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Sail Date: June 2009
My  husband and I took the Paris-Normandy trip on the River Baroness in June, 2009.  This was a great trip with a good combination of busy and down times.  We loved sitting up on the top deck watching the countryside go by as we cruised ... Read More
My  husband and I took the Paris-Normandy trip on the River Baroness in June, 2009.  This was a great trip with a good combination of busy and down times.  We loved sitting up on the top deck watching the countryside go by as we cruised on the Seine River.  The top deck had a glass-enclosed space for chilly evenings and lounge chairs for sunning.  The passengers were a mix of Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, British and U.S. citizens.    The cabins are on the small side, but very efficient.  There were two twin beds that could be pushed together or kept apart.  Suitcases fit nicely under the beds and there was a large drawer under each bed.  There were 3 drawers in the closet and a large shelf towards the ceiling that went over the bed area and shelves and reading lamps on the side of each bed.  There was a chair and a stool and a low table with another shelf below  that held the water bottles, ice bucket and glasses .  Behind the door there was a large full-length mirror with a plug next to it.  There was also a dual voltage plug next to one of the beds. The bathroom  was built for one person and there is a shelf above and below the sink and another plug.  There were built-in containers of L'Occitane shower cream and shampoo in the shower and body lotion by the sink.  2 washcloths, 2 hand towels and 2 bath towels were replenished as needed.  There was a hair dryer provided.  I used my dual-voltage curling iron with an adaptor with no problems.  Nightly turn down service with chocolates was provided each evening while we were at dinner.   Breakfast and lunch were both served buffet style with lots of options.  Made-to-order omelets were available each morning along with the buffet.  Lunch always featured soup, sandwich and hot items along with salads, cheeses and dessert.  Dinner featured a choice of 2 starters, 2 soups, cheese and 2 dessert options.  There were usually two main course options along with a 3rd Vegetarian option.  There was always the option to have Steak or Chicken Breast, fries, salad, ice cream or fruit plate if the regular menu wasn't to your liking.  The food was very good.  Wine and soft drinks were complimentary during dinner.  Seating was open and you usually had a 1 ½ to 2 hour window for each meal time.  There was 'tea' served every afternoon and when you came back from a shore excursion, the crew was waiting with juice and warm towels for everyone as you came back onboard.   The crew was great and all seemed to get along like one big happy family.  There was no self serve laundry onboard, but service laundry was available.  Prices were about 4 euro for pants, 3.5 euro for a shirt, 1.5 euro for a t-shirt, for example.  In the 'patio' area there was an ice & water machine and a coffee, tea and hot chocolate machine along with iced tea that was available 24 hours a day.  There were 2  water bottles in each room that could be refilled each morning from this area to take on excursions.  There was a piano player who played every day during tea and before and after dinner.  On 2 different nights local entertainment was brought onboard.   You were welcome to board the boat any time on Sunday - a light lunch buffet was served during the afternoon.  We boarded about 3 pm and were shown to our cabin immediately.  The boat is docked in Paris across from Parc Andre Citroen.  Some people walked up to the Eiffel Tower (about 2 miles) before the boat sailed at 6 pm.  We sailed all night and went through 5 locks on the way to Les Andelys - a lovely little town.   We were docked right in town, although it was a Monday and not much was open.  The included excursion was to Chateau Gaillard up the hill.  You could either hike up or take the bus.  The boat departed at 3:30 to sail to Rouen where we arrived about 8 pm.  Again we were docked right in town so you could go for an evening stroll thru the town.  Rouen is a large town and there was a walking tour on Tuesday morning and time to go back into town in the afternoon to do some shopping.  There was an optional tour that afternoon to Chateau de Vascoeuil (48E) - no feedback available.  The boat stayed docked in Rouen that night and then on Wednesday was the full-day excursion to the Normandy Beaches which was a very special day.  About 7 pm we set sail to Caudebec where we arrived about 10:30 - it was lovely to sit out on deck after dinner and see the houses along with river.  On Thursday morning we boarded the buses to go to Honfleur - a seaside village - where we were taken on a walking tour of the city.  There was an option to go back to the boat at 12:30, stay in Honfleur til 2:30 when a bus would come back to pick you up or go on an optional excursion to a cider farm/lunch/Deauville (57E).  We did not go on this excursion but everyone who went said that it was a great afternoon - good lunch and Deauville has a casino.  