My wife and I recently undertook our second cruise with Viking River Cruises (VRC). On this occasion we cruised along the River Elbe, between Prague and Berlin, on the Viking Clara Schumann.
Our package with Viking River Cruises included hotel stays either side of the actual seven nights spent on board the Clara Schumann. We flew scheduled British Airways flight from Heathrow to Prague where we were met at Prague Airport by VRC staff and transferred directly to the Hilton Prague (Pobrezni) Hotel…
Hilton Prague Atrium
At the hotel VRC had their own reception area, desk and sitting area within the hotel and a strong contingent of representatives, which included our cruise’s Programme director.
The ‘Clara Schumann’ has been operating for some time and caters for 112 passengers only. She has 8 French Balcony staterooms and 48 Standard Staterooms on two deck levels. She was refurbished as recently as 2011 and we found her well fitted and presented. All staterooms come with a river view, that is, there are no inside berths.
The ‘ meet and greet’ service at Prague airport was excellent, as was both the transfer to the ship and subsequent check-in. Indeed, this had to be the easiest of check-ins as their was not even a requirement to register a credit card at reception…
As with most river cruise ships, Clara Schumann has a simple lay-out with disabled access to all decks available.
Central to life on board is The Viking Lounge…
The Viking Lounge serves as the ship’s general meeting place, entertainment venue, briefing venue for the following days activities and an alternative venue for lighter buffet lunches: as well as being the home of the 24-hour drinks and snack station…
24-hour beverage and snack station.
Each evening, prior to dinner, the ship’s ‘Programme Director’ gives a briefing in the Viking Lounge on the following day’s activities. These briefings are important because with VRC most daily excursions are included in the cruise price. Consideration is also given to passengers who are not so mobile and more often than not a ‘leisurely‘ programme is offered as a option with its own dedicated coach and guide.
Dining on board is on a single sitting and ‘Open Seating’ basis for all meals. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are always available in the restaurant while a lighter buffet lunch is available in the Viking Lounge. On one occasion a traditional German lunch was served ‘buffet’ style on the Sun Deck’.
The Main Restaurant
Buffet lunch in the Viking Lounge
A suitably attired waiter during the traditional German lunch on deck.
Food was of an all round high standard with good variable choices and all diets are adequately catered for. Of particular note were the multiple selections of daily fresh breads, rolls and fresh fruits.
All drinks with lunch and dinner are complimentary including a selection of house wines. An upgrade package to premium label alcoholic beverages and wines was available.
Viking River Cruises prides itself on its dining and considering the size of the galley and food preparation facilities they do quite an amazing job…
My friend Patrick the Sous Chef
(Note the evenings Apple Strudels fresh out of the oven to the right of the above picture)
Clara Schumann has a single Sun Deck…
…with more than adequate good quality deck furniture in both covered and uncovered areas. The covered area, as with the Captain’s Bridge and masts, are all retractable to allow passage under low clearance bridges along the river.
Solent Richard keeping a watch on the Bridge.
Evening entertainment is limited, however on a number of occasions locally provided cultural dance and music shows gave excellent performances.
Our Destinations and Itinerary.
This was a 7 night cruise and as originally stated, was sailing between Prague and Berlin, Germany. This itinerary crossed two country borders while sailing north along the River Elbe.
As this Blog post is primarily concerned with the Viking Carla Schumann I will confine photographs to a limited number with the sole intention of giving a flavour of what is on offer and maybe concentrate on individual towns and cities at some later date under my ‘One Way to do…’ series.
Having arrived in Prague prior to the cruise we spent our time discovering this amazing city on our own – armed with our trusty guide…
We were, however, aware that on the day of embarkation VRC would be laying on their first ‘inclusive’ escorted tour and that this tour would also be of Prague: hence we left the visit to Prague Castle to the VRC tour.
Prague Castle viewed from Charles Bridge ‘Old Town’ Bridge Tower.
On completion of this first taste of Viking’s excellent daily excursion itineraries, we joined the ship some distance down the Elbe from Prague – approximately a one hour coach drive. This had been necessary due to the damage caused to a berth nearer Prague following the recent floods along the River Elbe.
Though not the particular berth in question, the following is an illustration of the damage caused and how bad the flooding had been at a point further down the river…
Flood damage at Lovosice Lock
Not just an illustration of the damage caused to the navigation light pillar, but also an illustration of just how high the increased level of water rose during the flooding.
Our berth at the Czech town of Litoměřice gave us the opportunity to take an optional additional tour which was on offer. Some forty minutes drive from Litoměřice is the Czech Republic town of Terezin.
