We were on the Celebrity Constellation for 14 nights. We found it a really good mid sized ship. The crew were all fantastic and we enjoyed all the entertainment. l liked the swimming pool which was quite a good size.There was enough on ... Read More
We were on the Celebrity Constellation for 14 nights. We found it a really good mid sized ship. The crew were all fantastic and we enjoyed all the entertainment. l liked the swimming pool which was quite a good size.There was enough on board activities to keep us amused as well. We ate in the dining room for most meals and enjoyed the food. We sometimes ate in the buffet but did not like this as much because of the crowds and sometimes there was not enough variety of food. Read Less
Constellation is recently refurbished, so no problems there. Like most cruise ships it is impeccably maintained. The size of the Connie was just right for my wife and I and the cabin was fine. If you are looking for a skating rink or ... Read More
Constellation is recently refurbished, so no problems there. Like most cruise ships it is impeccably maintained. The size of the Connie was just right for my wife and I and the cabin was fine. If you are looking for a skating rink or central park or have young kids the Connie probably doesn't offer enough.
My critiques mostly lie with Celebrity. First the good: I don't confuse a lot to mean good food, the food onboard was better than Princess and we were very pleased there. The service each and every night was SLOW, not because your servers weren't trying, they just had too many tables. The entertainment including the ships troop was above average.Martini bar was a blast. Indoor therapy pool was something we loved.
The BAD: Celebrity's fees are out of line. $37/person for the speciality restaurants was ridiculous. Every day they had someone outside the buffet hawking the speciality restaurants, you would think a "no thank you" would suffice. Nope. They would follow you in offering "special deals for tonight". THIS IS AN ANNOYING PRACTICE AND CELEBRITY MUST STOP IT!
Celebrity also needs to get with the program with onboard laundry. Every Princess ship has a laundry and ironing facility on each floor. Celebrity wants $5 for a shirt or $5 to just iron a shirt. On a 14 day cruise we just wound up rinsing clothes in the shower and hanging to dry on the balcony, if we didn't have the balcony it would be a problem. Good luck trying to sneak a travel iron on, ours got confiscated....it's enough for me to go back to Princess.
That's the good and bad as we see it after 15 cruises on 5 different lines....
My wife and I flew from Australia in Business Class on the 10th of June 2013 as part of four months travel throughout Europe beginning with a two week Viking River Cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest and the Viking River Cruise formed the ... Read More
My wife and I flew from Australia in Business Class on the 10th of June 2013 as part of four months travel throughout Europe beginning with a two week Viking River Cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest and the Viking River Cruise formed the beginning of our journey which was supposed to allow us to relax onboard for two weeks, before embarking independently, for three and a half months throughout Europe and everything was booked and paid for accordingly prior to leaving Australia. Six days prior to flying out of Australia, I discovered on SBS news on the 4th of June that there was flooding occurring in and around Bohemia so I emailed both Vacations To Go (who we booked the river cruise with) and Viking River Cruises to get an up date as to what was going to happen as a result and that my wife and I were not interested in an altered bus and river cruise scenario at the last minute, so we wanted information sooner so we could have the time before flying out of Australia to plan an alternative cruise which was not going to be affected by the floods, for example, sailing through the Fjords of Denmark, Sweden and Norway as we were going to be in Amsterdam. We were offered a last minute cancellation or a 50% credit voucher of the total amount paid which is not transferable to be used within 12 months off any future Viking River Cruises which we made both Viking and Vacations TO Go very clear, that we were not in a position to look, at as my wife has Melanoma Cancer and this trip, was the trip and was planned accordingly. We asked both organisations if we took up the cancellation offer, what was the actual amount that we would be refunded, who would be refunding the money and when would the refund amount be actioned so we could plan alternative arrangements as we only had few hours before having to check out of our hotel in Amsterdam, leaving us with a two week hole in our itinerary in the middle of a European summer with no place to go and a $13923 hole in our budget. All along we emailed both organisations wanting to know who was going to refund us the money, how much was the actual amount going to be and when was it going to hit my credit card or bank? We have even gone to the Vice President of Viking River Cruises as we were instructed to by Vacations To Go and to date, haven't even got a reply. Viking wanted to know from Vacations To Go what amount we had paid even though the amount was paid via AMEX directly to Viking? Consequently we did not get answers regarding the cancellation so we were left with no option but to board the Viking Skadi on the 22nd of June 2013 and sail to Frankfurt before being bused around which was not part of our plan. All of this email dialogue was taking place after 2 a.m. Amsterdam time and we were due to board that day! Still to this day we are none the wiser and in fact got an email from the Customer Service Manager of the Australian branch of Viking River Cruises on August 23rd which stated that as the cruise proceeded in a modified form, had we in fact cancelled, we would have forfeited all monies paid which amounted to $13,923. So our decision to board the vessel was totally justified, what else could we have done? We have subsequently asked both organisations to consider giving us the credit voucher amount back in monetary terms but they have ignored our requests and the sensitivity of our situation. We both feel that we were given a false sense of a credit when in fact they had no intention to cancel as they were only ever going to do a combination bus and river cruise and as they had a captive audience, they had all the cards stacked in their favour and used them accordingly. The modified land portion of the river cruise (four days & nights), which included a bus tour, with accommodation and food were appalling and of a two star rating as we had paid for a five star vessel with cabin that included a private balcony. All my wife and I wanted was the actual information regarding money back so we could make the decision earlier and avoid what was and has been the worst travel experience both of us seasoned travellers have ever endured. Fellow travellers: " You have been warned"....If travelling with Viking "travel at your own peril" Read Less
Recently came from the Celebrity Inaugural, expected more but was just average.
Boarding from Amsterdam was busy, strange that they handed passengers numbers, ours being #3 while others in our group 8 and 12. We registered and got in the ... Read More
Recently came from the Celebrity Inaugural, expected more but was just average.
