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April 4, 2013 Viking Danube Waltz Current events -- the Dow is at record highs, currently 14500. + Cyprus's financial troubles has had some effects recently -- fear that it will fail and with that, bring markets down severely. ... Read More
April 4, 2013 Viking Danube Waltz Current events -- the Dow is at record highs, currently 14500. + Cyprus's financial troubles has had some effects recently -- fear that it will fail and with that, bring markets down severely. Banks have been closed, limits on ATM withdrawals and large depositors may have to experience losses to cover the Gov't debt. Other news -- North Korea threatening nuclear war against So. Korea and US -- moving missiles to their east coast... only time will tell if this is real or rhetoric from their new young leader. Check in at British air went smoothly, however, security did want to open my roll-on to see the small bag of PC accessories. Getting to the airport early helped to avoid the long lines later. The flight was comfortable, a Boeing 777 -- we had opposite isles, 23C and D Service was excellent, a meal (pasta) was very nice, wine, beer and mixed drinks were complimentary. Before landing in London, we were served a muffin and coffee, tea etc. The connection in Heathrow was another story... We had to get from terminal 5 to terminal 3 -- We thought that 90 minutes between flights would be a breeze... not so. Getting to terminal 3 took about 30 minutes -- then going through security was one of the worst experiences we've had in our many years of travel. Our luggage had to be hand inspected -- as did many others. The process was painfully slow. After about another 30 minutes and much frustration with how everything in our carry on was taken out for a closer look, we raced to the gate (another 7 minute walk)-- the flight was "closing" as we ran towards the desk and bus waiting to depart. Another unexpected challenge was having to carry our bags up and down steps to and from two planes that did not have jet ways. The flight to Prague was 1hr. 30 minutes and uneventful. A sandwich and soft drink then a brief nap... we arrived on time -- finally in Prague. Collecting our luggage and Passport control took another 30 minutes, then we exited to meet our Viking contact -- we waited briefly for 2 other couples who were also going to the Hilton (they were from Arizona). It's 30 degrees and overcast, but NO snow! The ride to the hotel took about 35 minutes. Road and residential construction in the heart of the city is beyond belief. Traffic as a result moves slowly. Patience was tested once again. Check in began with meeting Blanco -- she is our Viking contact at the hotel. We spent about 30 minutes with her, learned the schedule of tours, options and events. She's there from 8 AM to 7PM should we need assistance. Check in at the reception desk was easy. Martin had already seen from the record that Lucie Balazova (emailed her from US with power questions) had taken care of our preferences. Our room 2003 is just as we asked. Near the "lift" -- and king bed. The hotel and room are first class. Quiet, every amenity we could expect, plenty of 220 V outlets (only one 110V in the bathroom) a large safe, big enough for the largest laptop possible...we unpacked, (my pillow arrived fine in the vacuum travel bag) we then freshened up and decided to split a salad and sandwich (about $50.00) before collapsing -- so very tired from the full day of travel. Tomorrow -- breakfast then a city tour -- the evening at the opera... ------------------------------------------- April 5, 2013 Prague We awakened (several times) and then finally at 6AM -- dressed appropriately for the morning tour of the city with Viking. It's 30 degrees with slight wind and overcast. It's turns out to be exactly the same temperature in NJ! The "included" breakfast in the Hilton was excellent in every way! From immediate seating and wait staff attention, to the wide selection of meats, fish, breads, juices and such. The dining area was immaculate and everything on the buffet beautifully presented. Omelets and other egg choices were prepared to your order. We joined the Viking group of about 18 to tour with Renatta and her driver for the next 3 hours. The bus was clean and comfortable. Vaux hearing units were provided for the walking portions. As we passed through the city "the lesser" old and new, Jewish quarters etc. Renatta did an excellent job describing in detail ... and answered any questions we had. Our first stop was about 20 minutes from the hotel at the Prague Castle -- we walked over cobble stone and other rough surfaces. One gentleman in a wheelchair did have difficulties with some of the surfaces. We had cursory tours of the St. Vitus Cathedral and of the gardens and museum areas. More in depth tours were available for purchase if anyone wanted to leave the group. A brief stop at the stables -- where we enjoyed tea and hot chocolate. The cost was about 4.00 per cup!! But good! We were reminded by the waiter to tip ONLY if service if deserving. Leave nothing otherwise. After a couple of bus moves, at noon, we walked across the Charles Bridge, rubbed the St. John plaque (The Saint, not the dog) on the statue to assure our return to Prague, then walked into the old town square to see the "Astronomical clock". We arrived exactly at 2 minutes to 12, just in time to see (and video) the fascinating display of the 12 apostles and sound of the bells. Following that, Renatta suggested a local nearby restaurant -- We and another couple (Stan and Barb Foster from north of Pittsburgh) easily found the place (The address of the restaurant-street name-Michalsk 25,Prague 1-Old Town, located in Richter house, restaurant name V cípu) and enjoyed a delicious breaded schnitzel lunch with potatoes, 2 large pieces of meat, I had wine, Diane a beer, the total for the meal was about 11 dollars! Great service, fabulous value and nice atmosphere... Highly recommend it! We walked another ½ mile to the bus, then to the hotel. Traffic much more than we recalled from our visit in 2001. We tipped the driver equivalent of US $2.00 and guide $5.00 (100 crowns). Noticed that most of the guests did tip. Stopped at the Albert supermarket opposite the hotel and purchased ham, cheese, rolls and wine to have for a light lunch... delicious rolls make the sandwiches perfect. We also purchased Palatka (something we in the US reserve for holidays, they eat everyday). Note: We had difficulty using the Mileage Plus Visa card. The cashier could not find a way to process the charge. A long line of angry customers grew even more impatient as she continued to every trick she knew ... we ended up having to use cash for this purchase. Our room had not yet been cleaned so, wanting a nap we called to ask housekeeping to return at 6 while we were out for the evening. Don Giovanni at Estates theatre, we had ordered the tickets on the internet and had them mailed to NJ. A taxi arranged at the Viking desk (200 koruna -- 10.00 plus tip) Great performance (R) rated by our standards... 3 hours, tough seats to sit on for that long. Coats were required to be checked (tips were expected). The cab ride back to the hotel was "negotiated" at 250 korunas... + tip. The ride back took less than half the time there, the result of one way streets. A nightcap then to bed. Tomorrow is an easy day.... nothing planned except the Madam Butterfly at the State Opera Theater. Saturday, April 6, 2013 Another gray day, still in the low 30's, ... after breakfast we did a bit of shopping (for snacks) just at the other supermarket (behind albert's) -- more bread, cold cuts and soft drinks. Total about 10.00 US. We later arranged for car service for the opera, (thru the Hilton) at 6PM. caught up on some emails, did some reading and took a nap. The ride to the theater was another near disaster... We clearly told the Viking rep and the driver to please note the address of the opera... (we had been warned in the letter that came with the tickets to do so as the National Theater logo often leads to venue confusion) -- well, no matter how careful we thought we were ... we were dropped off at the wrong place. Fortunately, a young man working in the box office at the National theater called the Hilton for us, the car was sent back immediately for us... we made it to the State Opera Theater with enough time to leisurely check coats and be seated in the third row, center!! The 3 hour Madam Butterfly opera was beautifully done as was the opera house. The performance, the voices, the sets, the ambiance, the 65 pc orchestra all made for a delightful last evening in Prague. (Butterfly was about 250lbs. and about 40, as was Pinkerton.) The car was waiting, the ride back to the hotel was 5 minutes or less -- at a 200 crowns. We made & split a sandwich, did some packing, Diane ironed a few items, tomorrow we leave for Passau and the Viking Prestige. ------------------------------------------------------------- April 7, 2013 Lovely breakfast, checked out at 12, identified our luggage, then boarded the bus for the 4 hr. ride to Passau and the Prestige. Helga was our guide, Martin the driver. The temperature as we climbed the Bohemian mountains dropped to -2 C. The rolling hills and evergreen scenes thru the Forrest were beautiful even with the gray sky. The grassy areas were snow covered, the many homes along the way and small villages added to the charm of the country. We stopped briefly about half way at a lovely gas station for a snack and rest facilities. The pastries were delicious, tea and coffee available -- reasonably priced and very accommodating. As we reached Passau, the light snow had changed to rain. We quickly boarded, then checked in at reception and found cabin 304. The ship is immaculate, the decor beautiful, the public areas appear very attractive and comfortable. (except for the rough toilet paper which we complained about they were aware of the issue). Viking DOES LISTEN and respond to guest issues!! In no time, our luggage was delivered, we unpacked, had plenty of drawer and hanging space for the modest amount of clothing we brought. Freshened up, then did a bit of ship browsing to get some idea of what was where, then joined Sue, Tom, & Mary from Ohio in the lounge for wine and a presentation by staff of events and tours planned for the week. Standing room only -- not enough seating to accommodate all that came to hear the talk. Off to the dining room for dinner. Wine, Beer and soft drinks flowed freely (thanks to Viking Marketing and my suggestion a year or so ago) -- Diane and I each had the shrimp appetizer, then I the roasted salmon, she the veal, both were delicious, excellently prepared and nicely presented. Desert was fruit (tangerine) for me, coffee and a small pastry for Diane. Entre portion sizes were small, but adequate. Larger portions or additional servings were available for the asking. Back to the cabin to get some well needed rest! Tomorrow we start touring. April 8, 2013 Breakfast on board was another delightful experience. The buffet was filled with everything one might expect for the meal. Meats, fish, eggs, veggies, cereals, breads, coffee, juices and omelets made to order. A brief life jacket exercise, (a waste of time and no instructions) then a very interesting presentation on the EU. At 10:30 we met our group and guide (Sonya) for a 1.5hr walking tour of Passau. Old cobblestone streets easy to keep pace, Sonya who had been a geography teacher in her former life, did an excellent job keeping us together. At 12 we finished the tour at the cathedral, then walked back to the ship for lunch. We had two options -- buffet in the lounge -- or table service in the dining room. Lunch was soup, pasta, a Ruben, salads -- on the buffet tables there were all sorts of other selections and sides to go with anything one might decide on. Wine was available with the meal (complimentary). Nap time -- A delicious dinner (Chateau Briand) , was followed by a presentation on Mozart -- his life and music. Nicely done by program director, Wesley Peeman. -------------------------------------------------------- April 9th Salzburg (from Linz Dock) After a leisurely and delicious breakfast, (Tibor was our fabulous waiter) I was ready ...Diane was running late. Cloudy, but promising to warm to about 50, we could see the busses just steps from the ship. Checked our keys out, then boarded bus 5B (of 4 busses) with Veronica, our guide - for our 2 hour ride to Salzburg Austria, the birth home of Mozart. We will make a stop for snacks and rest rooms. The scenes from the road and the stop we made were absolutely gorgeous. Pictures do tell the story. From the road, as we approached Salzburg, (Salt Castle) Veronica pointed out locations where scenes in The Sound Of Music were filmed. (some were re-created in studios or elsewhere). All made to look like the actual sites. As we arrived in the town, the sun was bright, the temperature in the sun perfect! Great walking conditions. The streets paved with small granite cobblestone made for an easy and comfortable walking tour. We started in the new town, at the Mirabella Gardens, a gift from the bishop to his lover -- (he was denied permission from the church to marry) He ended up having 15 children with her, later, he ended up in prison for political reasons, where he died. She and the children asked for but were denied permission to visit him while incarcerated. from web site: The baroque Mirabell Gardens were used as a movie location for "The Sound of Music." What is not so well known though, is that the palace on the far end of the gardens has another romantic story: the original palace was commissioned by Salzburg's Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau in 1606, as a token of his love for Salome Alt, who was his lover and partner for over 22 years and gave him 15 (!) children. The tour took us to many historical homes of the famous -- the most important here is Mozart. Where he was born, the home he briefly lived in and so on. Sights that the Van Trap family stopped and scenes in the movie had been filmed. We walked over the chrome bridge with padlocks attached to it's chain link fencing...signifying lasting love, each lock had the names of the loving couple who placed it here. Views of the Danube from the bridge were spectacular! The pedestrian streets were very busy with tourists, locals and shoppers. Crowded at the historical sites, narrow meandering walks with high end shops and specialty restaurants, all kept immaculately clean. It was a perfect day. Veronica did a great job telling us of the history and the suggesting where we try the food... (at the square) we had lunch at Zipth Lager -- delicious and great service. Cost about 35.00 for two of us. Diane had the red sausage, I the wiener schnitzel. Beer and wine. Free use of the WC for patrons. Back to do some shopping -- famous chocolate Mozart Balls -- a pastry, some pins for the kids. More sightseeing then back to the Mozart birthplace for the walk to the ship. We must have walked 5-7 miles. The ride back (no stop) then cocktails with the captain for returning Viking guests -- then dinner. I had the salmon, Diane had the braised beef... excellent!!. Awa tried again to get the sound working on the TV -- This time she was successful. Found that the ship TV offers an excellent and wide variety of on demand movies (no charge). All the best and the latest releases. The entertainment system too, is state of the art. Music, TV, Movies, Voyage info,. and a connection for an ipod. The cabin too has more than enough AC connections -- both 220 and 110 and outlets on both sides of the cabin -- that's a first. The safe is large, the air conditioning very effective, plenty of drawer, cabinet and hanging space. Refrigerator, lighting in cabin and bath good, (a magnifying mirror in bath) beds comfortable entire ship kept immaculate. Larger than most shower tubes, plenty of hot water and hand held shower head is perfect. Tomorrow, Melk and the Abbey tour. After breakfast we boarded the Viking Busses (new and beautiful) for the short ride to the 900 year old Melk Abbey. It's raining this morning...Our tour guide Anita took us through the 3 hour excursion -- a huge facility of baroque architecture, not our taste, but incredibly detailed works of artistry and talent -- impossible to replicate today. Once the residence of the ruling family (Babenberg) it became a Benedictine monastery in 1089. Monks are active today, the school has 750 pupils today. Rooms in the Abbey are set up as you would find in most museums. Dramatic lighting, exhibits placed strategically and descriptions of items on display well written and positioned. (photos will tell the story). The tour was well worth the chill, rain and many steps it included. As the tour ended so did the rain... Anita did a superb job -- her English excellent, her knowledge enthusiastically shared. Everything about the tour was A+.. We returned to the bus and then the Prestige for lunch -- it too was as usual, delicious. Tomorrow, Vienna. April 11, 2013 Vienna -- tour guide Caroline Sailing thru the night, we arrived in Vienna at about 6AM. It's another great walking tour day. Broken clouds, promising to reach mid 50's -- perfect! At 8:30, we boarded the beautiful and comfortable (and CLEAN) Viking bus for the included city tour.. windows are kept especially clean -- great for photos! A short ride to the Ringstrasse (ring around the city) and it's many beautiful, interesting sights. We got to see the Opera House, St. Stephan's Cathedral... We were able to take photos in the cathedral -- a most impressive display of artistry, religious opulence and architectural design ... As for food, Vienna is well known for it's Wiener Schnitzel, Tafelspitz and Apple strudel... Coffee shops abundant, 100 art museums and other historical sights make Vienna a popular tourist destination. The food and pastries here are to die for (and from). At noon, it was back to the Prestige for lunch at 12:30 in the dining room (or optional Cafe lunch) served in the lounge. We rested after lunch so that we could stay awake later this evening when attending the optional concert at the stock exchange building, featuring 10 musicians, dancers and singers. After an early dinner for those attending the concert, we boarded busses for the 25 minute ride into the city for the event. Wow -- what a treat it was. There must have been about 200 guests -- all there from the 2 Viking ships (Prestige and Vienna). The acoustics in the large room we were seated seemed unimpressive ... that is until the music began, then WOW... these 10 players 4 women and 6 men knocked our socks off. Flute, piccolo, clarinet, first