously tiny.. and there is a fairly high step up to enter the bath.. toes get banged quite often.... closet and bathroom doors are not secured by any restraining hardware.. very annoying when ship is rolling.. this requires just a simple solution and is totally unacceptable.... the boat sauna is for 1 person only.. even if you are not claustrophobic.. a hot steam in this small space will change that... and SeaDream ships are lacking in inside common areas... limited bar/lounge areas to accommodate guests... also, the library on-board is very limited... bring a good selection of ebooks... (larger ships again have it much better... all major pluses with bigger, newer ships).
- extra charges for many services are prevalent... and would appear to be an integral part of company policy.... some of the shore excursions are priced exceptionally high... $160.00 pp for a one hour local 'native' performance was agreed by many to be exorbitant.
- excursion tours are at times poorly managed and executed.. planning is below par for a high end cruise line.. there were missed opportunities to attend important local festivals on shore due to what seemed little or no advanced research or planning.... emphasis on critically important stops was lacking... I.E. missing only opportunity to see virgin forest because no emphasis was placed on that excursion by those in charge... a desirable village tour was cancelled... and several guests were given no choice and did not do any of the scheduled zodiac tours as a result... all so we could get to a 'shopping' experience on schedule... missed out at another magical night at the carnival festival in Santorum... as we arrived a few hours too late.... a real disappointment was never getting to see a true portion of the old growth virgin Amazon forest ... an old growth tree remaining here and there but that's all... the one stop that we had a chance was not at all properly presented and no one was made aware of what they were missing... extremely frustrating! !!
- pool water was unsightly after several days use.. pool water did not appear to be filtered.. and was not able to be changed until a larger port was reached after several days of additional sailing.... insect and a/c were major issues... in a climate that the ships is normally not accustomed to sailing... some of the common areas were exceptionally cold at times... numerous passengers were in agreement.
- food is mostly passable but not great... same for the 'complimentary' wines.. prompting purchase of dinner wines on several occasions... it really should be better on both counts considering the high cost of the cruise... dinner starts serving at 7:30, catering exclusively to those passengers who like to eat later in the evening... after dinner all 3 bars on-board were not scheduled to open till 9:30.. as a result passengers at times were left to force an issue to find a bartender to get an after dinner drink... under the pressure, they somewhat conceded and altered the time to 9:00 ... without being asked passengers are over-poured wines at lunch and dinner ... not a good policy. (again, major pluses in all matters on other high end cruise lines)
- PA announcements for the most part are non-existent ... (and those that are given don't go into the cabins) passengers are left asking questions about basic goings-on... and on several occasions passengers were given unwarranted misleading information as excuses for events... many grumbled about being given obviously dubious information.
- expedition lecturers came on board later than they should have... and they are not used adequately for guests hungry for excursion and Amazon information, and were left to play movie trivia in the afternoon to pass time... very little at all was discussed regarding the future problems and critical nature of the Amazon's future.. this was most surprising and disappointing... SeaDream is looking to make a Med or Caribbean trip of the Amazon, in that regard they are a 'fish out of water.'
- attitude on-board is that we want you to be happy... but we really do not believe we should be hearing any complaints... and unhappy guests were talked to out in the open common dining areas by the captain of all people...(most unusual no other senior officer had this responsibility)
- SeaDream ships use common pathways as a walking/ jogging track.. disturbing to guests seated alongside these areas... (larger ships have designated running/ walking decks).
- in the Port of Manaus there was free wi-fi ... on the boat it costs $35 a day, or $0.35 a min ($25 an HR)... (most other luxury lines include wi-fi for all returning passengers).
- the time spend going from Barbados to Manaus is not worth the cost ... there is nothing happening (at sea) for too many days, and you are not really seeing or doing much of anything... most all guests agreed.
- several important staff on-board do not fully understand their interactive roles with passengers... i.e. wine sommelier... activities director... and the captain.... and no one appeared really adequately in charge of the expedition guides...as a result planning and coordination of their expertise was very uneven at times.
- pack the lightest light weight clothes you can bring... you and your clothing will be somewhat damp most all times, and lighter clothes will dry much quicker... there is no laundry on-board (as on other larger ships)... and SeaDream laundry costs are again very high.
- having the same routine every evening (6:30 cocktail hour... dinner at 7:30) for 3 weeks becomes wearisome ... and there is no after dinner entertainment to break up the monotony (as on all larger ships)... most all activities on the various parts of the river are identical... and 3 weeks is a long time to be doing the same things over and over... zodiac tours became very repetitive ... birds-trees-water... village tours were a bit more diverse.. but not well organized and fewer in number than should have been.. and no meetings with truly indigenous peoples were scheduled while in Brazil... a very long stretch.
