We have done many ocean cruises and did short (1 day) cruises on the Rhine River, and had thought for some time about trying a river cruise. When we finally got around to talking about it and doing it, we decided on the Grand European. Once we have flown from the US, we wanted to stay as long as possible. It turned out we were on the first trip of the season. The shopkeepers in all the towns were happy to see us coming. Because it was early in the year, we had NO crowds in any of the towns. Even the bus drivers mentioned how nice it was with no traffic. We also had weather across the board: rain, sleet, snow and warm sunshine. Nothing dampened our spirits, and most on board enjoyed experiencing four seasons in a day or two! This is a long, but quick review. I’m up to my eyeballs in laundry! Oh, speaking of laundry, if you want to bring less clothes, we both used the laundry service on the ship. It was beautifully and quickly done! We aren’t really shoppers, but managed to find gifts for our kids and grandkids and were happy our suitcases were not too packed. If you have any specific questions about the cruise or the ship, please ask! You are all in for a treat on your trip. I get motion sickness very easily and wear patches on ocean cruises. On this ship, I can easily say 96 percent of the time you didn't even know you were on a ship. The ride was very smooth! You did know a few times when we were going in a lock as the sides would hit a bit, but the locks were fascinating!
We booked the pre-stay in Prague. We had been before and loved the city. We were met at the airport in a timely manner by the Viking representative, and we never thought of another detail for three weeks! Everything was handled for us, and what a pleasure. We stayed at a lovely hotel, the Art Nouveau Palace Hotel. The hotel was just a few short blocks from Old Town. There were Viking representatives at the hotel if we needed anything. The breakfast room was lovely and the breakfast had everything you could possibly want. It was a large buffet and had great food and service.
We went on the included tour of Prague and enjoyed it, although it was a very long walk. We walked for hours but saw a lot! The next day was free and we went to the Jewish Quarter and back to Old Town and the Charles Bridge. Early the next morning after breakfast we met in the lobby and were taken by coach to Budapest, with a few short stops and a lunch stop.
When we arrived in Budapest, we were taken directly to the Vili, and checked in within minutes. Once we had our keys we went to our room to unpack. There was a safe in the room, large flat screen tv, desk and refrigerator. We were given fresh bottled water daily in our room. We met our room steward, Gabriella, who was sweet and offered to help in any way and wanted to make sure we were comfortable. Gabriella turned out to be an angel who did our room the minute we left each morning and freshened it again each evening when we were gone. Sometime that evening there was a welcome reception in the lounge and then dinner. I could go on and on about the staff on the Vili, from the unseen staff who quickly docked us to the terrific Tour Director (Gary) and everyone in between, but you are in for a special treat to experience this yourself. We commented several times, with many others echoing our thoughts, that we felt like VIPs. Honestly I don’t know how they do it, but the staff was wonderful at every turn and seemed genuinely happy to assist us.
I will just say right now that the meals were terrific. There was plenty of variety, even for 15 days on the ship. Every night featured a regional menu, with food from the area we were traveling in. Hungarian, German and Danish food, which was very fun to try. The included wines and beer each afternoon and evening were usually very good. Some with the Silver Beverage package even drank the free wines at dinner as they were very good. My husband is a beer drinker, and there were 10-12 bottled beers offered, and one nice German draft beer. Champagne was supplied every morning for mimosas. Probably the only thing better than the food and variety was the service. We could not have asked for better service. We happened to sit in a section the first night, and the staff seemed to immediately develop a rapport with us. We ended up staying in the same section most meals, knowing we would get exceptional, cheery, fast and friendly service. The servers even remembered our drinks of choice and offered it immediately when we sat down. It was really incredible to watch how hard all the staff on the Vili worked.
There was some entertainment on board, and all seemed to be well received. Honestly, most were usually beat by the end of the day after seeing all the towns and doing the tours. My favorites were the Taste of Germany night and the guitar concert. There was a duo who provided great music every night in the lounge. There were two classical music concerts and a glassblower who came on board. The Tour Director gave several informative talks, and there were drink sampling, cheese sampling and a few other fun things. The included tours were all terrific (except Amsterdam) and rivaled many we have paid a lot of money for. It was very easy to understand some incredible guides! It seemed the guides were handpicked for their great English, humor and history knowledge.