violin, second violin, viola, cello, concert master (violin) bass and piano -- sounded as if they were an orchestra of 65. Selections included waltz's, opera, and ballet. A copy of the program will follow in the photos. The program was beyond expectation, all we spoke with enjoyed the performance and felt it was well worth the price paid. (64 euros each) Returning to the ship, we opted for the goulash (soup) treat served in the lounge. Tomorrow, Bratislava Friday, April 12, 2013 Another cool morning 50's -- some drizzle, but no heavy rain. At 8:30 we boarded the bus for the city tour and the optional tour to the home of a resident. This was a really fun visit!! The ride from the ship to the home was about 30 minutes -- then as we were about 30 persons, the group was split into 2. We decided to go with the second group. As we approached, the lady (about age 70) was eagerly awaiting our arrival. This was the first time our guide visited here. We soon were cordially greeted and led into a small garden where the history of the family was briefly explained, our guide doing the translations. She was widowed at age 44 with the sudden death of her husband. The older of the two home sections (a one room house) was that of her husband's family. When first married, she and her husband (and her in-laws) all lived and slept in the one room. (When asked how she became pregnant, she said they had heavy blankets -- as did her in-laws) The larger part of the house, included a small kitchen, bath (no toilet) living room and some storage closets . Her daughter lived on the second level of the home, with her 2 granddaughters. She had prepared home made wine (from her backyard vineyard) cookies and a cheese pastry for us to taste. She had much to say about how her daughter and son lived... nothing good... Neither is married, both have children -- something she was obviously unhappy about...neither helps her with chores, nor the maintenance of the property. She has the vineyards, chickens, a dog, a cat and an outhouse. (Never connected to the sewage system). She was delightful -- shared many photos of the family, provided an opportunity for us to purchase souvenirs ... out guide seemed to also enjoy the candid look into this lady's life... much of which she openly shared with us. Back to the bus ... Busy night -- Farewell Dinner with Captain. Did some photos, emails etc., then readied for dinner -- What a surprise -- we are invited to Dine with the Captain!! Set for 8, each with a place card setting, we at with Captain Istvan Fekete, Artur Carvalheiro and 4 ship guests. (one couple, one young lady Donna and her step sister.) Dinner was outstanding -- Saved the menu -- Salmon Caviar & Crisp Potato Cake, Garden Green Lettuce & Caramelized Pear Salad, soup (lobster bisque) the entre we selected was the surf and turf -- Grilled Filet Mignon and Poached Jumbo Prawns .. Appetizer, delicious... Wine flowed, desert choices White Chocolate & Cherry Pudding or Fresh Fruits Cheese Plate ...any and all, deliciously outrageous. We learned that this was the captains 6th year with Viking, Awa (Head housekeeper) is his wife -- and that she has relatives in Brick NJ -- Small world. Tomorrow .... Budapest Saturday, April 13 After Breakfast, it's 8:30 and time for the Budapest City Tour... with our guide, Nora Three cities, merged in 1873 -- Buda and Obuda and Pest -- we will see Buda & Pest as they span both sides of the Danube. A short bus ride took us to where we passed through the city streets, making our way to the first stop at Heroes' Square. Monuments and historic buildings face the square. Great place and beautiful day for the photos that will help tell the story. Views from Buda Castle were especially great. Really the best images were those that we captured last night as we entred Budapest. The buildings all theatrically lit stood out as we had been told to expect. Time to return to the ship for our last lunch and final dinner on board the Prestige. This evening after dinner, we enjoyed local singers and dancers (Hungarian folkloric show)... another tastefully done treat by Viking. Said our goodbyes to the many aquaintences we made while on this trip. Tomorrow we are off to the airport at 11:30 for our BA flight from Budapest to Heathrow then Heathrow to Newark. Sunday -- April 14th Had breakfast, paid the bill, then sat quietly in the lounge waiting for the van to take 4 of us to the airport. (about 30 minute ride) Hardly any traffic. We were met by anothe Viking rep. (Richard) who took our luggage and accompanied us to the BA check in -- held our hand until we had to pass thru security. Passed that, then boarded the flight. Again, we had opposite isles --13C&D The connection in Heathrow was another story -- we had to go from Terminal 5 to 3... first a train, then a bus and on the bus the driver was speeding when all of a sudden he turned sharply and I went flying across the vehicle landing on my right knee and bumping foreheads with a lady who tried to stop me from falling. It was exactly 4:55PM -- just in case I need further medical atention. So far, I'm ok., not sure about the woman who tried to help, she may have a black right eye tomorrow. The flight from Heatrow was a financial loss for BA.. Only about 25% occupied, we were able to move to make ourselves more comfortable (stretch-out). Good mel, good audio/video selections wine and beer with meal -- no extra fees. Arriving in Newark, we thought to try out the GOES (Global Entry System) Kiosk program. What a pleasure! While lines of other arriving passengers waited for US Customs agents, we breezed thru, scanning our passports and fingerprints then presented the automatically printed pass to the officer as we departed the area. Must have saved at least ½ hour. Our driver was elsewhere at the airport, he promptly met us at door 7. The ride home was uneventful. Love to travel but always "no place like home" Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
I recently travelled from Lyon to Arles on Uniworld River Royale. The cruise ended April 14. The cruise was named Burgundy and Province. I had an excellent experience in regard to the ship, the staff , and the itinerary. I am writing ... Read More
I recently travelled from Lyon to Arles on Uniworld River Royale. The cruise ended April 14. The cruise was named Burgundy and Province. I had an excellent experience in regard to the ship, the staff , and the itinerary. I am writing because to highly recommend the dining experience on board this ship. The Maitre'd was Alexandre. He was a very positive, energetic and welcoming person. I found him to be very professional, thorough, and knowledgeable about food allergies and food preparation. I am allergic to gluten, MSG and most preservatives. I eat all fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats but they need to be free of chemicals and gluten. Not only did Alexander embrace the challenge, but he worked with the chefs and dining room staff to make sure that my food was safe and prepared carefully. I had excellent meals. I met with Alexander once a day to see how the menu could be modified so that I chose eat food from the menu for the following day. This required extra work and dedication. Because all the discussion took place in the library, we had a wonderful dining experience. The chef, Roger Demmers and his sous chef Caesar prepared wonderful meals and dishes. It was an adventure at every meal. The dessert chef Dalphina made me some wonderful desserts including a chocolate bomb...I think, and Baked Alaska. The sous chef, Caesar remembered me from a previous trip on the River Countess, and was able to prepare the creamy rice cereal that I brought from home. It was even prepared better that I could do it myself. Georgi prepared wonderful omelets each morning. Having food allergies such as mine, can be very challenging, embarrassing, limiting and frustrating for me, my husband and those with usi. I would like to thank the Dining room staff, the Kitchen staff and all the people involved in making this holiday a wonderful stress free dining experience. When one can eat like everyone else, enjoying fantastic food, the whole trip is enhanced. I would like to thank George and Violetta and many other servers for their professional work and their pleasant manner. I would highly recommend this cruise if you have a gluten allergy or food intolerance. Thanks to the extra work of Alexandre, the Maitre'd, I felt very welcome and included in the fantastic dining experience that everyone else enjoyed. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
We have just returned from the Apr. 4th Imperial Jewels in China. Wow. Before any other comments count - had hotels, food, sites all been awful, one element would have made it memorable anyway. Jin. He was our tour escort. He ... Read More
We have just returned from the Apr. 4th Imperial Jewels in China. Wow. Before any other comments count - had hotels, food, sites all been awful, one element would have made it memorable anyway. Jin. He was our tour escort. He endeared himself to us all. He not only had us laughing so often, always had our backs and filled our needs, seamlessly orchestrated all trip elements, but ALSO gave a 4 credit graduate course in the politics, history and economic development of China. Amazing. I actually feel truly sad each time I see his big full-faced squinting eyed smile in my mind's eye, when I realize I'll probably never see him again. He was the trip. Once beyond that, the highlights included a fabulous Ritz Carton in Beijing. Chef Nathan Brown made everyone so at ease and welcome with his constant presence in the lobby and dining room. The food and rooms were simply exceptional - along with the service of the restaurant wait staff. Top notch. The breakfasts and one buffet dinner were more than 5 star! Total treat. Also the trip sites (Wow, thanks Viking for the amazing 11 of 12 days of blue clear skies - we lucked out!!) were just as amazing as one might expect of China. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City - all the nationals visiting during grave sweeping - and being so sweet toward 'foreigners' - amazing. The Sacred Walk - OK, something minor after lunch. We didn't have a great Summer Palace tour - cold, crowded, and we didn't see a lot of it, not sure why. Then, the rickshaw, home visit, tea ceremony - all fantastic, especially with Jin's support. The 3 inter China flights were all on time and very nice, all airports clean and well run. Lunch boxes were always adequate, the Ritz one terrific, the next 2 OK, but good effort and decent. The Hilton in Xi'an was nice, totally comfortable. The Tang Dynasty Show was a winner, food and entertainment. The Warriors don't need our plaudits. Amazing, and local guide, Yale, was terrific. The time on the Emerald was perfect, beginning to end. The staff is above anything I can think of to say - every wait staff, room attendant - everyone was so sweet and there to make us happy. wow. The food was terrific. The ship is lovely, our cabin, 430, very nice. We loved the gorges, locks, learning to play Mahjong with Jin, carving vegetables, eating 1,000 yr old eggs Winking smile emoticon. The on-board tailor staff is incredible. Table service with Stan was incredible also. Also Debbie in the 5th deck lounge. It was all white glove service. The Chef is a keeper. Keep him. The school visit was my highlight - as a teacher I was delighted. Good for you for your sponsorship. Wonderful for me and my students to interact through postcards I brought and pictures I took away. Wuhan bells - beyond amazing. Shanghai Ritz is very nice, just more impersonal, with high service fees in their lounge, etc. Chef Brown in Beijing told us Stephen at Shanghai did a top - notch job - we'd say Chef Brown doesn't realize he and the Beijing RC is a cut above. The Acrobatic show, with Chinese family style dinner before were both just great! The few downsides were the jade factory and silk rug factory. The Jade factory had a really nice lunch. But prices are high for shopping - a too-rare chance on the trip. The silk rug factory was a major disappointment for us - we were so looking forward to the silk factory with the silk-pulling and shopping. It's a shame it was switched out from when we booked till we went, for the carpet site. The Mongolian BBQ is OK, but not worth loosing the silk factory. There are not enough chances to shop without being in a 'factory'. The one hour allotted at the end in Shanghai by the Gardens is NOT enough. We actually found the same objects at the airport upon leaving CHEAPER than the factory places we were taken to for 'lunches'. Ah, the BIG downside - Peking Duck dinner. I haven't read one review on Cruise Critic, or talked to one friend who's taken the trip from back to 2007 who's enjoyed the dinner. You can't mass produce Peking Duck. Why not offer suggestions and help in making local reservations for those who'd like them. The Opera separated and with some subtitles appears to be doing better. Also, the dinner for those who didn't go to Peking Duck was also 'yuk'. How about group Hot Pot? Heck, your Pecking Duck price per person is higher than Da Dong - and they provide a half duck for every 2 persons. Some of your guests got only one pancake with a slim slice of duck. Totally a bad choice. Luckily, we'd read enough on Cruise Critic to avoid that. We'd also read enough to learn about Black Sesame Kitchen in Beijing, which we visited for dinner on our own our first night in China. A full review of our night there is posted on Tripadvisor.com One thing that did surprise us and MANY - was the statement on website, etc. that wine and beer were available on all lunches and dinners, - only to find out it was ONLY on the ship. Come on, honest up. Wine is only available free on the ship. Your site is misleading on this issue, and many were unhappy with that. Over all - beginning to end - it was a trip of a lifetime. Well constructed, well executed. Thank you! Our only worry is we've done Viking's best - now what? Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
The American Cruise Line ship Independence is a very comfortable ship to cruise on. The cabin was very comfortable, water pressure good, and the shared spaces were very nice. The ship was clean and in good order. Our captain and crew ... Read More
The American Cruise Line ship Independence is a very comfortable ship to cruise on. The cabin was very comfortable, water pressure good, and the shared spaces were very nice. The ship was clean and in good order. Our captain and crew were pleasant and helpful. Food throughout the cruise was excellent. The tours we took were all very good. My only nit picky issue is that the lecturer on board was very much a generalist and did not provide enough depth. This was a wonderful relaxing cruise up the inter-coastal waterway. The small ship atmosphere gives you the chance to really meet your fellow vacationers. You get a much better feel for local culture on a small ship cruise. Our ship docked on islands a big ship just can't get into and many of our tours would not have been possible with large groups. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
I am motivated to write this review since the cruise was so outstanding. We were a group of 5 couples who are old friends.From the time we stepped off the plane in Prague and were met by the Avalon representative everything thing and every ... Read More
I am motivated to write this review since the cruise was so outstanding. We were a group of 5 couples who are old friends.From the time we stepped off the plane in Prague and were met by the Avalon representative everything thing and every day was like a well oiled machine. Management must be doing something right.Avalon transferred us to the Intercontinental Hotel in Prague. The hotel was in a perfect location for visiting this beautiful city. Two nights in Prague. We then transferred to the beautiful Panorama ship. Stateroom were well designed with plenty of storage space. The Bathroom with granite counter tops and a walk in shower was also designed with plenty of storage space. Our cruise director Mr. Akos Szalay was ever present and attentive to the guests. The crew members were friendly, professional and very attentive. The restaurant manager, Agos,did a fabulous job with the restaurant staff. I do not know how they can serve over 160 meals 3 x a day. Obviously, the staff works very hard. Our compliments to the chef "Orlando" for the quality and presentation of the the food. It was like eating in a 5 star restaurant. The ship is kept pristine clean from the staterooms to the decks. The included tour guides were excellent. This was our First River Cruise and it will not be our last.We will sail again on one of Avalon's Suite Ships. Our experience was so positive that I would never sail on a large cruise ship again. River Cruising is the best. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
Summary: If you want to take the Tulips and Windmills cruise to see the tulips (our trip started April 12, 2013 from Antwerp to Amsterdam), understand that you are guaranteed to see windmills but all bets are off regarding viewing fields ... Read More