As indicated, three weeks is far too long to be on a voyage with SeaDream. There are things to like (and most of their long time loyal cruisers believe sincerely in the company)... but for us, they are much outweighed by policies, mindset, and lack of ship's amenities.
In hindsight, we might only have done a Manaus to Iquitos segment...but more than likely would have really looked to doing it with a more accomplished adventure travel company.
As previously stated, the passengers and majority of the crew were absolutely wonderful... but in the final result, we came to experience 'the Amazon'... and in that regard we feel somewhat shortchanged by the overall SeaDream experience...(especially in consideration of its high cost). Read Less
My wife and I took the full 16 night tour starting in Hanoi and finishing in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with an extra on our own at either end (March 5 to 22, 2012).
We flew from Vancouver to Hanoi with China Airlines. Just one word of ... Read More
My wife and I took the full 16 night tour starting in Hanoi and finishing in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) with an extra on our own at either end (March 5 to 22, 2012).
We flew from Vancouver to Hanoi with China Airlines. Just one word of warning: bring your own food! Just think solid like a rock blue scrambled eggs - and they were probably among the better food.
I will not go into any detail about all the things we did and all the excursions because they have been very well described elsewhere. I'd rather concentrate on the aspects of the trip that reflect AMA Waterways.
Hanoi is a fabulous city and well worth the visit and if nothing else, you will learn how to cross the most uncrossable street: nobody gives an inch, and neither should you!
Sofitel Hotels in Hanoi, Siem Riep and Saigon were first class. OK, one minor draw back: after having had a lovely dinner and entertainment on our first night in Siem Reap, close to half of our group came down with an illness which caused fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. Well, one explanation offered was that people may have drank too much cold water on such a hot day. Another was that people must have been carrying this form a flu and that it just happened to break out at that point in our trip. Great miracle that Brits, Aussies, Cannucks and Yanks can synchronize their illness so well. And no, it could not have been food poisoning; shouldn't have that affected all of us? This also meant that my wife and I had to cancel our dinner reservation in Siem Reap which we had been looking forward to. Yes, that's the risk you take travelling to exotic countries.
We spent two full days seeing all the temples and holy sites of Anchor. On the third day we took off on a five hour bus ride to meet the ship because the water level in the Tonle Sap Lake was too shallow for the AMALotus. We expected that to be the case, although we would have preferred to embark at Siem Reap. Can't blame anyone here. Can't blame AMA either for the fact that we had to drive almost to Phnom Penh to meet the boat for lack of roads to a point further up-river.
The docking location was a sight to behold: the bow of the ship rammed into the river bank and the stern tied onto a bush. Two planks were laid out to meet the bank to form a gangway adorned with rope rails on either side. We were welcomed by half the ship's crew with big smiles on their faces, received our keys and went to our staterooms. There was a strong smell of creosote (the smell of railway ties or power poles, the wooden ones).
The staterooms were spacious and the bed was comfortable, even the bath room, especially the shower, was bigger than I had seen on other ships. However, there was no place to put anything. One wardrobe is all - and that is shared with the safe and the water heater (which I had to turn on first incidentally - I know I could have called to have that done but I figured it out myself). There is a small balcony with one chair screwed onto the floor and a little side table. There was room for a second chair which would have been nice. The air conditioning worked non-stop which means it was inadequate. There is a card slot by the entrance which controls power, including air conditioning for the stateroom. You do not need to have a room key in that slot; your Airmiles card will work just fine. And before I g=forget: someone mentioned that the stateroom is tastefully all clad in wood. That is true for the floor. The rest is cheap laminate.
Try and get a stateroom as far forward on the boat as you can get because engine, shaft and propeller make an enormous racket while the boat is in motion, the further back, the worse. All that disturbs you up front is the raising and lowering of the anchor (don't worry, the boat is not breaking apart, although it does sound like it).
Lets get to the ship: Someone mentioned tasteful artwork adorns the walls - you know who you are and if you took it, please bring it back! Anyway, we had nothing but bare walls.
So, at our orientation we were warned again to use sanitizers since some of our group were obviously infectious with (food borne) illness. Also, we were proudly told that there is a guest to crew ratio of 2:1. That means since there are 124 guests there have to be 62 crew, right? Now lets count: two at reception, two bartenders in the lounge, one bartender at the sundeck, approximately 8 servers at dinner, the purser and of course, Sigi, the hotel manager. Add to that six for housekeeping (two per floor). Yes, and we need cooks, say six, and one spa lady. That leaves That leaves 34 people to operate the boat - WOW!!!
