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Sail Date: December 2010
We returned late Saturday night from our 16 day trip to Germany and Austria which included a cruise from Frankfurt to Vienna on Avalon's Luminary. We were thrilled to have no rain and LOTS of snow and only a few times were the ... Read More
We returned late Saturday night from our 16 day trip to Germany and Austria which included a cruise from Frankfurt to Vienna on Avalon's Luminary. We were thrilled to have no rain and LOTS of snow and only a few times were the conditions icy and/or slushy, making walking unpleasant. The snow covered scenery was magnificent and really added to the ambiance. This was our 4th visit at this exact time of year and the first time we had snow in every city we visited, except for our 4 days in Berlin at the very beginning of our trip. The Luminary is a new ship and she is elegant and understated. The highlight was the outstanding staff who was among the very best we have encountered on any cruise line. Gabriel, the utterly competent Maitre'd, managed a dining staff that was not only professional but also warm and gracious. Stand outs were Charlie (Perdang), Laszlo and Norbett. Our chef, Stefan, had been with us on our Affinity cruise last year and he was delightful, always smiling and very visible at meal times. Timea and Daniel at reception were always helpful and pleasant. Hans lived up to his reputation as an excellent cruise director, handling both the day to day aspects of his position along with the additional issues he faced due to weather challenges. We had about a dozen passengers unable to get to the boat due to weather problems in Frankfurt that disrupted flights and was on the phone constantly working to get them to the boat at the next ports of call. We had 4 in our group delayed and were surprised to learn that even though Avalon had booked their air and transfers as a complete package, Avalon's air department does not track flights at all to let the ship know of any delays. I had to let Hans know what was happening as he was unaware and told me that it is the passenger's responsibility to call him directly with any flight delays. Be aware of this if you expect to have your air issues handled by Avalon. The excellent bar staff of Vladimir, Bibi and Radu made before and after visits to the forward lounge very enjoyable. Rooms were well appointed and beds very comfortable. We had to go to the front desk to request a robe and it would have been nice to have these in the rooms when we checked in. The quality of food was excellent and we enjoyed a galley tour one afternoon with Stefan. The food is freshly prepared and was consistently cooked properly and served hot. There was a special offered each day at breakfast and several menu items that could be ordered at lunch if one did not want the buffet. The variety was very good for a ship of this size. Avalon advertises they offer a variety of low calorie options but this is really not accurate. At both breakfast and lunch, the choices for those choosing to follow a lower fat diet were very limited and the kitchen was not able to accommodate special requests for these meals. Hot soups at lunch were consistently cream based and though there was a small salad bar, there were limited items that were prepared without additional mayonnaise, etc. Veggies were prepared with butter and meats with sauces. This was not an issue at dinner when the two people in our group - including me - that prefer low cal options were well accommodated. Included wines were good. We did want to purchase better wines on a few nights but they were completely out of about 75% of the red wines offered on the wine list, the same situation we had encountered last year on the Affinity. I am not sure why they offer an ala carte list if they are unable to stock for it. We tried to order no less than 7 different reds by the bottle and not a single one was available. We were limited to the German wines and this was disappointing as we would have preferred some variety and were happy to pay the extra. By the next to the last night, they had also run out of vodka and Kahlua, which I found strange as well. There were some negatives on this trip for us: There was lots of sailing time and virtually no in cabin entertainment was available. There were three English channels and this is a cruise line that caters to North American passengers and Aussies so this is something Avalon really needs to address. Often CNN did not even have sound available. Avalon really needs to add some movie options and music channels. One can only watch progress through the locks so many times and after dark which comes very early in winter, there was no scenery to enjoy. Only twice were we docked in any reasonable proximity to the city we were visiting. I consider reasonable a 20 minute walk at a good pace. This mean taxi fares to get us back when we chose not to take the scheduled bus transfer. Walking groups were not grouped by physical ability and this was a hindrance in my opinion. There were most always 4 groups so it would have been easy to designate a group of slow walkers and another for those who wished to walk faster. Internet service was more unavailable than available. I had issues sending but could receive. The people in the cabin next to us to us could send but not receive. On this 11 night cruise, menus