The cruise was a great balance of go, go going and seeing and doing, and some nice down time. We took advantage of our down time and rested (our legs!) and enjoyed all the other tours. There were lots of opportunities to add excursions or on your own jaunts, or time to relax if you needed too.
The evening we embarked, the Tour Director and Captain of the ship announced he knew many of us were tired from long travel days, but they were going to take us on an evening cruise to see the lights of Budapest. They stressed we would not be disappointed if we could stay up, and they were so right. The lights of the Parliament and other location sin Budapest were stunning. It is something you will never forget if you get the chance to see it! The next morning, we were taken on a great included city tour of Budapest, seeing the major sights. You always have the option to opt out of the included tour if you wish to get out on your own, but we enjoyed every tour, with the exception of the one in Amsterdam that was just so-so! The rest of the day in Budapest was on our own. We went to the great market and to the shoe monument on the river. The market was right by the ship and was interesting. The top floor was souvenirs and lots of Hungarian crafts and items, and the street level was all food. Great place to pick up paprika! The lower level was an Aldi supermarket, where some people stocked up on items for their refrigerator and rooms. We left Budapest that evening in the middle of a huge snow storm! We again got to see the Parliament and other lit monuments as we sailed again, and it seemed more magical in the heavy snow!
Upon arrival in Vienna there was a light covering of snow. It was cold but we had plenty of very warm clothes. We again had a great included city tour, mostly by bus with nice stops for photos. In each stop Viking has great city/town maps on the reception desk. In addition, on the back of the daily newsletter Viking highlights the sights, stores and places to eat that are good. We went to a few of each of the stores and cafes/restaurants and were not disappointed in the recommendations. After lunch we had free time. We went to the “Behind the Scenes of the Lipizzaner Stallions” tour. We were told in advance it was the horses day off (Monday) and there was no show that day. The behind the scenes tour turned out to be very interesting. The horses have some great digs in the heart of the city, and the history and stories we heard while touring the Spanish Riding School exceeded our expectations! After the tour we were taken to a nice café for cake and coffee, and the snow started again! After dinner there was a very large group of people who had signed up for the optional Strauss and Mozart concert, which we did also. We honestly hadn’t signed up, but had spoken to so many people who had, that we thought everyone must know something we didn’t, so we joined in. The concert was in a beautiful hall, a bit crowded, but Viking had prime seats reserved and we were in the first 5 rows. The concert was entertaining and very good. Again, we were pleasantly surprised at how much we enjoyed the whole show, and we are really just old rock and rollers!
The next morning, we cruised the Wachau Valley (on the Danube) and the Tour Director had a running commentary on the sights. It was interesting, beautiful and relaxing. Later that afternoon, we arrived in Melk and were bussed to the Melk Abbey. I thought it strange we were really just making a stop to see an abbey. But please, take my word for it, YOU CANNOT MISS THE MELK ABBEY! I don’t want to tell you how spectacular it is, you need to see with your own eyes. Really an incredible place. Very little walking on this tour, except around the Abbey. The buses picked us up and took us right to the Abbey. We had a bit of free time after the Abbey to walk through town and back to the ship if you wished.
Again, a great included tour. Passau was easily walkable (as easy as cobblestones with some ice on them can be!), and it was a great tour. Normally there is an organ concert offered in the beautiful cathedral, but as we were there in the off season there was no concert. After the tour we were given time to explore the city on our own and walk back to the ship on our own. We did not do an optional tour, but the people who did the Bavarian Cruise & Baroque Tur Scharding tour spoke very highly of it. Those that went to Salzburg also enjoyed their day and saw a lot of the city in a short time!