Boarding from Amsterdam was busy, strange that they handed passengers numbers, ours being #3 while others in our group 8 and 12. We registered and got in the ship right away. Our friends in the other numbers were made to wait in lounge outside the ship which we found strange. We have been on Oasis and Allure and were able to board right away. Upon entering we were informed the rooms were not ready so we proceeded to the Oceanview Cafe- sleek, clean with good service. Food stations were well placed and spaced.
We had a veranda stateroom which was a good size and a large washroom with toiletries. Due to the rainy weather we hardly used the balcony. Elevators were slow. There were no outlets in the washroom nor the side tables.
Activities- Casino was great the first night but slots tightened as the days passed. The shows were mediocre from a rock-type one; acrobatic; 2 female singers; magician who did basic tricks one of our members already showed us in the dining room. They had an a capella group, 2 female violinists and a band on level 3 by the elevators. Bingo, game shows, dance classes, karaoke, trivia were so-so. The dancing with the stripes was great entertainment since they were funny with a Canadian winning it. It
Excursions - horrible since it rained every day. The local guides gave us more information than we needed and should have considered that discomfort of the weather and should have put us in the buildings earlier if not faster. Tapas tour which consisted of visiting 3 tapas bars left us hungry and angry- the lack of food for the price charged. Paris stores were closed being a Sunday and the stores at Champs with 1 hour was not enough with the rain and all. A total waste of money. Also there was practically no time for shopping.
Dining - We had early seating with a great waiter Gede, polished, polite and knew our preferences right away. Meals were good, nothing spectacular though. We tried Murano, great food, menu and service. Qsine, you order from an Ipad took forever for some dishes to arrive. The best was the angus burgers. Presentation was unique, but wished the other dished tasted better. Tuscan Grill had excellent steaks and sides.
Champagne given free was already flat, too bad since I love champagne.
The ship had a hideaway for reading, resting in the cocoon chairs. Apple store, Michael Kors, etc.
Staff were still not informed as to where and what we had to ask several times/several guys.
Disembarkation on your own not great since we did not know the gangway till we were assembled on level 4 and then had to go move and exit at level 5. Gratuities were automatically billed, unless you waived them by a certain date and you were given the envelopes.
Overall, we expected a lot from an inaugural cruise and this one failed. Nothing special, no fireworks, no souvenirs, nothing. It was expensive and it did not equate to the cost. We were bored in between due to the lack of activities/amenities. Read Less
My husband and I just got home from a 12 day cruise down the Rhine/Mosel Rivers on the River Queen. We departed from Amsterdam and were looking forward to a relaxing cruise. The mix on board ship was 50% American, 40% Brits, and the ... Read More
My husband and I just got home from a 12 day cruise down the Rhine/Mosel Rivers on the River Queen. We departed from Amsterdam and were looking forward to a relaxing cruise. The mix on board ship was 50% American, 40% Brits, and the balance English speaking guests from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. It was a great group of cruisers with about 75% representing first time River Cruisers.
The staff was pleasant, the ship fine other than they could have redecorated in more cheerful colors rather than the dark browns in every area of the ship, including the staterooms.
The food was average in our opinion, but as Americans I think we tended to want fresher, healthier foods rather than the cream laden cuisine typically served on board the River Queen.
There were no sanitary precautions on the ship or any instructions given upon boarding how to handle any illness that may have arisen on the ship during the cruise. This was interesting since 99% of us were retired and at last footloose and fancy free to pursue our dreams of travel.
On the third day of the cruise I came down with what I thought was just something that had disagreed with my stomach. Day one I was just feeling "off" by day two I was vomiting and had diarrhea. Day three I was feeling better but still queasy and no appetite. On the second day of feeling ill I went to the Hotel Manager to let him know I needed a doctor. He said that they could get me to one the following day afternoon and gave me a bottle of liquid hand sanitizer and asked me to use it whenever I went to the dining room.
Within three days 60% of the cruisers were down and out. They held a short meeting for the passengers and said that there was a illness on board that they wanted to announce.
Within two more days I would estimated 80% of the passengers and 50% of the crew had been hit. There was never a doctor brought on board to examine any of the passengers and the River Queen installed a program where we had our hands sprayed as we got on and off the boat as well as at the dining room. A little too late in our opinion. There was never any consideration given to the sick passengers other than the request to stay in your room for 3 days and they would bring soup if you so desired.
Since the River Queen is traveling through the EU I have no idea what the health standards are for this kind of on board wide-spread virus.
It may sound gross, but I was so sick I had both ends going at once. The bathrooms are very tiny with a toilet, single sink and shower. I used the toilet and the sink to accommodate my double whammy most of the two days I was sick. The vomit from the sink went down the sink drain and into the shower stall... absolutely appalling. They just send in the housekeeper to "sanitize" the bathroom. Where it went from there I have no idea.
I had wondered whether there was a virus on board when we got to our cabin in that there was a horrible odor our room which I just overlooked.
I think that Unniworld has not prepared the staff for such an outbreak. We got off the ship at the end of our cruise at 8:30 AM and the crew was preparing the rooms for another group of travelers boarding in Basel, Switzerland for the cruise departing to Amsterdam that afternoon.
We have been home for 2 days and I still have not felt 100%. We have traveled all over the world to such places as Africa, the Amazon, Asia and have never gotten struck with this kind of illness.
Luckily I had a script for Cipro from my state-side doctor who told us to always take it in the event we get sick overseas. Most people had nothing, not even OTC medication to ease their nausea after three days. The Hotel Manager informed us that in the EU they are not allowed to dispense any kind of medication on board, but they could take you to see a doctor. Several people were so sick they did this and wound up with being issued medication to take and a whopping medical bill to pay.
