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8 Budapest to Baltic Sea Cruise Reviews

This summer i sailed the Danube on the Viking Prestige. Though this was only the second cruise I've been on it was one of the best trips I have ever been on. My grandparents and I did a 3 day extension of the cruise in Budapest which ... Read More
This summer i sailed the Danube on the Viking Prestige. Though this was only the second cruise I've been on it was one of the best trips I have ever been on. My grandparents and I did a 3 day extension of the cruise in Budapest which was gorgeous. Viking set everything up for us and we were right in the middle of everything we wanted to see and right on the Danube. Because I was with my grandparents and there were three of us we got one of the two suites. It was a beautiful space with room and shelves for all of us. While the boat was in between ports we would read in our room while looking out the window or enjoy the sun deck or library. Every meal was well prepared and delicious and there was food that everyone could enjoy. While we were ported and sometimes in between ports I got good Internet access and was able to email and check my facebook. On every excursion we got the opportunity to take the leisurely tour which was fabulous because both my grandmother and I have knee problems and we wanted to see everything but not have to walk all day long. The leisurely walks gave us the opportunity to see the same things as everyone else without getting too tired. The boat was beautiful and brand new so everything worked very. At the end of the cruise they had everything scheduled perfectly so everyone had their bags taken out and sent to the right places at the right times and people were taken to the correct airport or their next destination. We had a fantastic time and I encourage others to ride the beautiful Danube Read Less
Sail Date August 2011
I sailed on the River Beatrice from Budapest to Passau. The single occupancy surcharge is outrageously expensive, but my travel agent in the UK got me a deal which essentially cancelled it. Given the number of singles on the cruise, ... Read More
I sailed on the River Beatrice from Budapest to Passau. The single occupancy surcharge is outrageously expensive, but my travel agent in the UK got me a deal which essentially cancelled it. Given the number of singles on the cruise, Uniworld must be coining it. The welcome on to the ship was friendly and efficient: due to British Airways' inability to feed their passengers, we arrived having missed lunch. A lavish and varied buffet was available as soon as we boarded. The crew started as friendly and efficient and remained so until the point of departure where the First Captain Tom Buining was helping unload luggage. The Cruise Manager, Georgji, was brilliant: informative, cheerful, helpful and unflapable, and stunningly well-organised. She was admirably supported by the Concierge, Tanya. The stateroom had an extremely comfortably bed and a well-equipped shower room. It was a joy to find 20+ hangers in the wardrobe, all of which could be taken off the rail. The television was discreetly positioned and efficient. The decor however had never been elegant, sludgy browns and pseudo-tweed, and was distinctly showing signs of wear. Other staterooms were significantly more elegant. Meals were always a scramble to find your acquaintances, though the large tables accommodated larger groups and allowed some interesting conversations with other passengers you might not otherwise have met. The quality of food was consistently good - highlights were the crispy bacon each morning at breakfast, the soups at lunch and dinner, the range of fish served and the lunchtime puddings. There was an excellent selection at every meal. The weaknesses here were dull wines served at dinner - poor for the price of the cruise - and an astonishing inability to deal with vegetarian and religious diets. Bacon is never acceptable in a vegetarian salad, especially not when served to a Jew. Tours were uniformly good. Highlights were the optional concert of Strauss and Mozart at the Hofburg in Vienna, the included day tour to Salzburg with an outstanding guide, Sylvia, and ample free time for lunch, other visits and shopping, and the included visit to the Parliament and Market Hall in Budapest. The only weak guide was a lady on the included Vienna city tour who was dull and did not keep her group together. This was an outstanding cruise overall though only fair value for money. Read Less
Sail Date July 2011
Started trip with pre-trip in Prague, Hilton great but Viking staff generally confused there. Once we got on boat staff and trip looked much better. An included tour everyday. Local guides, whisper sound systems included so everyone could ... Read More
Started trip with pre-trip in Prague, Hilton great but Viking staff generally confused there. Once we got on boat staff and trip looked much better. An included tour everyday. Local guides, whisper sound systems included so everyone could hear, and Viking staff that knew exactly what they were doing. All the staff seemed dedicated to making sure you had a good time. I can't say enough about wearing good shoes. The cobble stones are wicked and exhausting. Most of the tours are through the narrow town streets with frequent stairs. That is just the way of European towns. The food was excellent with vegetarian offerings at every meal and a variety of alternatives if you didn't like the menu choices. I never heard anyone complain about the meals. On the other hand, it took four flights of stairs for me to get from my room to the dining room to be sure you are in shape for this cruise. For things to bring clothes, people loved the shoes, scarves, paprika, and sweet mustard. There are lots of cute clothes and dolls for kids and Coo Coo clocks. Do try some of the local sausages and beer along the trip. Read Less
Sail Date May 2011
Due to poor weather conditions many of us were late catching the ship. We missed the first dinner, but were very lucky compared with some who met the ship in Vienna (half way through the cruise). The ship was very well laid out. The ... Read More
