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1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2000
Holland at Tulip Time Uniworld Cruise aboard the River Empress May 1- 8, 2005 After taking many traditional cruises, decided to explore Holland about a river cruise ship, the Uniworld River Empress. Although quite different than typical ... Read More
Holland at Tulip Time Uniworld Cruise aboard the River Empress May 1- 8, 2005 After taking many traditional cruises, decided to explore Holland about a river cruise ship, the Uniworld River Empress. Although quite different than typical cruise ships, it was nonetheless a terrific experience and a great vacation. Approaching the ship in Amsterdam, the first thing that occurred to me is that there were "no people" waiting to board!! We walked right up the short gang plank into the lobby where the Uniworld crew welcomed us with warm smiles and keys to our cabin. Check in was quick and easy and we were in our cabin within only a couple of minutes. The ship holds 138 passengers, and has 5 passenger decks. Deck 5 is the "Sun Deck" which is mostly an open air viewing deck with chairs and lounges. There is also a glass covered sitting area so that even in inclement weather you can have a panoramic view. This is where the "bridge" is located as well, and towards the very front are tables and chairs. We often brought drinks to this part of the deck and watched the countryside slowly pass us as we relaxed. Deck Four is where the beautiful dining room is location (more on food later!). Also, all of the ship's suites (4 of them) and top-graded cabins with floor to ceiling windows are on this deck. Towards the front is the bar/lounge which is the meeting place for port talks, captain's welcome aboard party, etc. Deck Three is cabins, and Deck Two is cabins, along with an area (indoor patio) for 24 hour coffee and tea, a small boutique shop, the gym/sauna and the hairdressers. Deck One is cabins, along with the small launderette (2 washers, 2 dryers which are free—soap is available for $2.50 for 2 loads). From top to bottom, the ship sparkles. Although much smaller and cozier than a cruise ship, they have all the bases covered with great cabins, a spacious and bright dining room and the services mentioned above. The Itinerary: Holland is really beautiful at tulip time. The trip begins in Amsterdam, sails north to Hoorn and Volendam, then heads back south to Rotterdam, Delft, Arnhem, and Schoonoven. I won't go over each and every detail of the ports (Uniworld's brochure does a terrific job of that!), but instead will provide some of our favorite activities on the trip. Amsterdam: We were lucky that the cruise spent a night in Amsterdam at the beginning of the trip, and 2 nights at the end. There is a lot to see and do, so don't worry that there is too much time there. We boarded the ship about 2:00 p.m. on Sunday and spent an hour on board getting unpacked and touring the decks. Went to visit the Anne Frank House (well worth the 15 minute wait to get inside) and walked around central Amsterdam. We had tried to go to the Anne Frank House earlier in the day, but the lines were too long. At 5:00, they had diminished quite a bit and I had heard that the later you go, the shorter the wait. The next morning, Uniworld took us to the world's largest flower auction just outside of Amsterdam. It is called the Aalsmeer Flower Auction and it is similar in many ways to the New York Stock Exchange, except that in place of stocks, the product is flowers. This place is HUGE and you walk ABOVE all of the action and look down at flowers, the actual auctions (where the prices are set for flowers WORLDWIDE) and the logistics of getting the flowers in and out of the auction center. We returned to the ship midday and as we were eating lunch we sailed up to Hoorn. Zaanse Schans is an outdoor windmill museum and they also give demonstrations on how to make wooden shoes. Great photo opportunities here, and also on the bus ride through the multi-colored fields of tulips that extend as far as your eyes can see! In Delft we toured the Delft pottery factory and then spent time downtown. Many old and interesting churches, and a huge plaza with nice outdoor cafes. The Dining Room: Open seating at all meals. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style. However, at breakfast, you can order an omelet of your choice from the buffet and at lunch, you are offered soup and and desert from your waiter. Dinner includes a starter (every night is different, and they are really creative!), soup, a main selection (either meat, fish or vegetarian), a nice desert choice and cheese and fruit from the buffet. The food was all outstanding and there is something for everyone. If you cannot find something, they will make something for you e.g. steak. The food overall was high quality, tasty and delicious. The cabins: At 154 square feet, not overly spacious but certainly adequate. The cabin layout was very nice and they managed to fit in bedside tables, a sitting chair and table, and a bathroom with nice shower (that consistently had great temperature control and water pressure). Very clean and new, and the cabin service is excellent. Ten reasons to choose a river cruise over a traditional cruise: To begin, I believe there is a market for both types of cruises. However, here are 10 reasons why I would travel on a river cruise again with Uniworld: 1. The crew. They can make or break a cruise, and hands down this crew (of only 36) did an outstanding job in every way. We had great service from the cruise manager, the officers, the front desk personnel, the cabin attendants and the dining room staff. 2. The ship. Although much smaller than traditional ships, the River Empress had a great deck plan and above all, was sparkling clean. Everywhere. 3. The food. I was never disappointed with any of the meals. There was a lot of variety, and portions were the right size (although you could order seconds if you wanted). 4. The destinations. Although Amsterdam is a large city with an adequate port, most of the other destinations we went to were too small for traditional ships. This trip gave us an opportunity to experience, and explore, ports that we otherwise would never go to see on a cruise. 5. The tours. Every one is included with your cruise fare. Just show up when they tell you to, and a first class tour bus is waiting for you just a few feet from your ship. Not only did they leave and return on time, every one had a knowledgeable and friendly tour guide, along with an experienced driver. Do not underestimate the value of having all your tours covered in your cruise fare, particularly when the conversion rates for dollars to euros are so poor! 6. Easy on, easy off! These river ships are more like hotels when it comes to arriving and departing guests! Whenever the ship is in port, it is easy to just walk off and on without great fanfare...it reminded me of going to and from a hotel. Quick and easy, in and out! 7. Other passengers. With such a small group, it is easy to meet others and we found that over the week we made many new friends. 8. Relaxation. There is something remarkably soothing about sitting on the top deck and watching the nearby land go by. 9. The other itineraries. Uniworld has many ships sailing throughout Europe and other parts of the world. Now that I've had my first experience with them, I'll definitely be back to another river cruise. 10. The small things. Umbrellas in the cabin should it be raining out. Juice, coffee and pastries at 6:00 a.m. for us early risers. A small vase of fresh flowers in every cabin after the cruise begins. Free washers and dryers. Welcoming smiles from the crew in the lobby every time you come back on board. What a wonderful week we had seeing Holland on the River Empress. I'd do this trip again if there weren't so many other places I want to see first! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2006
The Uniworld sailing "European Serenade" is a 13-day cruise that alternates Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Holland with the reverse itinerary. We chose the Vienna to Amsterdam itinerary and enjoyed it greatly. We were able to ... Read More
The Uniworld sailing "European Serenade" is a 13-day cruise that alternates Vienna, Austria to Amsterdam, Holland with the reverse itinerary. We chose the Vienna to Amsterdam itinerary and enjoyed it greatly. We were able to purchase our trip during one of Uniworld's buy-one-get-one-free cruise fares and discounted airfare specials. Upon arrival to Vienna Austria, we went through customs and immigration, and collected our luggage. In baggage claim a representative from Uniworld was waiting for us and took us immediately to our bus that transported us to the pier where we boarded the River Duchess where a lunch buffet had been set out. Check in took a little bit of time as several passengers had arrived at one time, and there were only two crew completing check-in procedures, but we were served wine and were able to have light lunch while awaiting check in and for our cabins to be prepared. Cabins: The were adequately sized with a typical cruise-ship sized bathroom. All cabins have a view of the river, and we were in a category 5 stateroom, the lowest of the categories. Our view of the river was very close to the waterline, but we enjoyed hearing the water hitting the hull at night. In the literature that we received from Uniworld prior to leaving, we were instructed to pack lightly as there isn't much storage space for luggage. This is true, and there is a laundry room on the ship that was convenient to use. I had brought some laundry soap from home in one of my little travel bottles, and found this to be convenient as well. Food: Breakfast and lunch both consisted of a buffet and dinner had a menu service with a few choices. The food was very good and well-prepared. I never had a meal that I found to be inedible or bad. Food is prepared in the typical European fashion, so desserts are not as sweet as our American palate is accustomed to eating. The soups were excellent, as were the warm breads at each meal. We were able to try some interesting things that we had never eaten before, and I would recommend trying all the soups available, even the sauerkraut soup. The house wine is also fine to drink with meals. Of course, part of the fun of travelling to a new country is to try local delicacies in each port of call, which my husband and I did each time we got off the ship. I had no idea there were so many ways to make wurst and sauerkraut, and discovered how yummy real gelato is. Crew: The crew on the ship was excellent. They were all very friendly and personable and eager to help us with any questions or concerns. The cruise director was very knowledgeable about the areas that we were visiting and I especially enjoyed cruising the romantic Rhine seeing all the castles and hearing the history of the area. The captain and second captain were personable as well and interacted with the passengers on a daily basis. Shipboard life: On several evenings of the cruise, local entertainers would board the ship and provide the evening's entertainment. We heard a polka band, watched a glass blower, and heard a group with medieval musical instruments. On other evenings, the cruise director gave a presentation on the history of the areas we were visiting, and there was dance music for the tiny dance floor in the lounge. Excursions: The optional tour in Vienna of a ballet and seeing the Schonbrunn Palace were well worth the extra money. We were given directions on how to use the subway system and were able to do a little exploring on our own, and went to the Hofburg Palace and Mozarthaus. St Stephen's cathedral on the included tour was magnificent. At each stop during the trip, we were able to go on a tour that was included in the cruise fare. These were all led by English speaking local tour guides and the tours included many of the highlights of the towns that we were in. There was usually time for exploring on our own, which we greatly enjoyed. My husband and I took several weeks before we went on our trip to learn German so we could converse with the local inhabitants, which we found greatly enhanced our interactions. We especially enjoyed the medieval town of Rothenburg. We happened to be in Wurzburg during a music festival and were able to hear several choirs practicing in the cathedral, which was amazing. We also purchased a cuckoo clock in Regensburg, which was shipped to us a few weeks after we arrived back home. We extended our stay in Amsterdam with the optional cruise extension, and are glad that we did. The Uniworld guide was very knowledgeable of the area and took us around the city, introducing us to interesting foods and showing us the historical areas and the Red Light district. We had a tour one day of the windmills, a wooden shoe factory, and farm where Gouda cheese is produced. Amsterdam was chilly and rainy, even in July, so be prepared for this with a rain jacket and umbrella. The Ann Frank house is a do-not-miss, and the Rijksmuseum had a lot of very interesting works of art. Recommendations for anyone considering this trip: Pack lightly. You can wash laundry in the evening as the ship is sailing down the river. Buy a Frommer's Guide to the area. This gives you an overview of the town and the history of what you're going to see. Learn the language. The Pimsleur Method is excellent for learning conversational German (or French or whatever language you need to learn) for travelling. We learned basic greetings, how to ask for directions, how to ask for the bathroom, how to order food and drinks, and to say that we speak/understand a little of the language. As soon as someone realized that we were truly trying, they would typically switch to English, or speak slowly to help us understand what we were trying to find out. Who would enjoy this trip: Anyone who ever fantasized about being a princess living in a castle. The castles along the Rhine are the things that fairy tales are made of. Also anyone who enjoys history, seeing Roman ruins, and medieval towns. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
Since this was our first river cruise after many ocean going cruises, we did quite a bit of research prior to making our decision. Some of the key elements that we were looking for were a company and ship with a good reputation, the ports ... Read More
Since this was our first river cruise after many ocean going cruises, we did quite a bit of research prior to making our decision. Some of the key elements that we were looking for were a company and ship with a good reputation, the ports (hitting a variety of Christmas Markets), the length (10 days or so), good - but not necessarily gourmet food, and finally a cruise early in the season so that we might have the best weather possible. We decided on Uniworld and the River Duchess. They have an impeccable record and the cruise itself met our criteria. It was 11 days long - 10 on the ship and 1 travelling. The cruise started in Budapest and ended in Regensburg with stops in a variety of locations, each with different Christmas Market offerings. The only glitch that we had was that our travel agency went out of business after we made final payment. Uniworld had already sent them our cruise packet and couldn't have been more accommodating when I notified them of the problem. They immediately overnighted us a completely new packet. Absolutely outstanding service from the Uniworld main office. We flew from the US to Munich for five days of "pre-shopping" and touring. We hit all the beer halls and hotspots and made day tours to Ludwig's Castles, Garmish, and a variety of other locations. I'm glad we went that early since we were wide awake with no jet lag problem when we boarded the River Duchess. We stayed in the King's Hotel First Class while in Munich. It was an excellent choice; good hotel, good staff, 5 minutes from the train station, and 10 minutes walking from Marienplatz. We took the EC63 train from Munich to Budapest the day before the ship sailed. We had booked our tickets on the German Railway website months before. About a week before we left, the website showed a 60% reduction in 1st class reserved seats on that train so we booked another set of tickets and turned in the more expensive ones in the Munich train station. More shopping money. The train took about 7 ½ hours to get to Budapest and was very comfortable. The car was about 2/3rds full from Munich to Vienna and there were only four people in the car from Vienna to Budapest. We stayed in the K+K Hotel Opera in Budapest. Another good choice. Good hotel and centrally located. One bit of advice that I would give would be to check out the prices of taxis from the train station to the hotel before getting in. We met people who paid 5 times what we did because they didn't ask first. We took a taxi to the River Duchess on embarkation day and from that point, the crew took care of our every need. We selected a Category 1 cabin since it had the biggest windows and weren't disappointed. The cabin was spotless and well laid out. It was easy to store everything. Uniworld obviously used an experienced ship designer when they built the River Duchess. Our cabin attendant, Nicolette, was great, as were all the others. She would appear as soon as we left the room and did her magic. It didn't matter how long we were gone or what time of day; the room was always straightened up by the time we got back. The meals on the ship were unbelievable. While we weren't looking for gourmet meals, we got them. The chef and his team did an excellent job throughout the cruise. The meals were buffet for breakfast and lunch with an omelet station at breakfast. Food was always the right temperature and the serving lines were kept clean at all times. I read on other posts that some river cruises had problems with people hogging tables and not inviting others to dine with them. That was definitely not an issue on this ship. We got to meet a lot of new people at the meals. Dinner was particularly good. Most meals we had Martin as our waiter. He was, without a doubt, the best waiter we have ever had on any of our cruises. He mixed and matched meals for anyone who wanted, was lively and professional, and kept the free wine flowing. We couldn't have asked for a better dining experience. The bar/entertainment staff was equally good. By the second day, the bartenders knew what we would order and mixed good drinks. They were quick to respond and always friendly. The on board musician, Zoltan, kept the room entertained into the early hours of the morning. We would try to stump him with song requests but he always seemed to come up with the song. The ships nautical staff and pursers' staff were equally professional. We would wake up early just to watch the sailors dock the ship. They obviously liked their jobs and enjoyed entertaining the passengers. As a final comment about the ship, it was well laid out, spotlessly clean, and professionally run by an outstanding group of people who were dedicated to making the trip enjoyable for all the passengers. From the captain down, all should be commended. Tony was our cruise director and did an outstanding job. Everything ran according to clockwork - no glitches at all. Buses and guides were always present on time and at the right location. All did a great job. I am sure because Tony made sure that they knew what the standards were. He ever arranged an extra free tour one night. Our first port of call was Budapest. The Christmas Market in Budapest was predominately hand crafted goods sold by the artists who made them. The weather was good, with a little rain once or twice. We docked across the river from the market but it was an easy 15 minute walk. Uniworld also arranged for a free ferry for people who didn't want to walk. Highlights of the market were the sausages and a type of cake we had never seen before. It is wrapped around a wooden roller then baked over a charcoal fire, dipped in sugar, nuts, or something equally as good, and sold for about 3 Euros. Totally addictive. The city tour took us to all the highlights by bus. Easy walking when we got to the sites. Next stop was Bratislava. It was a very interesting town and we will probably go back. The Christmas Market was newer that the others but it had some of the best food. We really liked the walking tour and could have prowled the streets of the town for hours more. The local tour guide there was very good. After Bratislava it was on to Vienna. We had been there before so we skipped the optional Schonbrunn Palace tour. Uniworld had a great new option. Instead of the normal city tour, people who had been to Vienna before could take a different tour which hit a few of the Christmas Markets (Tour was free). The tour guide was great and even bought all of us Gluwein. We took a horse drawn carriage ride around the town and had a great time. We returned to the ship for dinner then the Concert Tour. Uniworld had great seats reserved for the concert - right up front and near the wine stand!!!! All in all Vienna was a great stop. We got up early the next morning to see the Wachau Valley enroute to Melk. The weather was pretty good for this time of year but a little bit foggy. We will take the cruise again in the spring. There were a lot of passengers on deck taking pictures and drinking coffee so it was an enjoyable morning. The Melk Abbey was an interesting stop. After leaving the abbey, a few of us walked down to the little town and found a small cafe for beer and apple strudel. The next day was Linz and Salzburg. We didn't have any time in Linz in the morning since we had to take a bus to Salzburg. (More about that later) Salzburg was great. Super tourist area. Tour guide was really funny. It appears few tour guides from Salzburg like the movie, "The Sound of Music", but they go out of their way to show where the film was made. Mozart is the big attraction from his house to the candies. Took another carriage ride and had a great time. Uniworld's tour include a lunch at the fortress but they offered a cash rebate for people who stayed in the town and ate their. I have never heard of a tour company doing that before. It is another example of how good Uniworld is! Another example is that Tony arranged for the Linz "Night Watchman" to take people on a free walking tour of Linz during the evening. Another plus for Tony. Passau, Deggendorf, and Regensburg were great stops. We had good local tour guides in each of the locations and had plenty of time on our own. Sunday is a tough day to plan for tourists during this time of year. Everything is closed, but Uniworld brought us to a small mountain town where we had refreshments in a local pub, carriage rides through the forest and a trip to a glass factory. All in all these were three great days. Disembarkation was particularly easy. No "put out your bags the night before leaving" like on an ocean cruise. Tony and the staff made arrangements for everyone to get to the Munich Airport, Prague, or the train station at whatever time they needed to leave. This is a rather long review and could have been pages longer. Bottom line is that Uniworld is a top notch company that runs a great ship and hires outstanding personnel. We are sold on Uniworld cruises and will book with them again. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2008
