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8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2017
River cruising on the Rhine/Mosel provided us with the overview of first-time European visit. The stops were adequately timed, the river boat staff was helpful and the arrangements made for the shore excursions by Grand Central were very ... Read More
River cruising on the Rhine/Mosel provided us with the overview of first-time European visit. The stops were adequately timed, the river boat staff was helpful and the arrangements made for the shore excursions by Grand Central were very well done. There were significant problems with the hearing devices allowing us to hear the guides that were not addressed until about half way through the scheduled dates. Complaints were not followed through until much too late and the groups were too large (much > than 25). The major problem was with Grand Central's scheduling of our connecting flight on our return. They gave us MUCH TOO LITTLE time at the Paris Airport to make successful customs and connections. Then, our Air France hosts had no one available to help us make other arrangements until 2-3 hours later, after any remaining flights had left. After arguing with them for 3-4 hours, we finally received some vouchers for food and a local room. All this time, we were in contact with the Grand Circle "help" desk. They were of NO HELP WHATSOEVER. Their last comment after we had failed to find anyone at several Air France help desks was "go to the police"! That was the extent of their help. The cruise was, overall, a good value and well planned. The transportation arrangements afterward were a disaster and the "help" non-existent. The audio problems with the guided tours was solvable/preventable. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: December 2016
I wanted to take this cruise to experience the Christmas markets and to view firsthand the Christmas experience along the Rhine River. It was absolutely amazing. The markets are spectacular and the Rhapsody offered so many rich musical ... Read More
I wanted to take this cruise to experience the Christmas markets and to view firsthand the Christmas experience along the Rhine River. It was absolutely amazing. The markets are spectacular and the Rhapsody offered so many rich musical experiences. The service and the leadership on this boat are incredible. From the Captain to the Hotel Manager to the crew itself, the entire focus is on the comfort and enjoyment of the guests, and they are all involved. There is a unique hospitality that surrounds the guests and that is especially apparent in the marvelous food that is served three times a day as well as the numerous special parties and celebrations. The best thing, I guess, for me was that I was able to buy all my Christmas presents on this trip. Of course, I shopped at the Christmas markets, but I also shopped in the ships' gift areas. Frankly, I found a great many things for myself. I plan to take this cruise again this coming Christmas. There are so many guests that take this trip year after year. That would be heaven. Read Less
7 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: March 2016
We chose this cruise because we have to go somewhere in March (July, Sept. and also Dec.). It turned out to be a delightful choice. After spending 6 days on our own in Amsterdam, we boarded the Grand Circle Cruise Line's River Aria ... Read More
We chose this cruise because we have to go somewhere in March (July, Sept. and also Dec.). It turned out to be a delightful choice. After spending 6 days on our own in Amsterdam, we boarded the Grand Circle Cruise Line's River Aria river boat for a trip up the Rhine River, then the Main River to the canal that takes boats over the European Continental Divide to the Danube (it is blue in parts). Although I've spent a few years in Germany, traveling on a well run river boat gave me an entirely different perspective. My best part was waking early and going topside to watch the low fog tainted shiny glass canal rush towards our bow as white geese lazily paddled in lines along the dim grass banks. Another memorable experience was riding smoothly in a 400+ foot boat as we rode across a wide riven and watched a long line of cars pass under us a hundred plus feet below going at least 50. The boat was nicely appointed and the crew friendly, efficient, and accommodating. Read Less
21 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2013
We love cruising but always felt the port cities did not give us an adequate representation of each country; therefore, we decided to try a European river cruise. We chose Grand Circle because it came highly recommended by a fellow ... Read More
We love cruising but always felt the port cities did not give us an adequate representation of each country; therefore, we decided to try a European river cruise. We chose Grand Circle because it came highly recommended by a fellow passenger on a prevous Princess cruise, so we followed up by reviewing their website (www.gct.com) as well as the websites for their competitors. We felt Grand Circle was an excellent value, and we couldn't have been more pleased with our trip. The food & dining room service was excellent, as was the presentation, and compared favorably with the food & service we have received on our numerous ocean cruises through the years. The weather was amazing which hightened our enjoyment, but all four of the Program Directors made sure that our every need was met: they were our tour guide, and our friend by the end of the cruise. Example: one of the Program Directors had a passenger that fell, broke three teeth, and split her lip. The Program Director took her to the dentist in town, stayed with her, and made sure her bills were taken care of. Additionally, this same PD received two calls in the middle of the night during our cruise, and she again went with each passenger to the hospital, made sure they were well taken care of, and brought them back to the river boat after their release. There is nothing we could have asked that was outside their job description. All rooms are 160 square feet, and come with adequate storage space. The beds are individual and cannot be made into