At 6 we sailed all night back to Vernon.  Friday brought the included tour to Giverny - the poppies and roses were in full bloom.  While we were at Giverny the boat sailed to Mante-la-Jolie where we boarded for lunch.  After lunch you had the option of staying on the boat while it sailed to Conflans or to go on an optional excursion to Versailles (53E).  We went to Versailles and toured the palace with a guide and then had an hour or so to see the gardens.  Unfortunately, there was not enough time to go out to the Hamlet or the Trianons, but that would take all day to see the whole place - next time!  When we arrived back at the boat it left again for Paris where we arrived in time to see the Eiffel Tower twinkle at midnight.  On Saturday morning we went on the included City Tour of Paris where we stopped for a photo op down from the Eiffel Tower and a stop at Luxombourg Gardens where we walked through part of it with the guide.   That afternoon there was an optional excursion to the Louvre with a guide (53E).  On Saturday evening there were two optional tours available - Dinner at Altitude 95 at the Eiffel Tower (159E) or an evening at the Lido (142E).  On Sunday morning you needed to be out of your cabin by 8 am but were invited to stay on the boat as long as you wanted to during the day.  They scheduled transfers to the airport all during the day.   Each evening before dinner the Cruise Manager gave a short talk about the next days activities and the daily program was in your room when you returned from dinner.  There was a morning exercise scheduled each morning and a small fitness center.  On Monday night was the Captain's Welcome Dinner where the crew was introduced.  On Friday night was the Captain's Farewell Dinner.  Most people dressed up a little for these two nights, but nothing too fancy.  Other nights most men wore sports shirts and slacks and the women wore sun dresses or slacks - pretty casual really.  Umbrellas were provided in case of rain.  There was wi-fi most of the time and there was a computer for use for a nominal charge.  There were 2 movies shown continuously during the day on the TV and there was English language CNN plus many French channels  available.   We had a wonderful time on this trip and are sold on river cruising.  We extended this trip with 2 days in Paris before and 2 days in Paris after which gave us enough time to do a few other things in Paris.  Many on the trip were also combining this with the Burgundy & Provence cruise making this a 2 week journey.   Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2009
My husband and I recently returned from a two week Rhine and Moselle River Cruise on the Affinity from Amsterdam to Basel. While most of the ports were good or excellent, the ship and services were disappointing and need much improvement, ... Read More
My husband and I recently returned from a two week Rhine and Moselle River Cruise on the Affinity from Amsterdam to Basel. While most of the ports were good or excellent, the ship and services were disappointing and need much improvement, especially for a cruise that "targets upscale North American passengers". I preface this review with the fact that we are experienced travelers and have taken other river boats before, being very pleased with the experience.             THE SHIP- Room size. At 172 square feet, the impression is that the room is larger than the regular room on other river boats. While we did not measure the room, it did not appear to be any larger than other boats. You should not have any illusions of spaciousness.             Beds- What a disappointment. While the ship(and beds) were new, the mattresses were soft and the bedding (quilts and pillows) so small, making sleeping uncomfortable. Be aware that there is a split in the middle of the two beds and could be somewhat improved if full size bedding and mattress covers were used.              Computers - There were only two computers located in the lobby for up to 138 passengers. This is way too low considering that in many ports internet cafes are not available and there are few activities and entertainment on board, increasing the demand and frustration of passengers.                  Coffee and tea service all day - Yes, but it is located in a remote area of the top of the third deck, which is not easily accessible.             FOOD AND DINING - Breakfast buffet was good, however often food or drinks were not replaced on a timely basis. Cooked-to-order omelets available and good. Lunch buffet had better selections than dinner, however very often the touring schedule was such that getting back to the ship in order to eat lunch was not only inconvenient, but also wasted valuable touring time. In several ports, we chose to stay in town and eat lunch. The ship finally provided tour buses to shuttle guests back to town after lunch as well, but it took two weeks to get that service provided! Dinner - several things. Most distressing was open seating as it made it difficult to get a large table for a group of six or eight. Food - limited selection. Boring -little food of high quality. Everything was very salty. Difficult to get coffee or tea during or after meal (procedure was no coffee until after dessert) and no sweetener on table. Waiters very nice but "busboy" quality with no personality and little common sense. Did not seem to understand North American preferences as per "upscale" tours.. Very interested in constantly filling wine glasses.             