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16 Europe - Black Sea Family Cruise Reviews

Drawn to this Holland America 21 day Norway, Baltic Treasures Koningsdam cruise by the great itinary, previous excellent experience with HAL service, on Nieuw Amsterdam, we are independent travellers who enjoy the ease of relaxing ... Read More
Drawn to this Holland America 21 day Norway, Baltic Treasures Koningsdam cruise by the great itinary, previous excellent experience with HAL service, on Nieuw Amsterdam, we are independent travellers who enjoy the ease of relaxing time efficient travel to multiple destinations, the convenience of many choices in dining and entertainment, and the social interaction, offered by cruising. Koningsdam is lighter, brighter, occasionally glitzier, with pleasant furnishings, colours and fittings. Interesting art,paintings , sculpture and light fittings catch the eye in public spaces, while cabins are comfortable with a welcome glass doored shower, excellent aircon, great beds and larger TV. Cabin Staff are as efficient, unobtrusive and friendly as always. Food is fresh ,varied and generous , high quality meats ,fish fruit and vegetables, both in MDR and Lido and throughout the ship, attractively presented with appetisingly small potion sizes. However, whether it be a design issue, management strategy, system breakdown or staff issue ,dining and dining service delivery, formerly Hal's forte became its' abject failure throughout our cruise. Despite empty tables, (which often remained empty !) Open Seating diners were sent with Beepers to the in range Ocean Bar to wait sometimes 45 minutes before being seated ,or joining a table of other guests .Attempts to book days ahead to avoid this irritating daily debacle , either failed completely , or the available times were at 5.15 or after 9pm. I did observe guests with fixed seating who waited up to 40 minutes after their seating times to be seated, but don't know how widespread the issue was in this dining category Using the redesigned Market Station Lido during the main dining periods was a frustrating and at times difficult experience. Firstly , the new 12 second Handwash (Do the maths x passenger numbers ,and you 'll get the idea )stations , impractical, too few, ignored by staff and guests .Pueril Gel stations were made available but no emphasis on their use before entry. A hygiene breakdown waiting to happen. Perhaps this concern is behind the new Lido design, where even a glass of juice must be handed to you by a staff member, as self service has disappeared. A wonderful concept, unfortunately a disasterous implementation, as it results in queues for every item of your meal, sorties to different stations ,cold food,and excessive time wasted assembling the simplest meal. The stations are understaffed , and stations frequently closed . On the floor,tables are covered with dirty dishes which overwhelmed staff have not cleared,so it is not clear if diners have merely returned to the stations to complete their meal , or that a space is actually available for newcomers. Fewer staff means water, drinks are much slower to appear. The Lido is a casual eatery, supposedly offering a faster dining option, and pleasant social contact in less formal settings,but it has deteriorated to a poorly run cafeteria despite the good food quality offered, and a place to be avoided particularly at Breakfast times. The Dutch Café another good concept ,poorly designed , offered good food, reasonable coffee, long queues (one coffee station) too few tables ,and dirty dishes uncleared for excessive periods. Explorations Café12Dive In 9 , Gelato Bar offered coffee cakes , hamburgers , sandwiches pizza , and provided good service and quick meals . The Tamarind Restaurant has excellent food, staff and service. All drink orders are now computer generated, but this has resulted in very long delays as waiters in public areas fill orders and return only when trays are full with several orders combined, a time consuming strategy in reality. The World Stage in the round is a technically excellent facility, with great sound, lighting and screens. Why is it not used more effectively? Hal repeated World Stage Shows 3 times during our 21 day cruise which is just cheap and not acceptable. Quality of entertainment varied from excellent Frozen Planet, the HAL singers, dancers and orchestra to tired magician comedian acts who should be superannuated. The Lincoln Centre, Two Pianos and BB King provided shows attended and enjoyed by many, but were rather repetitive in nature. The Cruise Director Role has been redesigned to that of Dutch translator for the Captain, and the focus on hosting has almost completely disappeared both around the ship and in the entertainment venues, leaving an impersonal void and lack of ambience or heart around the vessel. The Port Advisor gave very basic overviews which were .of little value, but the Library has disappeared and was replaced with some small shelves of new travel Books which could be used in Deck 12 Crows Nest We travel independently in ports , considering HAL Ecursions overpriced, overcrowded and poor use of valuable port time, a perception continually reinforced by our observation of them in cruise port hot spots. Yes we enjoyed our cruise, but it was only a good cruise for the above reasons , when it should have been a great cruise.Design flaws, new cost cutting Carnival management strategies, HAL you are seriously destroying your brand and formerly excellent reputation.Would we sail on Koningsdam again ?. No, not unless reviews show these serious issues are remedied . Would we recommend her to others.. NO Will we sail with HAL again.? Unlikely Read Less
Sail Date June 2016
Great time. This cruise was very port intensive...29 days and 20 post of call. Had to miss one port due to a storm but because of this we had to stay two days in Rome...no problem with that!! Over all cruise was great with no major ... Read More
Great time. This cruise was very port intensive...29 days and 20 post of call. Had to miss one port due to a storm but because of this we had to stay two days in Rome...no problem with that!! Over all cruise was great with no major problems. The staff is always wonderful. No problems with the staff in the dinning room and the food was always good. I do wish the entertainment was better but, it is a small ship with little room for big shows. This was our 4th time on the Prinsendam and will sail on her again. Love this ship, although, she does need a good deal of upgrading. Cabin and main areas need a lot of updating. This is an old ship and is really showing her age. Heard several guests had some major pluming problems. Although, we have never had any problems, we have heard that others have had the same pluming problems on every cruise. We have sailed with Holland America 10+ times. We have never had a problem that could not be fixed. Read Less
Sail Date September 2015
Staff very nice and pleasant. Balcony cabin b222 very good position clean and tidy. Shops on board well over priced, sale day on board like a jumble sale (junk) Food OK always found something to eat. Entertainment very poor kareoke ... Read More
Staff very nice and pleasant. Balcony cabin b222 very good position clean and tidy. Shops on board well over priced, sale day on board like a jumble sale (junk) Food OK always found something to eat. Entertainment very poor kareoke not entertainment just cheap penny pinching not putting on acts. Comedian nothing to right home about and magic show seen same old card tricks several times done better. Formal night people don't bother we felt very over dressed(disappointed) shorts don't count as formal ware. Staff were pleasant especially Richard in cafe All the ship wanted to do was try to sell sell sell. Photograph poor back drops why not use the elegance of the ship instead of false back grounds. After all of the above enjoyed cruise but disappointing as being American ship thought it would be be better. Read Less
Sail Date August 2015
This was the best cruise I've ever been on. I was iffy about the teen club, Entourage (was 17, turned 18), but it ended up being one of the main reasons I had such a good time. All the friends I met there were amazing and we had so ... Read More
This was the best cruise I've ever been on. I was iffy about the teen club, Entourage (was 17, turned 18), but it ended up being one of the main reasons I had such a good time. All the friends I met there were amazing and we had so much fun in the room playing fooseball, air hockey, wii, and dancing around. We also saw a show which I absolutely loved. All the entertainers were really good singers and dancers and I was never bored (which was a main concern of mine). The food isn't the greatest, but there are some really amazing dishes. The cakes and steaks are a bit dry. Actually, none of the desserts are good, but I loved all the carb based dishes like pasta, and potato soups. There's plenty to do: work out at the gym, get a massage at the spa, lounge around at the pool, watch shows, and participate in random activities around the ship that happen at all times. I loved the places we visited, but be careful of which tours you book. For example, the Best of Berlin was great, but in Russia, we visited 3 churches in a row which was boring for anyone my age. Hop on Hop off works great for small cities like Helsinki, but not for big ones like Stockholm, in which I spent an hour every time waiting for a bus to come by. Some excursions are also really fun, like the icebar. When you come back on the ship, staff offer you hot towels and cool drinks as you wait to embark. The wait isn't too long either. The staff is AMAZING. Everyone is so nice and always ready to help you. I knew some of the staff by name and they knew me. My friends and I even talked to one of the staff about drama and stuff going on around the ship. When I sprained my ankle in soccer, a staff member made sure that I was okay and could walk fine and even jokingly offered me a wheelchair. The cruise is very considerate as well. My room got flooded, so they moved us to a new one immediately (a bigger one too) and gave us apology chocolates. I even got a cupcake and note for my birthday. Read Less