Summary: If you want to take the Tulips and Windmills cruise to see the tulips (our trip started April 12, 2013 from Antwerp to Amsterdam), understand that you are guaranteed to see windmills but all bets are off regarding viewing fields of tulips. No one can control the weather which we learned changes daily and no one can control the tulip season which apparently varies year to year. This year we were too early. You are guaranteed to see them indoors at the Kuekenhof Gardens so do not let the weather give you pause. On all other counts the cruise was a delight. The port stops focused on walking through charming villages, viewing the unique architecture of the region, the continuing efforts to keep the water out, the famous Belgian and Dutch art, and of course the flowers. You also had ample time to sample the food favorites of each region - beer, chocolate, mussels, French fries, and waffles in Belgium and their counterparts in the Netherlands. This is peak time for river cruises in this area and there were always multiple river ships in each of the ports we visited. See below for more on ports. TIP: Don't miss the French Fries from Frituur Number 1 and chocolate from Chocolate Line in Antwerp. The French Fries with mayo were fabulous. Wasabi chocolate not bad either! Ship: The River Empress is a lovely ship commanded by its very able Captain Anton de Bot. The crew were wonderful and did everything possible to make our voyage memorable. They quickly remembered who you were and if you had any special needs or liked things a certain way. Amazing they could do this week after week. The public rooms were comfortable and roomy. The cabins were what you would expect on a river cruise, small but efficiently laid out. Plenty of nooks and crannies to stow stuff. There is space under the beds to store your luggage but if you have more than one suitcase you might have to use the closet. There was wifi in the public areas but it was pretty weak and very slow most of the time. Embarkation: There were about 21 of us who landed in Brussels in the early morning. We waited maybe 20 minutes for someone to show up from Uniworld. We were bussed to Antwerp and were able to get on the ship and offload our bags and have breakfast right away. We could not get into our cabins until 3 p.m. They gave us maps of Antwerp and many of use went off to see the town. There's lots to see in Anwterp. It's very walkable. Dining: The food was excellent and the staff easily accommodated all the various food allergies. And if you find something you especially like, they will bring it to you every meal if you want. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet style and included a wide variety of items for every appetite. Dinner was sit-down and included a starter, soup, entree, and dessert. There were usually 3 choices for each. Wine was included with dinners and the selections were perfect accompaniments to the menu. Portions were just right so it was easy to have all 4 courses. They often included something local to the area we were visiting. Other items: The gift shop was disappointing in that it did not stock anything from Belgium or the Netherlands. It may have been due to the other route this ship takes going from Amsterdam to Budapest. But a few local items would have been nice, in case you missed them in one of the towns. There was a fitness center with an elliptical, treadmill and other equipment on board. Massages were available and I heard they were wonderful. For those inclined there was daily exercise at 7:15 a.m. There is self-service laundry. In addition to the on-board piano player, there were special local groups to entertain us several times. They were ok. Most people disappeared to their cabins by about 9:30 p.m. The lecture one morning about Dutch art was excellent. Cruise extension in Amsterdam: The weather was not warm enough or the winds calm enough to sit up on the top deck. Again, that is just the timing of the cruise in April. We chose to start in Antwerp so we could spend more time in Amsterdam at the end. We booked our own hotel and did the city on our own. It is very easy to do. Everything is within walking distance. We allowed 3 days which was just fine and better than the Uniworld extension offering. The renovated Rijksmuseum is a must-see. There is a new Canal House Museum that is also worthwhile. Other ports: Not all of the ports we stopped at are listed by Cruise Critic so I will just write it here. There were included featured excursions, often walking tours of the town, in each port and sometimes there was even a choice. There were a few optional excursions - visit to Delft factory and the town, a bulb-growing farm, walking tour of Amsterdam. Each evening before dinner, the Cruise Manager told us about the next day's itinerary and deadlines for booking optional excursions. Having taken other cruises where the optionals were a must-do, these were less so. They were interesting but did not add appreciably to the experience. The walking tour to see the hidden gems in Amsterdam was a disappointment partly because it was a Saturday and because of the crowds, it was a great effort just to keep up with our guide. Delta Works near Veere was fascinating and Veere itself is a delightful town to walk/bike through. There is not much to see at the Delft factory and there are stores in other places where you can buy it. Skip the tour of Delft and just walk around on your own. Skip lunch as it takes up too much time and your time is limited. The Zuider Zee outdoor museum in Enkhuisen was very interesting. We went to Arnhem instead of Nijmegen because of the weather but Arnhem was fun to walk through. Hoorn was another lovely town. Actually all the towns are charming. The brick homes and the little streets go on and on. Nuenen, where Van Gogh lived for 2 years, was a lovely suburban village. It houses a museum which talks about the period when Van Gogh lived there. But the village looks nothing like the time when Van Gogh lived there. Use your imagination. It was a long bus ride. We had the choice of a full day at Keukenhof Gardens or half-day Kuekenhof and half-day Zaanse Schans. If the weather is sunny, do the full day at Kueknhof or half-day Keukenhof and relax on the ship in the afternoon. Zaanse Schans is very touristy. Every place you visit also sells souvenirs. Not worth the time. Tipping: Other cruise lines include tipping. Uniworld does not. I'm not sure what is the best method. I think I would prefer them to include gratuities and let us decide to give extra to those people who really made a difference in our trip. Also, having to have euro coins handy every day for the bus drivers and local guides was a nuisance. While they say that tipping is not required, you tend to feel obligated. Would be better if it were all inclusive. We plan to continue using Uniworld for our next river cruise. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
We have done River Cruises in Europe before, but this was our first in the USA, There are some differences in this inclusive cruise package depending on where you book - my friends booked through the National Trust and my wife and I ... Read More
We have done River Cruises in Europe before, but this was our first in the USA, There are some differences in this inclusive cruise package depending on where you book - my friends booked through the National Trust and my wife and I booked through Vacations To Go. My friends had an extra night in New Orleans at the Bourbon Orleans. We had just the one night at the Hilton Riverside included in the package and had to book the extra night on our own. We received a $700 discount plus a $100 Onboard credit. The American Queen docks right outside the Hilton. At Embarkation, our bags were tagged and collected at the Hotel and we didn't see them again until we were in our cabin. Our friend left her expensive carry on bag with the checked luggage at the Hotel and it never made it to her cabin - word to the wise, keep your carry on luggage, jewelry and documents with you. With flooding in the Upper Mississippi, we were facing a fast flowing current as we were running upstream. On our first night we had a generator problem - I never did find out how that affected the performance of the ship (or boat) however it necessitated our running ashore until repaired - apart from trimming a couple of Willows the boat suffered no apparent damage however we had to wait for the Coast Guard to come up to us and do an inspection before we were allowed to continue - as a consequence we were not able to stop at Oak Alley. Later, upriver, we had to also give up Helena, as our mooring area was underwater. Ship happens! Our cabin, #202, was great! especially after I saw the size of the cabins my friends were given. Check the size of your cabins - some are really small!. Check it out on the deck plan. Regina Charbonneau, who created the menus, was on board and supervised the kitchens and dining room. From what I have read there have been problems with service and food preparation on previous cruises and I think they, Regina in particular, are making a strong effort to improve food prep and service. I found the food to be very good - the only time I experienced a problem was when I was served a pasta entrée that was cold. The menu is varied and interesting. The Dining staff were obviously trying very hard to serve everyone promptly, however, as I know most of you who have travelled a lot have observed, we no longer have wine waiters, and the same guy is scrambling to put bread rolls on plates, get extra butter and pour wine - remember wine is complimentary, on this cruise, so I noticed that he was kept on the run refilling glasses that were emptying more quickly than if folks were paying for it , As a regular wine drinker, red wine in particular, I was quite pleased with the quality of the wine, as was my Australian wine afficianado table mate. The 640 miles of river between New Orleans and Memphis has a long, colorful and sometimes violent history from the Louisiana Purchase to the Civil War. The stops we were able to make were interesting, and as you probably know, 2 buses meet you at each stop and provide Hop On Hop Off free service, which was excellent - average wait time between stops was about 15 minutes. I find the river itself not very interesting, brown water and tree lined shores that varies little for the whole cruise, with the occasional Pulp mill or Chemical processing plant and of course the non stop barge traffic. Fortunately there is always plenty going on in the boat to keep you amused, when you are not eating! The evening entertainment was good and there were plenty of onboard activities including lectures from the onboard "Riverstorian". Excellent trip! I think it gets better each time as the staff gain more experience. You have all the amenities aboard that you would find on a Blue water cruise, and as one wag told me "The only Rock and Roll" is in the Piano Bar. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
During this review I will try to clarify some of the questions that have been asked on several Cruise Critic sites. On April 3rd we left England from a regional airport flying KLM to Amsterdam, we were met by a Scenic representative and ... Read More
During this review I will try to clarify some of the questions that have been asked on several Cruise Critic sites. On April 3rd we left England from a regional airport flying KLM to Amsterdam, we were met by a Scenic representative and waited a short time for another couple flying from another UK regional airport and we traveled to our ship in a very smart people carrier arriving in time for a warm welcome and time to meet our butler and room steward, we unpacked, changed and went to the welcome reception and an excellent glass of champagne. When traveling before with Scenic we had a Danube deck (top deck) cabin mid-ship this time we opted for a Rhine ( middle deck) deck cabin again mid-ship. Now the ship has been upgraded and the changes are all to the good, still clean uncluttered decor and furnishings plus the raise and lower screen on the balcony plus all ship butler service, the Scenic brochure is very clear on what is included and what is not, the people at the Scenic office are usually pretty good at answering your questions. We arrived in what has proved to be about the coldest spring on record. Our fellow passengers are mostly Australian. A few Canadians and British (last time it was equal numbers of Australians and Canadians then us Brits). Next day we opted for the Amsterdam canal trip with a short walking tour of Amsterdam which included tasting herring and a visit to a cheese shop to taste their on site made cheese. All walking tours were split into groups of which one was always for gentle walkers, our guide was excellent I don't think we had a duff one during the entire cruise some put more into their job than others for instance one distributed liquor chocolates on our way back to the ship. Thinking about it the whole trip kept coming up with little extras which were a surprise and unexpected, in fact by the end of the cruise at the port briefing each evening it became a standing joke ( these were carried out by our excellent cruise director Evonne and were not obligatory ) The food was excellent and we have eaten in some of the best restaurants in the country, the choice is very varied, we had a visit to the galley, how do they do it? Our chef was a young man from the former East Germany, nothing was to much effort he was very visible and always ready to talk I asked for and got the recipe for an excellent soup. In fact the food service was always of the best from breakfast in your cabin (Danube deck ) or early or late (River Cafe starboard of the lounge) or normal in the Crystal dinning room through lunch, what a choice! To dinner with the choice of eating in Portobello's, Italian you book this with the restaurant manager available depending on length of cruise once or twice, start with a glass of top class bubbly and continue with fine Italian wines. It is true that all but the very top of the range drinks are free that is all soft drinks, a good range of teas and coffees, all cabin mini bar drinks and bottles of water to good single malts, good gin and vodka labels plus very good wines at lunch and dinner and from the bar. The bar staff were very good and I mean very good they mixed their drinks well they cleared tables and took orders through the lounge and up on the to deck. Every day there was a different cocktail special plus a special martini on offer, my husband does enjoy a dry martini and the young man behind the bar got to know that he liked a very dry martini, it was almost waiting when he went to the bar, now that's service, my husband is sure it is the best martini he has ever had seeing as he has had them all over the globe that's saying something. The entire crew are so good it is difficult to know where to start, when required they all pitch in we were on Diamond we were supposed to have been on Pearl but her refit was not completed on time well obviously there was still some tweaking needed on Diamond (not that any of the passengers noticed) at one port while we were on a tour ashore, according to a few passengers who did not join the tour (you can do that) they changed all the beds and the cabin chairs plus other bits and pieces with all the crew even the hairdressers joining in. Wifi is free not easy to get on line sometimes one of the reasons evidently is so many passengers skipping etc. There are nifty little gadgets that are GPS enabled use them on your shore excursions or on board for info about the area you are traveling through we had a few hiccups but we got over them. Everyday there are maps and information sheets on the reception desk for the port and area you are visiting as well as the daily port briefing. Excursions there are so many to choose from sometimes it is difficult to decide all that we went on were very good. Bruges was so cold I was there as a teenager and I still recognised it its a timeless city, wonderful hot chocolate, we needed it, in the evening a display of Flemish dancing, straight out of an old master. The amazing Delta works what a fantastic example of modern engineering. Arnhem and the airborne museum followed by a visit to the airborne cemetery very moving. This evening a demonstration of Apple Strudel making. Tour of Venlo plus a towel folding demonstration it became quite interesting to return to our cabin to discover what towel animal or flower awaited us, tonight a disco with our ever present music man (who also joined the crew when required) some people let their hair down but it was not intrusive. Cruise down the Moselle, guided tour of Cochem and Reichsburg Castle then on to Bernkastel our tour choice was to travel to Luxembourg that was a bit of an eye opener. Cruise through the Rhine gorge to Rudesheim, onto a land train to the very interesting mechanical music museum. Next day Heidelberg we went to Hockenheim it was a Saturday and it was a motor bike day slight drizzle so interesting, to the museum up in the main stand on to the pits stand on the winners podium wave a pretend chequered flag finished off with watching the drift racing altogether a really good day ending with dinner, guided tour and concert at the Rastatt Palace, the dinner was a little long winded but the tour and especially the concert were very good. Our next choice was to the Alsace wine region I have never met such an enthusiastic wine grower and the wines we tasted were very nice indeed. Next stop the Black Forest the open air museum (a bit like Singleton in the UK) very interesting, lunch there and a demonstration of Black Forest cake making, the worlds largest cuckoo clock and the best water fall in Germany, busy day. Basel guided tour and Captains farewell dinner. Altogether a very good cruise of course there were one or two and I mean that few who were a bit annoying but the joy of cruising with Australians is that they don't hold back when people go beyond the pale it is also very interesting cruising with our commonwealth friends. We had several themed dinners, a couple of local music evenings plus a couple who played cow bells absolutely amazing and a zither player. We even met a couple who we met on our previous Scenic Cruise. All of this and more that I am sure I have left out without spending an extra penny, unless you want any laundry done. We will be cruising with Scenic again.Don't forget on our return from every excursion we were welcomed back on board by the Captain and Hotel Manager and offered a hot or cold drink and hot towel if the weather was warm, there was also hand sanitizer at strategic places around the ship. Happy cruising all. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
Our flight arrived in Amsterdam about 7am so we got our luggage, got a cab and arrived at the dock around 7:30. It was hard to tell which was our ship because many ships were all lined up next to each other at the dock. He got out to ... Read More