Sigi, the hotel manager used to work on the big ocean going ships. That has become too much work for him. He prefers the small boats now. I call it semi-retirement. I don't think he worked more than an hour a day, though he was always the first one having his meal in the restaurant, guess quality assurance. Anyway, with such a favorable guest to crew ratio, you would expect stellar service, you would, wouldn't you? OK, let's try something easy like phoning for some ice. Sorry, there is no room service - and no ice bucket in your room either even if you occupy suite.
Yes, and we need to eat too. For lunch you have a buffet for starters, salads and dessert (choices don't change throughout the cruise - unless they run out of something, of course). You also have the activity station where you can get the stir fry or pho of the day. The main course is a la carte: one meat dish (mostly western) one fish dish (local) and one vegetarian dish and for lunch there you can also have a choice of burger and two other fast food things I don't remember. Dinner is fully a la carte with the same plethora of menu choices, except no fast food. Thanks, AMA for making the choice so easy, any more and I would never be able to make up my mind. The service at meal time is best described as totally disorganized. While the staff are very friendly and very willing to please, they would surely benefit from a bit of supervision, direction and training. The most noticeable were staff searching for empty plates to take away of which there weren't any while they could have been serving coffee or drinks. It was like everybody was doing the same things at the same time and other things had to wait their turn.
Did I tell you there is wine with lunch and dinner, totally free, not a penny. Needless to say, it isn't worth any more than that. Please, AMA, pour it into the river and charge us a bit extra but give us palatable wine. Is that too much to ask for? The local beer is reasonably good and the free gin and tonics are fine too. be careful with the local rum, though, it takes a bit of getting used to. Best deal: mimosa for breakfast, made with Russian sparkling wine which is not bad at all - and it's free. Should have swiped the occasional bottle, just never occurred to me.
Entertainment: OK, there you are, floating down the Mekong, you can't afford to have a six piece band travel along together with a few dancers and a string quartet. So what you get is a piano player/crooner and a spot the lie game put on by the some cruise staff. On two nights local groups perform and they are, indeed, very good.
One last thing about tipping. We all know that wages in Vietnam, and especially Cambodia are extremely low, and make no mistake, that also applies to the AMALotus. The payroll on the Mekong is quite different from the payroll on the Rhine. So we are asked to tip everywhere and yes, you do need to bring at least $75 in singles per person. Incidentally, half the ship was occupied by Australians who had booked their cruise through APT (no idea how they are related to AMA Waterways) and they had all their tips included. What's so difficult to do that for the rest of the group, even with the option to prepay your tips?
So, AMA Waterways, yes, this was an amazing trip, but not because of AMALotus but because of the fabulous countries, and the fabulous people. And yes, the cruise offers a great way to see and experience the country and the people which would be a lot harder to do through any other way of travel. But please, on your ship live up to the reputation your company has in Europe.
Sorry, this turned out to be quite a bit longer than intended. Read Less
Television: Satellite TV with ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Discovery Channel, TNT. No weather channel.
Hair Dryer and Magnification Mirror in bath. Shampoo, Conditioner, Shower Gel, Lotion provided upon request.
They ... Read More
Television: Satellite TV with ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, CNN, Discovery Channel, TNT. No weather channel.
Hair Dryer and Magnification Mirror in bath. Shampoo, Conditioner, Shower Gel, Lotion provided upon request.
They do not have a clock (alarm or otherwise) in the staterooms, although they do offer "wake up" service.
Slippers & robes may be provided. Some people had them in their rooms upon check-in, others had to request them. They did not seem to have enough for each guest, so if you don't get one, request it right away.
They advertise that "All staterooms feature gourmet coffee brewers and Starbucks coffee", however this is incorrect, as no staterooms have this.
River Times: Is the daily schedule of events and locations, which is (supposed to) delivered to your stateroom each evening along with turn-down service & a small chocolate. There are many errors in this publication, as it is basically just a re-print from the last cruise. They forget to change the date, weather, location and times of events often. So anything that you want to do, make sure and double check the time and place.
Athletic Club: There are 2 treadmills, 1 elliptical and 1 multi-function weight machine.