I'd be interested whether there was a viral infection on board the previous cruise and the cruise that followed ours.
Not a word from Uniworld on the outbreak and to the best of my knowledge the ship has not been thoroughly sanitized other than the use of standard cleaning and hand spraying down the guests.
Also, as a side note, two passengers had their passports disappear and another their birth certificate after they boarded the River Queen. By the time of disembarking the ship, they had never been found. The Hotel Manager never really seemed too concerned but the passengers, of course, were out-raged. Read Less
WINDMILLS AND TULIPS CRUISE Viking Sky, April 16-28, 2008
It was with some concern that we boarded our flight to Amsterdam to begin our Windmills and Tulips cruise since the weather reports for the previous month had been consistent: ... Read More
WINDMILLS AND TULIPS CRUISE Viking Sky, April 16-28, 2008
It was with some concern that we boarded our flight to Amsterdam to begin our Windmills and Tulips cruise since the weather reports for the previous month had been consistent: cloudy, rainy with temperatures in the 40s and low 50s. How could flowers bloom in this weather? But, optimism is a must when traveling, so after packing warm and rainproof items, we left for Amsterdam where we had made our own arrangements for a 3 day pre-cruise stay. We flew Lufthansa, one of the few good airlines left, because we could get a direct flight from Charlotte, NC to Munich, connecting to Amsterdam, thus avoiding the plague of Philadelphia, Newark or JFK Airports.
Our flights were right on time, and we arrived in Amsterdam around 1 pm local time. We opted to take the train into town, since a taxi ran about 45 Euros while the fare for two on the train was a little over 7 Euros! (That may have been the only bargain that we found the entire trip!) The trains run to the central station 4 times an hour, and the trip takes only about 20 minutes. Other than the hassle of schlepping our bags down the escalator and onto the train, the trip was convenient and easy. A short cab ride to the hotel completed our trip.
In Amsterdam, we stayed at the Ambassade , a lovely small hotel on the Herengracht Canal. The hotel rooms are in several buildings, restored on the inside but maintaining the traditional look and style of old Amsterdam on the outside. Our room was light and airy, overlooking the canal and in a quiet location. Service at the hotel was excellent, and the breakfasts were tasty and convenient.
We hit all the usual tourist highlights, museums and canals. The Ann Frank House is always crowded during the day, but we went around 6 one evening and walked right in. We also wanted to make sure that we saw Keukenhof Gardens thoroughly, so after checking out of the hotel (they held our bags), we took an excursion to the Gardens. This worked out very well because we couldn't check onto the ship until mid afternoon.
Keukenhof was one of those infrequent attractions that not only lived up to expectations but far exceeded them. My companion Barbara is the flower person, and while I'm not a flower nut, I do like photography, so we were both euphoric with what we found at Keukenhof. Not only were the flowers, landscaping and scenery unspeakably beautiful, but the grounds went on and on, with a new breathtaking scene around every bend. I brought 3 cameras, with two sets of batteries for each and was down to my last emergency battery when we had to leave. We were really glad that we would be back in another week with the ship's tour, because there is way too much to see and absorb in one visit.
THE VIKING SKY
After retrieving our bags from the hotel storage, we took a taxi to the Viking Sky. This ship is middle aged by ship standards, having been built in 1998, but it has been well maintained and is clean and attractive. The advantage of this ship, and one of the reasons we booked it, was that all the cabins (except the suites) are identical in size and layout, except for the windows. Thus by booking one of the 3 lowest category cabins, we saved over $1000 compared to the cabin right next to us. We found the cabin comfortable and adequate in size, but the bathroom lighting was terrible, according to Barbara, and the walls were paper thin. We heard our neighbors cough and even identified the sound of a digital camera powering up from the cabin next door. This was definitely not a crowd of party animals, however, so noise from adjoining cabins was not a problem.
What was a problem was the air conditioning unit for the ship that was located near our cabin. The compressor cycled on and off regularly and annoyingly, but thanks to ear plugs, sleep was not compromised. Other than these annoyances, the cabin was fine.
We found the food very good, with an ample breakfast buffet and a choice of a light lunch in the lounge, or a more complete meal in the dining room. Dinner was single seating with a choice of two entrees, plus a vegetarian offering and the always available chicken or steak. The service was excellent.
The ship remained overnight in Amsterdam our first night, and an included canal cruise and Van Gogh museum excursion were scheduled for the next morning. The Van Gogh Museum was excellent, and it was nice to bypass the throngs of people waiting to buy tickets. The included headphones provided an excellent narration for us culturally impaired tourists, but the throngs inside the museum made it difficult to see and appreciate all the paintings. Nevertheless, the excursions were interesting and good.
That evening we sailed for Horn, arriving late in the evening. The next morning we had a walking tour of this picturesque fishing village, huddled against the cold on a raw, windy day. As the morning progressed, however, the weather improved and a glimpse of sun appeared, giving us hope for the rest of the week.
The ship sailed in the afternoon for Volendam. This is the Costa Maya of Holland. A completely rebuilt city designed to attract and cater to tourists, this was a crowded and forgettable place. The ship offered a free excursion to a local wooden shoe and cheese manufacturing site, which we took for lack of anything better to do. It was predictably touristy, but the price was right.
The ship sailed that night for Arnhem. Unfortunately, the scheduled tour to the Palais Het Loo was not available since the palace and grounds are closed on Monday. An afternoon tour of the Arnhem battle grounds was substituted, which left the morning available. The ship offered an optional tour to an open air market, but we opted to take a local train to the picturesque town of Nijmegen. This was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed seeing the local countryside and browsing a local market in the town square, surrounded by a majestic church. The efficient and convenient train service had us back in Arnhem in time for lunch on the ship. In the afternoon, we took the included tour of the battlefields and museums associated with Operation Market Garden of "A Bridge Too Far" fame. Being a World War II buff, I found the tour interesting and the cemetery moving, but I suspect the majority of passengers would have preferred the palace tour.