were much the same for the second half and more variety would have been welcomed. There was not much in the way of evening entertainment, even for a river cruise. The onboard piano player, Ivan, had a very limited repertoire. We were scheduled to be in port late in Regensburg so looked forward to being off the ship there but the heavy snowfall caused the river to rise very rapidly and instead of leaving at 11pm we had to pull out at 4:30pm. The evening entertainer was unable to get aboard that night. Last year we really enjoyed a Christmas evening put on by the crew but this was missing this year. For a Christmas cruise, there was nothing to distinguish the season in terms of any events or entertainment. A highlight for us was the crew show where about a dozen of the crew put on a series of skits that bordered from amusing to hilarious. Stefan and the gang of Roman bell ringers took top prize judging by passenger reaction. On the night of the 2nd crew show (a repeat of the first) we happened to be docked next to the River Countess and noticed their show taking place at the same times as ours. There was a young lady dressed in traditional Bavarian attire signing which made up the bulk of their entertainment and we noticed a number of their passengers peering over into our lounge where our staff had us bursting out with laughter at some of the antics. We were very happy to be on the Luminary with its very special crew. Overall we enjoyed the cruise but will next year we are booked on AMA for a wine themed cruise since they offer some of the things Avalon is missing, like walking groups organized by capability, bicycles and in room entertainment. The itinerary we chose for 2011 also has 4 of the 7 nights (enough for us we decided on this trip) either as overnight stays or very late in port which will give us the opportunity to spend more time in the cities we visit. Read Less
Sail Date: July 2010
We sailed on the River Countess on a Rhine and Main Rivers ("Rhine Discovery") cruise in July 2010, from Basel, Switzerland to Nurenberg, Germany. We arrived on our own in Basel a few days early and toured on our own. The day ... Read More
We sailed on the River Countess on a Rhine and Main Rivers ("Rhine Discovery") cruise in July 2010, from Basel, Switzerland to Nurenberg, Germany. We arrived on our own in Basel a few days early and toured on our own. The day of departure, we took a taxi to the dock around Noon. The crew took charge of our luggage. The Hotel desk staff had us checked in (in) less than one minute and sent us to the lounge to wait for our cabin to be ready. There were sandwiches, pizza and cheese for us to snack upon, with free tea, coffee, iced tea and water. Soft (and hard) drinks were available from the bar. Sodas cost about 2.50 (Euros) while drinks ranged from 4.50 to 6.50. We explored the ship as well. As you can see from the floor plans, it is small. It has: Lounge in the bow; a small library with 2 desks with PC's, two 4 person bridge-style tables and two 4 person easy-chair groupings; reception area with "hotel" and Cruise Director desks; 4 decks of cabins; "shop" (10 x 10 feet) with jewelry and kick-knacks; a coffee station with espresso, teas, hot chocolate and iced teas; a fitness room with 2 x each of treadmills, bikes, ellipticals; (free) passenger laundry with 2 x washers and dryers (soap available for purchase at the Hotel desk); massage room; and restaurant aft. We met a few other couples while we waited. The other passenger groups ranged in size from couples to a group of 8 neighbors from the States. There were two families with teens, but I strongly recommend against bringing kids. The company and tours are not geared toward them at all. The age range of adults seemed to start at 45 and went up to 93, with two couples seemingly in their late 30's (or with much better plastic surgeons). There were 138 passengers on board for our cruise. An aside: One couple, from Australia, told us Uniworld had lost their reservation (yes, they had their confirmation paperwork) and had to scramble to find them a cabin. They were booked in a Cat 4 cabin, but were given a Cat 1 for the first ½ of their cruise (7 days). For the inconvenience, they were invited to the captains table and given a suite for the second ½ of the cruise. We were given our cabin keys at around 1:30. The cabin was a little smaller than most other cruise ship cabins we have had. It had 4 large drawers, 2 half-height and one full-height closets...plenty of space for our clothes and a tall space under both double beds for our luggage. One of the closets had a large safe, able to hold a large camera, wallets and laptop. It also included two fluffy robes and a large umbrella. There was a "makeup" area with mirror and stool with its own light as well. The TV was about 13 - 15 inches seemed to have lower resolution than SD, making it very hard to read the daily announcements, menu's, etc. The ship has satellite service which went in and out as we passed bridges, trees, clouds, etc. It worked fine while we were docked. Channels included CNN International, BBC, Discovery Channel, Cartoon Network. Two different recently released to DVD movies which changed daily played as well. For our cruise, they included Alice in Wonderland, Dear John and Shutter Island. As with our other cruise experiences, the bathroom was just large enough for a sink in a