This town turned out to be a little unknown (to us) jewel! This was a1 ½ hour walking tour that showed us all the important historical sights. The tour ended at the Stone Bridge and the Old Sausage Kitchen. While we all joked that no one needed any more food, Regensburg is famous for their sausage, so in we went. The sausages are small (breakfast sausage size), and in true American fashion you can get them to go on a pretzel bun for just 3 Euros. The sausage was good, but I especially loved their sweet mustard! The rest of the day we were able to walk around this nice town, and easily walk back to the ship when we were done.
The morning was for free time, and they drove us into Nuremberg (ten minutes away). We were left at the main town square and explored the market and other sights on our own, with recommendations from the local guide. In the big cities we went to, the included tours were great on just showing us the important, beautiful historical sights. The bigger cities on this itinerary had nice, historic town squares. We were especially lucky to run into three Easter Markets, including the largest, in Nuremberg. The markets are not as large as the Christmas markets, but were fun to explore. I’d love to do a Christmas market tour! This included tour was also very good. It was a four-hour tour, mostly on the bus. It was recommended we try the gingerbread in Nuremberg. It was delicious and interestingly enough, made without ginger!
Bamberg was a fun little town. The beauty of this little town was striking. We were given a great 4 hour walking tour. Most of the walk was easy, with steep steps at the end leading up to the cathedral. The views from the cathedral were stunning and worth the short hike up the stairs. After the tour we met many from the Vili at the oldest pub to sample the smoke beer. We met some locals who joined the large tour group and it was quite fun. I wasn’t a fan of the smoked beer, but glad I tried it. My husband is a beer person and enjoyed it. We had a few hours to explore Bamberg on our own which was nice.
The day we docked in Warzburg we took the optional tour to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We had both been to Rothenburg before, but it remains our favorite place in Germany! The bus trip was about 45 minutes each way. Once we arrived in Rothenburg, we were given an included tour through the town, then taken to lunch. After lunch we had several hours on our own to explore. My husband and I again walked the walls of the city for spectacular views. This trip was on a Sunday, and many on the tour were disappointed the cute, small shops were all closed. Restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries were open. There is a lot to see in this tiny town so we did not miss shopping at all! If you do get there on a shopping day and like Christmas at all, be SURE to visit the Kaethe Wohlfart Christmas museum and beautiful store. She has 4 stores in Rothenburg, but the main Christmas store is behind and opposite the town hall. The museum was 2 or 3 euro to get in, but not to be missed if you are a Christmas fan like I am! After our free time in town, we were taken back to Bamberg to do the included tour of the Bishop’s Residence. An incredible building and again, not to be missed. It was a short, one-hour tour with easy walking. We were then given time to walk back to the ship and explore Bamberg on our own or return to the ship. If you can’t decide whether to do an optional tour, you do see everything in Bamberg from the tour even if you go to Rothenburg, which was a plus for me. I hate to miss anything! I can’t recommend Rothenberg enough!
Wertheim is a very small town. The tour director joked you could see it all in 15 minutes, and they were close. They managed to fit it into a 1 hour tour and we saw some incredible sights and loved this little storybook town. Easy walking. After the tour we had time to walk around town on our own or have another (free, included) tour of the Jewish history on the town. Those who did the Jewish part of the tour said it was a lot of hilly walking but very interesting. Cute town!
The day we were to be in Koblenz we work up in the middle of a large city. I thought it was strange, and turned on the tv to the Ship Tracker, and noticed we were in Frankfurt. I assumed we were stopping for a quick stop. Around 9 am, the Tour Director came on the loudspeaker and announced that there was a one day lock strike, and we could not continue up the river. He said there would be a briefing in the lounge at 9:30. By 9:30 a.m., the crew had lined up all sorts of tours! You could take an included walking/bus tour of Frankfurt, or take the bus (included) trip to the Marksburg Castle that afternoon. The ship took us by bus as we were unable to get to Koblenz by ship. We chose the castle, as we had both been to Frankfurt. You had the morning free to walk around the main square of the old town in Frankfurt. After lunch we took a bus trip to the castle. We were warned (and warned again) about the walking and climbing on this tour. If anything, we felt the tour director UNDER estimated how bad it was. We felt like mountain goats all afternoon. It’s a very steep climb from the bus to the castle, and once inside it is lots of steps and walking on slate, more uneven than cobblestones. That being said, we loved the castle and the beautiful view. If you have it in you, do this tour, but know that it is a lot of climbing and walking. The tour itself went fairly slow, it had rained a bit so the slate was slippery. Around 11 p.m., we were able to start again down the river. If you go to the castle, or find someone who is, there is a great book for 3.90 euro that has pictures and information about all the Rhine Castles. It was fun to have, and we can now identify our photos.
