Having read the reviews on the Viking cruises that did not go well due to lack of water in the Elbe River, I thought I would offer my comments on the Elbe River cruise that took place as the water problems were starting to occur. We booked the cruise, "Elegant Elbe," with a pre-stay in Berlin and post-stay in Kraków, Poland.
With the "bottom line up front," I would recommend the cruise to anyone with the normal caveat that "things happen" and you need to be prepared for whatever happens.
To begin, we flew to Berlin and were met by Viking and transported to our hotel, the Steigenberger, located across the street from the main train station. Bojan Bozic was the Viking representative who was at the hotel and he then became our Program Director for the cruise. I cannot say enough good things about how well he handled everything. He provided good information about where to eat and other items of interest. His information was always accurate and all his recommendations worked out very well.
Not part of the normal Viking tour, I highly recommend the tour of the Reichstag which can be arranged via the internet (just Google "tour of the Reichstag" and you will get the information you need). If you want to do the tour, you must arrange it ahead of time and it must be approved by German authorities but it is not difficult to request the tour and you will receive authorization prior to your trip. The tour was about 90 minutes long and very interesting.
Another recommendation is to take the short tour on the Spree River on one of the tour boats. Only takes about an hour but you get to see another view of the city. Tours are available within a five minute walk from the hotel.
The hotel was very good and located close to the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate. By taking advantage of the pre-cruise stay in Berlin, you have the opportunity to see much more than you would if you just did the cruise which provided very little time in Berlin itself.
After our stay in Berlin and the bus trip from Berlin to Magdeburg, we boarded the Viking Astrild for our cruise. The ship is smaller than the normal Viking "longships" with only 98 passengers and 2 decks rather than the larger ships with 190 passengers and 3 decks. The ship was built especially for the Elbe River but even with a smaller ship, the lack of water in the river became a problem.
The ship was fabulous and the crew made it even better. The Captain, Vaclav Drahos; Hotel Manager, Jochen Prigge; Program Director, Bojan Bozic; and Chef, Larss Regenberg, were all fantastic. In every case, they went the extra mile to make sure our expectations were not only met but exceeded.
I will not try to describe all the spectacular things we were able to see during the cruising portion and the land tours where we stopped. Suffice to say that even though I lived in Germany for three years and have done several other cruises in Europe, I still enjoy opportunities to return and see more. Bojan and Jochen were always available to help when needed and to inform all of us about the areas where we were traveling. Bojan even made a reservation for four of us in a restaurant in Prague for the night we would spend there. (The restaurant is the Café Imperial and is a great place to have a wonderful meal.)
For our cruise, the problem of lack of water began when we docked at Decín. When we docked, the crew informed us that we would likely not have enough water to continue our voyage from there. The Astrild would remain in Decín and we would continue our tours with buses. We would go out during the day on the buses and then return to the ship for the night. We missed a little bit of the river but not the same problem as others encountered later. They did bus us to Prague and we continued the trip as planned with a one-night stay in Prague.
There was an option of extra days in Prague or to travel to Kraków, Poland, before returning home. Having spent time in Prague before, we decided to continue on to Kraków to see something else. Had I not been to Prague before, I would have most likely stayed in Prague as there are many things to see and do there.
I highly recommend the trip to Kraków. It is a wonderful city and well worth the trip. It does require about a 7-hour bus ride but again, it is worth the effort. We stayed in the Radisson Blu Hotel, centrally located and walking distance from the very large market square. The Viking representative at the hotel was again very helpful in directing us to places to eat and other information. She recommended two places to eat and we tried both with great results both times.
One extra we did in Kraków was to take a "golf cart" tour of parts of the city. I call it a "golf cart" tour because it basically is a large cart that holds 6 passengers and the driver. He took us to places that were very interesting and not all on the normal "tour route." We told him that we wanted to go to Schindler's factory (now a museum). We ended our tour there but it was not walking distance back to the hotel. He asked how long we wanted to stay there and he would pick us up and return us to the hotel. He was back at the appointed time and we headed back to the hotel.
As an optional tour, we visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. Represents a very ugly part of history but worth the trip. Highly recommended.
In all, the cruise went very well. Rivers in Europe can cause problems, either from lack of water or too much. Temperatures in Europe are usually not uncomfortably hot but they can be and many hotels are not air conditioned in the same manner as what is expected in the U.S. My comment is that if you are considering a Viking River Cruise, don't be discouraged by the problems identified for several of the trips. In our case, the crew did everything in their power to make the best of the low water situation. I will not try to excuse any actions or lack of action on Vikings' part to notify people but for the people on the actual ships, they did a great job and the cruise was great.