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plumie

Gate 1 Monarch Princess Vilshofen to Budapest. Returned and available for questions

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Hello all.  I just returned from a Gate 1 cruise on the Monarch Princess a few days ago - so the details are still fresh.  I wrote a review (that hasn't posted yet - so I thought I'd do it here first/too) and I want to make myself available for questions because of the dearth of information out there when I was researching my own river cruise.  Every review or tidbit that I could find on it was gratefully digested and filed away - but I told myself that I would write a review and answer questions when I came back so super OCD planners like myself have an extra review/resource to help when planning.

About me (us): I'm in my 30's and went on the river cruise with my parents who are in their 60's.  The other passengers tended to be of retirement age, though still pretty active, and as it there were only 135 passengers on our cruise, it was much more social and intimate than an ocean cruise usually is.  As a caveat though - I'm pretty introverted and also socially awkward around people I don't know, so I didn't participate in the social activities the ship hosted every night in the lounge after dinner.  (I went to my cabin and binge watched shows and movies I downloaded onto my tablet instead).  My experience on the cruise will be different if you're someone who likes lots of activities and loves to meet new people.

 

THE SHIP

The ship is...well, not that much to look at on the outside.  The outside is a little underwhelming.  It's a repurposed Avalon ship, and you can tell when there's an Avalon ship nearby because the lines are similar.  But the paint job and the Gate 1 logo painted on the outside of the Monarch Princess are not inspiring.  She's not very showy on the outside, and compared to the other ships by Scenic and Viking and Avalon - she looks kind of like the drab sparrow.  However, the interior of the ship was WAY beyond my expectations.  On the inside, it has the feel of an upscale hotel.  Clean lines, neutral palette, classy finishes and furnishings dominate once you enter the ship.  Because Gate 1 was so much less expensive than the other river cruise lines, I was expecting something more along the lines of Holiday Inn.  But for Holiday Inn pricing, we got the W Hotel, so I was very pleasantly surprised.  Nothing seemed old or worn - everything was in good condition, and the ship was sparkling clean.  There are 2 lounges - the large main lounge at the front of the ship where we had our nightly port talks as well as activities and entertainment, and the quieter and smaller rear lounge where they serve an early breakfast (from 6-7 am before the main dining room opens - usually around 7am) and where there's usually cakes, ice water, coffees and teas.  There is one main dining room with plenty of tables for 4 and 6 - and a few tables that seat 8.  There's a (small) gym that I heard about and was spoken of - but I'm not the type of person who is going to go to the gym on vacation, so I can't say anything about it other than the cruise director saying there is one.  There was a "salon" on board - and one masseuse on board - and the one "sea day" - which was the afternoon we spent cruising the Wachau Valley - I know she was booked up (though I heard from other passengers the massage wasn't very good, so despite loving massages, I did not partake).  

 

THE ROOM

I loved my cabin.  We had a cabin on the 3rd floor (the highest floor) and each room has a juliette balcony.  While the space was small, it was laid out VERY well, with plenty of cabinets and storage.  There are 2 small (movable) night stands, ONE chair opposite the bed, lots of closet space, a small safe, a small fridge, and a very well laid out bathroom.  Each cabin also had 2 robes.  My favorite thing about the bathroom was the glass door to the shower.  The shower, while not roomy, was larger than the ones in ocean cruises - so while it's not large, there was plenty of space to shave my legs - though no ledge, so I did have to crouch down.  The bathroom was a lot nicer than ocean cruising bathrooms - aside from those in penthouses.  It was certainly nicer with better finishes (lots of wood) than the plastic and vinyl bathrooms we see on most ocean cruises.  Their toiletry game was ON POINT.  They used Rituals products - which I was perfectly happy to use despite being super duper picky about my shampoos, soaps and lotions.  They provide it all - even some cotton pads and q-tips.  There was a shoe polisher and a sewing kit along with every bathing item you could think of.  The towels, while not super plush, were of good quality - plentiful and clean.  Our room steward came in twice a day - during/after breakfast when we were all on excursions, and during dinner for turn downs.  They also provided us with 2 bottles of water a day, so we'd have water available for excursions the next day.  And turn down also included chocolates on the pillow.