Due to poor weather conditions many of us were late catching the ship. We missed the first dinner, but were very lucky compared with some who met the ship in Vienna (half way through the cruise). The ship was very well laid out. The cabins were what we were expecting. They had shampoo and a bar of soap, as well as liquid soap in the shower. But, you don't spend much time in your cabin as there is always plenty to do. The crew was excellent. We very rarely saw Anastas, our Cabin Steward. We would go to breakfast and the cabin was cleaned when we got back. The Executive Chef is to be complimented, as the food was great. Varona and her elves were fantastic. Very organized. On Christmas Eve, Varona led several of us to the Neue Cathedral in Linz for Midnight Mass, what a special time. And for us that had lost our luggage the ladies at the front desk washed out clothes and got them back to us before we woke up in the morning. Thank you! The ports were good. Bratislava had a lovely little cafe that served hot chocolate in huge mugs which you needed a spoon to eat like soup! Loved the Christmas Markets at Schonbrunn Palace, Salzburg and Bratislava. Durnstein, a small town of 350 people was fascinating. We visited the blue church it is an amazing baroque church in a small community. The wine and apricot brandy and liqour are not to be missed. The weather was snowy. We walked while it was snowing many times. But, in all very easy to walk with boots. Made a beautiful Christmas. In all, Viking did an excellent job of taking care of us. From the moment we embarked to the disembarkment. Thank you Viking for a lovely holiday. Read Less
Sail Date December 2010
This was our first river cruise and our first cruise with Viking. We sailed from Budapest to Passau on the Viking Sky. I had read several of the reviews before we left and I have to admit that I was quite concerned about many of the ... Read More
This was our first river cruise and our first cruise with Viking. We sailed from Budapest to Passau on the Viking Sky. I had read several of the reviews before we left and I have to admit that I was quite concerned about many of the comments as they were so poor. Based on our experience, I cannot believe that the other reviews were for the same ship we were on. We had an excellent trip and found only a couple minor deficiencies. We spent 4 nights in Vienna and one night in Budapest on our own prior to the cruise and then 3 nights in Munich and 2 nights in Fussen post- cruise. We did our own planning, air arrangements, and train transfers to and from the ship. Since we were in Budapest a day early we were able to talk to some of the people who were currently on the ship sailing from Amsterdam to Budapest. Their impression of their voyage was extremely positive. The Viking Sky was docked at the foot of the Chain Bridge. We boarded and checked in about 11:00am and had no problem leaving our luggage with the staff until the staterooms were ready around 3:00pm. We then spent a couple of hours wandering around the 'Buda' side of the city. There was a small buffet with soup, salads, sandwiches, and chicken paprika with pasta set up in the lounge. We grabbed some lunch about 2:00pm and relaxed until we were able to get into our room around 3:00pm. The bathroom and shower were larger than what we've had on the big ocean ships. It was especially nice to have glass shower doors instead of having to deal with a curtain. The bed, pillows, and down duvet were very comfortable and we slept well every night. After dinner the first night our fears of poor food and service were put aside. The meals were excellent and reflected the cuisine of the country in which we were docked. Based on our experiences in restaurants both pre and post cruise, the food on the ship was as good and sometimes better. The house wine was included. They had a white and a red each night and basically poured as much as you wanted during dinner. Specialty wines were always available by the bottle but we saw no need to order any additional wine. We felt there was plenty of choice at dinner and it wasn't pork every day. I had duck, venison, veal, lamb, and beef over the course of the week. There was always a fish choice and others at the table said it was very good as well. Soups, appetizers, and desserts also had a local and cultural flair. We didn't find anything at any meal that was bad or poorly prepared. Even my steak at the Captain's dinner was cooked medium rare as I requested. Breakfast was terrific. There was a huge buffet with cereals, breads, meat, cheese, pastries, scramble eggs, bacon, sausage, and smoked salmon every day. In addition you could order Eggs Benedict, omelets, French toast and blueberry pancakes. The service was efficient and excellent. Lunch also had a huge buffet plus a couple of choices for appetizers, entrees, and desserts. Generally it was way too much - especially after a big breakfast. After doing quite a few ocean cruises, we felt there were two really big benefits to a river cruise: being docked right in the main part of town and the ability to walk around the ports after dinner. Some nights there was local entertainment on board such as a gypsy band in Budapest. There were also some great lectures and demonstrations while cruising during the day - such as the bridge tour, strudel making, EU history, and especially the Program Director's personal experience growing up behind the iron curtain. The included tours with local guides in each port were outstanding - especially the tour of Melk Abby and the all day tour to Salzburg. We did the optional tour to Cesky Krumlov since we were not going to Prague after the cruise. It seems like we were busy all the time and the week just flew by. We met some really great people whom I'm sure we'll be in contact with and see again. The Program director arranged for a taxi to the Passau train station and we were off to Munich. The only criticisms we had were the lack of refrigerator and noise between cabins. Although we were really lucky and didn't have noisy neighbors, we heard several complaints from others about the noise and snoring coming from other cabins. This was an excellent experience and we look forward to taking another river cruise. Read Less