ENTERTAINMENT - Only two nights of outside entertainment for two weeks, one of which was very poor. Keyboard player available every night for dancing.             CRUISE DIRECTOR AND TOURS - For the most part, our local guides were very good or excellent. The Cruise Director on board did not give adequate information. There were several errors and miscommunication made prior to docking. She did not seem to know about local holidays and closings until too late to make alternate arrangements. Her information on local ports very limited.  Insufficient information concerning levels of difficulty for limited mobility guests. There were many incidents where the Cruise Director's poor information or lack of communication was detrimental. She was also very defensive when approached with recommendations for improvement.             TIPPING POLICY - The printed guidelines of Avalon suggest a gratuity of $18 per person per day for the cruise staff plus $4.50 per person per day for the Cruise Director (which would be over $7,000 in tips for two weeks!). This is outrageous and almost double the tipping guidelines of both big ship cruises and other river cruises. Obviously, with our dissatisfaction, we tipped accordingly. Unfortunately, many others may have been scammed in to believing Avalon's policy is the norm. This was an indication of Avalon's attitude towards its guests, where form over substance was important.             In summary, we enjoyed the cruise because of the great ports and our ability to independently tour them when necessary, as well as meeting some lovely and congenial people, who shared our feelings. Given the cost of the cruise at more than $700 per couple per day (without airfare), next time we will think about using five star hotels and land based tours so that we can have more control over our travel experience. Read Less
Sail Date: May 2009
My wife and I took the European Jewels cruise May 9th 2009 aboard the River Empress. I will say that the entire experience, from the time we boarded the ship in Budapest and were checked in, to the day we disembarked in Amsterdam, was far ... Read More
My wife and I took the European Jewels cruise May 9th 2009 aboard the River Empress. I will say that the entire experience, from the time we boarded the ship in Budapest and were checked in, to the day we disembarked in Amsterdam, was far beyond our expectations. The food was remarkable and the wait staff was exceptional. I have eaten in five star restaurants that didn't do as good a job as the restaurant staff on the River Empress. Almost without exception, the shore excursions and local guides were easy to navigate and understand. The ports selected were a wonderful cross section of the area and represented big cities to small villages and everything in between. The Cruise Director became the "Go To" person for questions large and small and handled each one with humor and grace that had my wife and me shaking our heads in wonderment. Bravo to Bart. At the end of a long day of sightseeing ancient towns and villages, eating great food and drinking wonderful wines and beers, if was a pleasure to retreat to our cabin and climb into the best "Hotel Bedding" we have ever had the pleasure of enjoying. I would recommend this cruise and Uniworld to anyone who would like to experience Europe in comfort and style. Read Less
Sail Date: April 2009
The River Duchess is a nice ship,though I found the room to be a bit small.  We were at the water level with a long small window.  The bathroom is the smallest I have ever seen.  The shower was comfortable for me, but I cannot imagine ... Read More
The River Duchess is a nice ship,though I found the room to be a bit small.  We were at the water level with a long small window.  The bathroom is the smallest I have ever seen.  The shower was comfortable for me, but I cannot imagine how a large person would fit!The ship staff was very pleasant, a mix of European and Indonesian men and women.  I never had a problem with any of the staff.  A person who is not patient may have a problem with communication, but in todays world there are many languages to contend with.The food was good to very bad.  I had what was described as a quiche Lorraine one evening.  It was a quiche with more vegetable than I have ever seen in this type of food.  I could see before I bit into it that it had been overcooked, but thought I might find a palatable portion in the inside, but unfortunately it was dry all the way through.  I could not understand how this could have made it out of the kitchen.I found the wine, red or white and different vintners, included at night with the meal, to be pleasant.  My travel companion was much more critical.  Wine is a very personal thing so cannot comment for others.The breakfast buffet was the best meal of the day.  Lunch was a buffet and alright.We heard from other passengers that there were a number of people sick from stomach problems.  We heard numbers from 5 to 50.  Considering that the cruise had about 90 people that is a large number.  We could not confirm the exact count, depending on the word of two couples.The big plus of a river cruise is that people subject to motion sickness will be very comfortable.  I never had a problem with it on this trip. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: April 2009