Sail Date August 2015
We really enjoyed this cruise. The ports were the main reason we decided to book this cruise, and we really were happy with the places we got to visit. We were in each port just long enough to decide if we wanted to return for a longer ... Read More
We really enjoyed this cruise. The ports were the main reason we decided to book this cruise, and we really were happy with the places we got to visit. We were in each port just long enough to decide if we wanted to return for a longer visit...or not. We had three rooms, and our traveling group ranged in age from 14 to 70. The cabins were nice, clean and well laid out. The TV system will eventually be fantastic for moments of downtime in the cabin. However, it still is working out some technical kinks. In each of our rooms the televisions "froze" multiple times while on board, and a technician had to come to reset them. Getting on and off the ship was a breeze. Dinners were good, but a bit slow in delivery...waiters seem to have too many tables. The shows were all entertaining, and the continuous entertainment in the open lobby area was very nice. The cruise staff was somewhat limited in offerings. There weather was cool, not cold, but cool enough that they never tried to do anything on the pool deck. We used SPB in Berlin and St. Petersburg. Hop On Hop off in Oslo...be sure to go to the ski jump. We missed Helsinki because it was too windy to dock. In Stockholm we rode the train to town...follow the blue line...it couldn't be simpler! Stockholm was a great stop, as was Tallinn. In Tallinn we did a bike tour...but Tallinn is not really a biking town, so I don't recommend it. Copenhagen however was the perfect town to go an organized bike tour! We also did a Segway tour in Copenhagen...be sure to take advantage of this! Great way to see a lot of the city, in a limited amount of time. Before going to Estonia, be sure to watch "The Singing Revolution." Enjoy your cruise. Read Less
Sail Date July 2015
We've been on over twenty five cruises and this one is our third with Thomson. We have been on Celebration (Spirit’s sister ship) and Spirit previously. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary; Thomson cruises tend to have ... Read More
We've been on over twenty five cruises and this one is our third with Thomson. We have been on Celebration (Spirit’s sister ship) and Spirit previously. We chose this cruise because of the itinerary; Thomson cruises tend to have very interesting itineraries due to some of their ships’ relatively small size (in comparison to the huge modern ships we usually sail on), meaning they can call at different ports. We embarked at Maramis, a pleasant port area, and it is just a short walk into the local town. We had not booked a specific inside cabin (this costs extra) so only found out what it was (cabin 518, deck 3) when we arrived at the port. We had a cabin for four as we were taking our grown up children with us. Cabin 518 is in the absolute middle of the ship and had an abundance of wardrobe and drawer space for the four of us. Our Cabin stewards, Abu and Samir, were very pleasant and were happy to comply with our various requests (including removing the soda cans and snacks from one of the table tops; these are expensive to purchase and take up space). Over the holiday they made us some fab towel animals; my favourite being the huge crocodile which took up the whole length of the bed. Due to Spirit’s small size, we were minutes away from everywhere. We had our evening meals at the Compass Rose restaurant and so enjoyed the very good service of our waiters on the first night, Adam and Ahmed, that we returned to their tables every evening. The food was usually quite plain and small portions but pleasant enough (lamb was very, very good though). The bread basket on the table had at least five different types of bread on offer, our water was refilled regularly. After dinner we usually went to the Broadway for the show, then to High Spirits for a quiz show or to hear Top Man play, an excellent band, then on to the casino, finishing with tea/coffee at the buffet at the back of the ship, sitting outside watching the wake in the early hours (a really good selection of teas on offer too). If you like star gazing and want to avoid light pollution go to deck nine and, next to cabin 005, is a slim staircase leading to an outside area at the front of the ship. It is very dark here so take care until your eyes adjust because you may find people lying on the ground looking at the stars (I recommend you take a towel). This is also a good place to sunbathe during the day. Every evening we had different 'cocktails of the day' for £3.95 rather than £4.60 (and no added service charge either). There were always three to choose from, different every day; a frozen (e.g. Strawberry Daiquiri), a martini (e.g. Misti) or standard cocktail (e.g. Bon Voyage). Very good value. We did two ships tours; first at Constanta, Romania. We chose the City tour at 3.5 hours. We visited a museum, a cathedral and the Mamaia beach resort on the Black Sea; a very busy resort with shallow water, no tide, really safe for kids and great for swimming. If we ever return to Constanta we will get a taxi straight to the beach resort and book one of the shaded sunbeds (inexpensive for the day); we really enjoyed it there. The other tour was in Istambul; A Taste of Istambul (3.5 hours); where we visited the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and the Underground Cistern. Last time we were in Istambul we were unable to enter the Blue Mosque because it closes at different times for prayers so went on the tour specifically to see the inside. Don’t worry if you are not dressed appropriately (covered knees/shoulders/hair) because there is a booth that you pass where you will be given a covering – this is for men and woman. You will be given a plastic bag to put your shoes in, if you feel uncomfortable about walking in the mosque in bare feet, take a pair of socks to wear. The Blue Mosque is very busy all day, it is truly amazing inside. At Odessa, Ukraine we could see the famous Potemkin Steps from the ship so we walked up them into town. There was a big thunderstorm so we sheltered while it poured then walked around the streets, absorbing the local vibe. Many of the buildings we saw were somewhat neglected but had obviously been previously very beautiful; “faded grandeur” sums it up. We got £10 worth of local currency and found a (non-tourist) kebab shop where we had a snack, coffees, beers and free wifi for (quite!) a while. We also had to buy after-sun (due to missing a bit and getting a burnt shin the day before). It just shows that the sun cream I got from Poundland (factor 15) really works as long as you don’t miss a bit. During lunchtime we ate on the Lido and I recommend the Chef’s Corner booth; every day a different lunch option freshly made for you: Enchiladas, BBQ, Deli Sandwich, Crepes, Gyros etc. At breakfast time it was an omelette booth with a choice of cheese, ham and vegetables. In the evening the buffet tables were laid with table cloths/cutlery etc., for passengers who didn't want to dress for dinner at the Compass Rose. Chef’s Corner in the evening was freshly prepared pasta dishes or Teppanyaki. Also, every morning at breakfast on the Lido the pastry chef had prepared some sort of bread/pastry dish relevant to the port we were visiting. A waiter would bring round a tray and napkins for passengers to try. One morning I had something very odd (we were visiting Mykanos that day). It smelled a bit like PlayDoh (I love that smell) and was filo pastry with a sort of porridgy gloop inside. Well, I tried it, I finally know what PlayDoh tastes like! I mustn't forget the special carved meat in the buffet; I loved the ham on the bone, very tasty with a green salad and coleslaw. Regrettably, the evening before visiting Mykanos, a passenger was taken ill at the Compass Rose. She had a fit and possibly a stroke too (we were on the next table). We had to return to Odessa so she could get specialist medical treatment and this made us late to dock in Mykanos. It was decided we would tender instead but when we arrived at 3pm strong winds made this impossible. A tender boat was despatched to test whether it was feasible, but after an hour waiting, the decision was made to leave. There were three other ships having similar