I know most people have had excellent experiences with Viking, but unfortunately I cannot claim to be one of them. Our tour started in Prague in the midst of one of the worst heat waves that has hit Europe in the last hundred years. The ... Read More
I know most people have had excellent experiences with Viking, but unfortunately I cannot claim to be one of them. Our tour started in Prague in the midst of one of the worst heat waves that has hit Europe in the last hundred years. The Hilton was a nice enough hotel and the rooms were good. The Viking representatives were very nice and since we had arrived several hours early they were able to get us into a room before the normal check in time which we greatly appreciated. We settled into our rooms, took a shower and then ventured out into the city. We found a wonderful little craft fair and wandered around town. Hints:
1 - Money Changers at the airport or train station (TravelEX) have poor rates and high fees. There are a number of places in old town that had better rates and no fees. The best no fee place to change money that I found was outside the main train station. Go out the main doors, turn to your right, walk down the path and when you come to the road there is a small shop across the street on the corner. The guy was very honest and even advised me to "wait until tomorrow" if I could because the rate was going to be even better due to what was happening with Greece. Getting Euros here may have been a good idea as the only places you could change money for the rest of the tour was in banks (until you get to Paris). The ATM machines were always available but many of those in Germany did not have an English Language menu. Also some of them required you put your card in upside down.
2 - Taxis - there were four of us so a larger taxi was needed. The taxi stand inside the airport told us it would cost 700 crowns but we were able to get the driver to agree to 600.
3 - if you go out of the Lower level lobby there is a small shopping center down the steps, right across the street that has a grocery store and coffee shop.
4 - If you continue straight through that shopping center then there will be a metro station and a bus stop. You will need coins to buy a ticket for the metro or bus (inside the metro station) but there is a small smoke shop to the left of the metro station that sells tickets. Make sure you only stamp your ticket one time or if the ticket police check you they will think you were trying to get a better time stamp to cheat the system. Yes there are ticket police and they do check tourists and will confiscate your passport until you pay a hefty fine. We were checked and the fellow in front of us ended up in trouble because he didn't have a valid ticket and they were demanding he surrender his passport as we were leaving.
Day 2 - Buffet breakfast was very good in the hotel. Eggs cooked to order and a very nice selection of other cooked items. Coffee was ok but the Starbucks down the road was much better. (Lower lobby, through shopping center, turn right about 1/2 mile down on left side)
The tour - It was very hot and when we got off the bus at the castle the tour guide told everyone to buy water at the stand. Viking for some strange reason does not provide water on any tours that originate from any of the hotels but they do for all the tours off of the ship. It took a good 20 minutes before everyone was able to get water. The tour was of only what the non-paying tourists could see. If you wanted to see more of the castle you would have to but a ticket and drop out of the tour or come back later in the day to do the full castle tour. They gave us a break to wander around the court yard for about 15 minutes. Unfortunately we wasted so much time getting water earlier that we did not get to tour the gardens on the way back to the bus. The rest of the tour, the bridge and the clock tower were fine but very hot. We were given the option of staying in old town or riding back to the hotel. We decide to explore a little more.
Day 3 - the bus ride Our Cruise Director Suzy was very organized and worked hard to make sure everything went as it should. Unfortunately, we had a couple who were 15 minutes late to the bus so we started out far behind everyone else.
Hint - when you get to the rest stop go to the McDonald's they have 5 stalls where as the other shopping area only had 2 which meant long slow lines for the ladies.
Nuremberg - we got there about a half hour behind the other buses. Had the famous sausage sandwich. Walked around the shops. Of course there were a couple of other people who were late for the bus this time around. We did have an excellent local guide. We saw the parade grounds. Drove around the Palace of Justice on the bus.
Finally off to the ship ; we arrived about an hour later than originally planned. That gave us less than a half hour to get to our cabin, unpack and head to the Captain's reception. No time for a shower. There was plenty of champagne at the reception as much as you wanted. However, I don't drink champagne and was given a single glass of draft beer. When I asked for a second glass I was told I could charge it to my cabin or purchase their drink package. Seemed kind of cheesy to me just didn't make sense.
Our cabin steward was not there to greet us when we arrived, nor were our bags placed on the bed to unpack. We were on the top deck of cabins. It was definitely warm in the room. Turned the AC down as low as it would go.
Day 4 - hot as the dickens again. Our cabin would not cool below 78 degrees! We had a very personable local guide in Bamberg who had actually lived in the former synagog with several room mates for a bit. She was able to really give that personal touch to the tour and everyone seemed to enjoy her stories and tales. At the end of the tour we were talking and she confided in us that this was only her third tour! She handled it like a pro. It was Sunday so we were not able to go into the church due to the services. The staff in the lounge is getting to know us and we are having fun with them. Some of the dining hall waiters are also very nice.
Though, it appears ordering a dark beer with dinner is the exception. I was finished with the main course by the time the beer arrived. Perhaps it was because I asked for a dark beer and they had to get it from the lounge (that's the only reason I can think of since the fellow at the table next to us came in after us and had a couple of light beers). The dining hall was so hot that sweat was rolling down our table mates face. Halfway through dinner they said they couldn't take the heat any longer and left without finishing their meal. Also, there was a very strong unpleasant petroleum smell in the dining hall. This was also true for the next night's dinner.
Day 5 - Wurzburg woke up to a most beautiful sight this morning. The fortress on the hill was absolutely stunning. Later in the day we walked up to it and were able to wander around but the museum there was closed. We did the walking tour into town. Saw the Bishops' Residenz. It was certainly built to impress. This was one of the best stops on the entire cruise. Our friend was celebrating her birthday and the waiter allowed us to go into the kitchen. It was surprising how well designed (and compact) it was when you take into account how many people they had to server at each meal. It was also the chef's birthday so it was even more special being able to get a picture of both of the celebrants together. After dessert they bought out a special passion fruit cake for our friend. It was a nice touch. I had to run back to my cabin just before dinner and finally met the cabin steward.