Swimming Pool: There is a small pool, however there is no water in it. I was told that there was an "engineering" problem and until addressed, they would not have water in the pool. I was told that there definitely would not be any water in the pool during our cruise, however, on the next to last day, there was (cold water). The pool is more like a spa tub, as it is very small, not deep and is jetted. There are several lounge chairs around the pool.
Mark Twain Gallery: This is basically the "library". A very nicely appointed room for quite activities (similar to the ladies parlor and the gentlemens card rooms). Contains a VERY limited selection of books. All seem to be about the river, the civil war, or the local area. They do have current local newspapers also. No paperbacks or "current" titles (at this time). It looks like people are starting to drop off magazines that they have purchased and read, for others to enjoy.
Wi-Fi: They do have wi-fi on board although very limited band width.
Photography Services: They advertise professional on-board photographers, but I have not seen any. (Probably most people appreciate not being harassed by photographers).
Included Shore Excursions: They have a Hop On/Hop Off bus system, which included the admission to many attractions. Each bus had a "tour guide", however, they often had nothing to say. The company would be well suited to give these guides a script to follow, giving riders information about the town/areas they are visiting.
Riverlorians: The "riverlorians" on our cruise were Travis Vasconcelos and Mary Charlton, with a "guest lecture" by Toots Maloy. There was a "talk" almost each day about the river and steamboating/steamboats. The riverlorians were also available a couple hours each day (an hour in the morning and again an hour in the afternoon) to meet with and ask questions, borrow binoculars (which was a nice "extra"), etc.
Entertainment: There was a Mark Twain impersonator. The Steamboat Syncopators, the 6 piece orchestra. A 4 person ensemble of Singers/Dancers who were very good. Also 5 other musicians who played (and attempted to sing- only Brian could you listen to for very long) in the various bars. On the last night of the cruise the entertainment was the Harry James Orchestra.
Contrary to their advertisement, there is not any "room service", so if you wish to "relax in bed with a cheerful breakfast tray" (as advertised), you will have to go to either the Front Porch or the Dining Room and carry the food back to your room. However, I saw no evidence of any trays available so that you could do this.
J. M. White Dining Room - Breakfast (buffet and a la carte menu options) 6:30am-9:00am, Lunch (buffet and a la carte menu options) 11:30am-1:30pm, Dinner First Seating 5:15 & Second Seating 8:00pm
Front Porch of America - Breakfast 6am-10am offers cold cereals, fresh fruit and muffins/sweet rolls. Lunch 11:30am-1:30pm finger sandwiches, hot dogs, bagged chips, popcorn. They advertise that this is where "light snacks and sweets will be available all day". These are hot dogs, popcorn, soft serve ice cream and cookies. This is where you go to get coffee, tea, soft drinks, juices throughout the day.
River Grill - Lunch 11am-3pm (weather permitting). They serve hamburgers or hoagies/po'boys (on alternate days), chips and salads (potato or coleslaw). Dinner 5:30pm-9pm *Reservations are required. They offer airline chicken breast, beef tenderloin, or one additional option each evening, along with baked potato, a vegetable and green salad. None of these items are cooked fresh to order, but made in advance in the kitchens and then re-heated at the bar.
Tea Time - A small selection of "nibbles" and sweets, along with tea (bags & water) or coffee are offered between 4pm-4:30pm.
Engine Room Bar - Late night hors d'oeurvres served from 10:30pm-11:30pm
There are no "Pre-dinner canapes and hors d'oeuvres" as listed in their brochure.
It is VERY loud in the dining room, making it difficult to carry on a conversation.
The food was just okay ... nothing special. They did some odd things, like serving prime rib but not offering horseradish. Serving corned beef and offered sauerkraut, but not mustard. Served lobster but did not offer drawn butter or lemon. They also one night served a shrimp appetizer, but the shrimp had not been cleaned or deveined! That was totally unacceptable. On the other hand, there were two nights (out of the 8 that we were on board) that I would rate the food as "very good". The night that they had the beef tenderloin, it was served exactly as ordered (medium rare), and the last night when we had the "Inaugural Gala Buffet", which included lobster, shrimp (this time cleaned and deveined), scallops, beef tenderloin, etc. (I don't know if this will be a regular occurrence as this was the night before their christening and all the "big wigs" were on board.)
At all meals, they way overcooked the vegetables, turning them to slimy mush. Their Jazz Brunch, was horrible (it was NOT the menu that is in the brochure), up to and including the skinned baby pig (with it's side carved out) that was on the buffet - causing anyone with an appetite to lose it!
The "complimentary" red wine that they served at dinner was acceptable. I did not try the white wine.
