• Background information My wife has been to Europe many times and was intrigued by the boats plying the beautiful rivers. I have never been to Europe and we wanted my first visit to include a lot of different places without a lot of stress. We somehow got a Viking brochure and quickly agreed to book the Grand European Tour after I retired.
We booked directly with Viking and were very impressed when the Viking representative suggested a less expensive cabin than we were first considering. As it turned out, everything he told us was quite correct.
This was our first cruise of any kind and we were impressed with the materials Viking sent us before the trip. Our itinerary, guidebooks, luggage tags and name badges arrived in nice zippered cases.
• Travel To Port of Embarkation
We booked our flights through Viking. We were a little confused about how and when they would be ticketed but there turned out to be no problems. We flew directly from Houston to Amsterdam on United. We upgraded to Economy Plus on the United website after we were ticketed by Viking. It was not possible to upgrade from the Viking purchased tickets to Business or First Class. We assume that option would be available earlier in the booking process if desired.
We had no problems locating the Viking representatives at the Amsterdam airport and were taken promptly to the Movenpick Hotel since we had signed up for the pre-cruise extension. That was a very good decision because it gave us a chance to adapt somewhat to the local time before the cruise. Our flight arrived on schedule early in the morning and we chose to stay up all day and enjoy Amsterdam. Our cruise was the first Viking Cruise of the season but Viking and the Moenpick were ready for us and seemed as excited as we were to get the cruise season started.
The day we were to board the ship we took our bags to the lobby so Viking could take them to the boat later. We went on another walk through the city, had lunch, and then walked to the boat. We did not realize that lunch was available on the boat.
This is a cruise review but I would be remiss if I did not say that the two-night pre-cruise extension in Amsterdam was well worth the time and money.
• Hotel information
The Movenpick Hotel is right on the water and not too far from where the Viking boats dock. The hotel is very modern, clean and friendly. Everyone spoke English. We could see the water from our room (724). We did need to use a plug adapter to charge our iPhones. By the way, we kept our iPhones in Airplane Mode and turned on WiFi. That worked fine for us. I had downloaded some maps and guide information to the phones before we left using the Afar and Stay apps.
The Movenpick proved to be a great place to use as a base of operations for visiting Amsterdam. The Viking guide was excellent. Amsterdam is a great city—just watch out for the bicycles!
• Ship information
The Viking Rinda is one of their longships and is a marvel of engineering and high quality design. The Viking brochures and websites accurately reflect what we encountered. If anything, the ship was nicer than we expected. There is very little sense of movement on the ship. We felt like we were simply gliding along. The entire ship was clean and well maintained.
There were public toilets on the top two decks.
The ship has three decks. The cabins on the lowest deck have windows just above the water level. Our room (215) was on the middle deck and had a veranda. We loved the room and kept the drapes open as much as possible so that we could enjoy the scenery as the boat glided through the water. Our cabin was extremely quiet and wonderfully clean. Housekeeping came twice a day and was excellent.
Some of the new friends we made had rooms on the lowest deck. One of those couples said that they heard a lot of noises in their cabin. We noted that the people on the lowest level seemed to spend more time than we did in the public spaces. When going through the many locks, the boat did bump the sides now and again. These bumps were apparently louder and more noticeable on the lowest deck.
The cabins do have some 110-volt American style electric outlets so charging gizmos was no problem. The WiFi signal in our room was weak. The laptop we had along would connect, but my iPhone rarely was able to get even one bar. The signal was strong in the public areas so this was not a big problem for us although a few people were grumbling about the WiFi. The TVs in the room did not have many channel options, but that was fine with us because we rarely turned the TV on. The TV screen did not go completely black when turned off. We did hear some people grumble about that too, but it was not a big deal to us after the crew explained that it is just the way it is.
The bath was small (as we expected), but it was also very cleverly designed so we had no problems showering. We had plenty of room to put away our clothing and we stored our bags under the bed. Some fellow passengers complained that they did not have enough drawer space but it was unclear to us if they had less space than we did or if they had brought more stuff. We had made a concerted effort to pack light. We used the retractable clothesline in the shower to dry clothing. We also brought a few hooks on suction cups that we attached to the glass shower doors so that we would be able to hang up all of our clothing to dry.