The ship sailed late in the afternoon for Nijmegen, where we had visited earlier in the day, but it arrived late at night where a group of local performers embarked for a mediocre display of local dancing in wooden shoes. Whoopee! A few hard core gamblers went ashore to a local casino, which, interestingly, required a foreign passport to gain entrance. I guess they didn't want to take advantage of the locals!
The next day we awoke in Dodrecht for our tour of the windmills at the village of Kinderdijk. One windmill was open for the hoards of tourists while a host of other windmills lined up for photographs. Unfortunately, our guide got the time confused, and we had to be back at the bus well before we actually left, severely curtailing our free time and photographic opportunities. So much for his tip!
The afternoon was at our leisure in Dodrecht, so we climbed the tower of the Grote Kerk Church for scenic panoramas, and strolled through the streets of this picturesque city. We sailed around 4 under sunny skies for our next stop, Antwerp, Belgium. The trip to Antwerp was not particularly picturesque - imagine a watery New Jersey Turnpike near Newark - but it was nice to be sailing and moving into new territory.
The included tour the next morning was to Brussels. After a 10am departure to avoid morning rush hour traffic, we visited the Automaton, symbol of the 1958 World's Fair, and spent time in the central square of Brussels. The emphasis there was mostly on the stomach: loaded Belgium waffles, Belgium chocolate and Duvel (Devil) Beer.
Overnight, the ship relocated to Ghent in preparation for our next excursion to Brugge, Belgium. Other than Keukenhof, this was the highlight of the trip. This lovely, historic town built within a river (moat), was picturesque and interesting. We opted to stay in town for the afternoon while others went back to the ship after the morning tour. We climbed the church tower, ate lunch at an outdoor cafe, drank Brugge Blonde Beer, bought chocolate - not enough - at Dumon's, and generally had a delightful tourist day under unseasonably warm and sunny skies.
That night we sailed to a small yacht harbor where we disembarked the next morning for a tour of the Delta Works Project. This ambitious and expensive flood control project was undertaken by the Dutch after the devastating floods of 1953, and is truly an engineering marvel, designed to control the sea under all conditions. After the tour, the bus drove to a new port where the ship met us for the remainder of the trip to Rotterdam. That evening, the ship stopped briefly in Rotterdam to pick up a local group of singers called the "Sea Chanters." They were actually very good, and performed just for the enjoyment of singing - and the free Heinekins!
The Viking Sky sailed for Amsterdam after disembarking the Sea Chanters, arriving early in the morning. That morning, Saturday April 27, was the day for the ship's tour to Keukenhof Gardens. The good news: the weather was warm and sunny, and the flowers were at or close to their peak. The bad news: this was a weekend, and a weekend that featured the world famous flower parade that passed directly in front of Keukenhof Gardens. The result: crowds of indescribable magnitude. Fortunately, our tour arrived relatively early in the morning, and the beauty of the flowers and trees exceeded the increased people count. It was amazing the difference one week meant. The grass has greened up, the trees had filled out and the flowers were just magnificent. We opted to stay at the gardens after the tour bus left and made our own way back to the ship via the bus/train from the airport. The extra time was well worth it, but by the time we left, the crowds were so large that it was almost impossible to even walk along the trails.
And now, an editorial note. I hope there is a special Hell for those tourists who are never content just to take pictures of a beautiful natural site. THEY HAVE TO BE IN IT! So, while you are trying to take a photo of a beautiful flower grouping, there is a tourist tromping on the grass (despite the "Stay Off" signs) in front of flowers grinning foolishly and totally ruining the picture! There, I've vented.....
Back on the ship by mid afternoon, we relaxed on deck, rested and started the always unpleasant job of packing. Surprisingly, the captain's farewell dinner was scheduled for this, our last day on board, which was somewhat unusual but was still enjoyable. No tuxes or formal gowns were seen, but the dress was a notch above the other days.
The next morning we took a cab to the airport, coordinated by the ship, for which we shelled out 45 Euros. Since we were flying to Munich to connect for our flight, the process time at the airport was less than for the flights flying directly to the States. We were there about 2 hours early, which on a Sunday morning, was more than enough time.
This was a most enjoyable cruise, with the flowers at Keukenhof clearly being the star of the trip. Timing the flower's peak in the notoriously unpredictable Dutch weather is a challenge, and if you can allow yourself an opportunity to go more than once, at different times, as we did, that can be a good hedging strategy. The primary downside to this itinerary is the fickle weather (we lucked out, no rain at all, but it was cool early in trip) and the atrocious exchange rate of the Euro. Fortunately, booking the cruise well in advance and paying in dollars insulated us somewhat from the full impact of the weak dollar. Oh, one other downside: once you have seen Keukenhof, every other garden you visit the rest of your life will suffer in comparison.
If you are interested in viewing some of my pictures of Keukenhof Gardens, you can log onto www.dutchgardenofeden.site.shutterfy.com. Any questions - drop me an email at email@example.com. Read Less
Have just returned from an excellent cruise aboard the River Princess, commencing in Amsterdam, moored just behind the Central Station, so very convenient; We travelled independently as we already live in Europe, so this review is just ... Read More
Have just returned from an excellent cruise aboard the River Princess, commencing in Amsterdam, moored just behind the Central Station, so very convenient; We travelled independently as we already live in Europe, so this review is just about the cruise itself. The boat was exactly as described on Uniworld's website, and the cabin, which was on the starboard side (highly desirable on rivers/canals rather than the port side preference of Cruise liners), enabled us to spread our possessions very comfortably, as there was loads of storage. The fittings and quality were of 4 star hotel quality, and the bathroom was a reasonable size and well laid out, again with loads of storage room. When we booked we were aware that the boat could not be boarded until 2 hours before sailing, but as we had had to check out of our hotel by 11 a.m. I telephoned the boat reception and was informed that we were welcome immediately, could put our bags in Reception, and could have a complimentary lunch onboard, although the cabins were not going to be available until the stated onboard time. We therefore taxied to the boat, our bags were immediately picked up by the cheerful and welcoming crew, and the Hotel Manager (In charge of the ship's facilities) welcomed us aboard with great courtesy. The lunch was set out buffet style in the main lounge area and was fresh, plentiful and served with cold or hot drinks. We also could use the restrooms and the top sundeck for the remainder of the afternoon.
