Viking Sun Cruise Review by kchris: Christmas Markets in N. Europe
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Christmas Markets in N. Europe
After traveling on three Viking River Cruises, my husband and I were excited to try the Belgium to Switzerland 12 night tour on the Viking Sun during the Christmas/New Years Holiday 2007. We booked our cruise/air package about 6 weeks before departure. Having had bad experiences before with incorrect travel documents, I checked them closely and noticed the actual airline tickets (not e-tickets) had us going to Nurenberg instead of Brussels. After telling me it was not their responsibility to verify the accuracy of the tickets, Viking River sent me the correct airline tickets. Yeah! Potential disaster averted.
Our airport to ship transfer was supposed to be provided by Viking River. When we arrived at the airport in Brussels, we waited about two hours for the Viking River transfer that was to be waiting for us. I finally decided to call the transfer company. Unfortunately, the transfer company phone number provided by Viking River cruises was to a transfer company in More Amsterdam, not Brussels. So I then called the Viking Sun ship directly and was told the ship personnel had been given inaccurate information by Viking River. We then took a taxi to the ship, but lost the afternoon we had planned for sightseeing.
The Viking Sun ship was very nice, as were the other Viking ships we have cruised before. The ship was very clean, modern and the reception was quite nice. Our cabin was immaculate. Because of their several hour snafu with the transfer, there was no time for us to go into the town.
The food was beautifully prepared and presented throughout the entire cruise. Service was very attentive without being intrusive. Our cruise was the final one for the year, so the cruise personnel were very anxious to be going home. The dining staff was quite efficient at getting everyone served quickly.
Brugge was a wonderful visit. Lots of walking and sightseeing, but not too much. Everyone seemed to enjoy it immensely. Our tour guide was articulate and kept us moving at a nice pace.
The brochure said we would have time in Antwerp, but there wasn't time.
Delft was also a walking tour and a factory tour. Most of the tours required guests to be in reasonably good physical condition. Unfortunately, some guests could not keep up the pace.
Because of the holidays, most of the stops were pretty quiet with shops and pubs closed. Most of the Christmas Markets were also over for the year. There were a couple that were open, but the ship personnel said they would also be closed so most people did not even bother to walk into the towns.
Most of the optional tours were not offered. They didn't even bother to have a sign up sheet for the Kroller-Muller Museum since they seldom had any interest in it. My option was to take a taxi.
Cologne is a delightful stop with something for everyone. The ship provided tour was very informative. I would also recommend the Roman artifacts museum, as well as the Cathedral and Old city. Much of the city was destroyed, but the reconstruction is lovely. We ran out of time before we could see the National socialism documentation centre which was the headquarters of the Cologne gestapo.
Cochem was a pleasant walking town, but most things were closed. Most everything was also closed in Koblenz.
Marksburg castle was interesting and had great views. People who have trouble walking may find the steps slippery. Throughout the tour I helped several people who were having problems with the cobblestones and slick steps at most stops.
While cruising the Rhine, our Cruise Manager seemed to be bored with the entire trip. Several people commented that it seemed so strange that someone who doesn't enjoy people was in that position. He was even asked a couple of times if something was wrong and to pretend he was having fun by smiling. We were thinking maybe he just wanted this final cruise to be over.
Rudesheim looked like it would be an interesting place if things were open. Again, there was nothing to do but look in the shop windows after the museum tour. Several of us left the musical instrument tour early.
Heidelberg required lots of walking and was a fascinating stop. The shops were closed, but the decorations were worth the walk down the main shopping area.
Speyer was lively with ice skating, Old Gate and the Christmas Market. The church was amazing and had a lovely nativity. Our cruise director said everything would be closed and since it was about a 10 minute walk, many people did not walk into the center. We found it quite magical and filled with local families.
When we got to Strasbourg, we were told the tour would be cut short to combine it with the Black Forest tour that same day. We skipped the Black Forest tour and enjoyed the entire day in Strasbourg. The markets were open, ice skating and places to enjoy food and drink. We found out later the locks were going to take the entire next day so they had to do the Black Forest tour in the afternoon. We heard from other cruisemates that the Black Forest tour was extremely boring and nothing was open. They all wished they stayed in Strasbourg.
Our final day of cruising was spent going through several locks. The locks were on a reduced schedule so it took hours longer than normal. No activities were planned on the ship for that day either. When we got to Basel after dark, the ship's docking location was taken so they had to dock a long ways from the town. There was no way for anyone to do any sightseeing in Basel that late at night.
The next morning we had to go out in the dark to identify our luggage and then walk up a steep, slippery bank, over the railroad tracks to the bus to the airport. We helped a few ladies that were afraid of falling since they could not see where they were walking.
On a scale of 1-5 (highest), I would rate this Belgium to Switzerland Viking Sun cruise a 3, although the meals and service on ship were excellent. We were very disappointed with the normally excellent Viking River cruise experience. If you are considering this cruise, you may want to go at least a couple weeks before Christmas and verify what will be open. Less
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