While they had a small TV in the room, the channels were limited and uninspiring.  They did have an accessible HDMI, so we hooked up our Roku player to the TV.  While there is wifi on the ship, it's not super strong - it's good enough to check your email and social media, but certainly not enough for for streaming.  We had rented a portable wifi hotspot, so we had enough bandwidth on that for streaming on most nights - so we could watch Amazon videos,  Youtube, and Netflix from our own cabin.  

 

THE FOOD

The food was amazing.  I've never been on a river cruise before, only ocean cruises, and this was the best cruise food I've ever had.  I know Gate 1 has a lot less variety than Viking or Avalon, but I never felt like we didn't have enough choices and everything we ate was good.  Breakfast and lunch were usually served buffet style.  There were the pastries, breads, muffins, yogurts and cereals.  Then there was scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage every morning.  I think they also had hard boiled eggs everyday too.  There's a chef there at the counter who could make you omelets or eggs your way, and there was also smoked salmon, fruit, and oatmeal available too.  There was a self serve area with various fruit juices, and wait staff was available for coffee as well as the special of the day.  For breakfast, they had a different special each morning you could order from the staff.  For lunch, there may be some sandwiches and soup available for order, but there was always plenty to eat from the lunch buffet.  There were sandwich fixings, various meats, sauteed/roasted vegetables, and plenty of carbs.  Dinners were table service only, except for the first night in Vienna when a lot of people went to see the Mozart/Strauss performance (optional tour) - it was buffet that night to accommodate the different schedules of the passengers.  Otherwise dinner was at 7 pm, right after port talk which took place at 6:45 in the main lounge.  Dinner usually consisted of a soup (we had a choice between 2), an appetizer, entrees (meat, fish, or vegetarian.  They also had chicken breast with sauteed vegetables and caesar salad always available) and dessert (fruit and a cheese plate were always available.  Otherwise, you could choose from 2).

The servings were not very large, but they were European servings, not American.  However, the chef told us that we could always order more, and we took advantage of that a few times during the cruise and the staff never had any issues bringing out an extra soup or an extra entree or an extra dessert.  I know that wine is available with dinner, but I don't drink, so I always got diet cokes at dinner because all beverages were included then.

While the food was not as abundant as on an ocean cruise where there are pizza parlors and 24 hour cafes and room service and buffets, I never went hungry.  I know they had late night snacks available in the lounge from 10-11, but I never went, so I don't know how much food or what types of snacks were available.  The quality was excellent though - each night it felt like we were dining in a very nice restaurant and I would put the food on par with specialty restaurants on ocean cruises.

 

THE EXCURSIONS

Walking excursions were available in each port.  They always had local guides to take us, and we usually departed at 8:30 am.  Because there were 135 of us, they had to separate us into smaller groups.  The way they do that is by putting out baskets with different colored tabs.  You go and grab these little colored tabs for your group.  That determined which bus/walking tour group you were with that day.  The colored tabs distributed the buses and tour groups evenly, and they also indicated which channel you should tune to.  Speaking of which, we had "whisper" units in each room along with headphones.  That's what we used for all the tours so the guides didn't have to yell to be heard.  They also had charging units in our rooms which emitted enough light at night for me to stumble my way to the bathroom without falling and knocking myself out.  

We didn't have ID cards - so when we went on and off the ship, we went to reception for our "boarding cards", which were laminated cards with our cabin numbers on them.  They could tell who was here and who was off the ship based on the cards alone.  Low tech, but effective.  Getting on and off the ship was super easy.  Sometimes we were tied up to another ship and they'd walk through our ship or we'd walk through theirs, but we didn't have to swipe any cards, and we didn't have to through security to get back onto the ship.  When the ship was in port though, and the doors weren't open because a bus of us were returning, the doors were usually locked to the ship.  Our room cards had chips in them that we would swipe to open the doors, and that's how they kept non-guests off the ship. 

