Recent (2011/2012) river cruise experiences-Avalon, Ama, Viking or Uniworld

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I'm hoping to hear from someone who has been a recent river cruiser in Europe on any of these four cruiselines. With all the new ships recently, I'd like to get an updated perspective. Thanks. Jacqui

I did the Budapest to Bucharest river trip on the Viking Primadonna this May. The Viking folks have everything well organized and are used to dealing with a whole new group of people every 10 days. The shore excursions were good, food was excellent and Viking used HIltons before and after the cruise portion. In Budapest, everyone had river view rooms for two nights and some of us were on the club floor. I'd recommend Viking, but think its a good idea to shop around for any specials that might be offered.

Well, we weren't on one of the new ships -- we were on NEPTUNE (which we were on in October 2003, Amsterdam-Basel) and the SPIRIT. I have always highly recommended Viking but I wouldn't do so any more based on these two cruises (Avignon-Chalon sur Saone and Chalon to Paris via Normandy).

The accommodations were fine, the staff was fine. But the dining room staff was severely stressed -- meals were very slow because there's no way 5-6 severs can bring meals to 150 people, especially when they have to run up and downstairs to/from a very small galley. The food was good, not spectacular, but we didn't expect spectacular.

What bothered us most was the extremely crowded river conditions. Much of the time we were parked right next to another boat which meant we only had a view of that boat's rooms -- and we were on the top deck. The captain on the SPIRIT was overheard (by me) to say that there were 2000 boats on the Danube.

We preferred the river boat experience when there were a lot fewer boats.

I don't know if the French experience was more extreme in this respect ... but we were disappointed.

Mura

My wife and I sailed on a new Avalon boat in. December of 2010. It was a Danube Christmas cruise which originated in Prague and ended in Vienna. The name of the boat escapes me at the moment. The facilities were very good. There were plenty of areas to watch the landscape. We had a French balcony room, but we did not enjoy it as much as we would have if we travelled in the spring or summer. We were very impressed with Avalon, which we dealt with directly. Avalon provided an airfare which was less expensive than we could find on our own. We would recommend Avalon for European river cruises.

Friends of ours, who joined us on the Christmas cruise, took the cruise this summer from Amsterdam to Basel and said that the ship was was equal to the experience they had with the Danube.

The most important factor to us is the itinerary.

We've done 2 Uniworld (Bucharest-Amsterdam; St. Pete-Moscow + 6-day Baltic states pre-trip), 1 Avalon (Paris-Arles + 3-4 nite extension of Provence-Nice). At the time of the Russian cruise, Uniworld did not have their own ship, and we weren't thrilled with many aspects -- the Baltic states portion was fantastic and the reason we chose Uniworld. I understand Uniworld now has their own ships in Russia. However, the 28-day Bucharest-Amsterdam cruise (our first river cruise) was just fantastic: food; tour director/guides; accommodations; etc., etc. Avalon was great as well.

We're booked on Uniworld's Basel-Amsterdam w/Moselle May 16, 2013 cruise, followed by Viking's June 1 Berlin-Prague.

Uniworld (and I believe Avalon) offer up to $2,000 discount pp couple (depending on cost of cruise) if one pays in full at time of booking, which we elected to do. We booked Uniworld thru Costco (advertised in Costco's monthly magazine) and rec'd an additional 10% disc. besides a past passenger disc. Uniworld is affiliated w/Trafalgar (Avalon w/Globus) so if you've traveled with either one, this counts as past passenger.

As I've posted on Cruise Critic (under Delraydoll), depending on the terms of your credit card, there's a possibility that you'll be charged a foreign transaction fee as Viking's merchant code is shown as Basel, CH (Switzerland). Viking or your booking agent will reimburse this fee, but unfortunately at the time of booking, our Affordable Tours agent didn't advise us of this fact, and I was just so annoyed. If I had known, I would have used my Capital One visa card as there's no FTFs involved. I've since changed my BOA visa card to a "better" BOA card with no FTFs (and double points).

Viking also wants full payment by the end of the month in which you make your initial deposit and does not offer a discount, other than 3% if you authorized direct deposit. However, this final payment date is negotiable! We made our deposit in May for next June but after much discussion with Affordable and Viking, don't have to make final payment 'til Dec.