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2,086 River Cruise Reviews

This was our third Viking River cruise, although the first one during the summer months. Everything went smoothly. Food and service were great, as was the Viking Longboat. Scenery is not as "rich" as on the Rhine, but the ports ... Read More
This was our third Viking River cruise, although the first one during the summer months. Everything went smoothly. Food and service were great, as was the Viking Longboat. Scenery is not as "rich" as on the Rhine, but the ports were very nice and the winery tours were terrific. Weather was in the lower 80s, and had one day with light rain - although the region had more rain than normal, so when we got to Lyon, we could not go up river to our last stop because of the bridges. This actually worked out fine since Viking had their first class buses take us to Beaune - our last tour stop, and then we were able to go back and stay in Lyon on our last night - which was where we flew out of the next day - so got to sleep in a little longer. Highly recommend the five minute walk to the castle in Tarascon in the afternoon instead of going back into Arles for shopping, Get a card for the Viking reception for a discount on the castle tour. Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
We started with 3 days in Helsinki, then took the high-speed train to St. Petersburg for 3 days followed by 7 days on the Volga River and canals with fascinating stops along the way to Moscow for 3 days. This was our second Viking River ... Read More
We started with 3 days in Helsinki, then took the high-speed train to St. Petersburg for 3 days followed by 7 days on the Volga River and canals with fascinating stops along the way to Moscow for 3 days. This was our second Viking River Cruise, having taken the Grand European Cruise the year before. Viking does a terrific job all the way with all arrangements including flights, meeting us at the airport, shuttle to the boat and back. Great food with wine. Fascinating tours with excellent local guides speaking English along the way. Most of the things you want to see are included in the tour package. There are a few special tours that you pay extra for, but you are not nickle dimed all along the way as some do. Excellent written material is left at your room every night describing what you will see the next day, when the meals will be served, the weather, etc. Condensed USA and other national news letters are available daily. Boat has fairly good wifi. It worked better in Europe last year than in Russia this year. Special speakers are brought aboard to give talks on things of interest from the Russian Revolution to present day Russian politics. The boat had a piano player and singer for lounge entertainment. Food was excellent with both local food choices and American choices. I don't see how they could have done a better job. Next year we have booked our third Viking Cruise, this time through France and Paris. St. Petersburg has got to be one of the jewels of the world with the 18th century palatial palaces that were destroyed in WWII and then meticulously restored. Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
We stayed two nights in Amsterdam before cruising at the Movenpick -- EXCELLENT!!!! Thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Amsterdam -- excellent service...the staff was very helpful and welcoming when we arrived; great breakfast and a wonderful ... Read More
We stayed two nights in Amsterdam before cruising at the Movenpick -- EXCELLENT!!!! Thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Amsterdam -- excellent service...the staff was very helpful and welcoming when we arrived; great breakfast and a wonderful view from our hotel room. Then we boarded the Ingvi. WHAT A TRIP! We can't say enough about this trip. The crew was exceptional; the Captain was very professional and very concerned for all of his guests, Nick our Cruise Director was wonderful. The food was great; but the staff for the restaurant, bar, room attendant, desk personnel, Concierge...everyone deserves more that 5.5 stars. When we take our next trip in 2015, we would love for this entire crew to be with us. It is hard to fully express how delighted we were with this Viking cruise!   Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
We chose Viking to be able to enjoy a relaxing vacation without having to worry about the details. We were certainly not disappointed! The Delling is a beautiful ship, well-appointed with virtually everything that we could have wanted. The ... Read More
We chose Viking to be able to enjoy a relaxing vacation without having to worry about the details. We were certainly not disappointed! The Delling is a beautiful ship, well-appointed with virtually everything that we could have wanted. The crew was outstanding – friendly and knowledgeable and took every possible step to facilitate the enjoyment of our trip. The shore arrangements were excellent – we went on several optional trips (the BMW plant in Regensburg and the World War II trip in Nuremburg), which were some of the highlights of the trip. The open seating arrangements at mealtime made it easy to make new friends, many of whom we met up with repeatedly on tours, dinners and other activities. The food was outstanding – great variety and plentiful. Upon returning, we immediately booked next year’s vacation on another Viking trip. Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
I cannot say enough good things about our recent Viking Longboat River Cruise ~ The Grand European Tour! Everything was taken care of for us including the air. We were met at the airport, taken to the boat and treated like royalty. We ... Read More
I cannot say enough good things about our recent Viking Longboat River Cruise ~ The Grand European Tour! Everything was taken care of for us including the air. We were met at the airport, taken to the boat and treated like royalty. We loved the small amount of guests (180) & crew (50) and seemed to interact with everyone during the trip. We especially enjoyed getting to know a number of people from Australia, New Zealand & the UK! We spent most every evening after dinner in the lounge listening to Bobby's fantastic piano playing & dancing, playing games & singing along to favorite tunes. During the days we were treated to the sights of each city with a walking &/or bus tour with free time to explore most places if we wanted. There were only a few add on trips cost-wise, and my favorites were Rothenburg...a fairy tale city after a drive along the "Romantic Road" through Franconia and then the evening orchestral Concert in Vienna...just outstanding. The crew could not have been more friendly, kind, informed and considerate. My husband has some special needs and everyone was so very helpful. Our 2 special waiters (from the Phiiippines) took care of him every meal by bringing him his favorite things, helping him get seated and a cheery greeting by name. Our Program director gave us an enormous amount of information each evening before dinner, at special events, as well as on our outings...we were fascinated with all the history. Our Concierge & front desk people were cheery, funny & always more than helpful. Even our Housekeeper was thorough and impecable woman who smiled & cheered us on every day when we came & went. It was truly a trip of a lifetime and we hope to go again to yet another area...Paris/Normandy perhaps? Read Less
Sail Date August 2014
My husband and I have considerable experience as presenters on inland waterway cruises. We were looking for a (nonworking) trip that would accommodate his mobility difficulties with my own interest in regional culture. And we love to ... Read More
My husband and I have considerable experience as presenters on inland waterway cruises. We were looking for a (nonworking) trip that would accommodate his mobility difficulties with my own interest in regional culture. And we love to eat! The 7-day Maine coast Lobsterfest cruise was a winner on all counts. My husband could be comfortable resting in the cabin while I was active on shore excursions, which were excellent. The service was provided by a young staff whose thoughtfulness and enthusiasm more than made up for any lack of experience. I still remember all their names and think of them with gratitude. The shore excursions were thoughtfully planned, and the onshore expertise was very good indeed. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the onboard culture specialist, who was knowledgeable but not particularly outgoing; nonetheless, the library resources on board were great and I filled in my "research" gaps quite satisfactorily. We are early to bed folks, so missed much of the entertainment. I can't say enough about the excellence of the food. I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay, and am very particular about the quality of my seafood and the imagination and flair with which it is prepared. I would rate the food 11 on a scale of 1-10! Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
My wife and I started out by spending 3 nights in Luzern, Switzerland. This was a magnificent city with plenty to do and see. We then were bussed to Basil, Switzerland to board the Viking Ingvi. The Viking river boats are extremely ... Read More
My wife and I started out by spending 3 nights in Luzern, Switzerland. This was a magnificent city with plenty to do and see. We then were bussed to Basil, Switzerland to board the Viking Ingvi. The Viking river boats are extremely special, as are the shore excursions. The crew was exceptional. We have never been on any cruise like this one. After Switzerland, we visited France, Germany and the Netherlands. Air travel to and from Europe from Chicago was a problem with the airlines, but we were able to still get to everywhere we wanted to go. Viking staff went out of their way to make up for flight delays. We have never had finer service anywhere before. River cruising is more intimate. We made a lot of friends and got to know almost everyone on the boat, including the crew. I recommend a standard suite with balcony on the starboard side if traveling from Basil, or on the port side if originating in Amsterdam. you get to see more. The one day cruising through Germany was a special treat seeing all the castles and visiting one of them. We highly recommend Viking River Cruises for the exceptional quality of their tours. Cheers, Joel & Bonnie Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
This cruise was fantastic and I would highly recommend Viking. We travelled as a couple and weren’t sure what to expect but I have to say that we had one of the best holidays we have ever had, we met some fantastic people, had some ... Read More
This cruise was fantastic and I would highly recommend Viking. We travelled as a couple and weren’t sure what to expect but I have to say that we had one of the best holidays we have ever had, we met some fantastic people, had some great laughs, saw a myriad of interesting places, ate far too much and thoroughly enjoyed everything. The Magni was first class, it was pretty new and everything was modern. We had to pass through the Viking Sun several times when we were moored together and the Sun didn’t look half as nice. Our room was cute, had everything you needed and was just large enough to squeeze down each size of the bed and into the bathroom. I would suggest booking the best room you can afford however you are more likely to get a good deal on rooms on the bottom floor, just be aware there is no view and its fun watching the world pass by as you relax on your balcony while sailing along. The staff were lovely (big cheers to Roos the events lady who was outstanding), everyone was polite, helpful and kind and they seemed to work very hard. Bedrooms were cleaned and tidied twice a day, the beds were comfy, you could just about fit into the bathroom, the heated bathroom floor was lovely as were the toiletries. There is only one small washing line in the bathroom, we took along our own line and this, added to the existing one, meant we had no problems hanging our daily washing and the heated floor helped dry it overnight. We found the food outstanding, there was plenty of choice and nothing too outlandish. We weren’t hungry once, between meals there’s a coffee and cookies station with a choice of teas/coffee/cookies and even honey and lemon. Very impressive. The mooring in tandem thing was probably the only thing I didn’t like about the cruise, especially if you have booked a room with a view and all you can see is into the cabin on the boat next to you. This means you have to have your curtains closed. One time we opened our curtains and scared a couple on the next boat who were lying on the bed We were lucky in Budapest and had a view of the Chain Bridge which was out of this world, especially when its lit up at night - I would have been pretty peeved if we had been on the other side of the boat. It seemed to me that the left hand (port) side was given the best mooring views – this is the side which has the posh double cabins on the top floor so I suspect they pander to them first (which is fair as they pay the most). However on the second floor this side is all French balconies so you can get the best views and not pay full balcony prices. This is just my experience and not necessarily company policy. I should also mention that we were originally booked on the Viking Baldur but were advised a week before we left that the Baldur was stuck on the other side of low water and so wouldn’t be able to get to Budapest. The Baldur people were ferried by coach between 2 ports and had to change from the Baldur to the Magni. Be aware that the river level can impact your holiday. Luckily we were fine, smooth sailing all the way. Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
This was to be our second River Cruise first one being in Portugal and this time on the Danube. When the tickets arrived we were very surprised to also receive two very good quality back packs, it stated in the pack that these could be ... Read More
