We returned yesterday from our first river cruise after many ocean voyages. We have enjoyed cruising as a main form of travel and felt that river cruising would give us an opportunity to see the interiors of European Countries where you cannot cruise.
We flew economy on Swiss Air and paid for a deviation so we could avoid Luftansa and the Frankfort airport. We were able to fly non stop from home and were routed back to Zurich on Swiss to fly home from Zurich directly.
We stayed two nights prior to our Rhine Getaway at the Radisson Blue in Lucerne. We liked the hotel (we paid for an upgrade to the standard provided room). We were met at the Zurich Airport by a car service who took us not only to our hotel but familiarized us with the area slightly before dropping us off. The first day we had a two hour walking tour of Lake Lucerne and then the next day we also took a tour offered to Mt. Pilaetus. We loved the couple days in Switzerland and hope to return. We were bussed with twenty others who took the post cruise package to the ship, Viking Helvetia in Basel. We were pleased with the cabin and amenities and found the ship and service very good.
Food was hit or miss on the ship - some nights were excellent and other nights were not our preference. We found a lot of pork and beef and some lunches only pork available via sausages as is the custom in Germany. Food was always plentiful and only two options - one fish and one meat most nights with a vegetarian option. There were two dessert options nightly. Tables were for 6 8 or 10 and was multiple courses with a choice of appetizers, a soup and entree. We were not hungry but much of the food was oversalty. Breakfasts were generous choices of anything you could think of from eggs, to smoked salmon, to pastries, rolls, pancakes, cereals and yogurts. Lunch was a choice of hot entrees, soups, sandwiches and were acceptable choices. One day in Cologne we ate off ship in the department store on the shopping street and it was magnificent. It was a cafeteria style but the food was fresh and very tasty. White Asparagus was in season and it was available in many preparations there.
Most days were structured with a morning tour and an optional afternoon tour or free time. We were bussed in many ports to the tour. Tours were ranked as those needing a more leisurely pace or ranked a three where you might need to walk extensively on cobblestones.
Daily there was a port talk and plan outlined so we knew what to expect. Dinner was served right after the nightly talk and so that caused most people to go to dinner right away so the entire ship ate at once.
Most of the passengers had some travel and cruise experience and many were an older demographic. Many were limited in mobility. About 20% of the ship was passengers from Great Britain, Canada and Australia. Most passengers I spoke with were experimenting with a river itinerary.
One day were were told about the low river and that we would be transferred to the Viking Sun who was sailing from North to South.
We heard before we left that the water level was low on the Rhine and a few days into the cruise we were told that Viking had a plan to re-direct us to the Viking Sun from the Viking Helvetia. The ship was older and needing some refurbishing but we were bussed into Heidelberg, toured the castle and had the worst meal I have ever experienced. We were not given any choice but one entree: Frozen Vegetables, A mystery piece of rolled dried stuffed beef that was inedible and Mashed Potatoes made from boxed potato flakes. Salad was only lettuce and dessert ice cream. We left before finishing our meal for a walk in the shopping area. The ship, the Sun was identical in layout and were resettled in no time. We came home to a letter of apology from Viking and that it was done for our safety. The way the plan came off to us, was that it was known at boarding time and we did feel that they were less than truthful about it. To move 180 people including reserving two restaurants for meals was no easy task. We did not bargain for three hours on a bus and a small ship was charted for us to cruise the Rhine and see the missed portion of the river where water was low.
We were not happy at all with a tour to the Black Forrest. What it really was was a hijacking to a coo-coo clock store in the Black Forest. We were dropped off for an hour to shop and held captive. Not acceptable to us. We did not see the Black Forrest. We rode 90 minutes to a store to shop for tourist junk.
Some of the tour guides were licensed and sounded like tired broken records and others were exceptional. The whisper headsets were well maintained and great.
Our tour of the Windmills at Kinderdijk was spectacular but rushed. There was just too much bus time on the trip for us. We expected that we'd be able to walk more right from the ship to see Germany. Not so. Some distances to see things we just beyond a casual walk and there were no real choices for tours. Just one a day. There was an optional afternoon tour but the only one we booked in Rudesheim was canceled because we were moved.
Nightly entertainment was very weak. On the Helvetia, no one went to the lounge for after dinner drinks or music. One night a German Band purporting to play New Orleans style Jazz came onboard and they were so bad we skipped our after dinner drink to avoid hearing them. On the Sun there was a three piece group - two violins and a piano who did what was billed as a classical concert but it was really a mix of music and was entertaining. Not great but enjoyable.
Post cruise we stayed at the Radisson Blu in Amsterdam. We loved the hotel, ate most of our meals in their dining room because the food was excellent and service superior. Many of the travel companions who did the post cruise did the same. We again upgraded our room to the newly renovated rooms. We would definitely opt to stay there again. They had a box of breakfast for us because we had to leave the hotel for our flight at 6am. The front desk staff made us coffee and even called the airport to see if the flight was on time, then gave us a map of the terminals so we would know. We were whisked by a car service quickly and timely to the airport arriving early for our flight.
In summary, we'd only do another river cruise if we were going to sail with friends. We aren't sure it would be Viking. We were led to believe by the CEO that we'd met a few years ago that it was on the level of a luxury cruise, like Regent, Seabourn or Oceania - but - it's not. It was an acceptable way to see the world but not really something we'd seek. We like more choice in the tours. We think we will take land tours when we want to see more of the world than we can see by cruising on a small ocean ship.