We started off our adventures by spending 2 days in Amsterdam prior to the cruise. I found a wonderful hotel, Hotel Larende, in the museum district and it was the perfect headquarters for all our fun in Amsterdam! The hotel was very clean, quiet, had an elevator, great food and a well-stocked bar! The manager was fantastic - because we arrived there at 10:00 am, he stored our luggage for us and guided us on our sightseeing trip! The tram stopped right out front and he sold discount tickets... it was a good choice!
We have cruised before with our traveling companions but this was the first river cruise for them also. We did a little more sightseeing on Sunday before heading to the ship - Amsterdam is a fascinating city, we had such a good time! The hotel manager arranged our transportation to the dock for us. The cruise documents said that we could board at 3 pm but actually we could have gone aboard earlier.... lots of folks did. Embarkation consisted of going to the desk and checking in - no lines or waiting! Easy, peasy! We had a nice lunch in the Aqua Vit lounge and then joined our luggage in our rooms! The rooms were surprisingly spacious.. we had a place for everything! The bed was very comfy, the bathroom nicely appointed and the French balcony was great. We met up for a drink before dinner and did some exploring - and knew we would love being up on the Sun Deck as much as possible. Dinner was very nice.... all the wine you cared to drink was poured, beer also. It was this way for all lunches and dinners. No need to purchase the drink packages unless you want top shelf liquor all the time.... the ship sailed at 11:30 that evening with us cheering from the Sun Deck!
The next morning found us in Kinderdijk.... it was a real treat! This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site - one of the many we visited on this trip. I won't list all the ports-of-call as there were about 16 of them... you can check out the Grand European Tour itinerary at vikingrivercruises.com to see the complete list. I will say that on a few occasions we skipped the included tour and went off on our own. We like to stop and try the local fare and poke about on less-likely traveled side streets... the only optional tour we took was to the Schonbrunn Palace tour in Vienna - and it was awesome! The tours that we did take had great guides and were very informative. Our Program Director, Andrew, was very knowledgeable also. I could have had more narrative from him regarding the points-of-interest along our river travels... he did talk about the 'big name' castles tho' but there was a lot more that we tried to figure out on our own! Viking provides a couple of river guides that you can follow along in by matching the kilo markers on the shore.... they help a lot!!
Our room steward was wonderful.... very hardworking! Everything was always tidied up when we returned to our room and it smelled fresh and clean! We quickly found our favorite waiters in the Dining Room... it's so nice when you sit down to have one remember your drink preference and serve it immediately! They are a hardworking bunch also... and very interesting to chat with.
We enjoyed the food although I heard others grumbling. Guess you can't please everyone but the 4 of us were just fine with it! Breakfast was a huge buffet with regional specialty meats and cheeses, fruit, an egg station, lots of cereals, veggies (yes! veggies!) awesome yogurt, and of course pastries galore! You could also have Mimosas for breakfast - and we did! There were potatoes, mushrooms and bacon everyday also... and probably more that I've forgotten!
Lunch was served in the Dining Room with a huge salad bar, great soups, usually a hot sandwich or items available from your server or in the Aqua Vit lounge as an abbreviated version - but not by much! It was always enjoyable also.
Dinner was 1 seating, 7 pm, in the Dining Room. We thought they could have improved on that - with an earlier seating perhaps and then one at 7:30. It was kind of crazy with those jockeying for seating. It wasn't the best but we maintained. There were always a steak, chicken, fish and a vegetarian dish on the menu in case you didn't want the entree. We really liked the entrees... and you could get 'doubles' if you wanted, as the portions weren't big. Desserts were good... ice cream was always available. Regional fare was featured. All in all I would have to say that the dining experiences were favorable.
Of course the main draw for us was the actual 'river cruising!!' I have never been so transported by the breath-taking beauty of the rivers and the scenery! The castles were fabulous... the little river towns so inviting... the whole trip was more than we had anticipated! Well of course it rained... doesn't it always! But - it was mostly at night, or while we were having dinner - or when we ducked into a little pub in Durnstein while it hailed!! It surely wasn't enough to keep us off the streets or from the Sun Deck... although... the Sun Deck was closed for 4 days due to low bridges. It was a minor inconvenience - we sat in the Aqua Vit lounge or spent more time in town! The weather was much nicer than we had anticipated anyway... a pleasant surprise!
Overall this was one of the best trips we have done. To be able everyday to have the scenery and ports... we realized that that 'Day at Sea' can be a little boring! I would certainly recommend a River Cruise to our friends and family... Viking did a fine job and I thank them for making our first-ever river cruise a great one!