a queen, but they were very comfortable."The Great Rivers of Europe" included the following ports: Amsterdam, Cologne, Koblenz, a dinner out in Rudesheim, Heidelberg, Wertheim - where we had a home hosted "Kaffee Klatsch" with a local German family, Wurzburg, Rothenburg, Bamberg, Nurnberg, Kelheim/Regensburg, Passau, Melk, and Vienna. The pacing of each day was up to each passenger, with time each day to see as much/little of each town as you chose after a morning city tour lead by your Program Director. One thing we were not aware of until we got onboard: there is a massage therapist and a small workout area with two treadmills, a weight maching, a hot tub, and a sauna. Actually very nice, with a shower in the area as well. The after dinner entertainment was OK, so often we just went up to the Sun Deck to relax as we sailed through 66 locks during the entire voyage. Because there were only 158 passengers on board, disembarkation was very easy. Everyone got color-coded information to attach to their carry-on bag(s), and we didn't need to have the bags out until the morning we left. The staff loaded your luggage on the minivan taking us to the airport and, again, a Program Director was there to help with check-in, language issues, etc. After this excellent experience, we look forward to another cruise with Grand Circle. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2012
The summary of this review is that the trip was WONDERFUL. This was our third Grand Circle trip (previously with OAT to Machu Picchu/Galapagos Islands and GCT to South Africa, but our first river cruise) and we have had three GREAT ... Read More
The summary of this review is that the trip was WONDERFUL. This was our third Grand Circle trip (previously with OAT to Machu Picchu/Galapagos Islands and GCT to South Africa, but our first river cruise) and we have had three GREAT experiences. As with the other two trips, the difference on this trip was the Program Director and the Staff. They truly reflect the high standards maintained by Grand Circle, which in our mind make the difference. The Itinerary We had read a lot on various forums about the Danube Markets, but little about the Rhine Christmas Markets. What a nice surprise to see markets in almost every stop despite our early trip. Only in Nijmegen (where they don't have markets) and Mainz (where they weren't open yet) did we not see markets, though they varied in size in various towns. We made up for that, however by shopping in other stores in the towns which many times had better prices and selections than the markets themselves. We found the best prices for our needs in the small stores in Heidelberg (Steins, Nutcrackers, & Smokers) though we managed to buy something in every town without much trouble. We followed our philosophy of buying something if we really liked it when we found it, because we have too often in the past said we'd get it later and couldn't.....and we didn't regret this approach as we rarely found cheaper prices. Our guide, Steven Martinot, was very helpful and thorough in recommending which town might have a particular souvenir, and which store/restaurant/bar might suit our needs. We arrived at the airport in Amsterdam about 9:30am and were on the ship by 11:00. One of the Program Directors met us and escorted us to the bus for the transfer to the Ship. We were docked centrally near the train station and in the afternoon set off to walk to the Anne Frank House, some shopping, and the obligatory stroll through the Red Light District. Amsterdam is an easy and safe city to get around in (we had been there before) so we went off on our own. We skipped the optional tour in Nijmegen the next day to the Holocaust Museum in favor of some relaxation (that jet lag is rough) but heard from those that went that it was a moving experience. Our walking tour was the first of many strolls through various river towns which highlighted the history and architecture of the area. The use of the provided individual receivers allowed us to hear our guide perfectly throughout the trip. After a brief walking tour in Cologne (where we experienced our only drenching rain and wind) we were given free time to visit the Cathedral or to browse the markets. There were several different Christmas markets in Cologne, and we finally got to leisurely visit them when the rain diminished and we returned after lunch, but it is NO fun at all to visit the Christmas Markets in drenching rain, no matter what protective clothing you bring!! It was a good first lesson, however, as we learned that those "water-resistant" parkas we brought really just resisted the water for a little while and there was no substitute for long underwear, rain pants, waterproof rain jackets, and LAYERS of clothing. Toe warmers and hand warmers came in handy as well!! Each day we stopped at another town along the way, stopping very close to town except in Strasbourg where the street cars were convenient and easy to use. Koblenz, Mainz, Heidelberg, Speyer, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg and Kayserberg were all wonderfully scenic stops. The two additional optional tours, Rudesheim and Heidelberg were well worth the modest cost. The walking tours were generally not strenuous, though definitely involved walking on cobblestone streets and uneven pathways. They varied in length, were generally slow-paced, and were usually a mile or two at the most. On-ship entertainment varied from a local children's choir to magicians to the chef teaching the making of German stollen. A musician performed every evening and at special events to assure constant entertainment. The tour was generally fast paced if you wanted to do everything, with something to do most of the time (especially shopping), but individual choices could slow this considerably by balancing the free-time activities. Most days we were eating breakfast by 8am and ready to tour by 9am. Usually, a half day was available for voluntary activities such as shopping or lounging. The Crew The entire staff of the ship was wonderful. We have never been on a ship, large or small, that had an entire staff (from the Captain and Hotel Manager to the Engineers, cabin stewards, or other staff) that ALWAYS seemed to