We chose a river cruise for the convenience, low stress, and all inclusiveness, as well as the locations visited in eastern europe. We are married in our early 30's without kids and were definitely not the normal river cruise couple. ... Read More
We chose a river cruise for the convenience, low stress, and all inclusiveness, as well as the locations visited in eastern europe. We are married in our early 30's without kids and were definitely not the normal river cruise couple.  The average age of the cruise is about 60-65 years of age, with a few in their 40's, 50's, and 80's- at least they looked that age.  Don't let the age deter you if you are young as most of the people were very nice and we made friends w/ multiple couples.  There were a few groups of single friends, mom and son, etc., but predominantly married couples.      Our room was the lowest class and was very small, but adequate, and certainly no smaller than an inside stateroom on a larger cruise line. Our beds were separate, but you can squeeze into a single together if you wish.  You will need an adapter for hair appliances, chargers, etc, but my wife was incorrect in thinking we needed a converter, as we didn't. There was a hair drier in the room and an iron could be obtained from the front desk.  Movies are shown on one channel in your room on a daily basis- the same movie all day long as far as I could tell.  If you read the information booklet in your room, which we didn't until the last day, you will find the list of movies for the week.  Only one other channel is in english- CNN World, which I now prefer to normal CNN.  The shower was good quality and never short of hot water.  We had a window that ran just above water level and had a fair view, but certainly nothing picturesque- and it didn't open as the information book states. We peeked into a larger room, one level up from ours- D level I think- and it was MUCH nicer.  However it was $500 more pp and I don't think it is worth the additional cost even now w/ all taken into consideration. Budapest- if you have the chance definitely extend your stay here. It was one of our favorite locations and we wished we had more time. Cafe Girbaud was recommended to us and would recommend it to others.  Wished we had visited a bath house and had more time for museums.   All of the other stops were wonderful and you will have free time to explore on your own at just about every one of them. We weren't sure how much time we would have, but it seemed adequate everywhere.  At least enough time to decide that we loved just about every stop on the cruise.  You do not have much time after the Melk abby, but as quaint as you might think the town is, Regensburg and Passau were much better.  The only stop I could do without is Linz- would rather have had more time in other cities.  A tour in each city is included and were well done.  You have a receiver and ear piece to hear the tour guides on all walking tours.  They worked well and were very helpful.  Some tours were part bus w/ stops and walking portions, while others were walking only.  The tours were not too fast, too slow or overly churchy.  I thought they were well done w/ some people complaining about a few guides-  everyone is split into 3 or 5 groups depending on the stop, and not everyone had the same guide.  You can ask questions and always go back to see things again.  Remember to take some forints, or euros to tip- we forgot a few times and had to scramble to come up w/ 1-2 euros to tip w/.  Excursions- we only did the Kelheim Weltenburg Abbey tour.  We heard from others that other excursions were nice, although there were problems w/ the Vienna Palace tour. We enjoyed the Kelheim tour, but- 25 minute bus ride, 1 hour scenic boat ride w/ a large crowd of tourists, a 5 minute walk to the abbey, 1 hour at the abbey and beer garden, 10 minute walk to another bus, then a few scenic stops back to the boat.  Other than the beer at the abbey being fantastic the trip was mainly forgettable- the rain didn't help either. The only other option is to stay on the Viking ship the whole time.  If you like beer you'll love this excursion.  If you don't like beer your should at least enjoy the scenery.  Food- the dinners were all excellent w/ a variety of tastes- I never knew I would like Borscht!  Lunches were always good w/ buffet and items to order.  Breakfast was fair- burned bacon every day!!  Omelets were subpar.   A few key points: -Do not purchase the Silver Spirits all inclusive beverage package!!  Glasses of wine and beer run about 4-5 euros- or more if you wish a bottle of wine.  