The whole boat was immaculate, no hidden scruffy corners, everything well looked after. The service throughout was excellent and all the staff and crew were amiable and readily available. We did feel that the tone for the whole voyage was set by the Captain, Antony van den Boom, who was always smiling, very efficient and ready to lend a hand to any of his crew whenever needed, so a very happy ship.
The food was of a very good standard, and well presented. We did find that there was sometimes a lack of choice, in that due to the restrictions of the kitchen size on such a comparatively small vessel only one meat, one fish and one vegetarian choice for main course was offered each day, though the quality was excellent, just a bit experimental with ingredients sometimes, although there was always a fallback choice of steak and fries or chicken fillets and fries. The menus comprised a starter dish of some innovation, excellent and very unusual on occasion soups, a fish course, the main course, and exquisite desserts or well-selected cheeses and biscuits. Coffee in all its forms, plus tea always available throughout. The wine list (and indeed the drinks in the Cocktail Lounge) were very reasonably priced indeed, compared with on land prices in Europe generally, and certainly with our home prices, and there was no hidden service charge applied. As an alternative to a choice from the extensive wine list, the chef offered suggested wines each day at very competitive prices for example €16 - €21, and an unfinished bottle could be cabin-marked and brought to the table next day if wished. On the liquor line there was a special promotion each afternoon of a particular Cocktail at a reduced cost. I did notice that there was no pressure to buy drinks unlike the constant harassment on the seagoing cruises, and in fact very little drinks appear to have been ordered during the evening entertainment time in the lounge.
The Cruise Director, who had been with River Princess for 2 years, but moves around through the Uniworld fleet, was Tony Campillia, and besides being extremely informative on all historical matters, was also available to attend to any problems of the passengers, at all times, and always with a pleasant attitude as if one were doing him a favor by asking! He also was responsible for the arrangements for excursions, and always accompanied the included excursions each day. The Hotel Manager, Rudolph van der Meulen, was ever-present to cope with Reception and hotel-like problems, and both these guys presented essential information in an easy-listening way, which made the need-to-know items far less boring that they might otherwise have been.
As a little extra excitement my birthday fell on the middle Sunday of the cruise, and as with others who were celebrating birthdays or anniversaries of some sort, the Captain and Crew made a special effort and a smart presentation of a birthday cake with a lighted sparkler on top, accompanied by accordion music by the marvellous resident musician, Peter, made the occasion more special. This was not arranged by us at all, but it appears that the passport dates are consulted and the ceremony goes ahead!! Much appreciated.
The shore excursions. The cruise included something each morning or afternoon, by was of a coach connection to the most famous tourist site in the area (usually a palace, church or cathedral) followed by a general amble around the streets of the relevant town or village to familiarize the guests with where to shop and how to get back to the boat. Again unlike the standard Cruise lines there was no special recommendation to go to a certain shop for a discount, etc etc., they just indicated the shopping areas and gave basic language info and a map of each place with the mooring place well indicated. We went on some of the included excursions but not having any particular desire to traipse around every historic monument, frequently did our own thing, after the amble around the streets bit, and shopped or visited other sites at our leisure. We also took 2 optional excursions, again the prices were comfortably below those offered on Cruises, and one of these was to Regensburg, which is typically Germanic and just like Christmas card villages should look, where we had an excellent lunch included at a good local restaurant. The second excursion was to the Viennese concert. This was not at the Vienna State Opera House of course but at an impressive building, with a first-class ensemble and fine singers and ballet dancers. Unfortunately for all concerned the temperature was 39 degreesF, and there was no air-conditioning. Thus after the first half of the performance when even the players were looking less than comfortable, the ensemble leader asked for the main windows to be opened, and blow the acoustics, as we were all near to fainting from the excessive heat in there. This concert was followed by a ride around the town outskirts to view the magnificent illuminations. Money well spent, as throughout the ride in and the last mentioned trip we were given a good explanation of the history of the buildings by a good English speaker.
Amongst the included excursions were a visit to Cologne Cathedral, the Bishop's Residenz at Rudesheim followed by a visit to the cellars where long tables had been prepared with glassware and rye bread, and we were treated to wine tasting of 3 wines of that area, and an explanation of their growth and treatment. All very spooky in the dark cellars lit by 400 candles. Again no pressure to buy anything, although one could if one wanted to.
We visited Heidelberg, which had to be accessed by coach, and thus we had to stay with the group as the boat itself was leaving for a different mooring a few miles away, having just stopped to let us connect with the tour. This was a very informative visit but for our particular tastes a bit too patronizing as if we were school children on a history trip. However as Europeans we are very used to loads and loads of castles and their history, and it could well be that this was more appreciated by our friends from the other side of the Pond, who were more receptive to the history of their ancestors.
Other visits included many Baroque or Renaissance churches and we had a lecture onboard by one of the guides on what to look out for in the different styles. Philistine I may be but seen one seen the lot, although I did click away with the best of them at the spectacular ceilings and carvings when we did join any particular trip. I would have liked to have had an alternative choice included or even as an optional excursion, such as a visit to one of the many excellent art galleries, or even entertainment centers such as the casino at Budapest! In the event as the weather was bitterly cold at the start of the trip and then exceptionally hot when we arrived in Vienna and even hotter in Budapest, anywhere indoors was bound to be a winner either for warmth or against the heat, depending on the day!