We were very apprehensive as we flew from Buffalo to Washington DC then to Frankfurt Germany and finally to Basel, Switzerland to board The River Symphony from Grand Circle Travel. However, all our tension eased as they promptly delivered ... Read More
We were very apprehensive as we flew from Buffalo to Washington DC then to Frankfurt Germany and finally to Basel, Switzerland to board The River Symphony from Grand Circle Travel. However, all our tension eased as they promptly delivered our luggage to the room that would be our home for the next week. We loved floating north on the Rhine viewing the countryside and towns from our room or on the deck (although chilly. Our directors were top-notch, the food was first class (every meal and what choices, our cabin was spotless....My husband was especially impressed that we had the choice of joining the tours offered or just staying on board or walking to town on his own if his arthritis was bothering him. All in all, we can not say enough about this wonderful trip and all the ports--Kayersburg, Riquewihr, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg, Speyer, Heidelberg, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, Brugge....all with their wonderful Christmas markets. I know I forgot some but we have many very fond memories of this trip! (We purchased the post-extension to the trip and traveled by bus from Ansterdam to Brussels and train to Brugge) We are now looking at the Danube! Hopefully soon. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2008
River cruises are wonderful and Uniworld thinks of everything to make your trip smooth and relaxing on board. This was our second Uniworld cruise and we loved it. Christmas market cruise was fun and beautiful. Uniworld provides all the ... Read More
River cruises are wonderful and Uniworld thinks of everything to make your trip smooth and relaxing on board. This was our second Uniworld cruise and we loved it. Christmas market cruise was fun and beautiful. Uniworld provides all the tours and each person has their own headset so you can walk at your own pace. The tour guides all speak perfect English and are very knowledgeable about their town. Only two extra tours were offered one was opera in Vienna and was wonderful. The other a trip to diamond factory was not great. Food on this cruise was just alright. Where as the last cruise in Paris the food was so far above average, it was to die for! Uniworld adds some great touches like serving you a warm drink when you come back from a cold tour on land, wine with dinner as much as you can drink. Nice captains dinner with free drinks. This cruise had wonderful holiday entertainment and the ship was decorated really nice for Christmas. I love the fact that they are docked in town and stay in town many times until 1 or 2 am so you can come and go from the ship as you like. They have a warm relaxed atmosphere and very great customer service. One day my mom really wanted a small gift from a town we were not visiting, but we were docked in the town, my mom asked the hotel manager if their was anyway to get her friend something with the town name. While we were out on our all day tour the hotel manager went out and purchased the gift and left it on my mom's bed in her room! They always went out of their way to make our visit special. I highly recommend the Christmas cruise as a wonderful way to spend the holiday. The other cruise we took with them to Paris and Normandy was fantastic! They just go out of their way to make you enjoy it. When we went to the American cemetery in Normandy they gave us flowers and the name of a solider from our home town so we could place flowers on a grave. No cost to us, but a moving experience for all of us. I would recommend Uniworld to anyone who loves service, but does not need the wild life of the big box boats. Only 100 people on board and a very relaxed atmosphere. No shows, circus, shopping or ice shows, just the local towns and quiet relaxing time. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2009
  Our AMA Waterways cruise began in Minneapolis/St. Paul on Saturday April 18, 2009, at 7:30 PM on Northwest Airlines. The flight was non stop . We each had a window seat because the plane was full and could not get seats together. ... Read More
  Our AMA Waterways cruise began in Minneapolis/St. Paul on Saturday April 18, 2009, at 7:30 PM on Northwest Airlines. The flight was non stop . We each had a window seat because the plane was full and could not get seats together. When we got to Amsterdam at 10:30 AM the next day, we cleared customs and then looked for the AMA Waterways representative. Because we purchased the air separate from the cruise line, it was less cost to take a taxi then purchase the transfers from the cruise line.  The agent, Paul, helped Bob get a taxi and some Euros. The taxi ride was 52.00 Euros. He was pleasant and ready to help. This was our first experience with AMA Waterways and a nice one. The taxi ride was about 30 minutes. Guests who purchased air with AMA Waterways had transfers included.   When we got to the port, there were about 6-8 river cruise ships at the port. To get to our ship, we had to go into the lobby of the Amadeus Princess, up the stairs to the sun deck and then across to the Amarelle sun deck and then down the steps to the reception desk. The ships were connected to each other in many places we visited. We went to the sun deck to wait because the cabins were not ready. I found our cabin and the door was open and went into it a couple of times to take some pictures. We waited on the sun deck and also in the small lounge near our cabin. There are 4 decks on the ship.   The ship has two lounges, a small one aft and the Grand Lounge on the Violin Deck. This lounge had plenty of soft chairs for seating, to read, relax or have a conversation with new and old friends, a dance floor, a piano, some round tables at the back of the lounge and where we had the wonderful entertainment. This was a place to sit and have a nice view as we sailed and went through the locks. The lounge also has coffee (espresso, cappuccino, regular), cocoa, tea and ice water available at all times. There was always something to eat like a light lunch, cookies, desserts or a light breakfast. The aft lounge was smaller and had a computer, games to use (cabinets not locked), some tables and chairs; it is a nice place for a group to meet. There was a very small exercise room that had weights, a treadmill and a stationary bike. There was small beauty shop and also a sauna (I did not see that) which was at the back of the ship. The ship has a library and a chair to use on the Violin deck. There was selection of books including a world atlas and books on Europe; I left a paperback I had finished. The cruise director had his desk here also. The gift shop was small but had a nice selection of gifts and postcards; it was near the reception desk. Boarding passes are used for passengers getting off and on the ship. They are small laminated cards (1/2" by 2") that have your cabin number; passengers are to take them when they leave and return them when they return so the ship knows when you have returned from shore. There is a bar in the main lounge and a drink special of the day. Peter was our cruise director. He was really good about his job and took the time to answer questions from anyone, anytime. He was on all the excursions and was quite knowledgeable about the area. He was pleasant and always helpful. The dining room was on the Cello Deck has plenty of room for the one sitting for dinner and your choice of where to sit. Breakfast and lunch were buffet but you could also order optional items such as Eggs Benedict and a hamburger off the menu. The variety of food could please everyone: eggs, cereal, sweet rolls, croissants, cheeses, cold cuts and more were always available. Lunch has a variety of hot and cold and also buffet. There was a light lunch of soup, sandwiches and desserts in the main lounge daily. We ate there 3 out of the 7 days. The dinner also had a variety of choices, usually 3 entrees. The meat was always tender and flavorful; some of the best of any cruise line I have sailed. I never heard one complaint about the food. The food was fresh and hot. The maitre d always offered more servings of vegetables during the dinner by going table to table. Wine, beer and soft drinks were available for dinner for no extra charge. The wine was from a local area in most cases. I personally liked the red wine ( I normally drink white) because it was not a heavy red wine; some guests from California thought the red wine was not "bold " enough. Personal opinions. There were quite a few birthdays, including mine. My husband asked about something for me and they said it was already done; the ship must have checked the birth dates for the passengers and celebrated the birthdays automatically; this was another quality feature of AMA Waterways. They brought a nice cake. It was Turkey Independence Day while we were on the ship and they brought a large cake for the group of Turkish guests on board the ship to celebrate.   In Germany, the Southern part of Germany are mainly Catholic, the Northern area Lutheran and the middle section of Germany is a mixture of religions.   The words "berg" and "burg" in names have two different meanings. Berg means a hill and burg is fortress. The Piano Deck is the lowest deck of the Amacello and has 2 windows instead of the French balcony that are almost level with the water; The elevator does not go this far and so guests who stay there, have to walk down steps. The crew also lives in this area. There is a window sill on the windows and a guest bought some flowers and put them in their cabin; her husband always buys her flowers for their Sabbath.   The ship has an audio headset system which allowed us to hear the guide using ear pieces without having to be next to the guide. We were given ear pieces the beginning of our cruise for us to use and keep, the receptive boxes we had were color coded and this was the same color as our guide used for the frequency so each group would hear their own guide; the color code was also the bus and guide we would use of that specific tour.  The system can work a distance of 1 mile, so we were told not to go too far from the guide. I have never had this on a tour and it was so easy to take in the sights, take a photo and listen at the same time.   Our first port was Amsterdam; the ship did not depart until the second day. Our city bus tour and a canal cruise were included excursions in the cruise fare as are all excursions on the cruise portion of the trip. This is the way to see Amsterdam, the Venice of the North. The canal boats are covered and also has a restroom on board. The first night we were entertained by fun Dutch Folklore dancers in the main lounge. There was the Captain's welcome cocktail party and a Gala Welcome Dinner. On Day 2 we left at 12:15 PM to sail along the Rhine River. Day 2 also had a safety drill on the sun deck. The entertainment on the second day was La Stada, a group that had 2 violinists and a guitar player. Their music was fitting for this river cruise and offered us some wonderful entertainment. Day 3 we were in Dusseldorf, the capital of Germany, and the excursion was a panorama bus tour of Dusseldorf of about an hour; we then had free time of about 45 minutes to shop, sit or walk back to the ship which was docked about 1 kilometer ( 0.6 miles). We departed for Cologne at 11:15 AM; we had a bus tour of Cologne as soon as we arrived and then some free time; this is where I purchased some 4711 original Eau de Cologne and the Dom Liqueur.  At 7:00 PM we departed for Frankfurt.   Day 4 we arrived in Frankfurt. Peter gave us a briefing on the upcoming excursion. At 11:30 AM, "Fruhschoppen" was served in the main lounge which was beer and sausage (no charge); I was told this must be served before noon. A Bavarian lunch was served in the dining room for lunch. We arrived at 2:30 PM and left for a walking tour of Frankfurt and the Cathedral. We walked back to the ship. Most of these tours are not handicapped accessible. This evening we had a trio called the Pitchfork who sang for us. They began with the song "Down by the Riverside" and had the audience hooked. We left this port at 3:00 AM the next day to sail to Mainz.Day 5 we arrived in Mainz at 7:15 AM and had the choice of 2 excursions, Mainz or Heidelberg; we chose Mainz as I wanted to see the Gutenberg Museum where the first printed copy of the Bible was printed. The museum has old books which were interesting and an original copy of the Bible. No pictures allowed except for the area where the printed a page for us on an old press. This level has printers all types and you were allowed to use the camera here. Mainz had a small area that did not have any car traffic; this was done about 20 years ago. There were bakeries, a church, coffee shops. 55% of the people in Mainz are Catholic, 35 % other religions.  In Mainz, the ship was docked about 1/4  mile from the city; this was a walking tour of about 45-60 minutes. The tours were in 3 categories; one was  gentle for slower walkers, again with the different color codes.   The passengers who chose the Heildeberg tour had a bus ride of about one hour and 15 minutes. The ones who went said it was a wonderful tour to the old city. We sailed to Koblenz where we overnight. Peter took about 75 people on a night walk in Koblenz. Day 6 we arrive in the fairy tale village of Cochem on the Mosel River (Mozelle is French and English spelling); one of the most scenic wine growing villages in the Mosel Valley. This is where we get to see the Reichsburg Castle. The minibuses drove us to the castle almost all the way. Because of construction, we had to walk up the rest of the hill to the castle. The walk down was not as bad as I thought it would be. What a beautiful view of the area. Lots of steps in the castle also. We saw several rooms of the castle. The trophy room had a door key for guests of the castle that had a little too much wine.; it was a V shape and the key could be slid down the opening and open the door. There was lots of waking on this stop and lots of steps. We had to dock across the river and then walk about 2 blocks, up stairs and across the bridge and down the stairs. There again, they had 3 groups for walking. People who wanted to take photos as well as slower walkers chose these groups. Bob and I shared a strawberry pie (good!!) at a cafe and I had a glass of local wine and Bob his coffee at a cafe before walking back to the ship.   Day 7 had us in Berkastel-Kues; a favorite of many passengers as well as for me. This was a village of half-timbered houses and lots of side streets as well as the medieval market square. This village is friendly, clean and really takes you back into time.  The square is surrounded by many well preserved half-timbered houses as well as the Renaissance city hall built in 1608. Especially well-known is the very small and narrow so-called "Spitzhäuschen" (the "Pointed House") which dates back to 1416. At the center of the market square lies the fountain of St. Michael (St. Michaelsbrunnen). Day 7 also took us to Trier, the oldest city in Germany. We again did a bus and city walking tour and using the Vox system so we could hear the guide. The bus took us to the top of the hill top to a city view and photo stop, and what a view it was. After the bus tour, we parked and did a walking tour of the town area. It was Saturday and there were lots of families shopping,eating and visiting the market square. The market had lots of fresh fruits and vegetables; they are known for white asparagus and they looked like nice stalks. Trier was founded in 16 BC under Augustus and today has the same population during the Roman Era, approximately 100,000 residents. We saw the Roman Baths, Roman Amphitheater and Porta Nigra Gate. The Porta Nigra Gate (Latin for black gate) dates from 180 BC and is the last remaining gate of the city; it is the symbol of the city. Trier is a city that would be nice for an overnight if you are flying in or out of Frankfurt which is 120 miles from Trier. We were there during the Holy Robe Days (April 24- May 3,2009) and were unable to go to The Cathedral of Trier, the oldest church of Germany, which was originally built by Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor; The Cathedral of Trier houses great works of art and a holy relic that draws many pilgrims: the Holy Robe, the garment said to be worn by Jesus when he was crucified. We were docked at a small village called Piesport our last night and walked through the village to get to the ship which was waiting for us after the Trier bus tour; we again walked to the buses to go on the trip to Paris; The busses could not travel the narrow streets. Our cabin faced the Village Church and the cemetery. There was a walking path next to us and adults and children and biked along this area. It was quiet and peaceful.   This was a wonderful cruise. I have been on the Mississippi Queen but this is my first European river cruise. I have been on many cruises and have done most of the world but this is a wonderful way to travel to Europe and other parts of the world. ( AMA Waterways has many sailings.) I have seen many of the large cities of Europe, and this is a chance to see the smaller villages and countryside. The Rhine River was busy with cargo traffic; the rivers are their highways. The river was flowing quickly and had lots of locks. The people are friendly and most spoke English. We used the Euro for currency, even on the ship, throughout the trip. I am look forward to other river cruise sailings in the world. This has become so popular, there are more cruise lines and ships being built. The hotel in Paris was the Crowne Plaza Republique at Republique Square. A 19th-century Neo-Baroque style building with a striking facade than had been renovated and was a nice 4 star hotel. We were near the Metro station. The rooms were good sized, a double sized bed, a large bathtub with a high side that you had to climb into, amenities in the bathroom, a table in the room and our room was at the front of the hotel. We were able to see part of the Eiffel Tower from our large window. Breakfast buffet was included in the rate of the room and there was a nice variety of food and drinks for any nationality. We found quite a few places to eat within waking distance including KFC and McDonalds. The city tour the next day, included in the cruise package, was about 4 hours and took us all over the city including a visit to Notre Dame. Paris is large with many old structures and gardens. We bought a Metro day pass and this allowed us to use the train and bus, getting off at the Louvre (closed Tuesdays), the Eiffel Tower and Old Opera House.   Our trip ended with a Delta flight from Paris to Minneapolis/ St/ Paul on April 29, 2009; the plane was not full and so many people were able to lay on the seats and sleep; Delta served us a good dinner and also pizza before we landed. We got through customs, cleared and headed home.   This was a memorable trip for me and I look forward to my next river cruise.There was so much more I could have added but thought I had written enough so if anyone has questions, please email me at mncruise@aol.com. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2009