Sail Date October 2010
After sailing some 45 ocean cruises, with 35 on Celebrity Cruises, we decided to try a European River cruise to explore cities not accessible on a large cruise ship. We understood it would be a different experience as compared to a ... Read More
After sailing some 45 ocean cruises, with 35 on Celebrity Cruises, we decided to try a European River cruise to explore cities not accessible on a large cruise ship. We understood it would be a different experience as compared to a cruise ship, given that the river boats carry only about 150 passengers. The good: Very friendly staff, good excursions included in the cost of the cruise, a different historic European city each day and in most cities there was easy walking access to the city from the pier. Average: The rooms were small but clean with a nice size bathroom. The beds were very uncomfortable and it seemed as if our feet were higher than our heads. The not so good: The food was below average. The dining room was small and the staff ranged from very good to poor. Breakfast is served in a two hour window with either buffet or order from the kitchen. The breakfast was okay but don't expect a big selection. Lunch was served in a one hour window with sometimes a "light" lunch buffet served in the lounge. In the dining room there was salad bar or you could order off the menu. Since we do not eat pork products we had a hard time finding anything to order since it seemed every selection either had bacon or ham included in the dish, including the soups. On one occasion we ordered soup and fried fish and both were served at the same time, Thus the fish was cold by the time we finished the soup. Dinner was also heavy on pork dishes or a fish dish, usually a fired fish. Vegetarian dishes were mainly pasta and cheese. One night we all ordered the seared tuna and it was plain awful and we rejected it and ordered steak. Most nights they did offer alternative selections such as grilled chicken breast, poached salmon or steak. On the last night the main course was so unappetizing that 5 or the 6 at our table ordered poached salmon as the entree. The themed dinners limited you to selecting entrees only with everything else a set menu. Don't expect gourmet meals on a river boat. Evening Entertainment: Except for a few external entertainers that came on board while in port, the evenings can be quite boring. They did have a keyboard musician through out the cruise and he was very good. However, the lounge was too small to comfortably fit all the passengers to see the entertainers. Cruise prices are quite high as compared to a similar room and duration on a cruise ship. Read Less
Sail Date September 2010
Viking Pride Review - "Disappointment on the Danube" 13-27 July 2008 Budapest-Amsterdam Background Information We have cruised many times on smaller seagoing ships and twice on the Nile (long ago, before the current ... Read More
Viking Pride Review - "Disappointment on the Danube" 13-27 July 2008 Budapest-Amsterdam Background Information We have cruised many times on smaller seagoing ships and twice on the Nile (long ago, before the current overcrowding on the river. We had visited Budapest and Vienna before and know Amsterdam fairly well, but the other ports on this trip were new to us. So this was an experiment for us, in the hope that we would find river cruising to be an enjoyable alternative to the ocean. We have around 200 days on Silversea, so we chose Viking in the light of its claim to be the best river cruising company "by far". We paid roughly what we would have paid for two weeks on Silversea in Europe. Tickets arrived late, but in time after being chased up. There were several errors in documentation, including the wrong disembarkation date on the invoice. Travel to Port of Embarkation We took the inclusive flights from the UK on BA. They were on time and we had no problems. A local representative met us and about 10 others outside customs and we took our bags to the bus, which transferred us to the ship. Ship Info Viking Pride can take up to 150 passengers in 75 cabins and is one of five nearly identical ships. Pride was built in Holland in 2001. We were frequently parked (sorry, moored) right up against other ships, often walking through them to get to the shore, so we had the opportunity to make direct comparisons. Viking Pride looked old-fashioned when compared to these others. For example, many of these ships had much smarter public areas, French balconies, and sitting areas by the balconies. Safety is always a concern when traveling, so we were reassured to witness a staff safety drill, held when most passengers were ashore. Alarm buttons are provided around the ship and in every cabin. However, there was no security check on boarding in any ports. It wasn't a problem, but as Brits traveling in Europe we hadn't expected the passengers to be over 90% American. We met only one repeat Viking guest on this trip - but she was on her 11th trip with the line. Stateroom There are just two cabin sizes but five price grades depending on location. 