We are planning a riverboat cruise for our 42 anniversary, Trying to decide which company to go with. Any ideas on which ones are best?
I don't think you will find a lot of people on this forum that could give you a comparative answer. You might try Googling "European River Cruise Reviews".
Definitely visit CruiseCritic. You will get a lot of opinions on which river cruise company is "best".
We sailed with Viking last year and had a fantastic time. So much so, we've booked again for this coming June sailing along the Rhine (which is why I'm on this forum as we end our cruise in Amsterdam and will be spending additional time there).
My suggestion is to decide which itinerary suits you best and then which price matches your budget. You will get good input on CruiseCritic.
We are going with APT, but that tends to be arranged for Australians. Americans seem better catered for with the Amawaterways cruises which use the same boats. There is also Avalon, Viking and a number of others. Our travel agent said they are often set up to cater for a particular demographic, so the APT ones are all drinks, excursions and tips paid because Aussies don't like paying extra for those things.
We gathered all the brochures, talked with our agent, compared inclusions, sailing dates etc and will do the Budapest to Amsterdam trip this April.
We will be on Viking for Windmills and Tulips. Check out "Cruise Critic" for information about ocean & river cruising.
We just returned from the Viking Tulips and Windmills cruise (ended April 1) and I plan to write a long review. We are unlikely to sail with them again. Bottom line: excellent accommodations, food, and most of the staff, but usually poor tour guides, boring (for us, not others) passenger demographics that made us almost constantly feel marginalized, frustrating technical problems, annoying program director, seemingly incompetent concierge (though the latter two might be unique to this crew).
- Our profile: together 4 years, live outside New Haven, Connecticut, in our 70s, quite fit and energetic, retired educators, self-styled intellectuals who have traveled a lot and especially love to linger in museums and learn about local culture.
- We were on the maiden voyage of the Lif, one of several recently built Viking ships. Given space constraints, the company seemed to do an excellent job of designing our small room for maximum efficient use. The whole boat was kept quite clean.
- First 6 or 7 days were quite chilly, last few days warm and as high as 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Sun deck (or those cabins that had small verandas with a chair or two—we had a so-called French window, which gave us plenty of light so long as we weren’t alongside a high dock or other boat) was therefore rarely used.
- Service and food were generally excellent. Many passengers had previously sailed with Viking and loved it.
- The crew who served passengers, including waitstaff, desk support and room cleaners, seemed to be almost entirely eastern European—not sure why; their English was fine and their manner almost always affable and helpful (they likely had long training sessions). “Invisible” crew (visible when schlepping luggage but rarely otherwise) seemed to be from Asia. All that makes us uneasy about Viking employment practices and whether our presence was colluding in exploiting any of the crew. We don’t know the answer.
- Concierge on our particular boat was chummy and laughed a lot the way people do to avoid unpleasantness but seemed to know little and to pass the buck (or manufacture an explanation) when he couldn't solve a problem. If asked to do something with which he was familiar, like order a cab, he was happy. Otherwise…
- Program director worked hard but was not to our taste--too much a cheerleader and always encouraging being extravagantly upbeat about everything; she also made sexist comments that she (and somewhat to my surprise, much of the clientele) thought were cute. But she did know what she was doing and how to get things done. People sometimes seemed confused by her briefings, though I’m not sure this was her fault and not theirs.
- Pianist was very good, and late evening dancing was often possible, though on a very small floor (we happen to take ballroom dance lessons and so were especially handicapped).
- Tour guides were occasionally very good but on the whole superficial. They seemed to know stuff but too often spoke to some lowest common denominator, as in, "on your left is x, on your right is y, there's the 3rd largest widget building in the county..." Given all that, they were generally down-to-earth and rarely affected. But most provided little context, little exploration of the significance of what they told us. Again, a few guides were much better than this. Frequent antique cultural attitudes, as in, "OK, Ladies, shopping is over there..."; "Gentlemen, please don't ask me technical questions..." (said more than once by female guides)
- Places visited were usually interesting. Side trips (aka paid-for-separately) were not cheap though could go to interesting places. We liked our side trips—both of us went on the tulip farm (absolutely fascinating to watch what happened, and the guide here—co-owner of the farm—was very good) and windmill trip, and my wife went to Delft.
