Reviewed by: Tina Wheelock
Sailed: ‘Rhine Getaway’ – Amsterdam to Basel
Date: 21 May 2022
Cruise line and ship: Viking River Cruises / Viking Herja (pronounced ‘Heria’)
Passenger capacity: 190 passengers maximum (50 crew)
Year built: 2017
Currency onboard: Euro
Staterooms: 95 Outside staterooms (25 Standard, 22 French Balcony, 39 Veranda, 7 Veranda Suite). All suites feature two full-size rooms with a veranda off the living room & a French balcony in the bedroom.
- Restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows for panoramic views
- Library & onboard shop
- Elevator from Middle to Upper Deck only; no elevator access for categories E & F
- Free Wi-Fi (connection speed may vary)
- Laundry service
- 42″ flat-screen TV with infotainment system featuring Movies On Demand, CNBC, CNN, Nat Geo ++
- Sun Deck with 360-degree views & shaded sitting area
- Organic herb garden & solar panels; putting green & walking track
- Aquavit Terrace & Lounge, a revolutionary indoor/outdoor viewing area at the bow for al fresco dining
- Lounge & Bar with floor-to-ceiling glass doors
- Ecologically friendly hybrid engines producing less vibrations for a smoother ride
Pre Cruise Experience
Arrived at 5pm to Sydney airport for my 9pm flight. I had pre-booked a PCR test as this is a requirement for boarding a Viking Cruise. This is not a requirement to fly with Emirates nor to enter The Netherlands.
The PCR test did take 90 minutes for the results and I was able to receive a printed copy for my records. It is a good idea to have all documentation printed as you may not have access to wifi at all times. I also recommend a copy of your passport and an international vaccination certificate.
Emirates flights were enjoyable and the stopover was a quick 2 hours en-route to Amsterdam. You do need to allow at least 30 minutes to move between terminals in Dubai.
Upon arrival at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, I had the option of a taxi or train to Amsterdam Central. I opted for a train which was 5 Euros and only 14 minutes. A taxi was 30-50 Euro and 30 minutes. The Doubletree by Hilton hotel in town was a short walk from the station in the heart of Amsterdam and chosen as it is just moments from the cruise departure point.
Our journey was from Amsterdam down to Basel in Switzerland.
Day 1 – As the ship was in Amsterdam until 11pm, I decided to walk back into town and take a 75-minute canal cruise for approx 15 Euros. I was back onboard the ship by 5pm for live music and pre-dinner drinks, we had a muster at 6pm and then a meet and greet and ‘what to expect onboard’ until dinner at 7pm.
Reviewed by: Meg Hill and Tina Wheelock, Cruise Express
Sailed: ex Lisbon, Portugal
Date: April 2022
Cruise line and ship: Silversea – for the official launch of Silver Dawn
Size of ship: 40,700 GT
Passenger capacity: 596 passengers maximum (411 crew)
Year built: 2021
Currency onboard: USD$
Where the ship cruises: The Mediterranean, Northern Europe and the British Isles, Transoceanic and the Caribbean
Pre-cruise – Silversea ‘Door to door’ experience – We were met in the Arrivals Hall at Lisbon Airport by a local English speaking guide and escorted to the transfer area and our Mercedes mini-coach for the transfer to our downtown hotel. Brief orientation en route (approx. 20 minutes). Overnight stay at the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade Hotel, a 5-star hotel in the heart of the downtown area, surrounded by designer label stores and a short stroll down Liberdade Avenue to the commercial centre for shopping, dining and sightseeing. Extensive buffet breakfast included before transfer by coach to the pier.
OPTIONAL Panoramic Lisbon and Tagus River cruise included this morning
Embarkation – Short transfer by 45-seat coach to the pier. Luggage transferred separately and delivered to Suites onboard. On arrival, passengers need to present passports (held for the duration of the cruise), proof of full vaccination, proof of a negative COVID-19 test (PCR within the past 3 days or RAT within the past 24 hours). RAT testing is also available at the pier but will slow down the embarkation process.
Complete health declaration form (similar to past norovirus forms) and undergo a temperature check (wand on inner wrist). Overall, the process was very smooth with extremely helpful and friendly staff…perhaps 20-30 minutes total.