63 cabins are 154 square feet and 12 are 120 square feet. All are outside cabins. Our cabin was category B and had sufficient space, though with nowhere to sit near the window except on the bed, unlike other ships we saw. The smaller cabins have a fold-down bed/sofa set-up, and this is much tighter on space. We had enough hanging space and plenty of drawer space, even for our two-week trip. All cabins have a shower only. The shower worked OK, but had a curtain not a door. There was plenty of hot water. Pairs of hand towels, bath towels, face cloths and a bath mat were supplied. The towels were tired and in need of replacement. Only basic toiletries were provided: a bar of soap, a fixed squeeze-bottle of shower gel in the shower, two unbranded mini-bottles of shampoo, two of body lotion, a shower cap and a "vanity set" (Q-tips and cotton wool). The toiletries were not replenished, except for the shower gel. There was a hairdryer to plug in at the small dressing table. Located here were two 220V sockets and one 110V socket (both European plug). The beds were reasonably comfortable with adequate duvets and nothing-fancy linen. One pillow each was supplied. Soundproofing was very good and it was rare to hear any obtrusive noise in the cabin. However, some passengers on the top deck were kept awake by a noisy party on the sun deck late at night. Air conditioning and heating (we needed both) was efficient, but crazily the vent was by the window, so behind the curtains/drapes at night. Unlike other ships, there were no net curtains. The TV had six channels, but three of these were in German. The only familiar channel was CNN. A different movie was shown each day on the TV. Before we left, we read the Cruise Critic forums and noted the lack of soap dishes in the showers. During our trip, new soap dishes were installed. Maybe somebody at Viking reads the forums? Let's hope so. Public Spaces The ship is designed to fit the locks on the rivers, with a few inches to spare. So the only public spaces are the restaurant at the rear, one lounge at the front with a bar, and some seating in the reception area. The ship was full and often felt crowded. It was often necessary to squeeze past others in public areas and there was a rush and then a line for any event or meal. The upholstery in the public areas, especially the lounge, seemed worn out. All of it was creased, some was torn, and inexcusably some was stained and/or dirty. The lounge in particular was not well cleaned. It was common to see crumbs on the floor in the morning from the night before. Tables in the lounge were not cleared routinely and empty coffee cups, glasses and other detritus were sometimes left for hours. In contrast, the outsides of the lounge windows were cleaned daily by the deckhands and gave a good view, which was needed in view of the weather. There is a small library with a few paperbacks and hardbacks. A small selection of board games and jigsaw puzzles was available. The sun deck was very large, but the elevated section at the rear, making up around 70% of the space, was closed due to low bridges for more than half of the cruise. If we had had better weather, this would have been a problem with a full ship. Smoking was only allowed outside and with the limited deck space it was sometimes necessary to move to escape others' smoke. There is relentless muzak in the public areas, including the sundeck, throughout the day. Dining Coffee, hot water, ice water and ice tea were available free at a table near reception. Breakfast was served mainly buffet style, with scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage and one other hot item, juice, cereal, fruit, cheese, cold meats, rolls and toast. You could also order an omelet, pancakes etc. Strangely, you couldn't have bacon if you ordered an omelet: you had to fetch that from the buffet yourself. Coffee at breakfast was mainly OK and better than the stuff in the machine at reception. An early riser breakfast - just pastries - was provided at reception from 6 am. Afternoon tea - just cakes - was provided in the same place for an hour each afternoon. With one exception, lunch was served aboard. There was a choice of two made-up sandwiches and a very limited selection of salad at a buffet, a soup and a hot dish, plus a dessert or ice cream. The cold items were sometimes duplicated in the lounge. Evening meals were served at 7:00, prompting a stampede for tables that became earlier and earlier each night. This made the whole cruise experience feel regimented. Water was served on arrival, but with the ship full one would sometimes wait up to half an hour for the order to be taken. The restaurant was open seating with tables of four, six and eight (no tables for two). There were one or two cold appetizers, two soups, one meat, one fish and one vegetarian dish, and two desserts (one of them usually ice cream). With such a limited choice, there were times when nothing available appealed. Rump steak and chicken breast, and Caesar salad were available as alternatives. The wine list was limited and pricey (Euros 21 a bottle for the cheapest non-house wine). It was possible to buy wine ashore and consume it in the restaurant with a corkage charge. There is no restriction on bringing wines aboard for consumption in the cabin. Meals were in general sufficient in quantity, but not always served hot and the quality was variable, ranging from good to terrible. Unlike most other dining venues afloat or ashore, we were never questioned when we had not cleared the plate. The alternative steaks were a prime example of this variability. Two steaks on separate nights were so tough that they could not be cut with a knife, but at least one steak was described by a table companion as good. It was very disappointing to walk through a thriving vegetable market ashore and return to lunch with what seemed like packet mashed potato and frozen vegetables. The one consistent highlight was the soups, which with minor exceptions were good and varied. We were concerned to see staff, as dinner was finishing on one evening, relaying tables for breakfast using cutlery left behind by diners. This seemed to us to be a hygiene risk. Many people aboard caught the "ship's cold". Activities There were few meaningful activities aboard. Several daytime events were arranged: a lecture on the European Union; a Bavarian folklore show; and a glass-blower. After dinner, there was usually some form of entertainment, but this ranged from the downmarket to the desperate - bingo and a raffle with cheap-and-nasty prizes were the low points. With no other public spaces, there was no escape if this wasn't your idea of a good time. Children's Clubs There are no activities for children. We had one teen aboard, but the next-youngest must have been in the forties and most were older still. Service Our cabin was clean and kept that way, though we were surprised that the housekeeper herself was assigned