We chose a river cruise for the convenience, low stress, and all inclusiveness, as well as the locations visited in eastern europe. We are married in our early 30's without kids and were definitely not the normal river cruise couple. ... Read More
We chose a river cruise for the convenience, low stress, and all inclusiveness, as well as the locations visited in eastern europe. We are married in our early 30's without kids and were definitely not the normal river cruise couple.  The average age of the cruise is about 60-65 years of age, with a few in their 40's, 50's, and 80's- at least they looked that age.  Don't let the age deter you if you are young as most of the people were very nice and we made friends w/ multiple couples.  There were a few groups of single friends, mom and son, etc., but predominantly married couples.      Our room was the lowest class and was very small, but adequate, and certainly no smaller than an inside stateroom on a larger cruise line. Our beds were separate, but you can squeeze into a single together if you wish.  You will need an adapter for hair appliances, chargers, etc, but my wife was incorrect in thinking we needed a converter, as we didn't. There was a hair drier in the room and an iron could be obtained from the front desk.  Movies are shown on one channel in your room on a daily basis- the same movie all day long as far as I could tell.  If you read the information booklet in your room, which we didn't until the last day, you will find the list of movies for the week.  Only one other channel is in english- CNN World, which I now prefer to normal CNN.  The shower was good quality and never short of hot water.  We had a window that ran just above water level and had a fair view, but certainly nothing picturesque- and it didn't open as the information book states. We peeked into a larger room, one level up from ours- D level I think- and it was MUCH nicer.  However it was $500 more pp and I don't think it is worth the additional cost even now w/ all taken into consideration. Budapest- if you have the chance definitely extend your stay here. It was one of our favorite locations and we wished we had more time. Cafe Girbaud was recommended to us and would recommend it to others.  Wished we had visited a bath house and had more time for museums.   All of the other stops were wonderful and you will have free time to explore on your own at just about every one of them. We weren't sure how much time we would have, but it seemed adequate everywhere.  At least enough time to decide that we loved just about every stop on the cruise.  You do not have much time after the Melk abby, but as quaint as you might think the town is, Regensburg and Passau were much better.  The only stop I could do without is Linz- would rather have had more time in other cities.  A tour in each city is included and were well done.  You have a receiver and ear piece to hear the tour guides on all walking tours.  They worked well and were very helpful.  Some tours were part bus w/ stops and walking portions, while others were walking only.  The tours were not too fast, too slow or overly churchy.  I thought they were well done w/ some people complaining about a few guides-  everyone is split into 3 or 5 groups depending on the stop, and not everyone had the same guide.  You can ask questions and always go back to see things again.  Remember to take some forints, or euros to tip- we forgot a few times and had to scramble to come up w/ 1-2 euros to tip w/.  Excursions- we only did the Kelheim Weltenburg Abbey tour.  We heard from others that other excursions were nice, although there were problems w/ the Vienna Palace tour. We enjoyed the Kelheim tour, but- 25 minute bus ride, 1 hour scenic boat ride w/ a large crowd of tourists, a 5 minute walk to the abbey, 1 hour at the abbey and beer garden, 10 minute walk to another bus, then a few scenic stops back to the boat.  Other than the beer at the abbey being fantastic the trip was mainly forgettable- the rain didn't help either. The only other option is to stay on the Viking ship the whole time.  If you like beer you'll love this excursion.  If you don't like beer your should at least enjoy the scenery.  Food- the dinners were all excellent w/ a variety of tastes- I never knew I would like Borscht!  Lunches were always good w/ buffet and items to order.  Breakfast was fair- burned bacon every day!!  Omelets were subpar.   A few key points: -Do not purchase the Silver Spirits all inclusive beverage package!!  Glasses of wine and beer run about 4-5 euros- or more if you wish a bottle of wine.  Corkage fee for wine brought on board is 7 euro.  Mixed drinks are a bit more- 5-7 euro.  Juices are included w/ breakfast and tea/water/coffee are always available.  We purchased the package and I drank like a fish, but was nowhere close to the total cost of the package- oh, and the sparkling wine, postcards, and hat aren't enough of an incentive. -Always go to the daily briefing and check the front desk for sign-ups.  The daily briefing covers a lot of information pertininent to the next day including signing up for various excursions.  One person was late getting on the boat the first night missed signing up for an excursion and then didn't get to go.  You will not need to sign up for any excursions until you are on the boat, but you need to sign up early rather than wait to make sure you get to go.  -Try the sausage and kraut in Regensburg.  I am not a fan of sausage or sauerkraut, but this was like no sausage or kraut I have had before.  It is/was one of the best things I have ever eaten and I consider myself a foodie.  - Realize there are breakfast and lunch menus if you do not wish to have the buffet items.  - Do not expect there to be food 24/7.  Portions are European style- fairly small.  We heard a few people complain, but I thought the portions were adequate- appetizer, soup, entree, dessert - and you can ask for additional portions including a cheese plate.  - if you have a choice between Prague extension or Budapest, i would choose Budapest.  We did Prague on our own and found it to be overrun w/ tourists, souvenir shops every 3rd shop, but a beautiful city w/ a lot of history.  Budapest was also a beautiful city w/ a lot of history, but fewer crowds and seemed more authentic.  Best to see Budapest before it turns into Prague.  Oh and Prague's pilsen beers were nothing compared to the many German beers I had- just personal preference.  - do some research in each of the cities to determine what you want to see during free time- Oberhaus castle in Passau, "Sissy" museum and Kaiser apartments in Vienna, Landtman Cafe in Vienna, Gerbaud Cafe in Budapest, etc.  You receive some maps and info on each stop, but it helps to know a bit more to maximize your time. - If you have the money to spend it is very helpful to eat lunch off the boat to maximize time at some locations. Especially in Vienna and Nuremburg where your are some distance from the boat and in Regensburg- so you can taste the magnificent sausage!   Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2009
1) It's all inclusive - no nasty surprises. Luxury cabins, all meals, drinks, wine, transportation to and from private excursions/tours, equipment, EVERYTHING is included for one reasonable price.2) Our luxury suite just happened to ... Read More
1) It's all inclusive - no nasty surprises. Luxury cabins, all meals, drinks, wine, transportation to and from private excursions/tours, equipment, EVERYTHING is included for one reasonable price.2) Our luxury suite just happened to be located on the ship. Rather than us packing, unpacking and then repacking at a luxury resort every day - they move our resort for us! Talk about easy! You simply could not replicate this trip on dry land without spending a huge amount of money and spending most of your day traveling from one port to the next. And even then, finding restaurants and meals and equal accommodations, for all practical purposes, impossible. The canal barges are an excellent value for money deal.3) The entire crew was Johnny-on-the-spot eager (!) to help, answer questions, find answers and provide whatever our whims required. Want a major US newspaper delivered to your cabin door in the morning (even if the ship is miles from any major city)? Just ask ahead of time; out in the relaxed rural areas, the locals are very much less interested in stocking the LA Times daily. We asked for - and got - the papers of our choice. (It turns out the crew spent some time arranging delivery to a local shop, in the shop in the town we would b at the next morning. Then at first light a crew member would go out and retrieve the papers from the local shop. This feat is even more amazing as the local shops are not usually open at 5:30 AM. How the crew managed to pull of this trick day after day still amazes me.)The crew did not cease to amaze me in the care and feeding of the passengers. Can't eat grapefruit because of a medical concern? Let them know ahead of time, and if by magic, grapefruit disappears from the menu. The replacement, a large assortment of other fresh fruits, was available. The impressive part of this is that the chef very quietly took care of our diet needs in such a way as to be absolutely undetectable by any other passengers. Rather than pointing out a medical condition by serving one 'odd man out' meal, the entire menu was seamlessly adjusted so that everyone could fearlessly eat everything that came out of the kitchen. It's a small touch, but it means a lot.Our guide would meet us after breakfast and off we would go for another private tour (no line to wait in at all). Private wine tasting with the vintner himself? Check. Private tour of historical sites? Check. Time to explore small towns? Check. And all the while, our Guide was charming, funny and very informative.The entire (small) crew work hard and long to achieve, and retain, a very high level of service and comfort. They seemingly defy gravity in their efforts to meet passenger requests. These guys and gals earned their tips, and I gladly stuffed an envelope for their gratuity, for I was, and remain, grateful for all of their hard work. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2009
This was our second river cruise, the first being the Danube River with Amadeus or AMA as they are called now, three years ago. We loved them both. I know people often ask which cruise line is the best, but comparing Amadeus and Uniworld, ... Read More
This was our second river cruise, the first being the Danube River with Amadeus or AMA as they are called now, three years ago. We loved them both. I know people often ask which cruise line is the best, but comparing Amadeus and Uniworld, they are about the same quality. I read a lot of reviews for Amadeus and Uniworld before booking and I never read one bad review. Here is a list of the little extras we appreciated on our Uniworld cruise:Free wine with dinner we got pop or juice as we don't drink wineBottled water in cabinGlass containers of filtered water to use in cabin or fill plastic bottles for toursFiltered water faucet in common area, along with coffee, tea, hot chocolate and tangerinesDish of wrapped candy at the front deskChocolates on pillow at night but on Easter they put a small wicker basket full of Lindt chocolates and another night there was a small box of chocolate covered raisinsBicycles to use on shoreJuice and hot hand towels when we returned from shore excursions. I loved the peach juiceDVD movies played in roomQuietvox portable lightweight audio headset system for tour leader use on shore excursions. This meant that we did not miss a word of what the tour leader said. I could run around and take pictures and still hear the tour leader talking. I even got separated from the tour and couldn't see them, but I could hear the tour leader.A variety of German sausages, pretzels, beer, pop served on the top deck at 10:30 AM as we cruised by the castle region. A full description and stories of every castle was given by the tour director.Optional dinner served on the top deck a couple nights if you wanted.A private car from Lucerne (we bought the 3 day optional post-cruise tour) to Basal airport. There were 26 people leaving at 6:15 AM for the airport by bus as they had early flights. But we were the only two who had a noon flight and they rented a private car to take us to the airport, so we got to leave at 9:30 AM. They could have had us take the bus and we would have had a long wait at the airport, but they went to the extra expense of renting a private driver. Lights out in the dining room and all waiters came to sing happy birthday to my husband with a small cake and candle. The accompaniment was an accordion played by the man who was providing the special entertainment that evening. We had to turn our passports in for the first night and that is how they knew it was his birthday. We spent three days in Amsterdam pre-cruise and three in Lucerne post-cruise. We were on the River Ambassador which went in service in 1996 and refurbished in 2006. Our Amadeus ship was only one year old and I was thinking that the River Ambassador would seem old. But it did not seem old, in fact it seemed new. The decor was very classy with white and beige colors, the carpet looked new and the dining room was very elegant. All the cabins are the same size on the River Ambassador. Yes, they are small but very well laid out, lots of storage space and our suitcases and carry-ons fit under the bed. I'd say about the same size as an inside cabin on an ocean cruise ship. We never mind the size of the cabins as we are not in our cabins that much just getting ready for the day and changing clothes. A hint: I always travel with a couple over-the-door hangers and used two of them for our coats, and to hang the clothes we were wearing that day. They just help expand the closet space.The food, for the most part, was very good. I am a bit fussy about eating some things, so may not be the best person to ask. My husband, on the other hand, is very adventurous and he ate a lot of different things and enjoyed them all. Breakfast was almost the same each morning and I heard one person complain about that, but the food was good. There was a to-order omelette station, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, pastries and fruit. Lunch was a buffet salad bar, soup, hot dishes, a pasta station a couple days & dessert. One day the chef gave a demo on how to make apple strudel and we had that for lunch dessert. Their ice cream was very good. Dinner was a set menu with a couple choices. I usually got the fish offering and it was very good. There was also a beef and chicken breast alternative offering every night if you didn't want what was offered. I had the chicken breast one night and it was delicious. The portions at dinner are small but I heard one person say that was a good thing as then they did not have that heavy, full feeling going to bed. I was full and satisfied because although the servings are small, we had four courses, so that was plenty. The only thing I would have liked to have changed is more vegetables at dinner. I am a veggie eater and there were either none or very few. We did put that on our survey sheet at the end of the cruise that we'd like more veggies at dinner.  We suggested a bowl of veggies for the table. I'm sure I could have asked for some veggies at dinner, and I do on ocean cruises.We stayed in the new Citizen M hotel at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. It is brand new and a destination in itself. Very modern, high tech and economical.  www.citizenm.com It is a 10 minute walk from the airport mostly under a covered walkway. We paid $100/night. The train station is in the airport, so it was convenient to take the train in to Amsterdam. There is shopping and restaurants and grocery stores in the airport terminal. Citizen M has just opened their second hotel in downtown Amsterdam, so if you haven't booked your hotel, check them out. There are good reviews on www.tripadviser.com. First day: We rode the train into Amsterdam and walked and walked from the Central Station to the Leidseplein area with dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. Second day: We took the train to Haarlem, Netherlands, a charming city. Our purpose was to visit Corrie ten Boom's house. In WWII, Corrie, her sister and her father who were Christians, hid Jewish people in their upstairs home which was over their watch shop. They were reported to the German officers by a man they were helping, arrested and sent to concentration camps. The Germans never found the people hiding in a secret place behind a fake wall, but the ten Boom's were arrested for having too many ration cards, which had been obtained by an official person to help feed all the people in the house. Father and sister died in the camp, but Corrie lived to tell about her two years in the camp. She wrote a book, The Hiding Place and it was made into a movie. We got the DVD at our Library to watch before we left for the trip. The house and the operating watch shop is still there and an hour tour of the house is offered free including a small museum. www.corrietenboom.com. We got off the train on our way back at Central Station and walked over to Anne Frank House. The line was too long so we ate dinner and went back. The best time to go is when they open or about 7:00 pm. They stay open until 9:00 pm. This also was very touching and we got to tour the whole house. Third day: We rode a bus to Kukenhof Gardens the very famous tulip garden. It was so beautiful. We took almost 200 pictures and spent five hours there. They had a number of restaurants so we had lunch there. They are only open from March to May.Fourth day: We headed to the castle at Dam Square, but it was not open. There is also a church, but it also was not open. We had lunch and headed back to the hotel, gathered our luggage and went to the airport to connect with the Uniworld rep and transfer to the ship.   There are a lot of museums to visit and Beethoven's house is there, plus you can also take a canal ride (we had done the canal ride when we stopped in Amsterdam on an ocean cruise years before).We ate at The Pancake Bakery - Prinsengracht, 191, a short walk from the Anne Frank house. The food was wonderful. They had lunch, dinner and dessert pancakes. We shared the Indonesian Pancake for dinner and shared the Brazilian Pancake for dessert. I wish we would have had time to go back, it was that good.  We also ate at the De Bisenkorf (Bee Hive) department store. They had a buffet starting at noon. There were lots of choices and even made-to-order items. I think it was on the fifth floor. This store is very near Dam Square. Ports: Cologne: Wonderful cathedral and walking tour.  