difficulties, one was Thomson Dream (I think). It was such a shame as I love Mykanos and wanted to show my kids around as they’d never been. I hope the lady has recovered and is safely home now, anyway. It is a fact of life that sometimes ports have to be missed for a variety of reasons. One of the things I really like about Thomson cruises (quite apart from the very friendly staff and relaxed vibe and NO TIPPING policy), is that on disembarkation day we don’t have to leave the ship until our flight time. This meant we could have a leisurely breakfast (at Compass Rose, if you want waiter service say so when you enter the room as there is also a buffet breakfast option here), could leave our had luggage in the supervised cinema , and wander into Maramis before returning for lunch. On disembarking the ship after lunch we walked to the covered area to retrieve our cases before boarding the coach back to Dalaman Airport. We recommended our cabin staff and waiters for their great service on the pink form the night before we disembarked, I also wrote them individually a note of thanks with a monetary gift of my own choosing, this is the way it should be. Next week we are off on another cruise on Celebrity Eclipse, another lovely ship, but a completely different experience. All ships have their own personality and it is impossible to compare one to another. All I know is that I am looking to book another Thomsons cruise, maybe Celebration next time. It all depends of the itinerary. It’s been a long review and I am certain to have forgotten lots of bits (!). Thanks for reading this far. Read Less
Sail Date July 2015
Before MSC Opera I was on MSC Fantasia which is a bigger (and better) ship. Overall impresion is great! Itineraries are great, time spent on shore excellent and everyone are so nice and kind. If this had been my first cruise I would ... Read More
Before MSC Opera I was on MSC Fantasia which is a bigger (and better) ship. Overall impresion is great! Itineraries are great, time spent on shore excellent and everyone are so nice and kind. If this had been my first cruise I would probably be thrilled, but since this is my third cruise I couldn't help myself but to compare it with previous one. We were the first passengers since the ship was renovated last year, and one could say that this was a test cruise. There were a lot oversights: mugs and cups in buffet restaurant were often dirty - every second cup was clean so it became tiresome to check every cup. Juices in the self serving restaurant were available only in the morning not in the evening and hot chocolate wasn't available at all although it was included in the price. Later we found out that staff don't bring out bags of hot chocolate or they rarely do and sometimes they make a hot chocolate in the thermos which is not warm and which has very little cocoa (color was dirty white, not brown!). Food for breakfast was the same every day; muesli was already prepared on the milk-it looked disgusting to me and I would prefer to prepare it by myself in yogurt. I drink a lot of tea (which was available all day) but I could find honey only in the morning and lemon is even harder to find. The food was often greasy (even fish!) and dinner in the restaurant was taking too long, every single day (from 9pm till 11pm!). Although maître d'hôtel came to us one evening asking us how is everything, are we satisfied and promised us faster service, nothing has actually changed. The midnight buffet was very poor: mostly vegetarian sandwiches and dessert from previous days. Air Conditioner made being inside the ship very uncomfortable because it was very cold in bars and lobbies. Inside temperature was around 20 C, which is low considering outside temperature is much higher. I regret not bringing more long sleeve blouses, jackets etc. I had situation by the pool when pool attendant told me I can't eat fruits by the pool (which is OK, because it said on the warning board that it is forbidden). But I was disappointed he didn't say anything to other people eating around or even worse children diving and jumping in the pool (it is clearly stated that it is forbidden to dive and jump in the pool and to run around the pool) ! When I asked him about that his answer was that they are children. I don't care if they are children or not, but because of that children I couldn't swim, or sit by the pool because they splashed water a lot and got me and my expensive camera wet even on the sunbed. Not to mention that children were diving and jumping in the whirlpools! So I didn't use those either. Deck No.11 has 2 pools deep 1.8m and one big part of the deck for children (that is new). But 30% children were in their area, and the rest of them around other 2 pools. It was very noisy on 11th deck. The best part to rest is the back of the ship. Most people have spoken english perfectly, but it happened that woman on reception (from Kyrgyzstan) didn't speak it very well (or almost at all) and we couldn't understand each other which was very frustrating. Except that situation (and situation on the deck by the pool) all stuff was very polite, friendly, helpful... I'm not complaining on staff, I am disappointed with the ship and a lot of oversights which now I can't remember all. Read Less
Sail Date July 2015
We took a 14 night cruise in June 2015 from Rome to Istanbul. The itinerary included Rome, Naples, several Greek islands, Athens, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. We traveled on the Ruby Princess in 2012, and the Emerald Princess is its ... Read More
We took a 14 night cruise in June 2015 from Rome to Istanbul. The itinerary included Rome, Naples, several Greek islands, Athens, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. We traveled on the Ruby Princess in 2012, and the Emerald Princess is its sister ship, featuring many of the same amenities and services. We were impressed by the quality and variety of the food, the service of the staff and the cleanliness of the ship. The itinerary was also very good, with only one minor niggle - Khios, Greece, while a quaint port, doesn't really have that much to see. We would suggest eliminating that port, and, instead, add a second day to Athens. There are many day trips around Athens, including Delphi, for those travelers who have previously visited historical sites in Athens. The only other complaint was that Princess had been promoting the Discovery Night Sky talks - those did not happen on this cruise. Read Less
Sail Date June 2015
We (a group of six) were on the Prinsendam on the October, 2014 Black Sea Explorer. This was our fifth HAL cruise in the past six year each on a different ship. We have been on the Zaandam (Alaska), Nieuw Amersterdam (TA repositioning), ... Read More
We (a group of six) were on the Prinsendam on the October, 2014 Black Sea Explorer. This was our fifth HAL cruise in the past six year each on a different ship. We have been on the Zaandam (Alaska), Nieuw Amersterdam (TA repositioning), Noordam (TA repositioning) and Veendam (South America repositioning). We are 3* Mariners and will be 4* when our Prinsendam cruise is credited. In part this review will be a comparison with the other HAL ships. We choose this Prinsendam cruise because of the itinerary a year ago We wanted to see the Black Sea ports including Odessa and Sevastapol in the Ukraine. When the Russians invaded earlier this year, HAL told us they were canceling the Ukraine stops and substituting Batumi, Georgia, Trabzon, Turkey and Sinop, Turkey we decided to stay with our original plan. We spent 11 days in Greece on a package arrange through Fantasy Travel (separately review on the Greece Forum of Trip Advisor). Embarkation was smooth. We arrive at the terminal at 11:30 AM and by 12:30 were in the MDR eating lunch. We had no problem carrying on six bottles of Greek wines we had purchased on our travels. We had SY cabins on the 10th deck. When we booked our cruise we had AA cabins on the 9th deck. We were able to get upgrades to the SY cabins with an additional OBC. As it turned we were assigned adjoining cabins. We were able to open the partitions between our cabins to create a large three cabin veranda. We never had a problem with smokers on other verandas. The SY cabins were large and comfortable. We like the large walk in closet and the bathroom with a separate toilet. We were under the Lido, but never heard any noise from above us. There is no doubt about it, the Princendam is an old ship, well maintained and clean, but nevertheless a ship showing its age. The crew was constantly cleaning, painting and doing upkeep. We had no problems with air conditioning or plumbing except on tdeparture day our toilet stopped working. They were working on it as we departed. The Prinsendam is a small ship as compared to the other HAL ships and a minnow if compared to the mega ships. As a result everything is smaller. The fitness center has half the number of exercise machines, the swimming pools are smaller and the MDR is smaller. On the other hand the fitness center was never crowded. The one thin the Prinsendam lacks that is a feature of the other HAL ships is the sliding cover on the Lido pool. On other cruises it is nice to sit around the pool on cool days with the cover on. The food is typical HAL quality, no better, no worse than