to our cabin. It wasn't clear how she did this as well as supervising the others. When we asked for a sewing kit, reception tried to sell us one but couldn't find it, and the housekeeper came to the rescue. We felt that the ship was understaffed when full. Maybe this contributed to the other service problems. The dining staff seemed hassled and unmotivated, with at least one particularly apparently unhappy and unsmiling person. A typical response to a routine request was "In a minute, sir". The front desk was no better, except when large numbers of passengers were boarding or disembarking, when it was "all hands to the pump". (On leaving the ship, you swap your door key card for a paper card, reversing the process on your return, so reception knows who is off the ship.) Bar service was reasonably friendly but very slow; there was a reasonable selection of drinks. The Program Director had apparently worked for Viking for 10 years but had poor colloquial English and weak pronunciation. Neither she nor any of the senior staff socialized with passengers. The Hotel Manager was invisible, apparently staying in his office except during mass boarding or disembarkation. There were two or three consistently enthusiastic staff, but sadly they were in the minority. On two occasions when we attempted to raise minor concerns with the "program" (or cruise) staff, we were told that they were "too busy". After that, we gave up. Entertainment A musician was aboard and swapped with a colleague about half-way through the trip. Both played keyboards, guitar and sang, during afternoon tea and before and after dinner. Shore Excursions This should have been an interesting itinerary, covering the Danube north from Budapest, the Main-Danube canal, part of the Main river, and the Rhine to Amsterdam. We were unlucky to have cold, wet weather for much of the first week. There are several opportunities - though not as many as you might guess - to relax as the scenery unfolds around you. By far the most spectacular section is the upper Rhine, with its many riverside castles and steep hillsides and cliffs. This was almost worth the whole trip. Most shore excursions were included, with transport if necessary, although many were walking tours. The guides were as good as we have found on ship-organized excursions elsewhere, with good, colloquial English. When coaches were used, they were completely full. You are assigned to a particular coach for the duration of the cruise. In common with other lines, Viking uses portable short-range radio receivers coded for each bus and thus for each guide. This is a good idea and avoids the need for the guide to shout. The receivers were in short supply within a few days, presumably because some passengers forgot to turn them in. As far as we could tell, nothing was done about this. For our taste, we felt that the tours were too long and left too much free time. However, in most locations you were free to walk or take public transport or a cab back to the ship. Good maps and other tourist information were available for almost all ports before arrival, together with a slip of paper giving the ship's location and phone number. This was very useful for handing to non-English-speaking cab drivers. Viking makes much of its dedicated piers and central locations. This was not our experience in most of the ports on this particular itinerary. In many ports, we were doubled up with other ships and in some (Melk, for example) it was a 15-minute walk into town. In one case (Rudesheim), we were bussed (actually a "little train" into the centre), but return transport was at our own expense. Disembarkation Getting off the ship is rarely a highlight, and this was no exception. The usual questionnaire was distributed, together with an envelope for gratuities. Gratuities were mentioned briefly in the disembarkation talk, and it was possible to add them to the final bill, but we felt no pressure to give the recommended amount. We left the ship on time, but then had a long wait for our bags to be transported to the bus. No matter: we had been taken from the ship three-and-a-half hours before our flight, so we had more than enough time at the airport. Summary We felt that Viking fell a long way short of our expectations. The price was in the luxury bracket and the experience was nowhere near luxury. The big disappointment was service. We saw no evidence of management, leadership or commitment to customer service at any level. There are plenty of other cruise lines in Europe. Our advice would be to find a better line. Read Less
Sail Date July 2008
REFLECTIONS and SUGGESTIONS [8-15-05] Baltic Sea tour - The Star Princess, preceeded by Princess' land tour. Land: July 18 to 24. Cruise: July 24 to Aug. 3, 2005 Land itinerary: Budapest-Vienna-Prague. Cruise: ... Read More
REFLECTIONS and SUGGESTIONS [8-15-05] Baltic Sea tour - The Star Princess, preceeded by Princess' land tour. Land: July 18 to 24. Cruise: July 24 to Aug. 3, 2005 Land itinerary: Budapest-Vienna-Prague. Cruise: Copenhagen-Stockholm-Helsinki-St. Petersburg-Tallin-Gdansk-Berlin- Copenhagen. 1. Preliminaries: For my wife and me, ages 58 and 69 respectively (very active persons), this was our 4th Princess cruise. Many persons submit helpful reviews of the Princess ships and commentaries about the places. I'll try to limit my remarks mostly to advice-related matters. 