This was my first river cruises and only my 3rd cruise overall. We liked the idea of a river cruise for several reasons.... smaller ships with a limited number of passengers, smaller ports of call, more time on shore and less cruising time between ports. The Viking River cruise lived up to or exceeded all our expectations.
We took the 7 days Rhine Gateway cruise which started in Amsterdam Holland and ended in Basel Switzerland. We took the Cruise in mid December. Being from Florida we where looking for a cold weather vacation and thought the Christmas season and markets would make the cruise special. It did. We arrived in Amsterdam a few days before the cruise. I would highly recommend this since it gives you a few days to acclimate to Europe, the time change, the weather, etc. Amsterdam is a great city and a good part to start you cruise experience from.
The ship was very nice and everything we expected from the brochure and web site. The cabin was spacious and well equipped. The lounge and restaurant where comfortable and offered great views of the river scenes as we cruised along. I really enjoyed how the river cruise put you close to the action. Unlike ocean going cruises where you mostly have ocean views, with a river cruise you see all the towns and cities up close as you cruise pass them. The ship had an expansive top deck. It was a little cold to spend too much time outside for the view, but I can imagine in summer, that would add a whole dimension to the cruise experience.
The food was good to excellent. Breakfasts and lunches where basic and served mostly buffet style. But they offered plenty of variety and the quality of the food was good to excellent. There was still plenty of service staff available for anything you needed. The dinners were excellent. Plenty of variety and most of it was delicious. Great service and wine selection to go with it.
The cruise schedule was fast paced and offered many shore excursions and stops. Every stop included a well organized shore activity that you could participate in. Or you could choose to go freestyle, plan your own activities, and return to the ship just before departure. Several of the evenings offered very late departures from the port you visited that day, so you could go into town to enjoy the nightlife. This helped keep us from feeling to tied to the ship or its schedule. We took most of the shore excursions, but tended to cut out and do our own thing before the whole tour was completed. This worked fine.
We cruised during the Christmas season. The Christmas markets where excellent and fun. It added a nice dimension to the shore experience of each town we visited. The locals really take advantage of the Christmas markets, and most where filled with the local towns people enjoying the festivities. Plenty of lights, decorations, and Christmas spirit everywhere.
The staff was very attentive, helpful, and polite. We had many questions along the way and they went out of their way to be helpful. The overall layout of the ship was functional and easy to navigate. Not many frills, but very comfortable as your hotel for the trip. With the advantage of not having to pack and unpack each day you visited a new town. The weather was cold with average temperatures of about 30 degrees. But if you dressed warm if was still very enjoyable and added to the Christmas feeling.
The only negative is the ship decor seemed a little dated and plain. I thought it could have been more sophisticated or had more designer touches. The shore excursions sometimes took up a lot of you shore time. But since they are optional, you can still make it work for your tastes or preferences.
Overall it was a great cruise experience. I would definitely do a river cruise again, and definitely pick Viking again if the itinerary and price meets my needs. Next time I think we will try a summer cruise that offers some warmer weather and a chance enjoy more out door time during the cruise.