Category Archives: Schipol Amsterdam

At last, our August 24th Cruise is a go!

After checking the water levels on the Danube religiously (still low) and expecting to hear that our August 24th cruise on the Maria Theresa was cancelled yet again. we heard from our travel agent that the cruise was a go.

My thoughts on this were that our large ship, the Maria Theresa is as big as they can build for European rivers, was stuck on the Amsterdam side of the voyage. The Danube low spot seemed to be between Regensburg and Passau in Bavaria, close to the Austrian border. When the MT got to Regensburg towards the end of the cruise, Uniworld was hoping that the water level would be deep enough to let them through.

The August 24th cruise would start in Amsterdam and our flight details had changed. This time we were flying out from Atlanta to Frankfort with a connector to Amsterdam and home from Budapest, with a connecting flight to Frankfort again and then home to Atlanta. All the flights were on Lufthansa and  a  much better route than we had had before. That is the one problem with getting your airfare from the cruise company; you have no choice over the airline or the connecting flights, if any. We had no complaints with what we got, as we enjoyed our travel on Lufthansa.

Again we hoped to add premium economy seats to our long flights as we had last December. However, when I checked on the Lufthansa website a few days before we were to leave, there seemed to be no Premium Economy seats available on our plane. Undaunted, I called Lufthansa and explained what I was trying to do. What I found out was that Lufthansa was adding Premium Economy seats to all its big Airbus long-haul planes, but there was a caveat. The upgrade would not be completed on all of their planes until October and until then, the seats were blacked out  on the computer. The agent suggested that we get to the airport early and try to book the upgrade there. That was disappointing, but these days, one has to get to the airport early for international flights, so there was still a chance we could get them. However, we resigned ourselves to being crammed into the regular economy seats for 9 hours.

AS it turned out, we got through security quite easily and arrived at our gate with plenty of time to spare. There we found a very helpful Lufthansa agent who knew all about the upgraded economy seats. She praised them highly saying they were almost like business class, and yes, they were available for our flight.

Here is a link to Lufthansa’s snappy new commercial promoting Premium Economy.  Kind of cute.

our sirplane
Our Lufthansa ride to Amsterdam, fortunately the crying baby stayed in Frankfort

Lufthansa Premium Economy is more expensive, around $300 per person, as compared to Delta and United, but to us it was well worth it. The seats were larger, new and quite comfortable, the meals were quite good, and bottled water was waiting for us by our seats. There was only one fly in our ointment, a poorly behaved toddler who fussed and cried loudly a good bit of the time.  Of course he and his mother were also in Premium Economy and even in our row, but thankfully on the other side of the plane.

After an uneventful flight across the Atlantic, our gate wasn’t ready. We had to get out of the plane in the runway and board busses which took us to the Frankfort terminal.  There wasn’t a lot of time between flights and  we were worried that if our trans-Atlantic flight was late, we might miss the connector. No worries though, our flight was early, and even with the hassle of getting bussed to the terminal, we were fine.

After another uneventful flight, we again found ourselves in the extremely long corridors of Schipol. There were no little carts to lug senior citizens across its vast expanse, and this time we had our luggage. Naturally we were at the opposite end from where we were to meet the Uniworld representative. It was a warm afternoon and by the time we got to the exit we were hot and sweaty.  We finally spotted a Viking representative waving her characteristic red sign near the exit, but not the blue and white of Uniworld. I asked the Viking lady if she had seen the Uniworld folks and she replied that they usually waited outside for their people. The Ramblers hesitated for a moment, because it was an exit only and we wouldn’t be able to get back if she was wrong. Fortunately, she was right. We finally located our guide and were directed to the bus, which, of course, was a fair distance away. We were very glad to clamber aboard and were handed bottles of water by the driver. By this time, we really needed them.

After all the Uniworld passengers had been collected, our guide told us that we would be traveling to Utrecht, where the Maria Teresa was docked. Evidently because of the  Amsterdam Sail 2015  festival, traffic was so bad in the city, that they had decided to tie up in Utrecht instead. Otherwise it might have taken us quite a while to get to the ship.

The Maria Theresa, stern view.
The Maria Theresa, stern view.


This part of the Rhine is fairly commercial and there is much barge traffic, and no so much quaint scenery, so according to our Captain, we weren’t missing much, scenery wise. However, we were docked alongside a paved walkway with

Our cabin had opening windows with a screen to keep the bugs out. Makes an interesting pattern in this photo.
Our cabin had opening windows with a screen to keep the bugs out. Makes an interesting pattern in this photo.

apartments in the background. Those who wanted, could stretch their legs walking along the Rhine. Carla, the hotel manager and Captain Richard Martin graciously welcomed us aboard. We were happy to get to our  beautiful and comfortable cabin, and wash up before we began our exploration of this amazing ship.

Finally time to go, the Ramblers reach Budapest!

