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3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
Loved the Cruise,the ship and the itinerary. Liked the layout of this ship better then the others on the princess line, Food was good but Coffee still needs help.We used all Princess bookings. Let me just say I don't like to shop ... Read More
Loved the Cruise,the ship and the itinerary. Liked the layout of this ship better then the others on the princess line, Food was good but Coffee still needs help.We used all Princess bookings. Let me just say I don't like to shop high end so any shopping I was looking for was homegrown. We used all Princess bookings. Stayed at Grosvenor House London pre-cruise. Nice location but under new management and re-construction occurring. Rooms were lovely. Would we do this hotel again?-no. All transfers to and from the ship were handled great.We flew into Heathrow. Ship was awesome, we liked the Royal Princess ship better then the Carribbean princess. Better Layout of Public areas. Ports and Shore excursions- St Peters port was a tender,Highlights of Guernsey tour by the bus was boring. If the weather is good walk the town. Cobh- Train to Cork was good, shopping is really just a mall. Cobh has great pubs and music in the afternoon. Liverpool- Highly recommend North Wales Highlights tour -Chirk Castle tour was , my favorite. Beautiful Castle , great grounds , the 1/2 hour train ride was OK, but the little village you get time to shop in was adorable. Dublin- Glendalough tour was boring , had a better time in the city of Dublin in the pubs and window shopping. Greenook- nothing to do in this port, it is used for the Tattoo so don't bother wandering around. Tattoo was great fun-transportation and direction in and out of the venue from staff was great. invergordon- Great port town to wander, very friendly. We did Cawdor Castle tour which was just ok not great, Outside of castle was interesting but inside was to modern for a castle. I would go to inverness next time. South Queensferry- Tendered and good souvenir shops at the port. We loved the area of Edinburgh so much when walking to the tattoo we took the public shuttle back to the castle and walked the Royal mile. The public shuttle from South Queensferry, drops you off near Prince street in Edinburgh,which is the high end shopping district. You can walk to the castle within 15 minutes. This was our favorite town. It had everything, cute shops, pubs, cafes, and the buildings were spectacular. LeHavre- we took the Paris city drive and Seine River cruise tour. Tour did provided as offered but you really needed to walk the city more to appreciate. Bus seating was very tight. A boring 3 hour ride to and from Paris, a drive by the attractions and the river cruise was not worth our time. Although the lunch cruise was a lovely boat I would have wanted more time wandering the city. Would not recommend to see Paris this way. All things considered , great cruise. Food and entertainment better then on Princess cruises in the Caribbean region. and entertainment better then on Princess cruises in the Caribbean region. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: July 2014
BACKGROUND INFORMATION This was an unusual cruise – 8 nights away, but never getting more than 175 miles from the home port, with overnight stays at all three of the ports visited and spending a significant amount of time sailing up and ... Read More
BACKGROUND INFORMATION This was an unusual cruise – 8 nights away, but never getting more than 175 miles from the home port, with overnight stays at all three of the ports visited and spending a significant amount of time sailing up and down rivers on a sea-going ship. Our main reason for choosing it was that we have never visited Amsterdam, Antwerp or Rouen and thought that a travelling hotel would be a good way of seeing them, and it achieved our objectives very well indeed. We found it a bit odd that excursions from Antwerp to Brussels and from Rouen to Paris were featured quite strongly, when Brussels and Paris are so easy to get to from the UK by Eurostar, and Antwerp and Rouen are such worthwhile destinations in their own right, but we’re all different, aren’t we? SHIP INFORMATION Braemar is a modest ship. It lacks many of the attractions of larger and newer ships, but suits people who like a more relaxed, low-key cruising experience We had travelled on it before it was stretched, and found that very good use has been made of the extra 32 metres, including an additional swimming pool, a very attractive observation lounge and a pleasant new restaurant as well as several new cabins. Being an older, screw-driven ship, there is quite a bit of mechanical noise and vibration, especially on the lower decks aft. Some forward cabins are also uncomfortably close to the bow thruster units which can lead to early awakenings, so midships cabins may be advisable if you are sensitive to such things. Braemar is also not the steadiest of ships, so open-water cruises on it are best avoided by people prone to seasickness. Internally, furnishings are pleasing and interiors are light, bright and airy. Braemar does not have a proper theatre, though, and the main Neptune Lounge is far from ideal as a venue for shows, with inadequate tiering, poorly arranged seating and some columns restricting views of what is going on on the stage. Talking about tiering, the tiered stern is magnificent, fully accessible to all passengers rather than just to those with aft-facing balconies as on most modern cruise ships. There is also plenty of sunbathing space on the upper decks, a full wrap-round promenade deck and access to the tip of the bow for Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio impressions – just don’t stand on the rail to do them. EMBARKATION We parked our car on the pier at Dover, which was a very easy process with a short walk (or courtesy minibus ride) to the cruise terminal. The terminal does not have many facilities but the cafeteria is adequate and there is plenty of comfortable seating. Check-in was painless, with no noticeable queues, but embarkation did not start until 2pm which meant that most people had a significant wait in the departure lounge. ACTIVITIES There was only one “proper” sea day on this cruise, which limited the need to resort to activities as such. We normally go to series of talks, but only went to one talk on this cruise, which was all right but not outstanding, trying to cover eight centuries of Anglo-French history in one hour. A second day of cruising was spent navigating down the River Seine, which was delightfully scenic, so we had no need of organised activities. SERVICE Staff and crew were friendly and helpful. People who cruise regularly with Fred noticed cutbacks in staff, notably in the elimination of wine waiters, but we found the level of service in all areas to be at least adequate and often better than that. CABIN Although most cabins are small by modern standards, they do not seem cramped or claustrophobic. Ours only had portholes but was still light and airy. There is plenty of hanging space, but not much drawer or shelf space. Equipment is good, with a flat-screen television, a safe and an adequate supply of toiletries – oh, and the essential (for Brits) tea and coffee facilities. Everything worked, after we had tightened up light bulbs that had been shaken loose. The design of shower curtain made it very difficult to avoid flooding the bathroom when showering. There are no British-style sockets, so plug adapters are vital. DINING No for-fee speciality restaurants here, just the MDRs and the buffet restaurant and fish-and-chips-type meals from the open deck Marquee Bar in fine weather. We used the buffet for breakfast and lunch and our assigned MDR for dinner and were happy with the quality and choice in both locations. Our table companions disappeared off to the buffet for the Asian theme evening and pronounced it to be very good. There was a late-night chocoholics’ buffet on one evening, which looked good but not as lavish as we have seen on previous cruises. ENTERTAINMENT The song-and-dance performances by the Braemar Show Company were good, especially the singers who were definitely better than most in this kind of company. Other entertainment by hired-in performers was not brilliant, but the crew shows were excellent. PORTS OF CALL I will put more details into individual port reviews, but it was the itinerary that sold this cruise to us and we were not disappointed. We do not like the way that Fred describes times in port in advance publicity, just referring to early or late am or pm rather than giving times. This caught out several people who were expecting one and a half days in Rouen and elected to visit Paris on the first day in the expectation of a couple of hours in Rouen the next morning, but the “late am” departure turned out to be 10.15, too early for a look round the city when it is two miles from the cruise terminal. Our departures from Amsterdam and Antwerp were at 16.00 and 17.00 respectively, giving us almost two days in each of those cities. The cruise terminals in Amsterdam and Antwerp are close to the city centres and no shuttle buses were laid on, though in Amsterdam we resorted to a couple of short tram rides to get to the heart of the city because we knew we had a hard day’s walking ahead of us exploring the city’s canal rings. One of the canal bus routes stops very close to the cruise terminal. In Antwerp the ship docked within a few yards of the cathedral and the historic core of this fine city. In Rouen a shuttle bus service was provided for the first day, at a modest £5 for unlimited journeys. It was originally stated that it would finish at 7pm, but this was revised to 1am when the management were made aware of the late night son-et-lumiere at the cathedral. There were some major hiccups with the shuttle arrangements, but we were still glad we went to this fantastic free show. DISEMBARKATION We had a cabin on one of the lower decks and were travelling independently so we were some of the last to leave the ship, but we were still back at our car for 9am after a smooth disembarkation process. SUMMARY We enjoyed our cruise very much. Braemar has some shortcomings, but also some nice features that you don’t find on newer and larger ships, and made a perfectly adequate base for what was effectively three city breaks stuck together with no packing and unpacking to do between them.   Read Less
Sail Date: May 2014
We wanted to take my elderly mother on a river cruise as this was something she really wanted to do, so we booked with Viking for a jaunt down the Rhine. At the time of booking we specifically requested assistance at airports and received ... Read More
We wanted to take my elderly mother on a river cruise as this was something she really wanted to do, so we booked with Viking for a jaunt down the Rhine. At the time of booking we specifically requested assistance at airports and received confirmation that we would have suitable help (my mother needs a wheelchair where is a lot of walking involved). It wasn’t until the very end of the booking process that we discovered there was no lift in the ship. Luckily, my mother is able to cope with walking short distances. We were also very specific about my dietary requirements which are not hard to manage and require only a modicum of forethought to ensure my comfort and wellbeing. On arriving at Heathrow, we received no assistance and had to make our own way through with the wheelchair and hand baggage as best we could, which was very frustrating and made the journey more challenging. The same happened when we reached Basel - no assistance at all. We had to make our way through the airport with all of our luggage and my mother in her wheelchair! We were greeted with great enthusiasm by various Viking representatives, however it was only then that we were told we would have to be on a coach for another hour and a half as the water level was too high for the ship to actually reach Basel. They will have known this in advance and it would have been nice to have been told that there was a problem – email is quick and efficient and seems to work when they require payment! The ship was clean and the greeting was efficient and friendly. We were shown our rooms and settled in. We booked cabins on the lower deck, not realising the issues that we would face. We had assumed (based on the blurb) that we wouldn’t be in the cabins much and so didn’t really need a large window or balcony – how wrong we were. The ship travels mainly at night, and the engine noise was deafening, meaning that on many of the nights we had very little sleep and what we did have was disturbed and uncomfortable. This really put a downer on the trip as we had to manage ourselves and ensure my mother was OK. She struggled with all the steps, but seemed fine with negotiating the ship itself. The majority of the staff were very helpful and took tremendously good care of my mother. Especially when she got lost! Unfortunately, some of the plumbing was faulty and by the second day on board we had issues with the shower not draining and the bathroom floor being covered with water. The problem was “fixed”, but happened again the following day – this time there was so much water (some of it coming up from the drain) that it poured into the main room, soaking an area of carpet. Luckily for us there was a spare cabin across the corridor and we were able to move to a dry room. This matter was handled reasonably well, but was not very pleasant and gave cause for concern as we heard that other cabins had had similar problems, although not as severe as ours. In addition, after we moved to the other cabin, we found that our bed was not being made and the room wasn’t being cleaned. We raised this on several occasions over two-three days before the issue was properly dealt with. The food was generally good, the service was reasonable and the chef was a delightful man who kept coming out with freshly prepared goodies for everyone to try. However, no account was taken of my specific food allergy, and I had to keep mentioning it and asking about the ingredients in each dish. Some evenings I had very few options indeed. While on board we met some lovely people, one of whom is vegetarian. She had even more problems than I, as the majority of the meals were meat based, so she had to eat either pasta or salad at most of the evening meals. For the price we paid, this is simply unacceptable, yet no matter what we said, nothing was done to address these issues. My allergies were generally accommodated by simply omitting elements of meals, but I did have to regularly send meals back to be changed, which was annoying and unnecessary. Seating at all meals was haphazard as it was completely open, so sometimes we struggled to find three seats together, or even to be seated at the same