This cruise has been on my bucket list for years. I've seen a few Christmas Markets in other European countries, however some of the ones on this trip were remarkable. We cruised from Basel to Amsterdam from Nov 25- Dec 2, 2013.
My husband and I spent the night before the cruise in Basel at the Best Western Merian am Riem. Our room was right on the Rhine River with a wonderful view of the river and old town. Basel has 2 Christmas Markets. We walked across the bridge to the first one, enjoying our first Gluhwein of the trip. After a lunch of sausages and wine, we walked to the older, larger Market. There were many different items to purchase at this Market. You think you will see the same thing at each market, however that isn't the case. Each town has unique items to buy. If you see something you like, buy it.
The following day we took tram #8 to the end of the line and walked about 15 minutes to our boat, the Viking Sun. We only do carry on luggage, so all we had to do was roll our suitcases. There isn't very good signage to where the Sun was docked, we had to ask a few people for directions.
We got on the Sun about 12:30pm. A buffet lunch was being offered in the lounge. We took advantage of that and our first complimentary glass of wine and beer. Complimentary wine and beer are served at lunch and dinner, if you want you can even have a glass of bubbly at breakfast, it's in the buffet. A tour into town was being offered around 2pm. Since we already spent a good amount of time touring Basel on our own, we decided to go back into town on our own. We walked to the tram and took the ride into town, about 10-15 minutes, getting off at the larger Christmas Market. After spending about 2 hours there, we caught the tram back to the ship. Our room was ready and our luggage was in the room.
The room was spacious with a table and 2 chairs near the window which opened for fresh air. We were on deck 2. I spent a fair amount of time at this table, reading, enjoying a cup of coffee, the view and peace and quiet. The beds were two twins put together. I liked this, as we each had our own comforter. The bed was comfortable and the linens very nice.
If I have one complaint, it's the length of time it takes for dinner. You sit at large tables at 7pm, with people you don't know, (soon you'll get to know them very well). There is no buffet, or room service, if you want dinner, you must go to the dining room at 7pm. Many times we didn't finish dinner until after 9:30pm. Fortunately, the complimentary wine and beer flows freely during this time. We were on the boat 7 nights and opted out of dinner for 2 of them. When we were docked in town, we'd get off the boat and walk into town for dinner at a local place.
After dinner we'd usually end up in the lounge enjoying the wonderful piano player, I think his name is Dimo? We were usually to bed by 11, as we were up by 6:30 for breakfast and off the boat by 8am for tours.
Breakfast and lunch are served in the dining room, or in the lounge in a buffet. We never ate lunch in the dining room, we much preferred the buffet in the lounge. The lunches were delicious, the soups outstanding. You could take as long as you like to eat, or just grab a quick bite. The breakfast in the dining room was buffet, with waiters bringing your coffee, etc. Both of these meals were excellent.
Staff was outstanding. We rarely saw our cabin attendant, our room was always clean when we returned from our tours. Tom Ash was the Program Director. He was wonderful, funny, and very hard working. Everyone works very hard on this boat. The staff serving dinner, the front desk,etc. all staff were without question some of the best I've encountered on any cruise.
This cruise was very port intensive. We saw many UNESCO Sites, and visited 9 Christmas Markets. We took 2 optional tours, to Colmar, well worth the cost, and the Alsace Wine tour, not worth the cost. Our guides on every tour were excellent, knowledgeable and spoke English very well.
My favorite Christmas Markets were, Basel, Strasbourg and Cologne, (where there were 3 markets). The others were also very enjoyable.
My favorite included excursions were the tour of Marksburg Castle, and the walking tour of Cologne, both of these tours had the best guides.
The scenic cruising of the Middle Rhine was wonderful, so many beautiful old castles on the hills. Unfortunately the weather was dreadful, cold and raining, we had to view the castles from the warmth of the lounge. My photos through the glass don't do this part of the cruise justice.
As far as weather goes, it was dreadful. It rained almost daily, and the cold was bitter, temps around 36-38F/1-2C with a biting wind. We never saw the sun except when in Cologne. We used our umbrellas daily, as well as gloves, scarves, hats, rain gear. The top deck was unusable because of the weather. The inside of boat was warm and toasty, never too hot or too cold. The day we docked at Kinderdijk to walk to the windmills, the wind was blowing, the rain was pouring down, it was very cold. We were soaked when we returned to the boat. Would we miss it? NEVER!
We enjoyed this cruise and the Viking Sun very much. The Christmas Markets were magical, with twinkling lights and greenery everywhere. I felt as if I stepped back in time. All staff we encountered were very helpful and friendly. The guests were fun to meet, all in the best of moods because of the holidays. We honestly didn't meet one unhappy person. There were no children on this trip, the ages ranged from 20's to 80's, with the average in the 50's-60's.
The boat was very clean, the food, good.
Can I recommend this cruise, YES, highly.
Will I cruise again with Viking, someday, hopefully.