Overall, the excursions were good.  Not great, because they were basic walking tours.  They lasted around an hour, and they were a brief overview/intro to the city.  They didn't take us into any churches, but introduced the church and if we wanted to visit something, that was up to us during free time.  The problem was for the most part, I didn't feel like we got enough free time.  Sometimes it was under an hour, sometimes around 2.  At most, it was 3.  So while there were attractions I wanted to follow up on, I had to pick and choose because generally, I only had enough time for one when we were released from our tours.  We did 2 optional tours - Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna and Salzburg when we docked in Linz.  Those went into a little more detail, and I thought they were both worth the money.  I do wish though, we had more time in Salzburg, but it was a 1.5 hour drive to and from Linz, so we couldn't leave too late.  However, the drive was through some very scenic places, so it wasn't a boring drive at all, and the guide talked through a lot of the drive there telling us the history of the places we'd see in Salzburg.

 

SERVICE

Service was exceptional from the staff.  The cruise director (Karol) was great, the activity coordinator (Daniele) was engaging and fun, and our steward, the receptionist, and the waitstaff we had were all amazing.  We got really good service. Our luggage (we paid for the transport from Munich airport to Vilshofen) was taken off the bus and taken directly to our cabins, and when we had to leave the ship a day early (low levels in the Danube meant we couldn't sail into - or any ships out of - Budapest), Gate 1 got us all hotel rooms for the last night (we were assigned to the Hilton on the Buda side in the castle district - a PHENOMENAL hotel), arranged a really wonderful dinner at one of the hotels (we were split into 3 different hotels because it was determined halfway through the sailing that we couldn't complete it, so they scrambled for accommodations for all of us) with opera singers and a string quartet, and a night cruise on the Danube to see the city lit up.  By the time we checked into our hotel after the city tour, all of our luggage had arrived in our rooms as well.  So Gate 1 took VERY good care of us and we have no complaints about them at all.

 

We had a really good cruise with Gate 1 and would cruise with them again.  I thought it was a good value, and I though I was a little worried because I thought we were taking the budget cruise - we had walked through some other ships who had been tied up to us and I actually didn't think those ships looked nicer (on the inside) than ours.  I never felt like anything was missing or we were getting gyped.  I honestly felt like we got a steal and they left me with a very good impression.

I'll lurk here on the boards for a few days if anyone has any questions.  

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Have done a river cruise with gate1, as well as several land tours.  Consider them to be one of the best values in travel.

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Awesome review, Plumie! Thanks so much for sharing.

We will be cruising Gate 1 from Vilshofen to Budapest commencing October 28th. I am fairly certain that we also will not be able to dock in Budapest as no rain is forecast. 

The questions I have are regarding Linz. I read that you booked the optional tour to Salzburg with Gate 1. We would prefer to take the high speed train from Linz to Salzburg & tool around on our own. So ... my questions are:

1) What time did the ship dock in Linz? Were you there very early in the morning (prior to 6 am)?

2) Is early breakfast available and, if so, what time?

3) Most importantly, what time did you have to be back aboard ship in Linz?  Don't want to miss sail away and must ensure that we book train that will return us in time.

Any/all assistance sincerely appreciated! 

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Dogs4fun - you're going to have so much fun!  To answer your questions:

1.  The schedule indicated that we docked in Linz at 6 am.  Unfortunately, I am a sloth in the morning and my alarm did not go off until 7, so I don't know for a fact if it was 6 or a little before or after.  But I do know we were docked when I did wake up at 7.

2.  Early bird breakfast is/was from 6am to 7 am in the smaller rear lounge.  As I never got up that early, I always had breakfast in the main restaurant.  But from what I recall (from announcements, not experience) it was a continental style breakfast served there instead of a full breakfast. 