sincerely care about making our trip perfect. We NEVER experienced a hint of poor service or uncaring people just going through the motions. Rather, each person without exception treated us as valued guests. We seldom saw our cabin steward (though when we did he always asked about how he could help us further); we would go to breakfast or dinner, and magically when we returned our cabin was always spotless and refreshed. At mealtime, despite our changing tables, so we didn't always have the same wait staff, they quickly knew our names, and the idiosyncrasies of our choices. I had two wonderful massages on the ship (yes, they have a masseuse!!!). The cost was about what you would pay at home, and less than half the charges you might see on a large cruise ship. I highly recommend you try to get one....a great way to get over that jet lag!! We have never had a more accessible Captain on any trip. We first met him at the Safety briefing which was the most thorough I have ever experienced. Throughout the trip, he was available, personable, and truly interested in the passengers. He even participated in the crew show (not to be missed, by the way), and not just to give a speech!! Likewise, the other senior members of the staff were always attentive and accessible. On any tour, the Program Director provides the glue that brings it all together. We again were blessed with a superb Program Director, Steven Martinot, who consistently shepherded us through the tour. As on all tours, there are different personalities of our fellow travelers that require different amounts of attention (perhaps we are one of those too). I have never seen a tour director more consistently patient with everyone, and truly interested in pleasing everyone. A truly remarkable person. This service level and extraordinary standard of excellence with its staff is the quality that separates the Grand Circle experience from the rest. The Ship The cabins were comfortable, though small. There are good videos on the GCT website that clearly show the cabins, but the nice surprise was the roomy bathrooms. In looking at cabins on the first day before people moved in, it appears they are all about the same with a small amount of space deducted from the cabin to provide the narrow balcony. Our shower (201) was large and covered the width of the bathroom (probably close to 4'x3') while others had corner showers that seemed a bit smaller, but certainly adequate. The pull-down beds were VERY comfortable and even though I am over 6', and large, I was absolutely perfectly relaxed. The sofas were adequate for sitting, but too narrow to lay down on, so we ended up leaving the beds down all the time. Two movies showed continuously on the TV (many were Christmas movies, though we saw Casablanca and Patton on two nights as we went to sleep!!); there was also news and other channels as well. The ship was exceptionally clean and the decor was pleasant, though not brand new. However, it did not show signs of wear or deterioration at all. The lounge was very comfortable as were all of the facilities on the ship. A small area off the main lobby, and the library provided quiet spaces that could be used as well. Obviously, in the winter, the sun deck serves primarily the smokers on the ship. A three-sided covered area behind the wheelhouse provided some protection from the wind and the elements, but obviously required heavy coats. On the day we sailed a particularly picturesque section of the Rhine, the dining staff provided homemade hot chocolate in this area as we all enjoyed the afternoon on the river. The Food The food was wonderful! We've cruised on over 20 large ships, and traveled extensively, and found the presentation, preparation, and variety to be very good. For Breakfast, every day omelets or eggs were available for custom preparation, a special preparation was available from the kitchen, and all of the normal breakfast foods -- pastries, meats, waffles or pancakes, juices, and fruits -- were provided on the self-service buffet. At lunch, this same buffet line (actually two similar lines) contained a wonderful salad bar, usually at least 3 prepared sandwich options, several hot options, and other self-serve sandwich options. Many days a custom pasta dish was prepared to your individual taste. Again, an option from the kitchen was available to order as was a hamburger and French fries!! We always started with soup which was delicious. Varied desserts options were always provided. Dinner started usually with an appetizer, soup and salad followed by a choice from two or three entrees. These included a wide variety of dishes including vegetarian options, turkey, duck, chicken, fish, lamb, pasta, and beef. Also, standard options of Grilled Chicken Breast and Salmon were always available with a baked potato. Two dessert options were offered. In short, only the pickiest eater couldn't find something to eat each night. And of course, red or white wine was provided on a complementary basis at dinner. Coffee, Tea, or Hot Chocolate were available on the ship 24 hours/day. Cookies or snacks were provided in the lounge in the afternoon and evenings. The first day, 5 bottle or 7 bottle wine packages were offered at a discount (bottles ranged from about 13 Euros and up) and soft-drink packages were also offered. Generally on the ship, prices were reasonable and seemed to be less than those charged for comparable items on large cruise ships. The Challenges Yes, there were VERY minor irritants along the way that could be improved upon (have you ever been with 140 people in any event that hasn't had some irritant?) As with any tour, a little flexibility and a sense of humor are needed. The most important of these was the inability to reserve a table for meals in the restaurant. When traveling with 4 in our group (tables were mainly for 6), it became a challenge to get 4 seats at the same table.....the recommendation from the Program Directors was to send someone early to stand in line and "hold" the seats! Thus, for every lunch or dinner, my wife or I was generally somewhere between 10th and 15th in line (I refused to go more than 15 minutes early) necessitating one of us to miss the port talk or other pre-meal