Very quaint city where my husband enjoyed browsing the sidewalk flea market and I really enjoyed the Lindt Chocolate Factory!Rudesheim: There is a funicular and those that went said it was nice. Tourist area with stores. We had about two or three hours on our own and then we were bused to a winery. It was called a castle, but the tour director said he'd call it a palace and I'd call it a chateau. It was gorgeous! We had a tour to a number of rooms and you could slip into other rooms on the way to take pictures, along with a talk about wine making. We were there about two hours. We don't drink wine so they gave us water instead. In the evening there was an optional dinner in Rudesheim but we did not go. Speyer: A really quaint, scenic town. We had a morning walking tour and then went back to the ship to depart for our optional tour to Heidelberg. We had lunch in Heidelberg, included in the tour, and a two hour walking tour. After lunch we had about two hours to explore Heidelberg. I was impressed with the castle. Although it was a ruin, it was still in pretty good shape and the city is trying to renovate it. Heidelberg is very scenic, especially with the hugh castle sitting on the hill overlooking the town. When we got back to the ship I wanted to go back into Speyer before dinner, but it had started raining which dampened our desire to go back. I think the Heidelberg tour was about 80 Eu per person.Strasbourg: Wow! A really big (comparatively) and scenic town! We loved it. The morning started out with an hour or so covered canal boat ride with commentary. It was raining and foggy, so we couldn't take pictures or have the top off the boat. After the boat ride we had a short walking tour and then we were on our own for the rest of the day. There was a bus shuttle back to the ship, so we explored Petite France for an hour or so and then took the shuttle back to the ship for lunch and after lunch we shuttled back to Strasbourg until about 4:30. Fortunately, after our canal boat ride, the rain stopped and the fog cleared up so we were able to get wonderful pictures. What was our favorite port? I just loved them all, but I think the favorite would be the day long bus trip in the Alsace region of France. We stopped in three charming villages but the bus went through many more and I just kept snapping pictures the whole way. We had lunch on our own in Riquewihr which was our second stop on the Alsace, France all-day bus tour. We had a couple hours for lunch and shopping after the walking tour. Be sure to try the macaroon cookies and caramel glazed almonds and peanuts. For lunch we had La Tarte Flambee which was like a pizza but with a much thinner crust and no tomato sauce but was tasty. The name of the restaurant where we had lunch in Riquewihr - d'Brendelstub - 48, Rue Du General De Gaulle - on the main tourist street.The optional tours we took:  At the Koblenz port we took the optional tour to Marksburg Castle which cost 90 Eu for two people and included a guided tour of the castle and free time in the city and also an apple tart and drink at a local historic restaurant. Our other optional tour was to Heidelberg at the port of Speyer. Lunch was included along with a guided tour of the city and castle and the bus transportation. The cost for two people was 138 Eu. If you purchased the three day extension in Lucerne, you will have a contracted tour guide in Lucerne; ours was named Marc. He took us on a two hour walking tour and then an hour boat ride on the lake. He suggested restaurants and we ate at two, Rossini and La Venice. Very good Italian food. Marc offered two optional tours for day two. One to Mt. Pilatus in the morning and a dinner at a Swiss restaurant with entertainment that evening. Those that went said the entertainment was audience participation with a drinking contest, yodeling contest, horn blowing contest, etc. They said the food was good and lots of fun. I can't remember the exact cost but think around 60 Eu per person and it needs to be paid in cash. I had located a map and walking tour on the Internet, so we did the walking tour and walked the city Tower Wall and went up into one of the towers. It was fun to just walk around especially across the wooden bridge into the older part of the city. We came across scenic squares, monuments and unique buildings. I love the way they do paintings on the outside of the buildings. Stores seemed to close around 6:30 and are not open on Sunday. Shopping is very expensive but a more moderate department store is H & M which I just discovered at a mall in Strongsville, Ohio.  I went in and asked if they were a European company and sure enough they were and new to the US.  I've seen H & M in a number of cities in Europe.On day two we boarded the boat, a ten minute walk from the hotel, at Pier 1, for Vitznau. Got off there and looked around the little town and then boarded the cog railway to the top of Mt. Rigi, had lunch in the hotel cafeteria, hiked around for about an hour, took tons of spectacular pictures, then took the cog to Rigi-Kaltbad where we got off and boarded the cable car down to the city of Weggis. It was a ten or fifteen minute scenic walk down to the pier where we got on the boat back to Lucerne. Wonderful scenic day. You can get one ticket for all the above for 100 Eu per person. Looking at some of the prices, it seemed we saved money over buying each ticket separately.On day three we took the train to Engleberg, Switzerland, an hour south of Lucerne. It was a very scenic ride with the rolling green meadows, the snow capped mountains and we even traveled through a forest. We found the tourist office and the two hikes we wanted to take were not available because of too much snow that hadn't melted yet. The Rep suggested we walk to a falls and it was very scenic through town, woods and all walking towards Mt. Titlus. The train was 30 something Eu per person.The hotel Monopol was across the street from the train station and very conveniently located. The train station had lots of stores grocery, clothing and cafes and stayed open until 9:00 PM.  Marc helped others who wanted to go to Bern and Interlaken for the day. We had no problem with the water levels. Steamboats (a cruisecritic member who lives in Germany) had advised us on the board before we left that the Rhine does not have as much problem with high water as does the Danube.It could be chilly on the top deck and I needed to wear lots of layers. When we cruised the castle area, the sun was shining but it looked a lot warmer than it was. We all bundled up because we would not have wanted to miss even one castle along the route. The River Ambassador had a covered sitting area which shielded us from the wind, but you could still see the scenery. Here is what I packed to use if necessary for layering. Short sleeved tops, two long-sleeved knit tops, a cotton short jacket and a corduroy short jacket (these were not outdoor jackets, but ones that you wear indoors) a thin windbreaker, a pull-over sweater and a thigh length spring coat. On the coldest days I had on the long-sleeved knit top, pull-over sweater, cotton jacket, windbreaker and then my spring jacket. I took those little knit gloves and also a knit scarf. Those departing from the boat left at different times depending on their flight schedule. Our bus to Lucerne left at 9:00 AM and there were still lots of people left on the ship. The luggage is put out in the morning and they have a scheduled time for each cabin depending on the time you are leaving. They didn't want all the luggage out at the same time so guests would not trip over it. You have to get out of your cabin by 8:30 and then you can wait in the lounge until you are called for your bus to the airport. River cruising is quite different than ocean cruising. No big ship, no high entertainment, no casino. But the trade-off is that you get to see towns that the ocean cruise ships can't get to. It's an easy way to tour, rather than renting a car and doing it on your own. This is stress-free and they take very good care of you and do everything they can to make your vacation wonderful.  We did have a couple nights of entertainment a family, mother, father, daughter mother sang (she had a beautiful opera voice, but also sang all other types of music) father on keyboard and daughter on sax. Another night was an accordion player. All other nights was a man on keyboard singing and playing dance music. They played a game with us one other night incorporating the crew. Some nights you are still docked after dinner and could walk into town if you wanted and one port had an optional dinner.  I think you are going to enjoy this as long as you don't expect it to be like an ocean cruise. We love both ocean and river cruising as each has lots to offer. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2009
We took the maiden voyage of the Avalon Affinity on one of their new cruises for the year, Windmills, Vineyards and Paris.   It was fantastic.  I was a little hesitant after reading reports about other companies and their maiden ... Read More
We took the maiden voyage of the Avalon Affinity on one of their new cruises for the year, Windmills, Vineyards and Paris.   It was fantastic.  I was a little hesitant after reading reports about other companies and their maiden voyages, but I am here to say that the launch of the Affinity and the tour were fantastic.   The Affinity is the newest ship in the fleet, holding 138 passengers. The Affinity officially launched in a formal ceremony on Saturday, May 9th. Updated design:1.  From the entry doors, there is a reception desk and two computers for internet access. 2.  Towards the front of the ship there is a lounge which is outfitted with comfortable chairs, sofas, and sturdy tables. 3.  A short flight of steps up from the reception desk are the Royal Deck and Suite rooms. 4.  At the end of the hallway from these rooms is a beauty shop and a small lounge where the coffee, tea, etc. are served 24 hours a day. This is also the location of the Early Riser and Late Riser breakfasts. 5.  A short flight of stairs down from the reception area are the Sapphire Deck rooms. 6.  A short flight of stairs down from the Sapphire rooms is the Dining Room. The buffet area is much better 'presented'. Two tables are set up for 8 people while the others are for 4 or 6 people. 7.  A short flight of stairs down from the dining room are the Indigo Deck rooms along with a fitness center. The center has two bicycle-type machines along with a treadmill. 8.  Top deck has a hot tub for 6. There are two areas that are covered by a canopy for those sunny days. There are more chairs, tables, and lounges than the Artistry had last year. 9.  Staterooms are similar to the other ships. I found the bathrooms to be better thought out than on Artistry. The bathroom has more storage in the vanity area than on the Artistry.  10.  All other room storage remains the same. I actually had a lot of room left over. 11. Elevator is located in the corner of each floor.The ship and its furnishings are very attractive. The ship is maintained well during the trip. The floors are spotless. The dining room has good soundproofing.When arriving back from touring, the staff meets you with a cold drink and a hand towel.The maiden voyage had a few 'glitches' but nothing that caused anyone to be inconvenienced. 1.  The elevator was not working for several days. The engineers worked on it to fix it as fast as possible. 2.  The ship was scheduled to go through a large lock in Rotterdam. However, the lock wasn't working and what was left was a smaller lock. After several hours, the captain and the lock master agreed to give it a try using the smaller lock. The lock doors closed with only inches to spare. It was a great job by all the crew to recover from that. 3.  The ship got 'caught' on a sandbar leaving Rudesheim. The captain was able to get the ship off the sandbar without any damage. However, this delay caused the scheduled events for the day to be delayed. 4.  Due to delays at some locks, the tour busses picked up the group or delivered the group to a location other than where we were scheduled to depart or arrive. It gave us a chance to see other towns that we might have not seen otherwise.These delays were handled very professionally by our wonderful cruise director, Isabel Heimann.   Our tour started in Amsterdam, where we met at a hotel and had an opportunity to meet some of our fellow travelers and to sign up for an optional tour to Zaanses Schans, which we took.  After that tour, we were taken directly to the ship where our luggage was already in our stateroom.  We freshened up, quickly unpacked, put our empty suitcases under the bed, and headed upstairs to the lounge.  The stateroom is has so much storage that we didn't use it all, which is unusual for me.   Each day we stopped at a different port.  Some cities offered optional tours.  We enjoyed seeing different parts of the Netherlands, along with Belgium, Germany, Luxemburg, and France.    Our ports of call were:  Amsterdam, Netherlands; Gouda-Dordrecht, Netherlands; Antwerp, Belgium; Maastricht, Netherlands; Nijmegen, Netherlands; Arnhem, Germany; Cologne, Germany; Koblenz-Rhine Gorge-Rudesheim, Germany; Cochem, Germany; Bernkastel, Germany; Trier, Germany; Remich, Luxembourg; and Paris. France.   Optional tours included:  Rijksmuseum; Zaanses Schans; Voldendam; Brussels; Aachen - Aux Le Bains; Bonn; Excursion to a German Dinner; Battle of the Bulge - on the footsteps of General Patton; Excursion to Luxembourg; An evening at the Artists Quarters of Montmartre; Mona Lisa's Smile at the Louvre; The Palace of Versailles; Moulin Rouge Dinner & The Greatest French Cabaret.   The city tours were good for the most part.  We were given headsets to use with our local guides, which worked out well.  Unfortunately, we didn't use them in Gouda and only those in the front could hear.    The optional tours that we took were great.  We took more of them than we had originally planned, but they were well worth the money.    The food was very good.  The breakfast buffet consisted of fruit, cheese, bread, eggs (hard cooked, scrambled, and an omelet station), various meats, hot cereal, cold cereal, yogurt for example.   At lunch there were two soups each day.  A change from last year is that there were two menu offerings each day in addition to the buffets.  The buffet had two meats and one pasta vegetarian offering, along with a salad bar, cheese bar, and wonderful desserts.   Dinner had two standing menu items which were chicken or salmon.  The meal consisted of appetizer, soup, salad, main course, and dessert.  Each night there was plentiful local wine to go with the meal.  I didn't have anything that I wasn't pleased with.   Evening entertainment consisted of a talk on diamonds, a trio playing classical music, the crew show and a play that Isabel put together with various members of the audience.  What a lot of fun.   We took the bullet train into Paris.  It was neat to see how fast the countryside passed by us.  In Paris, we were taken directly to the hotel where a special desk has been set up to give us our room keys.  The luggage had been sent by truck from the ship so it was delivered to our rooms shortly after we checked in.  The hotel, Le Meridien Montparnasse, was very nice and located near the southern train station and the metro.     We took two of the optional trips, the Artists Quarters of Montmartre, and Versailles.  Trips to the Louvre and Moulin Rouge were also included.   We stayed for an extra day and took the metro to tour Notre Dame, Arch de Triumph, and the Eifel Tower.    The tour was wonderful and we are already planning our next river cruise.         Read Less
Sail Date: May 2009
My wife and I took the European Jewels cruise May 9th 2009 aboard the River Empress. I will say that the entire experience, from the time we boarded the ship in Budapest and were checked in, to the day we disembarked in Amsterdam, was far ... Read More
My wife and I took the European Jewels cruise May 9th 2009 aboard the River Empress. I will say that the entire experience, from the time we boarded the ship in Budapest and were checked in, to the day we disembarked in Amsterdam, was far beyond our expectations. The food was remarkable and the wait staff was exceptional. I have eaten in five star restaurants that didn't do as good a job as the restaurant staff on the River Empress. Almost without exception, the shore excursions and local guides were easy to navigate and understand. The ports selected were a wonderful cross section of the area and represented big cities to small villages and everything in between. The Cruise Director became the "Go To" person for questions large and small and handled each one with humor and grace that had my wife and me shaking our heads in wonderment. Bravo to Bart. At the end of a long day of sightseeing ancient towns and villages, eating great food and drinking wonderful wines and beers, if was a pleasure to retreat to our cabin and climb into the best "Hotel Bedding" we have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. I would recommend this cruise and Uniworld to anyone who would like to experience Europe in comfort and style. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
My  husband and I took the Paris-Normandy trip on the River Baroness in June, 2009.  This was a great trip with a good combination of busy and down times.  We loved sitting up on the top deck watching the countryside go by as we cruised ... Read More
My  husband and I took the Paris-Normandy trip on the River Baroness in June, 2009.  This was a great trip with a good combination of busy and down times.  We loved sitting up on the top deck watching the countryside go by as we cruised on the Seine River.  The top deck had a glass-enclosed space for chilly evenings and lounge chairs for sunning.  The passengers were a mix of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, British and U.S. citizens.    The cabins are on the small side, but very efficient.  There were two twin beds that could be pushed together or kept apart.  Suitcases fit nicely under the beds and there was a large drawer under each bed.  There were 3 drawers in the closet and a large shelf towards the ceiling that went over the bed area and shelves and reading lamps on the side of each bed.  There was a chair and a stool and a low table with another shelf below  that held the water bottles, ice bucket and glasses .  Behind the door there was a large full-length mirror with a plug next to it.  There was also a dual voltage plug next to one of the beds. The bathroom  was built for one person and there is a shelf above and below the sink and another plug.  There were built-in containers of L'Occitane shower cream and shampoo in the shower and body lotion by the sink.  2 washcloths, 2 hand towels and 2 bath towels were replenished as needed.  There was a hair dryer provided.  I used my dual-voltage curling iron with an adaptor with no problems.  Nightly turn down service with chocolates was provided each evening while we were at dinner.   Breakfast and lunch were both served buffet style with lots of options.  Made-to-order omelets were available each morning along with the buffet.  Lunch always featured soup, sandwich and hot items along with salads, cheeses and dessert.  Dinner featured a choice of 2 starters, 2 soups, cheese and 2 dessert options.  There were usually two main course options along with a 3rd Vegetarian option.  There was always the option to have Steak or Chicken Breast, fries, salad, ice cream or fruit plate if the regular menu wasn't to your liking.  The food was very good.  Wine and soft drinks were complimentary during dinner.  Seating was open and you usually had a 1 ½ to 2 hour window for each meal time.  There was 'tea' served every afternoon and when you came back from a shore excursion, the crew was waiting with juice and warm towels for everyone as you came back onboard.   The crew was great and all seemed to get along like one big happy family.  There was no self serve laundry onboard, but service laundry was available.  Prices were about 4 euro for pants, 3.5 euro for a shirt, 1.5 euro for a t-shirt, for example.  In the 'patio' area there was an ice & water machine and a coffee, tea and hot chocolate machine along with iced tea that was available 24 hours a day.  There were 2  water bottles in each room that could be refilled each morning from this area to take on excursions.  There was a piano player who played every day during tea and before and after dinner.  On 2 different nights local entertainment was brought onboard.   You were welcome to board the boat any time on Sunday - a light lunch buffet was served during the afternoon.  We boarded about 3 pm and were shown to our cabin immediately.  The boat is docked in Paris across from Parc Andre Citroen.  Some people walked up to the Eiffel Tower (about 2 miles) before the boat sailed at 6 pm.  We sailed all night and went through 5 locks on the way to Les Andelys - a lovely little town.   