The captain adjusted our schedule so we did not cruise the picturesque Middle Rhine at night. For about 3-4 hours, the tour director gave a commentary on the incredible sights! Cute half timbered towns and many, many castles! It was a nice cruise. That afternoon we arrived in Cologne. We had a two hour walking tour of Cologne, and enjoyed the whole thing. We ended up by the river, and you could easily walk to the ship. The ship was parked right next to the Chocolate Museum and the pub/shopping area. That evening we took the optional tour of the pubs, the Beer Culture Dinner. What fun that was. Again, we can highly recommend. If you are going and have met friends, as the tour director to put you in the same group. By this time we had a group of people we met and had fun with, so we had a great group. We had dinner at a restaurant with unlimited beer, followed by three or four other pubs, again with unlimited beer. We had a great guide who gave us lots of history and even more laughs.
What a great stop this was! The ship parked directly across from the windmills. Maybe it was because it was warm and sunny, or because we got to go inside a windmill and learn lots of history and fun facts, but this was one of our favorite days. We too k the two hour included tour, very easy walking. There are 19 windmills in this area. Really something to see! Those that took the windmill/cheese tour also enjoyed it, sampled lots of cheese and bought more.
The next morning we arrived in Cologne. We have been briefed in writing and in updates about the disembarkation. From what we saw it went so very smoothly. I’m not sure it has ever been that easy for us. We were assigned a time to have our luggage out and what time we would be picked up. We had a nice breakfast, said goodbye to a few people and sadly ended our cruise. We did, however, have the Amsterdam post stay booked. We were in the beautiful Pulitzer Hotel, right on the Princess Canal. This hotel was a series of canal houses built together and was gorgeous. Most were put at the Movenpick down on the water. I believe the Pulitzer was an upgrade, but we enjoyed every second here. After we arrived, we had an included two hour walking tour. For whatever reason, this was not a great tour. We were a block away from the Anne Frank house, which we didn’t know until we discovered it ourselves. The guide took us through a shopping district, and at least a mile of walking through a residential district. Didn’t see much until the end when we arrived at Dam Square. In the end we felt fortunate we only had one bad tour out of all the tours we took! The rest of the day and next day were free. We took our own tour to the Kuekenhof Gardens. Wow is all I can say. We saw tulips and flowers for many, many miles. It was a lot of casual, easy walking, but beautiful surprises were around every corner. If you are in Amsterdam when it is open, we can’t recommend these gardens enough. My husband was a great sport about tiptoeing through the tulips, so the next day we went to the Heineken Experience, a Disneyland for beer lovers. They offer a fun, short tour with lots of beer. We had to buy advance tickets because it was a very busy Easter weekend, but got in easily. After the beer, we took a canal cruise which was relaxing and interesting. Later that afternoon we had pre-purchased tickets to the Anne Frank House. Many, many on our cruise had wanted to go, but waited too late to get their tickets. You must buy tickets in advance online. I believe you can do it 60 days in advance. We got in very easily at our assigned time. Museum and house is well done, if not quite somber.
The next morning, we were picked up by Viking arranged transportation and returned to the airport in Amsterdam. This was the first time in many trips we just had Viking make all our arrangements, and we were not sorry. Everything went very smoothly and with little, or no effort from us!
We are now anxious to book another Viking river cruise. It was just spectacular and fun from start to finish. We are fairly easy-going travelers with a lot of experience but have to say this was the best trip we have ever taken. While I know you cannot keep everyone happy, I don’t think I heard a complaint in the over two weeks we were on the ship. Amazing! We give Viking River Cruises our highest recommendation, and we have several favorite cruise lines. Enjoy. Read Less