Excellent Cruise - shame about River Cruise Line
This review is divided into two parts: (1) The ship and the voyage, and (2) the River Cruise Line company. (1) MS Serenity is owned and operated by Select Voyages, a Dutch company. The crew comes from Western and Eastern Europe, and from further afield, like the Philippines. The captain, a stout fellow in more than one way, was very jovial, but had to leave the vessel unexpectedly after becoming caught up in the Malaysian Airlines disaster in Ukraine. About half of the passengers were British (River Cruise Line) while the remainder were German and Swedish. The ship was clean and well appointed, the crew were very friendly, and the food was varied and excellently presented. The lunch and dinner menu choices had to be made at breakfast time, but that is normal on river cruises. Vegetarians and those with restricted diets were accomodated well, with, sometimes, the chef producing a special dish on the spur of the moment. The guided excursions ashore were good, with excellent guides who knew their stuff. Apart from the excursions in Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna, and so on, there was an exceptionally good excursion to a stud farm where carriage-driving horses are bred and trained. The displays of military riding were especially interesting, with the horses being trained to lie down flat and to be unafraid of rifle fire (simulated by very loud whip cracking). There are some very low bridges on the Danube, and the sun shades and the ship's bridge had to be lowered to get under some of them. In theory the sun-deck should be cleared of passengers while going under the bridges, but some passengers were allowed to stay on the sun-deck provided they stayed seated and kept their heads down! Quite an experience with a bridge going past just a few inches above your head! However, July is not the best time to cruise this part of the Danube, since it is very hot. The temperature on board the vessel touched 40C at one point. (2) Now for the nasty part - River Cruise Line. We have been on River Cruise Line trips before and have been quite satisfied. This time the company's organisation was absolutely shocking. For example: (i) the late arrival of the 'feeder coach' caused calls to be made to the company's Emergency Number, which turned out to be in South Africa! The girl who answered the call got totally confused between coaches and taxis, and was of no help whatsoever. (ii) When the main coach got to the Danube at Passau (the scheduled boarding point) the ship was nowhere to be seen. The driver had to leave the coach (and turn the air-con off) to sort out the situation. After about an hour, he returned to say that he had found out that the ship was not moored in Passau at all, but in Lindau, further downstream. The River Cruise Line company had not informed him of the change in mooring! That meant a late departure and a rush to get through the welcome and safety briefings. (iii) On arrival in Vienna, we got off the ship to board the coach for the city excursion. Problem: no coach! The ship was moored in some out-of-the-way industrial area, and the (same) coach driver hadn't been informed of where the ship lay, or how to get to it. He spent a frantic hour trying to find a route down to the ship, because of so many low bridges that the coach could not pass under. We were not given any explanation as to why the coach was late (we only found out later by talking to the driver - who managed to keep his cool under very trying circumstances). This meant that the excursion into Vienna had to be shortened and became a made dash around the city in the coach with a quick walk to look at the cathedral. (iv) The two female 'Cruise Director' and 'Cruise Manager' were totally useless and a waste of space. When moored in Budapest, the 'Cruise Manager' admitted that she did not know which side was Buda and which was Pest! On the few occasions when these two imparted any information it was only given to those passengers in their immediate vicinity, all the other passengers had to get the information by word-of-mouth. Overall then, the ship, its crew, and Select Voyages were excellent for the price. The River Cruise Line company performance was diabolical.
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