We were a little worried prior to the cruise because it didn't seem like we had a lot of information, but about a month before the cruise we received a very nice portfolio including air ticket information, a travel guide, and a few other goodies. We were pleased to be booked on a flight for which we could earn air miles, including return air that came directly to our home airport from Paris.
It is very convenient to have the Viking staff for the transfers. We were met after luggage pick up and directed to a mutual meeting area where we gathered with others for our trip to the ship. We arrived around noon and were escorted into the ship for lunch. Our bags were completely handled by the Viking staff. Lunch was served in the lounge and soon after, we were offered a "jet-lag walk" through Amsterdam which was a wonderful way to stay awake and see Amsterdam when we knew we only had the one day there. It helped us ease into the trip.
The cabins are what you'd expect on a cruise, small, but with plenty of cleverly designed storage space. The shower was larger than we've had on other ships, which was a treat. The bathroom had a nice vanity. My only complaint about the cruise was the way the bedding was on the beds. The king size bed was formed by two twins, which I expected, but at night the two beds had separate bedding, which was very annoying. The small comforter repeatedly fell off the bed as I turned over in the night. I'd much prefer one large blanket over the full bed. Nevertheless, the room was kept very clean, attended to twice a day, and had the fluffiest towels I've ever had. We also enjoyed the full size French balcony, even though we rarely opened the windows since it was cold.
The public areas are just the size to accommodate the guests on board. The dining room has tables for six or more and so meals are a chance to meet other guests and share stories. We were travelling with other family members and most often ate with them and a few others at our table. I really appreciated the way the menus were designed around local flavors. On our cruise we enjoyed Schnitzel, spaetzle, potato dishes, German cakes, and many interesting soups. The staff was very attentive and the wine (which was free at dinner) flowed easily. Viktor took such excellent care of us, we gravitated to his area of the dining room, even though we were free to sit wherever we wished.
The lounge turned out to be a great place to relax before or after dinner, and was also the scene of several cultural events. One day we had a Kolsch tasting, on another there was a demonstration of Rudesheim coffee, and on another a Jenever and cheese tasting, all associated with the towns we were visiting. There was piano music almost constantly when the lounge was open and Svetlana was a most friendly and attentive server. The lounge is also completely enclosed in windows, which was very important for a December cruise! I can imagine that the lounge must be more crowded in winter than in summer when the upper deck would be a pleasant public space. For us, we really only went up on the deck while cruising the Rhine gorge past the castles.
Cruising the Rhine during the Christmas markets was absolutely magical. Each village's market was completely different and so the trip didn't seem repetitious at all. If you do go during the Christmas markets and you see something you like, don't assume you'll see it again at later ports. Some items appeared again, but many others did not. My favorite market was in Rudesheim, which was very quaint, but Cologne and Strasbourg have multiple markets and those are fun too. At each market they sell Gluwein, a hot mulled wine. If you pay a deposit, you can keep the cup, so we came home with a collection of dated mugs from the markets which we'll enjoy for many Christmases to come. Because we cruised during Christmas we didn't visit as many museums as one might but the cathedrals and churches were beautifully decorated for the holidays and in Strasbourg we saw some very beautiful tapestries that are only displayed during Advent.
In each port the ship offered a walking tour, but it was easy to leave the tour and explore on our own when we wanted to. We never had to worry about entrance fees or standing in lines. Most of our guides were excellent, although there was a variety in the quality. I was glad that they always offered a leisure tour, which I could avoid, as there were many older travelers and I prefer a faster pace of walking from place to place. Although there are local guides in the towns, we were always accompanied by Viking staff led by Brano who was an excellent program director.
We took two of the "extra" excursions. In Cologne we went on the beer tour. It is mainly a whirlwind tour through three brauhauses where you get to try the local beers. You could easily do this on your own since the ship is moored within walking distance. We also took the optional Colmar excursion, but since we were there on a Saturday afternoon/evening, the town was extremely crowded with tourists in the Christmas markets, we had our least able guide, and were less impressed than we might have otherwise been.
Although all meals were included in the cruise, we did eat a few meals in the ports, which I recommend. Although the meals onboard are excellent, the meals ashore are even better. We enjoyed a bratwurst from a Christmas market for lunch one day, pork and saurcraut for dinner one night, and choucroute in Strasbourg. It was also fun to try some of the local wines and beers away from the ship. The itinerary had plenty of room for this type of exploration.
We were very impressed with the Viking Company once we were on the ship. The staff is excellently trained and friendly. Each port is managed very well. Every request we made was quickly attended to. The onboard prices for drinks are reasonable.
Most importantly, Viking wants to make sure you are happy with your cruise. About a week before embarkation, we were informed that we would not be able to complete our itinerary because of the low levels on the Rhine and would complete part of the tour on buses and in hotels. They offered an onboard credit, free excursions, and a percentage off our next cruise. Once aboard we were informed that due to a week of rain (which continued throughout our cruise) we would be able to complete the cruise, and the credit and free excursions were still honored. We felt this was very good business and helped make us even happier with Viking.
We will definitely cruise Viking again...if we can just decide what to do next!