• Activities & Entertainment
On board activities included several interesting lectures, an outstanding glass blowing demonstration, wheelhouse and kitchen tours, superb Austrian singers, and food & drink samplings. We also enjoyed walking around the track on the top of the boat.
There is a small library and a couple of PCs. We did not use them, but they were usually in use.
The staff was simply superb. Since we were the first cruise of the season, the first couple of meals were served a little slowly, but we thought that was just fine as it gave us more time to talk with other couples. Everyone we met was interesting and friendly.
• Port & shore excursions
As Viking advertises, this cruise was a great way to visit many places without a lot of effort. Each day of the cruise we were in a different place with a very good local guide. Optional outings were also available at additional cost and there were plenty of opportunities to look around on our own. Each town, castle and cathedral is like a chapter in a great story. What I took away from the story is that we are very fortunate to be alive today. I certainly have a much more literal understanding of why my ancestors left Germany when they did.
Most of the people are our boat participated in the tours offered at each stop. If the tour that day involved a lot of walking, Viking offered an easier option. Some people chose to stay on board. Of course there were some people who wanted to do more so they would go off on their own for a more rigorous walk—and more photo opportunities. Everyone it seems has a camera, a smart phone, a camcorder, and/or an iPad. Viking does a wonderful job of keeping track of everyone.
The tours were always well organized. Bottled water was always available as we left the boat, as were big red Viking umbrellas. On every tour we used Quietvox receivers to hear the guide. This system is very clever and worked very well. The guide’s transmitter had a very good range so it was easy to hear what he or she said. We charged the receivers every night in our cabin. The earpiece was uncomfortable for me until a guide said to try it upside down—and that worked great!
The lock operators went on strike while we were there but our Program Director, George, did a wonderful job arranging alternate ways to get in all of the activities. That meant more time on buses than planned, but it also added a bit of adventure—and the opportunity to see how well Viking handles the unexpected.
The food was excellent. A full breakfast by menu or buffet was available in the dining room on the middle deck and a lighter breakfast was available in the lounge area where the view was better. Lunch was also available in both places. Dinner was in the main dining room and almost always was preceded by a briefing of the next day’s activities in the lounge.
We thought the beer and wine offered at dinner was quite good, but some people signed up for the optional drink package. We did charge a few drinks to our room.
• Children's clubs
There are no children on Viking river cruises.
My wife and I picked up colds during the cruise. We kept going and were not real sick but after the 10th night we were both pretty tired. On one hand we were sad to see the 14th night coming, but we were also glad that we would soon be able to recover.
Our return flight from Budapest was very, very early in the morning so we had to settle our bill the night before. For some reason, the crew did not start accepting payments until after dinner so there was a long line of people waiting to pay. We had a minor error on our bill that Viking corrected when we pointed it out, but that took time and the whole bill paying process was not as smooth as it probably could have been—and certainly not as well organized as every previous day had been. Hopefully Viking improved the checkout process as the season unfolded.
The next morning Viking did a great job getting us to the airport. Being still asleep, we forgot to pick up the promised snack on the boat, but had a nice coffee and pastry at the airport. We flew from Budapest to Frankfort where we connected to our Houston flight. These flights were on Lufthansa who had been on some kind of a mini-strike the day before. Lufthansa did not offer economy seats with more legroom, but the food and service was a little better than on United. Houston is a great city in a great and friendly state, but we did not get that impression when we got off the plane. We did not have any particular problem but we walked past people who were apparently directing us but who made no sense and then we walked and walked and waited and walked and waited and suddenly we had our luggage and were at the curb where the great people from Fast Park took us to our big SUV. We were back in America.
I am not sure how to adequately express how humbling it is to cruise calmly on rivers used for centuries by some of the greatest Saints, artists and reformers who ever lived, and also by some of the worst and most evil tyrants who ever lived. They are all reasons for America’s strength and existence.
The cruise was everything Viking said it would be and much more.