River cruising is one of the best ways to travel through many of the world’s most fascinating places. Once you board the vessel, you can unpack (just once) in a very spacious river-view stateroom, then relax in comfort for the duration of the cruise. Each day enjoy the beautiful scenery from almost everywhere on the ship. The Bar, restaurant, and lounge all have panoramic views. The staterooms have a balcony or large picture window that opens. My favorite place to take in all the beauty is the shaded Sun Deck, where you can enjoy the fresh air and a 360-degree view! The vessel keeps moving, so throughout the day everyday you see new scenery and explore new destinations full of culture and history. The docks are located in the middle of the town or city so you can walk right off the ship and check out the area on your own if you like. Enjoy guided walks, tours and excursions planned for you everyday, with leisure time to sightsee on your own. Because the ships are smaller with the average of 150-300 passengers, you get a more intimate experience with the crew and fellow passengers. And the flat-bottomed ship ensures a safe and smooth ride without the worry of motion sickness!
My husband and I went on a Viking River Cruise down the Rhine River. The ship we were on was the Viking Helvetia. This ship is one of 19 Viking Ships and holds 198 guests. All Staterooms are outside with river view. Deluxe staterooms have hotel-style beds with European linens and duvets. Staterooms on upper deck have a French balcony with sliding glass doors. There is plenty of closet and drawer space and a place to stow your bags after you have unpacked. All rooms have a private bath with shower, your own climate control system, telephone, safe, TV that offers CNN and other English-language programming. The ship has a shaded sun deck, restaurant, library, observation lounge & bar, onboard boutique, and free wireless Internet.
Viking River Cruises offer all-inclusive packages that include your meals, enrichment lectures, excursions, hotel accommodations for “cruise tour” itineraries, and airport transfers when air is purchased thru Viking. The dining on board is excellent with regional specialties as well as Western-style favorites. Complimentary wine is offered every evening with dinner. Each day, you will have an excursion that will introduce you to the local culture. All tour guides are English speaking and personal headsets are provided so you can hear every word they are saying. Culture Curriculum lectures focused on the history of the region of the day are offered on the ship. Viking uses deluxe, first class or superior first class hotels for overnight stays for passengers taking a “cruise tour” package. If you want more than the included excursions, Viking does offer a selection of optional tours on each itinerary that can be purchased on board. If you do not want to participate in the tours that are offered, you may choose to stay on the ship or tour on your own.
The tour my husband and I chose was called the Rhine Getaway. The cruise was on the Rhine River beginning in Amsterdam and ending in Basel. It consisted of 8 days, 6-guided tours, and 4 countries.
Viking does offer pre and post extensions if you want more time in those cities before or after the cruise. We only did the cruise.
We arrived in Amsterdam mid morning on Saturday and were transferred to the ship upon arrival. The staterooms are not available until mid afternoon so we familiarized ourselves with the ship, enjoyed a light lunch in the lounge, and then took a walk into town.
Some things to see as you stroll the city:
- The many canals and connecting bridges that crisscross the city
- “Amsterdam’s Rodeo Drive” which is the popular upscale shopping street
- Anne Frank House, where Anne wrote her famous diary of her experiences while hiding from the Nazis
- In the evening, visit one of the many popular pubs, know as brown cafés
- The famous Red Light District
After settling in our stateroom, resting a while, and freshening up we went to the lounge where the staff introduced themselves and the program director gave us a briefing of the next day’s itinerary. Then everyone went down to the dining room for dinner. Later that evening the ship’s Program Director took anyone who wished to see the Red Light District, on a walking tour. We chose to retire for the evening since we had been up over 24 hours.
Our ship left Amsterdam at midnight and arrived in Kinderkijk at 9:00 a.m. Viking offers an “early bird” breakfast from 6:00 – 7:00 a.m. consisting of coffee, juice, and pastries just outside the lounge area. They also offer a full size breakfast buffet in the restaurant from 7:00-9:00 a.m. We went for the buffet. At 9:00 the Helvetia arrived in Kinderdijk. Our shore excursion was to visit the picturesque Dutch Countryside of the historic Kinderdijk area. There we could visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, where there is a collection of 19 windmills that give you a glimpse of Holland’s past. The windmills were used to pump water from the pastureland into the Lek River, which lies above the level of the fields. Today huge diesel electric pumps perform this function. We were able to tour one of the working windmills. Some families still live in them today and must keep them in working order even though they are no longer used. By noon we were back on the ship and cruising down the Rhine toward Cologne.
The Helvetia docked in Cologne at 8:30 a.m. and our 2 hour guided walk tour started at 9:00. We did a short walk around the Old City of Cologne and visited the magnificent Gothic Cathedral. The cathedral is the largest in Northern Europe and it took 632 years until the construction of it was completed. This was the cities most famous landmark for centuries. It is known for its two soaring spires and its most beautiful stained glass windows. There are still fragments of Roman ruins that can be seen in parts of the city. There is a Roman Tower near the Cathedral, which was once part of the medieval town walls. Cologne also has many popular Museums such as the Museum Ludwig, devoted to modern art where a collection of Picasso’s work is displayed, the Fragrance Museum Farina House, the birthplace of Eau de Cologne and the Schokoladenmuseum, dedicated to chocolate making. Unfortunately we were not able to visit any museums because they were closed on Mondays.