table. Breakfast was very early and quite short. If the included excursion had an early departure (which many of them did) it was a bit of a bunfight to get to breakfast and get away in time. Again, the staff did their best to be helpful and friendly and they worked hard to get things done and keep people happy, so it was difficult to have to keep asking for things and not get them. One morning we asked for some tea, but it never arrived, and the staff all vanished into the mist. No idea what happened there. When we had to stay on the ship, on the days the ship was moving and during the evenings, apart from eating there was very little to do. We do not drink and although there was a (very capable) pianist in the bar area, it rapidly became monotonous spending time gazing out of the window with no other activity available. On one evening there was a bizarre dance competition, but other than that, not much. Most of the included excursions were quite short and involved a bit of a coach ride and it rapidly became clear that the included excursions were scheduled early to make room for the “optional” trips, which were clearly geared to getting more money out of the passengers. Most excursions were well organised and efficient, but there was such a lot of sitting around on coaches – granted these were comfortable and air-conditioned - that we eventually felt we were on the wrong trip. Although most of these excursions involved some walking, once back on the ship, we often felt very confined. We also had problems with my mother requiring a wheelchair. Unless my husband, who heroically pushed my mother around on every excursion, specifically asked for guidance (ie, “I can’t get the wheelchair up those steps, is there an alternative route?”) allowance was very seldom made for our specific issues. Of particular note was the Strasbourg excursion, where we kept being left behind. There was a photo opportunity which involved climbing up three flights of stairs, which of course we could not do. We found a wheelchair-friendly lift and managed to explain to the (very helpful) attendant (with the assistance of another passenger who spoke very good French) that we wanted to go up to see the view. No Viking personnel were on hand to assist us in any way. Another lady who walked with a stick was also having difficulty and she came with us in the lift. Once at the top, we stayed long enough to take some photos and gaze at the view, then came down again only to find that the party had moved on. At this point, my mother asked to use the nearby restroom, so we helped her into there and waited. The program director, whose prior demeanour had been rather jolly, came thundering in and told us with enormous impatience that we needed to keep up with the group. On explaining that my mother needed the loo, he became even grumpier and told us we would have to rely on the radios (used by the guides for the ongoing commentary) to find where everybody was, My husband pointed out that the range of the radios was quite short, which nearly resulted in an argument about the quality of the radios, until my husband pointed out he could still see the guide crossing a bridge and the audio commentary was already breaking up quite badly. The program director showed a distinct lack of consideration and from that point on we were acutely aware that his air of jollity was entirely artificial. He did not help us at all. However, in spite of his churlish conduct, we managed to catch up with the group. The guide seemed blissfully unaware that we had been missing. What would have happened if we hadn’t been able to catch up, I wonder? We paid for only one excursion and it was a nightmare. We were taken to the venue on a “choo-choo” train which was really a tractor. This was not pleasant over cobble stones!! The restaurant was noisy and although the promise was “a meal and a show”, it was clear that the show was just the resident band doing their thing. The meal was a fixed menu (not made clear before we signed up) and consisted mainly of things we could not or did not want to eat. The food was slopped down in front of us and when I pointed out I could not eat the food it was simply taken a way and an alternative provided. I was not asked what I wanted – none of us were. It was awful. The restaurant menu was available but not provided and it became clear later that we could have obtained a better meal from the same restaurant with a short walk into town – and for half the price! We felt utterly ripped off and misled and we were not alone. It was supposed to be a fun night out, but it was anything but fun! Ironically the following night’s meal was also a German food night, which was immeasurably better. If this had been the paid excursion, it would have been good value. Also, if we had known that the on-board German food night would be the following evening, we wouldn’t have wasted our money on the excursion. The TV commercials that persuaded us to sign up, depict the ships sailing along during the day with glorious views, but we had only one day like that, the rest of the time we travelled either early or late in the day, or at night and were docked during the day, so (as mentioned) sleeping was a problem. On departure, we again received no help at the airport at either end, although it was clear other (more mobile) passengers whom we had seen on the same ship, were being ferried from one area to another. Bearing in mind that the airport at Amsterdam is enormous, we walked for a long time with everything in tow and were tired and fed up by the time we reached the terminal. Not a great way to end a holiday. Unfortunately, we had previously booked a Christmas trip with Viking for just my husband and me at the end of this year. However on the strength of our holiday experience, we have cancelled. It will be of interest to others that Viking do not refund the deposit, even though we cancelled more than seven months out! Clearly they are only interested in making as much money as possible and are not interested in customer satisfaction. We will never travel with Viking again and, should we book another river cruise (which at this juncture is unlikely) we will go out of our way to ensure we receive the level of service we believed we had paid for with this company. Overall it was a disappointing and frustrating experience. We raised some of these issues when cancelling our Christmas trip, but Viking clearly do not care, so this review will be posted in as many places as possible as a warning to the unwary. If you have dietary issues, or need any help with your journey to or from the ship, do not travel with Viking as they will not keep their end of the bargain. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2014
Despite a glich at the airport, everything after that was wonderful!!! Unfortunately as I had expressly requested a wheelchair to collect me at the plane, the man at that door who had a wheelchair, had no identification as being from ... Read More
Despite a glich at the airport, everything after that was wonderful!!! Unfortunately as I had expressly requested a wheelchair to collect me at the plane, the man at that door who had a wheelchair, had no identification as being from Viking (was in blue cover alls) and made no acknowledgement of my Viking name tag hanging around my neck. It was for me, dragging my overhead bag behind me to try and locate the baggage claim area. Again, unfortunately, I was directed to the wrong set of baggage conveyor belt areas. I had to throw myself at the mercy of a KLM woman who made phone calls to find the correct area AND got me a wheelchair. Finally I joined with the Red-Jacketed Viking rep., my traveling companion and my luggage. We rushed over to the boat, however not in time for more than coffee and dessert....an entire day wasted. However, after all of that, the rest of the cruise was a pleasure. The meals, the service, the engine we never heard while cruising, the stateroom was very impressive. Although the weather was not always the best, the staff made the best of it and kept the good humor going. Special groups aimed for the somewhat slower were enormously helpful, as at the age of 71yrs. with bad knees and bad back, it was at times hard to keep up with the younger and healthier. We loved the entire (barring the airport fiasco) adventure and plan to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in May 2015 with you again. Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2014
The Viking River Cruise of the Douro that my wife and I took at the end of March did not call at a series of ports according to the planned “cruise”, and the only day of movement on the ship that we all experienced was the last day ... Read More
The Viking River Cruise of the Douro that my wife and I took at the end of March did not call at a series of ports according to the planned “cruise”, and the only day of movement on the ship that we all experienced was the last day when it was able to take advantage of the downstream current and cover over 100km in just over half a day. As happened last year, there was a high water problem on the Douro River. Our new ship, the Viking Hemming, overnighted in Porto, and on Monday there was a tour of the town (in the rain), and after lunch an optional excursion. This joined the ship again (it was a little late) at the deserted mooring of Bitetos. There is nothing in Bitetos except a car park and a cafe. We expected to set sail the next morning, but it was delayed a couple of hours and then later that day, and then indefinitely. The boat remained moored in Bitetos for three days. Regrettably Viking, who may or may not have known that this would happen, did not come clean, and kept promising that we would be moving soon, but that we were at the hands of the Port Authorities (not sure if they meant the river or the drink!). We were eventually offered excursions from Bitetos, but these were a diluted form of what we were expecting, and because of the location and the nature of the roads, necessitated long coach journeys. Whether or not it might have been a good idea to cut everyone’s losses and go back to Porto was never considered or offered. As passengers we were kept pretty much in the dark, being reassured that Viking was doing everything it could to assist passenger needs, but the one thing that was not happening was cruising. We spent 3 days with a great view of the mooring wall from our “state room”. It needs to be noted that the river destinations on the Douro are not the ‘inspiring’ ones promised by Viking literature. Some of the destinations, confirmed by the guidebooks, might only have one attraction, so a two hour journey to Pinhão on a coach was only to see the wonderful railway station with its decorated tile panels. One thing that Viking did was to get in visits to a series of vineyards such as the Quinta do Seixo where Sandeman comes from: this trip was not short of port-tasting opportunities. These helped provide some 'glowing' memories of the cruise, dulling some of the anger and disappointment. Eventually the ship moved (apparently at such short notice that one set of people who were passing the time walking the country roads were abandoned and were brought along subsequently by taxi) whilst most were on another coach trip, to the town of Regua. This is a main transport interchange, but the only thing really worth seeing is the Museum of the Douro. At last we could look out of our stateroom window, but that only lasted 6 hours, as another cruise boat of identical proportions, running the blockade, tied up alongside, and we were plunged into darkness. By this time it was clear that the cruise would never reach its final destination before coming back, and we were given poor choices for excursions on coaches. The choice we did not make was a four hour trip to Salamanca for a four hour stop (of which 1.5hrs was a lunch). Only 4 of 83 passengers chose to do that. So the good points were that the Viking Hemming is a brand new boat ( it was the maiden voyage) which is well kitted out with televisions and wifi in every room. The food was mostly good, being heavily influenced by local cuisine, and there was plenty of wine. In principle this could be a very interesting tour if it happened. The down side was that there was seemingly inadequate contingency planning, and the information given to passengers was of such poor quality that it resulted in excessive speculation and became the dominant topic of conversation of the trip. People started to compare disaster stories rather than enjoy the events. Whether or not Viking knew before departure that the trip would not be completed is debatable, but from hearsay, it seems that some of the crew knew that ships simply would not be moving that month. Towards the end of the trip all passengers received a standard letter indicating that there would be compensation from Viking. Even the Captain (who did not have a great command of English or public speaking) admitted that we had only had half a cruise. Tempers started to fray and a briefing meeting was impressed by some passengers who insisted, in strident tones, that we should have a 100% refund. Other passengers talked of failed river cruises where they had been given 75% off their next cruise. Before we had even completed our return to Porto, where the cruise had started, a letter had been sent out from Viking offices to our homes with a derisory offer of 25% of what we had paid (i.e. not the book price but the final negotiated price(+) against another cruise taken before the end of 2015. I hope this will be improved upon, as the company has done significant damage to its reputation, and came across as an organisation which we felt we might have difficulty in trusting. Whilst the ground part of the holiday worked fine in Lisbon, and we had a floating hotel, board and drink, and some of the excursions, this was not the holiday we signed up for. At the moment, subject to my further negotiation with Viking, it is difficult for me to feel that the company want to make me feel any better about this sad experience. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2013
During this review I will try to clarify some of the questions that have been asked on several Cruise Critic sites. On April 3rd we left England from a regional airport flying KLM to Amsterdam, we were met by a Scenic representative and ... Read More