Suite – Though not ready on arrival (approx. 2pm) it was available by 3.30pm. We stayed in a Deluxe Verandah Suite #707 (located forward, starboard side on Deck 7). Single vanity, separate bath and walk in shower, walk in wardrobe with chest of drawers, hanging space and shoe racks. Hangers include some satin-topped for knitwear, etc. Racks set up for suitcases. Spacious main cabin area with twin or queen bed set-up, quality linens and pillow menu.
Each Suite has a Butler rather than a cabin attendant and they will assist with unpacking if required. Bottle of Pommery champagne set up in ice bucket in the sitting area – two-seat sofa plus armchair with a cashmere blanket.
Balcony with sliding glass door, two sun chairs and a small round table. Large enough for drinks and snacks but not full meals.
Other in-Suite facilities – a device charging plate also with USB point, swivel tv, mini bar with still and sparkling water and mixers.
Your Butler will stock the mini-bar with your alcohol and soft drink preferences – for example a bottle of whisky or gin and/or wine. Replenished daily at no additional cost! Snacks such as nuts (cashews with truffle oil) are also replenished daily and canapés are available daily on request.
Announcement made at 4pm. Lifeboat drill at 5pm, preceded by mandatory video viewing in the Suite.
Dining – 8 restaurants
La Dame – French inspired fine dining serving a degustation dinner menu nightly (Cover charge of USD60 per person)
La Terrazza- Serving breakfast and lunch buffet style (served by wait staff). Dinner a la carte Italian. Offers inside and outdoor deck dining
Arts Cafe – A small venue serving tea and coffee, fruit-infused waters, fruit and cheese plates, sweet pastries, cookies and sandwiches during the day
Atlantide – Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner a la carte with the evening emphasis on steak and seafood dishes
SALT Kitchen – A light and airy room with fresh herb pots as centrepieces on the tables. Serves food using the local ingredients of the region the ship is cruising in (Portugal in our case). Wines are also available from the region
Kaiseki –A small Japanese restaurant serving lunch (included) and dinner ( cover charge of USD40 per person). Lunchtime offers an extensive sushi and sashimi menu as well as udon and ramen bowls. At dinner, choose from an a la carte menu of up to six courses per person (the Chefs’ recommendation). Japanese beers and sake, matcha tea, etc are offered as well as the usual wine list
ScappaNapoli – A wide selection of authentic oven baked Italian pizzas served between 11am and 11pm. A small anti-pasta platter (olives, cheese and bread) is served whilst waiting for the pizzas. As the venue is outside on deck there are overhead heaters and lap blankets available if the weather is cool
Pool Grill / Hot Rocks – Serving burgers, fries, mezze plates, salads, etc poolside throughout the afternoon. In the evening the venue offers a ‘hot rock’ dining experience where hot stones are brought to the table with your choice of meat (steak, chicken, prawns, salmon, etc) and you cook at the table. Again, as the venue is outside there are overhead heaters and warm shoulder wraps to keep the cool night air at bay.
Nightly in the Panorama Lounge – A selection of shows including tributes (The Beatles, Queen, etc)
Silver Note – a late night supper club atmosphere with live jazz from 8pm to late. Serving small dishes
Dolce Vita Lounge – Piano tunes
Inclusions – All meals at most restaurants onboard, all drinks including mini bar set up and daily stocking, premium coffees and teas, room service, wifi, onboard gratuities, a shore excursion in each port of call, shuttle bus service from pier to downtown.
PLUS – Door to Door
Executive car transfer from home to airport (and return), small vehicle transfer from airport to hotel and hotel to pier, local orientation tour, one night pre-cruise in the city of embarkation including breakfast.
OPTIONAL return airfares with Business class upgrades.
POINTS OF EXCEPTION
Prior to hosting a Facebook Live segment from the ship, we asked our Butler if he would make up our Suite early (by 9am) and add an ice bucket, champagne and glasses as if on embarkation day. His eyes lit up and he then proceeded to list all the things he would be happy to arrange for us:
- A bath with salt crystals, candles, a portable speaker playing classical music, and a glass of champagne
- A breakfast tray set up on one of the beds with tea for two
- Truffle popcorn and blankets for an in-Suite movie night
- Hot chocolates with liqueurs on the balcony table
All with a wide smile and included as complimentary in-Suite options for all guests at any time during your cruise!