This was to be our second River Cruise first one being in Portugal and this time on the Danube. When the tickets arrived we were very surprised to also receive two very good quality back packs, it stated in the pack that these could be used for our hand luggage, and yes they were very useful. Also in the pack was a fabric zipped wallet with all the instructions and airline tickets etc, much better than a lot of cruise lines with their paper folders. We had been scheduled a flight from Manchester airport with Lufthansa and we were met in Munich and then transported by luxury coach to Nuremberg to join the ship, (Barge or boat) not sure what to call a River Vessel. On arrival we were shown to the Lounge as the cabins were not yet available, we could purchase drinks and food as the offer on our cruise started with our evening meal. When we went down to our cabin we were quite surprised to find it to be very spacious, bathroom was a little on the small side but adequate. This tour included all excursions each day, one on the morning and the other in the afternoon, all coffee and teas, which were excellent, also wine, soft drinks or beer, with both lunch and dinner. The ship was almost new this being the third cruise since it was built, and it showed, everything was very clean and with lots and lots of glass and mirrors. The dining room and the lounge had very large floor to ceiling windows, which let in lots of light and was excellent when you were sailing to view the countryside etc. There was also an indoor swimming pool which turned into a cinema in the evenings. Each day after dinner there was various entertainment provided, either music from a man playing am organ or entertainers brought onto the ship. Food was buffet service for breakfast and lunch, and waiter service for dinner. Overall the food was good, my only comment was that sometimes the food was only warm, but this was soon remedied if you asked the Chef for it to be warmed, or for a hot plate for the buffet. Wine flowed there was never any hesitation to refill glasses etc. I have to say that the organisation of the whole cruise could not be faulted, in our opinion, from the excursions each day to the run of the ship. The staff were exceptional from the Captain down. Each night we were informed of the next days schedule, both a talk by the cruise director and a paper on the bed after turn down service. All excursions were included in the price, you had a receiver in your cabin and this was used via an ear phone with the tour guide. You could choose which coach you went on and the coaches each had their own guide. TOUR ITINERARY DAY 1. Arrive Nuremberg DAY 2, Weltenburg - Regensburg. Included excursions Weltenburg Abbey and Regensburg DAY 3. Passau - Linz Included excursions Walking tour of Passau DAY 4 Melk – Durnstein Included excursions Melk Abbey and guided tour of Durnstein DAY 5. Vienna. Included excursions drive along Ringstrasse and walking tour of Vienna. DAY 6 Bratislava. Included excursions Home hosted afternoon teas with local Slovakian Family sightseeing tour of Bratislava. Day 7. Budapest. Included excursions visit to the Fisherman’s Bastion and evening cruise along the Danube, evening show of Hungarian folk dancing and music. DAY 8. Leave for home. I would thoroughly recommend Emerald Waterways and next year they will be having two new ships to add to their fleet.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
This was our first river cruise after four ocean cruises. A river cruise is almost an anti-ocean cruise. It is so different and may not be everyone. It was, however, for us. We absolutely loved it and are so glad we picked AMA as our ... Read More
This was our first river cruise after four ocean cruises. A river cruise is almost an anti-ocean cruise. It is so different and may not be everyone. It was, however, for us. We absolutely loved it and are so glad we picked AMA as our cruise line. A little history. First, we are not seasoned European travelers. This is only our second trip to Europe. Secondly, we are not rich! We did a lot of preparing (1.5 years in advance). We started with a larger, well known company, and was not happy with their service. After an initial discussion with them on the phone, I could tell this would not be the company for us. I then called a travel agent and she asked me to consider AMA. Wow! Their main office was awesome to deal with. Between them and my travel agent, they returned emails promptly, as well as phone calls. Our AMA cruise was 100% to our satisfaction. Everything about it; from the staterooms, to the food, to the customer service was just perfect. I cannot forget Kriss, our cruise manager. She was awesome! It was not just the big things they do well, it is the little. For instance, our cruise manager got up on our last day at 3:30 in the morning to see us off to the airport. She also got an appointment and transported one of our fellow passengers to a doctor and after one and half hours, this person was back on the ship and feeling better then next day. I am not going to go into a lot of detail about ports, etc. There are many good reviews on this site that will help you. You must remember that every cruiser is different. Our cruise went from Vilshofen to Budapest (Romantic Danube). If this is the cruise you select and have the option to go in this direction, I would strongly recommend it. The highlight of our cruise was traveling along the river at night looking at the lights in Budapest. This was an excellent way to end what was a spectacular vacation. You might also want to consider the size of the ship. Our cruise ship had a capacity of 162 guests. Other cruise lines, with the same size ships, have a capacity for 190 guests. Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
We sailed from Nuremberg to Budapest 12 - 19 July 2014, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip. The crew was exceptionally friendly, upbeat, and helpful, and the food was great, plentiful, and varied; the evening activities were fun. Ship ... Read More
We sailed from Nuremberg to Budapest 12 - 19 July 2014, and thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip. The crew was exceptionally friendly, upbeat, and helpful, and the food was great, plentiful, and varied; the evening activities were fun. Ship is clean as a hospital. Ship holds about 188 people, so by the end of the week you get to know most all of them, at least by sight. There are no exercise / fitness facilities on the ship. Arrival and departure went without a hitch. This is a very unstressful way to visit Europe – Only turn-off in retrospect was the hard sell for the shore excursions. Although they state that they must be signed up for immediately, we found that late sign-ups are possible for them all. (None filled up). Suggest you wait for excursions that are later in your trip, as you may change your mind. Once you sign up, there is no refund. A few suggestions for travelers: Bring all the clothes you need. Laundry services are very expensive. Internet (WIFI) works OK, but can be slow at times. Buy spirits in duty free on your way to your boarding city. Mixed drinks are about $10. Beer and wine are free at dinner, but otherwise are reasonable at $4/glass. If your itinerary includes Budapest, cannot recommend the Jewish Quarter excursion in Budapest - the museum and synagogue were good, but the walking tour afterward was just not interesting. Unless you plan on spending a lot of time looking out your cabin window, the lower (cheaper) level is fine. On these ships, you really pay a premium for large windows / balconies. If you are booking far in advance, try to avoid the spring flood season. The crew really works hard for the gratuity they hope you will leave at the end. We passengers are lucky to have the wherewithal to afford a very nice vacation - don't "cheap out" on the crew. If you can afford this trip, I guarantee you that you will not miss an extra 50 Euros in two weeks' time.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
My wife and I have cruise many times on ocean cruises but this is our first time on a river cruise. We chose Viking on the recommendation of our travel agent, and we definitely were not disappointed. We were on the VAR going from Basel, ... Read More
My wife and I have cruise many times on ocean cruises but this is our first time on a river cruise. We chose Viking on the recommendation of our travel agent, and we definitely were not disappointed. We were on the VAR going from Basel, Switzerland down the Rhine to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, The itinerary is outstanding with some of the most spectacular scenery we have seen in our travels. With the exception of Amsterdam, we found the people at each port to be friendly and helpful. All of the guides (including Amsterdam) were excellent. We took and each of the included excursions and enjoyed them all. Viking's scheduling gives you plenty of free time in each port to explore on your own. The VAR is one of the new Longships and it is a wonder. Our cabin (311) was a veranda cabin on the upper deck. The cabin is somewhat small but very well designed, maximizing the available space. There is plenty of storage, and even our very large suitcases fit under the bed. The bathroom is also small, with a single sink and shower. Again, the space was optimized, especially the shower. With 2 glass doors, egress is easy, and even my large girth had no trouble taking a comfortable shower. The veranda is smaller than those on ocean ships, but it was plenty large enough for the 2 of us to sit with a glass of wine and watch the amazing scenery go by. While the ship does not have all of the "happenings" of an ocean cruiser, it fit our life style perfectly. The lounge is large and very comfortable. The Sun deck (top deck) is comfortable and provides a 360 degree view. The dining room is also perfect for this type of cruising, with open seating at every meal. We enjoyed eating with different people at the meals, always having the option to repeat with those we found particularly interesting. The food in both the dining room and the "lighter fare" in the Aquavit Terrace was well prepared, well presented, and delicious. The menu was varied and imaginative. While the choices were limited (1 white and 1 red), the house wines included with the cruise fare served at meals were very good, and at several meals they were the most expensive wines in the cellar. And now for the best part of the trip - the crew. Without fail, each member of the crew was dedicated to making the trip better. The Program Director (Cruise Director Rene) was very hard working and made sure that he was involved started to finish. The lounge staff (Lazlo and his crew) were wonderful, making sure that everyone's needs were met. Bottom line - we are making plans for a cruise with Viking next year! Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
We have just returned from China after an amazing experience with Viking Cruises. Our holiday started in Beijing and ended in Shanghai. Three nights 5* in Beijing and a visit to Tienanmen Square, a flight to Xian for two nights 5* and a ... Read More
We have just returned from China after an amazing experience with Viking Cruises. Our holiday started in Beijing and ended in Shanghai. Three nights 5* in Beijing and a visit to Tienanmen Square, a flight to Xian for two nights 5* and a visit to the Terracotta soldiers. Another flight to Chongqing to join the cruise ship Emerald and a 5 night sail down the Yangtze River to Wuhan. There was so much to see at every stop. A Flight then took us to Shanghai and a further two nights in a 5* hotel. We visited so many places, a local school, a jade factory and a silk carpet factory to name a few. This trip was so organised, not too many people (250) and the best food offered at every meal. The rooms were all clean and air conditioned and the whole thing was at an all in price. The only extras were tips to local coach drivers and guides so factor that into your spending budget. I cannot stress how much my partner and I enjoyed this holiday, and thanks must go to Jane our Viking rep. She was fantastic, funny and extremely knowledgeable with boundless energy considering the heat in June/July this year (2014) Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
My wife and I went on the July 12 voyage henceforth known as the “Oops I left the rope in the water cruise” where a crew member forgot to pull in the docking rope into the boat, causing it to wrap around the propellers, causing the ... Read More
My wife and I went on the July 12 voyage henceforth known as the “Oops I left the rope in the water cruise” where a crew member forgot to pull in the docking rope into the boat, causing it to wrap around the propellers, causing the boat to be immobile for all but a couple of hours on the last couple days of the cruise. That said, in the tradition of the Skipper and Gilligan, if not for the courage to the mighty program director, the last couple days of the vacation would have been lost. What the lassoing of the engine did was cause us to be bused to Cadillac instead of sailing to Cadillac. To make up for the rope screw up what they did is took us to lunch at a local restaurant while we were enjoying that day’s activities. We had a wonderful Sauternes tasting after the tour of Cadillac. They split us up into 4 groups and our group went in a restaurant in a bed and breakfast in a small town the name of which I don’t remember near Cadillac that was once a post office. We had a tasty salad, some delicious duck, and some nice wine. With all due respect to the chef on the ship, it was my favorite lunch of the week and the setting could not have been nicer. Because we only had this lunch because some guy forgot to pull the rope out of the water I asked the program director if I could leave the guy a tip because I enjoyed the lunch so much. She shot me dirty look so I decided not to pursue it. They are now modifying the cruise itinerary to fit the tide pattern for the week to minimize issues. Good move We had a French balcony and that is the most your really need on this trip. It spends so much time in Bordeaux and the regular balcony’s face the dock, and you spend very little time at sea I see no reason to have one. Because of the holiday they brought us back to Bordeaux to watch the Bastille day fireworks from the roof of the ship. The fireworks going off over Bordeaux at night was a great experience. Nice touch and much appreciated. They offer two walking tours as well as a bus tour of Bordeaux. They are a bit repetitive and you can skip at least one of them. What follows are how I would rate different aspects of the voyage from no stars to 5 stars. 0 Stars The rope incident. There is a revolutionary invention called a checklist. They should have one when leaving a dock. One of the items should be “put rope in boat”. Enough said. 1 Star The breakfast in the lounge area. Went to try it once but not very imaginative. Could use a couple more items. 2 Stars The travel arrangements through Viking. We booked our travel through Viking. Had trouble on the front end and the back end. When I got my flight arrangements they only booked us to Paris. It seemed strange to me but I thought maybe they put you on a bus to Bordeaux. About 10 days before the trip I got a cell phone call from Viking changing all of my flight information correcting their error and flying us to Bordeaux. They also changed our return flight. We had also signed up for the Paris extension. They never communicated the change in our return flight to the staff in Paris. About 8:00 the night before we left we realized that they had us on a shuttle that left one hour before our flight, in plenty of time for our old return flight but not our new one. We got up early and asked the Viking person in Paris to get on an earlier shuttle and after some grumbling, reminding me that there was too much luggage on the shuttle now, she was able to accommodate me. Lesson here is don’t assume Viking has it right, double check what Viking sends you. What got it up to two stars was the amazing staff that greeted us at the airport and the guide that took us to the Bordeaux train station to go to Paris. They could have not been more helpful. The Bordeaux Market Tour. We had signed up for the optional market tour with the chef which would have probably been more personal and interesting but because the ship was immobilized and they had to improvise they had a market tour for the entire ship. We love going to these type of markets but there was so many of us, we were herded around like sheep, and were rushed from station to station. It was not very pleasant. Did enjoy the cheese tasting however and we appreciated the efforts by the staff to put this together at the last minute. 