Viking Ocean Cruises (Viking Orion) Cruise Report ** Italian Sojourn – July 1st 2018 – Stateroom 6088**

Prepared by Brian & Donna Meads-Barlow                                    30th July 2018

It gave us great pleasure to be aboard Viking Orion during her first official cruise itinerary sailing Venice to Rome in July 2018, it was an amazing and new experience; I hope you enjoy the read.

Ports of call:

Venice (overnight) | Šibenik, Croatia | Bari (Puglia), Italy | Crotone, Italy | Messina (Sicily), Italy Naples, Italy | Civitavecchia (Rome)


Comfortable and intimate… thoughtfully created in a design to enrich your interaction with your destination in every way.


  • 930 guests
  • Length: 745 feet
  • Beam: 94.5 feet Class: Small ships Year built: 2018
  • On board currency: USD
  • Weather: Warm | Seas: Calm        Orion_


People often misinterpret the meaning of luxury in the cruise industry but if you were to board Orion for the first time, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking she’s a luxury cruise ship.

Viking Ocean Cruises beg to differ however, they don’t market their vessels as a luxury cruise product; they’d rather you be the judge …and judge it, we did!


Because of a late engagement in Sydney, we arrived day two of the cruise during Orion’s overnight stay. A swift transfer from Venice airport had us join the ship mid-afternoon, just as shore excursion passengers were returning to re-embark.

Once paperwork (boarding passes etc) were approved, we were on board in no time; our stateroom of course was fully prepared and our attendant eager to meet us.



  • Stateroom: 6088
  • Category: Penthouse Veranda PV1 Deck: 6
  • Forward – Starboard


Beautiful! That’s all! I’m a very practical person and as long as everything’s in its place; everything works and I never have to call Reception to report a malfunction, I’m happy J

OK, it’s a new ship, one wouldn’t expect issues? A lot of new ships do! …But not this one…

A PV1 stateroom is a Penthouse Veranda; marginally larger than a standard veranda (on an all veranda/balcony ship) we were situated on deck 6, overlooking balconies below. Well worth the upgrade in my opinion even if only for the extra space.

Our room attendant was very observant of my/our needs and whilst he was never in our face, he and his protégé took excellent care of our every day needs including restocking our daily bottled water supplies and minibar needs. The stateroom was made up each day beautifully and was complimented by a special turn-down each evening.

The bathroom consisted of a normal-sized shower – hooray! It was a treat to be able to move about without hitting against the Perspex cubicle. The design was important given the positive feedback Viking receives from its River Cruise clientele who share the same opinion – No poky bathrooms please! -Verdict? Quite close to the best I’ve ever seen on the seas.Orion4

The Buffet (World Café)

It’s arguably one of the best buffets I’ve encountered. World Café because the cuisine is international, served to you from a pantry-like setup …and it’s delicious.

(Casual) breakfast, lunch and dinner can be had here (lunch & dinner menus rotate daily); plenty of tables – no waiting – little or no queues at serveries. BONUS: Coffee is great!Orion5


…no washy-washy reminders on Orion, passengers were self-disciplined for better hygiene or perhaps it was more about the modern amenities on entry to each of the restaurants.

Discarded crockery/cutlery, napkins and the likes were quickly removed from tables; the table is wiped down and prepared for your next course.

As well, a very affective team of cleaners didn’t stop wiping handrails; vacuuming, cleaning windows and public bathrooms etc, even the deckchairs were wiped down between users.Orion6

Alternate Dining (FREE)

Each guest is guaranteed one alternate dining experience (booking), which is great as these restaurants are very popular.

Orion7Orion8 …so popular in fact that we only dined once in the MDR, which was fantastic to say the least!Orion9


Bars were intimate, and again little or no queues. Waiters were quick to serve you typical international drink choices at your table where ever you were.

We took out a (Silver) drink package and it was well worth it. It meant we could drink any time of the day simply when we felt like it. And let me say, 35C temps – the Mojitos were well deserved!

That said, wine and beer (and soft drinks) are served complimentary with dinner!



As well as the ritzy looking apparel stores, Orion has your usual convenience-like shop that sells your bits’n’pieces type needs; chocolate & duty free items. Prices were a little exxy especially when compared with the prices on ports like Croatia and Italy. Nonetheless, the quality of clothing and jewellery is top class.Orion12Orion13

Orion is a small ship that’s big on amenities designed for those looking for relaxation alongside their exploration (Cruise Critic), and I couldn’t have said it any better.