activities. Actually, despite an otherwise wonderful trip, my wife has said she won't go on another river cruise unless she can reserve a seat in the dining room. The number of people who were always in line to reserve a table indicates the significance of the problem (we had groups of up to 30 on the trip). One night, the Manager actually gave the Captain's Table to a late arriving group that made a big fuss (perhaps this is a hint for future travelers). I gather they recognize this is a problem, but haven't found a way to accommodate it. Whenever a minor problem occurred (for example our toilet kept running), it was only a few minutes after reporting it that the issue was resolved. Our cabin bathroom tended to have a slight 'sewer' smell occasionally. I suspect it was a problem of not retaining water in the shower trap (I think it is a common 'boat' problem), but it was never so overwhelming that it was offensive. Plumbers were on board at two ports, and they were cleaning "kitchen fat" out of the pipes (at least I think that's what the limited English of the plumber said) and following this the smell disappeared. Special Suggestions We ended up with 3 suitcases (2 big, 1 medium) to get all of our different sweaters, raingear, snow gear, etc. to the ship. We also included a duffle bag for overflow when we bought too many souvenirs. Now we could do this as we did our own air, and were allowed 2 bags each, but suffice to say we had four full bags going home! In fairness, though, I could have left one sweater and two sweatshirts at home, and if we had taken advantage of the onboard laundry, easily stayed within 1 bag each (until we bought souvenirs!!). Those nutcrackers and steins and stuffed animals etc really do take a lot of room!! Fortunately, two suitcases just squeezed under the couch on each side!!! Read Less
11 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2011
We were asked by retired friends of ours to join them on a river cruise on Grand Circle Travel's "River Rhapsody" for a cruise up the Rhine and Mosel rivers. We have been on numerous large ship cruises but never on a river ... Read More
We were asked by retired friends of ours to join them on a river cruise on Grand Circle Travel's "River Rhapsody" for a cruise up the Rhine and Mosel rivers. We have been on numerous large ship cruises but never on a river ship. We had a couple of major concerns; "would there be enough to do on such a small ship?" and "we will probably be the youngest people on this ship". We are in our early 50's and still have active lives and like to have an active vacation. We ultimately signed up for the trip along with 2 other couples, friends of ours that are our same ages. THE SHIP: Regarding the ship itself I learned online that the River Rhapsody was about 20 years old. Needless to say I had concerns about the condition of a vessel that old. But my concerns were soon laid to rest. I'm not sure when the last updating/refitting was, but the ship looked new. The condition of all of the paint, tile, carpet, lighting and furnishings was excellent. Our stateroom was very well laid out and indeed had the largest shower of nearly any cruise ship I have traveled on. The old joke in the industry is that to take a shower on a cruise ship you first soap down the walls of the shower, and then you jump in and spin. If I drop the soap in a normal shower I might be able to squat down to get it, but more than likely I would have to step out of the shower to pick it up. Not so on the River Rhapsody. The shower was more than ample. There was plenty of storage in the stateroom with an overall great use of space. This was partly due to the interesting design of the beds. They fold down from the walls on each side of the cabin. When folded down there are overhead reading lights, and the head of the bed raises up like a chaise lounge for added comfort. When stowed away, the beds become a rather small settee with a table between them. The only drawback with the design is that they cannot be reconfigured into a queen size bed. Noises on this ship were somewhat of a problem. There were numerous locks our ship had to navigate on this journey, many in the middle of the night. The compact size of the ship did not allow for much in the way of sound isolation. Many times people in our group were awakened in the middle of the night by all of the noises associated with passage through a lock, under a low bridge or setting up the gangway at a dock. The associated electric motors and hydraulics reverberated through some of the cabins at a level that would wake many of us up in the middle of the night. If this is an issue of maintenance of the equipment, then they absolutely need to fix the problem. If this is the nature of the ship itself then perhaps more care in performing / scheduling these operations (particularly in the middle of the night) would benefit the passengers slumber. We did find out later from repeat passengers that the balcony staterooms on the upper deck were much quieter. PROGRAM DIRECTORS: This was a new one for us. After a couple of ports we got the concept. The program director is sort of a tour guide / camp counselor for a portion of the passengers on each ship. At each port there is generally a walking tour to orient the passengers to the port. This was a great service in that we learned information about the port or found places to go in the port we might not have learned about or found on our own. These walking tours usually took approximately an hour. That left us the rest of the time in port to wander on our own. Most of the time this concept worked very well. Other times the pace was maddeningly slow. Again, we like to spend as much time in port as possible exploring, shopping, dining, and taking pictures. It did not always work out that way with the amount of hand-holding required by some of the other passengers. THE CREW: The crew on the ship was as good as or in some ways perhaps even better than any I have encountered on any ship or cruise line. Because of the small number of passengers (140 max.) and the small size of the crew (I believe it was 28) you really get familiar with the crew; much more so than on a large ship. There was never a request that was too great