Our flight arrived in Amsterdam about 7am so we got our luggage, got a cab and arrived at the dock around 7:30. It was hard to tell which was our ship because many ships were all lined up next to each other at the dock. He got out to look for Helvetia, and it was the very last one. When we got to the ship, we walked through another ship to get to ours. We planned to just drop off our luggage, but the front desk took our names, let us keep our luggage there and told us to go get a hot drink and offered us breakfast. It was raining hard so we sat in the comfortable lounge, had a hot drink and a snack and waited for the weather to clear. We had a chance to talk to others who had just finished the cruise and get their feedback -- everyone was happy. Restaurants/shops that we tried to use credit card in Netherlands only took Mastercard. Several restaurants/shops in France/Germany would not take any credit card. Take plenty of cash with you -- we had to use ATMs to get more cash. Also keep 50 euro coin on hand for bathrooms -- some were free, some we had to pay for. Cabin very small (smaller than we're used to on the cruise ships). I know I saw the picture when we booked it, but when you walk in, there is a single size couch and my friend and I looked at each other like "where do we sleep?" The room steward quickly popped the other bed out of the wall and made it up. The beds were very comfortable for us. Not much room in between to maneuver. Our suitcases would not fit under the bed (we really tried but they were both too tall). We stood them up behind the door (our friends in another cabin kept theirs in the shower!) We made it work -- after all, we didn't spend much room in the cabins. Bottled water was provided in the rooms. There were several 220 outlets in the cabin, but only ONE 110, and that is the razor outlet in the bathroom at the very top of the ceiling. We were able to plug in our ipads to recharge, but if you plan to bring any type of heated curling iron, you will need to bring the converter & adapter. They had some adapters at the front desk, but you would need the converter & adapter for a curling iron. Hairdryers are provided. Wine was provided at lunch & dinner. Soft drinks provided at meals, otherwise, there is a charge. Only complaint was with the food. There was plenty of it, but compared to all the other cruise lines I have been on, the food options were lacking. Breakfast was great, buffet set up with fruit, steel cut oats, cereal, and you could order hot items off the menu, omelette, bacon, french toast, etc. You could eat lunch either in the dining room (order from menu) or upstairs in the lounge where there was a wonderful salad bar, along with soup and several hot items to choose from. Dinner was the most lacking for me, just not many choices of entree (you could always get salmon/steak and a couple of other entrees). For instance, one night was "surf and turf" which consisted of a sirloin steak and ONE large shrimp on top. We did have choice of filet mignon one night. We certainly didn't starve but just not up to par compared with other cruises (all 8 at our table were pretty well-traveled and all agreed on the food). The soups were very watery and a lot of the food was just tasteless. The 24-hour beverage station was handy to get tea, coffee, hot chocolate, water and cookies. The most fun I had was our free time in the towns we stopped at, loved looking in the shops & stopping at the wonderful cafes/bakeries to taste some delicious pastry with coffee. Get in shape to walk -- we averaged walking about 5 miles a day! Staff was just awesome, very friendly and eager to help. Cruise Director George Nakos was lots of fun, as was Bobby, the piano player. Viking arranged for 4 new Mercedes buses to follow the ship en route so when we went out for tours in the morning, the buses were there. Sometimes the ship sailed on down the river and the buses picked us up there, very well organized and coordinated. George went with us on tours, along with local tour guides. Only optional tour we took was the Colmar, France tour, which I highly recommend. We walked around the very cute town and of course had to stop & sample the pastries. The Rhine was too high to sail into Basel on last day. Poor George was making lots of calls to get alternate transportation for all on board. We had arranged private driver to pick us up at Basel port, so George arranged for him to meet us at the Basel airport -- Viking bus took us to the airport. On last day of the cruise, we received an email from United that our flight was canceled from Basel to Frankfurt (we did not book our flight through Viking). Didn't get an explanation why the flight was canceled, but when we got to Basel hotel, they told us that Lufthansa (United's partner) was on strike. So we got to the Basel airport the next morning at 6am, and they rerouted us -- by bus (lugging 2 pieces of luggage) to the train station, then train to Zurich airport (the train ride was nice). Long day home back to WV, but we made it (my checked bag didn't make it until the next day). We all loved the river cruise and will probably do another. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
After taking a wonderful Viking tour and cruise in the Yangtze river in China I was expecting a wonderful experience on the Rhine. The TV and Web promotions for this trip from Viking were also very enticing. My first surprise was with the ... Read More
After taking a wonderful Viking tour and cruise in the Yangtze river in China I was expecting a wonderful experience on the Rhine. The TV and Web promotions for this trip from Viking were also very enticing. My first surprise was with the meals. The menu showed a regular 3 course dinner "à la Americain" instead of a 5 course dinner "à la europeen". We were in Switzerland,France,Germany and Netherlands, after all! Table stewards were obviously fewer than expected and dishes took a long, long time to arrive. Food was well prepared but not traces of "gourmet" at all as promoted. Second surprise was the lack of enthusiasm the program director showed for the places we were going to visit. His presentations were obviously taken from Wikipedia and did not have the kind of information we have had in other river cruise lines in Europe or even from Viking in China. Obviously for this young program director, this was yet another trip on the same river with boring people that are not interested in history. Third surprise was no folkloric presentations at all. I was expecting at least some traditional French Alsatian and German Black Forest singing and dancing groups for entertainment on board and/or during the excursions. None whatsoever. The people who entertained on board or on the excursions played a couple of traditional songs and then only American popular songs. I had to ask the pianist to play some French and German traditional music! Two excursions were obviously designed just for drinking. Specially disappointing was the visit to Drosselgasse in Rudesheim. First, four people on the group were left behind because we were slow walkers and wanted to take pictures. Since the program director did not tell us the name of the Restaurant we were going to we got totally lost. We finally backtracked our steps and saw the program director at the door of a restaurant. They had a group of musicians who again played a couple of polkas an then only American music. The dinner was also "à la Americain" starting with a lettuce salad and the, what Americans think is traditional "German", pork, mash potatoes and sauerkraut. No local food choices on that dinner. Lots of white cheap wine and some extra high alcohol kummel, or similar, that people had to drink from metal glasses screwed to a pole. The other drinking excursion was to taste beer in a biergarten in Cologne. I decided to skip it after the experience in Rudesheim. All in all I think the Viking Sun ship is a little run down and the best personnel of Viking was sent to the new 10 river longships they inaugurated in this year 2013. Hope quality in my next trip on Viking will compare to the tour-cruise in China which I really recommend. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
Perhaps river cruising is somewhat a well-kept secret as we found very few reviews across multiple sites prior to our booking and our hope is that this review will introduce you to a new way of travel and/or influence your decision to ... Read More
Perhaps river cruising is somewhat a well-kept secret as we found very few reviews across multiple sites prior to our booking and our hope is that this review will introduce you to a new way of travel and/or influence your decision to experience UniWorld. We are 40/50ish couple from Sonoma/Napa Valley with a passion for food, wine and sailing and while this was not our first Luxury Link (LL) purchase, it was our first cruise and organized tour of any kind. This was a last minute getaway (within 3 weeks from departure) and LL and UniWorld collaborated seamlessly to finalize logistics timely (ticketing, transfers, land extensions, etc.) for the Imperial Cities Danube River cruise starting in Instanbul (land extension) and finishing in Vienna. From the moment we stepped aboard our floating boutique hotel to disembarkation, we received continuous outstanding service, ate exquisitely prepared meals with local influences paired with delicious wines, enjoyed onboard entertainment (either by classically trained house musician Freddy or local musicians/performers) and explored each destination with expert guides. Boutique Boat: Overall, we consider Uniworld's website extremely resourceful and accurate at representing the boat, the itinerary, and all other aspects of the cruise. The info and photos were accurate, in other words, there were no surprises. We were greeted by the ships crew in Guigui, Romania where we boarded our ship. My heart skipped a beat at first; as there isn't much curb appeal to the Princess from the exterior (or any other river cruisers we passed along the way); however, a modern with European bistro flare, well equipped, meticulous boutique ship awaits you on the inside. The ship is plenty large to accommodate guests and crew for all on board activities. We enjoyed lectures and entertainment in the lounge, relaxing and dining on the patio deck at lunch or while cruising, and strolling through towns and cities on the free bikes offered by UniWorld. Stateroom: We upgraded to a Category 1 stateroom (Cabin 423) which gives you a room on the Rhine Deck (top floor) and a door that opens to the great outdoors (not more square footage). The use of space in the stateroom is brilliant with plenty of closet space and luggage storage under the bed (2 x 29, 1 x 20 inch luggage, camera bag). The beds were extremely comfortable with linens like silk. Bathrooms are small compared to hotel standards, however, as boat owners, offered more than enough space, were totally functional and equipped as described with L'Occitane shampoo, conditioner, hand soap & lotion. Food & Wine: We ate exquisitely prepared meals with local influences paired with delicious wines. The variety for breakfasts (served buffet style with made to order chef specials, eggs, omelets, etc.), lunches (patio or dining room options available) and 4 course dinners was typically a spectrum of delicacies with fantastic quality. They catered to specific needs and half way through the cruise requested a guest survey to improve the dinning experience. The next day, guests including our suggestions were implemented. The complimentary wines were worth exploring and for those interested in expanding their tasting horizons, the wine list was interesting and fairly priced. Excursions: We took advantage of most included and many optional excursions (additional fee) and considered the majority to be fantastic with tour guides that were subject matter experts and enthusiastic teachers. Often there were overlapping excursions and choosing was difficult; however, there was typically an overview tour (e.g, city) and an alternative more specific tour (e.g., fine arts museum). Uniworld had excursions for both the first time or repeat visitors and did a wonderful job ensuring enough guides to accommodate group size and ensure a more personalized experience. We appreciate the balance required for each tour and time needed. While many excursions are half or full day and guides are sensitive to group pace, many are fast paced for content and so the time allocated may not be enough for all (e.g., a half day at a fine art museum may be frustrating for a real art buff.) For the adventurous (us) with time to research/plan in advance (not us), you may consider planning your own excursions/ exploration which adds to the overall experience, explore at your pace, and this approach could also be money saving if cost is your concern. Given the nature of this specific cruise, there was a significant amount of motorcoaching involved for some destinations and each time, the accommodations were top notch (brand new coaches with AC and WCs). The convenience of the excursions adds to the overall relaxation. Guests are expected to tip the guides and drivers (and they are so good you'll want to). Uniworld does a fantastic job to recommend customary tipping guides, however, we look forward to 2014 and our understanding that UniWorld will adopt a truly cashless system and include all gratuities for excursions in the package price. We considered the following Optional Excursion highlights: Bosphorous cruise, Spice bazzar, Night in Budapest, Bodor Mayor Horse Farm, Service: The service we received was as wonderful as the places we visited. The entire River Princess crew is to be commended for delivering exceptional professional, helpful, and friendly service. It is clear that UniWorld prides itself on service delivery. Our expectations were exceeded in every level and we look forward to going aboard a UniWorld river cruise in the very near future. Our only dilemna, which one? Thank you LL for introducing s and UniWorld for providing a most memorable vacation. River cruising is a wonderful way to experience a destination and will certainly become a new way of travel for us! Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
We had a great time on this Tauck River Cruise. The whole intent of this trip was to go to Holland to see the flowers in the spring. We decided to add a river cruise to our trip. We planned our trip to arrive 3 days prior to the cruise ... Read More
We had a great time on this Tauck River Cruise. The whole intent of this trip was to go to Holland to see the flowers in the spring. We decided to add a river cruise to our trip. We planned our trip to arrive 3 days prior to the cruise and booked our own hotel and flight. Much to our surprise, Tauck arranged for our transfer from the airport to our hotel. This was just the first instance of exceptional service that we received. After our 3 days pre-cruise, we arranged for a taxi to take us to the cruise port. The Swiss Sapphire is a beautiful ship. The decor was very classy without a lot of glitz. Upon check in we were told to wait in the lounge where a light lunch was being served. After a short wait our room was ready and we were shown to it. The room was small but certainly livable. We had a small balcony that you could put one foot on and lean out the sliding glass door but not any bigger than that. There was plenty of storage and our suitcases fit under the bed. The group areas of the ship consisted of the lounge, lido, dining room and the outside decks. The lounge had a piano player every night who was fantastic. Most of our time was spent there. Every night there would be a briefing on the next days events. The dining room had a mix of tables for 4 or 6 and was open seating for all meals. Lunches were buffet with dinners being 4 course meals with choices of meat, fish or vegetarian every night. You could also choose steak or chicken instead during dinners. Breakfasts were buffet also but you could order eggs any style or pancakes or waffles too. The lido was in the rear of the ship and had a delicious cappucino machine and cookies available all the time. During the morning there was continental breakfast available. At lunch one of the chefs made stir fry but there was also a panini machine and salad and soup in the lido. Dinner was italian but it had to be reserved and we didn't experience it. The staff was truly wonderful. The food was consistently very good to excellent. Every stop we had private local guides take us to the city and tell us about it. The guides communicated through a box everyone wore with an earpiece. They worked very well. The bus drivers were amazing and drove us through areas that a bus shouldn't have fit but did. The Tauck guides kept everyone organized and really did an exceptional job. Most nights there was some kind of outside entertainment in the lounge like a German band or string quartet. There were also several nights spent on excursions. We had booked the same hotel Tauck uses for after the cruise by ourselves. We were driven there in a bus with everyone who had booked through Tauck. After our 3 days post cruise we were again taken to the airport by a Tauck driver. There were so many extras that were included and unexpected it is impossible to list them. Examples include cookies on the bus when leaving a city, water bottles in the lounge for everyone to take with them on excursions and special meals in local restaurants. I could not recommend Tauck more. This was our first organized tour although we have taken many ocean cruises. We would not hesitate to take a trip with them again. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
We took the Tulip Time cruise on the AmaDante this April and really had a wonderful time. From check-in to check-out, nothing could have been better. The cruise director was friendly and extremely helpful. Our cabin was spacious and well ... Read More
We took the Tulip Time cruise on the AmaDante this April and really had a wonderful time. From check-in to check-out, nothing could have been better. The cruise director was friendly and extremely helpful. Our cabin was spacious and well set-up. We love having a FrenchBalcony. We had room to stash our luggage and plenty of space to store our clothes. We found the food to be very good and the wine with our meals was delicious. The waiters were, on the whole, terrific. A few needed a bit more training., but were personable none-the-less. The tours were with excellent tour guides and very worthwhile. We did not sign up for any optional tours, but were perfectly satisfied with the included offerings. I like AMA Waterways because of all of the above, but the spacious cabins are really a clincher. We checked out some other companies and Viking offers much smaller cabins in the same price range. Luckily, we had good weather for our cruise. I recommend taking a Tulip-Time cruise near the end of the season to see the most blooms. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
My wife and I have been a number or cruises but this was the first River Cruise.We traveled from JFK to Japan, a long 14 flight and then had a 2 hour layover in Japan until our 3 hour flight to Shanghai. A lot of time on board a plane and ... Read More