Once again, there’s no fight for deck furniture although I did happen to see the usual reserved (by a towel or bag) sign but there were always plenty more available.Orion15

OK, so we’ve tagged a few pics! There’s really no better way to give you the feel than by showing you pictures but the crowd seen (or, lack of crowd seen around the ship) is indicative of daily outdoor life on board. That is, you’d never believe the ship was sailing at full capacity of 930 passengers unless you went looking for them.


…none!!! Sad if you like that sort of thing but I felt the space was better used for areas better enjoyed by guests.


The Persian Room is one of the best I’ve seen, and it’s FREE. Steam rooms, Ice rooms and a fantastic Jetted pool -but it can get busy. It’s very popular so choose visiting times wisely according to those that aren’t seen most popular.

Orion16   SPA Treatment prices are what you’d expect to pay on board any ship, perhaps a tad lower… remembering of course currency is USD.

We both had massages and rated them very good, in fact better than some we’ve had on many other cruises.



Laundry: Self-service launderettes including irons and ironing boards are located on Decks 3–6 and are free of charge, including detergent.

Internet: FREE WIFI throughout the cruise

Dietary requirements: In most cases, dietary requirements can be catered for. Guests requiring special diets (low salt, diabetic, gluten-free and low cholesterol) should alert us 90 days prior to departure and remind the Maître d’ when on board.

In-room Refrigerators: YES. Certain stateroom Categories include FREE Mini-Bar


The entire ship (including poolside, stateroom verandas and all public lounges and other areas) is NON SMOKING. With the exception of an outdoor, semi covered area that has been designated as a Smoking Area. It’s actually quite chic; has lounges and a communal table with around a dozen chairs… some say it’s the best place to meet up and gossip!


Viking Ocean Cruises has adopted the same principle that it offers on its River Cruises. That is, each guest receives a number of FREE shore excursions (City Highlight Tours, Walking Tours etc) and they’re well worth experiencing.

Given the number of unique/exclusive ports we visited, a morning guided walk was key to going back in the afternoon and exploring towns ourselves.

You’re able to participate in FREE shore tours, yet also participate in optional Book & Pay excursions that take port trips way beyond Old Towns -enjoying some of the best experiences you’ll ever encounter.

For example: We did the Conversano (Italy) Cooking Class. We weren’t sure what to expect but thought it’d be fun.

What did we learn? We learned that it’s good to relax amongst some very entertaining fellow cruisers but we finally learnt how to make pasta from scratch! …and yes, wine flowed continually throughout the educational.Orion17

We also took part in Messina & Its Treasures (Sicily), and a treasure it is. There’s no better way to explore Viking Ocean Cruises’ ports than to take-up their shore excursion offers – the guests we’d previously spoken to who previously decided to wing it, missed out on so much …to their admission.


Tipping is customary aboard Viking Ocean Cruises and Grats are not included unless otherwise described in a cruise offer.


In one word? Brilliant. I boarded with GREAT expectations and Viking Orion exceeded each. She’s new; she’s charming and like I said from the beginning: She’s NOT Luxury Cruising but she’s nine tenths…

We’ve rated OrionOrion18…a near record rating from us! Don’t take our word for it though, surf the internet… you be the judge!

For bookings on this fabulous cruise line – as well as inside info about the what’s to do/what’s not to do, please contact your favourite Personal Cruise Consultant at I Love Cruising.

We’re located across the nation. It’s not so much about making the booking with us; it’s more about the level of customer service that we promise along with some very special travel options including flights & accommodation.

I Love Cruising LOVES Viking Ocean Cruises – if you didn’t already pick that up ILC Logo

I Love Cruising – a member of the Donna Barlow Travel Group Pty Ltd.
ATAS Accreditation No. A10993 / AFTA Member 03799
Unit 1, 111 Wicks Road North Ryde NSW 2113 Australia. Phone: 1300 31 33 31 email:    email Brian Meads-Barlow:


Cruiseco Conference 2016

Gold Coast QLD – 24 February -27 February 2016 Report by: Chris Reilly

Is it still possible to plan for the future?

We believe the answer is a very definite YES. Although the rate at which things change is quicker than ever before, change has always been with us and the reality is – we all need to adapt to the changing circumstances.

The importance and relevance of setting goals and planning ahead remains crucial. Planning for the future is aspirational – and it is the steps taken to achieve your goals that are critical.

So how do we adapt to change? Skills, knowledge and experience are the biggest assets we have, so concentrating on our strengths, and ensuring we maximise the opportunities to learn, is most important.

This opening statement from Kevin Dale set the precedence behind the agenda of the Cruiseco conference this year.