2. We suggest that you consider making your own air plans. If done well in advance, you can expect more convenient connections to suit your own needs and desires. The cost is often no greater than Princess offers, and usually less. For example, we were able to stop for about 24 hours in Amsterdam on the way to the land tour's origin in Budapest, at no extra air cost for this "additional" city. 3. In Amsterdam, we were delighted at the Sheraton Hotel Airport's convenience and rooms. We took the train beneath the adjacent airport to the city; fast and inexpensive. Be prepared to walk extensively in all venues, of course. We suggest very comfy tennis/walking shoes. Of course, watch the internat'l. weather reports in the weeks before you depart. In the weeks of our trip, we encountered little rain, but substantial cloudiness; moderate temperatures. A raincoat would have been unnecessary. Wise to take a light, unlined jacket, preferably rain-resistant, small umbrellas and a crushable rain hat. Take plenty of batteries/film. No need to buy street maps in the U.S. for the toured cities because many of the hotels and tour bus guides distributed better ones (containing local ads); Princess sometimes has some ok ones in their daily newsletter; and Rick Steves' walking maps are very good. One lightweight sweater is a good idea for cooler evenings. Sport clothes are ok for all restaurants on land and on the ship; but on the ship, no T-shirts, jeans, shorts in the dining rooms. On the two formal nights, ok for men to wear dark suits. Better than tux, since tux requires formal shoes; and most appropriate for the dining rooms are shined dark leather shoes. Therefore, no need to take more than one pair of leather (dressier) shoes. Although the international air weight limits on baggage are generous, the intra-Europe flight(s) limit you to 44 lbs./person; the penalties for overweight can be costly. 4. In Amsterdam, crowds notwithstanding, visit the Anne Frank House (museum). Feel the fear and claustrophobia that must have infected her and her family for those long years, hiding from the gestapo. Canal ride, of course. On a Sunday afternoon, we couldn't get much of the flavor of the Red Light District. Get "high" just breathing normally on many of the side streets from the atmosphere of legal pot. 5. Land tour: Princess subcontracted its land tour to Kuoni Tours, Ltd., of Zurich. Our prior and present experience is that Kuoni does a wonderful job of organizing and operating these tours. Our tour leader was Mary T. Keenan -- delightful, informed, witty, efficient, professional, thoughtful. What a treat if she is assigned as your leader! Kuoni makes excellent selection of sites, restaurants (some meals are included; some aren't); allocation of "free" time and tour time and logistics of moving people and luggage. The local guides they engaged were generally good. With respect to the "local" guides, it's the luck of the draw. Some recite their speeches from rote; some are more flexible in their presentation style. All are knowledgeable. All are fluent in English. Some are more willing to answer questions about local living conditions and matters of down-to-earth interest to most of us; some are not. 6. All rooms in the Budapest Marriott were great; views of the Danube below; centrally located. In free time, we walked extensively. We recommend the Dohany Synagogue (cathedral-like in structure; huge); the House of Terror (gestapo headquarters for Hungary in WW II; later used by the Communists for the same purpose; view the holding and torture rooms, the extensive photos of life during that War and under the Communists after 1945; rent the optional headphones to hear the narrative that tracks the photos in the many rooms; total cost is $11./person). The House of Terror is accessible easily by subway; the subways operate on an honor system, unofficially: you buy the tickets, usually from a dispensing machine near the tracks; but the trains employ no visible conductors to collect them). Walk the length of the main pedestrian-only shopping street. On one end is the Public Market, a huge former train station filled with booths for the display of fresh foods, linens. Specialty of the Market was the paprika; many varieties; good for inexpensive gifts with clever packaging. At the other end, the famous open-air cafe, Gardaud's, featuring local ice cream and pastries; can't miss it; $1.l0/scoop. Prices in Hungary: quite reasonable, especially in view of price levels in most of the other cities we visited, and those in western Europe today. An optional evening boat ride on the Danube was fun/interesting. The palaces/castles on the "other side" of the River (the City is divided by the River into Buda and Pest) are illuminated at night. Eat in any of the restaurants, in all these cities, which appear interesting to you. In the touristy areas, of course, the menu will be in English, generally. If the restaurant doesn't have English translations, it's nonetheless an adventure to try the place anyway. One night, Mary's agenda included a gourmet dinner at Nostalgia, where we were serenaded by their talented combo; beautiful place, but music too loud and relentless, inhibiting conversation. 7. Currency: Before departing Denver, we bought some local currencies at our big-city bank, a good idea. Don't overbuy, though; it's not easy to move from country to country, excepting Euro countries, trying to find residual value in the former country's moneys. ATM machines are everywhere. Conversion rates vary; and conversion to our dollars may entail an additional charge when you arrive home, especially with credit card purchases. Plan a tentative, albeit rough, budget, in terms of foreign currency needs. Our dollars are accepted in many countries by many vendors; but not universally. Guidebooks are of little authority on this point; you have to determine the situation at each vendor or restaurant yourself. 8. The bus tour to Vienna was scenic and interesting, including a boat ride from Melk, Hungary, to Durstein. See the many "windmills", electricity-generators, on the way. They are huge, graceful, mesmerizing, and appear to be turning at a lazy speed. The Hilton in Vienna was well-located and handsome. We spent a long afternoon walking the city on our own, especially the Hapsburg palaces which comprise a multi-block area near the city center; and the main pedestrian-only shopping street. See the acrobats, mimes and musicians performing in the streets for handouts. Mary arranged for us one evening to attend an optional concert featuring a combo of about 8 very talented musicians playing selections from Mozart/Strauss—and even featuring some short ballet vignettes! Delightful. About $65/person. Held in one of the many (non-air-conditioned, of course) old palaces that abound in Vienna. She arranged for front-row seats; all other attendees had knees-to-chest seats. The bus tour was good, giving us the needed urban orientation. On our own, we took a trolley to the suburb of Grinzing, looking for the artsy-craftsy galleries that purportedly abound; we found almost none, which attests to my sense of map-reading since they were probably there. Don't look for a light lunch in Vienna. The heavy, but delicious schnitzel, tantamount to our chicken-fried steak in density and calories, is de rigeur at all the restaurants we saw, excepting some small stand-up food places. Vienna prices were significantly higher than in Budapest. Typical was our late-night stop at a delightful ice cream parlor with outdoor seating across from the Hilton. Four scoops of ice cream and one tiny coffee, E7.50. 