My wife and I have been a number or cruises but this was the first River Cruise.We traveled from JFK to Japan, a long 14 flight and then had a 2 hour layover in Japan until our 3 hour flight to Shanghai. A lot of time on board a plane and even with the economy comfort seats on Delta it was hard to get some good sleep. When we arrived in China a representative from Viking was there and waiting to escort us to our hotel. We stayed in the Ritz Carlton and the hotel was lovely, the rooms were clean and spacious.The transfer to the ship was smooth and easy and Viking took care of transporting the luggage from the hotel to our suite on the ship. The procedures for moving our luggage from hotel to ship, ship to hotel and to the airport were handled in easy and professional manner at all times by Viking.The Viking Emerald was a small but well laid out boat, our rooms were nice with a small balcony. The restaurants on board had a wide variety of food to meet every passengers needs and the service was very attentive. The excursions in every port were interesting and Viking provided local guides for some of the excursions. These guides added a depth of knowledge that also had a personal touch. The ability of the guides to speak in near perfect English was amazing. Our tour guide "Jimmy" (they all get to pick their own English name), was with us from start to finish. He also provided a lot of history as well as an insight into the life of an average Chinese family.Viking and it's employees did a wonderful job from start to finish and I would not hesitate to take another cruise with Viking. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
Everything about this river cruise was first rate. Booked air travel and transfers through Viking. All flights from Phoenix to Munich were on time with no delays both coming and going. We were greeted in the Munich ariport by a Viking ... Read More
Everything about this river cruise was first rate. Booked air travel and transfers through Viking. All flights from Phoenix to Munich were on time with no delays both coming and going. We were greeted in the Munich ariport by a Viking Representative and transferred by a Viking bus to the ship in Passau. The ship was beautiful and clean. Our second level cabin with a French balcony was very accomodating. Recommed the french balcony as the first level is below water level and the window if rather high to see out. The breakfast and lunch buffets were great and the evening meal was excellent all nights. Each day there was a guided tour of the city we were visiting each day. We also had time to do things on our own in the afternoons. The highlight of the river cruise was coming into Budapest at 10pm. All of the bridges, monuments and government buildings were all lighted up and very spectacular. We stayed in Budapest two extra days and also booked this though Viking. We stayed at a 5 star hotel that was just beautiful. I highly recommend this cruise and will definately book another Viking River cruise again. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
I joined the AmaDagio after 10 days in Europe during which I broke my shoulder and hand  I am young enough (50), but was feeling fragile. When I saw the crew waiting at the train station to welcome me I nearly cried with relief. They took ... Read More
I joined the AmaDagio after 10 days in Europe during which I broke my shoulder and hand  I am young enough (50), but was feeling fragile. When I saw the crew waiting at the train station to welcome me I nearly cried with relief. They took my bags and my arm and I knew right then they would take good care of me and make this week a dream. And that they did. I travelled solo during this portion of my trip and the small, intimate environment made sure I met nearly all of my sailing mates. There were family groups of siblings, girls get-away groups, couples, a few singles and three wine clubs (this was a wine themed cruise). There are usually no children on this type of sailing but I did see one grandmother with her daughter and two teen granddaughters. They seemed to enjoy themselves and were well behaved. It was a wonderful mix of people and all were courteous, well educated and well traveled. Many owned their own businesses or were enjoying early retirement. This was NOT a bunch of elderly folks or people out for a cheap vaca and freebies cramming 4-6 into a cabin! No spring breakers or wild partiers, either. Most people were in the 40-60 age range. If you want a Water park, casino and disco, this is not for you. If you want family fun, this is not for you. I compare it like Vegas to Vienna. If you want culture, sophistication and class, this is for you. The wine lectures, the history and unique excursions are second to none. From the moment I stepped on board I was treated like a valued member of the family. The cabin was spacious, although not as large as my Med ocean cruise, but completely adequate. The bed was soft and had a fluffy duvet. There were plenty of pillows and the bathroom amenities and towels were excellent. There was an in-room entertainment system for watching movies and TV or using the internet. I had my own laptop and had no problem logging on each night and uploading pictures for friends. I was in the cabin one day when the housekeeper came to clean. I invited her to do so and was amazed by how thorough she was. She literally scrubbed the bath from top to bottom  floor, walls, glass, and fixtures until they shone. If they do that every day you could eat off those surfaces!! The French balcony was not as nice as a full one, but by sitting in the lounge chair next to the railing, it was an acceptable substitute. I really did not miss that at all. It is all about smelling the fresh air and being able to lean out over the water. The excursions. Wow. These were all included and the best I could have imagined. We visited a truffle farm  my favorite  and saw a little dog, Aimee, search for and retrieve the precious nuggets. Afterwards we tasted the truffle oil and had wine. We had a market tour and cooking class that was world class. We toured an olive farm and tasted the fresh oil and the tapenade. And there was the chocolate and wine pairing!! Need I say more? We saw villages where time has stood still, views beyond compare from hills over the river, and all of this done with the best guides ever. And I would be remiss for not calling out our Tour Manager, Elke. She was so kind and knew everyone of us by name. When a couple of us who were less mobile wanted to go on a market trip, she took us personally by taxi so we could skip the walking portion. Now that is customer service!! And speaking of service and thoughtfulness..I was on a trip over the Easter holiday. On Sunday we found an Easter Basket on the bed with a Godiva chocolate bunny. Later in the week it was a beautiful woven scarf thanking us for being their guest and inviting us to their new cruises on the Mekong  which I WILL be doing!! I will say the service was above and beyond anything I have experienced on an ocean cruise. I will be a river cruiser from now on! I am a fan of AMA! Entertainment. We had wonderful classical (a string trio that brought tears to my eyes) and regional (think Parisian cabaret singer) entertainment on board. There were also some silly fun things like a comic and a theme night with 60s music. Food. I cannot say enough about the wonderful food and wine. I never did get up early enough to enjoy the breakfast  I was on holiday!!  However, the other meals were divine. The lounge was always open with drinks and snacks. The wine was not complimentary in the lounge, but that was a choice for a more relaxed setting. A buffet style offering of some of the choices in the main dining area was set up in the lounge for those who preferred it. It was always possible to sit on the outdoor deck with a snack or drink any time of day. And the rooftop deck was also a site for gatherings and groups with bottles of wine and snacks. But the dining room.oh the wondrous things that they had there! I made it a point to go to the main dining room for every lunch and dinner. This is not my usual practice on the bigger ocean ships since I feel uncomfortable as a solo traveler with all the couples and the assigned seating. This was different. The tables were set up in twos, fours, sixes, eights and more and you could sit anywhere. Oftentimes people I had met during the day asked me to join them. Other times I sat at a small table by myself and read or chatted with others at adjoining ones. I felt very welcome and not at all alone. On the big ships I only dined in my room because the dining room was too formal and cold. This was so much nicer. So, the FOOD. Wow. The bread basket and daily assortment of spreads alone would have been worth the price. Sometimes it was flavored butters and sometimes a cheese spread or tapenade. All were excellent and there were always three different kinds. First course choices included a soup  always a broth for the weight conscious and a cream soup for those who were not. I had soups flavored with a variety of veggies, mushrooms and herbs. They often came with a dollop of cream and a breadstick artfully placed atop the bowl. Appetizers ranged from a simple salad (as if you could call the beautiful presentation simple) to a wonderful regional treat like marinated mozzarella pearls with tomato coulis and basil cream. The entrees were so special it was hard to choose. Often there was a fish dish or pasta. The choices reflected the area we were in. There was always an option for a steak, burger or vegetarian meal. Every single thing I tried was delicious and better that the finest Michelin restaurant in service. The wine boys kept the beverages flowing and made the meals fun with their smiling personalities. There was always a cheese board and variety of crackers and breads on a table in the center of the room. There was often a fruit plate as well. Lunch was less formal and could be served at your table or by visiting a spread in the center of the room. One thing I loved about the river cruising was that the scenery was right outside our window 24/7. During dinner, swans would swim up to the windows and castles would glide by. Amazing. We were never more than a few feet from shore. The intimacy of the ship and the ease in which it glided into the center of towns was perfect. You can get off and walk mere steps to the town centers. No lines, no big groups, no hassles getting on and off the ship. In fact, we were always welcomed Home with a beverage that suited the day. A fresh lemonade on a hot one or warm cider on a cold, blustery morning. This experience has changed my perspective on cruising forever. I will only be on river cruises from now on.   Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
I joined the AmaDagio after 10 days in Europe during which I broke my shoulder and hand - I am young enough (50), but was feeling fragile. When I saw the crew waiting at the train station to welcome me I nearly cried with relief. They took ... Read More
I joined the AmaDagio after 10 days in Europe during which I broke my shoulder and hand - I am young enough (50), but was feeling fragile. When I saw the crew waiting at the train station to welcome me I nearly cried with relief. They took my bags and my arm and I knew right then they would take good care of me and make this week a dream. And that they did. I travelled solo during this portion of my trip and the small, intimate environment made sure I met nearly all of my sailing mates. There were family groups of siblings, girl's get-away groups, couples, a few singles and three wine clubs (this was a wine themed cruise). There are usually no children on this type of sailing but I did see one grandmother with her daughter and two teen granddaughters. They seemed to enjoy themselves and were well behaved. It was a wonderful mix of people and all were courteous, well educated and well traveled. Many owned their own businesses or were enjoying early retirement. This was NOT a bunch of elderly folks or people out for a cheap vaca and freebies cramming 4-6 into a cabin! No spring breakers or wild partiers, either. Most people were in the 40-60 age range. If you want a Water park, casino and disco, this is not for you. If you want family fun, this is not for you. I compare it like Vegas to Vienna. If you want culture, sophistication and class, this is for you. The wine lectures, the history and unique excursions are second to none. From the moment I stepped on board I was treated like a valued member of the family. The cabin was spacious, although not as large as my Med ocean cruise, but completely adequate. The bed was soft and had a fluffy duvet. There were plenty of pillows and the bathroom amenities and towels were excellent. There was an in-room entertainment system for watching movies and TV or using the internet. I had my own laptop and had no problem logging on each night and uploading pictures for friends. I was in the cabin one day when the housekeeper came to clean. I invited her to do so and was amazed by how thorough she was. She literally scrubbed the bath from top to bottom - floor, walls, glass, and fixtures until they shone. If they do that every day you could eat off those surfaces!! The French balcony was not as nice as a full one, but by sitting in the lounge chair next to the railing, it was an acceptable substitute. I really did not miss that at all. It is all about smelling the fresh air and being able to lean out over the water. The excursions. Wow. These were all included and the best I could have imagined. We visited a truffle farm - my favorite - and saw a little dog, Aimee, search for and retrieve the precious nuggets. Afterwards we tasted the truffle oil and had wine. We had a market tour and cooking lesson that was world class ( and the instructor was de-lish!! :) ). We toured an olive farm and tasted the fresh oil and some tapenade. And there was the chocolate and wine pairing!! Need I say more? We saw villages where time has stood still, views beyond compare from hills over the river, and all of this done with the best guides ever. And I would be remiss for not calling out our Tour Manager, Elke. She was so kind and knew everyone of us by name. When a couple of us who were less mobile wanted to go on a market trip, she took us personally by taxi so we could skip the walking portion. Now that is customer service!! And speaking of service and thoughtfulness.I was on a trip over the Easter holiday. On Sunday we found an Easter Basket on the bed with a Godiva chocolate bunny. Later in the week it was a beautiful woven scarf thanking us for being their guest and inviting us to their new cruises on the Mekong - which I WILL be doing!! I will say the service was above and beyond anything I have experienced on an ocean cruise. I will be a river cruiser from now on! I am a fan of AMA! Entertainment. We had wonderful classical (a string trio that brought tears to my eyes) and regional (think Parisian cabaret singer) entertainment on board. There were also some silly fun things like a comic and a theme night with 60's music. Food. I cannot say enough about the wonderful food and wine. I never did get up early enough to enjoy the breakfast - I was on holiday!! - However, the other meals were divine. The lounge was always open with drinks and snacks. The wine was not complimentary in the lounge, but that was a choice for a more relaxed setting. A buffet style offering of some of the choices in the main dining area was set up in the lounge for those who preferred it. It was always possible to sit on the outdoor deck with a snack or drink any time of day. And the rooftop deck was also a site for gatherings and groups with bottles of wine and snacks. But the dining room.oh the wondrous things that they had there! I made it a point to go to the main dining room for every lunch and dinner. This is not my usual practice on the bigger ocean ships since I feel uncomfortable as a solo traveler with all the couples and the assigned seating. This was different. The tables were set up in twos, fours, sixes, eights and more and you could sit anywhere. Oftentimes people I had met during the day asked me to join them. Other times I sat at a small table by myself and read or chatted with others at adjoining ones. I felt very welcome and not at all alone. On the big ships I only dined in my room because the dining room was too formal and cold. This was so much nicer. So, the FOOD. Wow. The bread basket and daily assortment of spreads alone would have been worth the price. Sometimes it was flavored butters and sometimes a cheese spread or tapenade. All were excellent and there were always three different kinds. First course choices included a soup - always a broth for the weight conscious and a cream soup for those who were not. I had soups flavored with a variety of veggies, mushrooms and herbs. They often came with a dollop of cream and a breadstick artfully placed atop the bowl. Appetizers ranged from a simple salad (as if you could call the beautiful presentation simple) to a wonderful regional treat like marinated mozzarella pearls with tomato coulis and basil cream. The entrees were so special it was hard to choose. Often there was a fish dish or pasta. The choices reflected the area we were in. There was always an option for a steak, burger or vegetarian meal. Every single thing I tried was delicious and better that the finest Michelin restaurant in service. The "wine boys" kept the beverages flowing and made the meals fun with their smiling personalities. There was always a cheese board and variety of crackers and breads on a table in the center of the room. There was often a fruit plate as well. Lunch was less formal and could be served at your table or by visiting a spread in the center of the room. One thing I loved about the river cruising was that the scenery was right outside our window 24/7. During dinner, swans would swim up to the windows and castles would glide by. Amazing. We were never more than a few feet from shore. The intimacy of the ship and the ease in which it glided into the center of towns was perfect. You can get off and walk mere steps to the town centers. No lines, no big groups, no hassles getting on and off the ship. In fact, we were always welcomed "Home" with a beverage that suited the day. A fresh lemonade on a hot one or warm cider on a cold, blustery morning. This experience has changed my perspective on cruising forever. I will only be on river cruises from now on.   Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
My husband and I went on our first river cruise with Viking this past April. We selected the Imperials Jewels of China as this trip seemed to offer an array of the high points in China for a first time visit. The flight from LA was very ... Read More