On the last night of our cruise, the official christening of the ship, we were due at the first official function at 5.45pm, a black tie event. At approximately 5pm Tina had a serious dress ‘malfunction’. We paged the butler to ask for his help and he was on the doorstep in less than 5 minutes and said he would take the dress to the tailor to see what could be done. A few minutes later he called to say they were working on a solution. By 5.30pm the dress was back, good as new!
SALT – Sea and Land Taste
New and exclusive to Silversea, this is an immersive experience for guests to learn more about the fresh produce, cuisine and dishes of the region the ship is travelling to/through. Dine in SALT Kitchen, enjoy pre or post-dinner drinks in the SALT Bar, choose from a selection of SALT shore excursions and take part in cooking demonstrations and food tastings in SALT Lab, a purpose-built kitchen with nine cooking stations.
Reviewed by and sailed to: Andrew Mevissen, six-day, round-trip
Christmas market cruise from Budapest to Slovakia and Austria
Date: December 2019
Cruise line and ship: MS Thomas Hardy (named after famous British author) – one of a fleet of five-star ships operated by Riviera Travel River Cruises
Size of ship: 3600 GT, 4 decks
Passenger capacity: 169
Year built (refurbed): 2017
Currency onboard: Euros
Where the ship cruises: The Rhine, Moselle and Danube rivers
Most suited to: Riviera Travel River Cruises is a popular British cruise line and hence attracts English passengers as well as Americans but an increasing number of Australians are also being drawn aboard by competitive fares. Riviera is also popular with solo travellers, with every cruise offering a selection of supplement-free cabins. Plus, there are a range of cruises throughout the year exclusively for solo travellers, with every cabin free of any single supplement. Most passengers are over 55.
Embarkation/De-embarkation Process:In Budapest, Riviera offers a complimentary pick-up service from a centrally located Hotel. A cruise concierge greets passengers in the hotel before they are transferred to the ship. An impressive line of staff welcomes guests onboard the ship where another free bon voyage drink is offered. Baggage was delivered to cabins in minutes and the whole embarkation process was quick and seamless
Atmosphere: Thomas Hardy is a spacious, five-star ship but the atmosphere is elegantly casual and charmingly relaxed with a light-filled, marble-floored lobby greeting guests on arrival. There are rich hardwoods, gleaming brass and polished copper, sparkling glass and intricate wrought iron, all creating a harmonious ambience of understated elegance and all designed to make guests as relaxed as the flow of the Danube. With only 169 passengers onboard, the friendly and personable crew quickly remember your face and name and you get to know your fellow passengers quickly as well. There are no formal nights so the dress code throughout the cruise is smart casual although you can dress up a little if you like.
Staterooms: All the staterooms are branded suites. Like most of the ship, our lovely 17sqm suite sported a French balcony – a panoramic, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door that, when opened, turns the room into an alfresco sunroom. All cabins enjoy a river view and it was joyfully mesmerising to lie on our big, comfy bed and watch the scenery float by, listening to the gentle, lapping water through our open glass door.
The marble bathroom boasted Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries and a great shower. The suite also offered a sitting area, ample space under the bed for luggage, flat-screen TV with a bridge camera channel, individually controlled air–conditioning, phone, hairdryer, handy USB ports for phone charging, bathrobes/slippers and tea and coffee-making facilities including a small coffee pod machine – a nice and unusual touch. There’s an evening turn-down service too with chocolates on the pillows.
There are bigger suites with private balconies and the lower deck offers cabins with smaller, fixed windows just above the waterline. Some of these are available for sole occupancy on every cruise – with no supplement, subject to availability.
Dining Options & Service: Flanked by panoramic windows, the main restaurant offered tables for two, four or six guests, beautifully laid out with crisp linen. Seating is anywhere, anytime, with dinner typically available from 6.30-8.30pm.
The cuisine is typically English but there’s enough on the menu to please all. The final night’s eight-course degustation dinner was a stand-out – a delectable and veritable feast featuring seared prawns, rillette of duck, winter bisque, pan-fried halibut and rum balls. As this was a Christmas market cruise, there were festive inclusions such as Christmas pie, mulled wine granita and Christmas baked Alaska.