9. Prague's hotel was the Marriott; well-located and first-class again. Key sites are the big clock in the Town Center, the narrow streets with shops, reminiscent of Venice; the Charles Bridge crossing the Vatlava River. Prices were the most modest of any of the cities on land/cruise. We recommend buying crystal, especially artistic forms. Comparable items in Scandinavia were much higher-priced. Shipping costs/insurance, though, are high. We lugged a heavy crystal bowl, beautiful, modern, unique - back to the hotel and on the planes to Copenhagen and later to Colorado. Shipping/insurance quotes exceeded $100. on this item. Restaurants, even mainstream ones in the town center area, are all reasonably priced, and the food, delicious. For $24., incl. tip, we two ate like royalty one evening, randomly selecting a restaurant in that area which seemed to be pleasing its many patrons (half of them eating outside). Our local guide, Libby, was excellent. Included in the official tour were visits to castles across that River; a lunch/boat ride through locks separating portions of the River as it passes through Prague. See the Jewish Quarter and cemetery steeped in 20th Century (and much earlier) history; but closed on Saturdays. There is the oldest synagogue in Europe, 13th Century. The land tour concluded with an elegant dinner in a private dining room at what we understand is the city's finest restaurant. Service, food and environment were awesome. (We'll try to find its name for you, if you request). 10. Flew to Copenhagen; boarded the Star Princess. No point in my describing this ship to you; doubtless, you've read or heard so much about it. It's huge, refined; superb service; great food, entertainment and atmosphere. Amenities are endless. The omnipresent photographers are unobtrusive, believe it or not, and do take great photos of you and your friends to supplement your own. We had traveled on the Star and its sisters, the Grand and the Golden. The 2600 passengers never "crowded up", which attests to the ship's interior design and operating efficiencies. The next day was our only sea day. I mention this, because, with or without the land tour preceeding the cruise, the itinerary is exhausting, provided that you walk and climb at all the cities, where appropriate, either on the land excursions or on your own. The "sea days" on other cruises, including those of Princess, afford respite from this rigor. The cruise is touted as "10-day." I heard it formerly was 14 days, which makes more sense, although probably enables the cruise line to make fewer cruises on the summer itinerary of the Baltic. 11. In Stockholm, (we took the "Best of Stockholm" tour), the main attraction is the Vasa Museum, where there is displayed a gigantic, ornate Viking ship which sunk on its maiden voyage in 1638, and was discovered and retrieved from the bay about 20-some years ago. Because of a quirk in the salinity of the bay water at that point, and the soft mud at the bottom, the extent of the preservation is awesome. The sailors existed on salted herring for every meal on these ships; I assume bad breath wasn't an issue for discussion. Also notable there are the Nobel Prize sites—banquet venue, prize announcement and bestowal areas. The Princess all-day tour was excellent, again in large part because of the guide. 12. In Helsinki, a half-day tour was adequate, the points of interest being relatively difficult to see "on your own" being the Rock Church and the Sibelius monument in a beautiful park area. The market square, a bazaar of little shops, was interesting. Earrings were displayed by the actual artisans, as were the deerskins and heavy sweaters. Prices were reasonable, considering the apparent quality of these items and the high prices found in the formal stores in the other Scandinavian cities. 13. St. Petersburg was certainly the highlight of the cruise. By researching Cruise Critic and its contributors, and in other ways, we researched the issue of private tours in St. Petersburg and in Berlin. We opted to go that route in both cities, and it worked wonderfully. In Russia, our group from the Star consisted of seven compatible persons; we had prearranged to meet on the Star on the second day of the cruise to become acquainted. The company contracted, Den-Rus, was superb. Its guide, with us for the full two days, Nadya, was outstanding; fluent in English; a resident of St. Petersburg; knowledgeable. The profound advantages: We could have extensive dialog with her about life in her city, in Russia; about all matters of day-to-day living. We could hear her in the crowded venues, such as the vast Hermitage museum, rather than being unable to hear the tour guide who says "...gather round me and listen..." when you can't gather around him/her and you can't hear. No time wasted in embarking or disembarking from the tour buses. Flexibility in semi-customizing the itinerary. For example, we rode the famous subway for three stops; we took a hydrofoil from Peterhof Castle back into the city; we ate at Demidov's luxury restaurant on the Neva River. We cut short the umpteenth palace in favor of more/less shopping, as our small group wished. Stops for photo-ops were at our whim, not subject to the rigorous schedule of the buses. You get the picture. Cost: About the same as the two-day tour(s) from Princess. Same in Berlin, where the one-person tour company caused her driver to meet us at the ship, drive us the 2 hours into Berlin, and we could, and did, customize our itinerary to do and to see what we wanted. You can contact us for more info. about her. Incidentally, our stereotype of a Yugo for transportation in St. Petersburg morphed into a modern air-conditioned van; and the same in Berlin. The Berlin tour also cost about the same as the Princess tour (in which private railroad cars whisk the cruisers into Berlin, about 2 ½ hours). 