As you can see from my title, this was our first river cruise. We had tried 1 Caribbean cruise before and we weren't too crazy about our experience with that. We selected Viking because of the Rhine itinerary (been to some of the places before on a Globus tour) and wanted to spend more time in places like Cologne and Heidelberg. Also Viking had a price that was in our range.
Pre-trip. We are a couple in our 50's. We took our 24 yo daughter and 35 yo niece along. The Viking sales agent Alex was very helpful and made several great suggestions. We went with special Viking air and transfers and were extremely pleased with our flights. Viking even called 3 weeks before departure and asked if we had any questions. We elected to go with 2 standard rooms and a post-trip extension to Lucerne.
Arrival. Our plane landed early and we were taken to the Helvetia about 10am. We were greeted by the Cruise Director George who took us onboard. Although our rooms would have been More
ready by 11am, we elected to have a hot beverage and then head out and explore Amsterdam. Check in went smoothly when we returned at 5pm.
Ship. We liked our standard room. The size was perfect and the bed was very comfortable. We would probably stay on a higher deck next time. Being on the bottom deck, we could hear toilets flush throughout the ship. We could feel vibrations from time to time but really did not experience much loud noise. The layout of the ship was good. Most people would have very little walking to get from cabin to lounge or dining room. Even though it was only April, the river was starting to fill up with cruises. A Viking longship and 2 Avalon ships seemed to follow our every move on the Rhine. A few times we had to cross through another ship to get to shore.
Food. Food ranged from okay to excellent. I thought they did a good job with choices considering that they had 180 people to feed -- all ordering at once. They had a choice of meat, fish, or vegetarian for every meal. Sometimes it was chaotic with some tables seeming to get served faster than others. They had usually a local specialty at each port. The wine was good -- not much selection but it seemed to change each day. We consider ourselves wine snobs, it wasn't Bordeaux but it was still good. One evening, I asked the waiter why they hadn't poured a Riesling yet (we were in Germany after all). He said if I had purchased the extra spirits plan then I could have a bottle. I hadn't but he brought me a bottle anyway. The servers worked extremely hard (a bit understaffed) and tried to accommodate everyone's wishes. Breakfast and lunch were basically buffets, but they did have a few items that could be ordered from the menu. A hot beverage bar was always open, usually stocked with fresh cookies.
Excursions. The highlight of the trip. The Middle Rhine is absolutely gorgeous. Viking had 4 brand new buses that they had purchased to follow us the whole trip. They used them for transfers to and from the airport and the regular and optional excursions. The local guides I thought were all enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Viking left several hours of free time in each port for exploring on one's own. Maps were made available. The concierge on board the ship was always available to help you book things on the side.
Staff. The staff was fantastic. Everyone had to multitask and work long hours but they had a smile on their face the whole time. I think they could have used 5 more people for meals to ease the confusion. I'm sure they are trained to be polite but I swear they remembered our names instantly. The rooms were spotless. The Cruise Director George Nakos was fun and made friends with everyone. The Captain Florian Sulzer seemed to always be helping out with various tasks. I think Viking deserves an A Plus for the staff and crew.
Post Trip. The Rhine levels were too high for our last day so we had to be bused the last 20 miles to Basel or wherever everyone was scheduled to go. Viking even took care of the people who had not booked transfers with them. Viking representatives were everywhere -- at the post trip hotel and even the airport to make sure we got to our gate.
Pros. The Staff. The Itinerary. All the small details being taken care of. We will do a Viking Cruise again.
Cons. Can't really think of anything. Entertainment was average but honestly we went to bed by 10 every night. Less
Room 115 on bottom deck. The room was roomy and everything worked fine. We could hear toilets flush all over the ship (not real loud - just noticeable). Quick walk to lounge or dining room. View was good but just barely above water level. We would probably opt for a room on an upper deck next time.