This year we had two very different keynote speakers. We heard from economic and social commentator, Dr Keith Suter, who spoke about how current global political events may impact on future tourism. We also heard from the star of ABC’s Gruen Planet and Chairman of Leo Burnett, Todd Sampson, who was also the writer and host of the award-winning series “Redesign My Brain” – and spoke about how we can train our brain to meet challenges of modern life and use our brainpower to think about the future.

 1_2016 Cruise Industry Outlook

Fridays Panel Discussion: Review of the Cruise Industry Karen Christensen GM DOS Silversea, Sydney Stuart Allison VP AUSNZ Princess Cruises, Sydney John Molinaro GM Uniworld Boutique Cruises, Sydney Adam Armstrong Regional Commercial Director Asia Pacific, RCI, Sydney Ellen Betteridge VP Sales Marketing Azamara USA

The main focus of the panel was based on the future of growth and a big look at infrastructure that is restricting the growth of the industry. Its is apparent that although a lot of research is done by the cruise lines before embarking on a venture such as bringing Ovation of the Seas “down under”- the companies are going full steam ahead in growing and adapting to the worldwide market with the continual introduction of new ships to fleets and cross developing; such as Viking and Scenic venturing into ocean cruising and Crystal into River cruising. They spoke of the need to keep a balance between capitalising on potential availability and that sailing with empty beds is another restriction to bringing bigger and better ships to our shores.

Dominic Paul Senior VP – International, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, Weybridge, UK

Spoke via Video Link

Dominic expressed that RCCL will be focusing on the Chinese market relocating more and more ships to the religion. Adam stated that although there are many cruise lines in the region, most will fail and RCI are extremely confident that they will strive with the market and can cater adequately to the Chinese.

Dominic expressed that the ships will be completely altered for the Chinese market including language, food and on board culture. This may be confronting for unsuspecting Westerners.

He spoke about the important role that Australia has in growing the cruise industry.

It was mentioned that there is only 4% market penetration in Australia compared to approx 35% in the USA. This leaves a great number of the population that have not cruised, possibly with an ancient perception or expectation of cruising.



Steve Odell, Senior VP &MD Asia Pacific Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings

Steve spoke about these changes and the plans to continue to build new ships for NCL and Regent and spoke about the anticipated success of bringing a NCL ship to our shores. Steve indicated that the success of this venture may see the way for a regular appearance for NCL although we may not see a home ported NCL ship for some time.

Steve announced the plans for a great improvement to the NCL menus to fall in-line with the reputation that Oceania have set for culinary at sea. Steve spoke of Frank del Rio, Chief Executive Officer and President of NCLH wanting to have the experience of stepping onto any of his ships the same, no matter which ship in the fleet it was. (Within the relative brand)


Steve introduced the reconfiguration of the three cruise lines together and made a big focus on the fact that agencies should be focusing on luxury travel. In the past year we have seen dramatic changes to how Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas are promoted here in Australia. Previously these brands were marketed and promoted through GSA companies, but late last year, we saw the opening of a new “Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings” office in Sydney, under the management of Steve Odell.



Teresia Fors, MBA, MD Australia NZ, Viking Cruises, Sydney

Teresia spoke about the advantages Viking offer on the river with the Grandfather rights and spoke of the success of the new Ocean Ships and the plans to continue building more ships.

An interesting point Teresia made was that that the big ocean cruise lines didnt think Viking would succeed in ocean cruising. Viking Ocean Cruises have been sailing at capacity and selling out in advance since being launched.


Anthony Cooper, SEABOURN Manager National Accounts, Sydney

Spoke briefly before lunch as the sponsor of lunch. Biggest news was that Encore will visit Sydney and Australia at the end of 2017 and then spend a home port season over the 2017/2018 season.

Anthony also announced Seabourn will be returning into Alaska in 2017. The ventures program for intimate shore excursions is very popular and recommended to book 12 months in advance.   FCC booked on-board is fully refundable.


Keynote Address: Keith Suter

Dr Suter spoke about the current state of the globe in regards to safety. He was of the opinion, with factual backing that despite the recent publicity of ISIS and Terror attacks, the world is the safest it has been since pre world war one. He spoke of the negative impact the media can have on the public perception to gain viewers. This then affects some travelers’ perception.


Saturday Panel Discussion: Planning for the Future – Is This Possible? Carole Smethurst, Director Bicton Travel David Rousham, Director of International Development, Cunard & P&O World, UK Ben Angell, VP Marketing Asia Pacific Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, Sydney Teresia Fors, MD Aust NZ, Viking Cruises, Sydney

The panel was focused on what is required to grow the industry and how we can plan for this. It was of general consensus that Australia’s infrastructure is the main obstacle restricting the growth of cruising in Australia.