The fortress of Terezin, in the north-west region of Bohemia, was constructed between the years 1780 and 1790 on the orders of the Austrian Emperor Joseph II as part of a projected defensive fort system. After Germany invaded and occupied Czechoslovakia, on June 10, 1940, the Gestapo took control of Terezín and set up a prison in the “Small Fortress.”
By November 24, 1941, the Nazis adapted the “Main Fortress” located on the west side of the river, as a ghetto and eventually a Concentration Camp for the tens of thousands of people who came to be housed there…
Jewish cemetery at Terezin
The following morning we cruised further down the Elbe and into an area of Germany known as Saxon Switzerland. First we needed to negotiate the locks at Lovosice, overlooked as they are by Lovosice Castle…
Approaching Lovosice Castle and Lock gates
…before berthing around lunchtime at Bad Schandau
from where we took the included excursion to the Saxon Switzerland National Park of Bastei
with its stunning views and rock formations which tower 194 metres above the Elbe and 305 metres above sea level.
The Bastei Bridge built in 1851
Early evening saw us again under way and it was not long back on the Elbe before we passed somewhat under the watchful eye the more than magnificent Königstein Fortress …
Königstein Fortress ,the “Saxon Bastille”, is a hilltop fortress in Saxon Switzerland, Germany
Later that evening we berthed at our next port of call, Dresden…
Bellotto’s Canaletto view of Dresden
…where we then spent the following whole day and evening. The morning was fully taken with the Viking Cruises excursion which included visits to the The Zwinger – a palace in Dresden that served as the orangery, exhibition gallery and festival arena of the Dresden Court in addition to entry, with a specialist guide, to the ‘Green Vault’, a unique historic museum that contains the largest collection of treasures in Europe.
The afternoon was free to explore this fascinating City on our own and it was during this period that I discovered the place from where Bernardo Bellotto painted his ‘Canaletto’ view of Dresden.
We remained berthed in Dresden overnight and many passengers opted for an optional visit to the Dresden opera.
The following morning we cast off at 6.30 am for the two hour cruise to the town of Meissen dominated as it is by its Albrechtsburg Castle and Cathedral within the castle walls…
Albrechtsburg Castle and Cathedral
My wife and I skipped the ship’s excursion which was a visit to the famous Meissen Porcelain Factory. We had other plans which included a full visit to Albrechtsburg Castle and also Meissen’s Frauenkirche Church where we took the opportunity to climb the bell tower and view at close hand the world’s first porcelain carillon, manufactured in 1929, while admiring the views over the town and along the Elbe…
Frauenkirche Church and Bell tower at Meissen
The Frauenkirche Bell Chamber
We later recorded the 11.30 porcelain carillon while enjoying a German beer in the town’s Market Square…
Following lunch in Meissen we continued our journey and arrived at around 5.30 pm at the little town of Torgau. Stephanie, our Programme Director, lead us on a stroll around the town and showed us a special monument well worth a visit…
Monument to the meeting of Allied forces, Torgau, Germany.
The monument celebrates a date, April 25 1945, when Soviet and American troops met at the River Elbe marking an important step toward the end of World War II in Europe. This contact between the Soviets, advancing from the East, and the Americans, advancing from the West, meant that the two powers had effectively cut Germany in two.
The following day we arrived in the town of Willenburg. Made famous by none other than Martin Luther, our excursions that day centred on Martin Luther, the German monk, Catholic priest, professor of theology and seminal figure of a reform movement in 16th century Christianity, subsequently known as the Protestant Reformation.
Martin Luther House, Wittenburg
All Saints Church where Luther nailed his 95 Thesis
Our penultimate day on board saw us visiting Dessau from where we took another excellent included excursion to Dessau–Wörlitz Garden Realm
Worlitz Palace from the lake
Solent Richard relieves the oarswoman
Later that evening we arrived at our final destination, Magdeburg. After the Captain’s Farewell Dinner on board we ventured ashore to explore Magdeburg’s social scene…
Post Dinner fun
Magdeburg Beach Bar in full evening swing
The following day we departed Clara Schumann for our coach transfer to Berlin via a final Viking excursion to Potsdam where the highlight for me was a tour of Cecilienhof Palace, the venue for the post war The Potsdam Conference between Winston Churchill, Harry Truman and Joseph Stalin…
before eventually arriving in Berlin…
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin
Once again Viking River Cruises met our expectations and we had a most enjoyable river cruise. High standards do not come cheap but the all-inclusive nature of Viking River Cruises certainly offer value for money.
The organisation and administration is slick from start to finish and the staff particularly well motivated. We found no problem meeting the recommended staff gratuities of €13.00 per person per day.
My wife and I have no hesitation recommending Viking as a high quality river cruise operator, indeed a brand leader, and are now looking forward to our next river cruise with them in 2014.