other HAL ships. There were old friends on the menu, onion soup in the MSR, different Asian dishes and sushi in the Lido buffet, and great eggs Benedict at breakfast. There are two sides to the Lido which may serve different items. The two sides are connected only by public hallway. I heard one passenger comment that she did not know there was a another half to the Lido buffet until the third day. i ate all my breakfasts in the Lido as well as the lunches on sea days. About half the time we at dinner in the MDR and the other half in the Lido. The line for all meals in the Lido was reasonable. My only complaint about food, and this complaint applies to all HAL ships, is that the Lido stops serving dinner at 8:00 PM sharp. The only food available after 8:00 PM was the MDR, room service or bar snacks in the Ocean Bar and Explorer Bar. We did not hang out in in the bars, so I cannot comment on the music. There was a piano violin duo in the Explorers lounge. They were good, but their play list is limited. I liked the quartets before HAL made the staffing cut backs. We saw a few shows in the show room, and the musical acts were good. The entertainers were adequate. Because this cruise was so port intensive, we were usually early to bed. The ports were incredible. High lights included two nights and two days in Istanbul. We went out both evenings to the New District on our own. We ate excellent dinners both nights and were back on ship by 11:00 PM. We never felt unsafe, although we stayed in high traffic areas. On day 1 we explored the Grand Bazaar and the surrounding area. On day 2 we visited the Blue Mosque, Haga Sophia and the Spice Bazaar. On both days we had excellent local lunches. Other highlights include Ephesus, Meteora Monasteries in Volos, Sumela Monastery in Trabzon, Turkey, spa day at the Ilium Hotel in Cesme, Turkey, food market walking tour in Thessaloniki and wine tasting and Nesebar Tour in Burgas, Bulgaria. All of these tours were privately arranged went off without any problems or surprises. We explored Batumi, Georgia, Constata, Romania, Sinop Turkey and Kavala, Greece on our own without a tour our guide. Disembarkation was smooth. We did not leave the ship until 9:00 AM. Since our plane flight home left at 6:30 AM the next day, we spent the day further exploring Athens. We spent the night at the Sofitel Hotel next to the Athens airport. A nice hotel convenient to the terminal.   Read Less
Sail Date October 2014
Holland America gets it right with excellent service and superb food. I was hard pressed to find fault with anything on board ship, so my review centers around the ports….all of which were excellent. It was a great itinerary that gave ... Read More
Holland America gets it right with excellent service and superb food. I was hard pressed to find fault with anything on board ship, so my review centers around the ports….all of which were excellent. It was a great itinerary that gave you a good taste of Northern Europe and the Baltic. In many ports we had some difficulty with our American credit cards that don’t have a chip or a PIN. Debit cards seemed to work fine. FLAM, Norway: Despite the fact that the Eurodam was the only ship in port that day tickets were sold out as early as 8:15 AM for the famous Flam Railway. Fortunately, after many hours online, I found a way to purchase tickets for my family of 4 in advance. Our plan was to ride up and bike down. I also booked the bikes (at the top in Myrdal). If you are planning on biking down to Flåm and only going one way by train, it is possible to purchase tickets at the national state railways website, https://www.nsb.no/en/. The earliest departure is 8.35 and another at 9.45 AM. The website www.visitflam.com is only for booking round trips. It is imperative that you purchase your tickets advance, as this excursion is really the only game in town and will sell out quickly. The ticket office opens at 8.00 in the morning. We purchased tickets for the 8:30 AM train and the ship arrived around 7 AM. Flam was the most picturesque port I had ever seen. A village of about 450, it was postcard perfect in every way. The ship docks at the base of Flam with a supermarket, a fantastic sweater/souvenir store which has a HUGE selection of beautiful Norwegian sweaters (reasonably priced given the high quality), restaurants and of course the Flam Railway station. Everything is right there, no more than a 5 min walk. We got to the train station by 8 AM (30 minutes before the train was scheduled to leave) and there was already a very long line of people trying to purchase tickets. The pre-paid ticket line is the farthest over to the right and still we had to wait about 30 minutes. By 8 AM all of the tickets had been sold out except for a few one way tickets and of course tickets after the cruise departs. There were a lot of disappointed people. The ride up was beautiful with many stops along the way at small railway stations. One of the last stops before reaching Myrdal, if not the last, was at a mountain hotel for waffles. I thought we’d hit it on the way down, but we never did. Everything I read about it said it was a nice stop, but our bike trail didn’t take us past the hotel. At the top were of course rest rooms, a café and lots of people appropriately dressed for biking (bike pants, winter hats, fleeces, lightweight jackets, etc). They were all congregating at the café...not sure what they were waiting for... perhaps another train. It was probably 55 degrees and breezy. We located our bike rental guy without any difficulty. We are a family of 4 with kids age 11 and 9 and I myself am not that experienced riding on gravel, down steep hills with hair pin turns so we walked our bikes down the first mile. It was steep, but my husband who bikes to work every day could have handled it no problem. The trail was not at all crowded and we were alone most of the time. After the gravel zig zag road, the gentle ride down on a paved path will amaze and entertain you with beautiful waterfalls, rushing rivers, lush, and green mountains. We stopped at a goat cheese farm (Rollarrosa which opened at 11 AM on your right). You can’t miss it as it is the only farm open to the public. We enjoyed a cheese plate and a pancake for $60.00. Get used to the high prices in Norway. The ride down took us about 2 hours with many stops along the way for scenic photos. This was one of our favorite excursions. At the bottom, we dropped our bikes off at the train station by the ship. On our way down we noticed a sign that read “No Cruise Shit!” and another one that could be seen from the ship that read “No Cruise Ship.” When we asked a cruise officer about the signs he stated that Flam is not crazy about cruise ships coming into port and ruining their beautiful natural landscape. The residents are not necessarily in favor of spoiling their natural, scenic landscape for the economic infusion that thousands of cruise passengers bring. After seeing Flam, I can’t say that I blame them, although I think there is a classier way of saying “No Cruise Shit.” My advice for Flam: Avoid the high mark-up that cruise ships charge for the Flam railway and pre purchase your tickets at half the price. Try and get the 8:30 so you are back on the ship for lunch then go back out for some shopping. If you are fit enough, definitely bike down, you won’t regret it and you’ll feel much closer to the beautiful, natural surroundings. STAVANGER, Norway: I can’t tell you the hours and hours I spent researching how to climb Pulpit Rock with little to no success. We finally determined that it would be impossible because we were only in port for 8 hours (9 – 5) and all the sites said you can’t climb it unless you are in port for a minimum of 10 hours. Holland added a Pulpit hike excursion at the last minute and we bit the bullet and signed up. We paid twice as much as what it would cost us if we did it on our own, but time was not on our side. Since we needed every minute, we were the first group off. Everyone was provided an ample box lunch and a bottle of water, but bring extra water. We boarded 2 busses (80 people) and took a 5 minute ride down the street to the ferry terminal. The bus drove on the ferry. After the 30 minute ferry ride, it was another 20 minute drive to the base of Pulpit. Although ages varied, everyone on this excursion was physically fit, and we got quite a lecture on climbing Pulpit from our guide Anna. The hike starts with about 20 minutes in a “forest” up a dirt pathway. Then you begin the 3 mile hike over large rocks/boulders. There are 2 seep sections each about 15 – 20 minutes where you are climbing on rocks set up like a steep staircase. I would say only 5% is “a gentle walk on a wooden path through the meadow.” As you got closer to the top, you were walking on huge rock surfaces. I’m 50 and not an experienced hiker, so I was a bit concerned. Anna was firm about our time constraints. It would take 2 hours up, with only 15 minutes at the top and we must start our descent at 12:15 in order to make it to the bus by 2:15 with a 2:30 departure time. The weather was in the 60’s with chance of rain which worried me because everything that I had read stated that the rocks become slippery when wet. The narrow route up (about as wide as a double sidewalk) is the same route down, so you are constantly