3 Stars The Wine Program. The standard wine they served at lunch and dinner was good not great. That is what I expected. I did not sign up for the drink upgrade program so I can’t comment on how much of an improvement that would have been. They were also not squeamish about the quantity of wine the poured at dinner. This was a bit of a booze cruise for the senior set. I observed a couple of folks that got the upgraded drink package and you could tell from the look in their eyes and the way they walked they were taking full advantage of it. I don’t know how you could physically drink any more than I did for free so I see no need for the all you can drink upgrade. I wish they would have had some variety in the wine they served especially the whites. There is only so much acidy citrusy white Bordeaux you can drink. They should throw in French Riesling, or a white burgundy every once in a while even if they did not fit the theme of the cruise to give white wine drinkers a choice. I also expected a wine expert on board. The person that was in charge of wine stayed in the background. They conducted a couple of wine classes”. One was a wine tasting class conducted by the program director. They served some wines and gave everyone some basic instruction. It was nice but the Program Director is not a wine expert. They also had a wine/food pairing class that did not feature food or wine. That one is a bit of a head scratcher. So overall the variety and the instruction were less than I expected, the quality was what I expected, and the quantity was more than I expected. The tour guides. Most of the excursions featured a different guide. Most of them were very good or better. A couple of them were barely decipherable. If you are going to do a tour aimed at English speaking people then you should be able to speak clear understandable English. That is one of the reasons we chose Viking. That said the tour guides that were top notch not only were understandable but by being transplants to the area they were able to add a level of context to their presentations that made their tours quite informative and enjoyable. Our Room. Was what we expected. Small shower, small bathroom, small room. Great Bed. Liked the refrigerator. Libourne Flee Market/St. Emilion/Chateau Siaurac Day. It was too much. We got up early went to the town market in Libourne. We have been to several town markets and this was OK. We then went to Optional Chateau Siaurc tour/lunch which despite an effort to sell their wines that was more aggressive then I would have wanted was wonderful. Do it it is worth it. Then we went to the St.-Emilion tour. They put a tour of a church in a cave in the middle of our time there that kind of limits your ability to roam. The cave church was only moderately interesting and the tour guide was only moderately understandable. I would have preferred someone showing us the other highlights of the town or using that time to see the town on my own. I feel I missed out on something by following the program. Blaye/Citadel. Nice walled city. Well preserved. Enjoyed watching the steeplechase completion going on in the moat of the Citadel. Enjoyed watching the local Bastille day ceremony. 4 Star Lunch and Dinner in the dining room. Great meals every day. Wait staff could not have been nicer or more accommodating. Whether you eat a little or a lot you will enjoy lunch and dinner. Better than I expected. The ship. Lounge comfortable. Sun Deck was great. Dining room is great. All the common areas are well done. Nice job. Margoaux bus tour/Wine Tasting/Chateau Kerwin Day. We drove past 4 of the 5 Premier Grand Cru chateaus so I have 80% of a bucket list item complete. Only thing that detracted from it was too much time on the bus and we repeated several areas. Nice wine tasting at Chateau Lynch Bages. Dinner at the Chateau was fantastic and a top trip highlight. You will enjoy it. “Sounds of France”. A young opera group they bring on board on the last night. It took some convincing by my wife to get me to go but I’m glad we went. Not only where they talented singers they were great entertainers as well. Don’t miss it. Chateau d’ Arche Sauternes Tasting. Nice setting. Learned to appreciate Sauternes. Not to be missed. The way they tried to make the best of a bad situation. They did a great job of recovering from the rope screw up. My hats off to the program staff. 5 Star The housekeeping staff. Did an amazing job of making our cabin clean and comfortable. Always friendly and always willing to help. Fantastic. Breakfast. Way way better than I expected. They should consider making all three meals breakfast at some point. The people we met. We enjoyed our time getting to know several other couples on the ship and it was an eclectic group. We got to know two couples from Florida living the Bocca Del Vista lifestyle, and a couple from Florida who are still hippies at heart and take medicinal vacations to certain locations where certain medications are legal, two couples from England that are extremely kind and extremely funny (one of them became my first UK Facebook friend), a couple from Chicago that met when they lived in Germany and used to build homemade airplanes in their garage. Time with them was time well spent. Bottom Line Enjoyed the trip a great deal. Glad we did it. Wish we would have done more by boat and less by bus and wish they would have had a more sophisticated wine program (could they offer an optional wine tour every day?). Loved the Château visits, this ship, the food, the service, the people we met, and the quantity of wine. If you don’t mind staying in the same general area, and you like wine then you should consider this trip. If you are not into wine or you want to see several areas and spend more time on a river and less time on a bus or in port then you may want to look elsewhere. Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
We sailed with Avalon "Scenery" for a river cruise through Burgundy and Provence, embarking on July 1, 2014-CANADA DAY. When booking the trip over a year ago, space was limited as river cruises are so popular. We chose the upper ... Read More
We sailed with Avalon "Scenery" for a river cruise through Burgundy and Provence, embarking on July 1, 2014-CANADA DAY. When booking the trip over a year ago, space was limited as river cruises are so popular. We chose the upper floor, cabin #305 and the premium was well worth the location for our own reasons. The cabin was more spacious than regular cruise lines we had sailed in the past. The use of space was so well thought over, utilizing every nook & cranny. We called it a "barge" before leaving for our trip not knowing what to expect...it truly did not disapoint ! The ship was spotless and had been refurbished in 2013. Although still a very new ship (built in 2008), it was a pleasant surprise from photo's shown in the brochure that appeared to be a little dated. Pictures do not do this ship justice. The staff were very pleasant, helpful and funny....we had an awesome crew serving us at dinner. A huge thanks to a few chosen, "Oleg, Dimi and Daniel". The dining room was very noisy but you soon adjusted as everyone was simply having a great time. Food was exceptional and the free wine just kept coming- thanks to Dimi. On CANADA DAY we were surprised to arrive in the dining room to find red & white balloons, honoring our countries flag. They celebrated Canada's Birthday with a cake as they did again for our American friends on July 4th...such a nice touch :) There was plenty of space indoor and outdoor to enjoy as you wished. With only 126 passengers, it was a refreshing change from the large cruise ships. We never felt crowded- always found great spots to curl up in and watch the scenery pass or read a book. It was peaceful-no barside reggae music, no loud poolside games, no constant announcements. One final note. We had been told that the average age onboard river cruises would be in the 70-80's range. It varied and there was a good range of ages on our specific cruise. Everyone got along very well, everyone kept up the pace, and everyone enjoyed the others company regardless of age. We were there to have a good time - and we had a great time! KUDO"S TO AVALON Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
Ama Waterways AmaVida – Port Wine & Flamenco – July 5-18, 2014 The Cruise This would be our third riverboat cruise in Europe, contrasting with 31 ocean cruises. We had enjoyed the itinerary on the Elbe from Prague to Berlin 4 ... Read More
Ama Waterways AmaVida – Port Wine & Flamenco – July 5-18, 2014 The Cruise This would be our third riverboat cruise in Europe, contrasting with 31 ocean cruises. We had enjoyed the itinerary on the Elbe from Prague to Berlin 4 years ago, although we did not enjoy the boat. Viking’s Clara Schumann was small and outdated, largely because the Elbe River requires shallow draft boats. Our trip from Basel to Vienna on Avalon’s Affinity in 2013 was on a much nicer boat, although the actual trip had problems due to a lockmasters’ strike affecting the Main-Danube canal transit. Still, we liked the riverboat ambience, and had greatly enjoyed Portugal during a week’s visit there in 2007; so this trip appealed to us. Review Format The overall experience involved two very distinct phases. First there was the “water borne cruise” portion on AmaVida. Then there were the two separate land phases, three days in Madrid before sailing and three days in Lisbon after leaving the boat. Since the land portion is an option, and this is a cruise review site; we will describe the river experience first. We will make every effort to be comprehensive and clear concerning the boat itself, the crew, the dining service and food, the shore excursions, and our overall evaluation of the trip and the value provided. The Boat AmaVida first sailed in 2013, so it is quite new. It is small as riverboats go, holding only 106 passengers. Most boats hold about 130-150 passengers for European cruises, with the Viking “Longships” carrying 190 people or more. But all riverboat dimensions are controlled by their sailing milieu. If you are on a river with decent depth and no locks, you can have a larger boat. But, as we found out on this trip, the Duoro River has five locks, and some are rather short; so not only the width, but the length of any boat cruising down the Duoro is limited, and this of course results in fewer passengers and crew. The Uniworld and Viking ships sailing the same route were virtually identical, and like AmaVida, built in Portugal. That being said, AmaVida is an attractive vessel, constructed in the normal river boat design pattern. That is, there are three decks aft and two forward, plus an open sun deck. The forward portion has the dining room on Deck 2 and the lounge, with bar and forward open deck on Deck 1. The aft portion has passenger cabins on three decks. The overall appearance seems like 21st Century Art Deco – lots of shiny black marble, glass and high gloss stainless steel in the atrium areas on Decks 1 and 2, as well as the bar and small shop. The dining rooms and lounge are more restrained, with nice furniture and lots of wood. It should be noted that there is a spa, with an attendant, a small exercise room and, on the sky deck a small, shallow but heated, pool. The sun deck also has a roofed section, which can be partially lowered for bridges, and which covers about 30% of the deck, allowing a goodly number of lounges chairs and sofas for sitting and enjoying the passing countryside in comfortable shade. The library is very small with only a few books. There is a coffee bar in the Deck 2 atrium area, which received a lot of business, despite there being no nearby seating. Coffee drinkers carried their cups up one flight to the lounge. We also were provided free internet and Wi-Fi service. The cabin came equipped with a keyboard, and we could access the net on our large television screen. Since we were essentially on land, access was almost always readily available. The main difficulty could be traced to the keyboards, which were not that user friendly for one accustomed to normal sized boards with standard options. I was often “kicked off” in the middle of attempting to obtain information or actually interact with some sites such as those of my bank and credit card. But it was free, and I did get on line most of the time. Cabins The cabins are the best we have seen on a river boat. This is due to smart space arrangement as well as generally fine wall and floor surface materials and lighting. Two-thirds of the cabins were like ours, so I am describing a “standard” stateroom. The “river” side has a small outside balcony with two chairs and a small table. It takes up about half the length of the cabin. I did enjoy sitting outside at times as long as the boat was moving so no insects would enter. The rest of the “river” side is a desk surface, with a window above the desk. There is a desk chair. Next to this is the bed, with two bedside tables, two lamps and two reading lights above each side of the bed. Next to the bed there is an open shelving area above and two closed shelves below. Next to that, leading directly into the stateroom is the bathroom. This was unique among standard ships’ bathrooms by having a separate toilet room with its own frosted glass door. The shower also had a glass door, and a fair amount of room. There was a vessel sink. The only flaw was the failure to utilize some space below on either side of the sink for drawers or shelves, since there clearly was room for such additional features. Next to the bathroom door was a closet for hanging clothes, the safe and several other drawers. Opposite the bed were two side chairs and a small table, with a large TV screen hung from the wall above. The doorway out to the corridor had further shelving above and six drawers below. All in all, with attractive wallpaper, wood trim and more than abundant space for clothing, it was a very nice cabin indeed! The Crew The most determinative factor in our enjoyment of the entire experience was the crew. Starting with Christina Garção, Cruise Director, who was with us from the first day in Madrid to the last day in Lisbon; through the rest of the staff; the dining room crew, the sailing crew, the entertainer, the managerial staff; all [but one] were extremely pleasant, friendly, cheerful and very hard working. (The one exception was the front desk manager who conveyed the impression that any request put to him was an unwelcome interruption of his most important work.) The dining room manager, Carlos Silva was amazing, keeping track of the waiters, bringing dishes out to guests himself, answering questions, making sure the buffet was maintained; and all with a cheerful and helpful attitude. One could tell that he led his troops by example, not just by giving orders. The hotel manager, Paulo Carvalho, was constantly available, making sure that things were running smoothly. The captain, Emanuel Olivera, who was quite young, also was often seen and was very approachable. The wait staff was also amazingly upbeat, especially considering that they all had many stations to cover, literally running to do it; but doing it with a smile and a friendly greeting. We did not have much interaction with our cabin attendant, unlike on cruise ships. They also, like the wait staff, seemed over-worked; often not completing cabin make-up until the afternoon. This would appear to be traceable to the locks, and their limitation on ship size. It would have been more relaxed and efficient if there had been one or two more waiters and one or two more cabin