 9_Cruise Stats

Keynote Address: Todd Sampson How can we change our brain to adapt to the rate of changes we currently face?

Modern Science has now told us that as aging adults, we can positively correct our brain. This revolution is called Brain Plasticity. The idea that the brain irreversibly deteriorates has been proven incorrect.

The common brain is ordinary and has extraordinary potential. The key is closing the gap.

10_Train the brain 

Mental Flexibility – adapting to a situation is one of the defining factors of successful people.

Law of least effort – The brain is fundamentally lazy or.. “Necessarily efficient”. The brain takes measures to maintain efficient running costs to avoid “overheating” in day to day life. An attribute of a successful person is being able to solve the same problem in a multitude of ways. Most people efficiently refer back to an initial method and base further solving on this.

Functional Fixedness – defines people set in their ways and believing they know an answer based on previous experience and traditional methods uses. Couple this with arrogance and it can develop some roadblocks.

There is NO biological reason for mental decline.

Forced adaption – is putting the brain outside its comfort zones. As the brain ages, pathways or synapses close. Plasticity is about creating new pathways. Forced adaption does this; such as learning a new language or practicing using your non dominant hand. Plasticity occurs during sleep in between 6-8 weeks of practice. The more noticeable learning effect occurs first.

Memory Loss – lack of 8 hours sleep can severely impair the brain function and actually shrink the brain.

Sleeping consolidates the memories and synapses are formed. This is when plasticity occurs.


Technology impairs the memory function. A symptom of this is sometimes referred to as the google effect. Children no longer know and retain facts, they know how to find facts. As we get dumber, the Google machine gets smarter by its search results.

Brain development is when we are trying to solve a problem and our brain hurts. We need to more of this mental training for the fitness of our brain.

The best technique for memory is Visualisation. Converting the subjects to visuals.

12_Brain Outlook

As we age, the information process slows due to two things- the eyes tend to move slower as we get older narrowing peripheral vision. The second is interruptions.

Multi-Tasking does not exist. Sub optimal tasking does. This is splitting your attention between two tasks. This is why driving with a mobile phone is illegal no matter how much attention you think you are paying to the road.


Attention control – when your brain is searching for something and once it’s found, the brain itself blinks. This is the key success for magicians to rely on in their tricks.

Meditation is important and scientifically and objectively proven to improve the brain and success.

The difference between an ordinary brain and an extraordinary brain is within your grasp.

SUMMARY: The Cruiseco conference in summary was focused on the changes in the industry both between cruise lines and the addition of new ships and also the requirement to increase Australia’s infrastructure to support our exponential growth.

It was a great opportunity to network with new and familiar faces and further establish our company within the industry.


Evergreen European River Cruise, Nuremburg to Budapest

Report on Evergreen European River Cruise, Nuremburg to Budapest

 May 30 to June 6 2015

The ship was just as we’ve seen in the brochures and videos – fantastic!!

I shared an Emerald Balcony Suite on Horizon Deck, cabin 317, with another travel consultant. We had the drop down window which we used most of the time, except sometimes in Germany where it was a bit cooler.

On first arriving on the ship we were greeted with welcome cocktails and warm moist hand towels! There was also a hand sanitizer spray machine at entry to the ship and another at entry to the Reflections Restaurant.

The crew were truly exceptional – friendly, helpful, professional, nothing too much trouble.

I was particularly impressed with Patricia, the Cruise Director. She was outstanding – warm, friendly, helpful, energetic, professional, organised, amazing attention to detail. Every aspect of the tours, connection to flights, any questions asked were attended to perfectly. Nothing was too much trouble for her.

The “Hotel Manager”, (can’t remember his name or correct title), was also particularly friendly, energetic and helpful. Again, nothing was too much trouble for him. As an example, when I asked how to get the heart rate monitor of the gym bicycle to work he came to help me work it out. Eventually he got the engineer. (Unfortunately it couldn’t be fixed, but at least he know knew about it)

All food and drink staff, waiters/waitresses were friendly, helpful, and professional and set a relaxed, friendly atmosphere on board. Cleaning staff were also friendly and helpful.

The tours were good; two were particularly good because of the guides. One guide was a feisty German woman, who must have been in her seventies, and guided us around Regensburg. She moved her arms and upper torso about with energy and gusto and made the history come alive. Another woman, who guided us around Passau, oozed passion and enthusiasm for the history and culture so that it was so easy to take in.