and the friendliness and attention to detail was top notch. One evening before dinner we were having drinks on the sun deck of the ship while in port. The captain as it so happens was off that evening and he sat with us sharing wine and conversation. That was delightful. THE FOOD: Another concern with the smaller ship was regarding the availability and the variety of food. There is only one dining venue on this ship and only during set meal times. The food however was plentiful and in the off hours there were usually snacks in the lounge. There were a couple dishes and meals that were very good but, while the presentation was beautiful, the overall quality was only average. WINES: We are primarily fans of dry red wines. The regions we traveled through primarily have white and sweet whites at that. In a wine shop in Cochem I asked for a dry red and was introduced to a variety called a Dornfelder. It was about 13% alcohol and thus very dry. It was magnificent. From then on whenever we found a bottle shop in port we looked for/asked for Dornfelders. Wi-Fi: The ship also had free Wi-Fi available. There was a 500 megabyte limit for your sign-on but we never hit the limit. That may be partly due to the fact that it was not always working. In fact, if I can fault the customer service on the ship in any way it would be because of the Wi-Fi. I was having a terrible time connecting at one point of the cruise. When I pointed out that I was unable to connect to the Wi-Fi, every response from the Hotel Manager was directed back at me regarding my competence in using it or that perhaps that I had done something wrong with my account (in the interest of full disclosure I work extensively with computers in my job so I am very familiar with connecting to a network). I'm sorry but rule #1 in customer service is you do not blame the customer. Later when numerous other passengers were unable to connect, well suddenly there was an admission by the Hotel Manager that they had a problem with their equipment. Ugh. ITINERARY: The itinerary on this trip was fantastic. The number of ports we saw, the variety of places we went would be hard to duplicate by any other form of travel. We started in Antwerp Belgium and went up the Rhine to Basel Switzerland. There were also several days spent on the Mosel. Our countries included Belgium, Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland, and because of an optional excursion we signed up for, Luxembourg. The Program Director for our group (Gunther Callebaut) was superb. He was very knowledgeable with respect to the history and culture of each port and spent considerable time orienting us to the layout of each city and places of interest we should not miss. He was very personable and also had a great sense of humor. The only scheduled port we missed was Boppard Germany. That was due to the large amount of barge traffic on the Mosel and the fact that one of the 2 locks available in Koblenz was not working thus doubling the amount of time it took for the series of barges to pass through. Once we finally made it through that lock the ship actually stopped in Koblenz instead of Boppard. Upon leaving Koblenz we saw what has to be the most stunning section of the Rhine. From Koblenz up through the next several miles of the Rhine we passed by 17 castles. It seemed like at every bend of the river you could look further up stream and see another castle on a bluff overlooking the river. Amazing. Our individual ports and excursions were as follows; • Antwerp Belgium - It's a beautiful and a very easy city to navigate. Plenty to see and great places to eat. They also have a Paul's Patisserie in the Groen Platz. One of my favorite places I remember from Paris. • Willemstad Holland - Very picturesque little village built within the walls of an old star shaped fort. Apparently it is a vacation/retirement spot for the very well heeled. An absolutely delightful little village. • Kinderdijk Holland - This is where the windmills are located that are seen in so many postcards. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site and part of the passage paid to Grand Circle by each passenger is donated to the Kinderdijk site through the Grand Circle Foundation. • Nimegen Holland - Picturesque city but not much to do. The optional excursion for this port is the Kroller-Muller museum. That might be the better option for this port. • Bonn Germany - A much larger city than either Bernkastel or Cochem but with the university located there it very much has a college town feel. Beethoven's house is there as well as St Remigius, a small church in which he played the organ for Sunday services as a boy. Our optional excursion was to Augustusburg Palace. Wow! • Cochem Germany - Wow! Walt Disney must have visited here before designing Epcot or Disneyland. The city was like a movie set. Make certain to go to Reichburg Castle which is on a hill overlooking the city. It is well worth the visit. • Bernkastel Germany - Like Cochem the day before, an amazing village. Be sure to visit the Dr. Thanisch Winery. Also if you hike up the hill to the castle ruins you will be rewarded with a great view of the city, the river and the Mosel valley. • Trier Germany - A larger city like Bonn. At first it looked like just a big city but the more we explored the more we liked it. Make certain to visit the Black Gate, the Amphitheater and the Trier Cathedral. • Traben-Trarbach Germany - A very small village. We chose the optional excursion into Luxembourg which included a stop at the American Cemetery where the soldiers from the Battle of the Bulge are interred. General Patton is also buried there. Luxembourg City is very picturesque. Be sure to see the Prime Minister's residence and the Parliament building. • Boppard Germany - Noted in the intro above • Speyer Germany - Beautiful small city and also the location of our home hosted coffee. The latter turned out to be a complete disaster. The wife of our host was 'called away' because of work. The husband filled in as host. We've all heard the expression the "Ugly American". Well we were unfortunately the guests of the Ugly German. What was supposed to have been a cultural exchange between us ended up as an hour long lecture