attendants, but that would have meant elimination of at least one revenue producing passenger cabin. This was a trade-off which Ama declined to make in favor of passenger convenience, opting for money instead. But back to Christina. In many ways the success of a river boat cruise, far more than an ocean cruise, depends on the cruise director. That person must keep all the passengers informed of the events, the stops, the timing, any and all options, what can be expected ashore, local conditions, the weather, - you name it. They are the ones who are in direct personal contact all the time; with everyone, passengers, the managerial staff, the buses, drivers and tour guides. This care starts with the greeting of passengers on arrival at the Madrid hotel, and does not end until the last passenger departs for the Lisbon airport. Christina was a marvel at this. She made my wife and I, and we are sure, everyone else, feel that we were the only passengers aboard and that we had her undivided attention and her concern so that we would enjoy the cruise. And she did this with a wry sense of humor and cynicism where appropriate, especially when discussing political and social systems. (To be fair, she is a Lisbon native, and had no criticism concerning Spanish politics or governance.) Her complete dedication to her job and her passengers was a major factor in our ability to enjoy this cruise. AMA Waterways has a jewel here. The Dining Experience If this facet of the cruise was a little less satisfactory than other aspects, it was largely due to the physical limitations of the boat also. My wife was amazed at the tiny area provided for meal preparation when she joined the galley tour. Despite this, every dinner had several starters, two soups, four entrees and several desserts available. Most of the preparation was quite good, and the pastry selections especially so. I found lunches a bit more problematical, since I do not like a “full” lunch, and my ability to do light snack browsing as I do on cruise ships was less successful. My wife, on the other hand, was able to order a vegetarian choice for lunch, and she found them all to be quite good. Breakfasts were typical, but, as in our other river trips, we found the fruit and juice selections less than enthralling. Perhaps we were influenced in this opinion due to the contrast between the boat’s breakfasts and the magnificent buffet laid out by the Madrid hotel. There was, however, the nice option, which I do not recall as being available on our other river experiences, of being able to order hot breakfast dishes from the kitchen. Again, as noted, the service was caring and cheerful, if a bit harried at times. Wine was poured generously. The dining room has an “al fresco” area forward, with sides open to the river, but with no forward view. Several people seemed to like this, but we did not try it. On one evening there was a “Portuguese Regional Buffet” served on the sun deck with live music. So this meant that we actually had only four full sit down dinners in the dining room on board out of seven nights. Off Boat Dining There were two occasions in which our dinners were off the boat. One was at a winery, and the other at a “monastery”. On the first full day on the Duoro, our second tour was in the early evening, and took us to a local winery. After an amusing tour, and an outdoors wine tasting session, we were seated inside for dinner. It was labelled as “rustic”, specializing in regional dishes, and while generally satisfactory, was not up to dining room standards. The second off boat experience was a few days later, when we visited what had been a Benedictine monastery. Following the tour we were again seated together and provided with dinner, served by our boat wait staff. Most of us agreed that the meat was fairly tough, and there was not much of anything else to recommend it. We would advise AMA that while the winery dinner had enough “local color” and taste to be retained, passengers would be better off with a standard monastery tour in the afternoon, and a return to the ship for a normal dinner. Overall, if first class dining ships like Marina, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity would be rated at 95 to 98 on a scale of 100; and the Celebrity line at 90-92, AmaVida would belong with the Princess, HAL and Avalon group at 83-87. That’s not at all bad, but not five star. The Tours and Excursions Tours and excursions are more closely integrated with the total cruise package on river boat cruises than they are on cruise ships. The river boat cruise lines assume everybody is going to take every available tour, and all facets of the trip are focused on these land activities. This is perhaps a partly psychological reaction to the fact that we are always close to the land, and directly in touch with that environment. To highlight this, AmaVida had its own “tour guides” who shared the cruise with us as members of the boat’s crew and who went out with us in support of the formal “Tour Guides” who were specific to each port, and who had the primary guide duties. This led to a sense of unity, well-being and continuity; we were being looked after all the time. The first “cruise” tour was the day after we boarded, and was to Castlelo Rodrigo, high on a hill with spectacular views, and narrow, steep medieval streets. It was pleasant and typical of rural Portugal. As in all such walking tours, a “gentle walkers” option with its own guide, was offered. That evening we went to the wine tasting and dinner mentioned earlier. The next day provided options following the same start, a walk down 686 steps from a church to the town of Lamego. Then one could visit the local market or the Episcopal Palace. We opted for the market, which was truly for the local people, and not tourists, despite the fact that some signs were in English. We were not impressed by the merchandise, which in most cases consisted of cheap knockoffs. The normal nearby stores however seemed to have good leather products like shoes, at reasonable prices. There was another wine tasting that afternoon, which we skipped. I do not drink, and Edith is satisfied wh one or two glasses a day at the most. The next day we visited the Mateus Palace and Gardens, which were really attractive. There was no afternoon tour. On the following day we were in Resende, a very attractive town. This was followed in the evening with the monastery tour and the dinner we mentioned earlier. On Sunday noon we arrived in Porto, the port city at the mouth of the Duoro. Prior to our docking we descended the lock at Crestuma Dam, which lowered us 46 feet, the deepest in Europe, and far deeper than any of the Panama Canal Locks. This was a unique experience. Our pier in Porto was actually in Vila Nova de Gaia, a town across the river from Porto proper. There were two tour options that afternoon. One was yet another wine tasting after a city tour. The other was a “Limited Edition” meaning it had to be reserved in advance, since the number allowed was limited. We chose this tour titled “Cooking Delight, Taste of Matoshinos”. The six of us on this adventure took a bus through Porto to the Atlantic coast town of Matosinhos, a suburb of Porto containing the ocean going vessel port. There we drove past a beach crowded with Sunday visitors from town. We ended up at a small restaurant where we were treated to a demonstration of how to prepare an ocean fish, from removing the scales and fins to completely gutting it. We politely declined an invitation to do a fish ourselves. We then were shown how to cook traditional codfish, and treated to an assortment of local dishes which were quite delicious. The Portuguese know how to prepare seafood. Our local guide was extremely knowledgeable, an experienced traveler in her own right and very fluent in English. This was a really fine tour. That night was the Captains Gala Dinner with the suggested dress code of “your best attire”. Well, I had brought my all-purpose Travelsmith blue blazer all this way, so I wore it, but there were only a few jackets evident. The ladies of course, did a better job of dressing up. Dinner was followed by an Opera show consisting of a male and female singer and piano accompanist. It was a shame that it was not better attended, because the performers were very accomplished, and most entertaining. The next day we had a tour of Guimarães, another attractive town with a history going back to the 10th century, and beautiful buildings covering a lengthy history in a comparatively small area; easily navigable on foot. After dinner that night we packed up. Those of us proceeding on to the hotel in Lisbon had special tags. We put our luggage out at 7:00 A.M., boarded our buses and were on our way by 9:00 A.M.; ending a delightful cruise. Entertainment Formal entertainment is not a great part of river tours, since, except for the pianist, it must be brought on from ashore. But, in addition to the opera show, we were provided with a “Traditional Folklore and Fado” show on the second night, consisting of a singing and playing group of eight. They did a very decent job, and then got most of the passengers into an impromptu dance routine around the lounge. The pianist, Rui Costa played every afternoon in the lounge. He was quite good, and when I made request for a song written in 1939, Jerome Kern’s “All The Things You Are”, he located it on the internet and printed it out so he could play it for me the next day. He should have had larger audiences, and he was most pleasant and friendly. The passengers themselves could be counted among the entertainment features provided, with their enthusiastic dancing following both the folklore-fado show and the sun deck buffet dinner. We were a cheerful lot! Passengers With 102 only fellow passengers we found out more about each other. There were a couple of special groupings however, which are not found on most cruises. Among them the members of St. Michael’s Parish in Bakersfield, California – 28 of them, with their pastor, who celebrated Mass on the sun deck on Sunday morning. This lovely event was also attended by the 12 Columbians from Cartagena, led by the parents celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, three sons with their wives, a daughter and three grand-children from ages about 10 to 16. They were a most friendly, out-going group. They did not join us until we embarked, and took a separate route to Lisbon. But we ran into them on our visit to Sintra the next day and had a grand reunion. There were two couples from Maui, who likewise were on their own in Lisbon, but who we also ran into again among the thousands on the pedestrian shopping street in that city on our first full day there. As usual, there were some Canadians, British and Aussies. By and large we were a happy group, perhaps fueled by the ever constant pourings of free wine! General Observations We are not giving up our sea cruises – we have three scheduled for 2015 – but we see a very positive and delightful side to river cruising. It is most relaxing to sit in the shade on the sun deck or other outside areas and watch the countryside go by. The Duoro has a great deal of charm. The hills rise up steeply on both sides. They are covered with terraced areas of vineyards and olive tree groves, interspersed with farm houses, small clusters of homes, the occasional village, and create a generally serene aspect. Most passengers seemed to partake of this scene frequently. You get to know crew members much more easily. Some of us did a pilot house visit, and the Captain spent time with us explaining all his controls, communication devices and his own ambition to become a tug boat captain in his home town of Porto, so he could go home every night. You also mingle with your fellow passengers much more easily, since you are in frequent touch, much more so than on a cruise ship. All of the crew were Portuguese, which is something new compared to the wide range of nationalities on cruise ships. So the whole milieu, the overall ambience of a river cruise differs greatly from sea voyages. If one is willing to accept the limited entertainment, the more restricted dining options, far fewer “shipboard” activities, and a relaxed approach to travel and tours, then river boats are an enjoyable change. If you think not – back to the sea! The Madrid Experience We made our own travel arrangements, and arrived in Madrid about 7:00 P.M. from Phoenix via Heathrow. The taxi was a flat 30 Euros, and give the distance, was certainly reasonable. Our hotel arrival was not smooth since the cabby let us off a few blocks from the hotel. This was because there was a major event taking place in the plaza area around our destination. We had to drag our luggage about three blocks and through a large crowd, which, the hotel desk clerk told us, was a “Gay Pride” celebration. Once inside the Westin Palace, it was a different world. The hotel was built in 1910, and is a true “Grand Hotel” in the old European tradition, well updated in matters that are important, left as the original where appropriate. Our room on the second floor overlooked a side street, which was probably better than overlooking the square where the Gay Pride celebration was continuing. The room was good sized with beautiful crown molding and very attractive wallpaper. The closet was large enough, but drawer space a tad short. The bathroom was a gem, with a tub shower, a separate toilet room, double sinks and marble everywhere. There was a grand full length mirror just outside it. The room had a beautiful desk, and the bed was very comfortable. There was complimentary bottled water. The dining room is a wonder all its own. It sits beneath a large domed ceiling set with stained glass panels, and has a massive crystal chandelier. It dates back to the original construction. The rest of the hotel is truly high class with wide corridors, excellent carpeting, dark wood and real hall lamps everywhere. One minor problem concerned the elevators. They are small and slow, but could not have been updated without major engineering changes, so we walked down to the lobby. The service was very friendly and efficient, with language never being a problem. The hotel is about as centrally located as you can find in Madrid. We ate on our arrival night at a restaurant called “47” about a block away, which we had scouted on tripadvisor.com. It was small, and filled with locals, although they had an English menu. I had an excellent fish dish, while Edith found a good vegetarian salad. The buffet breakfast was, as noted, a wonder, and a delightful experience in the beautiful dining room. If you were paying rack rate for it, it was quite expensive, but it was included in our cruise fare. You could not ask for a better buffet. It matched the best cruise ship buffet, and that is saying a lot. The next day we met Christina and started our adventure. She told us that a number of people, including the 12 Columbians would not join us until we sailed, so I would guess about 80 of us boarded 2 buses for a city tour. We were certainly not crowded. It was a Sunday morning so traffic was light and we saw a lot. Our guide Jose spoke very good English, and was very knowledgeable and entertaining. We disembarked for a walking tour which went through the Plaza Mayor and ended in the Plaza del Sol, about a ten minute walk from the hotel. We stopped at a small local restaurant on the way for a light lunch, and then went to the renowned Prado Museum, two blocks from our hotel, with tickets