During this review I will try to clarify some of the questions that have been asked on several Cruise Critic sites. On April 3rd we left England from a regional airport flying KLM to Amsterdam, we were met by a Scenic representative and waited a short time for another couple flying from another UK regional airport and we traveled to our ship in a very smart people carrier arriving in time for a warm welcome and time to meet our butler and room steward, we unpacked, changed and went to the welcome reception and an excellent glass of champagne. When traveling before with Scenic we had a Danube deck (top deck) cabin mid-ship this time we opted for a Rhine ( middle deck) deck cabin again mid-ship. Now the ship has been upgraded and the changes are all to the good, still clean uncluttered decor and furnishings plus the raise and lower screen on the balcony plus all ship butler service, the Scenic brochure is very clear on what is included and what is not, the people at the Scenic office are usually pretty good at answering your questions. We arrived in what has proved to be about the coldest spring on record. Our fellow passengers are mostly Australian. A few Canadians and British (last time it was equal numbers of Australians and Canadians then us Brits). Next day we opted for the Amsterdam canal trip with a short walking tour of Amsterdam which included tasting herring and a visit to a cheese shop to taste their on site made cheese. All walking tours were split into groups of which one was always for gentle walkers, our guide was excellent I don't think we had a duff one during the entire cruise some put more into their job than others for instance one distributed liquor chocolates on our way back to the ship. Thinking about it the whole trip kept coming up with little extras which were a surprise and unexpected, in fact by the end of the cruise at the port briefing each evening it became a standing joke ( these were carried out by our excellent cruise director Evonne and were not obligatory ) The food was excellent and we have eaten in some of the best restaurants in the country, the choice is very varied, we had a visit to the galley, how do they do it? Our chef was a young man from the former East Germany, nothing was to much effort he was very visible and always ready to talk I asked for and got the recipe for an excellent soup. In fact the food service was always of the best from breakfast in your cabin (Danube deck ) or early or late (River Cafe starboard of the lounge) or normal in the Crystal dinning room through lunch, what a choice! To dinner with the choice of eating in Portobello's, Italian you book this with the restaurant manager available depending on length of cruise once or twice, start with a glass of top class bubbly and continue with fine Italian wines. It is true that all but the very top of the range drinks are free that is all soft drinks, a good range of teas and coffees, all cabin mini bar drinks and bottles of water to good single malts, good gin and vodka labels plus very good wines at lunch and dinner and from the bar. The bar staff were very good and I mean very good they mixed their drinks well they cleared tables and took orders through the lounge and up on the to deck. Every day there was a different cocktail special plus a special martini on offer, my husband does enjoy a dry martini and the young man behind the bar got to know that he liked a very dry martini, it was almost waiting when he went to the bar, now that's service, my husband is sure it is the best martini he has ever had seeing as he has had them all over the globe that's saying something. The entire crew are so good it is difficult to know where to start, when required they all pitch in we were on Diamond we were supposed to have been on Pearl but her refit was not completed on time well obviously there was still some tweaking needed on Diamond (not that any of the passengers noticed) at one port while we were on a tour ashore, according to a few passengers who did not join the tour (you can do that) they changed all the beds and the cabin chairs plus other bits and pieces with all the crew even the hairdressers joining in. Wifi is free not easy to get on line sometimes one of the reasons evidently is so many passengers skipping etc. There are nifty little gadgets that are GPS enabled use them on your shore excursions or on board for info about the area you are traveling through we had a few hiccups but we got over them. Everyday there are maps and information sheets on the reception desk for the port and area you are visiting as well as the daily port briefing. Excursions there are so many to choose from sometimes it is difficult to decide all that we went on were very good. Bruges was so cold I was there as a teenager and I still recognised it its a timeless city, wonderful hot chocolate, we needed it, in the evening a display of Flemish dancing, straight out of an old master. The amazing Delta works what a fantastic example of modern engineering. Arnhem and the airborne museum followed by a visit to the airborne cemetery very moving. This evening a demonstration of Apple Strudel making. Tour of Venlo plus a towel folding demonstration it became quite interesting to return to our cabin to discover what towel animal or flower awaited us, tonight a disco with our ever present music man (who also joined the crew when required) some people let their hair down but it was not intrusive. Cruise down the Moselle, guided tour of Cochem and Reichsburg Castle then on to Bernkastel our tour choice was to travel to Luxembourg that was a bit of an eye opener. Cruise through the Rhine gorge to Rudesheim, onto a land train to the very interesting mechanical music museum. Next day Heidelberg we went to Hockenheim it was a Saturday and it was a motor bike day slight drizzle so interesting, to the museum up in the main stand on to the pits stand on the winners podium wave a pretend chequered flag finished off with watching the drift racing altogether a really good day ending with dinner, guided tour and concert at the Rastatt Palace, the dinner was a little long winded but the tour and especially the concert were very good. Our next choice was to the Alsace wine region I have never met such an enthusiastic wine grower and the wines we tasted were very nice indeed. Next stop the Black Forest the open air museum (a bit like Singleton in the UK) very interesting, lunch there and a demonstration of Black Forest cake making, the worlds largest cuckoo clock and the best water fall in Germany, busy day. Basel guided tour and Captains farewell dinner. Altogether a very good cruise of course there were one or two and I mean that few who were a bit annoying but the joy of cruising with Australians is that they don't hold back when people go beyond the pale it is also very interesting cruising with our commonwealth friends. We had several themed dinners, a couple of local music evenings plus a couple who played cow bells absolutely amazing and a zither player. We even met a couple who we met on our previous Scenic Cruise. All of this and more that I am sure I have left out without spending an extra penny, unless you want any laundry done. We will be cruising with Scenic again.Don't forget on our return from every excursion we were welcomed back on board by the Captain and Hotel Manager and offered a hot or cold drink and hot towel if the weather was warm, there was also hand sanitizer at strategic places around the ship. Happy cruising all. Read Less
10 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2012
When we looked into this cruise I looked for reviews, and found 3, so thought I would add another one, should people want to go into the wilds of Scotland. We started at Inverness train Station-where we met Brian. A very very helpful hotel ... Read More
When we looked into this cruise I looked for reviews, and found 3, so thought I would add another one, should people want to go into the wilds of Scotland. We started at Inverness train Station-where we met Brian. A very very helpful hotel manager. As the coach is not allowed to park near the train station, for the first of many occasions he had to think on his feet. He soon collected us all up though and we were on our way.The boat is small ,but perfectly formed. Our cabin-302 ,was right next to reception ,but we never heard any noise. The cabins are small-very small...but what surprised us was how every nook and cranny is utilised. the cabin ate up the contents of 2 large cases and their contents with ease. cases go under the beds-very large space here, and there is a large drawer, a double wardrobe, and 8 sets of drawers,plus a hidey hole in the dressing table. (not sure if the cabins lower down have this hidey hole) the bathroom is tiny tiny-think canal boat/caravan,with a small shower-with curtain, toilet, and small basin. Again there was storage here for toiletries-two large wire cages, more than enough for all of our things. The rest of the ship is equally very nice, and cosy, well decorated. On the top deck are 2 lounges ,with comfy seating....can you guess what secret the large curved seat in the front holds, most things have more than one use. The dining rooms holds everyone at one seating. you can sit where you like but for lunch and dinner everyone has all of their courses served at the same time. 1st course-that is cleared away, then 2nd course etc. the evening meal usually took up to 2hrs for this reason. All the food is fresh and was really really lovely....very well done. The cruise was down the Caledonian Canal and around some of the inner Hebrides at the end. Due to the weather (windy and wet) when we were in the open seas, Brian had to do a lot of thinking on his feet. We went everywhere we were supposed to, but maybe not in the order we should have done. I think if you consider doing one of these cruises ,and they involve the open sea you have to be prepared for a lot of changes...On one island we were about to disembark ,when it was decided we would not be staying there due to an approaching storm, and it appears running out of food-could not have that could we? We set of for more sheltered berthing, and somewhere where more fresh food could be purchased. I feel a word should also be put in here for the barman Gordon-by the 2nd night he knew what we drank and our cabin number. He was always very friendly, and it was not his fault that the two times the contents of the bar took a tumble in rough seas ,he was not around!!!! Would we go on here again.Yes we would-we saw some lovely lovely places that we would not otherwise have had the chance of seeing. The whole thing was most enjoyable. If anything lets things down I would say it is the bathrooms,but how can they alter them. If they cut down on the cabins, less people, so more expensive cruises... Ages on our cruise I would say low 50's upwards, with most at the higher end. You do need to be able to use stairs on this boat as they are quite steep. Go and learn some wonderful things and see some wonderful parts of Scotland Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2011
First of all, this was my very first river cruise experience. After studying for months different itineraries, river cruise lines, reviews, etc. I decided to go with Avalon for my first river cruise. It was better than expected. The ... Read More
First of all, this was my very first river cruise experience. After studying for months different itineraries, river cruise lines, reviews, etc. I decided to go with Avalon for my first river cruise. It was better than expected. The Avalon Panorama is a brand new river ship, it offers an interesting modern/elegant decor and ambiance. Mother nature even Embarkation process: it was easy and smooth. I spent 5 days in London, and then I flew to Basel and I did all the transfers on my own. Once I got to the ship, it seemed they were not expecting any passenger so early, but they were welcoming enough to smile and to help us with the luggage. A few seconds after, we got offered a glass of champagne. Reception Area: the lobby is simple, but elegant, the Christmas decorations were all over the ship. You were able to feel the Christmas Spirit right away, something kind of unusual to me. Stateroom: the stateroom was comfortable, quite and elegant, flowers and a water bottle on the desk, and a welcoming note laying on the bed. The size of the stateroom was appropriate, I would say bigger than expected. Bathroom: the bathroom was surprisingly comfortable and very well-designed, it reminded me to the elegant and spacious bathroom of the Azamara's Journey. I was not expecting so many nice amenities, including L'Occitane toiletries. Public Areas: the Panorama is an elegant ship, the interesting feature is that is quite modern at the same time. I've seen many pictures of different ships from various river cruise lines, but there is nothing similar to the Panorama, the carpet's colors, the curtains, the furniture and the artwork perfectly matched with the whole concept of the ship. The Library is nice, the lounge bar is bigger than expected. The elevator was not in service, it was decorated instead with Christmas presents and dolls. I guess that some people complained about it, as most fellow passengers were seniors. Food: the food was better than expected as well. Especially dinner, where you have a fair variety of main entrees, the food was quite good and they offer complimentary wine. Breakfast was abundant, different hot and cold choices, also you had complimentary champagne. Excursions: the excursions were excellent, the tour guides were knowledgeable and fun. The bust were brand new, very clean and in excellent conditions. The included excursions are one of the most attractive features of river cruising. The Christmas Markets are just magical and perfect. Service: I believe this is one of the strongest areas of the Avalon Panorama, even though the crew were very busy, they were friendly and most of the times had a smile on their faces. The Cruise Manager was very entertaining, he was not just friendly, but quite efficient at the time of recommending things to do, and when you needed to book an optional excursion at the last minute. Disembarkation: same process as the embarkation, very easy and smooth. I would definitely recommend the Avalon Panorama to my family and friends. River cruising is different from ocean cruising, it is a lot more low paced, enjoyable and you have the chance to meet nice people more in depth as most river ships have a capacity of 180 passengers or less. I definitely prefer river cruising to ocean/sea cruising. I would rate my overall experience as 9/10. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2011
Background: We are in our late 60's, and have 7 ocean cruises and now 3 river cruises behind us. Travel: We made our own fight arrangements through Air France, and flew out of Washington Dulles direct to Paris. The aircraft was an ... Read More