small vanity with mirror and lit magnifying mirror, toilet and shower. The shower was surprisingly large, considering the rest of the bathroom. The crew is simply the most cheerful, helpful group we have had the pleasure to meet. Everybody was smiling and seemed genuinely happy to help in any way possible. The Captain and Hotel Manager (married) were professional and very funny throughout our interactions. The Cruise Director (Claudia for this cruise) was very knowledgeable, helpful and kept close track of all 140 of us through our excursions. Unlike most of our other cruise experiences, the food ranged from very good to excellent. Even the breakfast and lunch buffets were of excellent quality. Lunch and Dinner menus were posted the night before on the TV and before each meal at the Hotel desk. Wait staff were all friendly and attentive, serving and refilling drinks at all meals and helping the mobility-challenged of us. Breakfast included a daily special, like crepes or eggs benedict, eggs/omelets cooked to order, a great selection of breads, juices, smoked salmon, cheeses, cereals and a variety of hot foods: scrambled eggs, bacon (crisp AND soft separately), pancakes. All meals were served in one sitting, without any assigned seating. All passengers fit at once(obviously). Tables held from 2 - 8 (10?), all with views out floor to ceiling windows side and/or aft. You could either sit at a table the size of your party or dine with other groups. Each meal most people either sat at tables with empty spaces or asked to sit in said empty spaces. If you wanted to "reserve" a large table for a large group, you simply got there as early as you could to hold it. The variety of people we met made for the best part of the cruise. We met families from US, UK, Australia and Canada. Most people were happy to meet each other, though there were a few groups more insular. Over the course of the cruise, we met about 16 different couples over meals and found a number of friends with whom we plan on keeping in touch. Lunch changed daily and always included a different carving station entrEe, such as a German version of a Pot Au Feu (the best offering, in our opinion), salmon with a lemon cream sauce and carved beef. There were also different soups each day, all made in-house. Every single one was excellent. There were a variety of cheeses, three different salads (changing each day as well...chicken and Caesar salads were great), two different hot entrees, vegetables and starches. Finally, there were always 2 or 3 desserts created by the in-house pastry chef. Her creations were always beautiful and had excellent flavor. Finally, if you did not like her creations that day, there was an ice cream sundae station. Dinner was served, as opposed to the buffets of the other meals. You were given a menu listing the (4) courses, with a choice of entrEe and occasionally a choice in appetizer. Appetizers included I am not going to discuss the tours at any length. They were a good compromise, given the range of passengers. All guides were friendly and easy for us English speakers to understand. Some thought the guides were long-winded, others thought they gave an excellent level of detail. Our only real complaint: Internet access was as close to useless as I have ever seen. At least dial-up provides you with a consistent connection, slow as it may be. The wifi network was only usable from the lounge and library (and on the rear sundeck, I think). Once you signed in to get access, you were usually unable to get any further to the Internet. There are also two desktop computers to share, which had exactly the same lack of Internet service. While I understand the spotty nature of Satellite Internet service, it should have at least been available while we were docked. The whole week, all of us would stick our heads into the library and ask the current set of frustrated EMailers if the "Internet was working". 75% of the time it was not, 10% of the time it seemed to move at 1 Kbps (Yahoo/G/Hot- mail would take about 5 minutes to load), and 5% of the time it was "normal". Mind you, that 5% of the time, maybe 2% gave us speeds fast enough for ANY media access. One poor woman worked for an hour to view pictures of her grandson and family online. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: May 2010
The Avalon Felicity is a brand new vessel just launched in March 2010. Based upon my observations of other river cruise vessels it's exterior is not stylish or very modern in appearance. However the interior is very clean in ... Read More
The Avalon Felicity is a brand new vessel just launched in March 2010. Based upon my observations of other river cruise vessels it's exterior is not stylish or very modern in appearance. However the interior is very clean in appearance and comfortable. The 138 passengers fit easily into the forward lounge and restaurant. The only time we felt crowded was during the lunch buffet. Avalon boasts that their cabins are the largest for river cruises, at 172 square feet. They feel a little smaller possibly from the lay out. They are adequate though considering the limited time one spends in the cabin. Storage capacity of the cabin in my wife's opinion was wonderful and in fact we did not use it all. The cabin has French doors but we missed having a balcony as on an ocean cruise. The food was hit or miss. Dinners were quite good with free wine. Service was basically good though they confused orders at times and there was a delay serving soft drinks. Breakfast buffet meats and eggs were cold, though my wife told me the omelet station was good. Disembarkation was the easiest I ever had. Was off ship and onto a bus to the airport in minutes. In all the cruise was enjoyable though one should consider carefully the differences between an ocean cruise and a river cruise before committing to a river cruise.   Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2009