Corkage fee for wine brought on board is 7 euro.  Mixed drinks are a bit more- 5-7 euro.  Juices are included w/ breakfast and tea/water/coffee are always available.  We purchased the package and I drank like a fish, but was nowhere close to the total cost of the package- oh, and the sparkling wine, postcards, and hat aren't enough of an incentive. -Always go to the daily briefing and check the front desk for sign-ups.  The daily briefing covers a lot of information pertininent to the next day including signing up for various excursions.  One person was late getting on the boat the first night missed signing up for an excursion and then didn't get to go.  You will not need to sign up for any excursions until you are on the boat, but you need to sign up early rather than wait to make sure you get to go.  -Try the sausage and kraut in Regensburg.  I am not a fan of sausage or sauerkraut, but this was like no sausage or kraut I have had before.  It is/was one of the best things I have ever eaten and I consider myself a foodie.  - Realize there are breakfast and lunch menus if you do not wish to have the buffet items.  - Do not expect there to be food 24/7.  Portions are European style- fairly small.  We heard a few people complain, but I thought the portions were adequate- appetizer, soup, entree, dessert - and you can ask for additional portions including a cheese plate.  - if you have a choice between Prague extension or Budapest, i would choose Budapest.  We did Prague on our own and found it to be overrun w/ tourists, souvenir shops every 3rd shop, but a beautiful city w/ a lot of history.  Budapest was also a beautiful city w/ a lot of history, but fewer crowds and seemed more authentic.  Best to see Budapest before it turns into Prague.  Oh and Prague's pilsen beers were nothing compared to the many German beers I had- just personal preference.  - do some research in each of the cities to determine what you want to see during free time- Oberhaus castle in Passau, "Sissy" museum and Kaiser apartments in Vienna, Landtman Cafe in Vienna, Gerbaud Cafe in Budapest, etc.  You receive some maps and info on each stop, but it helps to know a bit more to maximize your time. - If you have the money to spend it is very helpful to eat lunch off the boat to maximize time at some locations. Especially in Vienna and Nuremburg where your are some distance from the boat and in Regensburg- so you can taste the magnificent sausage!   Read Less
Sail Date: March 2009
WE arrived atthe ship (which was quite difficult to find) at 11 am. Embarkation was quick and easy, and our cabin was ready. The buffet lunch was laready set out, attractively arragned - soup, a couple of types of sandwich, a hot entree, ... Read More
WE arrived atthe ship (which was quite difficult to find) at 11 am. Embarkation was quick and easy, and our cabin was ready. The buffet lunch was laready set out, attractively arragned - soup, a couple of types of sandwich, a hot entree, salads, and two desserts plus a fruit and cheese tray. Th guies on the thexcursion were really escellent, and the itinerary excursions were very good. Hoorn was very picturesque. In addition to the excursion, we walked into town the night we docked there, and enjoyed the play of the lights on the canal waters.Volendma was a disappointment - no longer quaint, and rather dull. We took the optional battlefield excursion to Arnheim - definitely not worth the euros. Unfortunately, although the museum has a treasure trove of artifacts, they are not well displayed, and there is virtuallyu no signage, or any explanatory placards or maps. We also visited the cemetery, and an overlook of a samll part of the battle area. But overall, we got no feel for how the battle progressed. Antwerp was fascinating. We had a morning tour, then free time in the afternoon, so we visited several of the churches that were open (you can pick up a brochure describing the churches when you visit the Curch of Our Lady during the morning excursion) e original paintings in these hurches are amazing, as is the sculptural work After the Brugges excurtion, you can stay in Brugges or take an afternoon walk in Ghent. We chose to stay in Brugges, and enjoyed the local french fies, a narrated canal boat cruise - fascinating to see the city from the water, and a little shopping for chocolate. Our room steward Ilya did a wonderful job, keeping the room in perfect condition. After the first 3 or 4 days, we made sure we sat at the tables that Jana served - her cheery greeting and smiling face were truly a day brightener!! The team that handled excursions, headed by Verona did a great job. Overall, we enjoyed our cruise very much. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: November 2008
Day 1: Leave Denver on Lufthansa at 5:15 bound for Frankfurt. Two nice meals, drinks with the dinner (2 glasses good white wine), and arrive a bit early at 10:30, local time. Try to avoid the Frankfurt airport! - we landed out in the ... Read More
