We just returned from our 5th & perhaps one of our most enjoyable river cruises with Viking. The Viking Fontane can carry up to 112 passengers in 56 cabins, but we sailed with 106 others. It was a very mixed group of Irish, Scottish, English, Australian and U.S. couples. She's little, but specifically designed for cruising the River Elbe. Very shallow draft (less than 1 meter), no keel, with waterjet propulsion to navigate like a sports car. Cabins are a standard 135 square feet in all classes except for the 8 Veranda Suites which are 200 square feet. Since we only were in the cabin for sleeping, it was never an issue. While onboard, we spent all out time in either the lounge located forward or on the Sundeck. The restaurant serves 3 meals (buffet breakfast, sitdown lunch & dinner) but a buffet lunch which is excellent, is served in the lounge. The restaurant consists of tables for 4 or 8 so there's always a lively exchange with other guests.
The cruise director was a stellar Englishman, full of fun, always cheerful and an outrageous sense of humor. He's perhaps one of the best we've had. The Captain was the most sociable of any Viking captain we've encountered. A citizen of the Czech Republic, he's worked for Viking for 10 years and been a Captain for 8. He & the rest of the crew were outstanding in terms of attitude, cheerfulness, professionalism and treating guests like company.
The Elbe has been a bit shallow this year as the Captain said it was only the 3rd cruise he was able to make to Melnik. All others have originated further down river in Litomorice, the second stop we made in the Czech Republic.
Life on board was very active with lots of evening activities from Czech folklore dancers to presentations on the EU, the fall of the GDR (East Germany), life as a citizen of the GDR and more. If you're into gambling and Broadway shows, river cruising is not going to be your cup of tea. If you'd enjoy taking a bottle of wine up to the Sundeck at sunset, lounging in a couple of comfortable chairs and admiring the scenery, river cruising is for you.
The only drawback to the ship is the pitch of the stairways. Because Fontane is so small, the stairways are steep; that coupled with the need to provide a chairlift for less than fully ambulatory passengers can make the stairways crowded, but if everyone just relaxes and goes with the flow, there's never a problem.
As usual, Viking tour guides are locals who are extremely knowledgeable, fluent in English, and very efficient. Viking has fully implemented the VOX headset system, so you can always hear the guide, even from 100 or more yards away. This means you can have time to take pictures, admire a particular scene and still hear the guide's commentary. I would not even consider a cruise or tour company that did not have an audio headset system.
All of the ports offered something special. Litomorice is a quaint little town in the Czech Republic with an interesting village square as well as their own micro brewery. Bad Shandau is a port where tourists go to "take the waters" as they say and is loaded with spas. Dresden is famous for its history and the restored church that was destroyed in the firebombing of 1945. Meissen is the home to perhaps some of the most famous chinaware in history, tracing its roots to 1706. Wittenburg is, of course, the home of Martin Luther and the site of the beginning of the Protestant reformation. Torgau is noted for its historical connection where the Allied & Russian forces met at the end of WWII. Magdeburg is the jumping off point for the world famous Worlitz Gardens. We also toured Potsdam enroute to Berlin with all of its historic locations.
The Elbe is a beautiful, pastoral river that is very peaceful and restful. This was an ideal vacation for those looking to do something other than race from city to city in attempt to see all of Europe in a week. I highly recommend it for your consideration.