Background: We are in our late 60's, and have 7 ocean cruises and now 3 river cruises behind us. Travel: We made our own fight arrangements through Air France, and flew out of Washington Dulles direct to Paris. The aircraft was an Airbus 330/200, and was the most comfortable international flight I have taken. The planed was set up in a 2-4-2 seating configuration, and we snagged two outside seats in economy both ways. The leg room was the same as what we have experienced in United Economy Plus. We arrived the first day of the cruise and went directly to the boat, using a private transfer company for 55 Euros. The Ship: This was our second trip on the Viking Spirit, having made the Tulips and Windmill cruise in April 2007. She is in very good condition, and Viking has really improved since then. The bath products are excellent now, very similar to what you find on Holland America. Stateroom: We were in cabin 215, next to the stairs. Very quiet actually, with the exception of the sanitary pump that ran quite often during the evening, but then most cabin heard it, and we quickly became used to it. It only runs when a toilet is flushed so at night it seldom ran. Beds were very comfortable, and there is plenty of storage. Staff: Very good. Always smiling and will go out of their way to assist you. Dining: The food was very good to excellent. Dinner typically started around 7pm, and finished up between 8:30pm and 9:00pm. Contrarily to what we found on another river cruise line, the wine poured freely and you really didn't need to bring any aboard. The red wine was a decent Merlot, light and smooth. The white was a Chardonnay that those that drank it said was very good. Our glasses were never empty until dinner was over. If you sail on the spirit, try to get Peter as your waiter. Very, very good. Tours: The tours offered were good, however we personally do not like a lot of detail on a tour. Give us the basic description and move on. Our guides were obviously very knowledgeable, but standing in one place for 10-15 minutes listening to a complete history of what we were looking at is not our personal cup of tea. On a couple of the tours, we actually left and went off on our own to see some of the town as our time there was limited. Summary: Overall we had a fantastic time and met some really great people. We wound up at a 8 top table with three other couples and got along great. We really enjoyed their company and feel we made some really good friends. We do not think you will be disappointed if you take this cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: November 2011
For France's Finest Part 1 review go to Viking Spirit cruse reviews. After completing the first half of this VRC cruise we finished breakfast and said farewell to friends we had made during week one on the Viking Spirit. Each of ... Read More
For France's Finest Part 1 review go to Viking Spirit cruse reviews. After completing the first half of this VRC cruise we finished breakfast and said farewell to friends we had made during week one on the Viking Spirit. Each of them would have enjoyed week two on Viking Neptune. We were on the road around 9am and our bus stopped in Dijon for lunch (on our own). We opted to leave the herd of passengers with our guide and set out to find a quieter place and were not disappointed. We shared a salad, pizza, and a nice white wine at a small outdoor bistro-restaurant. Our bus left Dijon at least 30 minutes late when two fellow passengers didn't listen to the guide when she set the meeting place and time and then got lost while out on their own alone roaming around the town. This was not cool. Embarkation on Viking Neptune went well at the tie-up point in Chalon-sur-Soane around 4:30 with luggage getting to our cabin in a very reasonable amount of time. Cabins: Identical to Viking Spirit. Spacious, well equipped. Crew: The cruise director and her staff and our cabin attendant were all wonderful and friendly. We found the wait staff on one side of the ship to be better than the other so we tried to seat ourselves on the side with Gyorgy and Julio as often as we could. The hotel manager was fine but not nearly as friendly as Jochen (aka Joe) on the Viking Spirit. we were a bit disappointed with the Captain as he had a tough act to fellow from the Spirit. The Captain on Neptune was nowhere near as outgoing and perhaps the language issue had something to do with that. We rarely saw him outside of his obligatory appearances at functions. Dining: Chef Margele is incredibly talented and what a joy to see her passion for her work and enjoy the fruits of her labor. The dinners were a couple of steps above what we enjoyed on Viking Spirit. Each evening Chef Margele introduced her menu and that led to great expectations and we were not disappointed. Her soups and sauces were fantastic and once again each meal was presented in a beautiful manner. The "Provence local lunch" was magnificent! Itinerary: Once again we were very lucky with the weather and it was pleasant every day. The scenery along the rivers and in the towns was magnificent (except for the ever present "dog mines", "dog flowers", and "dog traps" where we needed to be extra careful during our walkabouts). We stopped at Beaune, Lyon, Vienne, Tournon, Viviers, Arles, and Avignon. Visits to two wine tastings and the Valdhrona chocolate shop were enjoyed immensely but our favorite spot had to be Avignon with its walled city, Palace of the Pope's, and the scenic (especially at night) "Broken Bridge". What a lovely town! Toward the end of our second week of vacation with VRC we felt as if we had been firehosed with medieval facts and architecture but it was still a fantstic experience. We would recommend this two week itinerary to anyone. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2011
We just arrived home, happy that we went again on this cruise...the 2nd time in 4 years. This is a beautiful scenic cruise. Lots of history, shopping, great included excursions. Our cruise manager Ramona was knowledgeable and helpful at ... Read More
We just arrived home, happy that we went again on this cruise...the 2nd time in 4 years. This is a beautiful scenic cruise. Lots of history, shopping, great included excursions. Our cruise manager Ramona was knowledgeable and helpful at all times. The crew were very helpful and polite. We are fairly well travelled when it comes to cruising and noticed that the atmosphere on the River Queen amongst the crew was very pleasant. This has to be attributed to the Captain, Hotel and Cruise Manager, and of course the Dining Room Manager. The meals were always excellent, thanks to our chef. Our cabin was wonderful. The River Queen has recently been renovated and very well done...we were on the original 4 years ago. We chose a suite this time around and were very happy that we did. The upgrade charge (saved with early booking) was worth every penny. The extra space is very nice, when you need some time alone. River ships are small compared to big ships, so a little space is good. There is a very good onboard pianist, but when they bring on the local talent that is fun! A nice addition since the refurbishing, are the great coffee table books and magazines in the lounge for you to enjoy. We were also impressed with our transfer to the airport. This time around we had a `transfer agent` that went with us on the bus, he made sure we had a luggage cart upon arrival and knew the check-in counter number for our flight. Right to the last minute Uniworld made sure we were looked after Read Less
Sail Date: August 2011
Uniworld drops the single supplement in Europe so i watch and wait. Awakwning jetlagged and grabbing a cappaccino in the wee hours while i wait for the sun to rise may sound wretched, but once i put my feet up on the window ledge and the ... Read More
Uniworld drops the single supplement in Europe so i watch and wait. Awakwning jetlagged and grabbing a cappaccino in the wee hours while i wait for the sun to rise may sound wretched, but once i put my feet up on the window ledge and the sunrise sends a myriad of pastels reflected into the river my mood changes. i feel rejuvinated as i watch the houses, castles and foliage float past my window. i reccommend spending extra for a big window or a french balcony so you can sit on the bed and enjoy the scenery pass your window. Uniworld's sevice is impeccable from the greeting as i enter the ship and the buffet lunch waiting to the cabin crew who keep my room spotless. After every tour i'm greeted w/ a lavender scented cloth and a cool or warm drink, depending on the weather and a smile. The hotel manager took one look at my last name and adressed me in fluent French. she was suprised i only spoke English and i was suprised (at the end of the cruise) that she escorted me to my taxi w/ my luggage. The French tour manager, however gave the most boring lecture i've ever been subjected to and her accent precluded answering questions. The cleaning gremlins are always polishing brass and cleaning windows, inside and out. The ship is spotless. Restaurant staff remember what i drink and decode the menu specials. As a diabetic i am grateful for the fresh food and healthy choices offered. I appreciate the chef creating French dishes that refect the region in which i travel. Every cruise ends w/ a chef's dinner and baked Alaska. The chef draws a fine line between creative and bizarre, but his dinner is never dull. Both food and sevice are A1 all the time.Reception staff are always cheerful whether lending me a scissors to keep up my travel journal or posting my mail back home. The night staff are friendly and we chat after i roam around searching for a book in the library. The Royale is one of the few ships that has a jacuzzi on deck -- a pleasant way to rejuvinate after a relaxing hour in a deck chair. I've come to expect the best from uniworld and i'm never disappointed. The Royale is one of the better ships in the line and the food in France is fabulous. Uniworld provides free pick up and drop off at the airport whether or not you book their airfare as long as your travel agent gives them the flight and times. The taxi fare from Arles to Marsailles airport is $150. I appreciate that courtesy. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2011
We opted to book the Burgundy & Provence river cruise (26 July - 3 Aug) on the Avalon Scenery through a travel agency since we were on a separate trip to Paris the week before with a corporate group. We took the ... Read More
We opted to book the Burgundy & Provence river cruise (26 July - 3 Aug) on the Avalon Scenery through a travel agency since we were on a separate trip to Paris the week before with a corporate group. We took the TVG (train) from Gare Lyon Paris on the morning of the 26th of July to Arles. The TVG was a smooth and quite ride with about four stops along the way. We arrived in Arle around 1:30 pm. The train station in Arles is about a 5 minute walk to where the Scenery was docked. Knowing that check-in wasn't until around 5:00 pm we headed for the ship anyway to see if we could unload our luggage. When we arrived at the ship, the receptionist told us we couldn't check-in, but was more than happy to hold our luggage. Two crew members went out to the dock and retrieved our luggage. From that moment on I knew the service on board the Scenery was going to be good. We headed to the old town in Arles for lunch for which there were numerous cafes to sit and relax. At about 4:30 we headed back to the ship and checked in. We had the ship to ourselves for about an hour before the buses bringing the remaining passengers in from Monaco. First thing we notice was how clean and well maintained the Scenery is. The second thing we notice and experienced throughout the cruise was the Staff. I can't say enough about the quality, friendliness, and professional service that we experienced during this cruise, from the receptionist, cruise director, to George the bartender (very important), to Indra, probably the best server we have ever experienced on any cruise. He knew that I enjoyed a beer with dinner, and from the first day on, I never had to ask. That evening during the welcome party we learned that the ship was only half full (bad for the crew, but good for us). We were all surprised at that announcement. I really expected a sold out cruise. FOOD - All I can say is that I didn't have a bad meal while visiting France, and that includes the Scenery. The food was good, not the greatest, but good. Breakfast and lunch was buffet, while dinner was a 5 course sit down. Wine and Beer flowed freely. We found the soups to be really good. LOUNGE - We normally closed the lounge up each evening with our new found Aussi friends. Avalon was smart in keeping the drink prices reasonable. You could get a beer and or wine for about 3.5 euro. Mix drinks would run around 7 euros. All could be charged to your room. CABIN - Our cabin was 202, about mid-ship, first cabin on the second deck (perfect spot). The cabin was small with a french balcony, but had plenty of storage both in the cabin and bathroom. Luggage fit easily under the bed. It had a flat screen TV, small frig, and ample lighting. Bed was very comfortable. ENTERTAINMENT - Each evening they had a piano player (Angel), but would have like to see them spin some records every now and then. Only so much piano music you can dance to. They also brought in the Gypsy Kings (what's left of them) - and they were good, to a French female cabaret singer who should retire. But she gave her best. The crew performed some funny skits one evening. OTHER AREAS - The outdoor upper deck was very spacious, but because of the numerous low bridges and locks, it seems the canopies and railings were down more than they were up. They also have a hot tub, which was nice on one of the cooler evenings. We only had about three good nights of warm weather with no winds where we could sit outside and really enjoy the cruising portion. PORTS OF CALL: We enjoyed all the complimentary walking tours Avalon provided. They lasted about 2 to 3 hours. They kept the groups small, great tour guides, and headsets. For those who had walking issues, they provided some transportation or a slower walking tour depending on the town, roads, slopes, etc. ARLES - We did the walking tour and enjoyed seeing the Roman ruins and the Old Town of Arles. We chose to take the Vincent Van Gogh tour. I was a little skeptical at first, but I must say I really enjoyed it. They bused you around to all the sites and areas that Van Gogh had painted, and then on to the Hospital where he had stayed. Very interesting tour and beautiful country side. AVIGNON - We took the walking tour of Avignon, with the majority of the tour dedicated to the Palace of the Popes. Beautiful Palace from the outside, but very bland inside. We opted for the Chateauneuf-du Pape wine tasting tour. Other than the country side being beautiful, most of us felt the tour was overpriced and a waste of time. They only visited one winery were we tasted a few wines, that really weren't that good. I didn't see anyone in our group buy any wine. Avalon should include a second winery for comparison sake. That evening was the tail end of a weeklong festival that highlighted street performers - Lots of Fun!! VIVIERS - Really small town with a really a cool Cathedral where we got a short organ concert. The Cathedral is set high amongst the city with some wonderful views of the countryside. TOURNON - Another small town with Roman ruins - really unique. We took the Chateau tour, which was the best. Not only was the Chateau beautiful, but the gardens within. We drove the country side stopping along the way to view numerous castles, chateaus, and little villages with historical churches. Great tour! LYON - We opted to sleep in that morning (late night at lounge) and do Lyon on our own. Lyon was awesome - only bad side was that we stopped there on a Sunday - NO SHOPPING!! However, they had the greatest fresh outdoor markets and an outdoor art market. Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is a must see. Set atop Fourviere Hill, you can take a tram to the cathedral for about 3 euros. Views are amazing. We got to the church during mass for which we stayed - nice treat. We found a great quite little cafe to have lunch. MACON - Cute little town, but guess what - all the stores were closed on Monday as well. I need to work in France!! CHALON-SUR-SAONE (Disembarkation) - Since we booked on our own, we had booked a train back to Paris for one night then our flight home. The receptionist ensured that we had a taxi waiting for us to take us to the Chalon train station. Again - service was outstanding. PROS - Entire Scenery Staff - The Best!! - Room Comfort - The Ship (clean and neat) - The passengers we met, ranging from 20 to 70+ years old. Majority were from Australia. CONS - Need more river cruising time - Schedule Lyon other than Sunday - Later dinner seating - Cruise Director long winded sometimes, which cut into our social time with other passengers at the lounge before dinner, which was too early. OVERALL - A wonderful trip, on a wonderful Ship the Avalon Scenery. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2011