The rest of the day we were free to visit the city on our own or enjoy time on the ship. On the Viking, they offered a lecture on “Germany Today” and a German dinner was served. After dinner an optional excursion was offered at an additional price of 29 Euro to join a local guide on a walking tour to visit different pubs, taste the Cologne beer, and learn about the Brahaus Culture.
Tuesday-Koblenz, Middle Rhine & Rudesheim
Our ship docked in Koblenz early Tuesday morning. This city, located on both sides of the Rhine is the third largest city in the Rhineland-Palatinate with a population of 106,000. The headquarters of the German Army Forces Command is located here. After breakfast we began our tour for the morning, taking buses to the Marksburg Castle. This fortress is located on a hill above the town of Braubach. It is the only medieval castle of the Middle Rhine that has never been destroyed. This castle was used for protection rather than as a residence for royal families. The tour lasted about two and half hours and then we were back on the ship and sailing down the middle of the Rhine for the rest of the afternoon.
It was a beautiful sunny mid 60’s fall afternoon to enjoy the upper-deck of the Helvetia in our lounge chairs and enjoy all the beauty that surrounded us! Our program director Stephanie, gave a commentary of all the points of interests as we cruised through the most beautiful stretches of the Rhine. There were so many “Kodak moments” throughout the afternoon, between the variety of colors lining the hillsides from vineyards and the gorgeous fall colors of the trees, to many little towns, churches, castles, and ruins. We also passed the famous Lorelei, a legendary rock formation rising 440 feet above the river.
Late in the afternoon we docked in Rudesheim. An optional excursion of a mini train ride, dinner and entertainment along the Rudesheim’s lively Drosselgasse was offered for 59.00 Euro per person. This main commercial street is lined with wine bars and small shops and is very popular with the locals and visitors. For passengers that chose not to take the excursion they were free to dine on the ship and then take a stroll in town on their own.
Wednesday-Heidelberg & Speyer
Midmorning our ship docked in Mannheim where we disembarked for a coach excursion to Heidelberg, Germany. Our first stop was at the Majestic Heidelberg Castle. This Castle was originally built during the 13th Century and was the residence of the Palatinate monarchy from the 13th through 18th centuries. It is located on the Northern slope of Konigsstuhl Mountain. The view from the castle overlooking the town of Heidelberg and the Neckar River is breathtaking. After touring the grounds of the Palace our tour continued on a drive around the 600-year-old Heidelberg University, the oldest in Germany. Then we took a walking tour through the old town and had some free time to stroll down Main Street lined with shops and cafes that stretch about a mile. Later we returned to our ship, which had continued cruising to the town of Speyer. It was late afternoon and we had a couple hours before we would set sail again so many of us took a stroll into this town. Speyer was once an important center of Jewish culture. Some ruins of the 11th century synagogues still remain. We were not able to go in but we walked around Germany’s largest Romanesque building, the Imperial Cathedral.
That evening after dinner our ship began cruising down the Rhine towards Strasbourg, France.
Thursday morning the Helvetia docked in the German town of Kehl, directly across the Rhine River from Strasbourg. After breakfast we disembarked for a tour of Strasbourg. Our tour consisted of a drive past the Palais de L” Europe where the Parliament meets and the city’s remarkable Renaissance architecture. Then we proceeded to the city center where we began our walking tour. We visited the picturesque Petite France area and then walked to Old Town and then on to Cathedral Square where we toured the Strasbourg Cathedral. This was one of the finest of Europe’s great Gothic cathedrals. Inside we saw the beautiful stain glass windows, and the remarkable astronomic clock on the back wall of the cathedral. After the tour was over we had a little free time to do some shopping in Old Town before getting back on the motorcoach to return to our ship for lunch. Our ship would not be departing until late in the evening so we had the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore on our own or take an optional excursion to Baden-Baden. This included motorcoach transportation and a guide for 39 euros. My husband and I chose to enjoy the beautiful afternoon by walking into the town of Kehl and do a little shopping.
Friday-Breisach & Black Forest, Germany
The ship docked about 8:00 a.m. and at 8:30 we disembarked for a motorcoach excursion through Germany’s beautiful Black Forest. This densely forested, mountainous region is famous for its traditional cuckoo clocks and cherry schnapps. Our first stop was at a shop in Hofgut Sternen where they sold their amazing cuckoo clocks and a demonstration was given on how they are made. We also had the chance to try their famous Black Forest Cake. It was delicious!! The second stop on our excursion was in the town of Sankt Peter. We took a short walking tour through this small town and went into the St. Peter Cathedral. This Cathedral had beautiful paintings all over the ceiling, a lot of gold décor throughout, and a huge pipe organ in the balcony. We had a little time to browse the shops and then back on the coaches for a return to our ship.
In the afternoon, two more optional excursions were offered. One was a motorcoach ride and guide to the town of Colmar for 34 euros and the second was a World War II tour for 39 euros. Those who did not choose those excursions were free to visit the town of Breisach.
In the evening we gathered in the lounge for a farewell toast with the Captain and then enjoyed the Captain’s Farewell Dinner with our newfound friends. During dinner the ship departed for our final destination, Basel, Switzerland.
Bright and early we disembarked to the airport for our return home. For those who had purchased the Post-Cruise Extension, a motorcoach would take them to Lucerne where they would check into the hotel and then have a tour of Lucerne the next day and depart for home on the third day.
It was a wonderful trip and a relaxing, stress-free way to see Europe! I recommend it highly!!