This was a 14 day river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest.
If you choose not to read the full review - here's a quick summary. I recommend Gate1Travel River cruise company on this itinerary. They are an incredible value, using a quality ship with professional staff that will result in an enjoyable vacation.
This was our first river cruise after sailing on over 25 ocean cruises. River cruising is wonderful but different than ocean cruising. Beyond ships being smaller, the social gathering is more quaint with a wonderful opportunity to meet every fellow passenger. I was surprised that river cruising predicts daily adjustments will likely be made to the timing of your itinerary. River traffic, the timing and congestion of the use of the "locks" on the river may cause minor adjustments to port arrival times This is common to all river cruise lines. Gate1Travel did a magnificent job of keeping passengers always informed of last minute amendments to the schedule and on a couple occurances took steps to have coach buses meet us further up river to begin our port excursion on time.
We booked this river cruise only 10 days prior to sailing, booking direct with Gate1Travel. They were offering 50% off on the sailing as part of their spring sale. Airfare was included and scheduled by Gate1Travel.
Communication prior to departure was efficient and informative. We received detailed pre-cruise information including the itinerary, arrival / transport instructions, and contact information which limited any question we may have had.
We arrived in Amsterdam about 3 PM and met up with the Gate1Travel representative at a predetermined meeting point at the airport. An 8 passenger van shuttled us and another couple directly to the ship where we immediately felt welcomed.
The Ship: The Monarch Duchess is new to the Gate1Travel fleet this year after serving 9 years with another company. The ship is in great condition! The common areas include; the outside sun deck, the main lounge, the dining room, and a small aft lounge.
Cabin: We were immediately shown to our cabin. We upgraded at the last moment to one of the four suites (Suite Category) on the ship. The suite was very generous in size with a very comfortable bed, small love seat, chair, long desk area with chair, and a large wardrobe cabinet as you would find on a cruise ship. The bathroom was quite spacious with a full size shower, long vanity, and quality finishes. We had the opportunity to take a peak into the other French Balcony cabins and found them to be slightly smaller than you would find on a contemporary ocean cruise ship balcony cabin. The Monarch Duchess French Balcony cabins are found on the upper level (Category A and B) and middle level (Category C and D). I would recommend booking at the lowest balcony level "D" if cost efficiency is your priority - you don't sacrifice your comfort or experience when booking any of the French Balcony cabin categories. I would however attempt to book a cabin from mid ship to forward on ship due to some minor engine vibration while sailing in the aft of the vessel.
Dining: The dining experience was positive with quality food, presentation and variety at every meal. Dinner portions are adequate with guests from the US likely noticing a difference from the overly large portions they are accustomed to. Breakfast and lunch are presented buffet style with an additoinal daily special offering. For instance the breakfast may offer Eggs Benedict one day and then French Toast, with lunch specials offering a special sandwich, soup, or salad - the specials are all made to order. The buffet are is well organized with guests selecting their own items and quantity. A variety of juices, coffee, and tea are included at breakfast - coffee and water are included at lunch.
The dinner menu was different each of the 14 days. The menu format begins by always offering a salmon or chicken entree any evening. The dinner menu also always offers a minimum of two appetizers, three entrees, and two deserts. A vegetarian entree is always offered and changes each day of the cruise. Unlimited wine, beer, and soda are offered at dinner. Coffee and tea are always available. The Chef engaged with all guests each eventing before taking a position at the main buffet area to offer a variety of cheeses each night. Service was exceptional - with most of the staff quickly addressing each guest by their first name, and anticipating repeat service requests.
Entertainment: The ship has a resident musical performer. On this cruise the musician played piano and flute and also sang. Not the quality of a high end supper club in a large city, yet good quality and engaged with the guests. On four evenings, local entertainment was brought on board which included a German Band, Austrian singers, and Austrian musicians. A quality presentation on the history of the waterway lock system was also conducted during one "at sea" day.
Ports & Excursions: Please take note. We noticed about a dozen river cruise companies on the river on any day. This included no less than four River Cruise companies docked in port adjacent to our ship on each port day. It was very apparent that the local guides are shuttled to each River Cruise company upon ship arrival, provided the standard "follow me" baton at eat gang way and commence with their group walking tour. Absent a River Cruise company jacket or emblem that is worn by the guide, the guides are very much alike, and the walking tours are almost identical.
Gate1Travel's coordination of each excursion was exceptional insuring accountability of each guest. The guides were informative with a varied background from local college student to retired professor. All port stops allow for a period of "free time" with local information provided by Gate1Travel to enable self guided exploration at each stop.
There are many choices when selecting a river cruise. We were tempted by the prominent river cruise companies to book with them after receiving endless promotional materials the past few years before stumbling on this last minute opportunity.
We were very pleased with our Gate1Travel river cruise experience.