Day 1: Leave Denver on Lufthansa at 5:15 bound for Frankfurt. Two nice meals, drinks with the dinner (2 glasses good white wine), and arrive a bit early at 10:30, local time. Try to avoid the Frankfurt airport! - we landed out in the outskirts, climbed down the stairs, and boarded a bus for the terminal. Even though its a secure area, we passed through a passport check, a customs check, and another xray security line. About 50% of the passengers got pulled out for individual wanding. I'm 2 for 2 on the inspection, since my carryon has batteries, digital camera, binoculars, and various electronics - all nice suspicious stuff on the xray machine. Watch the signs carefully to find your connecting flight in the airport. Off to Vienna. Customs a breeze (nothing to declare line). Viking rep meets us just outside the customs room, follow the driver to a VW van with 6 other passengers for transfer to ship (20-30 minutes). Onboard (staff handles bags), turn in passport in the European fashion. Ship exchanges euros at same rate as the exchange in the Denver airport, minus the $5 fee. Same rate in Vienna exchanges - figure on a 5% screwing on the exchange. ATMs are always the best bet, but only do that the first time outside a bank that is open, just in case something messes up. If it does, go inside and they will assist you in getting your ATM card back. Next time, call your ATM provider before you leave for Europe, eh? Tea/pastries in ship every day around 4, always good. Light snacks for early arrivals around noon. Meeting 6:15 and every day thereafter on "your schedule tomorrow". This one sells the 3 sidetrips on the voyage, have to buy today for arranging the buses. Dinner excellent pork/fish, shrimp and celery root mousse (good, unusual), clear oxtail soup, pastries. Captain's reception at 9, captain buys a champagne toast. Good musical entertainment with Otto, who has a very good synthesizer and knows a lot of songs. Off to bed, jet lagged. The ship: Viking Europe was built in 2001, and shows a need for some rehab (stained carpets, mostly). The cabins are 150 square feet for the main decks, and 120 square feet for the lower deck. Ample storage space on the main deck, with the suitcases stowed below the beds. Usual small bathroom - just imagine taking your half bath in your house, having the door open outward, then fitting a shower into the leftover space. Lotion and shampoo provided, nice thick towels. "Snot in a bottle" provided, but if you're not into shower gel, bring some soap. Usual confusing shower controls, this one is pretty standard for cruise ships, with the left knob giving the amount of water and the right knob adjusting the mixing temperature. Shower drained somewhat slowly. Ship is VERY UNFRIENDLY for handicapped - you must negotiate stairs for any movement around the ship. Then again - all the cities you're going to visit are also difficult for someone not able to walk a quarter mile and climb a couple of flights. All the streets of Europe feature cobblestones, uneven and inclined and often slippery. Choice of cabins - the center cabins are often blocked by the dock that the ship is moored to, noisy. No clock in cabin, bring your own - the bus will leave on time if you're not there. There are announcements a half hour and 15 minutes prior to bus tours. 115/220 dual switchable outlets in cabin, it works because I charged my camera and IPOD successfully. Day 2: Vienna Breakfast 7-9, early starter at 6 (pastries, good). Coffee and tea available 24/7, fruit on the table usually. Tea is not too good, bring your own if you're picky. I don't do Lipton or hisbiscus... Breakfast is typical cold cuts, muesli, oatmeal, granola, scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and bacon always, some other meat and side. Excellent rolls, whole grain breads, orange juice, tomato juice, something called vitamin juice that tastes like V8 Fusion in the States, and champagne if you want to add a little to your juice. You can also order omelets to order, eggs, french toast. Bus leaves at 9 for city tour, ends at 10:15 at Stephan Platz in the center of Vienna for free time. Go down street for shopping at Billa, buy candy for kids and wine for cabin (bring a corkscrew in your checked luggage), then to Kleiml on Graben Strasse for gourmet candy. Bus arrives at 12, back to ship for lunch. Pumpkin soup(very good), salad bar (good), spaghetti or lamb roast, brownie with pistachio ice cream for dessert. Afternoon shuttle to Xmas market at Rathaus, spend 2 hours. Best drink is with schnapps for 2.50 euros for the cup, 3.50 euros for the drink. Nice cup, keep it for collection. Very good for pictures, see it in late afternoon for lights. Good selection, but didn't buy much. Lot of Lebkeuchen (gingerbread). Side note on shopping: I had hoped to buy some Swarovski binoculars here, but with the exchange rate, the 2% credit card fee, the 20% VAT refund - would save a grand total of $12 on a $1900 pair of binoculars! Not worth the trouble... If you spend more than $100 in a store, remember to show your passport and demand the freedom from the VAT - you have to ask for this! Back to ship for tea time, then the briefing, then dinner. Dinner is cream of herb soup, salad, wiener schnitzel or trout, apple pancake with ice cream. Waiters in Mozart wigs for atmosphere. My wife attended the Mozart concert ($55) and liked it, but hall was overheated. Some Goulash soup for a late night snack when the concert goers return. Ship leaves at 11. Day 3: Budapest Awake to cruising on the Danube. Breakfast features Nurnberger sausages today. I opt for the usual smoked salmon, muesli, and fruit. Wheelhouse tour at 9:30 - fun, and remember to ask about the wheelhouse collapsing to get under bridges in times of high water - that's interesting. Passing large cathedrals, and a ruined castle on the Danube, but I forgot the names. A guidebook on the sights would be handy, but I didn't buy one - I did get Baedecker guides to Austria and Budapest used on Amazon, and a pretty much worthless copy of Fodor's for Czech Republic and Slovakia. Use the Virtual Tourist website instead for city guides. Lunch has cream of vegetable soup, salad bar, Goulasch and spatzle, tiramisu for dessert. Arrive at 1:00, be on top deck portside for best views of Budapest. Usual city tour from 2-6. The Hero Monument is really good, read the history beforehand. 45 minutes of free time in the Christmas Market, not enough time - all handmade crafts, good prices. Budapest freely takes euros, US$ maybe - but the ATMs give forints only. Vendors I dealt with gave an honest exchange. Any forints left over can be given out as tips, or the coins make nice souvenirs for grandchildren. Hungary is switching to the euro on January 1, so this comment is soon outdated. St. Mathias cathedral is good, the view from the Fisherman Bastion is very good at night, but the spotlights are distracting and you really have to work to take a picture. Dinner is shrimp cocktail, celery soup with mussels and barley, turkey roll or butterfish, pumpkin cake or rum ice cream (Chef made some changes to celebrate American Thanksgiving) Developing an appreciation for Chef Ronny's work with soups and fish dishes, and the bread is nice and crunchy. Sailaway at 8:30, nice to watch with the city lit up. Day 4: Bratislava Up early to birdwatch from the lounge. Lock into the Danube Canal east of Bratislava. Breakfast of the usual, except the fruit today is mandarin oranges and the bonus meat is sausages. At 10:30, cold cuts and free wine spritzer (not that good) in the lounge. Lunch of cheese soup, pork roast or fried fish, good chocolate mousse. City tour 1:30 - 3. Free time - prices in Bratislava very good, selection of wood items and porcelains a specialty. A lot of grilled foods. Jewelry store near the inner market has impressive amber - necklaces with pieces the size of eggs, all kind of tacky looking costume jewelry type (I think they're fake ones). Warning: 15 steps up and 15 down getting through the customs house to the ship. Liquor store in the customs house, try the apricot brandy. Christmas mart is about a 1 km walk from the ship, and a map would be handy. Viking has city maps on the reception desk for all the cities, generally good. Dinner is artichoke soup or borscht, pike-perch or good beef, hummus or salad nicoise, mousse for dessert. At 9:00, talk on 2009 cruises, $1100/cabin savings with down payment now, date to be selected later. Free drink and egg roll as a reward for listening, but we don't bite on the deal. Day 5: Durnstein/Melk Breakfast today adds turkey sausage (weird tasting) and hash browns to the buffet, and pears to the fruit. Arrive Durnstein at 9:00, walking tour at 9:30. 1 Km walk, mild incline over cobblestones. Great overdecorated church, gilded like crazy. Nice town - half open in the off season. Lots of old walls, surrounded by vineyards. 2 hours total, with a 20 minute organ concert tossed in. Organist good, organ ordinary. Not quite enough time for serious shopper, but we buy some artisan chocolate and excellent Marille Apricot brandy. The one in the round squat clear bottle. Back on ship, leave at 11 for the cruise through the Wachau gorge. Narrative is good on the ship, but Baedecker has more details to follow along. Lunch of cream of broccoli soup, rice and pork, baked apple (very good, I had a religious experience and ordered a second). Arrived at Melk at 2:30, bus to abbey. Abbey tour - museum pretty ordinary, but the abbey is on my top church list, right up there with San Maria Maggiore in Rome and St Marks/St Lawrence in Venice. Choice is bus back or walk into town down hill and back to the ship (a bit less than 2 Km). Christmas market is small, nothing of great impact, run mostly by town non-profits (hospice, soccer, volleyball, etc). Most stores open, interesting and inviting. There's a good artist coop store with a woodcarver who is very good. Hungarian dinner of marinated veggies, cabbage soup, sauteed pike perch, some kind of crepe for dessert. Talk at 9 - questions to captain, hotel manager, chef, etc. Day 6: Linz/Salzburg Breakfast features McDonald style hash browns this morning. For me, it's day #5 of the smoked salmon. Chili sauce is good on the scrambled eggs, assertively hot, peaches for fruit today. Off to Salzburg - 1 ½ hours bus ride, one potty stop on the way near the MondSee for good views. The WCs are downstairs, exit through the giftshop with a long line. It's possible to squeeze thru the turnstile at the