We went on the Rhine Getaway from Amsterdam to Lucerne, with a 2-day post trip extension in Switzerland in May 2011. The vacation was booked as a birthday trip (I turned 40) and as a once-in-a-lifetime getaway since we hadn't done a lot of traveling over the past few years and we missed it. We've traveled in Europe and South America, but this was our first river cruise. Viking also arranged our air travel and transfers. With the cruise, air travel and 2-day extension, we dropped about 10k on this trip.
To start, we received a lot of information before the cruise, with a cruise packet coming about 2 weeks prior containing our travel documents, itinerary and other general information. Our flight to Amsterdam was fine; however, upon leaving the plane we had to wait about 10 minutes for our bags, as they went to the wrong baggage claim. We then went to the first of two meeting points in the airport for our included transfer to the boat. No one from Viking was there. We decided to go to the second meeting point mentioned in our literature and again, no one from Viking was there. We waited for about 20 minutes and then my husband went back to the first spot while I stayed at the second. Still...no one. We waited another 20 minutes and then dug into our literature to find the "emergency" phone numbers. Well - the first number listed as an emergency contact was a disconnected number. Great! The second number was to Viking and we got a pre-recorded message that we should call back during Viking business hours. After spending another 20 minutes or so going from spot one to spot two and talking to everyone, a driver overheard us and said the Viking representative had been then earlier but was gone. He had a number and called, they dispatched a car for us personally. I was not impressed - they left us because we were 10 minutes late?
We got to the boat (morning) and it was quite busy with activity, as the passengers from the last trip were still disembarking and getting rides to other destinations. We knew ahead of time that check-in wasn't until later in the day, so we dropped our bags off and went to explore Amsterdam. It did strike me that there is no security to get on and off the boat. I was a little concerned about leaving our bags there (even with luggage tags).
Check-in was fine and we were provided with cookies, coffee and tea while waiting. Our cabin, on the lower deck, was small, but very clean and nicely laid out. Bed was pretty uncomfortable, but we weren't expecting much. We had a small porthole window, which was fine, as we knew we wouldn't spend much time in our room. Decor was fine, and I was provided with extra pillows and extra clothing hangers upon request. More specifics about different aspects of the cruise are listed below.
The ship itself was nice, but nothing that screamed "luxury" to either of us, as the trip is marketed as a "luxury cruise" experience. All areas of the ship were clean and neat, and quite efficient in design since it is smaller than an ocean liner. The lobby area, before going out on daily excursions, was much too small to hold everyone just standing around waiting to leave, but otherwise it was not a big deal. There is a beverage station open 24 hours per day, where you can get coffee, tea or water. There are cookies set out after lunch. The dining areas were fine, and had open seating, which was a nice way to meet other cruisers.
The beds are pretty uncomfortable and the air in our cabin was extremely dry. I thought I was coming down with a cold by day 3 as I woke up with a really sore throat and was very stuffed up. This lingered the rest of the trip until we got to Lucerne and off the boat, so I never really felt great. We would leave the ship for the day and I'd start feeling better, but as soon as I got to the cabin I would start feeling poorly again.
We had quite a few excursions, and we also signed up for almost all the optional excursions. We were, overall, disappointed in these activities. They are great about keeping on schedule, and we were broken into multiple groups for the actual tours; but I wish they'd had a group for more active people. We knew we'd be the youngest on-board (40 and 36), but there were plenty of others on-board who were active and fit enough to handle faster-paced tours. They had one tour that was for slower folks, it would've been nice to've had one for faster people, too.
The majority of the excursion destinations were disappointing. Every place we went, with only a few exceptions, was so packed with other tourists that we could barely get around and see anything. The Viking marketing materials explained things in such a way that we thought we'd have "back stage passes," if you will, to these beautiful castles and churches. That was not the case. The trip to Heidelburg Castle was exceptionally disappointing, as we walked through the grounds, waited in line to get in and saw one big area inside; only to get herded back to our bus and leave. It was an absolute zoo and the castle itself was not worth the trip there.
Going to Rudesheim was a complete waste of time. It was a giant tourist trap, obviously built for and around tourists. The walk into town was about a mile from the boat and there was nothing worth seeing. We did take an optional excursion into town that evening for dinner and it was fun, but we had to pay extra, of course.
The trip through the Black Forest was likely the worst part of the trip, as we took a long bus ride through the forest (without any stops along the way to enjoy the view) only to arrive at a tiny outpost that was, again, a giant tourist trap (it was a giant shopping village where you could buy cuckoo clocks, blown glass, etc., and that was it). My husband was looking forward to the black forest cake, as we were promised; however, it was not included and came from a cafeteria-type eatery under the shops. He got a piece, it was okay. We wanted to see something authentic, not something thrown together for tourists.
We did enjoy some of the excursions; Marksburg Castle was amazing, Strasbourg & Colmar were wonderful and Cologne was interesting. There was a lot of freetime where we could wander around the towns and shop, eat, explore...and we did! But in the end, the excursions, the parts that we were MOST looking forward to, were just so-so.
The food on the boat, in our opinion, was just okay. There were normally three options to choose from: a beef/pork option, a fish option and a vegetarian option. The fish dishes were pretty bland and I stopped eating them completely after having one dish where the tiny bones were not properly removed and I got one stuck in my throat. Yep, a fish bone got stuck in my throat. If you don't like any of the proteins offered, you can always get a chicken dish, which I ended up getting one night and it was pretty good. There were lots of fried foods and everything was made with heavy cream sauces. Desserts were okay, but nothing exceptional. My husband normally got a different option than me, and he thought the food was pretty bland, too. Perhaps that's because the cruise itself is skewed to a much older audience? Nothing was outright bad, but most things were pretty mediocre.
Lunches and breakfasts were good, normally consisting of a buffet with some good options. Meals were always on time and the dining areas were always clean and efficient.
It was pretty hit or miss with the staff; no one was outright rude or uncooperative, but some were definitely better than others. We were constantly asking for water, coffee and wine refills during meals, which was annoying. Our program directors were friendly, helpful and personable and we enjoyed our local tour guides, as well (though we heard varying stories amongst the other groups). Our room was cleaned twice per day and kept in great shape. Reception desk staff was also helpful and nice.
There were absolutely some positives about this trip; but for the amount of money we paid, we were not "WOWed" by the overall experience and I just can't recommend Viking to others. we're not overly picky people and we have traveled quite a bit -- but we expected a lot more for the money. What could make it better? More options for dinner, including more regional dishes and less bland food. Smaller excursion groups, more geared towards activity level. Less tourist-based excursion destinations. I know that can be tough in such a place, but some of the choices were outright wastes of time. Convert the totally unused "library" on the boat into a fitness room. Make your staff completely wow the customers (oh, and give them a salary rather than depending on travelers to pay them by tipping, isn't $10k enough to pay?). I didn't want to get waited on hand & foot, nor did we make many special requests, but we only felt that a couple of people went out of their way to make sure we had the trip of a lifetime. More on-board activities such as the German street-food lunch and the flammkuchen demonstration. The lectures were interesting, but the interactive activities were really fun and with so much regional flair, it would've been nice to see/do more with that while we were cruising.
So that's what it boils down to for us -- we paid a ton of money and didn't feel we got a ton of a trip! Had I spent half of what I paid, I might not be so hard on Viking, but this wasn't chump-change for us. We enjoyed the time we spent together, and we enjoyed seeing a part of the world we hadn't seen before and we made some great friends on-board; but I wouldn't cruise with them again unless they drastically dropped their prices.