Highlights of the trip would be the locks, their amazing depth the deepest being 85 feet, and we were thankful that we had chosen the top deck cabins as all light was cut off from the interior when we were at the bottom of the locks, and I expect that those in the lowest deck must have had very little natural light for much of the time when we were moored as well. Obviously we all spent a considerable part of the day on the move, in the lounges or eating, lots of eating, so that might not have been a problem to others. The height of the wheelhouse and indeed the sundecks and their fittings on many of these river cruisers now means that they have to retract the wheelhouse and lower the guard rails to clear the low bridges of which there were hundreds; this meant that for many days only a portion of the sundeck was available for sitting, and the sun umbrellas could not be in place until the last few days. As it happens we only had 91 passengers instead of the full complement of 138, so it worked out reasonably well, but with more people it would probably have been a bit difficult.
The organization of the disembarkation was well-managed, we were kept informed about where and when we would be able to leave, and for those who were not going on by air somewhere we were allowed to use all the facilities of the boat after vacating our cabins at 8.30 absolute. For those interested we had learned through the Cruise Critics boards that Zona taxis had the Airport concession at a fixed rate and we had hired them at HUF 3000 from our hotel to the Airport, and also from the boat to the hotel on our last day, albeit at the same rate, which was around £8.00 or 15$. They turned up on time and no extra charge was made for the baggage. (Incidentally for anyone interested the boat moors on the Buda side between the Chain Bridge and the Elizabeth Bridge).
Overall impressions: I cannot be sure that this type of holiday is for me just yet, although I have reached an age when I ought to be prepared for long times doing nothing, but although I very much enjoyed the beauty of the river and canals, the scenery and the little villages, I think I am still not ready for the inactivity between-times, as there is nothing to do on board other than linger, read, or possibly play cards or other games. The opportunity to meet with and compare notes on lifestyles of people from other parts of the World is always one of my pleasures (can't stop talking my family say....), and this was of course very easy to do with so much time on board and at the open seating, and I can see that whatever one's age as long as there is the ability to walk around there is much enjoyment to be had from this type of holiday, although it is definitely not suitable for anyone with any walking problem or wheelchair users; I may be tempted to go again, certainly I would consider Uniworld as a first choice as we can't fault it, but I would have to think long and hard about the location and what excursions included or not would be possible. Read Less
Rarely do the smoking deals that appear in your email every morning turn out to be the Grand Value that is advertised. All of us cynical types zoom immediately to the fine print to find the catch. Well, surprise, surprise, Grand Value ... Read More
Rarely do the smoking deals that appear in your email every morning turn out to be the Grand Value that is advertised. All of us cynical types zoom immediately to the fine print to find the catch. Well, surprise, surprise, Grand Value cruising aboard the River Baroness was an excellent bargain (with a few caveats mentioned below)and a wonderful week was had by all! Uniworld's River Baroness, fresh from her 2005 makeover, is now marketing 3 different pared down river cruising experiences. The product is aimed at the active individual who prefers not to have every moment of the day preplanned into organized activities. Currently, the River Empress is alternating between Budapest to Passau, the Frankfurt Rhine and Moselle and the Amsterdam to Amsterdam "Dutch Dreams". All are of 9 days duration including the travel time from the US. All cater to the North American visitor and are non-smoking except for the sun decks. All include 5-6 excursions in the cost and offer 4-6 optional excursion depending on the cruise. The cruise prices include airfare and airport transfers but not the taxes and surcharges. We chose the "Dutch Dreams". We flew to Amsterdam from Phoenix via Dulles and were promptly collected at the airport by easily identified individuals and whisked to a bus. Our first surprise occurred at the dock: 3 river ships anchored side by side and ours was the furthest out. While we didn't have to tote anything but hand luggage, we did go up and down and through 2 other ships to reach our own. This is a river cruising fact of life and kind of fun as one gets to snoop out other lines. However, this was the first indication that the target market and the passenger population were somewhat at odds. Many people had difficulty negotiating the stairs and there were minimal chair lifts and no elevators. Upon arrival we were directed to the lounge and given coffee, tea and pastries. The brochure stated that we would not be allowed into the cabins until 2 pm, which made for a several hour wait in a very comfortable environment. We actually made it to the cabins just after a buffet lunch was served in the lounge. The Cabins:All of the cabins on the River Baroness are identical and sleep 2 people in either double bed or twin configuration(your choice). The windows on either passenger deck are the same size. The lower deck leads directly to the dining room and the upper deck to the main desk and lounge. There is a $300 difference in the cabin grade prices with no particular difference in service that I could see. We stayed in 228 and did not pay the supplement for this upgrade. Don't bother if you don't have to. There is no advantage to be gained. Size matters: All of the cabins are small and listed as approximately 130 square feet. I believe that this includes the bathroom. The fittings are of a very high quality and quite attractive. The linens are premium "hotel style" duvets and the option is given to have the bed made up "american style". The beds are extremely comfortable and have more than ample pillows with various kinds available upon request. Terry bathrobes are included. There is an in room safe of the key operated type in the closet. Suitcases go under the bed which also contains storage drawers which can be difficult to access under some circumstances. The closet has approximate 18 inches of hanger space with 3 drawers below. The bathroom and the closet cannot be used simultaneously. There is excellent storage above the bed and very accessible shelving on either side of the beds. Reading lamps are excellent (take note Celebrity!). It's all about the bathroom: There should be a note posted on the bathroom door advertising a 100KG limit. All bathrooms on cruise ships in the ordinary people categories are small. This is a normal expectation. These bathrooms