We were docked right in town, although it was a Monday and not much was open.  The included excursion was to Chateau Gaillard up the hill.  You could either hike up or take the bus.  The boat departed at 3:30 to sail to Rouen where we arrived about 8 pm.  Again we were docked right in town so you could go for an evening stroll thru the town.  Rouen is a large town and there was a walking tour on Tuesday morning and time to go back into town in the afternoon to do some shopping.  There was an optional tour that afternoon to Chateau de Vascoeuil (48E) - no feedback available.  The boat stayed docked in Rouen that night and then on Wednesday was the full-day excursion to the Normandy Beaches which was a very special day.  About 7 pm we set sail to Caudebec where we arrived about 10:30 - it was lovely to sit out on deck after dinner and see the houses along with river.  On Thursday morning we boarded the buses to go to Honfleur - a seaside village - where we were taken on a walking tour of the city.  There was an option to go back to the boat at 12:30, stay in Honfleur til 2:30 when a bus would come back to pick you up or go on an optional excursion to a cider farm/lunch/Deauville (57E).  We did not go on this excursion but everyone who went said that it was a great afternoon - good lunch and Deauville has a casino.  At 6 we sailed all night back to Vernon.  Friday brought the included tour to Giverny - the poppies and roses were in full bloom.  While we were at Giverny the boat sailed to Mante-la-Jolie where we boarded for lunch.  After lunch you had the option of staying on the boat while it sailed to Conflans or to go on an optional excursion to Versailles (53E).  We went to Versailles and toured the palace with a guide and then had an hour or so to see the gardens.  Unfortunately, there was not enough time to go out to the Hamlet or the Trianons, but that would take all day to see the whole place - next time!  When we arrived back at the boat it left again for Paris where we arrived in time to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle at midnight.  On Saturday morning we went on the included City Tour of Paris where we stopped for a photo op down from the Eiffel Tower and a stop at Luxombourg Gardens where we walked through part of it with the guide.   That afternoon there was an optional excursion to the Louvre with a guide (53E).  On Saturday evening there were two optional tours available - Dinner at Altitude 95 at the Eiffel Tower (159E) or an evening at the Lido (142E).  On Sunday morning you needed to be out of your cabin by 8 am but were invited to stay on the boat as long as you wanted to during the day.  They scheduled transfers to the airport all during the day.   Each evening before dinner the Cruise Manager gave a short talk about the next days activities and the daily program was in your room when you returned from dinner.  There was a morning exercise scheduled each morning and a small fitness center.  On Monday night was the Captain's Welcome Dinner where the crew was introduced.  On Friday night was the Captain's Farewell Dinner.  Most people dressed up a little for these two nights, but nothing too fancy.  Other nights most men wore sports shirts and slacks and the women wore sun dresses or slacks - pretty casual really.  Umbrellas were provided in case of rain.  There was wi-fi most of the time and there was a computer for use for a nominal charge.  There were 2 movies shown continuously during the day on the TV and there was English language CNN plus many French channels  available.   We had a wonderful time on this trip and are sold on river cruising.  We extended this trip with 2 days in Paris before and 2 days in Paris after which gave us enough time to do a few other things in Paris.  Many on the trip were also combining this with the Burgundy & Provence cruise making this a 2 week journey.   Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
My wife and I have taken nineteen ocean cruises. It was time for something different. We were eager to explore central Europe. We decided to take a Viking River Cruise.  We were amazed at how many river cruise ships are plying German ... Read More
My wife and I have taken nineteen ocean cruises. It was time for something different. We were eager to explore central Europe. We decided to take a Viking River Cruise.  We were amazed at how many river cruise ships are plying German waters!  We took advantage of a 2 for 1 offer and had a 12 day vacation for around $2200 per person. The first two days were based on land. We stayed at the Novotel Paris Tour Eiffel. It was a four star rated facility. It was fine for the most part but the AC struggled to keep us cool in the humid Paris summertime. The two days in Paris included a half day excursion to see the city highlights. The rest was free time. From Paris we traveled to Trier, Germany. Enroute we visited the American Cemetery in Luxembourg and had a half day tour of Luxembourg City. We boarded our ship in Trier.  A big advantage with this river cruise line was that all excursions are included in your price. On bigger ships there is a wide range of excursions offered that are mostly overpriced and similar to "cattle cars" in the amount of personal attention one receives. The excursions on the Viking Sky were mainly overviews of the places we visited and would have cost over $1000 per person on an ocean ship.  River cruises are a great value. Another big difference with ocean ships is with the food. On the big boats you get lots of food at just about all hours of the day. On the river cruise you get your three meals and that is it.  Within each meal there were a few choices but not many. That is fine as we tend to gorge on the bigger ships. The food was of good quality and often reflected the region that the ship was in at the time. Another difference was that the river cruise was a bit more sedate. Music was provided by a man with a synthesizer and was adequate. There were very few additional programs on the ship. Mostly a lecture or demonstration after dinner. That was fine for the most part and resulted in a relaxing time.   There was a port per day. The tours mostly took place in the morning. They provided us with "audiovox" listening units so we could hear the tour guide clearly even while lingering behind to explore something of interest. I think that you will see more and more tours using this new device.  After the seven day cruise we spent two days at a five star hotel in Prague.  This was a nice way to end the vacation. We also had a general tour of Prague included by the cruise line with plenty of time to visit on one's own.  If you are looking for a cruise experience that is more location intensive and less ship focused a river cruise could be something for you. The clientele skews a bit older and slower but this is a wonderful way to see the world.  Trier- very interesting Roman ruins. This used to be a capital of the Roman Empire in the Rhine area.   Bernkastel- quaint town and wine tasting like you have never experienced (as much as you wanted as you do your own pouring). Cochen- interesting restored castle. Another quaint town. Koblenz- Not much here. Rhine Cruise- a highlight of the trip.  Amazing beauty. Rudesheim- highlight is a tram ride to the top of the hill to view a monument and the Rhine valley. Heidelberg- full day excusion including delicious lunch in the old town area. Wurnberg- beautiful Residenz of the bishops worth the trip alone. Bamberg- not the best of the stops. Fun but ok. Nurnberg- the emotional highlight of the cruise when viewing the former stomping grounds of the Nazi party during their heyday. Sobering. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2009
Our first river cruise.  We have made 9 ocean cruises with 4 different lines.  This was the BEST ever!  Very laid back and wonderful scenery.  The staff and crew were expecially nice and seemed to go out of their way to make you ... Read More
Our first river cruise.  We have made 9 ocean cruises with 4 different lines.  This was the BEST ever!  Very laid back and wonderful scenery.  The staff and crew were expecially nice and seemed to go out of their way to make you happy.We left Nuremburg on a Sunday and sailed the canal until we reached the Danube.  The locks were very exciting and so different than the Panama Canal.  Sailing day was especially nice, there was "fair" or German family gathering at our dock.  All kinds of water activities and food, beer and children's activites.  Nice to get some more of the local atmosphere.  We spent 3-days in the city before getting on the ship.  Nuremburg is a very friendly city and lots of great sausage and beer.  We highly recommend hotel LeMeridian.  In the center of all the sights.Sailing on the canal and river were wonderful!  All along the Danube there are walking and bike trails, landscaped and very beautiful. We ended in Budapest.Viking certainly has it "all-together" when it comes to the excursions.  Every one left on time and returned on time.  If anyone was left, they could get a taxi to the dock.  It was very nice not having to wait for those who don't care about being on time.  All the guides we had were excellent.  English was perfect and groups were small.  The headsets were great.Food was good.  Lots of choices, if you didn't like the daily menu, there was always something extra you could order.Main critism:  We paid $114.00 to see the Mozart, Strauss concert.  The music was wonderful.  I'm glad we had the opportunity in Vienna.  They put around 500 people (other cruise lines) in one very small room.  Chairs (small) very close together.  It was very hot and lots of mosquitoes.  We called it the "sweat & swat" event!!  They should have warned us to dress accordinly and bring repellent.Our stateroom was very nice, room for everything and closed was good.  Just like a large cruise ship.  Our cabin steward Rianna did a fabulous job.The bartenders could have been a lot friendlier.  Didn't seem to go out of their way to sell liquor.  Many of the fellow travelers said they enjoyed not being "hastled" by them.I would go with Viking again.  We really did enjoy he "small ship" atmosphere. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2009
We have just returned from a River Cruise on the Avalon Scenery July 26 - Aug. 4th Paris to Nice. Let me start out by saying we were a bit apprehensive since this was our first river cruise, we have been on 7 big cruise ship voyages prior, ... Read More
We have just returned from a River Cruise on the Avalon Scenery July 26 - Aug. 4th Paris to Nice. Let me start out by saying we were a bit apprehensive since this was our first river cruise, we have been on 7 big cruise ship voyages prior, and we do love large ship cruises. We arrived in Paris two days earlier and stayed at the Marriott Rive Gauche, great hotel, and although not in the immediate center of Paris, the location was walking distance from the metro (very easy to navigate)and lots of shops and places to eat. We then joined our group on Sunday and transferred over to the hotel Le Meridien, Montparnasse, which was part of the Avalon tour accomodation. Too bad, the Le Meridien could not hold a candle to the Marriott. Avalon offered a bus tour of Paris on Monday, but since we have already been in Paris for 3 days already, we decided to do our own thing for the day,as I said the Metro is so easy to get around and very inexpensive. Breakfast was included with the Le Meridien and it was very nice. Tues. morning we boarded our bus for the trip to Chalon-sur-Saone, with a stop in Beaune, quaint little town where we had a choice to visit Hospice de Beaune or wine tasting tour, we decided on the Hospice. We then continued on to board our boat. I won't continue about all the stops we made on the way to Nice. I will say the places we visited were amazing, in some cases it was like stepping back in time the quaint towns and scenic beauty cannot be described adequately. About the boat, our state room was one with a french balcony, but we could not open our slider because of the flys etc. There was plenty of room for our things and the room very comfortable. They gave us complementry bottles of water every day. I will say the food was very good, morning was a buffet as was lunch with good choices. Dinner was from a menu with meat, fish or veg. choice. My problem was the fact one could not get anything to eat in between, we had to wait till the appointed hour when the dining room would be open for luch or dinner. True in the afternoon for one hour they had a coffee/tea and cake service but if you were not there you were out of luck. Most days the majority of the boat would be out on tours and when we returned the coffee and cake were no where to be seen. So from about 4 o'clock till 7:30 you were out of luck. True in the rear lounge cookies (from the tin) were always available but it would have been nice if they had an assosrtment of pasteries and home made cookies instead those cookies no one ever ate. Breakfast and lunch the food was plentiful but dinner entrees were a tease. One night at dinner I placed my order and asked for a side order of the pasta (which was veggie. choice) and that seemed to confuse them, hence, no pasta. I had also read that at the end of the meal they would come around with platters of seconds if anyone wanted, but that did not materialize. I think Avalon should rethink some of it's food availablity. I understand the galley is small and limited but food is a very big part of the enjoyment of the vacation. Wine was served at dinner and it flowed freely. The staff on the boat were top notch, very hard working young people and they deserve to be acknowledged. When we arrived in Nice we had to wait a few hours before our rooms would be available. We stayed at the Hotel Boscolo Plaza. When we walked in the lobby we thought wow, nice hotel. Not so fast, Our first hint was in the elevator very small and inatiquate. The hallway on our floor kind of reminded us of the "Tower of Terror" in disney world, old, musty and in serious need of updating and let me tell you, our room was no better. The mirror was cracked as was the tub. We had one chair in the room, a kind of desk chair with plastic seat, the ac was ineffective. The included breakfast the next morning was the worst meal of or stay in France. Not a very nice hotel and I would not recommend anyone to stay there. There was an optional tour in Nice and I say GO FOR IT, "An Evening In Monaco" worth every penny 85 Euro. Our favorite tour of the week. In summary - I would highly recommend the river cruise, you get all the benefits of a land tour without the hassel of on/off bus, different hotel every day, packing and unpacking. In fact I would call this a river/land tour with no hassel. We met some wonderful people from around the world and it is a vacation that will leave a fond imprint on my memory. We are looking forward to booking another river cruise in the near future. And......we still love large ship cruising, I guess you might say, we're addicted Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: July 2009
My husband and I took the Paris to Normandy cruise on the Baroness in late July 2009. We have been on many ocean cruises but this was our first European River Boat cruise. There is another detailed review of this cruise on Cruise Critic. I ... Read More
My husband and I took the Paris to Normandy cruise on the Baroness in late July 2009. We have been on many ocean cruises but this was our first European River Boat cruise. There is another detailed review of this cruise on Cruise Critic. I will only report some additional things: • Odd room numbers have better views while docked • Our room was at the very back of the lower deck and on the evenings when the boat was moving there was a significant amount of engine noise. To be fair, people in the very front on the top floor complained about loud talking in the lobby while they were trying to sleep at night. • I loved the self serve coffee/cappuccino/tea/hot chocolate machine. I bought some cinnamon at a grocery store at our first stop and this added a nice touch to the cappuccino. • Bring a travel mug with a lid. When I got the cappuccino, I could fit two of them into my mug and walk around with the top on. I like big mugs of hot drinks, not the smallish mug size that they provide. • Bring a cork screw. They do not care if you buy bottles of wine for consumption in your cabin but you will need a cork screw. If they open the bottle for you, you will be charged a corkage fee. I called Uniworld in advance and asked about carrying on wine and drinking it in my cabin. They said "No Problem". At our first stop we bought 2 bottles of wine for 3 and 4 Euros. It was very good even at that low price. • The house wine at dinner was very good. I think we had around 4 glasses each night. They were there filling your glasses as quickly as you could drink it. There was no skimping on the included wine. • The food was VERY good. Ocean cruises are more about quantity and less about quality. The food on this cruise was the opposite - more quality, less quantity. The only legitimate complaint that I heard on the trip was about the small portions at dinner. To be fair, no one asked for seconds. I asked our waiter if anyone ever asks for seconds and he said that passengers usually don't ask for 2nds or for 2 entrees, etc. By the end of the cruise, we were asking for a 2nd roll or an additional appetizer, etc. The meat portions are about the size of a deck of cards which is the correct portion size. The problem is that Americans eat way too much and restaurants serve enough for at least 2 people when you order one entrEe. So if you're hungry, ask for a 2nd entrEe. On the night we had lamb, after the fact, my husband was sorry he didn't ask for 2nds. He loves lamb and doesn't get it often and was disappointed with the serving size of his lamb that night. • If you want to use one of the bikes, you have to reserve them well in advance. We asked to use them at the first stop and were told that they were reserved for the entire day, but the bikes sat outside the ship unused almost all day. Turns out, that they are big and heavy and most people had trouble maneuvering them and brought them back early. So if you are told they are spoken for, I would go back and ask during the day. The best day to ride the bikes is at the first stop in Les Andyles. This is a quiet typical French village. • To my surprise, Paris was so nice! It was clean, easy to get around. I've always heard that Parisians don't like Americans and won't talk to you unless you speak perfect French. This couldn't be further from the truth. We wandered around a lot and everyone was so friendly and very willing to assist us. I was amazed at how much there is to see in Paris. I definitely plan to return to Paris and finish seeing the sights (hopefully on another river boat cruised). • Optional Excursions: a. Versailles - a must do, you won't be sorry. b. Cider Farm - I don't think anyone thought this was worth the money. No one in our party liked the food and since it wasn't apple picking season (which is the Fall), there was nothing to see. They just talked about what goes on. I think it was a waste of money. Overall, the trip was wonderful. We met many wonderful people, ate great food and drink, saw wonderful sites and learned a lot. There are 4 - 6 itineraries I've picked out and can't wait to go on another one. My only regret is that more Cruise Critic members are not taking these cruises or not writing about them. I've learned so much from the members and enjoy sharing my knowledge. If anyone has a specific question, please don't hesitate to ask. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2009
We have been on many ocean cruises, but this was our first river cruise and it was truly a remarkable way to travel. We previously visited Europe on land tours which involved lots of packing and unpacking and getting on the bus and off the ... Read More
