First things first ... cost !!! At first sight, the cost of river cruising is off-putting, especially for those who have the benchmark of ocean cruising. BUT, it's important to remember what has been included in the price of a river cruise; typically: home-to-port/airport transfers, flights, overseas transfers, a wide variety of excursions whilst on the cruise, wine at dinner (sometimes at lunch too). The cost of the non-cruising element of a typical cruise must not be under-estimated - I've typically spent Â£50/day for excursions/trips and drinks on an ocean cruise.
If you are put off by the brochure price, the very cheapest way to river cruise is to try and pick up a cancellation. This means ringing operators DAILY asking if there have been any cancellations, and getting details. You must be ready to travel at the drop of a hat - not everyone's comfort zone, but you can get 50-60% off if you take the risk. The only down-side is that you get no choice of cabin - you get the cabin that would have otherwise been occupied by the person(s) who cancelled. This turned out to be important ... see the detailed review below.
Now the cruise: We sailed from the Amsterdam to Basel via Kinderdijk (Netherlands), Cologne, Koblenz, Heidelberg, Strasbourg, and Breisach over a 7-night/8-day period.
We have nothing but praise for Viking for the way they organised and ran this cruise; it was in every respect a trully professional operation.
The ship was spotlessly clean and very well maintained. The trips were excellent and each was run by a well-informed local guide that spoke excellent English. The food was very good and plentiful. If we had a problem it was with the wine. It was free at lunch and dinner, and was of an acceptable quality. However, there was only a choice between red or white, and the actual wines were not chaged throughout the cruise; so, for a white wine lover, it was the same wine at every meal.
The ports of call all have a great deal to offer, with plenty to interest even the most demanding tastes. Almost everywhere we had at least a half-day for self-exploration (which I like). But, that said, Viking did offer a number of additional and optional half-day and evening excursions to fill the time for people who wanted that.
I would recommend a one-day extension in Basel and (especially) Amsterdam for those who have not visited those cities (and if your cruise operator offers the option).
Since we took this cruise on the basis of a cancellation, we had no choice of cabin - we were in Cabin 128; that's three cabins from the aft of the ship and at the lowest occupied level. I have to say, there was a bit of engine noise; enough to disrupt the sleep of people who are light sleepers ... this was especially so when the ship went through locks during the night. That said, the cabin was adequate; not luxurious, but just enough space for two for a short cruise like this. I would not have wanted this cabin for more than a week however - it seemed to get smaller by the day?
Contrasting Viking River Cruises with Avalon Waterways
Just two months previous to this river cruise we have sailed from the Black Sea (Bucharest) to Vienna with Avalon Waterways (Ship - Avalon Imagery). Contrasting the two operators, I have to say that there is not a lot to choose between them; both are excellent at what they do. Avalon's food was a tad better and they changed the choice of wine almost daily. BUT, there was no wine at lunch. The cabins were comparable. I'd recommend both operators.
Contrasting river and ocean cruising
The two big differences are: the ports and the views.
Almost universally, a river cruise ship docks right in the centre of the city/town/port, and the city centre is generally a short walk from the ship. More often than not, a cruise ship docks in a port area and travel to the city centre involves a ship-provided shuttle (usually charged for), a taxi or public transport (for those so brave).
On a river cruise you are always within sight of land!!! The banks of the river are obviously on both sides and there's always something to see out of the window and from the sun deck. A lot of ocean cruising involves a lot of ocean (and that's often all there is to see).
Other differences relate to cabins and on-board facilities.
Typically, river cruise ships have smaller cabins - the size of river cruising ships is regulated (they must pass through locks for example). Some river cruise ship have de-luxe cabins and/or suites. These are much wider but typically not deeper. There's almost no limit to the size of cabins/suites available on an ocean liner.
A river cruise ship has very, very limited facilities; typically, reception/foyer area, dining room, lounge, small library/games room, sun deck, that's it. Both AValon and Viking river cruise ships offer free internet (wi-fi) access, so take your lap-top/iPad! Of course, ocean cruise liners have an almost limitless range of facilities.