Just returned from the Viking Neptune on a cruise from Avignon to Chalon - Portraits of Southern France - for seven days. Transfers from airport to ship were like clockwork, with no waiting. The cabin was very good, and they now ... Read More
Just returned from the Viking Neptune on a cruise from Avignon to Chalon - Portraits of Southern France - for seven days. Transfers from airport to ship were like clockwork, with no waiting. The cabin was very good, and they now have proper beds as opposed to pullman style beds we have had on some Viking boats previously. Cabin had a panoramic opening window, and was clean and well serviced twice a day. The included shore excursions were very good; half days to point out the city highlights, followed by some spare time to explore whatever you were interested in, but this was sometimes too short due to sailing schedules. Maybe this could have been extended as there were festivals on in several of the cities we visited and it would have been nice to be able to take in more of the local culture. Tours used radio headsets so no one missed out on the commentary and you could window shop or wander off but not lose touch...excellent! The local guides were excellent, and very knowledgeable. Food was excellent, with a wide variety of local dishes pertaining to the area of France we were visiting. The ship was excellent with entertainment on one evening, together with a couple of organised local evening strolls. Service generally was excellent, with staff being friendly, but still maintaining their professional attitude throughout. Having travelled with this cruise line on many occasions before, and having already booked next years Viking cruise, I would highly recommend this cruise line. A thoroughly good time; liked the ship; ports of call; most of the food; and the people on it. Booking direct with Viking results in a cruise consisting of mostly English; Americans; and Australians. If you want the variety of mixing with other nationalities, then you need to book your Viking cruise via one of the Tour operators who will charter boats directly from Viking. Probably the only down factor was the Sunday arrival/departure times which meant arriving late at the ship - around 6pm - and leaving for home early - around 8am. Don't know if it is possible, but an earlier arrival, and slightly later departure would have been preferable. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2011
This was our first river cruise out of 10 cruises. We love small cruise ships and wanted to see how this compares to ocean cruising. We made our own travel arrangements.The River Antoinette is beautifully decorated and has many amenities ... Read More
This was our first river cruise out of 10 cruises. We love small cruise ships and wanted to see how this compares to ocean cruising. We made our own travel arrangements.The River Antoinette is beautifully decorated and has many amenities for a small ship. The Dining Room and Lounge are bright and comfortable. Because of the weather we didn't spend a lot of time on the upper deck and never visited the Leopard Bar. We enjoyed the pool and fitness room. The staff was excellent and committed to customer service. I especially commend the cruise manager, the waiters and the room stewards. They made a nice cruise a great cruise. Low water levels on the Rhine created some problems, but they found alternatives to ensure it didn't impact our experience. We had a category 4 stateroom. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of storage available and the bathroom, while compact, was well laid out. The bed was very comfortable. BUT the stateroom was cramped. If we were both in the room, I had to climb over the bed to reach things. There were 2 chairs under the window leaving only a few inches of clearance to the bed - more of a nuisance than a sitting area. We couldn't fully open the bathroom door because of the bed. Breakfast and lunch buffets were excellent, with good variety and quality. However I feel the dinners could be improved. First, the food always arrived warm, never hot. We sat at different tables served by different waiters so it cannot be attributed to the wait staff. The quality and presentation of the food was good but I have another issue. Dinner selection was limited to 2 items per course, but on 3 nights the menu was set and we could only choose the main course. The 2 main course selections were usually fish and red meat, both of which are problems for me so I frequently ordered the alternative - broiled chicken. When I asked for a Caesar salad minus the anchovies the waiter told me "no alterations to menu items" (this was the first time I've heard "no" on a cruise). Other waiters were more accommodating and helpful. The 6th night a waiter showed me a special vegetarian menu. I wish I had known about it earlier.Shore activities were very good. The guides hired by Uniworld were excellent. Two of the activities (Marksburg Castle and the winery) used guides supplied by the facility and they were okay but not up to the quality of the other guides. The assisted listening devices worked very well and definitely made the tours more meaningful. For several ports, shuttle buses were supplied from the ship to the center of town giving us greater options to indulge individual interests after the organized tours. The ship entertainers were fine. We had already seen most of the movies shown in the theater (which included "The Sound of Music") so we didn't use that amenity. WIFI was routinely slow - and stopped whenever we entered a lock. They loaned laptop computers to passengers who didn't bring their own and one was always available. Disembarkation was very smooth. Even though it's a small ship, it still takes a lot of organization to get everyone off in a timely manner. We appreciated the arrangements made by the staff and their estimates of time allowances, taxi rates, etc. were accurate. In summary, we really enjoyed this cruise. We'll do a few things differently next time - upgrade the room and ask about alternative menus - but that next time will definitely be with Uniworld. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: June 2011
My first river cruise, but have traveled a lot with Tauck, so I had the Tauck high quality/service expectations going into it, and they were met. They have a quality crew partner in Scylla and to the casual observer they seemed to work ... Read More
My first river cruise, but have traveled a lot with Tauck, so I had the Tauck high quality/service expectations going into it, and they were met. They have a quality crew partner in Scylla and to the casual observer they seemed to work well together. I've only been on a few small-ship cruises, but felt that the cabin size and storage space were more than adequate (though I travel with only a 22" suitcase and a backpack). The shower was excellent--good water pressure and no sharp edges on which to bang elbows. Good ventilation, too; could wash out "smalls" in the morning and they'd be dry by the end of the day. Tour was Tauck first class. Nice shore excursions most days, always with the option of staying on the ship, and often with the option to either return to the ship for lunch after a morning tour, stay in town for lunch and return at around 3, or even to head back into town for a quick visit after lunch. Very accommodating and flexible, with their own coaches (with bathrooms) and great drivers. My Highlights: Trip to WWII cemetery in Luxembourg, Baden Baden--nice sized town but not overwhelming, the amazing vineyards along the Mosel, the smaller towns along the Mosel (Boppard, Cochem, Bernkastel), the fact that there were no add-on charges, excellent food with wine included at dinner. Quality of Vox sound box. Tips/Notes: Fun to eat at least one meal back in the Lido bar; smaller, more intimate, able to see a lot off the stern. This ship will be moving to France for cruises there starting in the fall, and this tour will get the newest ship in the fleet. Some of the Scylla crew will join the new ship, some go w/the Emerald Read Less
Sail Date: June 2011
This was my first cruise and I can honestly say that it was the best vacation I've ever had. For the first time I didn't know what day it was, and I didn't care. The cruise managed to be both hectic and relaxing at the same ... Read More
This was my first cruise and I can honestly say that it was the best vacation I've ever had. For the first time I didn't know what day it was, and I didn't care. The cruise managed to be both hectic and relaxing at the same time. Hectic, because there were lots of shore excursions (ranging from the thought-provoking World War II tour in Nuremberg to the wonderfully fun wine tasting in Austria), and relaxing because everything was beautifully planned and I didn't have to make any decisions. We sailed through regions I had not visited before, and it was fun to look at a different view from the cabin window every morning upon waking up. Sailing through the Rhine Gorge was breathtaking, and sailing into Budapest at night simply magical. One of the things that made the cruise so great was our fantastic and very professional staff. They were working very, very hard but yet managed to give me the impression that they were having fun, too. They truly made my cruise a very special, unforgettable experience. The program team (Kurt, Jana and Claudia) was especially memorable and entertaining, being the most visible part of the crew. They were consistently helpful, friendly and knowledgeable. Another highlight was being serenaded (we celebrated our wedding anniversary during the cruise) by the great trio of George, Pavel and Kurt. Wonderful! The ship was small, only 150 passengers, which meant that I got to know a lot of my fellow travelers, which was great for a first cruise. There were some unexpected glitches during the cruise. The wi-fi worked only sporadically (it was fixed eventually), but to me it meant that I had more time to admire the scenery and chat with the other passengers, and my husband had a real holiday because he was not able to check his work. Blessing in disguise. The only criteria for having a great holiday should be 'did I have a good time?' My answer to that is an enthusiastic 'YES, ABSOLUTELY!' It was a wrench to leave the ship at the end of the cruise, and I would have been perfectly happy to just stay on board and keep cruising. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2011
We arrived on our own air and stayed three days in Switzerland before the cruise. One day in Zurich where we took city tours and then took the train to the embarkation port of Basel where we stayed two nights. Basel was a wonderful ... Read More
We arrived on our own air and stayed three days in Switzerland before the cruise. One day in Zurich where we took city tours and then took the train to the embarkation port of Basel where we stayed two nights. Basel was a wonderful stop as the hotels provide free Tram and bus tickets for the duration. We then just hoped on and off trams seeing the wonderful city and visiting all the sights. On the day of embarkation we learned that the taxi would be quite expensive (for us Americans) so we elected to take the free tram. Since the cruise could only be boarded in late afternoon after 4, we scoped out the docking point by taking trams in the am and sighting along the river from the bridges until we saw the ship. Then in the afternoon after a late checkout we took a direct tram to the closest stop and walked our wheelie bags three blocks to the ship (we're senior citizens). Of course the cruise line would allow you to stow your luggage early so that you could go off touring the city all day before boarding. We chose the Internet 7 day option at a relatively cheap price (compared to hotels). Since it turned out to be very slow the ship kindly gave it to us for free at the end of the cruise whoopee!! It was hotter than expected so we did have the ship do some laundry for us. Like most river cruises the ports were all walkable directly from the ship. Many tours were included and as such the cruise did provide bus transportation for some that would have been a long walk. As always one port stood out as being the most memorable and that was Rudesheim where the streets were narrow enough in many places to be only suitable for walking. Absolutely the prettiest port of all. The music box museum was the hit of the total tour . The restaurants were so inevitable that some passengers even forgo eating on the ship and ate at one of the local restaurants (pick the ones with the most diners). Took the cable car to the top of the mountain for the views. Some even walked down through the vineyards The dining on the ship was average (exquisitely served) but nothing special. The free wine was really appreciated at diner. The entertainment at night was sparse but the local acts and comedy show were tops (2 out of 6 nights) This can certainly be improved on (more nights). I have been on other river cruises and bringing on local entertainment is something to look forward to. The end port for us was Amsterdam. The ship docked quite locally to the train station and the Movenpick hotel (easy walk even with wheelie baggage). Even the red light district was an easy walk from the ship if you know where the best window viewing is. If I had it to do over we would have passed up the ship booked travel to the airport in Amsterdam and taken the train which stops directly under the airport terminal. For a brief look at the cruise here's a link to a HD video I put up on U-tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGR75ewBhmY Read Less
