The Rhine Getaway cruise from Basel to Amsterdam was our third cruise with Viking. We flew into Zurich three days early to tour Lucerne prior to the cruise. We always like to arrive early not only adjust to the time difference but to also provide a buffer should there be any travel delays. All went according to plan and we took the train from Lucerne to Basel the morning the cruise was due to start.
From the Basel train station we took the #8 tram to Kleinhningen and then walked about a mile (we travel light with only carry-on roller board bags) to the where the Viking Sun was to be docked. No ship. Since we were on the dock level we never saw the Viking Rep on the street level directing passengers back to the airport. We walked back down the dock to the other side and found a Uniworld rep who informed us that due to the recent week of rain the Rhine was too high for any of the ships to make it to Basel. We called the Viking Sun to find out what we should do and they also explained that the ship was in Breisach and we would need to take a bus from the airport. They also told us they would check with their representative on the dock and find out where they were. Within 10 minutes a taxi pulled up with another Viking couple to take us to the airport. My biggest frustration was that Viking knew the previous day that the ship was not in Basel and could have sent an email to everyone. In chatting with other passengers we found many similar situations -- and there was NOT any advance notification. The only exception was if you had purchased their pre-cruise hotel package as those passengers were taken to the airport instead of the dock. This was simply wrong of Viking. Since we received dozens of emails before the cruise they could have easily sent an update as to the status of the ship and minimized the confusion.
At the airport we met up with about 40 other passengers. We were put on a bus for the 45 minute ride to Breisach to meet the ship. We found starting in Breisach was actually significantly better than boarding in Basel. This was because the docks in Basel were very industrial and about 30 minutes from town. Plus, being Sunday, most everything was closed. Breisach by contrast was a picturesque small town with a hilltop gothic cathedral and terrace with a panoramic view of the Rhine. There was also a very nice wine store in the tourist information office. We felt it was a much more enjoyable place to wander around as opposed to the Basel docks.
From then on, our Rhine Getaway went according to plan. All the staff (cabin, dining room, program, etc.) were friendly and did a fantastic job. The meals on board were excellent, except for the soups which were all outstanding. I asked the chef for several soup recipes as they were so exceptional. Each lunch and dinner had some regional specialties plus there was always steak, salmon, or chicken if nothing sounded good. The house wine and beer flowed freely and we never saw the need to order any of their premium wines. As with our previous two Viking cruises, we could not have been happier with the service or the food.
Based on other reviews we decided to skip the Black Forest excursion. The thought of riding for more than an hour each way to go to a cuckoo clock factory just seemed unappealing. Instead, we took the local bus from the Breisach train station to Colmar. We spent the day wandering the cobbled streets through the half-timbered buildings. Colmar is a beautiful city especially along the canals in the Little Venice area. We had a typical Alsatian lunch and then returned back to the ship in late afternoon. The other bonus of the local bus is it that it makes stops in several little towns along the way, including Neuf-Breisach with its star shaped fortification wall. We definitely made the right decision.
The next day we were off to Strasbourg with bright blue skies that stayed with us till we reached the Netherlands. The Viking Sun was docked about 20 minutes from town so we took a bus and participated in the morning walking tour. Rather than heading back to the ship, we stayed in town, climbed the 325 steps to the top of the Cathedral, had another terrific Alsatian lunch, wandered back through the 'Le Petit France' neighborhood, and took the Viking free shuttle back to the ship later in the afternoon. It was a very enjoyable day in Strasbourg.
Our next stop was Mannheim where we took a short bus ride to Heidelberg. We did the walking tour of the castle ruins and old town. We had plenty of time to wander and shop prior returning to the ship. We departed Mannheim at 1:00pm and were treated to a lunch of German specialties and while we cruised toward . We also had a presentation on the 'famous Rdesheim coffee' and galley tour in the afternoon. We arrived at 6:00pm and there were a dozen or more river ships docked there. We had gotten the impression that Rdesheim was a 'happening place' with lots of wine gardens and music. About 9:00pm went walking around in search of some beverages and music. What we found was mostly deserted town with everything closed up except a couple of blocks with bars and restaurants. Maybe it was the time of year or maybe it was too early in the evening, but everyplace was empty. We found a bar, had a drink, and walked back to the ship. Since we were leaving at 8:00am, was really uneventful.
The next morning was 'castle' day on the middle Rhine. With the vineyards, little towns, and another castle every 10 minutes or so, it was a very scenic and relaxing morning sitting up on the sun deck taking pictures. Some of the castles were in ruins, some were converted to hotels, some were still being lived in, and others open for tourists. The ship stopped in Braubach to let us off for a tour of Marksburg Castle. It's the best preserved on the Rhine, both inside and out. It's up on a towering hill with great views of the Rhine and surrounding countryside. With its commanding position, there was little doubt why it had never been attacked. The tour was outstanding and probably the best of the cruise. Meanwhile, the Viking Sun continued downstream. We rejoined the ship at lunchtime in Koblenz and then had the rest of the day to explore the town.
The ship was docked on the Rhine just a short distance from the point where it meets the Moselle. Koblenz is an old, well preserved city and easy to wander around. We left early the next day and arrived in Cologne about 9:00am. After the morning walking tour through the rebuilt 'old' town to the Cathedral, we had the afternoon free to explore the city. The only optional excursion we did on the cruise was the evening Cologne Pub crawl to four different 'Brauhauses'. They each produce their own variety of Klsch, the local beer. All four were very good and each had a slightly different taste. Maybe because it was a Friday night, or maybe because it was such a warm evening, the town was jumping. Each brew house we went to was jam packed but our guide managed to get our group of 11 a table. It was a really fun time. We made it back to the ship about 11:15pm, just minutes before the Viking Sun left for the Netherlands.
The morning was spent cruising toward Rotterdam, tasting Dutch cheeses and Liqueurs'. We had a very good lecture on the history of Holland and windmills prior to an excursion to the Kinderdijk Windmills. While interesting, too much time was allotted. Most everyone felt that we got back late and were rushed getting ready for the Captain's Farewell Cocktail and Dinner. With Champagne in hand, we toasted to an excellent cruise, and a terrific dinner of Lobster Thermidore, and prepared to depart the following morning.
Disembarkation in Amsterdam was a breeze. We were docked just outside the Central Train station. Since we were staying just a few blocks further, we walked off the ship, past the station, and to our hotel. It was about 9:00am; we dropped our bags and headed out to re-visit Amsterdam.
Our Rhine Getaway cruise was fantastic and we look forward to our next river cruise with Viking!