in front of and behind lots of people. There are places to stop if you need a break or to take a photo, but in some locations you need to keep going because the path is too narrow. As we began our climb, the group spread out quickly; the quicker people charged ahead. Everyone was dressed property with hiking boots or sneakers, pants, a fleece and/or rain coat. Anna was right, there are 2 steep sections, but surprisingly they are not bad. I don’t have great balance and not crazy about walking on rocks, but there is a rock/stone/boulder path (and in some cases a steep staircase made of large rocks) that has been created for hikers to make it as easy as possible (I have no idea how that was constructed). People are patient with one another and the hike is very enjoyable, although you are constantly looking down to figure out where to set your foot. Remember to stop and take in the unbelievably gorgeous view. About 3⁄4 of the way up, it began to rain, never more than a light drizzle, but enough to wet the rocks. They are not as slippery as I had feared. At the top, the wind is very strong and many of us did not dare go near the edge because of the wind. My kids stood in the crack, where over time, about half of the top of Pulpit will surely fall into the fjord. The top is much smaller than it appears in photos. It is now raining, cold and windy, so we don’t stay long (maybe about 10 minutes). I’m a little concerned that the slippery walk back might require more time, so I head back. No desire to eat lunch in the rain, but 20 minutes later on a huge boulder we stop for a 10 minute lunch once the rain stopped. The last mile, although gradual was difficult because your knees and legs are tired. Your head is down the whole way, looking for the next rock to place your foot. We made it up in 1 hour 40 min (my kids in 1 hour 30 min) and down in the same time. Everyone made it down safely and on the bus heading back to the ship by 2:30. I couldn’t help but wonder what happens if there is an injury. Twisting an ankle would be so easy, it must be a miserable way down. I’m told they do helicopter airlifts for more serious injuries. Thankfully, we never found out. I’m glad Pulpit was in the beginning of the 10 day cruise before the extra 12 pounds. My advice for Stavenger: If you really want to see the fjords, you have to hike Pulpit. Dress appropriately (in layers) and bring a backpack, extra water and wear hiking boots/sneakers...no open toed footwear. The weather is always cloudy with chance of rain, and every day on our cruise it rained for about 30 minutes so be prepared. Stavenger also has a cute town where the ship pulls right in (bars, restaurants, shops, playground, etc). It is worth exploring which we did in the evening, because the ship stayed overnight. KIRKENSTAD, Norway Unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of time here because we had to berth in Stavenger overnight to wait out Hurricane Bertha. Instead of leaving at 5 PM we left at 5 AM the next morning and arrived in Kirkenstad at 3:30 PM with a departure time of about 6 PM. We walked around the harbor area, saw the fort and strolled down the shopping streets dedicated to pedestrians. It was a nice town, but we didn’t go to the water park as planned . This location is great for clothes shopping if you have teens. OSLO, Norway Here we opted for the Hop On Hop Off which comes directly to the boat. It was raining (only for about 45 minutes) and than again later for about 30 minutes so the hop on hop off seemed to be a good option. It took us through the downtown streets with lots of shops/office buildings and we got off at the ski jump location where we had to take a train (up a steep hill and through beautiful neighborhoods). We walked about 15 minutes up to the ski jump and museum. We took a ride in the simulator (which I must admit, my husband and I got a little motion sick toward the end). It was basically an enclosed gondola that took you down a simulated slalom ski run and on a ski jump. The visuals are dated, so don’t expect a Disney experience, but it gives you a decent idea of what it is like to travel that fast down a mountain. Inside the ski museum we took an elevator to the top of the ski jump where we got an outdoor panoramic view of Oslo with our cruise ship off in the distance. We walked back down to the train station and rode down to the center of town to pick up our Hop On Hop Of. Next stop was the Vigeland Sculpture Park. Vigeland is a very pretty park that you can do in 30 minutes. Unfortunately, our wait for the Hop On Hop Off to leave Vigeland was about as long. Only time for one more stop and our must see attraction the Kon TIki Museum detailing the adventure of Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition on a balsawood raft from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. Fortunately, we had shown our kids the Kon Tiki documentary so they knew what they were seeing. It was amazing to see it up close and person. Keeping our eye on the clock, back on Hop On Hop Off and back to the ship. My advice for Oslo: Do the Hop On Hop Off if you want to get a quick bird’s eye view of the city. Don’t miss the Kon Tiki museum, but make sure you see the award winning documentary before going as they only show it once a day in the museum. You’ll have a much deeper appreciation for the men and their voyage after seeing the Kon Tiki in person. The sculpture park was lovely, but the wait for hop on hop off was a drag....maybe it was just bad timing on our part. Avoid the ski jump if you are afraid of heights or can’t walk up steep hills as the walk from the train station to the ski jump museum is up hill about 15 minutes. GOTHENBERG, Sweden We docked a bit further away next to the Volvo museum and enjoyed a complimentary shuttle into the center of town. We gave the kids a break today and took them to Leisberg...and large amusement park. Once off the complimentary shuttle we figured out how to take the train/trolley 10 minutes to the amusement park. We arrived at Leisberg at 10 AM and they don’t open to the public until 11 AM so we waited. We purchased an all-day pass for the kids and there were some very good rides in the park. The park is quite pretty with floral landscape. It reminded me of a little Disney World. My son and husband LOVED the wooden rollercoaster which was quite good. Other rides were very good as well and the kids enjoyed the park. Back on the train/trolley to catch the complimentary shuttle by 3 PM and on the ship at 3:30 for departure at 4:30. My advice for Gothenburg: If you are going to Leisberg, take your time and get there when the park opens at 11 AM. It is a good family take-in and a nice break from the museums and other adult cultural stops you’ll force the kids to suffer through. COPENHAGEN, Denmark Here again, we decided to do the Hop On Hop Off to get a bird’s eye view of what we wanted to come back to at the end of our cruise for our overnight layover. Our initial intent was to ride the whole tour without getting off, but we couldn’t resist Stroget, the world’s longest pedestrian street full of shops and restaurants which then led us to the famous and often photographed Nyhaven. It is truly a picturesque street of cafes/bars along the canal. We found the happy wall where people leave messages on wooden panels that open and close like small doors. From there we walked to Tivoli garden and were surprised that it is entirely walled off and we had to walk around the entire garden in order to find the entrance to pay for admission to the park and rides. We opted to save it for next time since we only had 2 hours left and still had to had to take Hop On Hop Off about 40 minutes to the Little Mermaid stop where we would have to wait up to 45 minutes in order to catch a complimentary shuttle (20 minute ride) back to the boat. In retrospect, we should have done Tivoli and taken a cab back to the boat, but we thought we could finish our Hop On Hop Off tour and get a few more nuggets of information on Copenhagen. TALLINN, Estonia Walt Disney could not have built a more picturesque, cobblestone village. It was so quaint and pretty and well maintained. We docked in Tallinn and walked 20 minutes through some unattractive hints of Soviet occupation before we reached the entrance into the old town next to the church with an observatory tower. We went through the gate of the old city, along the cobble stone streets (hint: wear comfortable walking shoes) passed shops and restaurants. The city was just waking up as it was about 8:30 AM and nothing was open yet. It began to rain and none of us were prepared because we left the ship under blue skies. (Note to self: it rained for a few minutes every day during our 12-day cruise in Northern Europe so take an umbrella or light rain coat everywhere). We took refuge under café umbrellas that were starting to leak when a kind gentleman opened the door to his subterranean restaurant Wana Wiipuri (Pikk 33 street in Tallinn) and invited us in to stay dry. Before we knew it he ushered us (a party of 7) into a private dining room and served us coffee, Coke and water. His name was Heinrick and he was eager to meet us and tell us about his newly opened restaurant. We visited for about 40 minutes and once the rain let up I paid him for the coffee which he