- If you haven’t already noticed, you should expect to tip all guides (2 euros per passengers) and bus drivers (1 euro/passenger) in addition to major tips at end of cruise for boat staff (“recommended”: 2 euros per day per passenger for program director, 12 euros/day/passenger for rest of crew); like all these companies, they call it a 10-day cruise, but of course when you realize the first “day” is only after arrival and the last “day” ends right after breakfast, it is really a 9-night cruise. I’ve always been naïve about tipping, but perhaps little tips are common for boat folk as the cruise goes along.
- As a maiden voyage, the trip was partly a shakeout cruise at the expense of us paying passengers. Wifi was terrible, even where signal was strong--verrrrry slow. In our cabin we almost never had any signal. TV movies tended to stop halfway through and start again. TV programs would go in and out. Router was set up so we couldn’t use our VPN connection (which allows us to seem to be in the US and so watch material, like Netflix, only available when there). Late in the trip door keys suddenly didn't work and lots of people had to get replacements.
- Biggest problem for us is presumably not true for most passengers: the demographics seemed to be largely retired, politically conservative-to-right-wing, church-going, with narrow, banal conversation topics (by our hoity-toity standards…). All white except for a couple of Asian-looking folk. As Jewish-atheist, politically left intellectuals we always had an undercurrent (I more than my wife, who is more easily sociable) of being marginalized (which you can see reflected in some other comments here), which greatly undermined our ability to relax and enjoy. Obviously, most people seemed to groove on each other enough to sustain dinner conversation for up to 2 hours. (Dinners were very long--many passengers complained about this--though tasty.) I dreaded these conversations--I'm not good at them, don't want to be good at them, but had to appear engaged in order not to come across as churlish or anti-social, which perhaps I did in spite of myself. This is, of course, my limitation. I just wish there had been some way to warn us of the demographics so that we could have looked elsewhere for a comfortable milieu. On the off chance that you ARE similar to us: I developed the strategy of sitting at the end of 8-person tables so that it wouldn't be realistic for us to converse with the other 6 people, who often already knew each other, and we could have our own private chats.
- We are adamant about eating chocolate that is (as clearly as possible) not sourced from West African farms that use child slave labor (see …cnn.com/category/chocolates-child-slaves/ for a mainstream account of these appalling practices; fair trade in general and South American chocolate sources are largely ok). The boat had many chocolate dishes, but when we asked about the sourcing, no one among the food preparation crew had heard of this (a sad fact), though the program director had: no, we don't pay attention to this issue was the basic answer—but be sure to put it in our end-of-cruise questionnaires. We had expected better in a country like Holland and a boat that supposedly was planned to include energy efficiency and at least some organic food products. So we missed out on many of what looked like otherwise scrumptious desserts.
- Recommendation re airport transport: a cab company called "Tinker" exclusively does airport connections, and if you book well ahead, you get a very good price, and the drivers seemed good (though the one for the return trip had trouble finding our boat). We paid 13 euros for arrival cab with advance booking, 52 to return without advance booking. The boat would get a cab for 55 euros (for 2, less for more riders), but you may be like the numerous passengers who booked travel through Viking and so had your transfers included.
- Recommendation in Amsterdam if you have the time: include the "Resistance" museum, which is really more generally about the Nazi occupation of Holland and Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies.Edited: 3:42 am, April 02, 2014
I have heard good reviews of Uniworld river cruises.
The previous poster only has one post on the forum which was made 4/11/14 - he has not been back. Likelihood of getting a response is almost nil.
Some links were provided earlier in the thread - you will be better off checking those out.