Believe what you read about the Elbe. She is not the Danube, the Rhine or the Volga. We read about low water levels prior to our trip and called Viking in California. They have mastered the art of the vague response with quotes like, "As far as we know now"; "Not at this time"; "Anything can happen"; and "It remains to be seen if...". When asked why the paddle steamers were apparently stuck at the docks in Dresden (ships that can travel in less water than Viking's ships), they denied knowing of that issue. At the time of their denial, Viking's Elbe voyage was halted twice, once before Dresden and at the Czech border. That was reported personally by the Viking Program Director sitting in the hotel in Berlin on the day our trip began! As passengers were landing in Germany, they received an email reporting that the Viking Shumann would not arrive as planned and the Fontane would replace her. The reason...the Shumann "could not get to Magdeburg (Berlin port) in time". No mention of critically low water levels on the Elbe, just that the Fontane is a similarly configured ship.
On day 8, we traveled an hour by bus between Decin and Litomerice alongside the Elbe and witnessed ZERO river traffic except for one kayak and a single sailboat. There is no doubt in my mind Viking knew about the situation well in advance. I emailed Viking customer relations twice in Germany and got NO RESPONSE WHATSOEVER! We are big fans of the Viking brand and this was a big letdown for us!
Why then do I award Viking three stars for this cruise? For us, the disruption was minimal. Since it rained every day in Germany, we had no stoppages until Decin. Two hours round trip by bus and sleeping on the Fontane was not a huge deal. We saw the same scenery from the bus and it was not remarkable. Our two hour bus ride into Prague was not much of a hassle either. And the Viking staff aboard the Fontane was remarkably wonderful! Great food, great service and wonderful guests. We have always been thrilled with Viking's staff members aboard ship. The land excursions were very well done by excellent guides whom we tipped generously. Berlin's saving grace was the history of the failed Communist system and the struggle to unify. We stayed one extra night and two days total was fine. The remaining German stopovers were well worth the visits and very interesting. The Saxony Switzerland land tour was a great hike!
Our cabin was the smallest we have stayed in on our fifth trip on a Viking ship. Two twin beds and little storage, but we spend very little time in our room. It was comfortable with a nice shower and a window that allowed us to gaze over the countryside and hop up to the sundeck for fresh air and great views. If you crave a generous, roomy suites, select another river. These ships are designed to operate in low draft situations and are smaller overall (total 112 guests with only 8 small suites available). The common areas were clean and very comfortable.