My wife and I took Viking's Elbe River cruise in August 2014. We were curious about river cruises, so we decided to try it for the first time. It was a marvelous experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We're still talking about ... Read More
My wife and I took Viking's Elbe River cruise in August 2014. We were curious about river cruises, so we decided to try it for the first time. It was a marvelous experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We're still talking about now, months later!
The itinerary was Prague - Melnik (Terezin concentration camp) - Lovosice - Bad Schandau (Saxon Alps) - Dresden - Meissen - Torgau - Wittenberg (Martin Luther) - Dessau - Magdeburg - Potsdam - Berlin. This is the historic old Central Europe, off the beaten track from the usual tourist spots in Western Europe. Central Europe is full of historic sites and is comparatively "unspoiled" and authentic compared to the more modernized and gentrified West. It was a trip of lifetime to see these sights that we studied about in school and were unable to visit until the end of the Cold War. The River Elbe itself was a pleasure, a shallow, winding, gentle river passing through old villages and wide pasture land, scenery quite unlike what you would see on the Rhine or the Danube. We could go on and on about the sights, but suffice to say that the Elbe cruise is a unique and, for us, a consciousness-raising experience. One note about the Elbe River: it is shallow, and during certain river conditions can be too shallow for the boat to proceed, in which case the passengers are bussed to another point downstream where they can transfer to another boat in deeper waters. This sounds like a major inconvenience, and we were fortunate it didn't happen to us. It would be worthwhile to check with the cruise company about seasonal conditions before committing to a date of sail.
What about the boat? We were on the Clara Schumann (so cool that they named a boat after a famous woman composer and pianist), a boat designed specially for the shallow waters. It is older and smaller, with about 110 passengers. Though it wasn't as new as the current ships, it was immaculate and functioned well in every respect. The crew was efficient and we had no complaints at all about the ship's systems. We booked late and could only get the smallest cabin, which had two separate single beds, like a college dorm room, and one large window. No problem! We adapted and were quite comfortable. The only time we were in the room much was to sleep at night anyway.
The meals were all in the one main restaurant, with open seating. That was not as bad as I feared, because we eventually found people who were sympatico and we managed to sit at the same table most of the time. Everyone was relaxed and in a good mood, and the familiarity with the room and the servers made for enjoyable mealtimes. There was good variety with the food, but of course this small ship was not like the Crystal Symphony. But the kitchen did their best, and it was good enough for most. I'd say that on the whole the food was 3.5 to 4.0 on a scale of 5. We had no complaints. We learned that on any cruise you have to be flexible a bit and "bend with the wind" sometimes, rather than fight every little thing.
The land tours were all very efficiently arranged, with comfortable buses and excellent tour guides who spoke excellent English. Every tour that we took (and there was always the option to stay aboard and just read a book or relax) was very interesting and well-planned. Our only regret was that there wasn't enough time to spend at certain places. We would have wanted a couple more hours at the Meissen factory. And we certainly could have stayed for more than one day in the stunning city of Dresden. But perhaps that's a problem that's inherent in any guided tour, especially one tied to a sailing schedule. It certainly made us want to come back, next time on a more leisurely land trip to certain cities.
All in all, a wonderful cruise experience. We were most impressed with the entire ship's crew, from the cruise director on down. They were all approachable, genuinely friendly, and were concerned that we had the best cruise experience. The crew was one of the memorable highpoints of our cruise.
One last note: Like many other cruises, the passengers were "of a certain age." My guess is that most were 65 or older, with a few notable exceptions of people in their 30's. The ship's crew accommodated everyone, and even anticipated the needs of those whose mobility was limited. Read Less