from him about the evils of American foreign policy from Ronald Reagan to Afghanistan. It was an unbearable experience which was later made all the worse by the wonderful stories we heard from the other passengers about their respective home hosted visits. I believe they have been removed from the list of host families. • Strasbourg France - What a beautiful city. Feels a lot like Paris but with an obvious German influence as evidenced by the amount of half-timber buildings. Our first morning included a boat ride through the canals of the city and a walk through part of the city to the Cathedral. You really need several days to see it all. In the afternoon we did an excursion to Baden-Baden and the Black Forest. Our second day in Strasbourg was a trip to the Alsatian town of Riquewihr. Wow what a beautiful village! Be sure to get the Muenster Cheese Pretzels. Delicious. • Basel Switzerland - Another big city. Very picturesque and historical but by this point the trip was wearing on us so we probably did not enjoy it as much as we would have earlier in the trip. LOCAL GUIDES: Occasionally the program director will hand-off their group to a local guide, presumably because the local guides have better knowledge of the port. Our guide in Antwerp was fantastic... very informative and very funny. Our guide in Trier was pitiful. Very hard to understand and completely blew past the Trier Cathedral, a must see as far as our group was concerned. We went back to it after the tour. WHISPERNET: This is a remote listening device for hearing the guide or program director as you move about on your walking tour. It's basically a radio receiver and as long as you have your receiver tuned to the frequency your guide is transmitting on, you can hear them up to about 50 feet away. A really great concept but for me it failed in the execution. My receiver was always cracking and popping in the earpiece. They said it was because the battery was low so they had to recharge it. This meant that much of the time I had no receiver and unless I was walking within earshot of our guide I missed much of the commentary. Others in our group had the same problem. PASSENGERS: The passengers of the ship were primarily retirees as we expected. Some of the passengers were really old and considering they were on vacation, really unpleasant to be around. With some of the passengers there was a cliquish mentality about the number of trips taken with Grand Circle and being part of the "Inner Circle", the name for their frequent travelers. While visiting the city of Bonn we were in a cafe and I overheard the discussion of another couple from our ship. The husband asked if she wanted to get something to eat. She said, "No, we paid for the food on the ship and we are going to eat the food on the ship!" Really? You come all the way to Europe on vacation and you're not going to sample the local cuisine? Surely a meal off the ship will not bankrupt you and if so then how did you afford the cruise in the first place? Which brings up another point... the obvious engineering of the daily schedules to race back to the ship for lunch or dinner, with little or no options for those that want to stay in port for the meal. As I stated before, in my humble opinion the food on the ship was only average to begin with and was hardly worth racing back to the ship for or was hardly so good that you could not afford to miss it. CONCLUSION: So we come to the question which we all of our group asked of and answered for each other... "Would we travel with them again?" To a person each of the six of us said not for another 10 or 15 years. Virtually everything that Grand Circle did was great, start to finish. Overall we had a good time and are glad we went on the trip. But the general age and attitude of some of the passengers really began to wear on us. For those that want or need or prefer to have everything planned out for them so they don't have to worry about or even think about the details, it's great. Our group however was composed of younger competent world travelers that needed more latitude and options in the daily schedule. And I'm sorry, but sitting in the lounge working a jigsaw puzzle on a sailing day does not constitute enough in the way of entertainment. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: June 2007
Background Information My wife and I are in our mid-fifties. This was our first river boat cruise. We have cruised 9 times before (8 Caribbean & 1 Panama Canal). This was our 3rd trip to Europe. The first 2 were "on our ... Read More
Background Information My wife and I are in our mid-fifties. This was our first river boat cruise. We have cruised 9 times before (8 Caribbean & 1 Panama Canal). This was our 3rd trip to Europe. The first 2 were "on our own" style vacations. Travel to Port of Embarkation This proved to be the most challenging part of our trip. Our flight from St. Louis was delayed by 2 hours because of weather. We were concerned that we might not make it in time for our connecting flight in Chicago. Not to worry, our flight from Chicago to Amsterdam was delayed by 24 hours due to mechanical difficulties. United Airlines did provide us with food and hotel vouchers as well as a credit to be applied to a future flight. Ship Info The River Rhapsody is a small ship designed to travel European Rivers. There were about 120 passengers on our cruise. There are three decks and a sun deck. There is a lounge, dining room, and a small exercise room. The staterooms consist of two double beds (not convertible), a bathroom, desk, and storage space. We found the room to be adequate for our needs. There is a safe in each room. Electricity is European so you might wish to bring an adapter. Service The service was the best I have encountered on any cruise. Everyone seemed to be fluent in English and all announcements were in English. This is a "cash-free" ship which means you provide your credit card information at time of embarkation and simply charge your on-board expenses(optional excursions, drinks & souvenirs) to your credit card. You will be given a detailed statement at the end of your cruise. All shipboard expenses are in US dollars. You will need a small amount of Euros for local purchases. We