My husband and I went on our first river cruise with Viking this past April. We selected the Imperials Jewels of China as this trip seemed to offer an array of the high points in China for a first time visit. The flight from LA was very moderately priced so we upgraded for an extra $99 per person each way for super economy. This gave us an extra 5-6inches of space which was truly appreciated on an11-12 hour flight to China and back. Our tour included a full extra day in Bejing at the Ritz Carlton due to our flight schedule. This gave us time to visit the Bejing Zoo and see the two Panda exhibits. Also began to meet some of the other Viking guests before the formal part of the land tour began. Our stay at the Ritz was a first and probably only experience for us at this level of hotel and it was amazing. We were in a very safe and clean area of the financial/business district and could go out and take walks around the city whenever we desired. Viking divided the 250 of us into five groups of approximately 38-40 people. Although we stayed with those people the entire trip we had plenty of time to mix with all the others on board the ship. The itinerary was literally over the top and Viking is highly organized and skilled in moving 250 guests around, always on time. Our leader, Jenna, shared many personal and poignant stories of her life in China coming from a one child family. We all loved her and she made the entire experience a real success. I would highly recommend this particular River Cruise and land tour to anyone who wants to see the jewels of China. All the tours from the river cruise were included and we had to pay very little out of pocket for extra. The visit to Xian was noteworthy in that theViking guests got in to see the Terra-cotta Warriors a full hour before the museum was open to the public. Be sure to pick the right time to visit China and many of the cities are called "furnace cities" during the summer and can be freezing during the winter. April was a great month and we only had one 1/2 day of rain. Great value for the money on this one! Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
April 4, 2013 Viking Danube Waltz Check in at British air went smoothly, however, security did want to open my roll-on to see the small bag of PC accessories. Getting to the airport early helped to avoid the long lines later. The flight ... Read More
April 4, 2013 Viking Danube Waltz Check in at British air went smoothly, however, security did want to open my roll-on to see the small bag of PC accessories. Getting to the airport early helped to avoid the long lines later. The flight was comfortable, a Boeing 777 - we had opposite isles, 23C and D - good locations! Service was excellent, a meal (pasta) was very nice, wine, beer and mixed drinks were complimentary. Before landing in London, we were served a muffin and coffee, tea etc. The connection in Heathrow was another story... We had to get from terminal 5 to terminal 3 - We thought that 90 minutes between flights would be a breeze... not so. Getting to terminal 3 took about 30 minutes - then going through security was one of the worst experiences we've had in our many years of travel. Our luggage had to be hand inspected - as did many others. The process was painfully slow. After about another 30 minutes and much frustration with how everything in our carry on was taken out for a closer look, we raced to the gate (another 7 minute walk)- the flight was "closing" as we ran towards the desk and bus waiting to depart. Another unexpected challenge was having to carry our bags up and down steps to and from two planes that did not have jetways. The flight to Prague was 1hr. 30 minutes and uneventful. A sandwich and soft drink then a brief nap... we arrived on time - finally in Prague. Collecting our luggage and Passport control took another 30 minutes, then we exited to meet our Viking contact - we waited briefly for 2 other couples who were also going to the Hilton (they were from Arizona). It's 30 degrees and overcast, but NO snow! The ride to the hotel took about 35 minutes. Road and residential construction in the heart of the city is beyond belief. Traffic as a result moves slowly. Patience was tested once again. Check in began with meeting Blanco - she is our Viking contact at the hotel. We spent about 30 minutes with her, learned the schedule of tours, options and events. She's there from 8 AM to 7PM should we need assistance. Check in at the reception desk was easy. Martin had already seen from the record that Lucie Balazova (emailed her from US with power questions) had taken care of our preferences. Our room 2003 is just as we asked. Near the "lift" - and king bed. The hotel and room are first class. Quiet, every amenity we could expect, plenty of 220 V outlets (only one 110V in the bathroom) a large safe, big enough for the largest laptop possible...we unpacked, (my pillow arrived fine in the vacuum travel bag) we then freshened up and decided to split a salad and sandwich (about $50.00) before collapsing - so very tired from the full day of travel. Tomorrow - breakfast then a city tour - then the evening at the opera... April 5, 2013 Prague We awakened (several times) and then finally at 6AM - dressed appropriately for the morning tour of the city with Viking. It's 30 degrees with slight wind and overcast. It's turns out to be exactly the same temperature in NJ! The "included" breakfast in the Hilton was excellent in every way! From immediate seating and wait staff attention, to the wide selection of meats, fish, breads, juices and such. The dining area was immaculate and everything on the buffet beautifully presented. Omelets and other egg choices were prepared to your order. We joined the Viking group of about 18 to tour with Renatta and her driver for the next 3 hours. The bus was clean and comfortable. Vaux hearing units were provided for the walking portions. They work well. As we passed through the city "the lesser" old and new, Jewish quarters etc. Renatta did an excellent job describing in detail ... and answered any questions we had. Our first stop was about 20 minutes from the hotel at the Prague Castle - we walked over cobble stone and other rough surfaces. One gentleman in a wheelchair did have difficulties with some of the surfaces. We had cursory tours of the St. Vitus Cathedral and of the gardens and museum areas. More in depth tours were available for purchase if anyone wanted to leave the group. A brief stop at the stables - where we enjoyed tea and hot chocolate. The cost was about 4.00 per cup!! But good! We were reminded by the waiter to tip ONLY if service if deserving. Leave nothing otherwise. After a couple of bus moves, at noon, we walked across the Charles Bridge, rubbed the St. John plaque (The Saint, not the dog) on the statue to assure our return to Prague, then walked into the old town square to see the "Astronomical clock". We arrived exactly at 2 minutes to 12, just in time to see (and video) the fascinating display of the 12 apostles and sound of the bells. Following that, Renatta suggested a local nearby restaurant - We and another couple (Stan and Barb Foster from north of Pittsburgh) easily found the place (The address of the restaurant-street name-Michalsk 25,Prague 1-Old Town, located in Richter house, restaurant name V cpu) and enjoyed a delicious breaded schnitzel lunch with potatoes, 2 large pieces of meat, I had wine, Diane a beer, the total for the meal was about 11 dollars! Great service, fabulous value and nice atmosphere... Highly recommend it! We walked another  mile to the bus, then to the hotel. Traffic much more than we recalled from our visit in 2001. We tipped the driver equivalent of US $2.00 and guide $5.00 (100 crowns). Noticed that most of the guests did tip. Stopped at the Albert supermarket opposite the hotel and purchased ham, cheese, rolls and wine to have for a light lunch... delicious rolls make the sandwiches perfect. We also purchased Palatka (something we in the US reserve for holidays, they eat everyday). Note: We had difficulty using the Mileage Plus Visa card. The cashier could not find a way to process the charge. A long line of angry customers grew even more impatient as she continued to every trick she knew ... we ended up having to use cash for this purchase. Our room had not yet been cleaned so, wanting a nap we called to ask housekeeping to return at 6 while we were out for the evening. Don Giovanni at Estates theatre, we had ordered the tickets on the internet and had them mailed to NJ. Easy to do and worth every penny. A taxi arranged at the Viking desk (200 koruna - 10.00 plus tip) Great performance (R) rated by our standards... 3 hours, tough seats to sit on for that long. Coats were required to be checked (tips were expected). The cab ride back to the hotel was "negotiated" at 250 korunas... + tip. The ride back took less than half the time there, the result of one way streets. A nightcap then to bed. Tomorrow is an easy day.... nothing planned except the Madam Butterfly at the State Opera Theater. Saturday, April 6, 2013 Another gray day, still in the low 30's, ... after breakfast we did a bit of shopping (for snacks) just at the other supermarket (behind Albert's) - more bread, cold cuts and soft drinks. Total about 10.00 US. We later arranged for car service for the opera, (thru the Hilton) at 6PM. caught up on some emails, did some reading and took a nap. The ride to the theater was another near disaster... We clearly told the Viking rep and the driver to please note the address of the opera... (we had been warned in the letter that came with the tickets to do so as the National Theater logo often leads to venue confusion) - well, no matter how careful we thought we were ... we were dropped off at the wrong place. Fortunately, a young man working in the box office at the National theater called the Hilton for us, the car was sent back immediately for us... we made it to the State Opera Theater with enough time to leisurely check coats and be seated in the third row, center!! The 3 hour Madam Butterfly opera was beautifully done as was the opera house. The performance, the voices, the sets, the ambiance, the 65 pc orchestra all made for a delightful last evening in Prague. (Butterfly was about 250lbs. and about 40, as was Pinkerton.) The car was waiting, the ride back to the hotel was 5 minutes or less - at a 200 crowns. We made & split a sandwich, did some packing, Diane ironed a few items, tomorrow we leave for Passau and the Viking Prestige. April 7, 2013 Lovely breakfast, checked out at 12, identified our luggage, then boarded the bus for the 4 hr. ride to Passau and the Prestige. Helga was our guide, Martin the driver. The temperature as we climbed the Bohemian mountains dropped to -2 C. The rolling hills and evergreen scenes thru the Forrest were beautiful even with the gray sky. The grassy areas were snow covered, the many homes along the way and small villages added to the charm of the country. We stopped briefly about half way at a lovely gas station for a snack and rest facilities. The pastries were delicious, tea and coffee available - reasonably priced and very accommodating. As we reached Passau, the light snow had changed to rain. We quickly boarded, then checked in at reception and found cabin 304. The ship is immaculate, the decor beautiful, the public areas appear very attractive and comfortable. (except for the rough toilet paper which we complained about). In no time, our luggage was delivered, we unpacked, had plenty of drawer and hanging space for the modest amount of clothing we brought. Freshened up, then did a bit of ship browsing to get some idea of what was where, then joined Sue, Tom, & Mary from Ohio in the lounge for wine and a presentation by staff of events and tours planned for the week. Standing room only - not enough seating to accommodate all that came to hear the talk. Off to the dining room for dinner. Wine, Beer and soft drinks flowed freely (thanks to Viking Marketing and my suggestion a year or so ago) - Diane and I each had the shrimp appetizer, then I the roasted salmon, she the veal, both were delicious, excellently prepared and nicely presented. Desert was fruit (tangerine) for me, coffee and a small pastry for Diane. Entre portion sizes were small, but adequate. Larger portions or additional servings were available for the asking. Back to the cabin to get some well needed rest! Tomorrow we start touring. April 8, 2013 Breakfast on board was another delightful experience. The buffet was filled with everything one might expect for the meal. Meats, fish, eggs, veggies, cereals, breads, coffee, juices and omelets made to order. A brief life jacket exercise, (a waste of time and no instructions) then a very interesting presentation on the EU. At 10:30 we met our group and guide (Sonya) for a 1.5hr walking tour of Passau. Old cobblestone streets easy to keep pace, Sonya who had been a geography teacher in her former life, did an excellent job keeping us together. At 12 we finished the tour at the cathedral, then walked back to the ship for lunch. We had two options - buffet in the lounge - or table service in the dining room. Lunch was soup, pasta, a Ruben, salads - on the buffet tables there were all sorts of other selections and sides to go with anything one might decide on. Wine was available with the meal (complimentary). Nap time - A delicious dinner (Chateau Briand) , was followed by a presentation on Mozart - his life and music. Nicely done by program director, Wesley Peeman. -------------------------------------------------------- April 9th Salzburg (from Linz Dock) After a leisurely and delicious breakfast, (Tibor was our fabulous waiter) I was ready ...Diane was running late. Cloudy, but promising to warm to about 50, we could see the busses just steps from the ship. Checked our keys out, then boarded bus 5B (of 4 busses) with Veronica, our guide - for our 2 hour ride to Salzburg Austria, the birth home of Mozart. We will make a stop for snacks and rest rooms. The scenes from the road and the stop we made were absolutely gorgeous. Pictures do tell the story. From the road, as we approached Salzburg, (Salt Castle) Veronica pointed out locations where scenes in The Sound Of Music were filmed. (some were re-created in studios or elsewhere). All made to look like the actual sites. As we arrived in the town, the sun was bright, the temperature in the sun perfect! Great walking conditions. The streets paved with small granite cobblestone made for an easy and comfortable walking tour. We started in the new town, at the Mirabella Gardens, a gift from the bishop to his lover - (he was denied permission from the church to marry) He ended up having 15 children with her, later, he ended up in prison for political reasons, where he died. She and the children asked for but were denied permission to visit him while incarcerated. from web site: The baroque Mirabell Gardens were used as a movie location for "The Sound of Music." What is not so well known though, is that the palace on the far end of the gardens has another romantic story: the original palace was commissioned by Salzburg's Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau in 1606, as a token of his love for Salome Alt, who was his lover and partner for over 22 years and gave him 15 (!) children. The tour took us to many historical homes of the famous - the most important here is Mozart. Where he was born, the home he briefly lived in and so on. Sights that the Van Trap family stopped and scenes in the movie had been filmed. We walked over the chrome bridge with padlocks attached to it's chain link fencing...signifying lasting love, each lock had the names of the loving couple who placed it here. Views of the Danube from the bridge were spectacular! The pedestrian streets were very busy with tourists, locals and shoppers. Crowded at the historical sites, narrow meandering walks with high end shops and specialty restaurants, all kept immaculately clean. It was a perfect day. Veronica did a great job telling us of the history and the suggesting where we try the food... (at the square) we had lunch at Zipth Lager - delicious and great service. Cost about 35.00 for two of us. Diane had the red sausage, I the wiener schnitzel. Beer and wine. Free use of the WC for patrons. Back to do some shopping - famous chocolate Mozart Balls - a pastry, some pins for the kids. More sightseeing then back to the Mozart birthplace for the walk to the ship. We must have walked 5-7 miles. The ride back (no stop) then cocktails with the captain for returning Viking guests - then dinner. I had the salmon, Diane had the braised beef... excellent!!. Awa tried again to get the sound working on the TV - This time she was successful. Found that the ship TV offers an excellent and wide variety of on demand movies (no charge). All the best and the latest releases. The entertainment system too, is state of the art. Music, TV, Movies, Voyage info,. and a connection for an ipod. The cabin too has more than enough AC connections - both 220 and 110 and outlets on both sides of the cabin - that's a first. The safe is large, the air conditioning very effective, plenty of drawer, cabinet and hanging space. Refrigerator, lighting in cabin and bath good, (a magnifying mirror in bath) beds comfortable entire ship kept immaculate. Larger than most shower tubes, plenty of hot water and hand held shower head is perfect. Tomorrow, Melk and the Abbey tour. After breakfast we boarded the Viking Busses (new and beautiful) for the short ride to the 900 year old Melk Abbey. It's raining this morning...Our tour guide Anita took us through the 3 hour excursion - a huge facility of baroque architecture, not our taste, but incredibly detailed works of artistry and talent - impossible to replicate today. Once the residence of the ruling family (Babenberg) it became a Benedictine monastery in 1089. Monks are active today, the school has 750 pupils today. Rooms in the Abbey are set up as you would find in most museums. Dramatic lighting, exhibits placed strategically and descriptions of items on display well written and positioned. (photos will tell the story). The tour was well worth the chill, rain and many steps it included. As the tour ended so did the rain... Anita did a superb job - her English excellent, her knowledge enthusiastically shared. Everything about the tour was A+.. We returned to the bus and then the Prestige for lunch - it too was as usual, delicious. Tomorrow, Vienna. April 11, 2013 Vienna - tour guide Caroline Sailing thru the night, we arrived in Vienna at about 6AM. It's another great walking tour day. Broken clouds, promising to reach mid 50's - perfect! At 8:30, we boarded the beautiful and comfortable (and CLEAN) Viking bus for the included city tour.. windows are kept especially clean - great for photos! A short ride to the Ringstrasse (ring around the city) and it's many beautiful, interesting sights. We got to see the Opera House, St. Stephan's Cathedral... We were able to take photos in the cathedral - a most impressive display of artistry, religious opulence and architectural design ... As for food, Vienna is well known for it's Wiener Schnitzel, Tafelspitz and Apple strudel... Coffee shops abundant, 