are beautifully appointed, have wonderful towels (the really big and fluffy kind) and are really tiny. They have an excellent shower with the option of using it in hand held mode that is more than adequate for tall people. However, the sliding door reduces the space to coffin sized parameters. We are not over 6 ft and are of normal weight and found it somewhat difficult to maneuver in the shower. How the even moderately obese fared (and there were a number on this cruise) was an ongoing matter of conjecture among the passengers. If you have any physical limitations this is NOT the cruise for you. The toilet was most comfortable with the bathroom door open as otherwise one's knees got tangled in the bathrobes hanging from the door. Hairdryers are provided and the toiletries are of the press the dispenser variety. Cabins are spotless and remained so during the trip. Bottled water is pay-per use and unnecessary as readily available in the lounge and free and the ship water is just fine. Rooms are made up twice daily and the cabin attendants provided vases for those passengers consumed by the insanely low price of fresh flowers in the floating markets of Amsterdam. Food: Are we here to cruise or to eat? River cruising is NOT the non-stop food orgy of the seagoing ships. 24 hour food is NOT available (except cookies) and dining is kept in it's proper perspective. I must confessed that my husband missed the availability of hot and cold running ice cream that he had become accustomed to on the big cruise ships. Breakfast and lunch were buffet style with omelets and eggs available to order. Especially good were the soups, breads and natural yogurts and cereals. Sandwiches at lunch were not American style and Reuben takes on a totally different meaning. Menus can run heavily to pork and light on the chicken. Vegetarian is available and the chef REALLY cares if you don't like his food. He will make something else if humanly possible. Dinner offers a choice of 2 starters, soups, salads and 3 choices of entrees. Generally 3 desserts and ice cream were available. Wines choices were also recommended with each course at dinner. We don't drink so we really have no information about the quality or value for money in this regard. We were perfectly happy with the food and quite enjoyed the single seating/ open dining arrangements. The dining room was attractive and the wait staff competent and all fluent in English. Some of the meals were as good as the specialty restaurants aboard the large cruise lines. See part II Rolling on the river: Well, not right away. After boarding, the River Baroness remained in Amsterdam until midnight on Sunday. This gave the passengers the opportunity to recoup the jet lag and to enjoy the next day in town. The river ships dock right by the central station and the do it yourself type was in the heart of the city. Sunday offered an included morning bus and walking tour of the central city with the flower market and the diamond factory as high points. The afternoon offered an optional tour of the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museums which we declined as we had a post-cruise stay planned in Amsterdam. I recommend this option if you don't have an additional stay planned. It is Rembrandt's 400th birthday and the exhibits are notably. And they are crowded as it is currently the hot museum ticket in Europe!Easter Sunday was really packed according to the passengers who took this excursion. Monday morning we arrived in Enkhuizen located in the southern portion of the former Zuider Zee. This included a walking tour and a small amount of free time. Not much was open as this was the Monday after Easter and a holiday. After lunch we sailed to Hoorn and remained overnight. We skipped the included walking tour and enjoyed cafes and coffee and snooping around. No one draws their curtains at night. The Dutch decorate really well and shame on me for looking! Stores in general were closed. Tuesday took us from Hoorn to Volendam, the tourist junk center of the north. Optional tours were available to Marken Island and Edam (easily do it your self) and there was a bicycle tour of the countryside and over the dyke. Out of 140 passengers, 14 chose the bike tour. Another passenger/cruise mismatch. Optional excursions on this cruise are cancelled if less than 10 participants do not sign up. We skipped both and went into the supermarket in town and the local shopping center which provided not only snacks but hours of entertainment. We sailed for Arnheim that afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed the passing scenery. Arnheim is a wonderful small city and the site of one of the most notable battles of WWII. Included in the tour is an excursion the to Liberation Museum and the cemetery. This particular trip received the highest marks for any included tour for the passengers who participated. The ship proceeded on to Nijmegen while the afternoon optional excursion went to the Kroller-Muller Museum. Nose to nose with Van Gogh!!!!!! The largest concentration of the artist's work and most of his earliest paintings can be seen in this fabulous museum located in the Netherlands' largest nature preserve. Unlike the city museums, the crowds are very moderate, the layout pleasant and accessible and one can get nose to nose with the paintings. Since venerable spouse has set off alarms in museums all over the world, he enjoyed the opportunity to examine the brushwork without being tackled by the security staff. If art is your thing, don't miss this one! We caught up with the ship in Nijmegen, an ancient Roman city and were too tired to give it more than just a glance. There was an music program in the lounge that night and those who stayed awake said it was OK. We set sail for Dorndrecht in the morning. Dorndrecht was a wonderful city. The morning took us to the Windmills of Kinderdijk, a world heritage site. The tour through the countryside gave an excellent introduction to the Dutch view on how to manage water. The afternoon offered an optional tour to Delft which participants said was a "tourist rip-off". We opted to tour the city and enjoyed the most marvelous pair of museums. One featured 17th century painters and the other, The Simon Van Gijn, a 17th century house with an intact kitchen and assorted collections of toys, silver, glasswork etc. The leather room and the salon are particularly of interest. A very walkable city. We arrived in Rotterdam the next morning and set off for the optional tour of the Keukenhoff Gardens. The gardens are open 7 weeks a year. It is crowded for a very good reason. 