never charged us for. We were all touched by his hospitality that we promised to return for lunch later that day. We enjoyed walking the cobble stone streets and looking up at the beautifully maintained buildings from long ago. The city was beginning to come alive, restaurants and shops and cafes had opened, waiters standing outside dressed in clothes of yesteryear speaking with tourists and warmly giving directions and advice on where to go and what to see. Tallinn looked like it was out of a fairytale village that Disney animated artists had created. There was plenty of shopping, especially in the town squares, where vendors had set up an outdoor market. Prices were very reasonable. Woolen hats, mittens, sweaters were plentiful. Wooden souvenirs like kids’ toys, cheese knives, cheese boards, trivets were hand crafted and lots to choose from. Back to Wana Wiipuri for lunch that did not disappoint. Heinrick was happy to see us and saved his best waiter Igor, who spoke perfect English, for us. He welcomed us with complimentary vodka shots and we dined on typical Tallinn appetizers of pickles and pickled onion shoots with a dipping sauce. The food was fresh and delicious. Everyone enjoyed their meal and the warm hospitality Henrick and Igor provided. On our way back to the ship we went to a wonderful chocolate shop across the street from Wana Wiipuri and climbed the observation tower of the church. The climb is not for claustrophobics or people with knee problems. It consisted of about 150 – 200 steps (a ladder type climb at one point) to the top of the tower where you walked around outside and got a spectacular view of Tallinn. It was crowded as the stairway was narrow about 4 feet wide at best and people were coming up and down simultaneously. Often times you had to wait for people to pass before you could proceed. My advice for Tallinn: Walk around the city, bear in mind it doesn’t really wake up until about 10, but enjoy a café while you are waiting. The streets are easy to navigate, just wander and let yourself get lost. There are few cars in the old section, so walking in the street is fine. Prices are a welcome change from Norway, so indulge yourself in a sweater or souvenir. Don’t miss lunch at Wana Wiipuri and if you are game, climb to the top of the church tower only a few minutes from Wana Wiipuri. We found the people to be extremely warm and hospitable and English was not a problem. This was a great port. HELSINKI, Finland I had booked rental bikes a month in advance from Helsinki Cityride only to receive an email 1 week prior to arrival in Helsinki that they couldn’t honor my reservation. A bit disappointed, but on to plan B. Our group of seven took the complimentary shuttle into town and we began walking toward the harbor. Lots of cafes along the way and a nice outdoor market selling all kinds of breakfast and luncheon foods as well as souvenirs like animal fur hides, handmade mittens/hats, T shirts. It was nice meandering through and looking at all the beautiful fruits and local delicacies which the vendors were kind enough to offer samples of. We ended up at the ferris wheel with enclosed cars (Helsinki’s version of the London Eye). It opened at 10 AM and we enjoyed a few times around and got a good view of the city and a rather funny statue of a 40 foot tall, old man peeing. Naturally, the kids got a kick out of that. Only minutes from the Helsinki Cathedral we meandered over, climbed the steps and peeked in. During our daily drizzle, we walked about 30 minutes to the church built into the side of a rock aptly called Rock Church (or Temppeliaukion Church). We went in to check that out. We tried looking for a particular restaurant and got hopelessly lost, but enjoyed our 45 minute walk and ended up at a traditional Finish restaurant. Everyone said you have to see Sibelius Monument dedicated to the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. It was in a very remote area of the city. We figured out how to take the public transportation and then walk 20 minutes to a rather unattractive location. Once we got there, we were all a bit disappointed and unanimously decided that it was not worth the 45 minutes it took us to get there. Tired after quite a bit of walking, we caught a public bus to the center of town to catch the complimentary shuttle just before the rain arrived. My advice for Helsinki: Definitely take the complimentary shuttle, explore the outdoor market, take a ride on the ferris wheel and check out the two churches (Helsinki Cathedral and Rock Church) then call it a day. There really is just not that much to do. ST PETERSBURG. Russia Avoid the high cost of HAL’s large bus tours and the hassle and expense of getting your own visa and contact TJ Tours http://st-petersburg-tours.ru/. I found Tatiana, the owner, to be extremely friendly, competent and professional. For the reasonable price of $315/adult and $280/child for a 2 day tour with a private van, dedicated driver and English speaking tour guide. Our guide was Ksenia and we thought she was excellent. Our tour lasted from 8 AM – 5 PM both days and we opted to sign up for dinner with a Russian family at their home for $55/person….worth every penny. Dining with the Russian family was the highlight of the entire trip! Don’t miss out on this wonderful experience. When the ship docks you immediately go through immigration. Expect long lines and delays. It took us over 30 minutes to get through immigration and all kiosks were open. There are separate lines for each kiosk so just pick one and wait. The HAL staff is on hand to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible, but there is really not much they can do to speed up the process...this is Russia after all! Once through and past the kitschy souvenir shops, Tatiana, the owner, was waiting with several of her guides. We started our tour hitting all the sights that I had outlined via email months in advance. We chose to see: Peterhof by hydrofoil, the upper gardens and lower parks. We did not go into the palace. We had a traditional Russian lunch at an out of the way restaurant. The food and service was excellent. Next was a master class of Matreshka doll painting, but my son was fighting a cold and we preferred to go to a typical Russian supermarket (similar to Wal-Mart). My husband was severely scolded by the security officer for taking photos. We returned to the ship to freshen up before our 7 PM pick up for dinner with a Russian family. We had the privilege of seeing a typical Russian apartment and met a lovely woman, Olga who made us a lovely meal and we talked about Russian life. Everyone agreed, it was the highlight of the trip. On the way back, it was 9:30 PM and there was only 1 immigration window open allowing people back on the ship. Russia can and should do a much better job with their immigration procedure. Day 2, we met at 8 AM and caught a boat ride for a guided tour of the rivers and canals, then to the Hermitage museum where our English guide gave us a private tour, traditional lunch at a sandwich shop and a visit to the Church of the Spilt Blood. We were taken to TJ Travel’s office to pay Tatiana. Everyone was extremely happy with the tour guide, driver and the entire experience. To have TJ handle visas, transportation and provide a tailor made tour is worth every penny. Don’t do Russia any other way. Each day, we had one or two obligatory stops at a tacky souvenir shop that provided free vodka and coffee. A small price to pay in my opinion. My advice for St. Petersburg: Use TJ Tours…sit back, relax and enjoy….enough said. Berlin, Germany The city is about 2 hours from the port of Warnemunde. We used ToursByLocals.com and had an excellent tour guide. Months in advance I crafted our own itinerary which included pick up at 8 AM, a 2 hour drive to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp where our ToursByLocals tour guide gave us a complete guided tour through the camp, then off to Berlin where we saw the Berlin wall and a section of “no man’s land.” We also saw the site of Hitler’s former bunker, the memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, through Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, a quick stop at a museum and a church and then said goodbye to our tour guide and the driver took us back to the ship (2 hour drive). Our group of 7 traveled very comfortably and the tour cost approx. $1300 for all 7 which included admission to museums, the camp, the driver and tour guide. My advice for Berlin: Use ToursByLocals. They provide extremely friendly and professional guides. You get to craft your own day and see Berlin the way you want to see it. Kiel, Germany This was our last stop before ending the cruise in Copenhagen and I didn’t think our group would be up for another long day in the car with a 2 hour drive to Hamburg. We walked around Kiel which had lots of shops and malls. It is heaven if you are a shopper. The one cool thing we did find was in the church which has an observatory tower that is only open 2 days a week. The tower was closed, but adjoining the building is a government office which has a set of continuously moving elevators without doors. You’d think my kids and husband were in Disney Land. They got the biggest kick out of jumping on and off the elevators and riding them up a floor or two. You’ll never see anything like it in the States, so check it out. We were back on the ship by lunch. My advice for Kiel: Had it been a nice beach day we would have gone to the beach because it looked beautiful. Unfortunately, it was cool and rainy.   Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