Breakfast is a buffet or made to order with an extra early bird breakfast available in the lobby from 6am for early risers. There’s a second, smaller bistro at the rear of the ship offering alternative dining and it’s complimentary – with great vistas over the wake and back along the river. The Bistro is my tip for lunch, with deliciously hearty pasta and burger dishes. A buffet lunch is also available in the main restaurant. Afternoon tea is served in the lounge.
Drinks are not included in fares, which helps to reduce fares, especially for passengers who are not keen drinkers. An A$149 per person drinks package could be purchased for our five-night cruise which covered drinks with lunch and dinner- pretty good value at A$30 per person per day. Drinks from the bar outside lunch and dinner are extra but very reasonable. Service by all staff is efficient, proactive, warm and friendly. Gratuities are not included in fares either, which also helps to keep fares down so that passengers can tip what and who they like- a freedom Australians will appreciate.
Entertainment: A pianist plays in the lounge for pre and post-dinner drinks and there are regular talks by the cruise director about ports and excursions. A highlight was an Austrian string quartet that came aboard the ship while moored in Vienna to regale passengers with a moving concert featuring composers who loved Vienna, such as Mozart, Bach and Strauss. An in-cabin TV offered movies/programs and a small library nook featured books authored by the ship’s namesake, Thomas Hardy. Most of Riviera’s ships are named after famous British writers.
Onboard Activities: The observation lounge and bar, with its inviting leather armchairs and sumptuous sofas, was very popular although I think I was the only person to use the small exercise room! There was also a massage room and hairdresser onboard as well as a souvenir shop. The top sun deck featured plenty of deckchairs, a mini golf course and a small, plunge pool – an unusual but welcome inclusion on a European river ship. The pool is heated comfortably in summer but on our winter Christmas cruise it was toasty hot – an indulgent jacuzzi in which we could soak in the passing scenery, drink in hand. Many passengers had not thought to bring swimwear so pack it for a dip. There are also bikes onboard, free for passengers to use in port, which we did with glee!
Excursions: I was very impressed with the complimentary excursions offered during the cruise. In each port there was a free excursion which typically included a guided coach and walking tour for half a day or so, leaving the rest of the day to explore on your own – including the stunning Christmas markets of Bratislava, Vienna and Budapest. There were other optional tours available for purchase as well but we loved the free tours available as well as the complimentary transfers to and from the ship and to Christmas markets.
Favourite Experiences on the Ship: Our two favourite activities were time spent cruising the famed Danube by day – so relaxing, with epic castles and quaint villages passing by – and enjoying the ship-top plunge pool/jacuzzi at dawn as the town woke up and at night, under the stars, surrounded by the majestic splendours of Europe.
Families: A river cruise would suit teenage children who take an interest in the passing scenery and ports visited and able to entertain themselves on the ship.
Self-Service Laundry: No, but for a charge, staff will launder your clothes.
Uniqueness: Riviera Travel River Cruises likes to do river cruising a little differently, partly to make river cruising as affordable as possible. The tours may not be as long as those of other cruise lines, but they were very enjoyable and informative, leaving us time to explore on our own as well. There’s the flexibility of buying your own drinks package and tipping what you want and Riviera does not discount its already reasonable fares so everyone in the same cabin type has paid the same fare.
The fare structure is also very simple to understand. Riviera has gained a strong reputation also as a solo-friendly cruise line with a selection of supplement-free cabins available on every cruise (but book early for these) and a range of cruises every year exclusively for solo passengers with every cabin open to solo guests, free of any surcharge – and no need for sharing with other solo passengers.
Bookings are only available via travel agents so to learn more about some great offers, contact Cruise Express today on 1300 766 537 or email email@example.com
Reviewed by: Erica Ward
Date: October 2019
Cruise line and ship: Sea Princess
Passenger capacity: 2,000
Passenger to Crew: 2.2:1
Size of ship: 77,499
Year built: 1998
Year refurbished/revitalised: Various and latest was 2017
Where the cruise line cruises: South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Circumnavigate Australia, Hawaii, World
Currency onboard: Australian based cruises are AUD, otherwise USD
Main features/highlights: Small ships like Sea Princess make for a more intimate experience. There are two adults only spaces onboard – one aft called The Oasis with a lovely pool and deck chairs and a bar, and The Sanctuary (a cover charge for The Sanctuary and only a splash pool). The midship Neptune’s pool where Movies Under the Stars is held has plenty of room and lots of deck chairs and the pool is large. Pizza, beer and burgers on a hot day would go down a treat here.