3.  All aboard was set for 6:45pm...that's when the ship actually left.  They were super, duper punctual (for the most part.  There was only one incident of delay and it was a bus/traffic issue) and the ship left on the dot of when they said they were going to leave as did tours. There was no dawdling and they did not play.  Our buses were scheduled to return around 6pm with port talk scheduled for 6:45, and the ship most definitely left on time, if not a few minutes earlier.  

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Edited by plumie
Typos

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Great info - just what I was looking for!! You are the BEST, Plumie - thank you so much for posting the daily program.  😊

Hope our ship also departs Linz at 6:45 as that will give us ample time to get from the train station back to the ship. The Rj (high speed train) that we wish to take departs Linz at 8:32 am & arrives Salzburg at 9:48 am. The return departs Salzburg at 4:08 pm and arrives Linz at 5:14. That would give us over an hour to make it back to the ship assuming that we depart at 6:45 (I will check Linz departure time the night before we dock in Linz - don't want to miss the ship). This would give about 6 hours to explore Salzburg - did you have about the same amount of time in Salzburg on your tour? From the daily program, it appears that your tour departed for Salzburg at 8:30 whereas our train departs at 8:32. However, the Rj is faster than the bus assuming that it took you 2 hours to reach Salzburg (1 hour, 16 minutes for the Rj and, bonus, only 18 euros per person round trip). Do you feel that you had enough free time in Salzburg to explore?

At the top on my bucket list, I want to take my family/friends to visit Mozart's birthplace & residence as well as take the funicular up to Hohensalzburg fortress. Everything else will be icing on the cake.

 

Edited by dogs4fun

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My review on CC just got published for those who are interested.  It has some more specific details as well as menus and some pictures of the food.

https://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=635965&et_cid=3110946&et_rid=16752865&et_referrer=June 2008 Boards Mailing

Dogs4fun - if you do it independently, that will give you more time in Salzburg than we had.  I considered it, but I thought it would be too stressful for me (and especially my parents) while on vacation - so I did what I almost never do - I paid for a cruise excursion rather than doing it independently.

We didn't have 6 hours.  If I'm being generous, I think we had maybe 5 (or 4.5)?  Our walking tour of Salzburg was (I think) a little over an hour.  We only had about 2 hours of free time after lunch, and for me, that wasn't enough.  While we walked by and looked at Mozart's birthplace and were shown where to buy tickets for the funicular, the walking tours on Gate 1 (and I suspect on other river cruises as well) are just introductions to the places you'd want to see later on your own.  Places of interest would be pointed out to us - their histories often spoken of - but it was understood if we wanted to visit the museums/sights/churches, it would be during free time.  I think if you do Gate 1 and you ate fast (the lunch was...ok.  The schnitzel was dry.  It wasn't bad, but being a barbaric American, I kept wishing I had a vat of ranch to dip it in) you could fit in the funicular (if you just want to look around, not spend a lot 

I *do* think though, that you benefit from walking through the city with a guide who can put what you see into historical/artistic/cultural perspective.  A building can be very pretty and look old and awesome, but you don't truly appreciate it until you actually know what the flourishes on the building mean, why it looks a certain way, and how it was impacted by or did impact history.  Just my 2 cents.

 

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Thank you so much for such an inclusive review.  We are going on the Princess next April from Passau to Budapest so your review covered everything we needed to know.

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I’m sailing next week in the opposite direction. So you were able to sail???  I got a notice the water levels were low and we might have to be bused.     

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I'm going to post the daily programs (I forgot to take a photo of the embarkation one) for those who find them helpful.  Keep in mind, a river cruise is MUCH more fluid than an ocean cruise - so times and locations may/will change from one cruise to another, especially depending on the level of the Danube.  We had to move from berth to berth the last few days while docked in Vienna as the berth we were at had already been booked for another ship since we were already supposed to be gone - so that may affect the schedule as well.