we had bought at home on line. For seniors the cost was 7 Euros. In three hours we saw it all, and it was very impressive. For dinner we went to another of our researched restaurants, Vinos de Bellota. It was on the other side of the Retiro Park, which is quite close to our hotel. But we took a taxi, and while the traffic patterns in Madrid forced our driver to take a long way around the park, the fare was still reasonable. Again the restaurant lived up to its high rating. I ordered pork and was asked how I wanted it. This is not done in the US since our pork is always cooked through. But pigs in Europe are not fed garbage as they are here, and there is no danger of trichinosis. So I ordered it medium/well done and when it arrived it was slightly pink. But it also was very juicy and sweet, not at all dry, and very delicious. Edith’s vegetarian dish was also well received. We walked home, arriving after 11:00 P.M.; but the streets still had people, and we felt perfectly safe. We had been warned about pickpockets, but had never been in an unduly crowded scene where we felt there was a danger. Ama offered a “Madrid by Night” tapas and wine tasting walking tour for 79 Euros apiece, which had no interest for us. The next morning our tour took us to Toledo, about 45 minutes away from the hotel. This city has two distinct parts, one of which is a suburban area outside to old town and containing most of the inhabitants. The old Toledo sits on a hill, surrounded on three sides by the Tagus River. The fourth side is protected by a typical medieval wall. So it still retains its traditional character of a medieval walled city. Our buses were too large to enter, so we walked across a gated bridge and through this fascinating old city, with its “Jewish” quarter and its “Moorish” neighborhood. Jose was again our guide and did an excellent job. The stores are filled with examples of the famed “Toledo Steel” swords and knives, as well as other examples of fine Spanish workmanship. Spain has a fine selection of fascinating cities, and Toledo has to be high on the list. That afternoon we walked through the Madrid Botanical Garden, just past the Prado, and part of the Retiro Park. We then went to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, home to Piccaso’s Guernica and many other works of his as well as Miro and Dali. It is a somewhat different museum. It is housed in an older building with a central courtyard, and is reached by a very modern, outside, glass walled bank of elevators. Admission was free after five o’clock on Mondays, but the line for free entry was manageable. After the museum visit we attempted to locate the third restaurant on our list. This proved a problem, since Madrid streets are not always straight, and when we finally found it, it was closed. We knew it was closed Sunday, but apparently Monday closings are not uncommon. We then went down the block and found a typical outdoor bistro filled with Madrilenos having a fine time. This may not have been a gourmet experience, but it was great fun sitting outside, people watching and enjoying the exuberance of a family group adjoining our table. There is apparently no problem with bringing small children to eat with the family from 8:30 to 10:30 P.M., the normal dining hours in this part of the world. The food was simple, but very good, and the whole day a delight from beginning to end. We like Spain and greatly enjoyed Madrid. We were almost sorry to leave to begin our river cruise the next day. Our luggage was picked up from our room while we were having another great breakfast, and delivered to the buses so we could check that they were actually loaded. This proved fortuitous, since one of our small bags had been left in the room and Christina had to send a porter back to get it. Lisbon To Lisbon from Porto is 195 miles and about three hours on the mostly very smooth national highway system. We stopped about two-thirds of the way there to visit the shrine at Fatima. This is of interest mostly to Catholics, and is very impressive in its size and relatively substantial crowds for a hot weekday in the summer. Our hotel was the Tiara Park Atlantic (formerly the Meridian Atlantic). It is quite modern and bills itself as a “business” hotel. The design is striking. I can only describe it as having a “stair step on its side” appearance, which allowed most of the rooms to have a short “corner window” in addition to the main window. This allows a great view of the city down past a large city park to the waterfront and the visible Tagus River. The room itself was quite decent, with all one would expect in a first class modern business hotel, but without the charm of the Westin Palace in Madrid. It also lacked sufficient drawer space, causing us to stack clothing on top of the huge armoire which housed the TV and a large mini-bar. This latter service provider invited you to buy a 30 gram (that is 1.6 ounce!) can of Pringles for 8.5€ - $11.42 without the exchange fee! I can imagine a salesman trying to justify that on his hotel bill to the company auditor. The lobby and other public areas were sleek and modern, and the breakfast buffet very nice, up to about 90% of the level of the Westin Palace. It also was a little more crowded. The service staff was completely worthy of a five star hotel, cheerfully assisting whenever needed. The first night we ate at Sabor & Arte, a restaurant near the hotel which was not only recommended by tripadvisor.com, but, it turned out, Christina also. We had agreed to go with another couple, and on the way, ran into a third couple bound for the same place, so we had six for a very good, quite substantial dinner. I got to enjoy sardines again prepared the Mediterranean way; large and delicious. The tours offered in Lisbon were simply great. The first day we visited the 16th century Jerónimos Monastery, accurately described in our itinerary guide as “spectacular”. It is not hugely overwhelming, but beautifully proportioned as to both exterior and the interior rooms and the courtyard; and strikingly “decorated” with wall carvings and fixtures. We then went to Belem, out the Tagus towards the Atlantic, and the riverside Monument commemorating the amazing early 15th century Portuguese navigators. It was, like all the days we experienced on this cruise, beautiful and sunny. Afterwards, following Christina’s directions, we went to the main shopping area, which was down the hill from our hotel and close to the old port. This part of Lisbon is called the Baixa, and is a main attraction for locals and tourists alike, featuring the crowded pedestrian shopping street where we ran into the two cruise couples from Maui. They said they were staying at a pension in Lisbon for five days. That night we went to the Madragoa Café. This is a tiny restaurant, east of the Baixa proper, and almost down to the waterfront. It helped that we handed the hotel doorman a piece of paper with the name and address, and he instructed the taxi driver accordingly. This was the type of service provided by the hotel, very cheerful and helpful. The restaurant is on a short, very narrow street, not just one way, but effectively one lane also. There were about five tables inside, but we ate outside on a raised wooden deck which held four small tables. We were a little early for dinner, about 8:15, so we had no trouble being seated. The waiter (he was the only one) spoke very good English, and was committed to explaining anything we wanted to know, I had a very substantial sea food stew, and Edith a large vegetarian salad. We had a delightful meal, and at the conclusion the cook, another Christina, came out to share her cooking methods, also in very good English. The only problem came when I paid the bill with a 100 € bill. We had to wait while they collected enough cash from other customers to make change. We were pleased to recommend this restaurant to our fellow travelers. This was the type of European restaurant we have come to love. I should note that all our full dinner meals in both Spain and Portugal, with dessert for me and wine for Edith, ran just about 42-45 €s, ($56.00-$61.00). Of course my water was more expensive than her wine! The next day involved another marvelous tour to the town of Sintra. This is about 45 miles from Lisbon, and essentially occupies a large hill with views commanding the countryside to the north, east and south, and actually the Atlantic, somewhat hazy but there, to the west. Because of this it was selected by several different generations of Portuguese royalty to build spectacular summer retreats – well actually – summer castles. There were tour options, but we followed our guide’s recommendation to visit the topmost castle, the Peña Palace. It was built in the 19th century by a German prince who married the Queen of Portugal. It is a wildly eclectic mixture of faux medieval, Moorish and French Empire architecture and truly royal interior furnishings. It is reached by special buses from the town of Sintra winding up a very narrow, one lane mountain road, through a pine forest. This is probably fortunate since it spreads out the crowds, and this is one of the two most visited Portuguese tourist venues, along with Fatima. The rooms were fascinating, and part of that was due, I think, to the fact that they were lived in not so long ago. There were photos of the family on desks, for instance. The last royal occupant left in 1912. So all of the wonderful furniture, furnishings, wall and ceiling treatments, lamps, chandeliers, parquet floors, etc. were still in excellent, actually useable condition. It was here that we ran into the Columbian family, who had proceeded to Lisbon independently, and we greeted each other with much enthusiasm of course, since they did everything with enthusiasm! We went back into town and strolled around the many tourist shops, buying a few small tiles for mementos and gifts. One should not visit Portugal without acquiring some of their tiles. That night we ate at a restaurant down the hill a short way from our hotel, at Christina’s recommendation (our Christina – not the Madragoa Cafè cook). It also was a good local dining experience, and was accompanied by entertainment in the form of one woman and three men sitting at a back table and singing to the accompaniment of a guitar and castanets. It was all very casual, and again very reasonably priced. The next day we arose at 5:30 to catch our plane. The airport was 15 minutes away, and the taxi cost 8 € with tip. Conclusion Was this a worthwhile cruise experience? We certainly believe so. The combination of the relaxed river cruising, the lovely small towns, some excellent excursions, the dining experiences, all added up to a memorable 14 days. The value for money is always an open question. The hotel days were expensive, but we also received 4 excellent touring days, which would not be part of the normal hotel rack rate. So, if you likes river cruising as one of many ways to spend your travel time, this certainly gets our strong recommendation. Bon Voyage! Phil and Edith Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
First, comments about the Uniworld experience. My husband and I have previously cruised with AMA on the Danube, and with Scenic Tours on the Saone and Rhone river. Service: excellent, décor: boutique hotel, beds and bedding: excellent, ... Read More
First, comments about the Uniworld experience. My husband and I have previously cruised with AMA on the Danube, and with Scenic Tours on the Saone and Rhone river. Service: excellent, décor: boutique hotel, beds and bedding: excellent, food: excellent to outstanding, wine: average to very good, tours: well-organized and interesting, Al Fresco dining option: fantastic, no announcements in your room: FANTASTIC (I hope all cruise lines will copy this)daily tour talks: available in your cabin on the t.v. (another excellent and innovative service). Bikes: available as well as Go Active bike tours. I haven’t ridden a bike in 35 years and now have gone on 2 of the Uniworld bike tours in Bordeaux. Wireless: included and in your cabin! All-inclusive: very good but not yet excellent. It was lovely to have drinks in the lounge and on the deck without worrying about cost. My husband and I cruised with Scenic Tours last year, and they are all-inclusive. We did not have any extra charges for tours. Uniworld still charges for “optional” tour. Scenic had 3 tours available each day, and no surcharge. Uniworld has usually 1 or 2 tours a day, and then very expensive optional tours that can be cancelled because not enough people signed up. A cooking class tour was a very expensive optional tour on Uniworld, but with Scenic we had a cooking class at the Paul Bocuse culinary school and it was included. On Uniworld, there is a different white and red wine served in the dining room. When we asked for a wine that is served on a different night, we were told that wasn’t possible by the waiter. Our cruise manager clarified this situation once she knew about it, and waiters then did serve any of the wines that are part of the “all inclusive” wine list. Which brings me to my last point, customer service: excellent. Our complaints and concerns were addressed promptly and graciously. Thank you to Georgina, our hotel manager. Paris to Normandy on the River Baroness Positive: visit to Giverney, visit to Juno and Omaha Beach, Uniworld provided a wreath for a powerful service at the American Cemetery – I had a lump in my throat the entire day. Rouen and the cathedral light show were lovely. Excellent, informative and interesting guides. Negative: there is no way I would have booked this trip with Uniworld had I understood how very, very small are the cabins. You can barely get a suitcase under the bed, and you can barely walk around the bed. There is chair in the room but you cannot put it beside the glass window and look at the river. The bathroom, very nicely done, is claustrophobic. My husband and I are not very large, but I can’t imagine how a large person could move in that space. The closet is so small that not only did all of our clothes not fit in it, but the clothes hangers don’t fit in it. You cannot close the closet door with your clothes on the hangers and the closet light shines all night long. For the same money or less, you can have almost the same itinerary on a competitor’s boat and have a much larger cabin. Because Uniworld combines 2 or more river cruises, our next boat, the River Royale, was a surprise. We had a lovely cabin with a much roomier bathroom, 2 chairs and a table, ample closet space – and for the same price as the River Baroness. My husband sent an irate email to our travel agent once we could compare the two exactly same priced one week cruises. Passengers who had been on the Uniworld Rhone river cruise on the exquisite S.S. Catherine were somewhat horrified when their next week was on the cramped River Baroness. Bordeaux, Vineyards and Chateaux on the River Royale Positive: Focus on food and wine – and the food was divine! We promised ourselves to have a light lunch – and would have 3 or 4 courses - the food was just that good. Excellent meals on the ship and at the Chateau for lunch. Bike riding in bucolic vineyards, visiting charming small towns like Saint Emilion and Bergerac. Wine tasting Sauternes. Seeing famous chateaus and vineyards for real after having only seen them on labels. Arachon oyster tasting! Wine tasting in the Claret Room, Shopping in Bordeaux – same shops and fashion as Paris but in a calmer, smaller and very beautiful area. Younger and more active crowd on this cruise -families, 20,30, 40 something’s plus the usual 50 to 80 crowd. Negatives: the Gironde Estuary, Dordogne and Gironde River are brown – not what I was expecting! A different shore and water look from the other rivers I have cruised. In 2014, there are only 3 cruise companies in Bordeaux. Next year, there will be more. Half of the time, we were tied up to another ship, meaning you need to keep your curtains drawn so you don’t look into another person’s cabin. Viking cruise passengers couldn’t use their balconies when that side of the ship was tied to a ship. Without more docks, I can’t imagine where all of these ships will anchor!   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
