I chose this trip because my mother wanted to do the Christmas markets. It sounded fun too. She has taken 16 Grand Circle trips in the past and had always had nothing but amazing things to say about them. As a matter of fact she would always compare regular cruises to her “wonderful” Grand Circle River Cruises. She would criticize every cruise line we traveled on again with Grand Circle being so great in so many ways(to her).
I should have realized that while planning this one she couldn’t answer many of my questions about the boat, and other things that something might be off. I could blame her memory, but it’s not that. The problem was GCT trips really aren’t anything to remember. She couldn’t even tell me if there was a closet in the room or one thing about the room other than the beds come out of the wall.
I can tell you there are a few things I did like about the trip. We were there to see the Christmas markets. Every town had one, although one town, Melk hadn’t opened theirs for the season yet.
The boat, and I do mean boat is unremarkable. No one would ever call this a ship. It’s small and that has its advantages. Surprisingly there is an ice machine that you can get your own ice. The rooms have pretty great storage when you consider the size.
When you first come in the room you will find a pretty big table that is available always. On each side of the table is the seating area, which has enough space to seat two people or total 4, even though the rooms only sleep two. The seating area is as uncomfortable as possible. The back has zero give and is 100% straight. So it’s not really a space you want to sit at for any length of time.
This same table stays in place when the beds come out of the wall. Once the beds do, you lose your seating area. I guess it’s with the thought you won’t spend much time in your room which is true. The beds aren’t horrible but they are also not real beds. But then again they keep you going a great deal of the time.
This is NOT a relaxing trip at all. I say that because one day they were making announcements about breakfast that did come in loudly into the room at 5:30am. Another day they were waking us up at 6:45am with the horrible smells of sauerkraut. It woke me from a dead sleep too. It was awful. Plus with a little boat like this I can promise you that whatever they were cooking in the kitchen the entire boat smelled of it. On another day that I had hoped to sleep in, I was woken at 8am by the staff running the vacuum cleaner. Another few days it was the maids cart outside our door between 7-8am and the noise of plastic bags and more. Basically anything going on in the hallway came right into your room.
Before you say, why didn’t I do something about all of this. I did. Plus due to my Mom’s snoring I wore ear plugs. All of this could’ve heard through the ear plugs. Mom on the other hand didn’t hear anything. But she has list 85% of her hearing without hearing aids.
I think Grand Circle caters to the elderly specific reasons. But I do know that as someone in their early 50’s I think GCT forgets that not everyone is hard of hearing.
Food: If you are going on this trip thinking you will eat and eat. Think again. First the food isn’t any good. As a matter of fact, GCT counts the number of meals they provide. With that said I skipped all breakfasts, all lunches but 3 and 3 of the dinners. Why? Because the food was that bad. Plus after the first lunch realizing that many a mayo-based item was not refrigerated and borderline hot-I was afraid I would get sick.
Between meals the only food provided was the same cookies(store bought). Every single day for 9 days these same 5 varieties. Maybe you would see fruit, but not often. I heard once there was crackers but never saw any. I actually lost 10 pounds on this trip. Add to that portion sizes weren’t huge, not enough rolls for a table of 8 to get one each. I could go on.
As for drinks. I think the stay is told to cut people off regardless of what you are drinking unless you pay EXTRA at 2. So 2 small Diet Cokes and you are never asked again. If you ask, they don’t bring it, same went for house wine. GCT will serve you all you want if it’s above what comes with the trip. I noticed this at every single meal I was at, at every table. I noticed it in the lounge too at cocktail hour.
If it’s due to not having enough waitstaff, I know that’s not true. Because it ALWAYS happened whenever drinks were served of any kind. I’m sure it keeps cost down.
Service is borderline. Compared to the locals the staff is nice. The locals either don’t like Americans or they are just very rude. (Yes, worse than France) The highlight person on the trip was the red tour conductor-Lucy. She was amazing and fun.
Other than Lucy I don’t have much good to say about an expensive $244 per day trip. Maybe other River Boat trips are better. But just know that this isn’t cruising. It’s borderline bus travel with bus station quality food. I just know I won’t do another GCT.
Clean. Basic bathrooms that are the saddest I have ever seen. It was clean, but I hated it. Only plus it had over any cruise ship of the 10 lines I’ve been on-it had a bathroom night light. So when you went in it wasn’t jet black and you didn’t have to be woken by a bright lite.
Most things were closed and Zero Christmas markets were open. The town seemed deserted. There is a beautiful castle looking-Abby in the town. Due to my Mom not feeling well and since she had done it before, we chose not to take the excursion. Instead we walked to town that was a little unsafe as it was dark by 3:30pm and the boat was Down this road through the woods. I would not have done it alone.
I was really excited to see Vienna. But was more than a little surprised that I didn’t like it that much. My mother and I came in early on our own and also took the train to Salzburg. We LOVED Salzburg. It’s not cheap but very pretty. Vienna is big city, people aren’t that nice, but there are 4 good Christmas markets. I think there are more but count on 4
Charming town even though locals seem to resent the tourists. Don’t go into a store near the market called Snowball. Owner is a horrible angry man that kicked my 80 year old mother out of the store for having a drink. Yes, he had the right but he could have been nice too. Add to that when I tried to look at some stars to see the colors on the boxes I was advised not to touch the merchandise. Really, not touch any of the paper stars or anything else in the shop. When I said I would just leave, he screamed at me to get out of his shop. I had been nice and not out of line and still I was treated like I was trespassing. However, it does explain why he had zero customers when other shops next to the market were jammed. He was more upset about not continuing his coffee time with his friends, versus helping actual customers. I actually was ready to buy 5-6 of these amazing stars too. When he threw me out of the shop he told me I was losing his education of the product. What? They are paper stars, how much education could there be. Do NOT buy or go into this horrible mans shop. He gives other good Germans a bad name.