I also really liked the hosted afternoon in Bratislava. It was a restful retreat into nature after the hustle and bustle. I also loved Vienna and Budapest with their enchanting, charming architecture. But having said that all tours were good.

In Budapest the ship was docked for the day and night opposite the grand Parliament Building, view unimpeded! The finale the last night, once dark, was a cruise up and down the river to see all the castles, churches and bridges brilliantly lit up with their lights reflecting golden and sometimes pinks and purples in the river. Truly spectacular!!!


The four course, (one evening six course) a la carte dinners were stunningly presented: classy, stylish and sophisticated, particularly the appetizers, often with a mix of crisp and soft, contrasting colours and sauce as decoration.

Also meal delivery to the tables by the waiters was very impressive. Depending on the number of guests seated at a table 2, 3 or 4 waiters would arrive together, carrying the same course, and simultaneously placing the meals on the table for each guest!! At any one table all guests could start their course at the same time without waiting for companions’ meals to arrive!!

Most passengers I spoke to loved the food, as did the 18 other travel agents.

A few people were not so exuberant and one couple said it was “mixed”.

My hesitations re some food

I did however find some of the soups, meat and fish dishes to be bland, and sometimes the meat and fish to be overcooked and a bit dry. I was a little reluctant to mention this, but finally did mention it to Natalie as I was concerned that our friends, who have already deposited, and others who will, could also be a bit disappointed in the bland taste of the some of the food.

Thankfully Natalie explained that if this were the case during next year’s cruise I could mention it to our waiter and that the chef would definitely try to oblige by enhancing the flavour to ours and our people’s meals.

Also luckily we had a tour of the Galley and the chef mentioned the difficulty of catering to so many nationalities and tastes. At any one meal some guests would say ‘too rich’ and others ‘too bland’. So at least if I get this complaint I’ll know how to handle it!!

Positive passenger comments

One passenger commented on the “quietness” of the Emerald Sky. He said the acoustics on the older ships in not so good and sometimes it is difficult to hear people talk. The Emerald Sky is really good – you can’t hear the motor or feel any vibration. In fact the only way you can tell it is moving is to see the scenery passing by!

Some passenger Issues:


  • Tours – time on own.

One man said he’d been on Avalon and liked the way the cruise guide stayed with them the whole day, as opposed to Evergreen where guides tour with you some of the time and then you are on your own. He said he and his wife lost their way back and almost missed the ship.


  • Name Evergreen/Emerald

Another passenger, after getting off the flight into London looked for Evergreen at London airport and couldn’t find it. After much panic and almost missing the connecting flight he found out it was Emerald. He said customers should have been warned re Emerald vs Evergreen.


  • Entertainment

One couple who’d recently been on an ocean cruise were not happy with the entertainment. They added that  “one night there was supposed to be a quiz and that didn’t even happen”.

  • Pace

Had breakfast with an Aussie couple from Gosford who have done both ocean and coach tours. This was their first River Cruise. They were not criticising the tour as such, but said they found it quite tiring. After the trip to Cesky the husband said he’d never been so tired in his whole life. They were in their seventies and keen golfers. With them I was trying to work out a solution. Maybe have 3 levels of fitness:

  • Very slow/walking sticks etc.
  • Slow
  • “Normal”

Cruise vs sight-seeing

I will recommend to prospective passengers that have the time and money that they include additional time, either before or after the cruise, to immerse themselves in at least one city/country. The cruise gives a taste of what one may like to come back to see, but doesn’t allow detailed sight-seeing as when on your own and staying in any place as long as you need.

Notes re what I checked on for my knowledge in case asked:

Cabins on Riviera deck.

Although they don’t have the drop-down window the cabins are still quite appealing with lots of light and the modern, clean-lined, spacious feel of the other deck cabins. I figure that if one had not seen the drop down windows on upper decks one would be perfectly happy with these cabins and their picture window. I measured the bottom part of the glass as starting at my eyebrow level. Where the ship was docked in Budapest, opposite the Parliament Building, I could see the upper part of the walls and roof of the building.

Single Cabin

I believe it would be fine for someone who is cost-conscious and on his/her own. Although small, it has everything one needs and is clean-lined, modern, bright and cheerful.


Noted a pull-out clothes line that could go across the top of the shower.




Remember clean, green, lush vegetation. Part of the city has the German chocolate box buildings look. Lots of flower and fruit and veggie stalls in the market. Learned that Hitler had lived most of his life in Linz and planned to retire there.