BACKGROUND INFORMATION This was an unusual cruise – 8 nights away, but never getting more than 175 miles from the home port, with overnight stays at all three of the ports visited and spending a significant amount of time sailing up and ... Read More
BACKGROUND INFORMATION This was an unusual cruise – 8 nights away, but never getting more than 175 miles from the home port, with overnight stays at all three of the ports visited and spending a significant amount of time sailing up and down rivers on a sea-going ship. Our main reason for choosing it was that we have never visited Amsterdam, Antwerp or Rouen and thought that a travelling hotel would be a good way of seeing them, and it achieved our objectives very well indeed. We found it a bit odd that excursions from Antwerp to Brussels and from Rouen to Paris were featured quite strongly, when Brussels and Paris are so easy to get to from the UK by Eurostar, and Antwerp and Rouen are such worthwhile destinations in their own right, but we’re all different, aren’t we? SHIP INFORMATION Braemar is a modest ship. It lacks many of the attractions of larger and newer ships, but suits people who like a more relaxed, low-key cruising experience We had travelled on it before it was stretched, and found that very good use has been made of the extra 32 metres, including an additional swimming pool, a very attractive observation lounge and a pleasant new restaurant as well as several new cabins. Being an older, screw-driven ship, there is quite a bit of mechanical noise and vibration, especially on the lower decks aft. Some forward cabins are also uncomfortably close to the bow thruster units which can lead to early awakenings, so midships cabins may be advisable if you are sensitive to such things. Braemar is also not the steadiest of ships, so open-water cruises on it are best avoided by people prone to seasickness. Internally, furnishings are pleasing and interiors are light, bright and airy. Braemar does not have a proper theatre, though, and the main Neptune Lounge is far from ideal as a venue for shows, with inadequate tiering, poorly arranged seating and some columns restricting views of what is going on on the stage. Talking about tiering, the tiered stern is magnificent, fully accessible to all passengers rather than just to those with aft-facing balconies as on most modern cruise ships. There is also plenty of sunbathing space on the upper decks, a full wrap-round promenade deck and access to the tip of the bow for Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio impressions – just don’t stand on the rail to do them. EMBARKATION We parked our car on the pier at Dover, which was a very easy process with a short walk (or courtesy minibus ride) to the cruise terminal. The terminal does not have many facilities but the cafeteria is adequate and there is plenty of comfortable seating. Check-in was painless, with no noticeable queues, but embarkation did not start until 2pm which meant that most people had a significant wait in the departure lounge. ACTIVITIES There was only one “proper” sea day on this cruise, which limited the need to resort to activities as such. We normally go to series of talks, but only went to one talk on this cruise, which was all right but not outstanding, trying to cover eight centuries of Anglo-French history in one hour. A second day of cruising was spent navigating down the River Seine, which was delightfully scenic, so we had no need of organised activities. SERVICE Staff and crew were friendly and helpful. People who cruise regularly with Fred noticed cutbacks in staff, notably in the elimination of wine waiters, but we found the level of service in all areas to be at least adequate and often better than that. CABIN Although most cabins are small by modern standards, they do not seem cramped or claustrophobic. Ours only had portholes but was still light and airy. There is plenty of hanging space, but not much drawer or shelf space. Equipment is good, with a flat-screen television, a safe and an adequate supply of toiletries – oh, and the essential (for Brits) tea and coffee facilities. Everything worked, after we had tightened up light bulbs that had been shaken loose. The design of shower curtain made it very difficult to avoid flooding the bathroom when showering. There are no British-style sockets, so plug adapters are vital. DINING No for-fee speciality restaurants here, just the MDRs and the buffet restaurant and fish-and-chips-type meals from the open deck Marquee Bar in fine weather. We used the buffet for breakfast and lunch and our assigned MDR for dinner and were happy with the quality and choice in both locations. Our table companions disappeared off to the buffet for the Asian theme evening and pronounced it to be very good. There was a late-night chocoholics’ buffet on one evening, which looked good but not as lavish as we have seen on previous cruises. ENTERTAINMENT The song-and-dance performances by the Braemar Show Company were good, especially the singers who were definitely better than most in this kind of company. Other entertainment by hired-in performers was not brilliant, but the crew shows were excellent. PORTS OF CALL I will put more details into individual port reviews, but it was the itinerary that sold this cruise to us and we were not disappointed. We do not like the way that Fred describes times in port in advance publicity, just referring to early or late am or pm rather than giving times. This caught out several people who were expecting one and a half days in Rouen and elected to visit Paris on the first day in the expectation of a couple of hours in Rouen the next morning, but the “late am” departure turned out to be 10.15, too early for a look round the city when it is two miles from the cruise terminal. Our departures from Amsterdam and Antwerp were at 16.00 and 17.00 respectively, giving us almost two days in each of those cities. The cruise terminals in Amsterdam and Antwerp are close to the city centres and no shuttle buses were laid on, though in Amsterdam we resorted to a couple of short tram rides to get to the heart of the city because we knew we had a hard day’s walking ahead of us exploring the city’s canal rings. One of the canal bus routes stops very close to the cruise terminal. In Antwerp the ship docked within a few yards of the cathedral and the historic core of this fine city. In Rouen a shuttle bus service was provided for the first day, at a modest £5 for unlimited journeys. It was originally stated that it would finish at 7pm, but this was revised to 1am when the management were made aware of the late night son-et-lumiere at the cathedral. There were some major hiccups with the shuttle arrangements, but we were still glad we went to this fantastic free show. DISEMBARKATION We had a cabin on one of the lower decks and were travelling independently so we were some of the last to leave the ship, but we were still back at our car for 9am after a smooth disembarkation process. SUMMARY We enjoyed our cruise very much. Braemar has some shortcomings, but also some nice features that you don’t find on newer and larger ships, and made a perfectly adequate base for what was effectively three city breaks stuck together with no packing and unpacking to do between them.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
We just returned from an amazing land and River Cruise "The Blue Danube" onTauck's new river boat the MS Savor. We've done many ocean cruises including Oceania, Celebrity, RCL, and Holland and a previous land tour with ... Read More
We just returned from an amazing land and River Cruise "The Blue Danube" onTauck's new river boat the MS Savor. We've done many ocean cruises including Oceania, Celebrity, RCL, and Holland and a previous land tour with Tauck. The trip was outstanding due to to the following: We had never traveled on a river boat before but loved the idea of doing a land and river cruise all in one tour. The land portion was not an add on so everyone traveled the length of the trip enabling us to keep our fabulous tour directors throughout the trip (Sabina Straley, Karei Cernosed, Joeri Happel and on the ship Steve Marcant). The hotels provided by Tauck Kempinski Hotel Corvinus in Budapest and Marriott Prague were excellent. The breakfast as the Kempinski is the best buffet breakfast we've ever had including freshly made jams, bread etc. The MS Savor only the 2nd sailing and staff provided outstanding service. The ship is beautiful and we had a CAT 1 cabin which worked for us. We loved looking out the windows at water level. The bathroom is small but very well designed. The shower door can stay open inward while using the bathroom providing more room. We enjoyed the food on the boat although no where near the quality or choice that Oceania Cruises can offer. The Itinary is fabulous. We loved the big cities Budapest, Vienna and Prague as well as the smaller stops. We cannot have enough good things to say about Tauck. What made the trip so fabulous was the precision planning and their ability to respond to our every need plus the fabulous experiences that they were able to provide including: - Dinner at the Academia Club in Budapest with entertainment. Our best meal on the cruise (Veal). - Dinner in a Viennese palace. Setting was elegant but nothing special about the food. - Dinner in the princely Lobkowicz Palace. (worth going on the cruise for the historical history) Every stop on the river was met by fabulous tours, and pampering. The Tauck directors went above and beyond to assist us even when we had free time to walk around the towns on our own. They saved us so much time versus touring on our own having already purchased the tickets, arranged the guides and buses and providing experiences that we had options to attend. They even added activities once they learned what our interests were including a lecture on the ship on the Jewish History of Europe and a visit to an old Jewish Cemetary in Bratislava (conducted by Joeri) We also enjoyed using the new bikes on board riding along the river. I needed my bike adjusted and within minutes they had someone from the boat with tools to do the adjustments. Buses used by Tauck were not overcrowded. They had more transportation than needing making sure they were not filled to max so we would be comfortable. If traveling to this part of the world, I recommend this as a top of the line way to see the area.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
Our trip started in Prague. It is a beautiful city, with lots to see and do, especially if you want to attend music concerts. The Inter Continental Prague Hotel is a perfect place to stay and within walking distance of many stores, ... Read More
Our trip started in Prague. It is a beautiful city, with lots to see and do, especially if you want to attend music concerts. The Inter Continental Prague Hotel is a perfect place to stay and within walking distance of many stores, restaurant, churches, and the town square. We were very pleased with our ship, the crew, our room, the cleanliness, and the many wonderful side trips that were all included. Our room had plenty of storage space and was kept very clean. It was also very quiet. Everything ran very smoothly and on time. The meals were very good, and presented beautifully. We were entertained one afternoon by a professional zither player who was excellent. The cruse director did his job exceptionally well. We especially liked the decor of the ship as it was light and airy looking with nice color schemes. Our trip to Paris on the fast train was enjoyable. Our hotel was nice but with a much darker decor. It is in a good location. The guides and drivers for all our excursions all spoke fluent English, plus other languages. It was nice to have an Avalon representative at both hotels for the whole duration. They were very knowledgeable about the areas. Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
This was a first river cruise having previously sailed on several large ship cruise lines.  It was a very different experience and one that I found quite pleasant.  Here are some of the differences and you can determine if this venue ... Read More
This was a first river cruise having previously sailed on several large ship cruise lines.  It was a very different experience and one that I found quite pleasant.  Here are some of the differences and you can determine if this venue meets your needs: -only 190 passengers; older demographic but most were physically fit since walking tours are part of the daily regiment -many repeat passengers -intimate enough to get to know most of the service crew during the week -crew (mostly Bulgarian) were outgoing and genuinely pleasant; -no shopping spiels- no sales pitches about anything -cabins, while small, were well laid out with high end furnishings -meals were excellent; good choices and nicely presented; one seating at dinner and never felt rushed -tours with local guides were informative and reasonably paced -docked near central part of city at most ports which allowed easy access on and off the ship; no tenders- no waiting -entertainment in the evening ranged from a folk dance group to opera arias- not showboat caliber but culturally more interesting -premium drink package was worth it for our group; not only do you have unlimited top shelf pours for drinks but there is a separate premium wine list that you an choose from that is far better than the house wine; we thought the better wine may the package far better -tour of the wheelhouse should not be missed- must schedule an appointment -no fitness facilities but you can do a lot of walking off the ship Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
We took the Danube Waltz cruise on the Viking Prestige from Budapest to Passau. It was our first river cruise and, overall, we enjoyed the experience. On the upside, the ship was immaculate. It was modern, comfortable and well fitted out. ... Read More
