We just returned from a great Viking "Cities of Light" river cruise on the Viking Sky. We have done ocean cruising before, but this was our first river cruise. If you're thinking about a river cruise, remember that it's different in several aspects:
1) It's small-scale. Less than 200 passengers. One restaurant and one seating for meals. No climbing walls, swimming pools, etc. The facilities on the ship are first class, but they're limited compared to a megaship.
2) You'll be cruising with an older crowd. On our cruise there were perhaps two couples under 50 and 3 or 4 teenagers cruising with their grandparents. You will be with seasoned travelers. Everyone we met had cruised before, and most had toured Europe. However, it was the first river cruise for most.
3) Activities are generally limited to tours and socializing. A typical day would be cruising half the day and visiting a town or city for the other half. Town visits typically consisted of a two hour tour with a local guide and a couple of hours of free time to explore on one's own. There were shipboard activities--lectures, cooking demonstrations, local bands, etc., but no non-stop activities.
There are probably other differences, but those are ones that stand out. Now on to the review.
We really liked this cruise. We felt that Viking really "took care of business." Service was great, and there were no surprises. Anything that Viking could control was well handled. Food was great, and portion sizes were ample, but not huge. Wine and beer flowed freely at lunch and dinner. Although cruisers were older, most were active and had no issues on excursions. We enjoyed being with our mature peers (we're 63 and 60 respectively) who were generally friendly and interesting.
We are already planning our next Viking cruise (Amsterdam to Budapest??).
The Viking Sky:
The Sky is an older ship, but has been very well maintained. It's one of the few Viking ships with a small swimming pool, but it was too cool in early June to use it. Our 151 sq. ft. stateroom was plenty big, and we enjoyed looking out or window (no balconies on the Sky) and watching Germany pass by. The only real indication of the ships age was the 13" television--the newer longships have large flat screen televisions. We didn't use it much, but it was nice to check the news with CNN, MSNBC, or the BBC occasionally. There were 3 outlets on the room. One was taken for charging the Quietvox audio devices used on all the city tours. WiFi worked very well, given the fact that it's not going to be available in locks, under low bridges, etc. I was surprised the good speed and responsiveness in general. Each passenger gets an ID and password, and a few laptops are available for checkout.
The public areas were well-appointed. The lounge served as a primary place for people to hang out on rainy days or days when the upper sun deck was closed due to low bridges (on the Trier to Nuremberg tour, the upper deck was closed from the time we entered the Main until we reached Nuremberg). The bar was generally open, and the onboard musician seemed to be there almost all the time. The restaurant is on the lower deck, so when you're eating, your feet are just about at water level as you look out onto the river.
The dedicated staff is one of Viking's strengths. Our cruise director, Monique, is a veteran of the Paris to Prague route, and she did a great job of keeping everyone happy. She had the personality, knowledge, and organizational skills to make the trip a seamless experience for travelers. Wait staff and cabin stewards were all efficient and friendly and dedicated to making everyone comfortable and happy.
Pre and Post Cruise:
The "City of Lights" starts and ends in either Paris or Prague. If you don't do extensions, you should fly into the city where you want to spend the most time. You'll spend two nights in both cities, but since flights from the US typically arrive in the morning you'll have an extra half day to spend in your arrival city. Getting from Paris to Trier or Prague to Nuremberg requires a 4 hour bus ride (with a 30 minute break along the road). Half day tours of Paris and Prague are mainly bus drives around the cities with stops at Notre Dame in Paris and the castle/cathedral in Prague. The Prague tour ends in the old city, with the option of busing back to the hotel.
Hotels are not located in the city centers. The Le Meridien Etoile in Paris is near the Arch d'Triomphe (2.6 miles from the Louvre), and the Prague Hilton is about 1.5 miles from the main square.
Airport transfers were handled efficiently with no surprises. Our flight from Dallas to Prague arrived about 3 hours late, but Viking had kept track and had a driver waiting for us. Returning from Prague, one Viking rep saw us off at the hotel and another guided us to our check-in at the airport. Viking arranged for taxis for those leaving the tour at Nuremberg.
Sadly, we met a couple on our first morning on the ship who were returning to the US immediately due to a death in the family. They were very complimentary of Viking's handling of the situation. A cab arrived shortly after breakfast to transport them to the Frankfurt airport.
Those who don't like large cities can opt for the Vineyards and Vistas cruise which skips the pre- and post-cruise experiences in Paris and Prague. It starts/ends in Trier/Nuremberg.
We chose this cruise because of the route. One gets to see the vineyards of the Moselle and explore the small wine towns. On the Middle Rhine one is rarely out of sight of a castle for more than 5 minutes. Rothenburg (optional) and Heidelberg are great old cities to visit. For some of the excursions, you will be dropped off before the ship reaches the town or castle and bused to the site and picked up at some point past the tour site. It's always an option to skip the tour and juts cruise with the boat. All tours included an optional "leisurely" tour avoiding steep climbs and proceeding at a slower pace. We really liked this itinerary. Highlights for us were Trier, Heidelberg, and Wurzburg (we skipped the Rothenberg excursion). All of the tours were led by local guides, and the Quietvox devices were great. One could wander away from the group to take pictures or see something while still hearing all the commentary.