Sail Date: May 2011
We have cruised a ton - mostly on SeaDream - but we didn't realize how spoiled we were until we traveled on the River Beatrice. We sort of got a taste upon arrival when we pulled up in our cab and 2 staff came to get our bags. No ... Read More
We have cruised a ton - mostly on SeaDream - but we didn't realize how spoiled we were until we traveled on the River Beatrice. We sort of got a taste upon arrival when we pulled up in our cab and 2 staff came to get our bags. No smiles from them or "welcome to the ship". The ship itself is lovely. No complaints there. We are 60 and 65 years old, but it seemed that most other passengers were much older than we are and mostly American. We were traveling with friends so were a party of 4. Dinner is supposed to be open seating between 7-9 pm. We had been in Europe for several weeks before the cruise and had been eating dinner between 8 and 8:30pm. So the 1st night we are enjoying a drink in the lounge about 8:15pm and the maitre d' came up to ask if we were eating dinner. He said that if we came down late he wasn't sure he could seat us together. The dining room is poorly laid out. Mostly long tables for 6-8 or round tables for 8. No one is organizing the seating when you arrive in the dining room so you have to wander around and find a place to sit. Since everyone on the ship appeared for dinner at 7pm - when we arrived in the dining room we were always joining other people half way through their dinner - so we felt pressured to eat at 7pm. Ship was pretty full I should point out. Can't imagine going on this cruise as a twosome as there are no tables for 2 and no room service or in room dining - so you would be dining with other people every night. Not as high a staff ratio as SeaDream, but staff was always working hard, but not as friendly as I would like. We felt very regimented and that never works for us. It wasn't what we expected and we would not do it again. Also the Danube River was surprisingly uninteresting compared to the Med cruises we have done. Maybe it was just the part we saw - Budapest to Passau. Best part of the cruise was the 1 day bike ride we did on our own along the Danube from Durnstein to Melk!! Also liked the self service washing machines (2) and dryers (2). Overall an average experience! Read Less
Sail Date: May 2011
We went on the Rhine Getaway from Amsterdam to Lucerne, with a 2-day post trip extension in Switzerland in May 2011. The vacation was booked as a birthday trip (I turned 40) and as a once-in-a-lifetime getaway since we hadn't done a ... Read More
We went on the Rhine Getaway from Amsterdam to Lucerne, with a 2-day post trip extension in Switzerland in May 2011. The vacation was booked as a birthday trip (I turned 40) and as a once-in-a-lifetime getaway since we hadn't done a lot of traveling over the past few years and we missed it. We've traveled in Europe and South America, but this was our first river cruise. Viking also arranged our air travel and transfers. With the cruise, air travel and 2-day extension, we dropped about 10k on this trip. To start, we received a lot of information before the cruise, with a cruise packet coming about 2 weeks prior containing our travel documents, itinerary and other general information. Our flight to Amsterdam was fine; however, upon leaving the plane we had to wait about 10 minutes for our bags, as they went to the wrong baggage claim. We then went to the first of two meeting points in the airport for our included transfer to the boat. No one from Viking was there. We decided to go to the second meeting point mentioned in our literature and again, no one from Viking was there. We waited for about 20 minutes and then my husband went back to the first spot while I stayed at the second. Still...no one. We waited another 20 minutes and then dug into our literature to find the "emergency" phone numbers. Well - the first number listed as an emergency contact was a disconnected number. Great! The second number was to Viking and we got a pre-recorded message that we should call back during Viking business hours. After spending another 20 minutes or so going from spot one to spot two and talking to everyone, a driver overheard us and said the Viking representative had been then earlier but was gone. He had a number and called, they dispatched a car for us personally. I was not impressed - they left us because we were 10 minutes late? We got to the boat (morning) and it was quite busy with activity, as the passengers from the last trip were still disembarking and getting rides to other destinations. We knew ahead of time that check-in wasn't until later in the day, so we dropped our bags off and went to explore Amsterdam. It did strike me that there is no security to get on and off the boat. I was a little concerned about leaving our bags there (even with luggage tags). Check-in was fine and we were provided with cookies, coffee and tea while waiting. Our cabin, on the lower deck, was small, but very clean and nicely laid out. Bed was pretty uncomfortable, but we weren't expecting much. We had a small porthole window, which was fine, as we knew we wouldn't spend much time in our room. Decor was fine, and I was provided with extra pillows and extra clothing hangers upon request. More specifics about different aspects of the cruise are listed below. THE SHIP The ship itself was nice, but nothing that screamed "luxury" to either of us, as the trip is marketed as a "luxury cruise" experience. All areas of the ship were clean and neat, and quite efficient in design since it is smaller than an ocean liner. The lobby area, before going out on daily excursions, was much too small to hold everyone just standing around waiting to leave, but otherwise it was not a big deal. There is a beverage station open 24 hours per day, where you can get coffee, tea or water. There are cookies set out after lunch. The dining areas were fine, and had open seating, which was a nice way to meet other cruisers. The beds are pretty uncomfortable and the air in our cabin was extremely dry. I thought I was coming down with a cold by day 3 as I woke up with a really sore throat and was very stuffed up. This lingered the rest of the trip until we got to Lucerne and off the boat, so I never really felt great. We would leave the ship for the day and I'd start feeling better, but as soon as I got to the cabin I would start feeling poorly again. THE EXCURSIONS We had quite a few excursions, and we also signed up for almost all the optional excursions. We were, overall, disappointed in these activities. They are great about keeping on schedule, and we were broken into multiple groups for the actual tours; but I wish they'd had a group for more active people. We knew we'd be the youngest on-board (40 and 36), but there were plenty of others on-board who were active and fit enough to handle faster-paced tours. They had one tour that was for slower folks, it would've been nice to've had one for faster people, too. The majority of the excursion destinations were disappointing. Every place we went, with only a few exceptions, was so packed with other tourists that we could barely get around and see anything. The Viking marketing materials explained things in such a way that we thought we'd have "back stage passes," if you will, to these beautiful castles and churches. That was not the case. The trip to Heidelburg Castle was exceptionally disappointing, as we walked through the grounds, waited in line to get in and saw one big area inside; only to get herded back to our bus and leave. It was an absolute zoo and the castle itself was not worth the trip there. Going to Rudesheim was a complete waste of time. It was a giant tourist trap, obviously built for and around tourists. The walk into town was about a mile from the boat and there was nothing worth seeing. We did take an optional excursion into town that evening for dinner and it was fun, but we had to pay extra, of course. The trip through the Black Forest was likely the worst part of the trip, as we took a long bus ride through the forest (without any stops along the way to enjoy the view) only to arrive at a tiny outpost that was, again, a giant tourist trap (it was a giant shopping village where you could buy cuckoo clocks, blown glass, etc., and that was it). My husband was looking forward to the black forest cake, as we were promised; however, it was not included and came from a cafeteria-type eatery under the shops. He got a piece, it was okay. We wanted to see something authentic, not something thrown together for tourists. We did enjoy some of the excursions; Marksburg Castle was amazing, Strasbourg & Colmar were wonderful and Cologne was interesting. There was a lot of freetime where we could wander around the towns and shop, eat, explore...and we did! But in the end, the excursions, the parts that we were MOST looking forward to, were just so-so. THE FOOD The food on the boat, in our opinion, was just okay. There were normally three options to choose from: a beef/pork option, a fish option and a vegetarian option. The fish dishes were pretty bland and I stopped eating them completely after having one dish where the tiny bones were not properly removed and I got one stuck in my throat. Yep, a fish bone got stuck in my throat. If you don't like any of the proteins offered, you can always get a chicken dish, which I ended up getting one night and it was pretty good. There were lots of fried foods and everything was made with heavy cream sauces. Desserts were okay, but nothing exceptional. My husband normally got a different option than me, and he thought the food was pretty bland, too. Perhaps that's because the cruise itself is skewed to a much older audience? Nothing was outright bad, but most things were pretty mediocre. Lunches and breakfasts were good, normally consisting of a buffet with some good options. Meals were always on time and the dining areas were always clean and efficient. THE STAFF It was pretty hit or miss with the staff; no one was outright rude or uncooperative, but some were definitely better than others. We were constantly asking for water, coffee and wine refills during meals, which was annoying. Our program directors were friendly, helpful and personable and we enjoyed our local tour guides, as well (though we heard varying stories amongst the other groups). Our room was cleaned twice per day and kept in great shape. Reception desk staff was also helpful and nice. OVERALL There were absolutely some positives about this trip; but for the amount of money we paid, we were not "WOWed" by the overall experience and I just can't recommend Viking to others. we're not overly picky people and we have traveled quite a bit -- but we expected a lot more for the money. What could make it better? More options for dinner, including more regional dishes and less bland food. Smaller excursion groups, more geared towards activity level. Less tourist-based excursion destinations. I know that can be tough in such a place, but some of the choices were outright wastes of time. Convert the totally unused "library" on the boat into a fitness room. Make your staff completely wow the customers (oh, and give them a salary rather than depending on travelers to pay them by tipping, isn't $10k enough to pay?). I didn't want to get waited on hand & foot, nor did we make many special requests, but we only felt that a couple of people went out of their way to make sure we had the trip of a lifetime. More on-board activities such as the German street-food lunch and the flammkuchen demonstration. The lectures were interesting, but the interactive activities were really fun and with so much regional flair, it would've been nice to see/do more with that while we were cruising. So that's what it boils down to for us -- we paid a ton of money and didn't feel we got a ton of a trip! Had I spent half of what I paid, I might not be so hard on Viking, but this wasn't chump-change for us. We enjoyed the time we spent together, and we enjoyed seeing a part of the world we hadn't seen before and we made some great friends on-board; but I wouldn't cruise with them again unless they drastically dropped their prices. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2011
Although this was our first river cruise we had already been on two small (less than 300 passengers) ships. Viking attracted our attention through their 2 for 1 pricing and discounted air fare. In actually, without those discounts the ... Read More