14. We had heard that Tallin, Estonia, was the place to purchase fine linens, but we didn't find the linens we sought. No tour is needed here. Simply leave the ship and hike to the top of the Old Town, about 45 minutes. Exerting, but reward yourself with a coffee or soft drink in the central town square near the summit. If you feel and think that you're in a medieval town, with the turrets, castles, ramparts - you're right; you are. Charming; a piece from the Middle Ages, of one of the many countries that were conquered and re-conquered time and again. Be thankful that you weren't a knight in shining armor, ascending the hills there. 15. Gdansk, Poland, is reached by disembarking at Gdynia, about 25 miles away. (The Poles are spartan in the use of vowels). The bus to-and-from Gdansk is all you need. All the tour buses have a guide separate from the driver; ours gave a "tour" presentation along the way that couldn't have been better on a tour-tour! Gdansk is best seen as a shopper's joy - amber jewelry of all qualities, colors and shapes is the specialty there. Street vendors and high-end shops compete on long streets adjacent to the (you guessed it) river that runs through the town. By the way, be sure to bargain with all street vendors in all cities; it's expected. Take care in buying amber because it might be simply dark glass. But for $21, from a street booth, we bought a gorgeous amber/silver necklace. For five times that price, we bought earrings from a main-line store, being comfortable about the quality. Other great buys there were sweaters, displayed by the artisan, and yes, you guessed it: linens, beautifully-embroidered, at reasonable prices. God bless capitalism: we passed Lech Walesa's palace, a far cry from the living accommodations for the Gdansk shipyard workers whom he led in the revolution against the Communists about fifteen years ago. 16. In Berlin, we had a private tour, as noted, sharing the van and the cost with two lively cruisers who were also on our Russian private tour. We suggested an itinerary that included the inside/outside of the Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind (whose first U.S. project is the Denver Art Museum, a spectacular addition to our city), the two-week old Holocaust Museum, lunch at the Reichstag, and driving through the former eastern section of the city. There's a two-hour waiting line of tourists to gain admittance to the Reichstag building; we waltzed in directly with prearranged luncheon reservations. It's a dramatic place to eat; sliding roof; world-renowned glass dome about 80' high atop this old majestic, infamous structure. A memorable experience, not available on a Princess tour. A quick, somewhat frivolous stop at the leading department store there, with the shortened name of KaDeWa, is worthwhile. This is more spectacular than the very many luxury dept. stores we've seen around the world and here. The top floor is a glassed-in restaurant/delicatessen with gourmet selections that are astounding in their variety and display. Although Germany is plagued now with chronic unemployment, primarily the result of its non-competitive labor and production costs, the wealthy are still wealthy - as is the apparent case throughout the world. It's interesting to see the low-end Mercedes and Beemers, not sold in the U.S., as taxis. 17. For us (tour called "Hamlet's Castle, Rosenborg, and Copenhagen City Drive"), Helsingor was the disembarking port for Copenhagen, our final stop. The Princess tour is about 2/3 day, and well worthwhile. The bus drive is about 35 minutes into Copenhagen, and parallels the Baltic coast. You have never seen more bicycles. I observed few over-weight natives. Car ownership is costly. The tour ends with adequate time for you to explore the Tivoli (disappointing gardens and over-rated beauty; missing it is no loss), and, yes, you're right again, the main pedestrian-only shopping street. On this street are merchants of international reputation for luxury, adjacent to sleazy T-shirt shops; do both pay the same rental rate? If you haven't been canal-ridden-out by now, that's an option, as in Amsterdam but not as many. Of course, there's the mandatory visit to the Little Mermaid statue (provided by the Princess tour). The castles on the Princess tour are worthwhile seeing - the "Hamlet" one at Helsingor, and the Rosenborg Castle. They look and feel like castles, and date from the middle ages, complete with moats, turrets and drawbridges. Everything, in short, but the guys who toss the cauldrons of boiling oil from the ramparts. 18. Disembarkation day. As usual, conducted efficiently by Princess. But don't take Princess' word that taxis to the Airport will be in short supply. If you have about 4 hours until flight-time, and if there are no other cruise ships in your port, there should be plenty of taxis at your ship which will take you to the airport with 3 hours to spare. Allow those three hours, because the lines for check-in, especially at SAS, required one hour merely to reach the counter. The Princess option takes you to a Hilton hotel to sit-and-wait (if you have an afternoon flight), until another bus takes you to the airport, at $40/person. The taxi with tip was about $40; we had us two passengers; and there was no intermediate holding stop. The highway to the airport is modern and was efficient in mid-morning on a weekday. This was the trip of a lifetime; don't miss it when the opportunity next arises for you. stevesusmn@aol.com. Read Less
Sail Date July 2005

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