100 art museums and other historical sights make Vienna a popular tourist destination. The food and pastries here are to die for (and from). At noon, it was back to the Prestige for lunch at 12:30 in the dining room (or optional Cafe lunch) served in the lounge. We rested after lunch so that we could stay awake later this evening when attending the optional concert at the stock exchange building, featuring 10 musicians, dancers and singers. After an early dinner for those attending the concert, we boarded busses for the 25 minute ride into the city for the event. Wow - what a treat it was. There must have been about 200 guests - all there from the 2 Viking ships (Prestige and Vienna). The acoustics in the large room we were seated seemed unimpressive ... that is until the music began, then WOW... these 10 players 4 women and 6 men knocked our socks off. Flute, piccolo, clarinet, first violin, second violin, viola, cello, concert master (violin) bass and piano - sounded as if they were an orchestra of 65. Selections included waltz's, opera, and ballet. A copy of the program will follow in the photos. The program was beyond expectation, all we spoke with enjoyed the performance and felt it was well worth the price paid. (64 euros each) Returning to the ship, we opted for the goulash (soup) treat served in the lounge. Tomorrow, Bratislava Friday, April 12, 2013 Another cool morning 50's - some drizzle, but no heavy rain. At 8:30 we boarded the bus for the city tour and the optional tour to the home of a resident. This was a really fun visit!! The ride from the ship to the home was about 30 minutes - then as we were about 30 persons, the group was split into 2. We decided to go with the second group. As we approached, the lady (about age 70) was eagerly awaiting our arrival. This was the first time our guide visited here. We soon were cordially greeted and led into a small garden where the history of the family was briefly explained, our guide doing the translations. She was widowed at age 44 with the sudden death of her husband. The older of the two home sections (a one room house) was that of her husband's family. When first married, she and her husband (and her in-laws) all lived and slept in the one room. (When asked how she became pregnant, she said they had heavy blankets - as did her in-laws) The larger part of the house, included a small kitchen, bath (no toilet) living room and some storage closets . Her daughter lived on the second level of the home, with her 2 granddaughters. She had prepared home made wine (from her backyard vineyard) cookies and a cheese pastry for us to taste. She had much to say about how her daughter and son lived... nothing good... Neither is married, both have children - something she was obviously unhappy about...neither helps her with chores, nor the maintenance of the property. She has the vineyards, chickens, a dog, a cat and an outhouse. (Never connected to the sewage system). She was delightful - shared many photos of the family, provided an opportunity for us to purchase souvenirs ... out guide seemed to also enjoy the candid look into this lady's life... much of which she openly shared with us. Back to the bus ... Busy night - Farewell Dinner with Captain. Did some photos, emails etc., then readied for dinner - What a surprise - we are invited to Dine with the Captain!! Set for 8, each with a place card setting, we at with Captain Istvan Fekete, Artur Carvalheiro and 4 ship guests. (one couple, one young lady Donna and her step sister.) Dinner was outstanding - Saved the menu - Salmon Caviar & Crisp Potato Cake, Garden Green Lettuce & Caramelized Pear Salad, soup (lobster bisque) the entre we selected was the surf and turf - Grilled Filet Mignon and Poached Jumbo Prawns .. Appetizer, delicious... Wine flowed, desert choices White Chocolate & Cherry Pudding or Fresh Fruits Cheese Plate ...any and all, deliciously outrageous. We learned that this was the captains 6th year with Viking, Awa (Head housekeeper) is his wife - and that she has relatives in Brick NJ - Small world. Tomorrow .... Budapest Saturday, April 13 After Breakfast, it's 8:30 and time for the Budapest City Tour... with our guide, Nora Three cities, merged in 1873 - Buda and Obuda and Pest - we will see Buda & Pest as they span both sides of the Danube. A short bus ride took us to where we passed through the city streets, making our way to the first stop at Heroes' Square. Monuments and historic buildings face the square. Great place and beautiful day for the photos that will help tell the story. Views from Buda Castle were especially great. Really the best images were those that we captured last night as we entred Budapest. The buildings all theatrically lit stood out as we had been told to expect. Time to return to the ship for our last lunch and final dinner on board the Prestige. This evening after dinner, we enjoyed local singers and dancers (Hungarian folkloric show)... another tastefully done treat by Viking. Said our goodbyes to the many aquaintences we made while on this trip. Tomorrow we are off to the airport at 11:30 for our BA flight from Budapest to Heathrow then Heathrow to Newark. Sunday - April 14th Had breakfast, paid the bill, then sat quietly in the lounge waiting for the van to take 4 of us to the airport. (about 30 minute ride) Hardly any traffic. We were met by another delightful and welcome Viking rep. (Richard) who took our luggage and accompanied us to the BA check in - held our hand until we had to pass thru security. Passed that, then boarded the flight. Again, we had opposite isles - 13C&D The connection in Heathrow was another horror story - we had to go from Terminal 5 to 3... first a train, then a bus and on the bus the driver was speeding when all of a sudden he turned sharply and I went flying across the vehicle landing on my right knee and bumping foreheads with a lady who tried to stop me from falling. It was exactly 4:55PM - just in case I need further medical atention. So far, I'm ok., not sure about the woman who tried to help, she may have a black right eye tomorrow. The flight from Heatrow was a financial loss for BA.. Only about 25% occupied, we were able to move to make ourselves more comfortable (stretch-out). Good mel, good audio/video selections wine and beer with meal - no extra fees. Arriving in Newark, we thought to try out the GOES (Global Entry System) Kiosk program. What a pleasure! While lines of other arriving passengers waited for US Customs agents, we breezed thru, scanning our passports and fingerprints then presented the automatically printed pass to the officer as we departed the area. Must have saved at least  hour. Our driver was elsewhere at the airport, he promptly met us at door 7. The ride home was uneventful. Love to travel and Viking did a great job as usual... but as always, there's "no place like home" Only changes we would suggest was to the Hilton hotel location.. stay in the Old City if possible. Hilton does have a location there as well. We would also suggest adding the post cruise option in Budapest - found it to be an absolutely beautiful city that we would love to visit again - there's much to see and do. Kudos to Viking again!   Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
We are experienced travelers and cruisers and we had never taken an escorted vacation before the Viking Emerald Imperials Jewels of China. However China presented challenges that we did not feel qualified to meet, so we signed up with ... Read More
We are experienced travelers and cruisers and we had never taken an escorted vacation before the Viking Emerald Imperials Jewels of China. However China presented challenges that we did not feel qualified to meet, so we signed up with Viking. We found the vacation more than met our expectations and we were satisfied in every way. We decided to take the Shanghai to Beijing route rather than the reverse because we wanted to begin the trip in Hong Kong (on our own) in order to deal with the jet lag before the main part of the trip and because my husband had been the Hong Kong on business before (albeit a long time ago). We discovered later that there was an additional benefit because this version of the trip allows one to visit the zoo in Chongking and see the pandas where the Beijing-Shanghai does not. Hotels: This trip includes hotels before and after the Yangtze cruise, in Shanghai and Beijing, and a hotel in X'ian where you see the Terracotta warriors. Our hotels included the Shangri-La Pudong and the Hilton in X'ian and the Regent in Beijing and we thought they were all very luxurious and beautiful and probably far beyond what we would normally be able to book for ourselves. We particularly loved the Shangri-La and would recommend asking Viking for it if possible. Ship Info: We booked an entry-level cabin at the Category F level. It had a sliding door that opened to a French (i.e., non-existent) balcony. In size it was exactly the same as all the other balconies and we would recommend getting one of these if you can. There are some larger cabins but frankly you are not in them very often and unlike cruises, you are probably not going to either eat or watch television in your cabin. We thought the cabin was well-appointed and comfortable and while not as luxurious as some cabins we have had on ocean cruises, it was much more comfortable than what we expected on a river cruise in China. We also were very pleasantly surprised with the activities, shops and food aboard the Emerald. They had quite a few lectures on local sites, history (with surprisingly open discussions of current events, including Tiananmen Square), culture (including tea and painting demonstrations) and other interesting information. They also managed to present several little evening shows that featured ethic costumes and the like that we thought were well done particularly given the limited space and the fact that they were using personnel that performed various other functions on the ship. All the staff were courteous and friendly and certainly the folks manning the desk, the bars, and the dinner tables were comfortable using English. We thought the small number of shops on board were fine and well balanced - there was a shop featuring a tailor who made, with the help of a very hard working staff, silk jackets and other clothes made to your specifications and finished before the end of the cruise, a painter who I really loved - I would have purchased everything in his shop but settled on two items that I framed upon our return (in Michael's-nothing fancy) and they are a wonderful souvenir of our trip, a jewelry store, a store specializing in tea where they demonstrated the tea ceremony frequently. There was also a library where there were tables to play games (there was a Chinese Mahjonng demonstration during the cruise). In short, it is different from an ocean cruise but I was pleased and surprised at the extent and variety of activities especially given our limited time on board and their limited space. We were also pleasantly surprised by the food. I thought we would be given nothing but Chinese food and that I would get tired of it quickly. Instead I found that the food was mostly Western and mostly well-prepared. At the hotels, there was generally a big breakfast buffet with a big selection of food. On the ship, there was really no assigned seating except for one or two groups that travelled together from Scotland or wherever and it was nice to meet new people frequently. Once we made a few friends with like interests, we tended to see them out and sit with them. But it was all very low key and friendly. Our servers often became familiar with our personal likes, such as ice-tea with lemon, and were very friendly. Most of the food we had off the ship at banquets and other places was uneven - the lunches were generally better than the special dinners which tended to be very touristy. Some of them, like the Mongolian stir fry and buffet in X'ian and one of the lunches in Beijing were very good. The lunch in the airport in X'ian was surprisingly good. Excursions: We thought all of the excursions were well done and our tour escort Matthew was wonderful (ask Viking for him if you can although we also thought the other tour escort were also good). You are assigned a specific tour escort who is yours from the beginning to the end of the trip. Occasionally, at specific ports/sites, a second guide will also accompany your group and take over delivering the tour for that particular day or site. It was all very well done- they dole out an audiovox guide (about the size of a small tape recorder) that you wear around your neck with headphones like an IPod and these allow your guide to talk to you without raising his/her voice. It also permits you to wander somewhat away from the group, which if you are a photo nut like me, is very welcome. Although groups are only 35 people, it is nice to be able to wonder to nearby display cases without worrying about a crowd getting in the picture. The tour escorts are responsible for all the logistics. They get you to and from the buses, and in and out of your hotels and to and from the airport. They did a phenomenal job which made the various transfers painless. If you are used to an ocean cruise where you pack once for the duration, it is a little different to have to leave a hotel in Shanghai, a cruise cabin, a hotel in X'ian and a hotel in Beijing. But they collect your bags at night and they deal with delivery and check-in at the airport and delivery to your rooms at the next location. It was amazing to see how smoothly this was accomplished. The only issue came at the port of Chongking, where we disembarked and there was a long causeway followed by a stairway where we were expected to manage our carryon items ourselves (we still had them because we needed to dress, etc. in the morning even though our suitcases had already been collected). There were certainly some passengers who found this transfer a little more difficult than expected and we commented on that to Viking even though it wasn't a big problem for us. They may arrange for some sort of porters in the future to help. In sum, we would definitely recommend this trip and thought it was a very good value for the price. Certainly there are more expensive tours but we can't imagine what they could have done better. Lessons learned- a few comments on things I was wondering about before the trip: Money: we found that most large purchases in most gift shops can be done with a credit card. If you need local Chinese currency, the best place to get it is in the ATMs around your hotel. In fact, we found that most hotels, and the ship, will not change Dollars (or other foreign currency) to local currency. But they will change local currency into the smaller denominations you will need if you want to make some small purchases from the local markets or street vendors that you will meet. If you are getting a transfer through Viking to your hotel, you probably won't need local currency before you get there although you can get some in advance at a bank in a major US city like New York. Internet: We brought my Kindle Fire and were able to access the internet in our hotels and on the ship. We were surprised that we were able to send and receive messages through our Yahoo account and most news from the outside world was not blocked. Medical: We brought a regular drug store of stomach medications in case of illness but thankfully we did not need it at any time. They provided bottled water which we used and we drank bottled beverages or beer at meals off the ship. The food on the ship presented no adverse health problems - we ate salad and fresh vegetables without fear and with no after effects. Luggage: We were concerned about the size of our carryons, which are standard domestic rollerboards but somewhat larger than the 20" that they advised we needed. At no time, in any internal flight, did anyone look or comment on our carryons (or our other luggage). You do have to comply with their requirements on not carrying open liquor bottles - one couple that packed a partial bottle of vodka had their luggage held up by the authorities until they removed it- but otherwise there was never a problem with that. Peking Opera: We were leery of this additional evening excursion because we knew that Chinese opera can be dissonant and difficult to follow. However they selected several pieces that were beautiful and sometimes very funny- there were translations in English to help you follow and the costumes were so amazing that our pictures here because some of the best of the trip. We would definitely recommend going on this excursion and the Tang Dynasty evening (where the food was mediocre) which also had beautiful costumes and music. How many times are you going to be able to experience this? Pre/Post Cruise: For what it is worth, we stayed in the Sheraton in HongKong precruise and the Westin Beijing after the cruise for a few days on each end. We had been told that the Viking folks would be booked in the Westin so we anticipated that we could stay on at the same place but they changed it to the Regent at the last minute and we did not want to pay more for the Regent particularly as we had Starwoods points to use for the Westin so we transferred by taxi at the end. I think the extra time in HongKong was good for the reasons mentioned before and the extra time in Beijing (we obtained a local guide) allowed us to see the hutong neighborhoods, the museum and a few temples we did not see with the Viking tour and eat in local restaurants with our guide. But if you don't have time to do that, you will not have missed anything significant. We wished there was a second day in X'ian, as the ancient capital of China there is a lot to see there beyond the Terracotta Warriors, and we have so advised Viking.   Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
In April my husband and I did our first river cruise in China with Viking. It was a fabulous experience with virtually seamless transitions from city to city with a lovely 5 night river cruise on the Yangtze. It couldn't have been ... Read More