We have been on many ocean cruises, but this was our first river cruise and it was truly a remarkable way to travel. We previously visited Europe on land tours which involved lots of packing and unpacking and getting on the bus and off the bus. The river cruise takes all the hassle out of traveling from one locale to another. Uniworld has certainly perfected the art of river cruising by choosing unique and entertaining destinations, first class service and a beautiful vessel. We sailed on the River Countess and were amazed that the shower was much larger than on ocean cruise ships. No need to do the hokey-pokey to take a shower! The tile and marble were beautiful and the towels big and fluffy. The entire ship was well-maintained and always clean. The entire staff was outstanding and made each guest feel special. Our cruise manager, Hildegard, had an amazing store of knowledge about every port and all the castles and towns, locks and vineyards we sailed past. Her enthusiasm, experience and love of cruising were contagious and enhanced our experience onboard. The food was of excellent quality, beautifully and artistically presented, and represented a wide variety of ethnic cuisines which we especially enjoy. The wine included in the price of the cruise was quite good and plentiful. The itinerary included a great mix of major cities and small towns that were unknown to us before this trip. What wonderful surprises they held! Without exception, the local tour guides we met were very knowledgeable and personable. Our only criticism of the cruise concerns the lack of consistent internet access. We had inquired before departure and were told that internet access could be purchased for 20 Euros for the entire trip, whether using the ship's computers or our own. We therefore decided not to bring along our international cell phone as we would keep in touch with family via email. We were told that there might be reception difficulties when traversing locks, but were not aware that there would be 66 locks on our voyage from Amsterdam to Vienna! As soon as we boarded, the staff informed us the internet reception was not good and they would not charge us for access. Many guests were frustrated trying to get online, and we finally resorted to seeking out internet cafes after our tours in order to keep in touch with family as promised. This was not an insurmountable problem, but was annoying until we got near the end of the journey when internet reception was much better. As we sailed past many similar ships, we marvelled that there exists this wonderful segment of travel that we were totally unaware of until very recently, and we're so glad we discovered river cruising! I would not hesitate to recommend this type of travel to anyone interested in a unique travel experience. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2009
We are home from a very enjoyable first river cruise. Thank you to all of the Cruise Critic Board members whose posts gave us the information we needed to plan our first river cruise. We have cruised ocean going vessels with passenger ... Read More
We are home from a very enjoyable first river cruise. Thank you to all of the Cruise Critic Board members whose posts gave us the information we needed to plan our first river cruise. We have cruised ocean going vessels with passenger sizes of 920 to several thousand. I was concerned that a very small ship with limited on board and evening activity options would not suit us. I was wrong. River cruising is an entirely different kind of cruising than ocean cruising. Obviously, there are no "sea days" (which we love), there are limited dining and entertainment options, but none of these things are disadvantages. To me, comparing the two types of cruising is truely an apples to oranges excercise. We now know that we love both. Ship: The River Princess was very nicely appointed. The cabins were well appointed. Comfortable bedding, wonderful linens, towels, bath amenities. The cabins were big enough to not feel crowded. One of the reasons I chose Uniworld was because of their advertised "hotel style" beds. In the past, we have resorted to bringing foam "egg crate" matress pads on a couple of ocean cruises (Celebrity and Princess) because of past experience with very uncomfortable bed. Comfortable beds have been a plus on Holland America and Crystal and I understand that more cruise lines are upgrading their matresses. As usual, a "queen" is actually the two twins arranged so they are together. Uniworld had an interesting European touch: Each "side" had its own wonderfully comfortable duvet covered comforter (no top sheet). No tugging of the blanket You can read many descriptions about the ship on Uniworld's site. Due to its size, everything was convenient. Stairs were mostly "half flights" arranged like a split level house. The cabin had a 110v outlet next to the bed - perfect for recharging the camera, cell phone, ipod, etc. The chocolates were WONDERFUL. The water carafe and water bottles (for use on shore) were very convenient. Water pressure was excellent. Our cabin had an easy to set alarm clock, but I was glad I had mine so I could set two alarms. Each cabin had a safe. We had two side chairs and a small table. There was good sound proofing between the cabins, something that has been a problem on some ocean cruises. The dining room was beautifully appointed with comfortable chairs (an important aspect of enjoying a leisurely meal). The lounge was a great place to relax, watch the scenery, listen to port talks, visit, etc. The upper deck was well enjoyed. It was a spectacular place to be. On our particular cruise, however, there were times that only a portion of it (in front of the wheelhouse) could be used because of low bridges. It is pretty cool to watch them lower the wheelhouse. The food: Very well done. We really enjoyed our leisurely dinners, which included unlimited wine (or beer). There was also a very nice, reasonably priced wine list, but the included wine was well selected and we never had the need to purchase a different bottle. Sometimes I would start with the white wine and switch to the red if that better suited my appetizer and entree choice. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style. As has been mentioned previously on this board, the dessert selections at lunch were fantastic. On several days, it made sense to eat lunch on shore (at our expense). I do wish we had chosen a to eat dinner on shore in Rudesheim, we found a lot of tempting menus when we disembarked, but we had just finished dinner on board. Instead, we had a wonderful Rudesheimer coffee at a beergarden and enjoyed ourselves greatly. The itinerary: WOW. I can't imagine a better itinerary, but I am looking forward to testing this in future years on future river cruises. We cruised the Mosel, Rhine, and Main rivers (and canal). Beautiful scenery, beautiful towns. We took all of the included walking and bus tours. I cannot give enough praise to Uniworld's organization, coordination and adaptablility. What a premium experience. The group sizes were small. We were usually divided into 5 groups, with one group specified for those who desired or needed a slower pace. One of our guides was average, all of the rest were fabulous; interesting, informative and engaging and exceeded our experience with non Uniworld guides. The Vox system for hearing our guides made the tours easier and more enjoyable (and allowed us to pay attention to what we wanted to linger over without missing any information from our guide or having the stress of "keeping up"). It was wonderful to just walk of the ship and get started. No lines, no waiting for tenders. Our cruise director, Wouter, was the best cruise director we have ever had. He looked after our very varied group with great skill, friendliness and even handedness. He made sure that everyone had and understood all of the information we needed to optimize our vacation experience. He treated us as a group of individuals, not as a "group". He is truly an accomplished travel professional. We enjoyed our two nights in Paris, explored a lot. We were not in the main hotel with most of the group (the Pullman). There were about 25-30 of us at Le Meridien Montparnasse. Both locations have their own advantages. The River Princess staff arranged for taxis (of course, at our expense, but what a convenience) on our disembarkation morning for those of us not taking the included transfer to the Nuremberg airport. We went to the train station and took the train to Munich and stayed there for 2 nights. That way we got to see another city and were able to get a direct flight to Atlanta, changing just once to get home. We had been completely spoiled by Uniworld though! We had a great time in Munich but we were "on our own" after having become quite accustomed to the Uniworld way We took the optional Bamberg Beer experience afternoon tour. Well worth it and what a fun time, particularly if you, like us, are beer and wurst lovers. Crew: One word: Wonderful! We enjoyed our first river cruise. Loved the casual atmosphere, the "port intensive" nature of the cruise. Sometimes, when we take an ocean cruise, we do it just to relax....the ship itself is our destination. Our river cruise on the River Princess was a great way to actually travel, to see and experience new things. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2009
We spent 15 days on the Amalegro cruising from Amsterdam to Budapest with a mainly Hungarian crew and mostly fellow travellers from the US. The ship is only a few years old and is kept in tip top condition with everything like new. Our ... Read More
We spent 15 days on the Amalegro cruising from Amsterdam to Budapest with a mainly Hungarian crew and mostly fellow travellers from the US. The ship is only a few years old and is kept in tip top condition with everything like new. Our cabin was spotlessly clean, had a french balcony and was well lit and was so well appointed with everything that you could possibly need with good storage for a large suitcase or 2 mediums - it was very comfortable. The bathroom was very well appointed. good shower, fresh towels everyday if you wished. The check in and out - no problems. The staff went out of their way to get a prescription from a medical doctor for one of my friends who had left medication with her son in London. The staff were exceptional- any request was met with a smile. The staff also had a great sense of cameraderie and humour. Captain Pols and his co captain wife were fantastic people who were only to happy to show people exactly how everything worked on the ship as we sailed through many locks on our way to Budapest. Our Cruise Director and Hotel Manager and Executice Chef were superb as were all other staff including the bar and wait staff and cabin crew. We had a lovely lounge and bar area with an evening entertainment area and dance floor. The dining room was well appointed and the food and wine changed with every differnet region through northern Europe - the staff explaining the new wines and any questions on the food and regional wines. The food and wine in our opinion was excellent and was very well presented. We made many stops on the way along the river with excellent commentary on "Castle Day" from our Cruise Director. At every stop along the rivers we had really good knowledgable tour guides and their were bikes which we used to ride among the vineyards at one stop and through the towns on many other stops. There was help for those who needed extra assistance to get around. Basically they catered for all age groups. The entertainment on board ranged from "Gypsy Ensembles" to classical performances by local artists and several symphony orchestra musicians - some still studying from the masters in their field as well as a group who played some upbeat modern dance music with classic favourites from most countries knowing even "Walzing Matilda" for us Aussie travellers. Our resident pianist/keyboard player was also fantastic accommodating all requests from passengers. We are first time cruisers so have no experience in the cruising field however we do enjoy fine wine and food and appreciate good service. We had a fantastic cruise meeting many travellers mainly from the US who were a lot of fun. We have four different sets of friends/family who have taken this same cruise at different times over the past few years who recommended this cruise for us. I can only recommend this company AMA and this ship the Amalegro to anyone considering a river cruise.The service is excellent but relaxed and unpretentious. My sister is doing the same cruise again next year and we met a few couples also redoing part of the cruise again. Happy cruising to all! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
My sister and I took the Viking River Cruise, "Waterways of the Czars," September 3-15, 2009, traveling on the newly renovated Viking Surkov. Our experience was extremely positive. The ship, decorated in Scandinavian Modern ... Read More
My sister and I took the Viking River Cruise, "Waterways of the Czars," September 3-15, 2009, traveling on the newly renovated Viking Surkov. Our experience was extremely positive. The ship, decorated in Scandinavian Modern style, was clean and attractive. It offered a large reception area, library, Internet cafe, two bars, sundeck, coffee/tea/hot chocolate service area, and a well appointed restaurant. In addition, a doctor traveled on board. There were some 180 travelers and about 100 staff members, including crew, receptionists, cabin stewards and stewardesses, tour guides, program director, kitchen staff, and waiters/waitresses. Our cabin, though small, was well laid out and we had a TV, small refrigerator, and safe in addition to the usual furnishings. Two large bottles of water were provided each day even though we were told that the ship's water supply was filtered and therefore safe to drink. Tours and excursions were well planned, and most were included in the basic cost of the cruise. In addition, while we were traveling from St. Petersburg to Moscow there were extra activities on board such as lectures on Russian history, a demonstration of how to cook a Russian dish, a tour of the bridge, Russian lessons, and a formal Russian tea. The quality of the food served was somewhat uneven. Breakfast was wonderful, with a bountiful buffet; it was also possible to special order hot cereals, omelets, poached eggs, and egg benedict. The lunch buffet always included a delicious salad bar and one or two hot entrees as well as soup. Dinner was a 5-6 course meal with two or three choices per course. It was also always possible to order a grilled rump steak, grilled chicken breast or Caesar salad as an entree. Dinner was always adequate, but some dishes--especially fish--were over cooked at times. I have to add that I had major dietary restrictions--allergic to wheat, eggs,and mil--and the kitchen staff bent over backwards to accommodate my needs. They even managed to procure some special gluten free pastries for me to eat at the Russian tea. All in all, the cruise was an outstanding experience, and one that opened our eyes about many aspects of Russian history and Russia today. Our second port of call was Mandrogy. Mandrogy is a work in progress--a village where traditional Russian handcrafts are practiced and taught. The structures are also built in traditional Russian village style. Unfortunately, we arrived an hour late and it was pouring rain. I think that this port will be fascinating in about five years, when the village and handcraft programs are more complete. It's a good place to buy typical Russian souvenirs. Our next port is --Kizhi Island. This is an open air museum which has on display an old Russian Orthodox Church with 22 domes, built entirely of wood without a single nail. It also has examples of village houses with their furnishings and the guide explains how the people lived in such villages. This was fascinating! Kizhi is on an island in Lake Onega, and the scenery is very picturesque, too. Our next port was Goritzy, where we visited the monastery of St. Cyril of the White Lake. It is now basically a museum although there is a new and small community of five monks now. This was very interesting because we got to see the different churches that made up the complex. The gardens were beautiful, and again since the monastery is situated on a lake, the natural setting was superb, with ducks swimming up to the shore and almost ready to eat out of our hands! I'm grouping our fifth and sixth ports together as we visited 7 in all. Our last two stops before Moscow were Yaroslavl and Uglich. Yaroslavl is a city of 600,000 with an impressive collection of churches, monasteries, and public buildings. We also visited a display of lacquered papier mache boxes--and this is the best place to buy them as there is a wide choice of different styles and good prices. We had some free time here and were able to visit a market, and stroll the streets of a Russian city. Yaroslavl is beautiful, and has lots of restaurants, cafes, shops, etc. Uglich was next; it's much smaller with a population of 40,000. However, it's probably the best place to buy real Russian handcraft souvenirs. The unwalled Kremlin of the city is full of beautiful churches and government buildings and also has nice gardens. We had a lot of free time to shop here. Our last port of call was Moscow. You probably have a stereotyped image of Moscow--drab, dull, shabby, grim. Put all those ideas aside! Moscow is a beautiful, vibrant, cosmopolitan city on the level of Paris or Venice. If you are interested in architecture, you will love Moscow! The city is full of beautiful structures of many different time periods. Moreover, there are many gardens, parks, museums, a couple of rivers, seven hills. . .in short, everything needed to create a beautiful city. Even very mundane structures have been made beautiful. For example, many of the Metro stations were designed by top-notch architects and artists and are part of any thorough tour of the city. And let me assure you--the Metro is spotlessly clean, as is all of the city that we saw. (And, for that matter, Russia generally. . .think Switzerland.) For a final example, we docked at the North River Terminal and it struck me how beautiful the terminal was and how attractive the gardens around it were. I went out for a stroll one morning and took a lot of pictures. I thought that the beauty of this terminal was my own little discovery because none of the tour guides mentioned it. However, I bought a book about Moscow while there and when I read it after I arrived home, I discovered that this terminal is considered an architectural masterpiece. But, it's just one of thousands in this very beautiful city. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
We just returned from AMA Europe's Heartland Cruise. We sailed on the new Amalyra and did the reverse itinerary from Prague to Paris. I sailed with my DH and another couple. We had all been on ocean cruises, but this was our first ... Read More