Kelheim, Bavaria

Hall of Liberation                                                                              Inside Hall of Liberation

Learned that the Hall of Liberation was built by the Bavarian King Ludwig 1st. He ordered it to be built to commemorate the victories against Napoleon during the Wars of Liberation that lasted from 1813 to 1815. The 18 monumental statues inside are allegories of the German tribes.

Our guide explained that Oktoberfest was the wedding feast of Ludwig 1st! It is now the world’s largest funfair held annually in Munich from late September to the first weekend in October with more than 6 million people from around the world attending the event.

Weltenburg Abbey, Kelheim.

The monastery was founded by Irish or Scottish in about 620.

Around 1000 AD many monasteries started to make beer.

Bavarian beer is produced at the Weltenburg Abbey, on the outskirts of the town Kelheim.

Weltenburg Abbey brewery is said to be the oldest monastery brewery in the world, having been in operation since 1050

Baroque style.

Enjoying the monastery’s bread and beer!








The German lady who guided our tour of Regensburg was fantastic – fiery and passionate about the history and culture. She oozed enthusiasm and made history come alive. Learned that Regensburg had 60 millionaires each with a tower, which means there are 60 towers, all in competition with each other. If a millionaire fell on hard financial times he would sell off the top part of the tower and the material would be used to build a house for the person to whom money was owed. Therefore often the height of the towers would increase or decrease depending on the financial position of the millionaires!


View along the river

Regensburg Old Town                                                    Old Town Hall      Regensburg cathedral.



Our guide for Passau was also fabulous; passionate and enthusiastic about German culture and history. She explained baroque style. The style started in the middle ages after 30 years of war between the Protestants and Catholics. People were so happy when the war ended that they celebrated with their architecture – bringing heaven to earth. The higher up the building the more elaborate it gets i.e. closer to heaven. Glass is usually never stained as clear glass was wanted to let the light in.

Around Passau were found skeletal remains of people going back 25,000 years!!


      Plague door in Passau.

The Plague door in Passau opened from inside + outside. People could pass food into plague ridden home. Used pole i.e. “wouldn’t touch with 10 foot pole.”

St Stephen’s Cathedral, Passau     Baroque style    Largest organ outside US, and largest church organ in world.







Melk, Austria.

Melk has a population of 5,257 (as of 2012). Best known for the massive baroque Benedictine monastery named Melk Abbey.

Melk Abbey – above – walking to it.

Melk Abbey – small part of outside                         inside                                     and one corridor

Maria Theresa with her husband Frances 1.

Maria Theresa, 1717 -1780, Vienna), archduchess of Austria and queen of Hungary and Bohemia for 40 years, wife and empress of Emperor Francis I, who reigned for 20 years. Maria had 16 children, one of whom was Marie Antoinette!


Dürnstein is a small town on the Danube River in the Austrian state of Lower Austria. It is a well-known wine growing area










Discover more tour – Cesky

The travel agents who went to Cesky said it was really worthwhile. Involved a 2 hour bus ride. They warned there is quite a bit of up and down walking on cobblestone streets and a reasonable level of fitness is required.



Vienna, the capital of Austria, lies in the country’s east on the Danube River. Its artistic and intellectual legacy was shaped by residents including Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud! The city is also known for its Imperial palaces.

Through the guide I learned:

– Bavaria is the largest state of Germany, with a population of 12 million.

– The population of Austria is 8 million

– Vienna 1.8 million

– Salzburg 350,000

– Linz 200,000

Lipizzaner horses

In Vienna the tradition of Lipizzaner horsemanship endures to this day.

The Lipizzaner horses, are Europe’s oldest domesticated breed of horse







Imperial Palace

For more than seven centuries, the great empire of the Habsburgs was ruled from the Imperial Palace.

Today, the Gothic Imperial Chapel, where the Vienna Boys’ Choir performs during High Mass on Sunday, is a remnant of the Imperial Palace during the Middle Ages.


In the evening we attended a Viennese concert with music from Mozart and Strauss performed by young musicians and a passionate, good looking conductor! Whilst it was not at the world famous Opera House, it was a wonderful performance by an 8-piece orchestra in a charming, intimate concert hall, just big enough to seat the 50 ships’ guests!



Pic of our guide in Bratislava.

Bratislava has a population around 500,000. Occupies both banks of the Danube River and the left bank of Morava River. Bordering Austria and Hungary, it is the only national capital that borders two independent countries.

Bratislava’s long history – as home to Celts, Romans, Germans, Hungarians, Jews, and of course Slovaks – means there is an impressive range of architecture, languages and cuisine.