My wife and I chose this cruise for the itinerary, we wanted to book with Celebrity as we had such a good first cruise experience last year in the western Mediterranean on the Equinox. Celebrity didn't have a cruise in the area we ... Read More
My wife and I chose this cruise for the itinerary, we wanted to book with Celebrity as we had such a good first cruise experience last year in the western Mediterranean on the Equinox. Celebrity didn't have a cruise in the area we wanted, the Greek Islands, at the time we wanted, so booked with Thompson, paying a similar price but for a slightly longer cruise, actually two 7 day cruises back to back, Turkey and Greece followed by the Black Sea. Our group was made up of my wife and I, our 10 year old son and my wife's parents who have had many cruise holidays. Embarkation was a bit of a pain, after leaving arrivals we found the busses and handed over our luggage, we were taken to the dock where we had to retrieve our luggage to go through another security check then take our own luggage to the ship, none of this I must add was Thompson's fault, It was down to the Turkish authorities rules. A similar problem was had on the return journey, Dalaman being a military airport insists on every piece of luggage being scanned before even checking in, you cannot imaging the queues just to get into the airport. The staff on board were very good, always polite and friendly, especially Dileon, one of the bar staff on the Lido deck and our cabin staff member Leonora. Dileon seemed to take it that he had failed his job if I ever even walked near the bar, apologising profusely. One or two of the other bar staff seemed to have selective hearing at times but in general they were very good. The food was good, not great but good. I am sure there was something for everyone, some dishes were a little bland though, it has been mentioned previously about the Paella and the deserts being tasteless and I have to agree! We mainly ate in the buffet preferring the larger range on offer. The two times we ate in the main restaurant we were very pleased with the service and the quality of the food, I must add however I thought that the portions were a little small, but as I am a very large person maybe that is down to me, they were probably fine for your smaller person. The entertainment was very good, although I did not take in many of the shows, my wife and the outlaws attended frequently and were very impressed. The programme of events through the day were varied but I particularly enjoyed the 2pm quiz with Ash on the Lido deck. There was lots for our son to do and he very much enjoyed the experience. Again it has been mentioned by other reviewers about the seemingly tacky way of trying to extract more money from guests such as steak under the stars and the chap going round selling premium ice creams, I have to agree, tacky. The ports visited were varied and all had something to recommend them, we particularly enjoyed a boat trip down the Danube delta whilst in Romania, the inclusive meal at a local hotel was good until the desert, I think there was a little something lost in translation when our local guide informed us it was cheesecake, it was actually a savoury cheese flan of sorts, there was quite a bit of embarrassed giggling from the other holidaymakers. The only thing that spoilt this holiday was the ship. It has been mentioned many times before and it really is quite noticeable, the vibration throughout the ship, it is most noticeable on the deck outside of Liberties, you do get used to it though. My main problem was the cabin, the noise generated by the ceiling and wall panels made it seem as if you were in a clockmakers workshop at times, the shower could not be used at peak times as it filled with other peoples shower water at other times it was very slow to drain and the toilet blocked several times. The air con worked when it wanted and would make the room either hot or cold without touching the controls. The service engineers who attended simply shrugged and advised us not to use the shower at peak times. When the engineer came to look at the air con he rotated the control fully the other way, we were informed we had not set it correctly even though we had not moved it. Of course moving the dial the other way did nothing! This ship really is not up to scratch, this could have been a great holiday but was spoiled by an ageing ship that really should be scrapped. My father in law thought I was exaggerating until around day 4 when he woke in the early hours and endured his first of a few sleepless nights due to noise similar to what we were experiencing in our cabin. Our sons bed was a fold down from the wall affair, he never complained until around day 12 about the vibration of his bed, when I put my hand on it it felt like I was holding a massage chair! If we could have had this crew and this itinerary on the Equinox I would have been a very happy bunny. Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
We had a 14 days cruise on Luminose last month(actually in Baltic Sea and Norway) and I would like to share with you some my experience.. There were some new changes started on our trip: no buffet for dinner only restaurant, no free water ... Read More
We had a 14 days cruise on Luminose last month(actually in Baltic Sea and Norway) and I would like to share with you some my experience.. There were some new changes started on our trip: no buffet for dinner only restaurant, no free water on dinner table and no cold and hot and ice water after 5 pm (water stations were closed). Menu was almost same everyday and cooking was terrible. In my mind the food in lunch buffet is better than dinner restaurant. If you were hungry after dinner you had to pay for pizza and only pizza was offered. The on ship drink was very expensive, 50 euro for a bottle red wine. The excursions were expensive too. Have you heard " cheap ticket but expense on board". There was no live band for entertainment and some shows were repeated within a week. The service was quite different from American cruise company. They are two different classes. The first language is Italian and this cruise was tailored for European market, you pay euro not dollar. That is 30% more. Be aware.. Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
MSC has some pretty bad reviews, and I'm pleased to report that we had a very pleasant time on board Opera. However, it was not all plain sailing, if you'll excuse the pun. So let's start with the bad points and if you feel ... Read More
MSC has some pretty bad reviews, and I'm pleased to report that we had a very pleasant time on board Opera. However, it was not all plain sailing, if you'll excuse the pun. So let's start with the bad points and if you feel you can stomach those, I shall move on to the good points. The biggest minus for us was the very poor vegetarian food. Meat and fish eaters are very well catered for, but poor old veggies get a very raw deal - literally! Raw carrots, raw lettuce, raw onion, but often no hot veggie dish at the buffet aside from the side veg. I don't consider a bowl of boiled broccoli to constitute a meal. Often meat was added unnecessarily, reducing the choices even further Eg breakfast omelettes with added ham, breakfast potatoes with added sausage pieces, pasta with added meat or fish. Even at the sit-down restaurant at lunch and dinner time there was not always a veggie option for each course. This was particularly disappointing for the gala dinners. what there was was very samey eg cheese appetizer followed by a cheese salad followed by a cheese main course. Aubergines were presented in various ways day after day. I love aubergines, but was starting to go off them, and my poor old daughter hates them so was left with no alternative. There were no labels to indicate what was veggie and it was not always easy to tell and the staff did not always know. We did say we were veggie at time of booking and were contacted part-way through the cruise to check that all was well, but nothing resulted from our complaint. Deserts in the restaurant and buffet were generally good, the ice-cream was very nice and the pizza parlour was good. The afternoon tea was always very nice and the scones were very tasty. Tea at the tea stations was usually rather too weak and no tea or coffee was served after the meals. The other big bugbear was the tender service, which was necessary twice on this cruise. We have been on many cruises and realise that this can be a bit slow, but we've NEVER encountered anything quite so shambolic and painfully slow. MSC really need to sort this out, as it was causing considerable upset. We were informed that tender tickets would be available at 9am. At 8.30am we passed by and there was already a queue forming so we joined it. At 9am there was virtually no movement and finally at about 9.20am, as the queue was slowly moving, a man came down the line handing out tickets. We were given 'H' tickets, despite being fairly near the front. The