8 million bulbs make quite an impression and the bulb fields with great swaths of pastels are stunning. Spring has been late in Europe this year and we were lucky in our timing and had a brilliant day. On our return to the ship, traffic conditions led us to detour through the Hague and it was interesting to take a quick peek. I think Dutch traffic is terrible and I drive in Phoenix and Los Angeles. On leaving Rotterdam, the harbor cruise included returning to the dock to pick up a couple of the crew who had had too much of a good time in Rotterdam. They did suffer during dinner. After collecting these unfortunates we proceeded back to Amsterdam overnight. See part III This was a fun trip, but here are the caveats: Air transportation is included but a.) you might do better on your own. b.) some people took unlikely routes i.e. Atlanta to Detroit to Amsterdam which extended their flight times. c.)some return transfers were as early as 4AM...yes, 4AM! Entertainment is limited. For seven nights there were 2 musical acts, a cheesemaking demonstration and crew entertainment that was vulgar. After tea in the afternoon, the Cruise Manager gave an overview of the coming day's events and a potted history of the location. The Captain was always happy to answer questions and point out interest aspects of river travel. Do not look for Broadway style entertainment. Be aware of your limitations! As I mentioned earlier, this cruise does not make provisions for those persons who have limited mobility. The ship has one chair lift to go between decks and very narrow or circular stairs to access the lounges and the dining room. The tours require the ability to walk at least one mile and the busses make no provision for those incapable of pulling themselves up stairs. Many times activities were held up for passengers requiring this assistance and some activities were curtailed due to time constraints imposed by these passengers. The cruise manager was very gracious but privately said that she was told that she would has an "active" passenger population. Do not climb into a windmill if you can't handle several flights of stairs. 400 pound people will have hygiene issues on this cruise. All of the above taken into account: this cruise is a great value for money and offers an opportunity to see some really memorable sights at a bargain price! Read Less
For this adventure, we booked our own hotel stays in Amsterdam (before the cruises began), Budapest (at the end of the cruise), and our own airfare because it saved money. The transfers to and from the airport and cruise ship were very ... Read More
For this adventure, we booked our own hotel stays in Amsterdam (before the cruises began), Budapest (at the end of the cruise), and our own airfare because it saved money. The transfers to and from the airport and cruise ship were very easy to book on our own. We boarded the Viking Spirit in Amsterdam for the "Dutch Journey", 7 night cruise, thru the Netherlands. Our overnights in Amsterdam gave us plenty of time to see all the sights and visit museums. Our cruise took us to Enkhuizen where we visited the Zuiderzee "outdoor" museum. We enjoyed the free time in Hoorn. Our stops in Marken, Edam & Vollendam were interesting and we had time for sightseeing, shopping and cafe stops to taste the local brew. We toured the Paleis Het Loo at our Arnhern stop. At Dordrecht we toured the amazing Kinderdijki Windmills! We both enjoyed the Delft excursion and our relaxing stop at a sidewalk cafe in the town center. Be sure an order the tiny, buttery pancakes with LOTS of powdered sugar. Delicious!!! This cruise ended back in Amsterdam with a trip out to the Keukenhof Gardens. We had planned this trip around the "tulip season" which was supposed to be at it's peak in April. But, this year the tulips were late so not at their peak. The indoor display was fantastic and the gardens and grounds are worth a visit any time of year. Our next cruise started after another night in Amsterdam: 14 nt. Grand European Tour. We chose these two cruises back to back because we were able to book the same cabin and not have to move our belongings for 3 weeks. We stayed in cabin 214 which was located next to the stairway making it very convenient. Perfect location. The cabin was 154 sq. ft. with plenty of storage. The Grand European Tour's first stop was Cologne where we visited the Cathedral. We enjoyed all the stops along the way: Rudesheim, Mainz, Wertheim, Wurzburg, Rothenburg. Each town has it's own uniqueness and we always enjoyed our free time to explore. Nuremberg was one of our least favorite stop but maybe because we were there on Sunday. We discovered that this 2 weeks cruise was much more relaxing than the previous one. We had plenty of time to spend on the upper deck and view the magnificent scenery. My husband especially enjoyed experiencing our journey thru the locks. Because of the time of year and the recent rains, we had to leave port early one day to make it under a bridge before the river got too high. The crew removed the upper railing, chairs and lowered the pilot house so we could clear the bridge by 3 inches. We met people in Budapest that were stuck and couldn't move on the river because they didn't have enough clearance. We were so glad that our captain and crew were so good that we could continue on our river cruise. We make stops in Regensburg, Passau, Melk, Durnstein and Vienna. One of the reasons that we chose Viking again (we had taken a Viking Cruise in China) was because almost all the excursions are included. Each town we visited we had guided walks to see the most important features and then plenty of free time to leisurely explore. The local guides were great; friendly and well informed. We enjoyed our visit to Vienna and the evening concert of the Resident Orchestra was well worth the extra expense. Our least favorite stop was Bratislava and from there we headed into Budapest. We arrived at night and what a sight to behold! This city is so beautiful as you enter along the river and see all the city lights. Our cruise ended here and we extended our trip by staying in hotel for 3 nights. We will definitely take another Viking cruise someday. The crew and staff are excellent. The food was very good. We enjoyed the open seating at meals which gave us the opportunity to meet new people. We made several new friends and established our own little dinner group where we shared our daily activities and our local wines. The only disappointment was that when we were traveling thru all this wonderful wine country, the wine choices on board didn't change. My husband was also disappointed that we couldn't get local beer on board. We solved the wine problem by buying our wine on shore and opening it in our room before dinner. (7 Euro fee to have it opened at the dinner table.) Our friendly bartender was always willing to give us a couple of wine glasses to take to our cabin. The Reisling wine we bought in Rudesheim was the best we've ever had: So smooth and fruity. DELICIOUS!!!! We loved our time in Amsterdam. There is so much to see in this OPEN City and we walked all over. Warning! Watch out for the bikes! They will run you over. Our stay in Budapest was great and we used the tram system to get everywhere. WARNING! Every time you change from one line to the next. (Yellow to red, or green to red, etc.) Be sure and validate a new ticket. If you get stopped and you haven't got a validated ticket for that line-you will be fined!!! Don't ask me how I know this. Good Traveling!! Read Less