Leaving the rainy Budapest Airport
Leaving the rainy Budapest Airport

For those of you who are thinking about a river cruise and have never taken one, it took us several months to zero in on the cruise  we wanted. Then there was the matter of price. There are many travel agencies who advertise on the web so price comparison is no problem. All will probably match the price quoted by a competitor at the time.

What is more problematic is when to book. Of course both the cruise companies and the travel agencies want you to book right away. One can’t blame them as competition is fierce. Even though river cruises are extremely popular, the cruise companies have responded by adding more ships and cruises. Viking in particular, added a dozen new  ships for river cruising in 2015, while most of its competitors added at least one. Unless you want a particular ship at a particular time and place, it seems to me that it might benefit you to wait, especially if you don’t have to travel  during summer vacation.  We booked six months ahead, which used to be the optimum time, and I thought I got a good deal. My training as a historian has made researching and finding the best trip and the best price almost a compulsion, and I was lucky the first time. I decided to work with Michelle Shirley, our travel agent at AAA, with an office two miles from home. My reasoning was if there was a problem, she was right there. Many travel agencies seem to be based in states far from Georgia like California and Texas, which is well and good if everything goes according to plan, but it doesn’t always.

Alright, so we had our cruise, our trip insurance, our passports, our carry-on’s; we had decided to go with only our carry-on luggage and one extra checked bag. Now all we needed were our flights. Today there are dozens of sites that offer the cheapest air-fare wherever you want to go. When you check them out, they often have the same information as the airline sites or the cheap flight advertised is no longer available. Then, of course, you can look on the airline sites which often have the same prices. I did all this religiously and could not find a reasonable fare from Atlanta to Budapest. Finally went to AAA for help (remember I really am a good researcher and feel I don’t need help) as I wasn’t getting anywhere and we surely couldn’t drive to Budapest… Michelle Shirleychecked with Uniworld and was able to get a great fare through them, with only one connecting flight on the way out and a direct return. I am not a fan of flying anywhere but there simply aren’t any direct flights from Atlanta to Budapest. So if you are going on a river cruise, it is likely that your cruise company can offer you a better flight deal than you can get yourself. However, I have heard that some cruise lines have arbitrarily  changed passenger flights once in a while, but this did not happen to us. What we booked was what we got.

November 8, our departure date finally arrived. I was excited about the cruise but nervous as usual about the plane ride. The weather was clear at Hartsfield airport when we got dropped off by our daughter, Lisa, at the International Terminal. We hadn’t flown anywhere since 1998, so the security lines were all new to us as would be the sardine like conditions inside our plane. Security wasn’t too bad, except that my husband forgot his sunglasses and cigarette case in the basket after going through the detector. We had time and walked back but they were no where to be found. After I had my hips replaced, I received a card from the manufacturer which I was supposed to hand to the TSA folks, but they weren’t interested in it and did a good job patting me down after I set off the machine. The good thing for us was that people over 75  are considered too old to have shoe bombs installed so we were allowed to keep our shoes on as we went through the line. LOL

Our  daughter Robin, is a world traveler and she insisted on buying us extended comfort economy seats for our trip. Since I’m retired teaching faculty not a high-up administrator, business class is just out of reach, but economy class without the luxury of extended comfort can be rough as we found out. If you can afford it and it is available, grab it. We flew out Delta and I must say the quality of the food was not good. Extended comfort included drinks and early boarding, but the food was not memorable. However, most important was that we arrived safely in Amsterdam and the flight was smooth.

One thing we didn’t know then was that Schipol airport in Amsterdam is very spread out. It took us about 15 minutes to taxi to our gate. I learned later that we landed in the area called the Polder. And, as you might expect, the KLM gate for the flight to Budapest was on the opposite side of the airport. We hurried as fast as we could, unable to look at the interesting shops on either side, since we didn’t have a lot of time between flights. This had caused me quite a bit of anxiety ahead of time as I wondered what might happen if we missed our flight or were late.

As it turned out, we reached our gate in plenty of time, after going through security yet again, and were wedged into our seats in a fairly old plane. No extended comfort on the connector flight which still boasted red no smoking lights, though they didn’t turn them on. The connecting flight was run by KLM and the service and food was much better than that on Delta. The flight attendants were a very jolly group who seemed to enjoy their work. They happily served us excellent Dutch-style sandwiches and cookies and before we knew it, the plane touched down in Budapest, Hungary. Could the Danube be far away?

After collecting our luggage, we exited the small airport and quickly spotted a smiling Uniworld staff member holding up a sign with the Uniworld logo. There was another group bound for a Viking longship who all sported little red carry-on bags with the Viking logo. With a sigh of relief, we joined a growing group of folks headed for the River Beatrice patiently waiting for all the cruisers to arrive. My husband deemed it time to dash outside, despite the cold rain, to have a long-denied cigarette. I was just happy to have reached the country my mother had left almost 100 years ago, never to return.