entrance backwards if you're skinny. Continue on the Salzburg, 1 ½ hour walking tour. Group 1 goes in back of the cathedral and see St Peter's cemetery, we get a guide that loves Mozart and shows us everyplace where Mozart had his diaper changed, etc. Go to the cemetery if you get a chance, it is really something. Lunch at St Peter's restaurant - oldest in town - near the cathedral. Warning: this takes over an hour! If you're a serious shopper, skip the dessert like we did or the entire thing and get some street wurst for a snack. Big Christmas mart around the cathedral, and others scattered around town to find on your own. Loden clothes in the mart, 20% less than the stores. Steiff animals in the mart also. Selection is really nice, prices decent. Hats, scarves, lot of candy/cookies, wooden ornaments, toys, nutcrackers and smokers. It's open on Sunday, because we were there on Sunday, but most stores in town are closed. Bought a bottle of apricot brandy in a violin shaped bottle. Remember the rule about "buy no wine in a bottle shaped like a fish"? Add the violin bottles to that rule. Town and tour very unfriendly to handicapped. ! ½ hour bus ride back to ship. If you opted out of the Salzburg tour, you got a walking tour of Linz during the morning and free time in the afternoon. You could with some research, take the train from Linz to Salzburg cheaper and faster if you're comfortable in Europe. If you took the side tour to Salzburg, you have no time to see Linz - the ship leaves a half hour after the buses return. Day 7: Cesky Krumlov Don't remember what the special breakfast addition was and didn't write it down. Smoked salmon, again and the mandarin oranges are back. Bus to Cesky Krumlov leaves at 9:30, 1 ½ hour trip on winding narrow two lane roads. Most beautiful town, with views down every alley. Avoid gypsy stores - easy to tell, ask your tour guide. Avoid exchange booths with the best prices, they cheat you too. Most of the amber in town is fake - if you want some, study up beforehand (helpful hint: look for bubbles). Just enjoy the plentiful sights, and skip most of the shopping. The toy stores in town were good. Lunch at Tornado restaurant beside the river - good, slow. No Christmas mart in town. The ATMs give korunas again. The castle tour only accepts korunas, so you're stuck. Another hour and a half to meet the ship in Passau. The Passau Christmas mart is ordinary and small, but has some different things to look over. Try the Apfeltrum (cider) with a shot of Calvados in it, I had two and was buzzed quite nicely. St Stephan's Dom was nice, excellent painted ceilings, molded/carved column tops. Photographing and filming is forbidden, I think, and I don't want to go into "How to cheat the system and still take pictures". Since it was sprinkling light rain, my wife stayed in the cabin and read. "Bavarian Entertainment" in the lounge at 9 - only poor thing on the trip, proves to be a bunch of young girls (12-16?) playing traditional tunes, mostly not that well. Day 8: Passau Early breakfast available at 3 AM in the lounge, since some passengers are getting transfers at that time. Breakfast is somewhat extended in the restaurant, since transfers are continuously leaving. This morning features weird tasting vienna sausages and that old American breakfast favorite, baked beans (in the English style, a lot of tomato sauce). My last day of smoked salmon, celebrate with a double helping. Leave the bags outside the door and go off to see the sights of Passau. Walk around, visit St Peters church (nice dark wood altars, carved), walk the river borders to see some birds (swans and gulls a feature), and go to the Christmas mart again. Buy nothing, but its the idea.... Back in the ship, settle up the bill in the usual fashion. Tips on Viking are split among the crew, which is nice for the dishwashers. We were introduced to the dishwashers during one of the dinners, which is a nice feature. All the crew pitches in for luggage transfer - I saw the head chef out there hustling luggage to the bus, the hotel manager, etc. Bus to Munich airport takes a couple of hours, we get checked through with a minimum of hassle, except for one thing! Once again, we pass through the regular security/xray, the passport check, then enter the airport. Suffering from the lack of some peasant food, we have some roasted wurst at AirBrau (very good). Passing the duty free shop, my wife pops in a buys a bottle of water for the plane. When we get to the overseas gates, there is another security line/xray, and that 1.20 euro bottle of water gets confiscated. She's still fuming over that - thankfully, I had passed up the purchase of a liter of Grand Marnier. Once again, down two flights of stairs to board a bus, then up a lengthy flight of stairs to board the plane - what are these airports like in the summer rush? Two meals on Lufthansa again, wine and beer to go with them, and the meals are wurst again - I sacrifice and eat it gratefully. I guess the bottom line for flying into Germany is to take Lufthansa and avoid the German airports. Good luck on that one. Read Less

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