took e200 and came back with money left over. Shore Excursions This is really the heart of this cruise. Amsterdam Since we were a day late in arriving, we did not have much time in Amsterdam (about 4 hours). We did take a tour (included) of the Red Light District. Cologne In the morning we had a shipboard lecture on Germany Today and the Cologne Cathedral. In the afternoon, we had a walking tour (included) of the old city and then had some time to wander around by ourselves. The cathedral is truly magnificent. Note: unless you are an expert do not try to take pictures inside the churches and castles. They are too dark. You might wish to rely on postcards. Koblenz In the morning, we had a walking tour of the old city (included) and wandered around by ourselves in the afternoon. There is a huge statue of Kaiser Wilhem I mounted on a horse. This is a must see. Mainz In the morning, we cruised along the most beautiful section of the Rhine. Most of the river castles are located here as well as the famous Lorelei Rock. In the afternoon, we took a walking tour (included) of the Old City of Mainz. This is the city where printing was invented and the Gutenberg Museum is well worth the time to visit. In the evening, we took the optional tour to Rudesheim for a winery visit and dinner at a local restaurant. Heidelberg Today was an optional tour to Heidelberg. Since we had been there three years ago, we opted to stay on the boat. If you have not been there, it is well worth the added expense. Wertheim This is a charming small German town. There is an included walking tour. In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to visit the home of a local German family. It was interesting to see how they lived. Wurzburg We did a tour of the Old City. Of particular interest are the Cathedral and the Residenz, one of the Bavarian King's Palaces. Rothenburg We did the optional tour here and it is well worth the money. This is Germany's best preserved medieval town. Of particular note here are St. Jacob Church, The Christmas Museum, and the Museum of Punishment. Bamberg We did a walking tour of the city (included) and a sample of the local delicacy "smoked beer." I tried it. It must be an acquired taste. A must see is St. Martin Church in the university district. Nuremberg We did an included tour here. We saw the Nazi Congress Hall, the Nazi Rally Grounds, and the Palace of Justice made famous by the movie "Judgement at Nuremberg." In the Old City, there are several churches worth visiting, as well as the "Beautiful Fountain." Kelheim Here we took an optional tour of Kelheim & Weltenburg. At Kelheim, we saw the Liberation Hall Monument and at Weltenberg we visited a Benedictine Abbey. The beauty of the abbey is worth the visit. Regensburg The main attraction here are the churches and they are all close. First the cathedral, second the "old chapel," and finally St. Joseph. Passau The main attraction here is the Cathedral. It contains the second largest pipe organ in the world (the first is the Mormon Tabernacle). Melk Abbey This is a large and very impressive abbey. Don't miss the chapel here. Vienna We arrived late and most of the attractions were closed. Dining There are three set open seating dining times. Breakfast (buffet), Lunch (combination buffet/menu), Dinner (set menu). There were limited choices, but the food was well prepared. Fellow Passengers The average age was 60+. No Children. Tipping 10-12 dollars per person per day for staff 4-6 dollars per person per day for cruise directors 2 dollars for 1/2 day excursions for local guide 3 dollars for full day excursions for local guide Same for local bus drivers. Summary This cruise is intended for people looking for an educational/cultural experience. It is an excellent value. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: May 2005
This is a review of our May 28-June 18, 2005 Grand Circle Travel (GCT) "Great Rivers of Europe" cruise/tour on the Rhine, Main, and Danube, sailing from Amsterdam to Vienna on GCT's M/S River Melody. The trip included three ... Read More
This is a review of our May 28-June 18, 2005 Grand Circle Travel (GCT) "Great Rivers of Europe" cruise/tour on the Rhine, Main, and Danube, sailing from Amsterdam to Vienna on GCT's M/S River Melody. The trip included three days before the cruise in Brussels and three days after in Vienna. Most of this review is about the ship, as you will spend over half the time aboard. The ship's features and services shouldn't be compared to an ocean liner, but are more similar to a Mississippi River cruise on the Delta Queen. This is our 14th cruise, including two river cruises and the two GCT trips. AIRLINES The GCT airline service was not convenient; our total travel time was more than 16 hours  a 6 a.m. (PDT) flight from LAX to Washington D.C. with a five hour layover, arriving in Brussels at 7:30 a.m. (Central Europe Daylight Savings Time) the following morning. (Brussels is nine hours ahead of Los Angeles.) The flight to Brussels was on a United 767 with individual TV screens in the seatbacks; the outside rows were two seats wide. The return flight was on a Lufthansa 747 taking only 14 hours -- but we were jammed in like sardines, with no individual TV screens, and the outside rows were three across. And there were no pre-assigned seats from LAX to Washington D.C. or from Vienna to Frankfurt. Our previous GCT flights to Europe were on Delta and very good - non-stops LAX to London and Paris to LAX, with individual TV screens, and two seats wide. In the future, we will arrange our own flights and not use GCT. SHIP CABIN There was plenty of storage space for large suitcases under the two single beds (there are no larger beds in any cabins). There were two closets about two feet wide for hanging clothes, and two sets of two drawers. However, when the bed was folded down, the two drawers were difficult to reach -- they were deep under the bed and you had to sit on the floor to reach them. The cabin's mechanical key locks were recently removed, leaving a one-inch open hole in the door. The old locks were replaced by a plastic keycard arrangement located above the holes. The balcony proved to be a good investment and we used it often. The only problem: Because of the balcony, your bathroom was two feet smaller than in the non-balcony cabins. There were two small chairs on the balcony, and one chair and writing table in the cabin, with a telephone and hair dryer. One smaller round table is between the beds near the sliding glass balcony door. During the daytime, the beds were folded up against the wall and a small half-sized couch was available to sit on (but too small to lie on). CABIN TV The TV set was very small -- about 10 inches -- and located above one bed. Thus it could only be seen from the opposite couch or bed. It had six TV channels with only two in English (CNN's European edition and SkyView, a British news channel) and several in German. It was very difficult to get a daily or even a weekly weather forecast for Europe where our ship was. Frequently, the TV would go out of service when we passed under a bridge, into a lock, etc., as the satellite signal was blocked. One TV channel shows a view forward from the bow; another provides photos of the crew. Public announcements are piped into the cabin's loudspeaker; often late-evening, unimportant announcements would disturb the early sleepers. There were no music channels. BATHROOM The toilet is high. Two large mirrors over the sink provide a reverse image. Everyone uses the smaller round mirror instead. There's very little sink counter space, and a shower (no bath). E-MAIL SERVICE The ship has a single computer in the lobby for passengers, but without access to the Internet. Passengers can use the computer to compose and save outgoing e-mail messages on a 3½-inch diskette, and give it to the ship's front desk personnel, who will send your messages the next time the ship is docked. Your best bet is to use Internet cafes in each port, where the cost is at least half what the ship charges. BOARDING PASSES You must go to the front desk every time you leave the ship, and request your paper boarding passes. These are removed from your mailbox behind the counter, and you need to return them when you return, since the front desk personnel count the passes to verify everyone is back on board. SHIP'S LOCATION It was always difficult to determine where you were on the river, since no map was provided in the lobby or on your cabin's TV set. Nor were there any weather forecasts or narrations of the scenes we were passing - castles on the hilltops, small towns on the river's edge, etc. DINING Everything is open seating - no reserved tables. Thus some passengers lined up early and rushed into the dining room to get a window or large table. Tables typically seated four or six persons; the tables in the rear of the room away from the windows have benches and chairs instead of all chairs, and appeared to be larger. The morning orange juice always tasted watered-down. Two small glasses of wine (red or white) were served per passenger at dinnertime. Mealtimes were 6-9 a.m. for breakfast, lunch at 12:30 p.m., and dinner at 7 p.m. (lunch and dinner have just one seating). The quality of the food was fair; for the heavy eaters, more was always available. SHIP'S LOUNGE The drinks tasted watered-down. All drinks were small and expensive, and the service was slow. In fact, many passengers began to buy wine in the ports to drink in their cabins, and stopped using the lounge. The ship charged a $5 (U.S.) corking fee to open your wine. There is a 24-hour instant coffee dispenser in the lobby area. The lounge is poorly designed for the evening entertainment or tour talks. NEWSPAPER There were one or two copies of a faxed two- or three-page newspaper, but they always disappeared quickly from the front desk. BRUSSELS, BRUGES AND AMSTERDAM PRECRUISE TOURS The optional tours were good, with good meals, good canal boat rides, and very good hotel breakfast service. But there were not enough photo stops and no museum tours. We only visited one church. There was no Internet service in the GCT-provided hotel. The chocolate and porcelain factories we toured were very small operations -- almost like backyard garage operations. VIENNA POST CRUISE TOURS The optional tours were good, with good meals. The same comments apply as in Belgium about photo stops, museum tours, church visits, etc. This hotel had Internet service in the lobby, but the cost was as high as on the ship. Only two blocks away was an Internet cafe with more than 10 computers available at half the cost. TOUR ACTIVITIES All of the tours including the optional ones were very good. However, the sights to be seen or visited did not follow the GCT catalog or web schedule. Some sights were eliminated and others changed without any notice. Be sure to plan your cruise around the fact that all stores are closed on Sundays and all museums are closed on Mondays. Be sure and take the optional tour to have coffee and cake at a local resident's home. Each group is limited to six to eight passengers, and it was very interesting to visit the home and talk one-on-one to the housewife. UNUSUAL ACTIVITIES One day, the tour director gave each of us one euro and asked us all to buy some sweet rolls while ashore, to be pooled together for breakfast the following morning aboard the ship. TIPPING All crew tipping ($10 U.S. per passenger per day) can be added to your cabin bill. However, for local bus and guide tipping, keep a brunch of one-dollar bills available (for a half day, one dollar per passenger for the bus driver and another for the guide; or double that for a full day). Plus you will need to tip the tour director ($5 per day per passenger) at the end of the cruise in dollars. U.S. currency was widely accepted aboard ship and by the onshore stores, cafes, etc. Of course, you can us your credit card in the stores and cafes; and euros are need for any local transportation or services (streetcars, subways, coin-operated computers, etc.). SUMMARY It was a most interesting cruise, and we saw many interesting sites including the Gothic cathedral in Cologne, the Heidelberg University and castle, the baroque palace of the Prince-Bishop in Wertheim, the Nuremberg museum, the Main-Danube canal, etc. The negative side: It's a long cruise with lots of walking on cobblestone streets. Read Less
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