Old town Bratislava

Statue of Schone Naci, the Man with a hat. Bratislava               Statue of Hans Christian Anderson. Bratislava

Our guide explained that Schöner Náci was the son of a shoemaker and grandson of a famous clown, also Ignác Lamár, and was inspired by the latter’s example to bring happiness to the streets of the city. He walked around the Old Town in top hat and tails, greeting women with the words, “I kiss your hand” in GermanHungarian and Slovak. He received free food from several of the city’s cafes, and supported himself with occasional cleaning work.


Our host’s home and vineyard was in Senkvice, a village in western Slovakia on the outskirts of Bratislava. It has a population of roughly 4400 people.

Host’s cellar                                                                                            Enjoying host’s wine and cake

Budapest, Hungary

Last destination was Budapest, the ship docked right opposite the stunning Parliament Building, view unimpeded!

I hadn’t realised previously that Buda and Pest are two cities separated by the river. Buda is the hilly side and Pest the flat side. Spent a whole day and night anchored there.

Citadella                                                                                                        Heroes’ Square

Millennium Column part of millennial monument

Citadella is the Hungarian word for Citadel.

Kind of fortress; on top of Gellért Hill.

View of Parlilament Building from inside cabin during day.

Same view at night!

Once darkness had fallen in Budapest the ship sailed up and down the river. We could then take in the spectacular view of brilliantly light castles, churches and bridges showing off their splendour with the golden and sometimes pink, blue and purple lights reflecting glowingly into the river.

Chain bridge                                     Royal Palace

A spectacular finale!!

The Africa Safari Company Tour to Namibia: 6 to 14 March 2015. By Jeanette Whitmore


Educational Feedback Namibia 06 – 14 March

Jeanette Whitmore

Donna Barlow Travel

South African Airways: JNB / WDH / JNB                                            Rating  2

Flights very full. Service was good, meal was excellent and both flights ran to time. I didn’t fly SAA long-haul ex Australia so can’t comment.

Kalahari Red Dunes Lodge                                                                       Rating 2

Great to have our first night stop in a lodge out of Windhoek. Excellent location and everything in keeping with the environment, with a pet Meerkat to add a real touch of Africa to the stay. Excellent rooms with all facilities. Property under new management so perhaps not quite the spontaneous welcome we received elsewhere. Food let the property down – no special meals noted. Rate as 4 star

Kulala Desert Lodge                                                                                   Rating 2

Great friendly welcome. Very nice rooms (lodges) very much in keeping with desert environment. Opportunity to sleep out under the stars on roof-top decks – nice touch. Excellent pool and outdoor area which was essential given the 40 deg + temperatures. A true taste of the desert and appreciated more when we had the game lodges to compare to. Rate as 4 star

Little Kulala Lodge (site inspection)                                                       Rating 2

Wonderful welcome by the staff – everyone met us singing. Beautiful rooms and a very exclusive feel about the property and in keeping with the desert environment. However, it was a hot day and the sand paths between buildings were so hot it was almost impossible to walk on even with shoes on. Virtually no outdoor shelter to escape the heat. Lovely property but some upgrade is necessary, to keep up the standard. Rate as 5 star

Moon Mountain Lodge                                                                            Rating 4

Property was the only disappointment of the trip. Located on a hill up a very steep access overlooking a flat plain. Not sure why you would build a property here, as there is nothing in the vicinity. Julie from Chameleon said she only used it if as a mid-point between desert properties and game lodges high season when rooms hard to get. Bathrooms awful – water everywhere. Every sound echoed – day and night. Privacy issues between lodges. The small private plunge pools were VERY small. High afternoon winds meant it was hard to leave windows and doors open to cool the rooms down. Food was OK – under-cooked chicken served. Serious staffing issues and it showed. Rate as 3 star

Beach Hotel                                                                                                  Rating 2

Excellent sea-front location and near enough to the town centre – a 10 minute walk. Also close to a couple of the best restaurants in Swakopmund. Friendly staff and good facilities but rooms quite small and compact. Rate as 3 ½ star

Okonjima Plains Camp                                                                              Rating 1

One of the highlights for me – the home of the Africat foundation, leopard tracking etc makes this a special place. Immersed in wildlife and game, this property is a true African experience in a private game reserve. We stayed in View Rooms, however, the standard rooms were just as good and excellent value for money. 4 star Family owned property. We also carried out the following site inspections: Bush Camp (currently being refurbished) plus the Bush Suite and Villa – a five star luxury stand-alone suite and separate 5 star villa – both  gorgeous.