Most suited to: Mature travellers. While there are family facilities onboard there is not a lot to entertain children. The itineraries Sea Princess cruises are longer so she generally does not get many youngsters.
Atmosphere: Relaxed and stylish – more like the golden age of cruising. On longer cruises there are formal nights.
Dining options: There is certainly a huge selection of dining options to chose from!
- Rigoletto – Main Dining Room, Flexible Dining. Dinner
- Traviata – Main Dining Room, Formal Dining. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
- Cafe Corniche – Italian. Lunch, Dinner
- Riviera Grill – Burger Bar. Open from around 11am to 7pm. Situated outside the Horizon Court on the Lido Deck and serves a range of burgers (including vegetarian), hot dogs, kebabs and fries
- Sundaes – Ice Cream Bar. Serves free ice cream during the day. Milkshakes incur a small charge
- Horizon Court – Self Service Buffet. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
- Explores Bar – Additional charge coffee house serving specialty coffees and fresh warm cookies (complimentary)
- 24-hour Room Service – Passengers can make use of the complimentary room service ($3 charge for pizza delivery) at any time of the day or night. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
- Ultimate Balcony Dining – $32 per couple breakfast, $50 per head dinner. For passengers wishing to enjoy a romantic dining experience with breathtaking views from their own balcony
- Chef’s Table – $95 per person. Dinner. The Chef’s Table experience provides the chance to tour the ship’s busy galley during dinner service, where the ship’s executive chef previews the evening’s menu with a selection of hors d’oeuvres and Champagne for guests to enjoy
- Sterling Steakhouse – Seafood, Steak House. $20 per person. Dinner
Bars: As with dining there is certainly no shortage of options here either, with a little something for everyone.
- Crooner’s Bar – piano bar for the martini lovers
- Riviera Bar – poolside
- The Wheelhouse – nautical themed ol’ English Pub
- Seaview Bar – adults-only pool
- The Nook – whiskey bar
- Legends Sports Bar – speaks for itself
Entertainment: The Princess Theatre is home to dazzling stage shows produced by the Oscar, Grammy and Tony award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz. The Vista Lounge has more relaxed audience participation shows like the Voice at Sea and trivia. A Monte Carlo Casino is on offer. Movies Under the Stars is a Princess original – poolside with free popcorn you can enjoy the latest releases, sporting events, concerts and more on the giant 27 metre screen with a 69,000 watt sound system.
Staterooms: Rooms have recently been refurbished and every one has the award-winning Princess Luxury Bed. The rooms are spacious with classic lines. Mini-Suites and Club Suites are the same with the Club Suites receiving all the upgraded amenities and services of priority embarkation and disembarkation, one-time complimentary wine setup, evening canapés, luxurious terry shawl bathrobes and exclusive Main Dining room seating with dedicated waitstaff and more. The aft suites are bigger with larger balconies.
Family facilities: Camp Discovery is an option for ages 3-17 and is split into 3 spaces.
- Treehouse – ages 3-7
- Lodge – ages 8-12
- The Beach House – for the teens
Inclusions: All main meals, entertainment and some beverages. Gratuities included when departing from Australia.
Exclusions: Spa treatments, specialty dining, most beverages and gratuities.
Self-service laundry: $2 per load for washing and for drying, and detergent is $1.25; ironing equipment is available without charge. Captain’s Circle Elite members receive complimentary laundry and professional cleaning services (regular, not express service). Located on Plaza Deck 5.
Insider tips: The aft suites are a lot more spacious with bigger balconies. Not a lot of children onboard so you don’t really need to pay the cost of using The Sanctuary. The oceanview staterooms are larger than the balcony (room size) as the balconies are formed by cutting into the hull.