We just returned from AMA Europe's Heartland Cruise. We sailed on the new Amalyra and did the reverse itinerary from Prague to Paris. I sailed with my DH and another couple. We had all been on ocean cruises, but this was our first river cruise. A few general remarks about AMA and the Amalyra. First class all the way. The ship was beautiful, the staff was wonderful, the tour guides in every city were knowledgeable, and we enjoyed our trip very much! Food - despite several reviews I had read on these boards which criticized the food on AMA, we found the food to be fantastic, actually considerably better than on our ocean cruises. Admittedly I am not hard to please, but one of our traveling companions is a gourmet cook and a "foodie" and thought the food was outstanding. We especially loved the daily soups. Everything was fresh, cooked to order and hot when it was supposed to be hot, cold when it was supposed to be cold. The presentation was really well-done and the chef was very inventive. Breakfasts were not particularly creative, but had something to please everyone. Both breakfast and lunch were also served in the lounge, in a more limited way, for those who slept in or who didn't want to eat in the dining room. Dress was casual, except for the Captain's Dinner on the last night. I was actually surprised that a lot of people dressed up quite a bit. However, there were still several men (including my DH) who did not wear a tie or sports coat, just nice pants and a button-down shirt. We were in cabin 205 on the Cello Deck and had a French balcony. I have to admit, however, that we barely used it. When we were sailing through the Rhine Gorge or on the Moselle River, we were always on the top deck enjoying the panoramic views. The cabin was small, but well organized. We were able to put all our clothes away and slide the suitcases under the bed. The bed was very comfortable and the cabin was kept spotless. We flew into Prague on our own and were there for just a day and a half (2 nights). If we had it to do all over again, we would have flown in a few days earlier. Prague is beautiful. There were a lot of things we did not have time to see and we would like to go back. AMA put us up in the Hotel President, which was a very nice hotel, right on the river and close to everything. It included free breakfast. In Paris, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza Republique, which was ok. It wasn't situated in the best spot for sightseeing, but the rooms were ok and the free breakfasts were very good. When I saw how much the normal rates were for the hotels there, I was satisfied with the accommodations. A couple of thoughts about the pros and cons of doing this itinerary from Prague to Paris instead of the other way round: Coming into Paris, which is so bustling and hectic, would have been difficult as jetlagged as we were at the beginning of our trip. Prague was much more laid back and this made it easier to adjust. However, we would have liked more time in Prague as well. Another drawback was sailing through the Rhine River Gorge very late in the afternoon, which meant that we missed some of it when darkness fell. The Gorge is absolutely stunning, with castles at almost every bend in the river, so we wished we could have sailed through it earlier in the day. As mentioned earlier, all our guides were very knowledgeable and informative and the audio head sets really added to the experience. I did not see other tour groups with these head sets. We went on almost all the included tours, but note that this left us with little free time in most towns. But this was our choice and we could have gone off on our own if we had wished. We did take the bikes for a ride along the river one day when we had extra time. It was very enjoyable. One caution about internet availability. Internet access is available in all cabins for free. However, because the ship went through many, many locks and under low bridges, the satellite dish had to be lowered and internet was not available at these times. When it was available, it was very slow. So do not rely on this mode of communication to keep in touch with family members, etc. Thoughts on river cruises in general - as has been said before, do not go on a river cruise expecting fancy entertainment or casinos. The ships are small and intimate and there is not a lot to do onboard. However, if you like personal service, the opportunity to really get to know the other passengers, and visiting wonderful towns and villages and enjoying spectacular scenery, you will like this trip. We enjoyed it very much and would love to travel AMA again! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: September 2009
Paris to Normandy Trip Report We were docked at Port de Javel Bas, Pier Quai Andre Citroen, by Citroen Park with it's tethered balloon ride (good landmark). I arrived at the River Baroness at 10 am and since check in was 1:00 - ... Read More
Paris to Normandy Trip Report We were docked at Port de Javel Bas, Pier Quai Andre Citroen, by Citroen Park with it's tethered balloon ride (good landmark). I arrived at the River Baroness at 10 am and since check in was 1:00 - 1:30, I headed out walking along the Seine until I reached the Eiffel Tower - 40 minutes with photo stops. The first part of the walk is a little commercial, but the rest is very pretty. You walk right by the French Statue of Liberty and get a great close-up of the statuary on the bridges. From the Eiffel Tower I walked through the Parc du Champs de Mars until I was in front of Ecole Militaire, and then headed left for a few blocks until I came to Rue Cler. This is a fantastic pedestrian area - oh the smells of cheese and pastries. A man was playing delightful music on a hand organ and the sidewalk cafes were full. After a few blocks I made a left on Rue St. Dominique, right on Avenue Bosquet, and came to Pont de l'Alma. I crossed the bridge on the left hand side and came to the torch (replica of Statue of Liberty's) which is situated over the tunnel where Princess Di was killed. On the wall around the little plaza where the torch is, folks have written their sentiments. Back over the bridge and back to the ship - 3 hours in all. Let me mention that if I had been too tired for the walk back there is an RER station right at the beginning of the bridge, and a ticket agent there where you can buy metro tickets if you haven't purchased them from reception on the ship. Take the RER to Blvd. Victor and you will be very close to the riverboat. It's the C line. Very easy - we did it the last day from the Musee d'Orsay station. Checked in and found we were upgraded to cabin 137- our original "least expensive category" cabin (109) was being used as an adjunct to the laundry room. The cabins have three small drawers in the closet, a huge drawer under each bed, shelves next to the beds and over them. You get rather cumbersome, heavy keys for the room. The safe is a combination requiring 4 numbers. There were two bottles of water, and a large glass carafe to refill them, but to refill the carafe cost 2 Euros, so we just filled the bottles from the "patio" where there was coffee of all kinds, including cappuccino, hot water for tea, hot chocolate, an ice machine, and water. Also there were always pitchers of water and sweet and unsweetened iced tea. Those up before the scheduled time for breakfast were invited to help themselves to a beverage and pastries. Across from this area was the one computer. Since something went askew with their billing on the computer, we could use it or personal laptops free all week. Usually costs 5 Euro an hour! I headed for the deck and 74 degree sunny weather where the friendly passengers for this cruise were already meeting each other and toasting our good fortune to be on this fabulous trip! Our wonderful cruise manager named Tony held briefings every night, gave us the predicted temperature for the next day, organized everything, wrote up everything for the bulletin board, etc. After the embarkation talk on deck there was a briefing in the lounge describing our next day in Les Andelys. There would be 4 groups walking the 20 minutes uphill to the ruins of Chateau-Guillard and one bus for those with difficulty walking. This company utilizes Vox technology, so you take a unit every time you get off the ship, attach it to the earpiece which you keep, and you can hear the tour guide beautifully, even when wandering away to take pictures. You turn the units back in along with the boarding card given when you leave the ship, at the end of every tour. The boarding cards have cabin numbers on them, so they know everyone is back onboard. Evenings we had either local entertainment or Laszlo who took the whole trip with us and played piano for tea and most evenings. We didn't get French lessons or play French trivia as mentioned by another poster. They must have had another Cruise Manager. There is a game and book section of the lounge and I saw many take advantage of that, although we felt we were kept busy enough! Also small newsletters for USA, British, Australian and Canadian passengers. I had difficulty sleeping that first night. The twin beds are narrow, and the duvet was heavy and kept falling off the bed! You can request a regular sheet and blanket if it bothers you, but I stuck with it for the week. Then, finally asleep, at 4:30 the alarm in the room went off - apparently left on by the previous inhabitants. After pushing all the buttons and finally getting it to shut off, in five minutes on it came again - I must have pushed the snooze - so out came the batteries, and I was never able to set it correctly since the clock didn't match the instructions in the info in the room. I had a travel alarm with me though, and one particularly early start we had a wake-up call, too. So that misty first morning I was on deck at 7:30. We were docked right in the town and the Chateau was easily visible at the top of the cliff. I took a delightful stroll through the charming little town of Petit Andely taking pictures, and got back as the groups were forming for the tour. After a short tour of the little village including the old church, Eglise Saint Sauveur built in 1202, and the half-timbered houses, we started up. It was a tough uphill climb, but we stopped frequently to catch our breath. Unfortunately a woman in another group badly broke her leg coming down, and the ambulance and first aid workers had to take her to a hospital. Lunch was 12:30 - 2:00 in the restaurant, or you could have a light lunch in the lounge with live piano music by Laszlo the very talented pianist. Took another walk in town and then attended a lecture at 2 o'clock on the Impressionists by a guest speaker. We enjoyed time on the deck as we sailed for Rouen. Every day there was tea time around 4 o'clock with piano music, but we only stopped by a few times for a tiny sandwich or dessert. We were having such nice weather we preferred to be on deck and have a drink there. Such a different experience from a riverboat trip I took in May one year when, because of rain, I only got to sit out once, and it was cool and drizzly at that! We dressed up a little since this was the Captain's Welcome dinner. All the men I saw had on jackets and ties, and the women were very nicely dressed, including some long skirts. On this ship everyone dressed nicely for dinner every night! At 6:30 was the welcome drink (champagne) in the lounge, followed by a Port talk and crew introduction. By 7:00 we were seated at the Captain's Table, an unexpected treat. We had a delicious dinner followed by an after-dinner drink courtesy of the captain, of Calvados, a rather strong brandy-like drink made from cider. By then we were docked in Rouen. We left the ship, turned right and up the steps and straight across the street. Within a few blocks we came across the Cathedral bathed in light, although the light show that had been going on all summer had ended several days before. This is a breathtaking sight. No wonder Monet was entranced by this Cathedral of Rouen. We walked around for awhile before making our way back to the ship and music and dancing in the lounge. The next morning after a great buffet breakfast (specials each morning included such treats as a pancake, a waffle, eggs Benedict, etc.), and always omelets made to order, we picked up our Vox unit and found our tour leader. Up the steps and across the street, and we were back at the Cathedral of Notre Dame for a thorough tour inside. There was bombing damage both from the Germans and the Allies, but one chapel survived intact. Inside are 16th century stained glass windows, 14th century statues. Richard the Lionheart has his heart in a tomb there. Outside we saw the carving of the apparently famous "Philosophical Sow". This Cathedral has the highest spire in France. We then walked through the streets admiring the half-timbered houses, some houses leaning, some windows crooked! We learned that for tax reasons houses were built with an overhanging construction because they were only taxed on the size of the house at street level. Unfortunately, the city caught on and they were outlawed after 1520. We then entered what was the fortified city of Rouen under a big astronomic clock. From there we walked through the old market square where fresh fruits, vegetables and meat were being sold. Beyond that was Joan of Arc Church fronted by the Cross of Rehabilitation erected after her exoneration. We headed back to the ship for lunch, and then we walked back into Rouen on our own. Unfortunately we didn't turn left when we should have, and wandered for hours outside of the old city. Eventually though we found the area around Joan of Arc. We bought scarves along the way, and two bottles of wine from a grocery store. Important: take the map provided at the reception desk for each city! We made it back in time for Tony's lecture on Normandy and a tour overview at 4:30. At 6:30 he continued with a Port Talk about the beaches of Normandy. All the Canadians on board were asked to be on Bus 3 because they would have a stop at Juno. We had a French dinner that evening complete with escargots and Beef Bourguignon. The other entrEe choices were mussels from Normandy and as always a vegetarian dish. If nothing appealed, every night there was also steak or chicken. In the lounge that night was a local entertainer Monsieur Philippe de Nemours who sang and played keyboard. The Normandy day starts early - we were to be on the buses at 8 am. After 1 ½ hour ride and one comfort stop, we were at Gold Beach where the British invaded. We could see the Mulberries (breakwaters) there that were towed in to form a harbor. Next stop was Arromanches for lunch. We ate at a table next to a stand - I had a ham & cheese (jambon and fromage) baguette and a cider. Money wasn't provided for this lunch, although other posters mentioned it was. Guess that changed. Then it was on to the American Cemetery which is a U.S. territory. At the entrance, we were each given a flower to lie at a grave of our choice. We walked through and picked our graves and then walked to the Memorial Chapel. Beyond it is the other half of the cemetery - so many young lives. We then walked along and at the bluff, saw where the soldiers who landed at Omaha Beach finally made their way up to land. Steep! From there I went to the Museum and saw the film and then went to the Wall of the Missing. Next stop was Omaha beach which is only 1/3 of the size it was on D-Day. I walked on the beach and filled three small bottles with sand. There is a beautiful steel sculpture there. The final stop was Pont du Hoc where the Texas Rangers climbed the steep cliffs to get the German gunners. You could see the bunkers and the bomb craters. It was suggested we go to the far viewing platform and notice the curve of the land. Apparently, the cliffs are deteriorating and falling into the sea. We drove directly back to the ship arriving at 6:30 to hot chocolate and warm face towels, and the ship sailed at 6:45 for Caudebec. The weather wasn't the usual cold and windy at the beaches, but beautifully warm with very little breeze. So although the hot chocolate was delicious, cold iced tea might have been better that day! At 7:00 Tony held a port talk in the lounge and at 7:30 dinner was served. I had the roasted lamb for dinner that night, although everything, including the vegetarian, was tempting. The desserts were wonderful, too! We had a good time in the lounge after dinner with Laszlo at the keyboard. Coaches left for Honfleur at 8:30 and it took about an hour. Interesting ride past thatched roofed houses with irises planted on top. After the walking tour that included Sainte-Catherine church we had a choice of staying there and going back by bus at 3:15. We opted to stay although it was the only misty, drizzly day. It's a charming town, often painted by the Impressionists, and still populated by many artists painting along the banks. We enjoyed just walking around. First we headed for the Eugene Boudin museum because everything closes from 12 - 2 there - I guess in most of the towns. Found a sidewalk cafe called Le Marin along the Vieux Bassin and fortuitously took a table against the restaurant. When the rain came we stayed dry! My friend had the best mussels she has ever had. They came in a big pot, and were in a cream sauce. I had a Croque Monsieur . By the way, your ticket to the Musee Eugene-Boudin also entitles you to go into the Clock Tower of Sainte-Catherine. We were back early enough to check out Notre Dame de Caudebec before the 6 pm sail-away to Vernon. After a drink of the day (White Russian) and Tony's port talk about Giverny, we went to dinner and were joined by two couples from Australia. More great choices - desserts: Normandy style apple tart with Calvados custard, bourbon vanilla ice cream and whipped cream OR Chocolate and Mocha ice cream with eggnog, caramelized walnuts and whipped cream. Decisions, decisions! Left for Giverny at 9 am Friday. Seems like the schedule changed, unfortunately, and instead of the Riverboat heading to Port of Mantes la Jolie where the Giverny tours would return for lunch onboard, the ship stayed in Vernon. That meant sailing to Mantes after lunch, the Versailles group meeting us there, no time to spend in Conflans-Ste-Honorine as indicated in the tour itinerary, and a very long sail to Paris, arriving too late to stay up to see the lights of the City. I loved seeing the small towns, and had really looked forward to time in Conflans. As it was, I got 30 minutes in Vernon - just time for a church visit and a little bit of shopping. But Giverny. . . what a beautiful place. We started in the water garden where the famous bridge over the lily pond is. Then walked to the gardens surrounding the house. The gardens were reconstructed from Monet's paintings, and with the advice of a gardener who was still alive when the renovation was being done. This was only done in the 1980's. After touring the house on our own we could spend an hour in the gardens, go back to the water garden, go to the gift shop, or walk up the street to the Impressionist Museum. If you make a left on the Rue de Monet outside the gift shop exit you will come to a cafe for a coffee, and a few gift shops. Further along is the Impressionist Museum which also has lovely gardens. You get a discount with the Monet House ticket, but I just enjoyed being among the flowers and the sunshine! Then it was back to the bus, and to Vernon and lunch onboard After the folks going to Versailles left at 1:30, we left Vernon for a lovely, long afternoon on the ship, spent mostly on the deck, with some commentary by Tony, until we reached the Port of Mantes la Jolie. We weren't permitted off the boat and just waited there for the buses to come in from Versailles. Then it was off for Paris and the Captain's farewell reception followed by the disembarkation briefing and port talk. Dinner was served at 7:00 pm and we had French entertainment with Jean-Louis and Marie in the Lounge. Everyone enjoyed them, and there was a lot of dancing! Saturday morning after breakfast the City Tour started around 9 am. We had two stops, one at the Place du Tracadero to view the Eiffel Tower, and the second at Jardin du Luxembourg a huge park with a lot of activity, children's playground, tennis courts, bocce courts, etc. It was also a rest stop. We saw a great deal of Paris from the bus and it was a good orientation for those who hadn't been before or were staying on for a few days. Tickets for the Musee d'Orsay were available at the reception desk of the ship, and in the interest of time, we bought them as well as metro tickets. The bus made one stop at the d'Orsay before going back to the ship for lunch. We had a quick bite at a little cafe by the museum, and then were able to skip the line and go right in the entrance for those with tickets. Well worth the 1 Euro surcharge. After an hour exploring mostly the Impressionist collection, we left and went over the nearby pedestrian bridge to the Right Bank. We walked through the Tuileries Garden another lovely park. Following Cruise Critic advice, we tried to find the Arc du Carrousel entrance to the Louvre, but no luck - maybe we should have tried it from the Rue de Rivoli. We did go downstairs and were under the pyramid. Following billet signs we bought our entrance tickets at the Virgin store, and paid a surcharge. But, still, we were pressed for time, so I guess it was worth not waiting on the line outside. Once inside, there are signs pointing the direction to see the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. Winged Victory is in front of you as you actually get into the museum. Confusing, but if you go in downstairs, look for the salon you want (I had the Rick Steve's map from the internet) and take that escalator. We spent an hour there, of course seeing a lot of art on our way to both masterpieces. From there we walked through Ile de la Cite having crossed a pedestrian bridge to get there, stopped at a cafe for a soda, and then came upon Notre Dame. The line looks long to get in, but it only takes 5 - 10 minutes and is free. After walking around inside, we walked around the back to see the buttresses and more gargoyles. We crossed the bridge to the Left Bank, and got Line C of the RER at the Musee d'Orsay stop in the direction of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. I hadn't noticed the flyer at reception giving very good instructions on using the Paris Metro to get to the River Baroness. It may not have been out in the morning. Do take their map of Paris which will be at reception in the morning. There were two optional excursions in the afternoon, one to the Louvre, and the second put together by Cruise Manager, Tony for a Seine Cruise. He arranged for a bus to take folks to the boat for a ride on the Seine past all the major sights. Tickets for the boat were available for 10 Euro, cash only for the boat. Since we were trying to see more of Paris, and particularly the d'Orsay I thought we'd buy the tickets later and use the RER or Metro to get there for a night cruise, but that didn't work out as I had worn my friend out running around Paris all afternoon! We did go on deck for the Eiffel Tower "show" at 9:00 pm. Overall this was one of the best trips I've ever been on in terms of itinerary, fellow passengers, tour leaders, Uniworld staff, and food. Tony confirmed all our flights for us, arranged for the transfers to the airport. We had early afternoon flights so our van left a 10:00 o'clock. Our bags had to be out by 8 am and we had to be out of the cabin by then. But we were free to stay aboard, use any public room, plus the deck, and of course eat breakfast. I'd recommend this cruise to anyone, and envy those 50 or so from our cruise that were on the Grand France tour and headed out Sunday morning for a cruise of Southern France. Maybe next time! Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