My Wife and I took Avalon Waterways Romantic Rhine cruise to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversery, cruising down the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel this August. It was not only our first cruise it was the ships first cruise too. Well it ... Read More
My Wife and I took Avalon Waterways Romantic Rhine cruise to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversery, cruising down the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel this August. It was not only our first cruise it was the ships first cruise too. Well it was my first cruise if you don't count the trip across Lake Erie from Cleveland to Detroit that I took with my family in 1955 on the SS Aquarama. I had visited the Rhine before form the land side and wanted to share that experience with my wife during our river cruise. We were a little apprehensive about the maiden voyage but it turned out not to be a problem at all. The only thing that went wrong was our room safe did not have its battery installed so we could not lock up our valuables. That was quickly remedied by the ship's engineer. The first night's dinner service was a little slow but that just gave us more time to spend getting to know our dinner companions. It is a small ship with only 138 passengers and with open seating at every meal it is possible to get to know more than half the people on board if you don't dine with the same folks twice. With free wine at dinner and great companions it was tempting to linger over a meal. Meal service improved each night as the Maitre d' whipped his staff into shape. The wait staff was from Easern Europe, Indonesia, and China. Some of them started out clueless and managed to stay that way throughout the cruise despite Attila (his real name) the Hungarian's best direction. Just like on my sailboat, you have some crew that works out and some that doesn't. The food was very good and matched the region we were in. The only thing I got hungry for was simpler fare which we had the opportunity to sample when off the ship. Portions were not overly large like in the USA but you were well fed. The highlight of the meals were the salad dressings which were very light and always interesting. The only thing I would change is to lose the cake at 4:00 routine in favor of some extra time at happy hour or bigger glasses for the iced tea served when returing from a shore excursion. Iced Tea is the official (non alcoholic) drink of my home state of Texas and I have to commend the ship for doing a credible job with their brew, although not quite robust enough to stand up to a good piece of smoked brisket. The ship itself was very comfortable. We had a room on the bottom floor near the back. You would think it would be noisy but this ship has very little engine noise. The first day we pulled away from the dock and were moving before I realized it. Several passages are made at night and it was no trouble at all to sleep while underway. I found the top deck layout awkward. They had a hot tub in the forward section in front of the bridge. This meant anyone using that had to walk throught he lobby and past nearly everyone to get to it. This could have been better relocated aft with a seperate stairway near the back of the ship. I would also move the smoking section to aft of the bridge. I don't smoke. If you put the smokers at the front of the ship then the non smokers are downwind from them all the time. We ended going to the foremast part of the ship to try to get fresh air. We had the smallest stateroom on the ship and it had pleanty of space. We had more than enough room for our clothes, our empty suitcases slid easily under the bed. I loved being able to unpack only once during the trip. Beds were very comfortable. The room air conditioninig worked quietly. Our flat screen TV was good and offered a view from a foreward facing camera as well as a GPS display of the ships position and speed. Quite handy if you want to keep an eye on the helmsman's activiites. Our cruise was populated by many travel writers who were invited aboard to review the ship on its maiden voyage. I talked to many of them and they seemed to be enjoying their trip. I had a slightly different perspective from them because I paid to take this trip and I had no prior cruise experience. I have to say it was one of the best vacations I ever had. The pace was liesurley yet not boring. The people were interesting, the sites were lovely the service was good but not intrusive and I felt this Avalon cruise offered a great value for the money. Strasbourg - How the Germans would build a French town. Eat lots of pastry, have a french eclair for one hand and a pretzel for the other. Go to the cathedral and ask what time it is. Beware of beggars. Koln - Big Cathedral, interesting shops. Good place to take a stroll and find a sidewalk cafe to sit down and drink beer or wine. Koblens - Charming town. Take a walk down to the German corner to see big William  Heidleburg - Monster castle, great town to walk around. Only eat in restaurants with flags, sign of simple fare and low prices. Take the Philosopher's walk up the hill on the other side of the river. Rudesheim - Go to the Drosselgasse and dance the polka with the locals. Seigfreid's museum is unique. Try not to buy a cuckoo clock here. Get a hat instead. Read Less