Day 6 Heidelburg - Katia was our guide today and she was great! To begin with, she explained to everyone that there was an arm rest on the sides of the seats and that the seats could be reclined if so desired. We were riding the same bus all this time and no one else bothered to explain how the bus work. The cabin was very hot yet again and the wifi which had been spotty was totally out this afternoon. There is no place to go to cool off since all of the common areas are also hot. You have to keep the shades closed to keep the sun out so the dining hall had no views during dinner so far. The upper deck has been closed this whole time because of the low bridges on the Mainz River. At least someone finally explained to everyone why the upper deck was being kept closed. We wanted to sit outside in the shaded portion of the area outside the lounge, but all the tables in the shade had reserved on them. I asked if I could "reserve a table in the shade" and was told no. The explanation for the reserved signs was that there was a group of 30 people and hence they were able to have the tables reserved due to their groups size.
Day 7 - Slept until 8 what a treat! There was a storm last night and the heat wave has broke. A lock also broke so we had to take buses into Mainz. The church and Gutenburg Museum were nice. Try the small stand selling ice cream. The ice cream here was very good, Rudesheim is definitely a tourist town with lots of little shops to walk through. We took the cable car to the top of the mountain. It was a relatively long ride and we enjoyed the views and the pleasant breeze. Definitely worth taking. The status at the top was also impressive though not a lot to do there. There was a little stand selling wine that a lot of people seemed to be enjoying. We had dinner on the boat and then went and walked away from town. At the end of the trailer park there were the remains of a bridge that had been boomed during the war that we found interesting.
Day 8 - on the Rhine and the top deck is finally open! The weather turned from unbearable heat to the 60's and it was very cool up on the deck. I took the opportunity to see the pilot house. The captain explained all of the workings and even dropped the pilot house a few inches so we could see how that works. There were many castles to see. One of our fellow passengers had a map of the Rhine from a Steve Rick's tour book that was helpful. It'd have been nice if Viking had a map or even a listing of the Castles in the order we saw them so we could have taken notes. We did take a photo of the map so we'll be able to identify the castles after the trip.
Cochem was a nice tour. Found the shop selling mustard that is made there and picked some up for a friend. The castle has many interesting features and a lot of original furnishings.
Some people were making a big deal of he Captain's farewell dinner. I didn't think it was anything special. For the most part the menu selections that night were fixed with only one or two options. The food and presentation were not quite the cruise ship quality that many have experienced but it was none the less very good.
Day 9 BernKastle a nice town and we were out early so we saw the town waking up. The people were very friendly. We decided to hike up to the castle ruins at the top of the mountain. They are in the process of restoring it so we were not allowed inside. However most of the exterior was accessible. We felt it was worth the effort to see it. However, it also took away from the time for exploring the rest of the town.
Trier was quite the city to visit. We had another excellent guide. The ruins,castle and churches were again impressive. By the way the Quiet Boxes that were used on all of the tours were the best audio boxes that I have ever used. They were top notch.
day 10 Luxembourg - our driver seemed to be a little confused over where the American Cemetery was and took a wrong exit. Late again to the party. Needless to say, it was a very somber visit for all of us.
day 11 - I arranged a meeting with a representative from the Paris Greeters organization and he gave us a tour of Montmarte. This was without a doubt the most enjoyable day of our entire trip! We passed on the tour with our group, but had made arrangements to do it with another group the following day. However, after speaking with several couples who had taken the tour they convinced us it was not worth the time. We cancelled with the other group.
day 12 - the end of the viking tour. We extended our stay on our own since I wanted to be in Paris for Bastille Day (July 14th). I had made reservations 90 days ahead of time for the Jules Verne Restaurant on the second story of the Eiffel Tower. Seating requests and arrangements are made based on the order the reservations are made. Hence I made sure to be among the first to get my reservation in. I had reservations for 7 PM. The dinner was definitely a fine dining experience. We were there at the table until almost 11PM. The waiter told us we'd have free range of the tower and could go anywhere as guests of the Jules Verne Restaurant which made us feel very special indeed but in the end that was a total lie. You have to have a ticket to get to the top. And the lines were very long even at that late hour it was a minimum of 45 minutes wait for the lift. In the end we just gave up and left.
day 13 - our friends decided they wanted a nice leisurely day so we did a boat ride of the canals. It was a very laid back day. We bought some crepes from the fellow down the street from the Meridien hotel. Picked up some wine & beer from the shopping center (bottom floor towards the very back) across the street and had a "picnic" in the hotel lobby. The crepes were outstanding and I highly recommend trying them.
day 14 - Bastille day We foolishly thought that we would be able to get close enough to see the parade. That was virtually an impossible task. However, we did get some excellent shots of the air force flyovers on the Champs Elysee. It was a huge party and was well worth the extra days to be part of it. After the fly over we worked our way to the Louvre. It turns out it is closed on Tuesdays, but the exterior is simply amazing. That evening we went back to see the fireworks being shot off of the Eiffel Tower. The fire works didn't start until 11PM. What an amazing display the best I've ever seen. After the fireworks ended it was a quick rush to the Metro since it shuts down at midnight.
HINT - the Paris Metro is very easy to navigate. The train direction is indicated by the last stop of that line so it is easy to figure out what direction you want to go in. Also the Meridien has a Metro entrance at the end of the block. It is the Yellow line which has the majority of the things you'll want to see in Paris on it.
Note - the cabin (I had a french balcony) was very tight but efficiently designed so that you made the best use of space possible, The showers on the boat were some of the best on the trip. Read Less