Although this was our first river cruise we had already been on two small (less than 300 passengers) ships. Viking attracted our attention through their 2 for 1 pricing and discounted air fare. In actually, without those discounts the cost would have been too high and I am not sure would have provided value for the money. That said, using their discount made for a trip of a lifetime. The ship: This very attractive river boat uses every inch of available space on board to the advantage of the customer. It has a lovely dining room that holds all the passengers at once and a large lounge that also could accommodate all the passengers. These are basically the only two public areas and only the lounge is open all day. There is a very small library and lounge section as well. There is ample outside seating on the main level and a beautiful roof area that never seemed crowded even on warm, sunny days. One of the real adventures is watching the ship go through the locks to raise the boat to the next level. Many passengers would step outside or go above to watch the captain perform these maneuvers that left only inches on either side of the ship.The staterooms are on several levels with only the A & B cabins having windows that opened. Although it was nice to get fresh air I think if only the other cabins were available I would take them as well. One of the quirks of this river cruise was when we had to share docking space with another ship. Another ship docks parallel to your ship and it passengers walk across your ship's lobby to get on land. This happened at three ports and the result is that the other ship effectively blocks light from the state room as the ships are merely feet apart. I know that there is nothing that can be done as I guess docking space in some of these little towns is at a premium but it created a dark stateroom. The room itself is small but well organized, the bathroom and shower as small as most cruise ships. There was, however, plenty of storage so overall, it was fine. The housekeeping crew was less noticeable than on other cruises but they did a better than average job of cleaning and neatening.Food is always of interest to cruisers and on this ship meals, snacks, etc. tended to break up the days when we were sailing through the magnificent countryside. it seems there was always coffee and buns, etc. available very early in the morning. Breakfast in the dining room was truly terrific, a great buffet with wonderful fruits, meats and cheeses along with typical breakfast fare but many folks choose to order eggs or other breakfast hot items from the waiters. It should be noted that folks sat at different tables each morning and usually at night so there was no established personal waiter as there is on large cruise ships. So, we all got to know the entire wonderfully professional waiters of the dining room. Each and every one of them was tremendous. Although the tipping procedure of the boat was to split the tips among all the crew, many diners were tipping the waiters separately as well and they were worth their weight in gold. They made each meal a delight by their professionalism. Lunch was either in the lounge (a really nice different buffet) every day or in the dining room.Lunches and dinner were limited menus but always interesting. Also, you could always order salmon, steak or chicken if you were not pleased by the entree choices. The food was on a very high quality and served in European portions which was perfect. Complimentary wine was served and many diners lingered over the cheese course with wine and the staff never made us feel uncomfortable. By the way, the head chief, Magaley, is the star of the fleet.The rest of the staff members were just as terrific as the wait staff with the cruise director being PHENOMENAL. She and her two assistants are always available to help and organize and the organization was also of the very highest level. They have this cruise down to a science. If a passenger is unhappy it has to be the passenger's fault for not seeking out help from the cruise director's desk. I watched her help cruisers resolve issues with phone, travel agents, car companies, etc and always with style and grace.The ports and excursions are what make this cruise truly special. The guides who all spoke perfect English and used a sound system were of the highest level. Even though five groups might go out, the passengers all seemed to think they had an excellent experience. The small towns are truly magical and the larger cities are wonderful as well. The planning and execution of the many excursions were flawless taking every opportunity to make the passengers happy and comfortable.Embarkation and disembarkation were a breeze with EVERYONE, including the captain, helping! They use an old fashioned system of handing in your room key when leaving for excursions or just to go ashore that sometimes created a little logjam but it was not objectionable to me as I knew that no tours would be started until everyone was accounted for. I am sure I am forgetting some very important things but suffice to say, this is wonderful, experience for anyone interested in provincial French life. None of the ports were a disappointment but Lyon was a particular favorite. I wish we had stayed in this, the 2nd largest city in France, longer and had more opportunities to eat ashore. Note: The food is so good on the ship that most people went back for lunch but in hindsight I wish I had eaten in a little cafe or bistro instead just for the experience.Arles was also really terrific as was the final port, Chalon sur Saone. All the little towns were charming with maybe, Beune being the most interesting. But, as I have said earlier, each port was wonderful. Note to all Americans -- any attempt to speak French was met with kindness and enthusiasm by the French. Carry a phrase book, extend yourself and the French will extend themselves. To a person, every attempt in communicating in their language brought a genuine smile.We took the extension to Paris as did almost 20 others -- great! They got you from the ship to your hotel in style with a wonderful stop along the way in Auxerre. The hotel is a four star hotel and they have a representative there to help. If you stay there make sure you avail yourself of the complimentary breakfast. As can be seen, Viking doesn't leave too much to chance. Right to our 5:30 AM departure, Viking showed great concern for our comfort.Any concerns or criticisms are of a very minor nature, i. e. the ship did have wifi but it was not very reliable (they are working on it), the double docking of the boats that created dark staterooms.All in all, they said they only had 37 crew members so I really am amazed that they can perform as such a high level with such a small crew. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: April 2011
Had a five day cruise on LotG in April last year, from Inverness to Oban. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and the Highlands of Scotland were looking their absolute best. We travelled to Inverness by train, and were met at ... Read More
Had a five day cruise on LotG in April last year, from Inverness to Oban. We were incredibly lucky with the weather, and the Highlands of Scotland were looking their absolute best. We travelled to Inverness by train, and were met at the station by a coach which transferred us to the ship. (The same coach and driver were to follow us and take us on excursions at the various stops over the next few days.) On arrival at the ship we were met by Brian, the cruise director, purser, Maitre d', and just about everything else. The ship is small, holding just 54 passengers, but is the maximum size that can fit through the locks in the Caledonian Canal. The main public room is the combined lounge and bar on the upper deck, with large windows to view the passing scenery. The dining room is one deck below. Tea and excellent coffee are freely available in the lounge. Open deck space is plentiful for the number of passengers. Meals are single sitting at a set time, and you are free to choose your table companions in tables for four or six. The food is excellent, using often local produce. Beware, the waiter will offer to pour you glasses of wine, but each glass is recorded and added to your bar bill (though not extortionate). We were in a category 3 cabin (the most expensive) and it was not large by cruise ship standards, though perfectly adequate for a short cruise. The beds were very comfortable. The most interesting bit was the passage through the Caledonian Canal, and in good weather this is simply exquisite. There are several flights of locks to pass through, and this adds to the interest. Excursions were arranged to various places of interest on the trip, such as Glenfinnan, Duart and Torosay Castles, and these were included in the price of the cruise. Brian was always on hand to answer any questions, and to assist with any problems. On our cruise we found that most people were early bedders, and my wife and I often found we were the last in the bar. Overall we found it an excellent experience, not super-luxurious but very comfortable and enjoyable. The crew went about their duties in an unobtrusive manner, though it was possible to chat to the captain while he was maneuvering the ship in the locks. Did I mention Brian? Omni-present, very affable and helpful, he was the public face of the ship, and greatly contributed to the success of the cruise. This is not for people who want glitzy ships with climbing walls, skating rinks and 4000 other passengers, but for a low key and intimate experience I would thoroughly recommend it. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
Pre-Cruise: Munich: With Munich only a one hour train ride away from Nuremberg, it was the obvious choice for our pre-cruise City. Christmas Market: Munich has several markets that blend together in the Marienplatz. We also found a ... Read More
Pre-Cruise: Munich: With Munich only a one hour train ride away from Nuremberg, it was the obvious choice for our pre-cruise City. Christmas Market: Munich has several markets that blend together in the Marienplatz. We also found a nice one near our Hotel at Weissenburgerplatz. The Munich Christmas Markets seemed to have the right mix of glitz, crafts, and coziness. It's sad to say, since it wasn't on the itinerary, but we probably liked Munich's Christmas market better than those on the Cruise. There is also a small Christmas Market at the Munich Airport. A lot of passenger's we later met on the Cruise also did a pre-cruise in Munich. We took the train from Munich to the Nuremberg Train Station, hopped on the U-Bahn to the Airport, and picked up the Uniworld bus for the transfer. Odd that Uniworld train station transfers were available for disembarking, but not for transfers to the Boat. The Boat Public Areas: Small but cozy. The River Duchess was decorated for Christmas and holiday cookies were available in each public room. The central atrium has the main desk, Cruise Manager desk, and sliding glass doors on either side for those wishing to take a picture or engage their smoking habit. The Cruise desk had maps of the each city available the night before. The exercise room had two treadmills and two elliptical machines. The internet was slow to non-existent on the two computers in the Library so both the internet and wi-fi was free for the entire cruise. There were some shows in the Lounge provided by local talent. The sun deck had wind protection, but due to the cold was rarely visited until the Rhine Valley. The passengers were almost all Americans with a few from England, Australia, and the Republic of Texas. Room: About average for a Cruise ship with a larger than normal shower. The bathroom was elegant with soap, body wash, conditioner, shampoo, plus complimentary vanity kit, Emory boards, shower caps, show polish kit, and sewing kit. Many fellow passenger mentioned that regardless of room location both the room floors and bathrooms were cold. Room noise was noticeable whenever going through the 41 locks on this voyage. Plenty of hangars in the closets. Food: A little above average. Breakfast (7:00am-9:00am) was the same every morning. A hot bar with scrambled eggs, bacon (plus crispy bacon), pancakes, sausage; cold cereal, yogurt, and fruit; breads; a custom Omelet/egg station, plus a "specialty" item-of-the-day. Lunch (1:00pm-2:30pm) was better than average, although there were less options then larger Cruise ships. Same set-up as at breakfast, with two hot courses; bread and salad areas, and carving/specialty station. Dinner (7:00pm-9:00pm) was open seating. 4-5 courses. Beer (Beck's) and wine (both red and white) was free at dinner and quickly refilled. Except for the two Captain's dinners, there were always three choices of a main dish: one meat, one fish and one vegetarian. There was always steak, chicken or salmon if none of the main courses suited you. Since this was the only option for dinner, it became my least favorite part of the cruise. If you are tired from a long day in port, you are not always eager to sit down for a two hour formal dinner. A "light dinner" option such as was available for breakfast and lunch would have been nice. The open seating reminded me of High School with everyone scrambling for seats and table pairings until friends were made and favorite waiters were discovered. Desserts and the Pastries provided during tea time were among the best I have had on a cruise in both variety and quality. Staff: The staff was equal to any 5-star resort. This was a welcome change from the diminishing service standards found lately on most large Cruise ships. The Ship's Crew was primarily Dutch, with the Hotel/Wait staff mostly from Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. Mirella, the Cruise manager, was a joy and seemed to be everywhere including on the tours. Check-in: Quick and painless. Probably faster than many Hotels I've stayed at. Upon leaving the bus, ship's crewman were available to take our bags to the ship, (which was 12 feet away). Walking up the short gangplank takes you straight to the check-in desk. Two minutes later, one of the cabin attendants (all lined up smartly on the steps) took our bags to the room. A personal note: I always arrive at least a day early and take the opportunity for a pre-cruise tour. On the first day of this Cruise, all flights from Frankfurt were canceled due to snow, and 35 passengers straggled to the ship over the next two days, most without their bags. As of day 5, at least two parties still hadn't received their bags. Scheduling your arrival on the day of departure and risk missing your ship or ruining your vacation is not an itinerary I would ever recommend. Nuremberg: Docking location: About a 20 minute drive from town at the Nuremberg Port. Bus tour and pickup: Bus pickup was next to the boat. The day started with a 90 minute bus tour at 9:00am, with a 10 minute stop at the Nazi Rally grounds and a 30 minute stop at Nuremberg Castle (Kaiserburg), ending at the Christmas Market. With few exceptions the tour buses ALWAYS left on time, as did the boat. This was not a cruise for those that amble out a few minutes late expecting the buses or boat to wait. Christmas Market: The main market is in front of the Cathedral on the Main Square. However, there were stands spread out along several connecting streets. The buses picked us up two blocks from the "Beautiful Fountain" and the "Nuremberg Ring". For those interested in returning to the ship for lunch, buses picked up at 12:30 with hourly returns to the market area. The Nuremberg Christmas Market is famous for the Lebkuchen (gingerbread). There was "Nuremberg Gingerbread" available at several of the subsequent markets, but by the time we left Bavaria it was getting hard to find. Prices here were cheaper than average so if something catches your eye, don't expect a significantly better price at other markets. There was no x-ray or security when returning to the boat. The only requirement upon returning was to drop off your boarding card. Bamberg: (half day) Docking location: In a light industrial area, with a 5 minute walk to the bus pickup. Bus tour and pickup: 9:00am bus pickup and about 15 minutes to town. We met our guides in town and followed them through a 90 minute walking tour of Bamberg, the Town Hall, and the Kaiserdom. Since this was a half day, with the bus leaving at 12:30, I could have passed on the tour, which left us less than two hours to explore the Christmas Market and town. Christmas Market: The Christmas Market was smaller but nice, with a mix of crafts and typical commercial items. There was a higher percentage of craft items here and for a better price than I found elsewhere. The