In April my husband and I did our first river cruise in China with Viking. It was a fabulous experience with virtually seamless transitions from city to city with a lovely 5 night river cruise on the Yangtze. It couldn't have been easier to see the highlights of Beijing, Xian, Shanghai and a beautiful and interesting part of the Yangtze from Chongqing to Wuhan. From the moment we were met at the airport in Beijing until we checked in at Shanghai for our flight home, Viking made our trip memorable, comfortable, informative and smooth. Our luggage was routinely picked up from our room and miraculously transported to our destination by Viking. We did not have to stand on line to check-in at the airports or handle our luggage during our stay in China. The hotels were all exceptional, the food very good to outstanding, the itinerary fabulous. All of the highlights on our bucket list were included with sufficient time to enjoy each site. We had plenty of time to walk on the Great Wall, visit the major sites in Beijing, explore the Shanghai waterfront and were able to visit the Terra Cotta Warrior museum before it opened for the day allowing us great photos and a great view of the warriors at each exhibit. During our trip we celebrated our anniversary and our escort sent champagne, flowers and chocolate covered strawberries to our room. We were surprised and delighted by this extra personal touch. We were so impressed with the trip that we booked another Viking River Cruise right after arriving back home.  I would highly recommend the Imperial Jewels of China to anyone who wants a well-planned, guided tour of China's highlights in a limited amount of time with a lovely 5 night river cruise on the Yangtze. Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
My youthful 95 year old mother & I were looking forward to Viking's 'Portraits of Southern France', our first river cruise in April, 2013. When we arrived in Lyon, we learned our ship, the Europe, had moved down river to ... Read More
My youthful 95 year old mother & I were looking forward to Viking's 'Portraits of Southern France', our first river cruise in April, 2013. When we arrived in Lyon, we learned our ship, the Europe, had moved down river to Macon, to avoid being trapped behind a low bridge in Chalon-sur-Soane. What a smart move (thank you) because as the river rose during the week, we also learned the flooding river was too high to allow travel. Being more centrally located on our northern portion of our trip meant that we didn't have as long travel time to see all the scheduled sights, or an overcrowded pier. As the week passed it became apparent our ship would not be moving from our berth. On Friday, we were bused to lovely accommodation in Avignon, and our now 'bus' tour resumed for the southern portion of our trip. Although it wasn't the trip we'd anticipated, my mother & I were treated so well by the staff, and we thoroughly enjoyed our 'altered' trip. The altered tours to Chateau Cormatin & Hameau DuBoef were especially interesting. My mother was already talking about another Viking cruise on the flight home! We're off on the 'Danube Waltz' next. I wonder, at 96, will my mother be the oldest traveller on Viking? Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
My wife and I sailed on the first Danube Waltz of the season and had a wonderful time. There were a couple of minor issues during the cruise. To us, these were no big deal and expected since we understood that this was the FIRST cruise of ... Read More
My wife and I sailed on the first Danube Waltz of the season and had a wonderful time. There were a couple of minor issues during the cruise. To us, these were no big deal and expected since we understood that this was the FIRST cruise of the season and about a third of the crew were new to the ship/itinerary. The weather was chilly and damp for most of the trip, but the staff and the ship were warm and very hospitable. We enjoyed meeting and mixing with all of the crew. We even "adpoted" one of the servers who was going through some home/family withdrawl. Most of the guests we met were nice too with the exception of a few couples that were overly demanding and very unappreciative of the effort put in by the staff. We even had one lady from Derbyshire feel slighted because she felt shorted on the number of caviar eggs garnishing her entree. The breakfasts were wonderful and plentiful. They really fueled their passengers for a day of exploration. Everyday there was something different to discover on the buffet so you didn't have to repeat any meal twice unless that's what you aimed to do. We even enjoyed the options for dining at lunch. If you wished, you could eat buffet-style in the lounge or sit in the dining room for a more structured setting. Dinners were always interesting thanks to the open seating and varying menus. For those not ready to be gastronomically adventurous, there were always three standard entrees availabe (grilled steak, chicken or salmon and a Caesar salad). The standard shore excursions were informative, especially since local guides were used. The headsets provided by Viking ensured that each passenger could hear what the guides said. The great thing about the standard shore excursions is that your are never forced to debark the ship and join the rest of the passengers for that day's tour(s). For instance, my wife and I had already visited Salzburg and Vienna a few years earlier. We knew Salzburg could be a bit congested with other tourists and didn't feel like riding on a coach to get there and back to the ship. We also knew, from spending a week in the city back in 2004, that Vienna offered too much to see in one day. We chose not to join the Viking excursions and explored Linz by ourselves and then rode Vienna's U-Bahn to where we wanted to revisit during our stop there. The massive abbey in Melk is not to be missed! The optional shore excursions were well varied and, from what we were told by those who chose to participate, good value for money. We chose the winery excursion in Dürnstein and thoroughly enjoyed the tour and tasting. We even brought some Wachau Valley wine back home with us. Delicious!! Budapest, we found out, is another city that requires further exploration. Arriving in port at night after dinner when it seemed the whole city was illuminated - brilliant touch. The standard tour Viking provided was enough, for us, to get our interest level very high. My wife and I did some further exploration of some of the sights after the tour and even arranged to have dinner that night in town thanks to the excellent concierge, David. We used Viking's embarkation/debarkation services for the cruise. Their pickup in Munich and drop-off in Budapest airports were achieve without any problems whatsoever. We can't wait for our schedules to allow us another cruise with Viking. We hope that the Danube River valley recover fully from this past year's flooding soon. We were fortunate to sail prior to the devastation of the region.   Read Less
Sail Date April 2013
Background Information -- this was our first river cruise after many ocean cruises with the kids. This time, it was just my husband and I. I have to say, I may never do another ocean cruise. I loved the river cruise so much more! ... Read More
Background Information -- this was our first river cruise after many ocean cruises with the kids. This time, it was just my husband and I. I have to say, I may never do another ocean cruise. I loved the river cruise so much more! Between the intimate size of the ship, the excellent shore excursions and the up close exposure to local culture and history, this was by far the best cruise we ever took. We chose the Windmills and Tulips tour because Holland was on my husband's bucket list. Not mine. This turned out to be a good thing, as I did not have unrealistic expectations for this trip. But the trip far exceeded my expectations. We saw lots of windmills, but no tulips on the fields. Holland was experiencing its coldest winter in 60 years! Fortunately, my husband and I brought warm clothes and long underwear. Travel To Port of Embarkation -- We flew from Richmond through Dulles to Amsterdam. We chose to pay the extra $50 to be able to choose our flights and I'm glad we did. Another guest we met on the cruise had flown from Florida to Amsterdam via Detroit. The woman from Viking with whom I worked couldn't have been nicer and reviewed several options with me before I chose our flights. Our flights were on time and we arrived in Amsterdam at 7 a.m. The Viking reps were at the airport waiting for us. They were waiting on behalf of several groups, so we waited about ½ hour before boarding our bus. Luckily for us, the ship had not just returned from a cruise, so we were able to go to our rooms right away (8:30 in the morning!). We took a short rest and then went to explore Amsterdam. Stateroom -- We chose cabin 206, which was on the same floor as the reception and the dining room. The location was so convenient. And even though we were just a few steps away from this main area, our cabin was never noisy. 206 is a "French balcony", which means it had a large sliding door that could be opened, but no balcony. I didn't really miss the balcony because of the cold weather. The size of the stateroom was comparable to an ocean liner. Small but efficient. The bed was extremely comfortable. The closet was plenty big for us. We tend to pack light, so we had just enough room in the drawers. The true balcony staterooms get an extra dresser. The bathroom was small, as expected, but the shower was larger than the one we had on our last Royal Caribbean cruise. Even so, I don't know how overweight people could fit into it. Ship Info -- the ship was gorgeous. Christened in 2012, this was only its second year on the water. If there were any bugs, they had been worked out. The dining room was just large enough for everyone at dinner. This was not a problem at breakfast or lunch as most people wander in for these meals, but everyone eats at the same time for dinner. Even so, service was efficient. There was just not a lot of room between tables. There was also a lounge right above the dining room, so it was the same size. They served lunch there, which I did not like because there were only four tables to eat at. The idea is to eat outside, but with 30 degree temps during the day, no one was doing that. The lounge was the place where the nightly briefings and entertainment was held. I loved the lounge and turned into a real bar fly during this cruise, mainly because there was not a lot to do at night, and I could not go to bed at 9 p.m. Dining -- the food was very good. My husband is a retired chef, so food is very important to us. Perhaps because of the average age of the passengers (65+), the food was not always well seasoned. But there was a lot of variety at breakfast and the menu was inventive. The executive chef came out every night to check on us. I loved that. Activities --not much on the ship. There was a small library and free WIFI. Most of the passengers seemed to read as their main activity. That's ok, because the purpose of this cruise is to experience the amazing sights in Holland and Belgium, not play bingo or poker. On the top deck there was a huge chess set and shuffleboard, but it was way too cold to do anything outside. Children's Clubs --none. This is definitely not a cruise for children. There was only one teenager on the cruise with her mother, and she seemed to have a good time. Service --was wonderful. The program director, Stein, did everything pretty much on his own. He did all the briefings, went on the excursions, handled questions from the guests, and introduced the entertainment. He did it all with charm. I don't know how he stayed sane fielding calls from some folks who were picky about everything and anything. We did not find anything to criticize. The concierge, Viktoria, was delightful. The wait staff was efficient and friendly. Because the ship was so small, we got to know everyone well by the end of the cruise. The service was so good it was the first time that I wanted to tip everyone extra. The bartenders, Nico, Johnny and Seta, were terrific. Everyone was so cheerful. They felt like family by the end. Entertainment -- At night there was some sort of entertainment, which ranged from the sublime (the Shanty Chorus) to the silly (wooden shoe making demonstration.) Mostly I sat at the bar with my new friends and laughed. Port & Shore Excursions -- most of the excursions are included. These consist of walking tours, a canal boat ride, trips to a palace and a cathedral. There were also a couple of optional cruises, which cost about 50 Euros per person. We took the optional tulip tour and Armhein battlefield tour. If you like culture and history, this is a great cruise. In Amsterdam, we took the included walking tour and canal boat ride. There was also an optional tour to a diamond factory, which we skipped. We also skipped the included excursion to the Keukenhof Gardens on the last day because we preferred to walk around Amsterdam. It is a great city--crowded and full of bikes, but a lot of fun. It was relatively clean and we felt safe everywhere we went. Most of the people in the shops spoke English. Everyone was friendly. Note that several of the museums were closed for renovations. In fact, it seemed that everywhere we went, something was closed for renovation. When buildings are 1,000 years old, this is to be expected. One thing I should warn you about Amsterdam. They are extremely tolerant about sex. Many of the souvenir shops sell X-rated items. My "favorite" was the salt and pepper shakers shaped like a certain male body part. Also, the postcards, which are exhibited in plain view, were at times explicit. I'm not a prude, but I winced at a few of them. We wanted to tour the Anne Frank house, but the lines were long. I tried to buy tickets online, but had waited until just a day or two before the cruise, so the online tickets were gone. I recommend getting tickets online and getting them far ahead of time. Hoorn--we took a guided tour of this delightful fishing village. We learned about how the Dutch have reclaimed much of their land from the sea. The best part of this town was the visit to a local home. We broke into groups of four and six and spent an hour with a local family in their home. This is the first year Viking has done this, and judging from the remarks from the other passengers, it was a big success. I thought it might be awkward going into a stranger's house, but the family we met with was so friendly that we soon felt at home. Armhein--we took the included excursion to the Paleis Het Loo, which was the winter "hunting lodge" for King William and Queen Mary. As a graduate of their namesake school, I was particularly interested in this. This was also the first real palace I had ever seen. It was restored beautifully. There was also an exhibit of the former Queen Wilhelmina's clothes (she was a sturdy woman) and the various household items she used during her rein. There was also an exhibit of portraits done of Queen Beatrice by Holland citizens. Awesome. In the afternoon we took the optional battlefield tour for the failed Operation Market Place battle during WWII. We visited several places during this tour, including the bridge that the Allies failed to protect, the Airborne Museum, and the cemetery. Our guide was a native of Armhein and shared some personal experiences from the war. If you like WWII history, you must do this tour. Speaking of guides, they were wonderful. Each was a native of the town we visited. Each provided personal views and insights. Most of them were very funny. All of them were informative and entertaining. These excursions were one of the highlights of the cruise. Kinderdijk--this was a short stop in a very small town, where we got to see the inside of a working windmill. This, like many of the excursions, was much better than I expected. Antwerp-- Belgium. Another walking tour with an excellent guide and a trip to a cathedral--my first cathedral outside the U.S. It also housed several Ruben paintings. This city, like Amsterdam, had beautiful architecture. Plus, being in Belgium, there were plenty of shops selling chocolate and lace. In the afternoon we walked around and walked the tunnel that ran under the river to the other side of the city. To get down to the tunnel we rode a wooden escalator. Pretty neat. Brugge and Ghent. We did both cities in one day, and we could have used a day for each city. The walking tour in Brugge required a lot of walking. Stein warned the older passengers that it might be too much walking for some of them. Plus, all the cities have cobblestones so the walking is uneven. Be prepared for this if you are not steady on your feet. Both cities were delightful but as I said, I wish we could have spent an entire day in each one. On the way back, we stopped at Rotterdam, but we did not get there until dinner. They offered a walking tour at 9 p.m., but with temps below freezing, we opted to stay indoors. We left Rotterdam at 11 so we never got to see the city. DeltaWorks -- back to Holland on Day 8. Today we learned more about how the Dutch keep the sea at bay. Engineers would love this excursion. I did too. We also visited a museum commemorating a huge flood in 1953 that resulted in the building of the dam and lock system that we visited. The museum was highly interactive. Here, our guide, who was a child during the flood, told us a personal story that sent chills! Disembarkation -- this went very smoothly. Stein posted a list of disembarkation times for each cabin number and gave us color coded luggage tags. Unlike the ocean cruises I have been on, we did not have to put our bags outside our stateroom the night before. Instead, we had to put them there only ½ hour before our assigned time. We were whisked off to the airport where we boarded our plane for home. Summary--we were very impressed with our first Viking River cruise. Although the average age of the passengers was older than us (I'm 53 and my husband is 62) and less energetic than us, the trip was wonderful. I highly recommend a river cruise and Viking. Read Less
Sail Date March 2013
Before we boarded the Queen of the Mississippi we were scooped up and taken care of in royal and friendly fashion. The crew took our luggage and sent us in to relax with fresh cookies, coffee and live jazz music while we sorted out the ... Read More
Before we boarded the Queen of the Mississippi we were scooped up and taken care of in royal and friendly fashion. The crew took our luggage and sent us in to relax with fresh cookies, coffee and live jazz music while we sorted out the rooms. The entire seven days continued with staff and crew taking such good care of us; amazing meals every day; fun ports to explore; kite flying off the top deck; coffee, tea, fruit, snacks and cookies 24 hours a day; awesome cocktail hours; lectures and local entertainment daily. This was my fifth cruise with AMERCIAN CRUISE LINES. Each one was a different venue, different parts of the USA to explore but always the same fabulous service, food, new excursions. I recommend AMERICAN CRUISE LINES without hesitation. Read Less
Sail Date March 2013

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