Overview: A lovely older ship that harks back to the golden era of cruising. She is definitely not modern but has been well looked after with tasteful refurbishments. Small ship cruising without all of the bells and whistles.
Cruise Express’ Bec Barnes, recently spent time onboard Explorer Dream. This was Explorer Dream’s much-anticipated inaugural visit to Sydney. Below are Bec’s thoughts on this beautiful ship.
Reviewed by: Bec Barnes
Date: October 2019
Cruise line and ship: Dream Cruises – Explorer Dream
Size of ship: 75,338 GRT
Passenger capacity: 1,856 pax
Year built: 1999
Year refurbished/revitalised: 2019
Where the ship cruises: Australia and New Zealand
Currency onboard: AUD
Embarkation/disembarkation: The team of four from Cruise Express received a very warm welcome from Dream Cruises. We were met at the terminal with a champagne reception and had a very smooth embarkation process onto the ship. We were boarding for lunch so only a driver’s license was required. This welcome reception at the port was given because it was her first arrival into Sydney Harbour.
Main features/highlights: The Dream fleet features all the comforts of authentic Asian hospitality combined with the finest experiences from around the world. The Dream Cruises team state that they are Asian at heart and international in spirit.
Expect most of the usual shipboard facilities including a la carte and buffet dining, a number of specialty restaurants, several bars and lounges, the main show lounge, midship pool with waterslide, gym and shops. The Dream difference is the offer of The Palace – a ‘ship within a ship’ concept that includes private VIP facilities including an exclusive pool and deck space, lounge and restaurant. The Palace guests stay in luxurious suites with private butler service, all-inclusive drinks and complimentary access to all specialty restaurants.
Most suited to: Families will love it, however there is also plenty on offer for couples and older travellers.
Encounters with service staff: Friendly staff, however some with limited English in the dining room.
Dining options: We had a five-course lunch in the well-appointed Dream Dining Room including Australian Freshwater Crayfish, Saffron Risotto and Red Braised Wagyu Short Rib. Generally, food in the Dining Room is a Chinese/Western fusion style and possibly one of the best places on the ship. We also tasted canapes from Seafood Grill by Mark Best (good), Umi Uma (excellent) and Silk Road (good).
Seating up to 342 passengers, the Lido Grill is buffet-style restaurant located outdoors at the aft of the ship. With sensational outdoor undercover seating areas, the Lido Grill appears to have lots of international options as per other cruise line buffets and is included in the cost of your cruise.
- Seafood Grill by Mark Best – Deck 13
- Hot Pot (authentic Chinese) – Deck 8
- Umi Uma -Deck 8
- Silk Road – Deck 7
- Mozzarella Ristorante and Pizzeria – Deck 7 ( modern classic Italian)
There is also the Candy Kingdom for those with a sweet tooth.
- Interior – from 12sqm – max occupancy 3
- Oceanview – from 13 sqm – max occupancy 2-4
- Balcony – from 18sqm – max occupancy 4. Queen bed, plus a small sofa beside the bed.
Entertainment: What we saw of the entertainment was excellent, first-class and very impressive.
Family facilities: There is a great kids club on Deck 12 called “Little Dreamers Club” with games, workshops, costume parties and even a DJ booth – for children up to 12 years. Esc Experience Lab – the latest in virtual reality technology and a games arcade for older kids (extra cost). Also The Zone is a multipurpose lounge featuring video game consoles and an air hockey table for older kids. There is also a substantial outdoor area for the kids with a large jumping castle and cubby house.
Activities: Fitness centre, kids club, evening shows, movies on deck, tour talks and port info, live music, video game challenges, sail away party, talent shows.
Sports and leisure: Jogging track, sportsplex, Caesar’s slide, Parthenon pool and boardwalk. A gym on deck 12 that is quite spacious and overlooks the outdoor pool area as well as views to the sea.
Inclusions: Dining – Dream dining room, Pavilion (Chinese cuisine), The Lido (buffet). Some entertainment and use of the gym.
Exclusions: Shore excursions, all specialty dining, some shows, some kids club activities, gelato bar, arcade, VR experience, spa, salon, Candy Kingdom and boutiques.
Self-service laundry: No, however you can do a special wash whilst cruising – fill a bag for AU$20.