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2 hours ago, Budget Queen said:

I’m sailing next week in the opposite direction. So you were able to sail???  I got a notice the water levels were low and we might have to be bused.     

 

Budget Queen - we were able to sail from Vilshofen to Vienna.  We were supposed to go from Vienna to Bratislava and then to Budapest, but couldn't sail beyond Vienna.  What I heard was that passengers set to depart from Budapest were being put up in hotels in Budapest in lieu of staying on the ship that couldn't make it there and after their city tours, bused over to Vienna (or wherever they can port) where the ships are docked.  It was about a 3.5 hour bus ride from Vienna to Budapest for us.  

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Plumie, you are my kind of cc member. Thank you so much for the detailed review. We are on the same Monarch Princess cruise next week, so the information is especially helpful. You are so right! It has been so difficult to find information on these river cruises, unlike ocean cruises. The daily programs are great! 

 

We are taking that same Salzburg tour. Do I understand you correctly? Once you get there, you have only an hour tour and then are on your own for 2-3 hours? That's great to know so I can do my research ahead of time and know what we want to do.

 

I'm also happy to hear how well they handled the low water levels. Our trip includes a couple of nights in Budapest anyway, so if we need to leave the ship early, hopefully they'll put us in the hotel already assigned so we don't have to move.

 

Dog4Fun, are you going to be on our cruise, on the Monarch Princess?

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3 hours ago, bayjoens said:

We are taking that same Salzburg tour. Do I understand you correctly? Once you get there, you have only an hour tour and then are on your own for 2-3 hours? That's great to know so I can do my research ahead of time and know what we want to do.

 

We left at 8:30 on the dot, and based on the timestamp of my photos (I had to look because my  brain is still not fully in gear after 3 weeks off) we arrived in Salzburg at 11 am, and that's after a restroom stop that happened around 9:45 am.  I think that stop was around 15-20 minutes for everyone to be able to use the restroom (we left just after breakfast 😀) and to be able to stretch their legs, grab a snack (if they want to), and take in the view - because the view at the rest stop was AMAZING.    The tour went on for a little over an hour, because we were having lunch by 12:30 pm and my family had already started wandering the city on our own by 1:15 or so.  If you eat quickly, you can get a good solid 2 hours of touring time in - we didn't, we kind of dawdled.  The meal is just schnitzel and a super sweet meringue dessert that none of us could finish.  Unless you have a burning desire to try it, skipping out on dessert honestly isn't a big deal considering your'e in a city full of chocolates, cakes (so many cakes!) and coffee.  IF YOU WANT TO - and it's up to you, because the cost of the tour includes lunch - you could skip out once the guided portion of the tour ends, grab something quick to tide you over, and immediately go off and tour so you have a good 3 hours of free time instead.  As I recall, our meeting time was 3:15 and we as a group then walked across the bridge to the other side of Salzburg and got on the bus there.  So if you're willing to skip lunch (which if I were going to do it again, I would skip lunch, grab a snack - there are so many - and then just go off on my own with an extra hour to see and do everything - even if it's just sitting at a little 300 year old cafe drinking coffee and eating cake) - that frees up more time for you.

 

They made it VERY clear where the meeting point at 3:15 was.  They tell you repeatedly, the guide hammers it in.  BUT - if you have internet access, the easy thing to do is to go on google maps and drop a pin by the meeting point so you can make sure you don't get lost and feel free to wander the city without worrying.  I had a few people from our ship connect to my hotspot and do that when I told them during lunch that's how we're going to find our way back.  But the city is very small, it's hard to get lost. 

 

3 hours ago, bayjoens said:

I'm also happy to hear how well they handled the low water levels. Our trip includes a couple of nights in Budapest anyway, so if we need to leave the ship early, hopefully they'll put us in the hotel already assigned so we don't have to move.

