A Viking  River cruise: Germany’s Elbe River

By  Judy M. Zimmerman- Special to AllThingsCruise

Viking Cruise Line’s  Clara Schumann  is unique in that it  was specifically designed 16 years ago to navigate on the shallow Elbe River between Berlin and Prague and is now the only ship in Europe that offers this itinerary.

“The majority of passengers choose to sail with us because of the itinerary,” said Program Director Martin Caco. “They are most interested in seeing Dresden, a beautiful city that was miraculously rebuilt from the rubble of Allied bombs in WWII; Wittenberg and other towns of the Protestant Reformation; and the magnificent towering rock formations in Saxony.”

Highlights of the guided tour in Dresden were the beautiful crown jewels located in the “Green Vault” , the magnificent Semper Opera House, Zwinger Palace and the Frauenkirche (Church of our Lady) with it distinctive bell-shaped dome.  Some passengers also enjoyed a peaceful evening stroll through Dresden’s illuminated architectural splendors.

It was in Wittenberg where, on the door of the Castle Church,  Martin Luther posted his 95 against the abuses of the Catholic church in Rome, which led to the  spread of the Protestant Reformation and the Renaissance throughout Europe. As our group followed in Luther’s footsteps to see many historical landmarks, we admired the medieval atmosphere of the town square’s buildings.

After dinner in Torgau, our delightful young tour manager led a walk through the quiet streets of another  little Reformation town with  its fortified Hartenfels Castle. The town is most well-known, however,  for its monument that commemorates the historic 1945 meeting between Russian and American troops.

Along the border between Germany and the Czech Republic, the ship sailed through a breathtaking stretch of the Elbe River that was lined with dramatic cliffs and bizarre sandstone columns. Program Manager Radim explained that it became known as “Saxon Switzerland” because two Swiss painters who were visiting felt the mountain landscape was reminiscent of their homeland.

On a  bus excursion  through Saxony’s beautiful National Park, passengers admired its many rare plants and birds.

In Meissen, we visited the factory to see how the world-famous Meissen porcelain is created and in Dessau there was a gondola tour through the lovely  gardens of Worlitz, a UNESCO heritage site.

All shore excursions were included in the price with the exception of an optional tour to Terezin (or Terrienstadt) near Prague, infamous as a concentration camp.

As for life aboard ship, the 112 passengers, aged 55-85 were mostly couples, groups of friends, and mothers and daughters from the United States and Great Britain.  Each day, everyone looked forward to the Program Director’s well-polished lectures about the destinations and their history.

The Clara Schumann was completely refurbished for the 2011 sailing season with a beige color scheme throughout that was  highlighted with occasional splashes of orange and blue upholstered chairs in the lounge. A corner of the ship’s lounge houses a small library and two computers with free wi-fi access.

Eight 180-square foot staterooms with French balconies  are on the upper deck.  The  remaining 135-square foot riverview cabins are identical with twin beds on either side of the window and a flat-screen tv’s.  Because the closets are tiny and there are no drawers, many guests lived out of their suitcases stored beneath the beds.    The bathroom, on the other hand,  has excellent storage and a well-designed shower.

A few early morning risers attended a Qi Gong stretch and exercise class. A pianist entertained in the  lounge each afternoon and evening and on two occasions, passengers enjoyed the  spirited performance of Czech folk dancers and an excellent trio of classical music.

Although the ship is advertised as disability-friendly, one passenger reported that the chair lift on the three flights of very steep chairs was difficult to use.

The breakfast buffet was excellent,  lunches were just OK, but  the dinner menu which offered two choices for a main course and a vegetarian option left something to be desired. Instead of the unusual dishes, I would have preferred less exotic fare of excellent quality.

The unlimited red and white wine included with dinner suited the taste of many, but some passengers purchased a premium beverage package (over $400 per couple)  for a choice of  fine wines with dinner and unlimited alcoholic drinks.

Service in the diningroom and cabins  was outstanding.

Due to the popularity of the itinerary,  both the Clara Schumann and her identical sister ship, the Fontane, will offer Elbe River cruises from March-November in 2012.

Although the cruise price includes an overnight stay and guided tours in Berlin/Potsdam and Prague, about one-third of the passengers extended their stays for two additional nights.

If You Go

o Price of cabins start at $2,306 per person.

o www.vikingcruises.com; 1-800-304-9616

 

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