Onguma Fort                                                                                               Rating 1

Probably my favourite property. Again in a private game reserve on the edge of Etosha National Park. Buildings have a very Moroccan look and feel and the “Fort” concept is carried out extremely well. Lodges are excellent, with all facilities you would expect from a five star property. Outdoor area and pool, along with excellent food and dining out under the stars made the stay at the Onguma Fort memorable. Also carried out the following site inspections: Property also has the Tree Top Camp which comprises of several lodges, raised above the ground, offering good viewing from private balcony over the game reserve. Tented camp offers an exclusive safari experience and further enhances the excellent accommodation choices at Onguma.

Ongava Lodge                                                                                             Rating 1

Another excellent property with fantastic views over the Private Game Reserve on the edge of the National Park. Home of several endangered white rhino and excellent Game viewing. A point to note however, this property has a very steep access with approximately 70 steps up to the lodge. There are also steep paths around the lodge between the public areas which would limit clients with any mobility issues. The restaurant in open-air and has views over the waterhole, staff are very friendly and attentive and made our last night on tour a very memorable one. Special touch – escorted to / from room with staff carrying a shot gun as animals are free to roam around the property – saw a porcupine in the garden beside one of the rooms.

Little Ongava   – site inspection.

The hightlight property for me. Excellent in every way, including private infinity pool, cabana and 180 degrees of out door decking. As property is at the top of the hill there is drive on access and a gentle walk way between the villas, which makes moving around the property easy. Only 3 villas and very exclusive. Fully inclusive rate – all meals game driving etc. Upgrade well worth it.

Additional inspections:

Sossusvlei Lodge: Located at the entrance to the Namib Naukluft Park and closest accommodation to the dunes. Each lodge is mixture of solid frame / tent covering – quite a large property with 45 units and government run. We were given a very warm welcome. The communal areas have lovely outdoor space, large pool and a large BBQ area is used in the evening offering a variety of meats for the dinner service. There is also a water hole which attracts local game to property. Excellent value 3 ½ star property. We picked up our vehicle and driver to travel into the dunes area from this property.

Desert Sands – Swakopmund. Located next to the beach Hotel so similar beach front location however, few rooms have the beach-front view. Hotel only offers breakfast meal service – other meals can be taken at the Beach Hotel or the several restaurants in the area. This hotel has the strangest bathrooms – a couple almost bigger than the sleeping / living areas with the bath encroaching into lounge and open glass walls. Would have to be very careful of the clients you booked into these rooms!

Andersson’s Camp – Adjacent to Andersson’s Gate entry to Etosha National Park

Excellent value for money. Under new management and lots of improvements happening, including upgrade to outdoor areas including pool and the addition of a sunken hide right by the waterhole offering amazing game viewing in the property. All accommodation “tented” – very relaxed atmosphere. I would question the suitability of the indoor / outdoor bathroom concept in the winter months when the temperature drops down to 12 degrees overnight!

Namibia as a destination: I have always wanted to see the red sand dunes of Namibia, Sossusvlei and the and the Deadvlei and Etosha National Park. The Skeleton Coast has also fascinated me. I was overwhelmed and totally surprised in the best possible ways. A country of huge visual contrast – from the ocean to the desert leading into open grassy / tree plains, all  in just a few hours’ drive. A country which has been settled by Europeans in the late 1800’s leaving behind so many influences (mainly German) yet a very African nation emerging independent and facing the 21st century head-on. Namibia is excellent value for money. Education is compulsory and offered free of charge to every child. English is the official language and I felt very safe and would recommend to any travellers who liked to travel independently a self-drive option. Driving is on the same side of the road as Australia, they are well marked and fuel about the same price as here. A lot of roads are unsealed but in good condition and a four wheel drive vehicle is best suited are there are rougher roads in the game parks. Pre-reservation of accommodation is essential as most camps and lodges are small offering anything from 3 – 12 rooms and a reservation is also required to enter any of the private reserves.

I have returned exhausted but exhilarated. Thank you for the opportunity.

Trip very well organised and Julie at Chameleon very knowledgeable. Pace was exhausting, driving at least 6+ hours every day on dusty roads, then arriving at a property in time to do game viewing and then off to dinner with hardly any time to freshen up. By not staying 2 nights at one lodge we missed out experiencing “a day at a lodge” – what happens in a morning game drive and activities available throughout the day. However, we did get to see amazing animals, sunrises, sunsets and treated to beautiful accommodation and some wonderful meals and sample some (a lot ) of Africa’s delicious wines.

Everyone deserves a beer at the Kalahari pub!!!