first tickets (A and B) were called to disembark at 9.45 and C and D and 10am, then everything stopped. By 11.30 no further tickets had been called but people were leaving the ship. We joined the massive queue and were let off. No one checked what letter we were, but by then it was well after noon and other poor souls were waiting patiently for announcements. The same thing happened the next time. This time we just joined the queue that was forming, even though no tickets had been called. We were let off the ship with no one checking our letter (B this time)! It took an age, and there was much pushing and shoving. It made a mockery of the so-called system. People with J and N were in front of us. This cast an unnecessary shadow and could easily be made slicker and fairer. A surprising problem was the lack of chairs in the buffet. There were not enough to go round. I think this is because the assumption is that the outside seating will be used, but this was a Northern European cruise during a cold spell and it was either too cold, wet or windy to sit out so everyone sat in - if they could a) find a table (always a problem) and b) find a chair to place at the table. There were times when we got a table but could not find sufficient chairs to go round it. Many people brought in chairs from the deck. One final gripe was about smoking, which was allowed in too many places. the smoking lounge and smoking casino are not closed and the smoke permeates other areas and is unpleasant. On the positive side, the ship is very nice and looks well maintained. The theatre is especially good and the shows were also very good. Unfortunately fellow guests often arrived late and everyone had to stand up to let them past, and many talked through shows. The cabin is reasonably roomy as cabins go (we had a standard ocean view) but our steward was not great. Often we returned and the cabin had not been made up, despite being vacated for several hours. He always looked a tad unhappy and I wonder if perhaps he was simply over-worked. No chocs on pillows or towels shaped like elephants and swans unfortunately. There was a nice walking/jogging track, but unfortunately it was over blocked by sun loungers. Drinks are rather pricey - both alcoholic and non-alcoholic ones. However, the bar service is generally quite good and reasonably fast and friendly. The restaurant staff were also very friendly and efficient. Despite some gripes this was a good cruise with some nice ports of call on a pleasant ship. Read Less
Sail Date June 2014
Sailed from Bucharest to Budapest; visited former Communist controlled countries. Many of these countries are struggling, still, due to corruption in governments, unemployment, little to no infrastructure, etc. However, found people were ... Read More
Sailed from Bucharest to Budapest; visited former Communist controlled countries. Many of these countries are struggling, still, due to corruption in governments, unemployment, little to no infrastructure, etc. However, found people were wonderful. It was depressing to see so many "left-overs" from the Communist regime, i.e., falling-down buildings, little to no new construction or housing, etc. Cruise ship, Elba, is one of the new long ships. She was beautiful. But, we have been cruising with Viking since 2005; this was our 9th cruise, and we have found, that over the years, Viking has changed, some to to better, some not so much so. In the beginning, there were smaller ships, much FEWER ships on the rivers, and we felt like a part of the Viking family. Staff, in the beginning, interacted more with passengers, and it was more fun. There were fun activities on-board with the crew. In fact, we have since sailed with some crew more than twice. We have seen a definite difference in how the crew and staff are allowed to interact with passengers. One instance, one of the staff wanted to show us a picture on the cell phone, but he said he had to be careful not be seen doing this by his "boss." This would not have happened in the beginning. When we docked in Budapest, I personally counted 17-different cruise ships docked. In the first few years, we were lucky to see one or two ships docked at our same location, and more often, they were Vikings. I understand that Viking needs to catch up, but in so doing, Viking has also lost the intimacy of the cruise that first attracted us. We have scheduled one more trip, Tulips and Windmills, a repeat of our very first cruise with Viking. But, I fear this will be our last. We like the smaller ships, more interaction with staff and crew, and also with Captain and his staff. I remember one cruise where the Captain actually came into the lounge and sat with us for quite a long time. Never happen on the long ships...   Read Less
Sail Date April 2014
After hearing several favorable reports on Viking River cruises we signed up for the Odessa to Kiev cruise on the ship Lomonosov, now being refitted to look like the Viking Rurik, but with the same staff. Our disappointment cannot be ... Read More
After hearing several favorable reports on Viking River cruises we signed up for the Odessa to Kiev cruise on the ship Lomonosov, now being refitted to look like the Viking Rurik, but with the same staff. Our disappointment cannot be overstated. We knew, of course, that the ship has no elevator. But who would dream that it has no telephones either? Every question means a separate trip down the stairs to the reception desk. This was not among the features mentioned in Viking's literature! And there are no smoke detectors, an amazing omission! Our upscale large stateroom was hard to heat and harder to cool. The lack of heat was solved by the ship's maintenance staff by bolting the three large windows permanently shut. This did nothing for cooling. The food is alright if somewhat bland. But the din in the two dining rooms comes close to defeating conversation. No sound absorbing materials are anywhere in view. Service is slow and limited to one item at a time (do not ask for desert and a beverage ... they do mean one at a time). Refills of wine or coffee or tea were infrequent in the larger dining room. Diet soda ran out on the fifth day of the voyage but was restocked later on. Although it was on the bar list, there was never any port, and the supply of gin ran out. There is very little on board entertainment. Two lectures - one an hour, one a half hour - are the total history and culture offered onboard the ship. A folk music show was the only cultural event. How did having the waitresses dress as pirates one evening help? The daily movie on TV ran at times other than scheduled and was sometimes not the announced film. At the end of the first half-day city tour we realized that our assigned guide would not work out for us ... her walking pace and content were both problems. We asked to be reassigned but the tour and activities director told us that would be impossible because all bus seats were taken. In actual fact one of the five tour busses was only half full. Since our assigned guide also presented the two history lectures, our entire perspective on Ukraine was through her eyes and she was a cynical, biased person who ignored questions she didn't like. "Jewish Odessa” tour was inexplicably switched from Friday to Saturday, which made it impossible to visit any synagogues. Our Viking guide urtes all of us to cancel the "Jewish Kiev” trip, which she assured us would be "depressing.” One last insult: two preliminary bills didn't show the cost of our extra tours, although we signed up for them on the first day. Only the final bill picked up the charges. We were prepared for a three-star ship about to be retired, but Viking's promised five-star personal service was nowhere in sight. What a disappointment.   Read Less
Sail Date October 2013
Black Sea cruise, Aug 2013. Husband, wife and 8 yr old child. We have cruised MANY times on a larger ship but this was the first smaller one. Let me start by saying that it is still big and rides great. Service was excellent and food was ... Read More
Black Sea cruise, Aug 2013. Husband, wife and 8 yr old child. We have cruised MANY times on a larger ship but this was the first smaller one. Let me start by saying that it is still big and rides great. Service was excellent and food was too. The staff seems to know you quickly and you will see some of the same passengers often. Returning to the ship we were always greeted with cool water and cool cloths to ease your day. The staff truly did look after each passenger. Now for the one problem - our suite was at the stern of the ship and just under the Lido deck, where meals are served. EACH morning the staff would bang around and since we are not early risers, wake us up. After one morning of ENOUGH, I spoke rudely to the lead person and it got much better. IT WAS A GREAT CABIN, large, 1 1/2 bath, large deck, great view, with this one problem. Of course, if you rise early - it is irrelevant. We did enjoy and will sail with Princess again. Jer and Family in Texas. DO NOT TAKE THE DANUBUE RIVER CRUISE, DIRTY, MUDDY, RIVER, WITH LITTLE TO SEE FOR THE LONG TRIP. Take Toilet Paper-EVERY WHERE you travel since many places don't have anything, also take hand cleaning stuff and WATER! :) Read Less
Sail Date August 2013

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