We took the Danube Waltz cruise on the Viking Prestige from Budapest to Passau. It was our first river cruise and, overall, we enjoyed the experience. On the upside, the ship was immaculate. It was modern, comfortable and well fitted out. Our stateroom was just the right size for the time we spent in it, with good storage, a well designed, compact bathroom and, as we were on the top deck, good views out. We were glad to have the big sliding French door when cruising in the daytime. As someone who hates loud air conditioning I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was virtually silent. It really was useful in the heat of eastern Europe in July. Our stateroom was about half way along the deck and because the ship has a hybrid propulsion system, we noticed almost no noise or vibration when sailing. As a lot of the cruising on this trip is done at night, this was a real boon. The food and drink were excellent. We had read reviews which said that the wine which comes as part of the ticket price was not up to scratch, but we know a bottle of good red and we found the house red to be very drinkable. We had thought of picking up some local wine (Viking don’t charge corkage) but didn’t feel the need. I also tried the house white, which was crisp and refreshing. There was plenty to eat and it was never less than excellent. The chef and maitre d’ were constantly checking that everything was OK (and topping up our glasses!), as were the waiters. Service was friendly and accommodating. We liked the fact that dishes influenced by local cuisine and ingredients were the norm. The culinary highlight was a “Taste of Austria” evening, when our Austrian chef shared what must have been most of the signature dishes from his homeland. Exactly how he and his team produced so much variety to such a high standard from a river cruiser’s galley wasn’t clear but they did it with panache. Having worked with some top performing teams, I can honestly say that the crew of the Viking Prestige were one of the best I have encountered. Nothing was too much trouble, information was presented clearly when it was needed, help was on hand when necessary, and we were never in any doubt that a trouble free, enjoyable and fun experience for the passengers was the goal. The Cruise Director was particularly impressive. On one occasion we were in a cafe in Salzburg when a minor problem arose. The Cruise Director appeared as if from nowhere and sorted it, even though there was nothing to identify us as his passengers. The cruise was my wife’s 60th birthday treat but we hadn’t told the crew. On the final evening the maitre d’ and some of his staff appeared at our table with a cake and sang happy birthday. We are still trying to work out how they knew it was us in a full restaurant. We also enjoyed the onboard lectures, the opportunity to visit the bridge and learn about navigation on the Danube and, of course, the many wonderful towns and cities we visited. The Cruise Director was a professional violinist when not cruise directing. On the final night he gave a great recital with the onboard pianist. I don’t think this is guaranteed on every Viking cruise but it shows how much the crew put their personalities into their work, which makes them stand out from the crowd. There were some downsides too. A minor niggle was that the public areas have background music playing all the time. There is a good variety of styles and no muzak, only original artists. Even so, it’s a bit much, especially when it is even playing in the library. You would think they could leave you to read in peace. More fundamentally, we would have liked more daylight cruising. To be fair to Viking, the reaches of the Danube which connect Germany with Hungary are not as scenic as, say, parts of the Rhine. On this cruise you need to see the ship mainly as a floating hotel which takes you overnight to a fresh destination, rather than as a platform for watching the countryside go by. The daylight cruise through the Wachau Valley was beautiful, and we woke very early on the way to Passau and were delighted by the scenery - but that was one bit of information the crew hadn’t given us, so most people missed it. The other big negative for us turned out to be the guided tours. You can’t fault either the choice of places to visit (well OK, Heroes’ Square in Budapest and the embassy quarter in Bratislava must mean more to locals than to visitors, but otherwise the choice was good), nor the quality of the local guides. The Quiet Vox earpiece system meant you could always hear the guides (except when interference from other guides blocked the signal and your guide wouldn’t change channel, which happened several times). It was just that the groups were too large and often got entangled with other groups, including from other Viking ships. One American passenger said that they felt that they were being “herded” and that summed it up very well. We ended up using the guides for orientation, then leaving the group and making our own discoveries, which worked well. Meeting points and times were always clear, so doing your own thing was not a problem. The concierge was very helpful if you wanted to operate independently, but Viking should review group sizes,as the guides were always worth hearing. Many reviewers have also complained about “rafting” - when you wake in the morning to find that the view from your cabin window is of someone else’s cabin on a vessel moored next to yours. We experienced this several times. It is irritating having to keep your curtains drawn in the daytime but, on the other hand, moorings on the Danube are apparently expensive and hard to secure and Viking have the best. Having seen the out-of-centre pitches used by some other firms, and even one ship which had to moor on the opposite side after dropping their passengers in Dürnstein, we felt that rafting is a price worth paying - and you can still enjoy the view from the sun deck, where the crew will be happy to serve you a cold beer. Would we go again? Maybe, but on a cruise with more daylight sailing, and knowing that we would want to be more independent of the guided tours unless the group sizes shrink. If we did go again, we would definitely go with Viking. The onboard experience was excellent, we flew with BA not a budget airline, and the paid excursions seem to have been well regarded by those who went on them, so we felt that the cruise was good value for money, given the quality of the service and the ship. Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
After a very rocky start with Viking's air department (read: do NOT use them), we boarded the Legend in Passau, where we'd added a 3 night pre-cruise stay. Viking had a large concierge desk located at our hotel, the Hilton ... Read More
After a very rocky start with Viking's air department (read: do NOT use them), we boarded the Legend in Passau, where we'd added a 3 night pre-cruise stay. Viking had a large concierge desk located at our hotel, the Hilton Prague. Both the hotel and the Viking staff were first class. After our Prague stay, we were transported to Passau via a comfortable tour bus. The scenery en route was well worth seeing. Upon arriving at our ship, the stewards took our bags to our cabin. The cabin had only 130 s.f., and that worried me a bit before the cruise. But naval architects are ingenious folks, and the cabin worked well due to its layout. Even the shower afforded enough space via design as not to be cramped. Next, we cruised the entire public area of the ship from the main desk area, to the lounge, to the dining room, and on up to the top deck. The ship was clean, spacious, and well designed. She is five years old, but does not show her age. There were 188 passengers and 51 crew on board, and by the time we disembarked, we'd met at least half of both categories. Unlike huge ocean liners, Viking's smaller ships foster conversation; we got to know people--lots of people. And the crew? In a word: wonderful. We've never had customer service that even approaches what we experienced on the Legend. These hard working people were cheerful, helpful, and eager to serve you in whatever way they could. I was amazed. We got to know several couples, as well as two waiters, our cabin steward Marija), our concierge staff (David and Marianne), cruise director (Vlad), and hotel manager (Sasha) very well. We had many conversations with all of them. That should tell you something! The food? Well, if the Legend were a restaurant, I'd rate it between 4 and 5 stars. The variety, the preparation, and the presentation exceeded our wildest expectations. Of course, with Viking, all wines and beers are included with your meals. Our waiters, Ali and Alexander were attentive and among the funniest people we've met in a long time. If laughter is, indeed, good for digestion, then we are in good shape. And the head chef, Thomas, even offered a side trip to a city market in Vienna which we took. When we arrived, there were a hundred or more stalls (mostly food). The chef had a long table set up with a variety of appetizer-type items--all at no cost to us. What an unexpected treat. All meals--breakfast, lunch, and dinner--were well above standard. Did I gain weight? Of course I did. There was even entertainment on some nights: operatic singing; Bavarian music; Hungarian music; and, each night, Peter played softly on his piano in the lounge. The excursions? Like everything else Viking does, the sightseeing excursions had excellent guides, people who knew their areas, its history, and its little known facets. They were punctual and were more than we'd expected them to be. The cruise director, Vlad, was one of the most intelligent, articulate men I've met in a long time. He is encyclopedic in his knowledge of history, and made compelling presentations throughout the trip. Upon departure to the Budapest airport, Viking even had someone there to meet us and help us in any way possible. That was, for us, a first. There is no doubt that we will sail with Viking again--no doubt at all. They are a seasoned, polished cruise line and do what they do very, very well. Kudos. Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
This was our first river cruise and we were a little apprehensive. Have been on 3 Cunard cruises (all great quality with perfect food and service but completely impersonal with sanitised land based tours). We were recommended to cruise ... Read More
This was our first river cruise and we were a little apprehensive. Have been on 3 Cunard cruises (all great quality with perfect food and service but completely impersonal with sanitised land based tours). We were recommended to cruise with AMA Waterways by Ponders Travel (personal agents near Cambridge). They selected a river cruise focused around wine tasting in northern Portugal. My wife and I were stunned by the friendly, professional and personal attitude shown by ALL of the crew. So many lovely touches including the same coach driver; same guide all week. Some of the drives could have been scary (side of small mountains on single track roads with no barriers) but the driver was very sensitive and drove at speeds that made us all feel safe. The food was perfect with choice for all diets. Champagne for breakfast!! We got to know so many new folk from other countries. One of the AMA owners was on this cruise (Kristin Karst). She is completely committed to ensuring all travellers have a fantastic experience and supported her team really well. They have a great way of selecting passionate crew and delivering perfect service for the entire cruise. How the crew keep motivated with out a break for many weeks I don't know but I guess combining the desire to ensure guest have a great memorable time with the chance of meeting new folk every week or so keeps their interest going. Just one request for AMA - avoid seminars which are more brain washing than informative (US wine) - we are all old enough to make our own minds up if today will be a great day and don't need a motivational speaker to help. But thankfully we managed to avoid most of the loudness from just one person. We are about to book another cruise with AMA for Xmas this year. For those who haven't found Portugal yet (as we hadn't) I highly recommend a visit. It is beautiful; hot; clean and the locals are so friendly.   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014
Tauck's French Escapade River Cruise Review July 18-31, 2014. South to North Overview: This Tauck adventure features 4 nights in hotels, 2 in Monte Carlo and 2 in Paris. In between there is a 9 night river cruise on the Rhone & ... Read More
Tauck's French Escapade River Cruise Review July 18-31, 2014. South to North Overview: This Tauck adventure features 4 nights in hotels, 2 in Monte Carlo and 2 in Paris. In between there is a 9 night river cruise on the Rhone & Saone Rivers on the 118 passenger Swiss Emerald. This was a high end vacation with a first class river cruise and 2 first class hotels. A rail trip on the 200mph TGV connected us between Lyon & Paris. Booking: Our travel agent made all the arrangements thru Tauck including the extra hotel nights in Paris, plus airport transfers on both ends. We booked a year in advance in order to get one of the eight 300sf suites that the boat had. The other cabins were under 200sf. Two couples booked just the 9 night river cruise and did not do the hotel portions of the trip. Tauck accommodated them and did not charge them for those portions of the trip. Using a travel agent for this type of trip saves you time and hassle. Passengers: There were 106 passengers, mostly from the US. There were 2 couples from Malaysia and 12 Aussies. The passengers were mostly in their 60's & 70's with a few older and younger couples. There were 2 teenagers, who despite having to be with old folks all the time, seemed to have a good time. There were a few people who had walking difficulties, but they were able to participate in all the tours, although they skipped the buildings that had dozens of steps. The crew always had one tour for people who were slow walkers. The passengers seemed to all get along well. The ability to walk stairs is a requirement to be on this trip. Food & Beverage: All beverages (including cocktails, beer, wine, etc) from the bar were included in the cruise as were all the excursions. The only money you could spend on the cruise were from the gift store, for massages and laundry. Tips for everything related to Tauck were included. The food was amazing. I would compare it to Oceania Cruise Line ships. Dinners were 5 courses and presented very well. The wines were from the region and were great. Lunch and breakfast featured wonderful buffets or you could order from your table. Tour Guides: There were 3 tour guides who stayed with us from beginning to end and a Cruise Director on the boat, all excellent. Mistral Winds: Provance can have very strong northerly winds, ranging from 30 to 70mph, called Mistral Winds. We had strong winds (30mph) for several days, but they helped cool things off and keep the bugs away. Cabins: They ranged in size from 150 sf to 300sf. The large cabins get booked way in advance, with waiting lists in case someone in the large cabins cancels. The cabins each had 2 110v outlets that required a 2 prong Northern European adaptor to use. There were also two 220v outlets where you might need a bulky converter to convert to 110v to charge your camera batteries if your 110 outlets are in use. Apple products can be charged from a 220v plug without a voltage converter, as Apple has built their charging units to take 220v or 110v current. The beds come with a thick comforter and no separate sheet that so many hotels use today. We prefer a sheet and a blanket, which they switched to after I asked the room steward. Robes and slippers are provided in the cabins. Rain: It does rain in France. The ship provides large umbrellas for the passengers. You may need a small umbrella for your hotel days. A light raincoat with hood is very handy as the winds are sometimes too strong for the umbrellas. Entertainment: Don't expect much. There brought a few local acts for after dinner. There were a couple nights where the passengers played games organized by the Tour Guides which were fun. Prizes were awarded to the winning teams. Having after