The company we chose was Uniworld - based on recommendations from friends and some special 'last minute' discounts for cruises starting in September. The 17-day cruise we eventually signed up for was on the "River ... Read More
The company we chose was Uniworld - based on recommendations from friends and some special 'last minute' discounts for cruises starting in September. The 17-day cruise we eventually signed up for was on the "River Princess" from Paris to Vienna, including 2 nights in a hotel in Paris at the start, the coach transfer from Paris to Trier where the 'river' part began, and the 15 nights on the 'boat' (this is the term Uniworld uses for its vessels, and I will do likewise). This boat can accommodate a maximum of 136 passengers. The cruise passed through four rivers - the Mosel, Rhine, Main and Danube, and one canal - the Main-Danube canal built as recently as 1992. In summary, we couldn't have asked for more! Uniworld claims to be a "boutique" operation, and while there is no ready definition of what this means, they really lived up to our expectations of personal service and catering to individual needs - which the big ocean cruise lines cannot possibly match - or even come close to. If you want to find out the details which led us to this conclusion, please read on. Staterooms: Definitely smaller than on an ocean cruiser, but all the basics were there and the quality of the beds, sheets, duvets and towels couldn't have been better. The toiletries provided were from L'Óccitane and the shower mixer was thermostatically controlled (a step up from the common hot/cold mixers which never seem to be able to maintain a constant temperature). There were five categories of staterooms starting from Cat 1 to Cat 5 and included 4 suites. All staterooms were the same size (except for the suites) and the main difference was deck level and the size of the window - ranging from a shoulder high narrow window on Cat 4 and 5, to a floor to ceiling picture window in Cat 1. We had a Cat 4 stateroom on the lowest deck and did not hear any engine noise or vibration, and hardly felt any movement. The only 'disturbance' came from fellow passengers having noisy conversations in the passage way! Facilities: The boat had excellent facilities including a laundry (you pay only for the detergent), a fitness centre with a sauna and 3 exercise machines (didn't seem to be used much, especially considering the amount of pastries consumed!), free bicycles for riding at each port, a well-equipped and reasonably priced shop, and 24-hour coffee and tea. Internet: The most popular service on the boat seemed to be the on-board internet. The charge was very reasonable - €20 for unlimited use over 14 days. Having signed up, you could use either one of the boat's two terminals or log-in with your laptop using WiFi. The WiFi was only available at the front of the ship and not from staterooms. This is probably the only service that could be improved - the speed of the internet connection was consistently slow and often unreliable. While being able to provide any internet at all on a moving vessel is commendable - considering the difficult terrain, frequent entry into locks, passing under bridges, and passage through some almost uninhabited stretches of river - there were times when even in the middle of cities, the internet was down. The boat seemed to rely on satellite links for the data connection; perhaps, a combination of 3G and satellite may bring about an improvement, since our GSM mobile phones always had a good signal. Extending WiFi coverage to all the cabins and improving the speed and reliability of internet will be a worthwhile investment for the company. Entertainment: The on-board musician Fredy provided excellent music in the evenings and the small dancing area was frequently occupied. He had an excellent repertoire from waltz, to rumba, to fast and furious disco and rock. On some 4 occasions a local musician came on board for a short performance. They were all good and gave Fredy a well earned break - and the passengers some variety. On one evening, I hasten to add, when the ship was docked for the night, the Captain assisted Fredy with some good Satchmo imitations. Excursions: At every city or town visited (including Paris) there was some kind of included tour - making a total of 15. Often it was a walking tour, sometimes a bus tour, and once a wine-tasting expedition. Each tour was allocated a specialist local expert guide - and all tours included the use of a Quietvox receiver for each participant - which meant that every word was heard. The guides, without exception, were all very knowledgeable, and the majority spoke good English. These 'íncluded' tours sometimes involved a fee, which Uniworld always paid. In addition to the included tours, Uniworld offered some 'optional' tours which had to be paid for. There was no pressure at all to join these and some passengers only did 2 or 3. We joined two of these optionals - and they were really fantastic value for money. For instance, there was a concert at the Kusalon, Vienna, on the last night which cost €49 each and this amount included return transport by coach, entry ticket to the concert, and a glass of wine during the intermission. The return coach journey back to the boat was diverted to include a mini Vienna-by-night tour to re-visit some of the city's main sights at night. To top it off, on return to the boat there was a lovely cup of hot goulash soup and a bread roll waiting! It was touches like this that made us very appreciative of Uniworld's policy of never cutting corners, and instead of adding many extra small but generous touches throughout the journey. Cruise Manager: We all know what a difference the experience, knowledge, dedication, and passion of the CM contributes to the experience. The CM on our cruise was Piet who not only excelled in all these departments but also had a cheeky sense of humour! He took it upon himself to be ever present on all the tours and was never impatient with the many questions and difficult situations that arose. For example, when a passenger developed a severe eye infection, he not only arranged for the passenger to be seen by a doctor and an eye specialist at the next port - but also went along to act as interpreter during the consultations. Whenever the boat traversed an area with some historical or other significance, he was always in the wheel-house giving a commentary. Meals: In the restaurant, Uniworld again proved they had every right to call themselves 'boutique'. The breakfast buffet had a choice which was equivalent to a 5-star hotel. And every day there was a made-to-order specialty - on one day it was my all time breakfast favourite - Eggs Benedict (If this was a specially planned manoeuvre to hook this particular traveler - they certainly succeeded!). Wine was included with dinner - and it wasn't just basic wines - it was always high quality - according to some of the wine connoisseurs on board (I am sadly not a wine drinker). Seating was open plan - which meant you often shared a table with complete strangers. And by midway, you had established some good friends from the USA, Australia and Canada. Tipping: We have never been fans of the ocean cruise liners' policy of debiting your onboard account a set amount for gratuities (Carnival claimed the daily rate was set with the help of Amex??) and you were free either to lower or to increase by visiting the Purser's Desk at the end of the cruise. The Uniworld policy is to suggest some daily rates and then leave it to individual guests how much they contributed - in cash, and in two envelopes - one to be shared by the whole crew and the other for the CM. These envelopes were dropped into a box at reception on the last day; the whole process being quite anonymous. This is by far a fairer method but would probably favour those who wanted to sneakily opt out and not partake in this gesture of appreciation for a job well done. While I have no idea what the final outcome was on our cruise, there was much evidence of passengers passing folded notes to frontline staff in all departments in the last 2 days of the journey. Without exception, every staff member we came across showed genuine concern and went out of their way to meet our needs. For example, when it became known I only liked ice cream for dessert - it simply appeared in front of me at every meal - irrespective of what exotic dessert was on the menu. Timing: Deciding on how much time to spend at each port, whether to visit one or two places each day, whether to sail at night or by day, and at what time to leave a port, are some of the tricky decisions a river cruise operator has to make. Uniworld seems to have mastered this well. For instance, those parts of the river with scenic stretches - with important castles, or the vineyards of the Wachau valley - were traversed during the day, and at the ports that had some good nightlife (e.g. beer halls in Rudesheim) departure times allowed plenty of time for late night revelers to get back on board (e.g. at Rudesheim, the boat left at 1 a.m. and not at the usual time of 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.). This is another example of Uniworld putting the passengers' needs as the first priority. While it is hard to compare ocean and river cruises, there is definitely huge advantages in being on a small boat with a small number of fellow passengers - and having the thrill of being in a different place every day. Read Less
Sail Date: September 2009
Uniworld has proven again that it runs a top notch cruise line. Even though the River Ambassador is the oldest ship in its fleet, the boat was in absolutely great condition. Everything was spotless from the cabins to the dining facility ... Read More
Uniworld has proven again that it runs a top notch cruise line. Even though the River Ambassador is the oldest ship in its fleet, the boat was in absolutely great condition. Everything was spotless from the cabins to the dining facility and lounge to the common areas. The crew is happy, helpful and proud to be members of the Uniworld team. Every interaction we had with any member of the crew was positive and friendly. Although the cabins are smaller than on the other Uniworld boats, they are well laid out and more than sufficient for this length of cruise. The bed was extremely comfortable and made/turned down twice a day. Bathroom amenities were high quality and plentiful. The meals on the boat were much better than the high expectations we had for them. The chef's were GREAT and funny. The dining room manager made sure that everything ran smoothly and our waiter (we tried to get the same one every day) was super. Food at every meal was plentiful and no one should go away hungry. Uniworld provides free wine at dinner and you didn't have to ask for a refill. As soon as your glass was 1/2 empty, it was refilled. There was a wide variety of passengers on the cruise with an average age in the mid - late 50's (I guess). It was a lively trip with a lot of new friends made. Check in and check out was very easy and totally transparent. When we arrived, our suitcases disappeared and reappeared in our cabins. At checkout, our suitcases were taken directly to our taxi that morning. No "put out your suitcases the night before departure." Our cruise manager was EVERYWHERE! He made sure everything ran smoothly and kept on top of all the off boat activities. Tour guides he arranged were very good, knowledgeable, and friendly. Anyone traveling with Marcus will be pleased with his service. I have to give a special commendation to the Captain and his navigation crew. The Rhine was at the lowest level it had been in 6 years. Other ships were putting passengers on buses to take them to ports, but our captain was able to safely get us to every port without problem. I can't say enough good things about the navigation staff's professionalism. Bottom line -- definitely take a Castles on the Rhine cruise on the River Ambassador. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2009
This was on Uniworld's River Ambassador "Castles Along the Rhine" cruise, September 27 to October 4, 2009. The itinerary was "up the river" from Amsterdam to Basel. I had Trafalgar/Uniworld book my flights to ... Read More
This was on Uniworld's River Ambassador "Castles Along the Rhine" cruise, September 27 to October 4, 2009. The itinerary was "up the river" from Amsterdam to Basel. I had Trafalgar/Uniworld book my flights to Amsterdam and handle my airport/boat transfers. Both were flawless. Cruise check in was very quick, no waiting. My bag was quickly carried to my cabin. Cabins were on two decks, first and second. All were window cabins with a common corridor down the center of the boat. Mine was on the first deck, one flight of stairs down from the reception area. The cabin was very clean, bright and cheerful, but small. Closet space was somewhat limited but sufficient. The bathroom was in very good condition, but the shower was small. All bed linens and bath towels were monogrammed with "uw," Uniworld's logo, giving a nice classy touch. Bath towels were thick but a little rough because fabric softener apparently was not used. Bathroom amenities featured quality body lotion and shampoo, both could be purchased in the gift shop. The bed was very comfortable. A flat screen TV was mounted on the wall at the end of the bed. I'm a single male senior citizen, and I was traveling alone. I chose this river cruise specifically because Uniworld had dropped their single supplement on many cruises to help fill their boats due to the bad worldwide economy. I think the maximum passengers on the boat is about 128. There were 103 on this cruise of which 21 were singles. I can imagine how many cabins would have been vacant without singles. The dining room was on the first deck at the front of the boat. The lounge and bar were on the second deck immediately above it. Breakfast and lunch were buffets. The breads were all baked on the ship, typically German and European types, and I found the whole grain loaves to be exceptional. At lunch there were two entrEe offerings plus a daily pasta. A dessert table often featured regional specialties, and a good selection of cheeses was offered as well. Dinner was served from 7 pm to 9 pm. There was only one seating, and it was open seating. You could sit with someone different every night, or sit with the same persons. This was a great way to meet and create friendships. Waiters were efficient and helpful. Red and white wines were always complimentary with dinner. All courses covered a spectrum of cuisines and were presented in creative ways. Dinner was usually preceded with a presentation of the next day's activities by the Program Director in the lounge. And dinner was followed by keyboard entertainment and dancing there, as well. On our second night in port at Strasbourg, France, we were treated on board to local talent of a very humorous accordionist and a very talented female vocalist, presenting predominately French music. Much was lively and fun. Outside the lounge entrance was a small coffee and beverage area open 24/7. Complimentary coffee, cappuccino, hot chocolate and several teas could be freshly brewed by the cup on demand. Usually fresh fruit was available, too. In the morning there were pastries and in the afternoon dessert pastries and small sandwiches. Two small tables with eight chairs provided a comfortable place for a relaxed snack or casual conversation. The top deck was open air with seating for viewing and relaxing. A roofed area with all glass sides and an open end was situated near the front just behind the bridge for protection from the weather. The bridge was glass on all sides, and one could view the activities of the captain and his assistants as they monitored radar of the river, river depth and traffic, and navigated the boat accordingly. The Rhine River was suffering from low water depth (9/2009), a two year problem from insufficient rainfall. Numerous river boats of other lines were stranded, unable to complete their voyages due to shallow water. But because of the unique design of Uniworld boat's underside, we were able to complete our journey from Amsterdam to Basel without a problem. Of interest to some is the fact that the boat passes through 14 locks between Amsterdam and Basel. At each port an included walking tour with a local guide was provided to orient passengers with city history, famous sites, etc. Detailed maps of the areas were provided. Uniworld also provides receiver sets and headphones for all passengers and a mike and transmitter for guides to use so everyone can clearly hear the guide's commentary, even if one lags behind the group taking photos. This is a nice feature, not always offered by other companies. At some ports optional tours were offered for purchase. The only optional tour I did was to Heidelberg with a visit to the castle ruins and included a set German lunch in town, plus free time to explore and shop. The tour was worth doing. NOTE: Climbing some of the inclines from bus parking to the castle can be a little challenging for some. On the morning we cruised through the Rhine castle region most everyone was on the top deck with their camera. Over 40 castles are along the river. At 10:30 am the deck was turned into a German party with oom-pha music courtesy of the resident keyboardist. The kitchen staff set up a buffet with German sausages, kraut, mustard, and freshly baked soft pretzels and beers. At Rudesheim an included tour transported us to Schloss Vollrads' centuries' old palace and winery. Wine production dates from 1211 AD. Their vineyards grow only Riesling grapes from which quality wines are produced. Only a limited amount is exported to the USA. A resident guide informed us of Schloss Vollrads' history and wine production, and treated us to three wine samplings as we toured various areas of the palace. Strasbourg was an interesting port. Bordering on the west bank of the Rhine in the Alsace province of France, it's in close proximity to the Black Forest region of Germany, on the east bank. Strasbourg has changed national ownership six times in history between Germany and France. We were here two days. On our arrival we had an included canal boat cruise around the city, and then a walking tour to the cathedral. We also had free time to shop. One could tell they were in France from the abundance of pastry shops and the beautiful pastries and breads in their windows. The following day we had a full day excursion via motor coach along the Alsatian wine road with 27 thousand acres of vineyards and several wineries. Grape harvest was in progress. We visited a small town having a wine harvest festival. One could smell grapes being crushed at the town's winery. Local organizations were selling local food specialties, pastries and "neu vin" (lightly fermented grape juice. The cafes were busy serving lunch to attendees on their outdoor terraces. In the afternoon we journeyed to Colmar for more historical sightseeing, and then joined up with our cruise boat. The following morning we woke up in Basel, Switzerland where we said our good-byes to our new friends and the Rhine. Ship personnel efficiently handled transfers via coach to airlines and railroads. In conclusion, Uniworld did a great job with service, room keeping, food and sightseeing. The program director was exceptional and very thorough, plus being a lot of fun. Ages of cruisers ranged from 40 and up. Because there are no elevators on this boat, I would not recommend it for handicapped cruisers. Read Less

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