Schlenkerla Brewery, famous for its smoked beer, was a nice stop for those looking for a real German beer Hall. They literally rolled out the wooden beer barrels into the beer hall when it was time to change the keg. Rothenburg: Docking location: Docked in Wurzburg with a nice view of the Marienberg Citadel. There was a Multiplex theater next to the ship for anyone that felt the need to go for a Movie after dinner. Bus Tour and Pickup: 9:00am departure. Short walk to the bus pickup and about a 45 minute drive partly on the A-7 Autobahn to Rothenburg. The bus parked outside the city walls, where we met our guides for a 45 minute tour of the City. Pickup was 4:30pm with an hour drive back. Christmas Market: Rothenburg is a walled City with good shopping and a small Christmas Market. The Meter-long Hot Dogs were a favorite of many here, as well as the all-year-long Christmas shops like Käthe Wohlfahrt. Wurzburg: (Half Day) Docking location: Same as Rothenburg. Bus Tour and Pickup: 9:00 departure. The buses dropped us off downtown right in front of the Wurzburg Residenz and we met our guides for a 45 minute tour of the Palace followed by a guided walk to the Main Square and Christmas Market. The Residenz was worthwhile, but once again, it gave us less than two hours to explore the town and Markets. Christmas Market: A nice but not spectacular Market with about average prices. Wertheim: (Half Day) Docking location: Right in town along the River. Bus Tour and Pickup: None. Some Passengers left the Boat early since we were docked overnight and everything was right across the street. Christmas Market: None. It wouldn't open until Dec 12th. This was a Sunday, so very few shops were open. The Fortress could be walked to from town and gave a great opportunity for pictures from the walls. This was a nice town and it's unfortunate it was a Sunday. The older part of town was easily walkable from the boat. Luckily the bakeries and bars were open before our 1:00pm departure! Frankfurt/Heidelberg: Docking location: Next to the Lower Main bridge Bus Tour and Pickup: We opted for the Heidelberg tour for 43 Euros pp. The buses picked up at the Boat and left promptly at 8:30am for the 60 minute drive to Heidelberg. The guide narrated a quick tour of Frankfurt as the bus made its way to the Autobahn. In Heidelberg we began with a 45 minute tour of the Castle and then the bus dropped us off downtown near the Tourist Office. The bus back left at 4:30pm and arrived at the ship at 5:30pm. Christmas Market (Heidelberg) There were some small markets in some of the squares, but nothing memorable. The market at Karlsplatz had an ice skating rink with a few stalls and a view of the Castle. The pedestrian shopping street had more to offer for shoppers. The town itself was the main attraction. Christmas Market (Frankfurt): The Christmas Market at Römerplatz was 15 minute walk from the ship. If the previous Christmas Markets resembled a County Fair, Frankfurt's' resembled Las Vegas with lights, rides, and what seemed like a 50/50 mix of food stalls to craft vendors. It was also packed shoulder-to-shoulder with locals (Frankfurters?) We never regretted skipping dinner on the boat and eating here. There were street performers, Carousels, and plenty to see and do. Prices in the stalls were slightly higher typical of a large city, but there were no special items here that we hadn't seen elsewhere. Rudesheim: (Half Day) Docking location: In town about a 5 minute walk from the Christmas Market and Shops. Bus Tour and Pickup: No bus. We took the "mini-train" to the Musical Museum for an hour tour of antique self-playing musical machines. Christmas Market: Rudesheim is a tourist town and the shops near the boat were a good place for cheaper souvenirs. There was nothing spectacular about the Christmas market which wound around downtown with additional stalls along the edge of town near the river. Some of the stalls substituted Rudesheim coffee for Gluhwein. After leaving at 1:00pm we cruised along the Rhine River Valley. The Castles appeared quickly on both the left and right as soon as we shoved off. These would be worth seeing again during the summer. Unfortunately it was dark after we passed Lorelei Rock and we missed several of the remaining Castles, Koblenz, and the former location of the Remagan bridge. Cologne: Docking location: On the other side of the river from the Chocolate Museum, although the provided City map listed alternate docking locations nearer town. Bus Tour and Pickup: Buses picked up at three different locations while we were here, but all were no more than 10 minutes from the boat. Bus transfer was about 15 minutes, with a drop off next to the Tourism office, which is two blocks from the Cologne Cathedral. This was followed by an uninspired 60 minute tour of the outside of the Cathedral and the surrounding area. Christmas Market: There are three Markets within easy walking distance. After the quaint markets we had seen up until then, the Cologne markets were more polished. The stalls were more permanent, and the items for sale were more commercially available type goodies you could pick up in the local stores. The market at Rudolphplatz had a Fairy Tale-inspired theme more reminiscent of Disney World. The Medieval Market was in front of the Lindt Chocolate Factory, and was 3 euros for entry to about 20 stalls. There were some renaissance acts every hour or two. We decided to pass. There was also a Christmas Market Train that drove between all five Markets for 5 Euros Disembarking: Bags were left outside our room at least 30 minutes prior to the bus pickup time. Ship's crew picked up the bags and took them to the bus where each Passenger was asked to identify their bags prior to loading. On our transfer, the crew underestimated the number of bags and we took a 30 minute delay while bags were loaded. Overall: The commitment to Customer Service was impressive and I would absolutely do another Uniworld cruise. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
We returned late Saturday night from our 16 day trip to Germany and Austria which included a cruise from Frankfurt to Vienna on Avalon's Luminary. We were thrilled to have no rain and LOTS of snow and only a few times were the ... Read More
We returned late Saturday night from our 16 day trip to Germany and Austria which included a cruise from Frankfurt to Vienna on Avalon's Luminary. We were thrilled to have no rain and LOTS of snow and only a few times were the conditions icy and/or slushy, making walking unpleasant. The snow covered scenery was magnificent and really added to the ambiance. This was our 4th visit at this exact time of year and the first time we had snow in every city we visited, except for our 4 days in Berlin at the very beginning of our trip. The Luminary is a new ship and she is elegant and understated. The highlight was the outstanding staff who was among the very best we have encountered on any cruise line. Gabriel, the utterly competent Maitre'd, managed a dining staff that was not only professional but also warm and gracious. Stand outs were Charlie (Perdang), Laszlo and Norbett. Our chef, Stefan, had been with us on our Affinity cruise last year and he was delightful, always smiling and very visible at meal times. Timea and Daniel at reception were always helpful and pleasant. Hans lived up to his reputation as an excellent cruise director, handling both the day to day aspects of his position along with the additional issues he faced due to weather challenges. We had about a dozen passengers unable to get to the boat due to weather problems in Frankfurt that disrupted flights and was on the phone constantly working to get them to the boat at the next ports of call. We had 4 in our group delayed and were surprised to learn that even though Avalon had booked their air and transfers as a complete package, Avalon's air department does not track flights at all to let the ship know of any delays. I had to let Hans know what was happening as he was unaware and told me that it is the passenger's responsibility to call him directly with any flight delays. Be aware of this if you expect to have your air issues handled by Avalon. The excellent bar staff of Vladimir, Bibi and Radu made before and after visits to the forward lounge very enjoyable. Rooms were well appointed and beds very comfortable. We had to go to the front desk to request a robe and it would have been nice to have these in the rooms when we checked in. The quality of food was excellent and we enjoyed a galley tour one afternoon with Stefan. The food is freshly prepared and was consistently cooked properly and served hot. There was a special offered each day at breakfast and several menu items that could be ordered at lunch if one did not want the buffet. The variety was very good for a ship of this size. Avalon advertises they offer a variety of low calorie options but this is really not accurate. At both breakfast and lunch, the choices for those choosing to follow a lower fat diet were very limited and the kitchen was not able to accommodate special requests for these meals. Hot soups at lunch were consistently cream based and though there was a small salad bar, there were limited items that were prepared without additional mayonnaise, etc. Veggies were prepared with butter and meats with sauces. This was not an issue at dinner when the two people in our group - including me - that prefer low cal options were well accommodated. Included wines were good. We did want to purchase better wines on a few nights but they were completely out of about 75% of the red wines offered on the wine list, the same situation we had encountered last year on the Affinity. I am not sure why they offer an ala carte list if they are unable to stock for it. We tried to order no less than 7 different reds by the bottle and not a single one was available. We were limited to the German wines and this was disappointing as we would have preferred some variety and were happy to pay the extra. By the next to the last night, they had also run out of vodka and Kahlua, which I found strange as well. There were some negatives on this trip for us: There was lots of sailing time and virtually no in cabin entertainment was available. There were three English channels and this is a cruise line that caters to North American passengers and Aussies so this is something Avalon really needs to address. Often CNN did not even have sound available. Avalon really needs to add some movie options and music channels. One can only watch progress through the locks so many times and after dark which comes very early in winter, there was no scenery to enjoy. Only twice were we docked in any reasonable proximity to the city we were visiting. I consider reasonable a 20 minute walk at a good pace. This mean taxi fares to get us back when we chose not to take the scheduled bus transfer. Walking groups were not grouped by physical ability and this was a hindrance in my opinion. There were most always 4 groups so it would have been easy to designate a group of slow walkers and another for those who wished to walk faster. Internet service was more unavailable than available. I had issues sending but could receive. The people in the cabin next to us to us could send but not receive. On this 11 night cruise, menus were much the same for the second half and more variety would have been welcomed. There was not much in the way of evening entertainment, even for a river cruise. The onboard piano player, Ivan, had a very limited repertoire. We were scheduled to be in port late in Regensburg so looked forward to being off the ship there but the heavy snowfall caused the river to rise very rapidly and instead of leaving at 11pm we had to pull out at 4:30pm. The evening entertainer was unable to get aboard that night. Last year we really enjoyed a Christmas evening put on by the crew but this was missing this year. For a Christmas cruise, there was nothing to distinguish the season in terms of any events or entertainment. A highlight for us was the crew show where about a dozen of the crew put on a series of skits that bordered from amusing to hilarious. Stefan and the gang of Roman bell ringers took top prize judging by passenger reaction. On the night of the 2nd crew show (a repeat of the first) we happened to be docked next to the River Countess and noticed their show taking place at the same times as ours. There was a young lady dressed in traditional Bavarian attire signing which made up the bulk of their entertainment and we noticed a number of their passengers peering over into our lounge where our staff had us bursting out with laughter at some of the antics. We were very happy to be on the Luminary with its very special crew. Overall we enjoyed the cruise but will next year we are booked on AMA for a wine themed cruise since they offer some of the things Avalon is missing, like walking groups organized by capability, bicycles and in room entertainment. The itinerary we chose for 2011 also has 4 of the 7 nights (enough for us we decided on this trip) either as overnight stays or very late in port which will give us the opportunity to spend more time in the cities we visit. Read Less
Sail Date: December 2010
Christmas Markets. Uniworld Basel to Cologne. Uniworld's River Queen has recently been refurbished in an over-the-top Royal motif that is intentionally gaudy attaining a certain flamboyant charm. Fastidiously clean, common areas ... Read More
Christmas Markets. Uniworld Basel to Cologne. Uniworld's River Queen has recently been refurbished in an over-the-top Royal motif that is intentionally gaudy attaining a certain flamboyant charm. Fastidiously clean, common areas and rooms were bright and mirror-lined for a feeling of space. The food was tasty, simple, plentiful and, thankfully, not "fake fine dining". Internet (via WiFi and the onboard computers) was priced at 15E for the trip. The connection, however, was mostly slow and frustrating - even more so than big ships. Staff were friendly, helpful and really seemed to care about service. The Tour Manager, Wauter, was efficient and prompt with little time for guests who wanted to delay others. He got things done without fuss. On Christmas Eve, he was a willing and enthusiastic Santa. during the trip, he seemed to be everywhere at once. Great job! Entertainment was local, unpretentious, lively and diverse. But if you expect Vegas Acts, River Ships are not for you. Mario, the hotel Manager, ran a tight operation with a strong team and excellent service. Restaurant was similar with an attentive and helpful team led by Stanislaw. Onboard laundry, while slow, was an unexpected and prized bonus for light travelers. All in all, a delightful Christmas Cruise with an interesting itinerary of larger cities. Not for those who want to see quaint villages. Good value. Read Less

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