dinner drinks on the top deck was great if it wasn't raining. The lounge had a pianist who was excellent. Workout room: Small - 4 pieces of cardio equipment and. Few 2 LB dumbells. Bring your own resistance bands for weight work. You get plenty cardio on the walks and bike rides. Attire: Most dinners on the ship were Country Club casual, (nice shirt, no shorts). Most guys brought a jacket for the 2 or 3 special dinners. Lunch was casual, shorts were fine. Bring a light jacket that doubles as a raincoat with a hood for cool evenings on deck and wet touring days. The museums in Europe are all warm and humid. Wear short sleeve shirts and shorts and bring a jacket that you can tied around your waist. A fan is a good thing to bring along. The air does not move in these museums. Shoes: You'll need a good pair of walking shoes as most daily walks were over cobblestones with many steps, often without handrails. Lightweight sandals don't usually have the lateral support for the cobblestones. Laundry: The ship provided 1 day laundry service for a fee, not cheap, but it's better than dragging 14 days worth if clothes. The weather was sometimes humid, so you need to wash some cloths. The drip dry clothes could be washed in the sink dried in a day hanging in the shower. The cotton clothes took forever to dry. Air Package: We bought the air sea package and let Tauck set up the flights. Next time I'll have our travel agent book the flights. We had Delta flights from LAX to Nice via JFK. Coming home, we flew Air France & KLM from Paris to LAX via Amsterdam. I would have preferred a direct Paris to LAX flight. That would have saved about 4 hours. Tauck will still provide the transfers if you arrange your own flights. Bicycles: The boat had 11 bicycles, single speed, pedal brakes, not the greatest bikes, but we used them and got around fine. Jacuzzi: There was a 4 person jacuzzi on the top deck that couldn't be used while we were moving, due to low bridges, which required that the jacuzzi vanity screens to come down to clear the bridges. The jacuzzi was available in port. Day to Day Notes: Day 1 Sat - Arrival: We flew into Nice from JFK, an 8 hour overnight flight arriving around 11:45 am. We cleared immigration in under 5 minutes and then waited about 30 minutes for the bags. Passport control was quick. Once we collected our bags, we found the man with the Tauck sign and 8 of us settled into a van for a 30 minute ride to Monte Carlo. Tauck has a meeting room at the Fairmont, just past reception where you got your first daily program and instructions for the hotel stay portion of the trip. There was a welcome reception and dinner that night at 6:30pm for the Tauck guests. It was a great way to meet your fellow travelers. Fairmont Hotel: We checked into the Fairmont Hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea for 2 nights. Since we were in one of Tauck's highest suite, we got a hotel room right on the water, with an amazing view. On Saturday night, there was a 20 minute fireworks show that we could see from our balcony. Apparently, this was some kind of fireworks completion held on 4 Saturday nights during the summer. The fireworks are shot from a barge in the harbor that the Fairmont overlooks. The Fairmont normally charges $20/night for wi-fi. Since we booked the Fairmont and pre-paid the hotel bill thru Tauck, we got it for free. I had the Tauck tour guide go to the hotel registration deck to make sure that was the case, and it was. Day 2 Sun - Monte Carlo: After a free breakfast for Tauck guests on Sunday morning at the hotel, we boarded buses for a tour of Monte Carlo. They took us up to the old city for an orientation tour with great overlooks of Monte Carlo. We had free time to shop and then back to the hotel for lunch on your own. At 2pm we boarded tour buses to visit the Rothchild's palace and gardens, which was worth seeing, then back to the hotel by 5:30. Dinner was on your own in Monte Carlo on Sunday night. Monday morning, after a free breakfast, we boarded buses for a trip to Nice and then into Arles to board the Swiss Emerald around 5:30pm. Day 3 Mon - Nice: Tauck gave us a walking tour and then we had 3+ hours to explore the City and have lunch on our own. Nice has an impressive beach Promenade with an excellent bike trail along the beach. Bicycles could be rented at one of the many kiosks for a few Euros on a credit card. The drive to the boat in Arles was not terribly scenic, but the tour guides comments made the trip ok. We boarded the Swiss Emerald at 5:30pm. Embarkation: We arrived at the boat and were welcomed with champaign. We waited in the lounge getting to know each other. Small groups of passengers were led to the check-in desk and shown to their rooms. We met back in the lounge at 6:30 to meet the Captain and the staff. The Captain's Dinner was then served. Day 4 Tues - Arles: We had a morning walking tour of Arles, Vincent Van Gogh's home for 2 years. We had a bus ride to the Country to see a working ranch. The ranch family fed us lunch and then put on a show with bull's chasing young men in a bull ring. The bulls are not hurt. The bulls usually live a full life and die of natural causes in their 20's. Still, it was impressive to the bulls going after the young guys in the ring, who would jump over 2 walls when the bulls got close. The horns on the bulls were covered to protect the runners. Day 5 Wed - Avignon: In the morning We had a walking tour of the old portion of Avignon including the Pope's Palace. The walk included about 200 steps, but there was frequent places to sit and listen to the your guide thru the Vox system. We finished that tour about11:00 am and had time to explore the town before returning to the boat for lunch. After a wonderful lunch, we checked out 2 bicycles and helmets and rode a path along the Rhone. The trail was only 2 miles long. We then rode into the old City of Avignon, a city full of cars and not many places to ride a bike comfortably. At 3:30 we loaded up buses and went to the country side to visit a first class winery, the Pope’s former vineyard when the Pope resided in Avignon in the 1300's. We had a wine tasting and a country bus ride. After dinner, there was a duo doing French songs with accordion. Day 6 Thursday - Viviers: Local guides showed us how to play a French version of Bocce Ball, called Petanque. We played the game and had a refreshment and then walked the old town and visited the Cathedral. We were back to the boat for lunch. The boat sailed at 1pm and we spent the rest of the day cruising the Rhone northbound going thru a few locks and under some low bridges. Staff gave talks on the locks, on the French language and on Vincent Van Gogh's life. We had a few sprinkles in the afternoon and some wind, but very pleasant overall. A good day to be on the Rhone River. Day 7 Friday - Vienne: Tauck provided us with a 90 minute walking/tram tour of the old City of Vienne. The best part was the fantastic view of the Rhone River Valley from the highest point in the City. Our tour included 2 churches/cathedrals. We then had 1:45 minutes on our own. We checked out bicycles and explored the trail along the west side of the Rhone. The town is on the east side, so you take a pedestrian bridge across the river to get to the west side. The trail is basically south if this bridge and it runs for miles. The trail is separated from the adjacent street. At 12:15, the boat left Vienne for points north. We boated thru Lyon and turned into the Saone River, but did not stop in Lyon, as Lyon would be our last stop in a few days. Day 8 Sat - Chalon-sur-Saone: A walking tour of the City left the boat at 9:00 & returned at 11:30 . We skipped the walking tour and rode bicycles around the City, which was fun. At 1:30, there was a coach tour to the Country side to visit two wineries. We stayed in Chalon overnight. There was a crew talent show after dinner. It rained for short bursts today. Day 9 Sunday - Macon: We took a coach tour of Chateau de Cormatin at 8:15 from Chalon Sur Saone as the boat sailed north to Macon. We also visited the town of mid evil town Tornau. We met the boat in Macon after 1:00, followed by lunch on the boat. At 2:45, there was a walking tour in Macon, we rode bikes again. Since it was Sunday, not much was open. At 4:45, the staff explained how the Paris portion of the trip would work and asked us to sign up for which Museum we wanted to visit on Thursday. Most people chose the Louvre. Day 10 Monday - On the way to Lyon: We left the boat at 8:30 for a coach tour of the Abbey of Cluny, the National Stud Farm in Cluny, and then onto the Chateau de la Barge for lunch. We met the boat at 3:45 in Trevoux. At 4:30pm, we left for Lyon, arriving at 8:00pm, while we were having dinner. There was light to medium rain throughout the day. Navigation Note: We side tied to a river boat that looked just like ours run by Travel Marvel, named Excellence Rhone, carrying mostly Aussies. They had been stuck in Lyon for 3 days instead of taking the Saone River portion of their cruise. The company that manages that boat would not allow their Captain to go under the low bridges that we had just gone under twice on our cruise. Their daily tours still took them to the area that they would have seen had they sailed the Saone, but they had longer bus rides to get there. Plus they missed 3 days of River cruising. The passengers were not happy about that "Corporate" Decision. Tauck left that decision up to our Captain to determine if we would clear the lowest bridges, which we did by 6" or so. Day 11 Tuesday - All Day in Lyon: In the morning we had a coach tour of the old City of Lyon. The tour included a walk thru the spectacular Basilica on the hill over looking Lyon. This was the prettiest church we have seen so far on this trip. Following that we did a walking tour of the portion of the Old City near the Saone River and then back to the boat for lunch. At 2:30, the Tour Directors led walking tours of areas in Lyon where there was good shopping. Our Cruise Director led 7 of us on a 1.5 hour bike ride along the Rhone River including a bike ride thru a large City Park with a zoo and lagoon. It was an easy ride, no hills. Day 12 Wednesday. On to Paris! The ride on the TGV was fast and smooth. After we arrived, we waited at the train station while members of our group went to the bathroom, which took over 30 minutes as there were limited facilities in the train station, (please people use the toilet on the train!) We then boarded buses for a 3+ hour tour of Paris. There were 2 stops for pictures. We arrived at the Intercontinental LeGrand Hotel around 5:30. We were given our room keys on the bus, which was nice. Dinner was on our own. There were plenty of good restaurants within 5 to 10 minutes walk from the hotel. There were some complaints about the hotel, but we had no problems. Paris hotel rooms tend to be smaller than in America. Day 13 Thursday - a full day in Paris: We started with a breakfast for the Tauck group in a separate dining room in the LeGrand, then it was off to one of 3 museums for a 90 minute guided tour. You had to pick between the Louvre, the Orangerie or the Orsay. Most people chose the Louvre. Tauck provided buses to and from the museums. You could stay longer at the Museum, which we did at the Louvre. Since we all went in as a group, we didn't get an individual ticket, so we had to stay in the Scully section of the Louvre where the Mona Lisa and lots of the big name exhibits were located. Once you leave that section of the Museum, you had to have a ticket to get into the other sections, which we didn't have. We then walked over to Notre Dame Cathedral, about a 20 minute walk. We got there about 12:30 and it only took 10 minutes to get in, free of course. Later in the day, that line was much longer. You'll spend about 30 minutes in the Cathedral. You can walk around the outside easily to view this amazing building. The line to walk up the towers was hours long and you had to buy a ticket. Tonight was the farewell dinner at the fabulous and famous Fouquet on the Champs Elysees. Day 14 Friday: Tauck provides transportation to the airport in small groups as everyone is going home on different days and times. We stayed 2 extra days in Paris. There is so much to see in Paris that you need the extra days to see the sights and dine in French style. We just walked along the streets and picked a restaurant that looked good, and they always were. Ken's Paris notes & tips: Buy tickets to the major attractions from the concierge at your hotel before you go to avoid long ticket lines. We found no vendors on the streets that sold tickets to attractions like you see in New York or Las Vegas. Get the audio guides at the attractions, they cost 5€ cash each set. Guided tours are great, but the schedule for those tours doesn't easily line up with where you are. It's hard to hit a time specific for these tours given Paris traffic and your need to see as much of Paris as you can in a few days. Buy tickets for the L'Open Paris Hop on Hop Off, a double decker sighting seeing bus that allows you to hop on & off. (http://www.paris.opentour.com/fr/) We paid 38€ each for a two day pass. The one day pass was 31€. The concierge sold us the vouchers. This company has 4 routes, which covers a very large amount of the City. The "Big Bus" is cheaper but has only one route and covers a lot less of the City. It is wonder watching this amazing City from above the street level on the open upper deck. Everywhere you look in Paris, there is something worth seeing. Bicycle rentals are available all over the City in on-street kiosk style bike racks. The system is called Velib. Just put in a credit card, open an account and then pick your bike from the racks. The cost is only 1€ per hour. The bikes have 3 speeds, hand brakes, headlines, taillights, baskets and locks. There are many bike lanes and paths in Paris and most bike riders use the busy Paris streets without a problem. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g187147-c183666/Paris:France:Velib.Bike.Sharing.System.In.Paris.html If you go to Versailles, take a 1/2 day private tour including transportation from your hotel. Your concierge will arrange it. The tour guide can skip the lines. It takes about 30 minutes to get out to Versailles. You can take the subway to Versailles on your own, but the ticket lines are hours long. Doing the Louvre on your own is a long day. The lines are daunting. Get a guide who can skip the ticket lines. Do the Seine River Cruise on your own. The boats leave the docks every 20 minutes or so, and tickets are cheap and you can just walk up and buy them. The docks are located near the Eiffel Tower at the Bateau Mouches. Don't be intimidated by all the tour buses. During the summer, the lights on the buildings take effect around 10pm, if you want to see Paris at night. The last boat goes out at 11pm. The tour takes 55 minutes. Other folks reported that the Seine Dinner River cruises were great. http://www.bateaux-mouches.fr/en Do walk along the Seine River walkways. There are lower walkways and upper walkways along the streets over looking the river. There is a section of the lower walkway where the City imports sand every summer to create beaches with lounge chairs, umbrellas, Volleyball courts, dance floors, misters - all free. The Parisians flock to this area on nice days. Feel free to email me with questions at kentennis@cox.net   Read Less
Sail Date July 2014

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