The dining room service needs much improvement. We ate at same table or at least in the same section (same wait staff) for almost every meal (b-l-d). They never did learn to bring us coffee at breakfast (had to ask), offer fresh cracked pepper for our salads/soup. Although I had red wine each evening, they couldn't seem to remember whether I drank red or white, and several times poured a different label of wine into my glass while I still had wine in it.
The drinks generally ranged from $6-$9. A bloody mary was $8, but offered everyday at happy hour for half price. They use Zing Zang bloody mary mix, which I was not familiar with, but is very good! Jack Daniels was $6 and Baileys Irish Cream was $9.
Our problems began before we even embarked. We made the reservations in December, 2011 and were asked to call them back the middle of January to make our train travel arrangements from Memphis back to New Orleans. Long story, but they never did send us any information (tickets to get on the boat, our train tickets back to New Orleans, a voucher for our hotel stay in New Orleans, nothing)! We ended up spending part of our day in Memphis trying to get out train tickets straightened out.
Our room was filthy for the first few days of our cruise. Finally after, getting no satisfaction, I posted a message on the cruise critic bulletin board and we finally got our room cleaned. Of course, the next day, our room was not cleaned nor even our bed made by 6pm, so finally (after blowing my top), they changed our room steward(ess), and from that point on we had no problems with our room.
The public rooms are well decorated although they really should address problems like the peeling wallpaper. Also, it became a running joke watching the flowers wilt in the main entryway. They did not change the flowers until the last day when Pricilla Presley came aboard for the official christening.
All of the staff that we had contact with was very nice (personable). There just didn't seem to be much training or direction given to them, and I blame management for that. I met with both Jeff Kreda, the CEO and David Kelley, the VP of Hotel Operations, and they used had many excuses (which they continue to use), but with the exception of changing our room stewardess, I saw absolutely no difference in service.
We did receive a letter on the night before we disembarked stating that beginning on April 27 (the day after we disembarked), that whey were making "substantial changes." I hope that they do, otherwise I fear they won't be in business very long. Read Less
When folks ask us why we booked American Cruise Lines Queen of the West, we reply that we did it to have the experience of traveling on the Snake and Columbia Rivers from Clarkston Washington to Portland Oregon. We wanted to travel on a ... Read More
When folks ask us why we booked American Cruise Lines Queen of the West, we reply that we did it to have the experience of traveling on the Snake and Columbia Rivers from Clarkston Washington to Portland Oregon. We wanted to travel on a paddle wheel river boat even though the paddle wheel is now just for looks and atmosphere. We wanted to view the scenery and nature, to learn about the history of the area and the Lewis and Clark Expedition and to have time away from work, telephones, television and noise. This is a very slow paced trip with few activities for young, active people. Nothing at all for children and teens. The bus tours (cost extra on most trips) are easy going with few physical demands.
The passengers are generally very senior. Very! We were among the youngest passengers.
A highlight of our trip was the on board historian Todd Weber who does a series on presentations on Lewis and Clark and the history and nature of the area, but he is not on every trip. If you want to hear and see him, verify before making your booking.
The open seating meals are a good idea, but the times listed are not exactly as stated because you really need to get into the dining room at the opening time as the pacing of the meal service is slow.
Even though we booked one of the more expensive rooms on the ship (mid-3 deck) it was a tight fit, especially the bathroom and closet. The balcony is tiny with very small chairs and cocktail table. Large suitcases do not fit under the bed so you have to live with them as furniture. We managed to get a 27 inch suitcase into the closet which is about 32 inches wide. The shower is small and water pressure varies but is never good. We had mostly hot water.
Travel with at least a couple of friends (most people seemed to) so you will have company. The large groups didn't socialize outside the people they came on board with. Drinks at the cocktail hour are generous. The entertainment is very old fashioned. We gave up on it.
Being on the great rivers is very interesting, but our first few days out of Clarkston, the scenery was dry, beige and vacant of wildlife. It all changes down the Columbia when suddenly the world becomes green and lush. As we passed Portland (to return the next day to overnight there) and went down to Astoria Oregon, we had a good idea of how big and busy the river is at that point. The overnight on the boat in Portland seemed like an expensive way to add a day to the trip with few benefits.
Would we do this exact same trip again? No. Once is enough. When we return to that part of the US we will do our own driving. Would I pay that much money for a similar trip? No. It wasn't a good value for money although we were pleased to support an American owned and staffed cruise line. We needed a lot more activities and photo opportunities. Read Less