Sail Date: June 2009
After many failed attempts to book small to large groups on European River Cruises, we finally managed to reserve 5 cabins on the Viking Pride.  The 7 night trip sailed from Nuremberg to Budapest over the Main-Danube Canal and Danube ... Read More
After many failed attempts to book small to large groups on European River Cruises, we finally managed to reserve 5 cabins on the Viking Pride.  The 7 night trip sailed from Nuremberg to Budapest over the Main-Danube Canal and Danube River.  The group was composed of mostly experienced cruisers, although none of us had tried river cruising before this trip.  Boarding was efficient with very pleasant and helpful staff.  Early boarders were provided with a bus trip into Nuremberg for some bonus touring - a nice touch.  Rooms were spacious, clean, and well organized with ample storage and comfortable beds.  Free WiFi service (generally available in port only) was a bonus that made staying in touch with family at home both easy and inexpensive.  The ship offers a couple of "all-inclusive" options that provide semi-unlimited alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks while onboard.  More convenience than cost savings, the unlimited alcoholic drinks were priced at 300 euro per cabin and included all you care to drink house wines(six decent choices) or draft beer (one choice) and two cocktails per day.  Cocktails were stingy with one carefully measured shot of alcohol per drink.  Bar service was spotty with one server very friendly and accommodating while the other server was frequently absent from post and provided the minimum service required.  Included tours at each port were quite good with well-informed local tour guides, wireless headsets, and easy walking.  Usually just one or two hours in length, the tours allowed time for independent exploration, lunch, and shopping.  Optional tours were reasonably priced.  The ship was spotless and well appointed.  We were disappointed, though, to learn that the top deck would not be available for the first half of the trip.  Low bridges require that all furniture, umbrellas, and railings are taken down until reaching the town of Passau.  Scenery along the Main/Danube Canal was pretty mundane with factories, a few small towns, and occasional fishermen and sunbathers; nothing brochure worthy.  Passing through the first few locks, which can raise and lower the ship more than 80 feet, was interesting.  The next twenty or so locks were less so.   No scenes here to make the next Viking brochure.  Once in the Danube, though, scenery improved a bit with the hoped for villages and castles standing guard over the river.  Dining room food and service were quite disappointing.  The food was generally bland and unseasoned, and the menus were mostly uninspired.  Soups were salty, but with little flavor.  Most seemed to be made from the same tasteless cream soup base with a few vegetables thrown in.  Breakfast was a combination buffet and made-to-order served by a wait staff whose inattentiveness bordered on rude.  When one guest asked for a couple sausages on her made-to-order eggs benedict, she was told "You can get them from the buffet."  Wait staff serving coffee would frequently refuse to take food orders.  Wait staff taking food orders would generally refuse to pour coffee ("The other server will be here shortly with coffee.")  Airing our concerns directly to the Head Chef brought a look of surprise and disbelief.  Chef Claimed that it was necessary to cook this way to please everyone on the ship and insisted that he had never heard a complaint before.  His solution was to bring a plate of spices to our tables.  The spices he provided were completely in appropriate for that evening's meal, but he tried.  Having been on several ships with as many as ten times the number of passengers, the food on the Viking Pride ranks well below any of the others. NurembergMostly destroyed during the war, but rebuilt consistent with historical architecture, Nuremberg contains the tattered remains of the Third Reich.  Some interesting, if not spectacular, buildings and churches.  RegensbergMore impressive, architecturally, than Nuremberg.  In the midst of a downpour, we enjoyed excellent hand-tossed pizza and wine.  PassauGood shopping in local bakeries, wurstmarts, and chocolate shops.  MelkWonderful village with beautiful Benedictine monastery at the top of the hill.  Only disappointment was lack of time to spend in the village. ViennaBustling city with wonderful pastry shops and restaurants.  Much to see.  So little time.  Easy travel by underground trains. BudapestHighlight of the trip.  Must see the old city, the Market, the river, the bridges, Parliament, churches, funicular 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
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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