 

For our cruise, because the decision/edict that we could not sail through to Budapest came down on Friday (I think.  They told us at port talk , though they hinted at the possibility the night before - and this was after telling us at the introduction cocktail hour that we should be okay to sail the whole way) they had to scramble to get hotel rooms for 135 passenger for the next Monday.  I know the group staying with Gate 1 in Budapest were booked in the Sofitel for their extended tour, but they did not have enough rooms to accommodate a group that size on such short notice, so that group stayed at the Hotel Hungaria, which I heard was dated so the group was not thrilled (we were assigned to the Hilton in Buda and it was awesome).  For the group on the extended tour, they had to put their luggage out by (I think) 6:30 or 7am the morning of departure and they were taken to a village outside of Budapest for a tour while their luggage was sorted and they were checked into the Sofitel that afternoon.  So - be prepared for the very real possibility that you'd have to live out of a suitcase for a night and not get to settle into your real Budapest hotel.  

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Great info, again, Plumie. That's exactly what I was thinking, skip the lunch, grab some fabulous Viennese pastries and go off on our own until it is time to meet. 

 

Yes, we are booked at the Sofitel for our Budapest portion, but am forewarned that we may end up somewhere else if we can't sail through to Budapest. 

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What an informative review!  Thanks for taking the time to do this.  We are going to be on the Monarch Princess next July, from Budapest to Regensburg, with 3 extra days in Prague.  You answered many of my questions in this thread and in your awesome review.  I especially appreciate the menus.  I've read descriptions from other reviewers, but this gives me a better understanding of what the meal choices will be like!  

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Hmmm.. skipping the lunch is a good idea.  I'd much prefer a lump of Sachertorte (sp?) and a coffee. . I'll have to work on my husband, he's one of these "if you've paid for it, you'd better eat it" types!

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If I were going to do Salzburg again - the tour ends at lunch, which for us, was at St. Peter Stiftskulinarium (?) Restaurant that's right next to St. Peter's Cemetery, which inspired the cemetery scene in Sound of Music (it was gorgeous and an interesting walk through - and they have catacombs, but we didn't do those).  I would have skipped lunch and taken a turn in the cemetery (since you're right there) and walked a few minutes to take the funicular up to the fortress (also pretty close to the restaurant).  Probably do an hour up there taking photos of the view and briefly look at some of the stuff in the museum, come down, do Mozart's birthplace museum for an hour, and then spend the last hour sitting in a little cafe having cake and coffee.   

 

My parents are also the "if you've paid for it you better eat it" types, but they were both underwhelmed by the lunch.  The ship also serves schnitzel, and it's better on the ship, so you're not missing out on anything.  

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Right. I read your post to my husband and he's actually agreed to skip lunch and follow your recommendations.!!

Thanks again for your great review.

 

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Trig2018: yay!  congratulations.  Your'e going to have so much fun.

 

zebs: we had really good weather.  The first few days in Germany was REALLY cold.  BUT - keep in mind that I'm from Southern California and we bust out our down coats when it hits 60 degrees F and complain about how cold it is.  But it really was cold in Munich/Vilshofen, Passau and Regensberg.  Probably in the 50's, which for me is terrible because I'm used to t-shirt and sandals weather.  It warmed up to the mid 70's while in Austria and beyond, where we went to H&M and bought a bunch of t-shirts because everything we brought was too warm for the weather.  We actually didn't hit rain at all on the cruise, though we hit (light) rain on 2 days in Germany pre-cruise.  

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We were on a different river cruise line, but they feed you so well on the ships that we never ate while on shore trips.  We very much preferred to spend our time seeing as much as we could.  

 

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Great review.  We are sailing from Budapest in late June 2019.  Hoping for good river conditions.  My question is:  Are we permitted to bring our own alcohol on board at the ports?

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2 hours ago, mockingbird123 said:

Are we permitted to bring our own alcohol on board at the ports?

Yes - we brought wine onboard in several ports and liquor in Vienna. No similarity to ocean cruise ships as regards alcohol.

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You can bring whatever you want onto the ship.  No security scan or search upon boarding or at any of the ports.  

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