We just got back from the Cities of Light cruisetour (August 7-18th, Prague to Paris on the Alsvin) and had a great time! This was our second Viking river cruise having gone on the Danube Waltz last summer (Budapest to Prague on the Legend) which we also really enjoyed. I was worried that August would be unbearably hot and crowded. However, we found the crowds quite manageable and the weather was very nice: low 70s and sunny/clear most days; there was only one day when it rained steadily throughout the day. We had no problems with low or high water levels on this cruise. Viking is not the most luxurious or all-inclusive (or expensive) river cruise line but, for the price we paid which included air, we have been very happy with what Viking offers.
Our vacation unfortunately got off to a rocky start. We used Viking Air and, through no fault of Viking’s, the first leg of our Delta flight to Prague was cancelled because of weather. We were re-routed all over the place and ended up on three connecting flights. Instead of arriving in Prague at 11 AM, we arrived closer to 6 PM that day. I had called Viking en route to let them know of the delay, and a very nice Viking representative was waiting for us at the airport when we finally arrived (the one bright spot to an otherwise miserable, exhausting flight). To top it off, my checked bag with a two-week supply of clothes, shoes and toiletries did not make it to Prague. The concierge at the Prague Hilton hotel was basically useless in helping me track down my bag. However, the minute the Alsvin Program Director, Bjorn, became aware of my situation, he took over and contacted the airlines; my bag was delivered soon after directly to the ship. Bjorn even arranged to have my one change of clothing laundered (at no charge) until my suitcase arrived. Thank you, Bjorn!
The two hotels we stayed at, the Hilton Prague and the Le Meridien Etoile in Paris, were fairly good but I would probably choose to stay somewhere else if returning to Prague or Paris. At the Hilton Prague, the air conditioning didn’t work in our traveling companions’ room and was never fixed despite repeated attempts to inform the front desk. At both hotels, I was disappointed in the quality of service offered by the concierges and front desk. One the other hand, they are centrally located, the rooms/bathrooms were attractive, clean and spacious, and the breakfasts were very good.
The Alsvin is a beautiful ship with a modern, clean, Nordic décor. It’s kept sparkling clean and is in great condition for its age. The staff with very few exceptions were outstanding, very friendly and attentive – we were treated like royalty on this cruise! As already mentioned, Bjorn, our Program Director, was remarkably knowledgeable, helpful and attentive… and very funny too!
Last year on the Legend, we had a French Balcony cabin. Although it was nice to open the sliding door at night (if not rafted next to another ship), we spent very little time in our cabin during the day since most of our time was spent dining, touring, and lounging in the public spaces. On this cruise, we booked the least expensive “aquarium” class cabin, saving about $1000-2000 compared to a balcony cabin, and were happy with our choice. Our cabin was very small but comfortable and efficiently laid out. Our cabin steward was excellent and kept everything very neat and clean.
Meals are served in the main dining room and in the Aquavit Terrace which opens to a lovely, outside deck with expansive views. We really enjoyed the Aquavit and had about a third of our meals there. I would say the food on our cruise ranged from very good to excellent. Food quality can vary across ships depending on the Executive Chef and kitchen. Our Chef, Thomas, prepared some excellent regional dishes (mostly German) and we tended to order those most nights. For example, on the German buffet night, everything was delicious and perfectly prepared. The soups on this cruise were especially good, a highlight of the cuisine I thought. My husband had the ‘anytime’ steak one night and he said it was excellent. There was only one night when I wished I had ordered something else: I tried a lamb dish on the menu one night and was a little disappointed. The dining service was usually very good to excellent although not quite as outstanding as on the Danube Waltz Legend cruise we took last summer. On one or two nights depending on where we sat, the service seemed to drag on a bit, and we had to ask our server to refill our wine glasses (something we NEVER had to do on the Legend!).
The included excursions and guides ranged from very good to excellent, and were very enjoyable. I think Viking does this very well! You visit many of the ‘berg’ towns on this cruise (Nuremburg, Bamberg, Wurzburg, Rothenburg, Heidelberg) which are very picturesque and charming – think of those quintessential German half-timber houses and thatched roofs. We went on only one optional excursion, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, for $99 per person. Rothenburg is a walled medieval village with a fascinating history and some interesting shops and museums. However, we were disappointed that we had little free time to explore – only an hour after the fairly long bus ride, guided tour and a somewhat mediocre lunch at a local restaurant that took too long. In retrospect, we should have skipped the lunch to allow more free time to explore on our own.
On most river cruises, the evening entertainment after dinner is often fairly dull and boring. On our Danube Legend cruise last summer, there was an uninspiring piano player and the lounge was usually empty after dinner. On this cruise, however, the entertainment seemed much more lively. There was a husband and wife keyboardist/singer team on board who were quite talented and seemed to encourage people to dance. Bjorn organized a couple of ‘quiz and game nights’ which people seemed to enjoy. On a couple of nights, there were onboard performances from local classical and jazz musicians who were quite good. I was surprised to find the lounge full of people many nights after dinner, “partying” until the late in the evening.
There are a few downsides to be aware of when booking this particular itinerary (not a criticism of Viking, just the nature of the itinerary on this cruise). First, in order to pass under the MANY low bridges along the Main river, the sun deck remains closed for 3 of the 6 days on this cruise, from Bamberg until reaching Mainz on the Rhine river. It takes a long time for the staff to open and close the sun deck, so it may be standard for most cruise lines to close the sun deck while sailing on the Main river. However, it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience for us because the Aquavit Terrace on the third deck was available and has lovely outdoor seating to enjoy the views. Second, for those adverse to bus trips, this may not be the cruise for you. There are several long bus trips on this itinerary: the bus from Prague to Nuremberg takes over three hours and Luxembourg-to-Paris takes over 4 hours. There are also fairly lengthy bus rides (45 minutes to over an hour) to reach the Heidelberg and Trier excursions. Heidelberg is located over an hour’s drive from the river; for Trier, you depart the ship at Wintrich and are bused to Trier for the excursion, while the ship continues sailing on to Trier. The coaches, however, are very comfortable with guides that provide interesting information about the region. Finally, I would have liked to have had more time to experience sailing along the beautiful Moselle river. Although we had a full morning of sailing through the Rhine castle region (which is spectacular!!), our time on the Moselle was limited and we had to choose between going on the Trier excursion or staying on the ship while it sailed the Moselle to Trier. None of this detracted from the fabulous time we had on this cruise!
We had a standard cabin on the lowest level with a fixed window near the ceiling. The cabin was very small but comfortable and efficiently designed. We spent very little time in our cabin so it served our purposes just fine.